Learner Series #16 – Jesse D.

Learner Series #16 features Jesse D. who is an adult improver that has recently joined the ChessGoals community. He has a coach, is active on Twitter with the #chesspunks, and is the head moderator for the Chessgoals Discord server. Jesse has a very analytical approach and brings his experience from the TCG community to the chess improvement world.

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

Jesse

I’m 34 years old and learned chess as a kid playing with my dad and uncles. I never really went beyond that. One day in December of 2020, I was browsing YouTube and the algorithm served me up a “Grandmaster plays beginners” video. Being a lifetime video gamer myself, I wanted to see what the chess version of “smurfing” is (smurfing is usually playing far under your skill level and usually is very one-sided). I clicked and it was a Danya video and it was not what I expected at all. The video was super informative from both sides of play, and it’s really what got me interested in chess. 

I spent some time watching videos here and there. The game’s strategic depth in combination with having full information was so fascinating for me. I’ve played TCG’s (Magic: The Gathering) for 20+ years and always have been able to lean on bluffing/hiding info/luck of the draw. Chess has none of that. My losses are mine alone. That means there’s always something to learn.

I played a tiny bit in December and did tactics. Then the WoW expansion came out and I quit for several months to waste my life away on that for a bit. I’ve since returned to chess as of late March 2021.

How many hours per week do you spend on chess?

Ever since I came back with some real focus, I’ve been putting about 15 hours or so a week on chess on average.

Chess website usernames?

Jaytronzero on chess.com and lichess 

What’s your current skill level or rating?

I’m not as good as most of the people you’ve interviewed, but I recently broke 1200 rapid on lichess (+200 or so rating in the past month or so). At some point, I’ll work on my Chess.com rating as well.

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

OTB

I had my first OTB games a few weeks ago when a friend came over since we’re now both vaccinated. I have to say, it’s a completely different game. We played no time controls and managed to do 3 games in 5 hours?

Online

I play mostly on lichess. The UI is a no-frills, clean UI and I’m a big fan of that. I also like that the tactics don’t penalize me for taking my time and calculating fully.

I used to do 5 blitz games a day, and 1 rapid. I’ve been doing a 3/2 split of blitz/rapid these days, at the recommendation of my coach. Any games beyond these are rapid or slower.

I know most people tend to recommend beginners stay away from blitz, but we use them in small numbers to practice openings (and develop your repertoire), and basically have a personalized tactics generator.

I try to spend 6+ hours a week on games a week (~50m/day).

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

Game Analysis

This is probably the best reason to get a coach, IMO. Using the engine is fine to spot bad moves and which are the best ones is usually doable. However, really understanding the ideas behind your openings, how to formulate a good plan, and why some seemingly nonsensical computer moves are the best moves are really great to have a coach for. Mine has really helped identify themes of where my game is weak, and how to address them specifically. Something that I may have figured out myself, eventually, but I feel like paying for a coach is essentially buying time. I feel like I’ve sped up my progress quite a bit as a result.

My analysis process usually starts by first adding the game to a study, then going through and commenting on all the reasons I made certain moves BEFORE turning on the analysis/engine. Then I try to see what the engine says about my ideas/plans and take a closer look at ideas that weren’t even on my radar.

After analysis, I play through my mistakes (Learn from your mistakes feature on Lichess). I then take them and make those into flashcards (shoutout to #chesspunks Stacia Pugh & Neal Bruce for the idea). I decided to go the digital route myself and leverage Chessable to make them. On top of the mistakes that Lichess finds, I try to add in ideas that I liked that I missed, and missed forced mate sequences that seem reasonable for me to see at my level. 

Tactics

For tactics, I usually do a warm-up run of Puzzle Streak before games. I also try to hit my flashcards every day, and if I want to do “extra credit” I’ll study some Chessable tactics books, or do regular puzzles on Lichess or Chess.com. My coach says there are some diminishing returns on tactics, so we’ve dialed tactics time back a bit in favor of more games. Makes sense, if your actual gameplay is so behind, you won’t get into good positions where tactics arise.

I try to hit 3-4 hours of tactics a week total (30m/day).

Openings

I don’t spend too much time on openings nowadays. Earlier on I was fascinated by them so I spent a lot of time. Now I go through the “e4, a comprehensive white repertoire” intro chapters so I know what to do on a basic level. I also spend time on the openings that my coach recommended I learn. Most of my opening time is just making sure my Chessable stuff daily review stays manageable.

This is about 2hr a week (15~20m/day).

Endgames

I don’t spend a ton of time on endgames because frankly at my level, it’s rare for me to reach an equal endgame where it matters. I know some basic ladder mates/queen+king/rook+king. At some point, I’ll start working through Silman’s Endgame Course as it starts to matter more.

Strategy

I spend most strategy time working through Logical Chess: Move by Move, and The Amateur’s Mind. Will start to work in Understanding Chess Move by Move and How to Reassess Your Chess after I finish these two.

OTHER USEFUL TIDBITS

I do watch some YouTube videos here and there, not a ton anymore though. I really love Danya’s content and John Bartholomew’s content.

I mostly limit watching time because if I have limited time, I want to be doing something more active. Twitch streams are entertaining, but I don’t really get much from them in terms of improvement/learning.

The best advice that I’ve heard is to really take the “Win or learn” approach. We all have our off days, or days where our vision just isn’t up to par. That’s okay! Take some time to take some positives and some learnings from games (even the wins). Try to appreciate the journey, and don’t get too much destination fixation.

Another one is to be conscious about how you spend your time. Chessgoals has a lot of great plans (both free and paid) with guidance on how to spend your time studying. As GM Noel Studer says, “Checking out some chess tweets or watching twitch should not count as training! This is free time!”. If you love spreadsheets, you can make a sweet tracking spreadsheet that will help you keep yourself honest. Also, pretty spreadsheets are just fun to look at.

Last one: don’t forget to have fun. Chess is a game after all. 🙂