Q: How old are you and how long have you been playing chess?
A: I am 39 years old and have been playing chess consistently since 2019. I learned the basics back as a kid from my dad and would just play friendly games against family and friends, but nothing serious. I didn’t even know about opening theory, tactics, etc.
However, back in 2019, one of my co-workers told me I should join chess.com so I could play him in some games. I did and quickly got a Gold membership and then just went full-bore into a Diamond membership about a month or two later. From that time on, I was hooked. I was even able to play against Hikaru in a simul; he played 77 people at once. My goal was to make it to move 25 and I beat that goal by getting to move 45 before he checkmated me. I scored an 83% accuracy rate which I was pretty happy with considering I was playing a GM.
Q: How many hours per week do you spend on chess?
A: In a typical week, I’m usually playing about 1.5-2.0 hours a day. Some nights I probably take it too far and play/study for 3+ hours at a time, but by the end of those sessions it’s pretty late so I don’t know how much good that actually does for my game.
Q: Chess website usernames?
Q: What’s your current skill level or rating?
A: I just finished the 12-week Intermediate Adult Improver Plan and have the current ratings:
PLAYING OVERVIEW — describe where you play, time controls, how often, etc.
OTB: I’ve only played OTB games with family and friends; I haven’t been able to play any OTB games at a club or tournament due to the pandemic. I am hoping some chess clubs open and tournaments start happening again later this year as I want to dip my toes into competitive OTB tournaments. I’d like to eventually play enough games there to get an actual FIDE rating.
Online: For online play, I have only played on chess.com. I usually play is 5|5, 10|0 (when it was considered Blitz), and Daily games. Only with the improvement plan did I really start playing Rapid games and it showed. I need a lot of work on that time control.
STUDYING OVERVIEW — talk about what sites you use, how often you spend, tips
Game Analysis: I love the game analysis feature on chess.com. For almost all of my blitz, rapid, and daily games, I’ll at least use the Key Moments option and review the moments where I missed a tactic or a critical point in the game. For the improvement plan on Rapid games, I tried to go through the entire game and write down my thoughts on why I made certain moves and why, and if those moves ended up being the best or blunders. I then would review those again when I had a few minutes here or there to keep those ideas fresh.
For the last six weeks of the study plan, I also tried to do a takeaway spreadsheet for my Rapid games because I was losing a lot but not understanding exactly why. I got that idea from this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YChgaPoJpjQ. It was immensely helpful in understanding what openings I was doing well or struggling with and what other problems I was facing regularly. For instance, that analysis work led me to change from playing the Giuoco Piano as Black, where I was consistently losing, to the Traxler Gambit which suited my style of play a lot more.
Tactics: I have used the different puzzle options on chess.com substantially. I usually do rated puzzles, survival, and 3-minute puzzle rush, and will occasionally use the puzzle battle feature. I like to use the timed puzzle rush as a warmup before playing games as it gets my mind working on tactics and calculating. For deeper analysis and calculation, though, Survival Puzzle rush is the best. If I have the time to spend on it, working out some of the higher-rated puzzles is definitely helpful in improving my ability to calculate a position.
During my 12-week improvement plan, I purchased the Woodpecker Method on Chessable.com and did a five-round cycle on the “easy” puzzles. I think this method is a great way to really solidify your ability to quickly identify a position in which a tactic is available. Doing the Woodpecker method coupled with Survival Puzzle Rush is what I think really helped me improve my play.
Openings: I started openings study with the chess.com study plans: https://www.chess.com/article/view/study-plan-for-beginners-the-opening2. However, some of the links are out of date now that they’ve updated the lessons section. I then started a course called “A Kaleidoscope of Openings” on chess.com. It has 90 lessons covering a host of opening ideas for both white and black and is probably a course that you need to go through a few times to really understand the ideas of all those openings, but it’s a really good primer on the vast possibilities that are available in chess. Additionally, I have enjoyed the short and sweet courses on Chessable.com. I have worked through the complete course for the Ruy Lopez and the Scotch game, and also have the courses for the Queen’s Gambit Declined and the Italian.
Endgames: I first started with the endgames study on chess.com: https://www.chess.com/article/view/study-plan-for-beginners-the-endgame2. It provides some articles and videos to watch about the endgame. It also has you move through a few of the endgame drills they have available.
For a better endgame study tool, I purchased the “100 Endgames You Must Know” book on Chessable.com and the positions covered in the book have directly helped me in a number of my games. The ideas in that book are great for anyone who wants to understand endgame theory. The other course I’ve completed on Chessable.com is called Essential Endings: Mating with B+K. It’s a great work-through on winning with just a knight and bishop.
Strategy: This is probably the area I have studied the least. When I do study strategy, I focus mainly on courses available on chess.com: https://www.chess.com/lessons/strategy. The two I completed most recently were all about pawns and pawn structures, and how to use them to your advantage in your game. For my next 12-week study plan, however, I purchased a book called “Mastering Chess Middlegames” by GM Alexander Panchenko that I’m very interested in studying.
OTHER USEFUL TIDBITS — Do you watch streams/videos, play variants, anything else?
I watch a few streamers’ videos on YouTube. I have watched a lot of Hikaru’s and GothamChess’s videos. I am also subscribed to the ChessGoals YouTube channel and really like the analysis videos.
The variants I like to play the most are Daily 960 and Fog of War. Fog of War is what I play most right now and am currently rated 1820, my highest was over 1900. It’s just a different game and you can come back to win from horrible positions if your opponent happens to place a piece on the wrong square.
The one thing that I have learned is that with chess study, simplicity is key. Doing too many courses or too many things at once just meant I wasn’t able to focus on a particular opening or endgame study. I either get overwhelmed or just had too much to remember at once.
Lastly, if you are trying to improve at chess, don’t play bullet. It’s fun and exciting but it creates a habit of making moves without calculating. In my own games, this really put me into bad positions in both blitz and rapid and led to a lot of losses that I didn’t need to lose. I loved playing bullet but my chess game really started to improve when I removed bullet games from my play.