Learner Series #9

I met Madhur in June of 2019 at the Rochester Open. He entered the event with an established USCF rating of 1034, scored 3/5 in the Under 1600 section, and increased his rating to 1200! Madhur has a passion for chess that’s very obvious when you talk to him and I was very impressed by his play. Fast-forward less than 12 months and Madhur has increased his rating to 1601! This is definitely an interview to take some notes on!

GENERAL OVERVIEW

How old are you and how long have you been playing chess?
I am 23 years old and I have been playing since a year. I took coaching for few months as a child but never played since and only revived my love for the game after being regular at the Chess Castle, MN

How many hours per week do you spend on chess?
Currently around 2-3 hours hardly as I am working full time but I do follow Pro Player games regularly. I plan to take out more time and make better plans to improve.

Chess website usernames?
GopherBeast (lichess.org and chess.com)

What’s your current skill level or rating?
My current USCF rating is 1601 and I have been in the same range for a while. My online blitz ratings have been in the range of 1400-1500 on chess.com and 1700-1800 on lichess.org

PLAYING OVERVIEW — describe where you play, time controls, how often, etc
OTB
I have played many rated tournaments in Minnesota in the last year and improved my rating from 800 to 1600 within 6 months . I played the 30 min + 5s delay and 90 min + 30s increment time controls almost every week. Slower games are definitely the way to go for improvement.  Consistently playing and analyzing those games gave me good exposure and I feel playing so many games in a short span helped me improve rapidly.

Online
I don’t like playing online chess (still I play a lot xD) as I cannot really concentrate well while looking at a screen and I tend to make nonsense moves/premoves. So I just play online for fun or to try openings. I only play 3+0 Blitz on my phone when I feel bored, I think I should stop that but its very addictive.

STUDYING OVERVIEW — talk about what sites you use, how often you spend, tips
Game Analysis
For game analysis, I usually try to analyze with my opponent first or at least discuss some important moments of the game. Then I try to analyze on my own, find my mistakes and try to find what could I have done better. Later on I analyze the game with the Stockfish engine on lichess.org

Tactics
I find chess.com tactics to be pretty good. I am stuck around 2150-2350 tactics on chess.com and with this I have realized that I am too lazy to calculate variations, so I have started to focus more on this.

Openings
I feel that opening theory and ideas are too vast to follow correctly. So what I changed in my general study was to look at structures(London system, Kings Indian, Benoni) rather than openings(mainstream e4 d4 openings). For example as White I play Nf3, e3, c4, b3, Bb2 not necessarily in same order. With this structure I often keep my king in the centre and launch a kingside attack with g4 Rg1 and so on. The responses I get are usually Kings Indian, Semi-Slav and Queens Gambit structures. Also, this structure has given me some really good results against higher rated opponents as defending a kingside attack OTB is practically hard and involves lot of precise calculation. With Black I play the Scandinavian (learnt it from John Bartholomew’s channel) as I find it really easy to play for the first 15-20 moves and against d4 I usually play the Benoni structure which is the same structure that I have opted as White but with Black I have to play a tempo down and that changes a lot of things and gives much more scope for preparation and ideas. Against d4, I also play the Leningrad Dutch which is a dubious opening and many players don’t respond it to correctly, this has also helped me in a lot of games. My studies have been mostly around going deeper in these structures using the Opening Explorer feature on lichess.org and viewing some Grandmaster games in the same lines.  

Endgames
I have read some of the endgames from the book “100 endgames you must know” by Jesus De La Villa and plan to complete it soon and then look for other good endgame sources.

Strategy
I feel that I am good at finding tactics more than the positional approach. So I usually look to play unconventional moves or pawn sacrifices, try to not exchange queens, castle opposite sides or not castle at all so as to create imbalances which make the positions very unclear and complex.  I feel identifying your strength is the key and then playing based on it. I have read some of the games from the Bobby Fischer book “My 60 memorable games” and it has given me good understanding of general mid game strategies. Reading annotated games of top level players gives good insights on how to approach some typical positions.

OTHER USEFUL TIDBITS — Do you watch streams/videos, play variants, any unique things you do that others can learn from?
I watch a lot of streams as entertainment purpose mainly, but I know they have benefited me in some way or the other. I recommend Hikaru, John Bartholomew(Climbing the Ladder series), Chess.com streams with Robert Hess commentating. Also I’d recommend IM Kostya Kavutskiy’s YouTube channel where he analyzes his OTB games, and he is the one who introduced me to the Nf3, e3, c4, b3, Bb2 struture. Losing long and well played OTB chess games can be really frustrating. So after such games I have usually taken a few days break from chess and this has helped me to bounce back stronger.