Learner Series #15 – Jeff Z.

Learner Series #15 features ChessGoals member Jeff Z. He’s a 33-year-old who just got back into chess after watching the Queen’s Gambit Netflix series, and he’s using the Intermediate Adult Improver plan with some modifications.

Jeff Z

GENERAL OVERVIEW

How old are you and how long have you been playing chess?

33. I learned the game in grade school and “knew” one opening: the one where both beginners go king’s pawn two spaces and bring out all their knights. After a 20-some year break, following Queen’s Gambit, I resumed play. Objective: acquire a lifelong hobby.
As an M&A/transactions lawyer by day (and night), I get very busy and sometimes daydream about retiring early. Following that thought to its logical conclusion, I could not specify the activities that would replace the long work hours. See, e.g., FIRE community posts about the dangers of early retirement. One problem is that your significant other and your friends would still be working while you are “early retired,” so you need a solo activity like chess to fill the gap.
I used to compete in video games (including top 5 world in Warcraft 3) but could not maintain a competitive edge while balancing lawyer work. I’m using chess as a competitive outlet and challenging myself to see what ratings I can achieve. Chess is great in that it’s always there, and you can spend a little or a lot of time playing/studying, and come back to it. No balance patches to keep up with (deep opening theory is the closest thing but doesn’t affect us mere casuals).

How many hours per week do you spend on chess?

15-25. Maybe another 5-10 passively watching chess Youtube videos.

Chess website usernames?

– synikall at chess.com

What’s your current skill level or rating?

– On chess.com: 1400 blitz, 1560 rapid

PLAYING OVERVIEW — describe where you play, time controls, how often, etc

OTB

Never. The web resources for how to find these are lackluster. The state USCF page has links to local clubs that are closed or haven’t been updated in years.

Online

On Chess.com, I play 5+5 in blitz, 15+10 in rapid, and 3-5 daily games. When work gets busy, the thought of playing a 15+10 game feels brutal. That’s when I play more blitz than is constructive. It’s very easy to get caught up in spamming blitz games that turn into empty calories for chess growth. I am much weaker in blitz than longer time controls — seems like I’m always the one down in time. I spend too much time trying to find the best move in blitz, whereas opponents at my level will just make the obvious one-move threats type and put the question and clock back to me. I then spend even more time trying to prove that their one-mover is not helping their position long term, but turns out that I don’t have the ability to punish them in the allotted time.

STUDYING OVERVIEW — talk about what sites you use, how often you spend, tips

Game Analysis

I use the chess.com analysis feature and try to find one lesson learned from the game. At my level, the lesson is usually something like be more aggressive when ahead in development, don’t pawn grab before your king is safe, or someone made a one move blunder or missed a winning tactic.

Tactics

Puzzle rush on chess.com.- Working through some puzzle books on chessable (Simon’s Tactics, Tune your Chess Tactics Antenna, Mating the Castled King). So far, I think Simon’s Tactics and Mating the Castled King are too difficult for my level. The types of positions that arise there do not arise in my games. Tune Tactics Antenna has helped me recognize some of the basic patterns more quickly. There are some very difficult patterns in there, too.
I need to spend more time finding the tactics instead of giving up and making an uncalculated move. It’s painful though.

Openings

Working through opening courses on chessable. I look at opening deviations after every game.
I spend too much time on openings for my level. It’s easy to spam chessable and not as painful as putting in the hard work of calculating out tactics puzzles. The chessable lifetime repertoires go way too deep in variations and are too much for my level.

Endgames

100 Endgames you must know on chessable and various Youtube videos. I’ve been taking this very slowly. I fear endgames and think everybody at my level is rubbish at them. We just don’t have enough practice as most of our games do not turn into any balanced endgame.

Strategy

1on1 weekly chess lessons for about two months now. Have learned about: weak squares/pawns, knight vs bishop (or vice versa) endings, how to find good squares for the bishop and the knight. The weak squares/pawns concept was very instructive for me, as a typical beginner who has no midgame plan after following the opening principles of “knights before bishops” and “move every piece once.”
I also have the recommended strategy books (just search for “top chess books”), but no time to work through them!

OTHER USEFUL TIDBITS — Do you watch streams/videos, play variants, any unique things you do that other players can learn from?

Top Youtube channels/series I can recommend for beginners: GothamChess (basically everything except the meme vids), Andras Toth (everything), Chessbrah (the Habits series), and John Bartholomew (Chess Fundamentals series, Climbing the Rating Ladder series). And of course, ChessGoals is up and coming!
I find GM games impossible to follow (just being honest), so I avoid all the tournament games and recaps/analysis of them. There are hardly any multi-layered positions in my games; instead, what I get is basically “see piece, attack piece” or “trade to do something” or “develop this piece somewhere, anywhere, because it hasn’t yet moved.”