In this Learner Series #12, we interview Matt (PrestaJay) to learn how he gained 142 blitz rating points in twelve weeks while on the Intermediate Adult Learner Plan. These quick results will hopefully continue for Matt onto his next plan. He is now working on the Intermediate Rapid & Classical Plan for the next twelve weeks as he wants to focus on slower time controls.
Matt’s documented his 12-week study plan here in the ChessGoals Chess.com forums.
How old are you and how long have you been playing chess?
- I’m 33. Around 2.5 years ago I started playing regularly and focusing on trying to improve, though prior to that I had always been somewhat interested in the game and would occasionally play a game here and there with friends for fun.
How many hours per week do you spend on chess?
- Around 10 hours a week on average, though it varies a lot week-to-week.
Chess website usernames?
What’s your current skill level or rating?
- On Lichess, my ratings on most time controls are in the 1700-1800 range. I do have a USCF rating of 1243, though it is provisional. I finally worked up the courage to go to my first OTB event at the start of 2020, which turned out to not be very good timing for in-person events!
- Nowhere at the moment, unfortunately, though I am looking forward to getting a non-provisional rating when events become available again.
- I play primarily on Lichess.org, and I play a variety of time controls. 3+0 and 15+10 are my two most common. I try to play at least one game every day if possible, but I’ll take days off to avoid burnout – particularly after a day with multiple games (eg a tournament). I’ll also try to play one slower time control game per week. Last year I signed up for the Lichess 45+45 League which I would highly recommend to anyone looking to play longer time control games online – they run a team league with a 45+45 game each week, and also offer a swiss tournament with a 30+30 game each week, as well as various other side leagues. Longer time control games can easily take multiple hours, and I have found committing to that time investment to be much more enjoyable playing with a group of people who have specifically joined a league for playing those longer games, rather than the random player pool on any website.
- For 15+10 or longer games, I will go through my games by myself afterwards focusing on moments where I was uncertain or used a lot of my time and review other candidate moves that I had been considering, as well as any mistakes that I made. After that, I will use the Stockfish analysis on Lichess to review my game and compare it to my notes. For blitz games, I will look at when we left my opening repertoire, and then just use the computer analysis and briefly review the moves that it indicates are mistakes.
- I think it is useful to focus separately on tactics for calculation and intuition, so I train both of these separately. I try to split my tactics time around 50/50 between the two types – aiming for 30-60 minutes of each per week. For calculation, I just use the default puzzles on Lichess.org, but with the intent of avoiding any guessing and spending as long as needed on each puzzle until I am confident that I have the correct answer and also understand why any alternative moves don’t work. For intuition, I use the tactics trainer on ChessTempo with the “Blitz” problem setting on the “Easy” difficulty. I try to solve these puzzles as quickly as I can, usually trying to move within a few seconds, or 30 seconds at most. My goal with these is to see many different positions and to build up my pattern recognition.
- For openings I use the Chess Position Trainer software – it lets you build up a repertoire within the software and then train it using spaced repetition. They haven’t released a new version since 2014, and also haven’t updated their blog since then, which leads me to believe that it is no longer supported. Based on that, I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone, as there are more modern alternatives available (eg Chessable or even just Flash Card Software) that also offer spaced repetition training, but it has worked well for my needs so far. I’m sure I spend more time on openings than is optimal for improvement. One motivation is the 45+45 League I mentioned earlier – in that league, you find out your opponent up to a week in advance, which then allows me to do specific preparation for my opponent using OpeningTree. As well as learning lines that my opponent is likely to play into, I also try to use this opportunity to learn what I can about middlegame plans from positions we are likely to reach in the chosen opening, which I think is really important when learning openings. This information is harder to find, but I will try to either search YouTube for any lectures on the opening or review some master games and try to understand any common themes. Knowing that I am learning something that will help in a specific upcoming game makes it a lot more interesting to study that opening in detail, and keeping myself interested is a good way to make sure I stay focused and keep learning!
- My endgame study is a real mix of different things, and I haven’t settled on the best approach yet. I will sometimes focus on tactics – filtering the puzzles on Lichess to endgames, pawn endgames, rook endgames, etc during a tactics session has been a good way for me to learn more endgame patterns. I am also working through the book “Silman’s Complete Endgame Course” by IM Jeremy Silman, which I have found to be very useful for helping me to understand endgame concepts, though I’m probably not as far through it as I should be relative to my rating. I also quite like the site Chess Endgame Trainer which allows you to play through endgame positions against an engine (or Syzygy tablebases). They have a huge range of positions, from simply mating with a King & Queen against a lone King, all the way to the oddly specific QPP v BNNPP, and have positions for both converting a win and holding a draw. I use this site after reviewing my games, if there was a winning endgame I failed to convert, I will practice endgames of that type against the engine.
- I haven’t spent much time on strategy compared to the other items. I did read through the book “The Amateur’s Mind” by IM Jeremy Silman and that was a good introduction to imbalances and some strategic concepts for me, as I was coming from a base of knowing nothing strategically. Any other strategic study tends to come from trying to understand middlegame plans from the openings I’m playing, which I talked about earlier.
OTHER USEFUL TIDBITS
- I do watch chess streams & videos, but it is mostly just for entertainment – I’m not sure that I really learn much from most of them. The two most informative steamers/YouTube channels I would recommend are ChessNetwork and John Bartholomew. As for variants, I am intrigued by Crazyhouse, but haven’t given it too much attention yet as I am happy with my progress improving my regular chess skill and don’t want to split my time. But when I finally give a variant a try it will likely be that one!