This post outlines the plan I’ll follow to increase my ELO chess rating on chess.com. While I may play in some over-the-board (OTB) tournaments, I’ll be working this plan on chess.com because I can always log on and get a game at any time control.
Before you read any further, I want to make give a few warnings about this plan:
- I didn’t look at any other training plans. This is based on what I figured from getting better at math, boxing, and learning Spanish. There are training plans from actual grandmasters, international masters, and players all stronger than me. What I hope to accomplish here is to create a living document that grows as I grow rather than one that sums up my journey through hindsight.
- I’m just a regular dude who likes to play chess. I’m not a titled player. I’m not even a particularly strong player. But I am a serious player and will track my progress on Chess.com. If you want to play me, my handle over there is Ed_Latimore.
- I’m only tracking my improvement via Chess.com. Maybe that counts. Maybe it doesn’t. I don’t care. I primarily play chess on the internet, so that’s where I’ll be measuring my improvement. When life slows down, maybe I’ll get to play in some tournaments. Until then, this will have to do because of convenience.
The two ratings on chess.com that I’ll be keeping track of are my daily and rapid ratings.
Daily chess games offer time controls ranging from 1 to 14 days per move. So the game could conceivably last for a year (or more) depending on the actual time per move taken by the players and the total number of moves in the course of the game. My peak rating in the daily games is 1535.
Rapid chess games are ones where either all the moves must be completed in a fixed time of more than 10 minutes but less than 60 minutes for each player; or in the time allotted and each player gains a certain number of seconds per each move. This is not to be confused with blitz or bullet chess.
According to FIDE, blitz chess is anything with 10 minutes or less per player. USCF has designated blitz chess time controls between five and 10 minutes per player. Bullet chess is anything less than 3 minutes per player. My peak rating in the rapid games is 1823.
Other considerations and caveats about my chess study plan
An interesting fact worth noting is that for “daily” chess, one can consult books and databases, but not chess engines (for calculating moves) or input/help from humans. This is a standard rule for most correspondence chess. For (OTB) chess or any live game (like the rapid style I’ll be training in), using ANY external resource or aid is prohibited.
I mention this because I hypothesize that my daily rating will not increase at the same rate as my rapid rating because I don’t plan to lean on external resources, though my opponents may. Also, the games take place slower, so I won’t have as many opportunities to increase my rating.
This training routine addresses my inadequacies in certain areas that I believe are holding me back from becoming a 2000+ rated player on Chess.com. I’m constructing this plan based on everything I’ve learned about learning from teaching myself Spanish, improving my math skills, tutoring kids in math and physics, and a 15-year boxing career.
I believe I know enough chess and other learning skills to develop a training plan to push my strength and understanding of the game to the next level.
I’m publishing my training plan here because I want it to be out there ahead of time, so I can see what works and what doesn’t. Ideally, this is a rough blueprint for other chess players who wish to improve on their own, but don’t want to get better so badly that they make it a big investment or obsession.
I suspect this training plan will improve my OTB chess, but I can’t say for certain. All I can confidently proclaim is that this training plan should cause me to improve, and I’ll come back here to adjust and update my strength periodically
- Starting (9/12/2022) daily rating: 1280
- Starting (9/12/2022) rapid rating: 1596
Give each game my undivided attention
My rating likely does not reflect my true strength because I’ve often treated chess like a fun distraction.
It’s easy to pull out my phone to play a game while in the waiting room or having a meal at a restaurant. This dilutes my playing strength and causes me to get into time trouble.
This simple fix should create a significant positive outcome in my games.
Every game will only be played in conditions where I can give my full attention. This likely means that I’ll cut out most games played on my phone, as I tend to play chess on my phone as background noise when my mind isn’t at peak function and focus.
For example, I play a lot of games on my phone when I’m lying down to sleep (this is bad sleep hygiene anyway) or when I’m hanging out in the evening relaxing, and there’s an episode of The Office on for winding down.
My rating should start to reflect my actual playing strength.
I should stop losing games because I ran out of time, rushed a move, or simply missed an obvious tactical opportunity.
Review each game after it’s played
Later in this article, I’ll dive into my review protocol plans, but one thing I need to change in my approach to the game is not reviewing games.
I have a tendency to get caught up in playing many games in a row—especially if the opponent challenges me to another game and I won OR I think I can beat a guy who I slipped up playing (usually as a result of the first problem I mentioned.
Reviewing each game played that I gave my undivided attention to will help me become a stronger player because I’ll catch errors in my thought process while it’s fully engaged. Reviewing games that don’t have my undivided attention is as useful as reviewing a boxing match where I’m injured.
Slow down and go through a checklist
I often move too quickly, and it’s got nothing to do with the time.
There is a false sense of bravado I’ll develop, either in positions I think I know too well or by not fully analyzing the position. My positional understanding of chess is strong enough that I will make better moves in a given position by slowing down and running down a checklist as I evaluate the position.
The checkdown looks roughly like this:
- Is my King in danger?
- Is there any piece in danger?
- Is the position open, closed, or semi-open?
- Is there a pawn break or an undefended piece to attack?
- What is my worst placed piece and how can I improve it?
- What is his best place piece and how can I weaken it?
This checkdown doesn’t take long, often reveals the best move to take for the given situation, and will keep me from making blunders or outright mistakes in my game. I have to drill myself to go through this check down after every move, though there are some positions where the answer is obvious that I can skip the check down.
Drill chess tactics/solve chess puzzles
There are two types of tactics I’ll use to improve my tactical vision:
Static tactical puzzles
I call these tactical exercises “static” because they are from a fixed set of exercises that aren’t updated. I’ll go through all the tactical exercises in CT Art 4.0 to the point where I memorized the patterns and solutions. Michael De La Maza originally suggested this part of my plan in his book “Rapid Chess Improvement.”
I liked his rationale for this training regime: he’d develop an eye for seeing tactical weaknesses on the board. There are 2058 different puzzles. I doubt I’ll memorize them all. Rather, I hypothesize that I’ll develop a feel and vision for common tactical ideas and their various positional setups.
Dynamic tactical puzzles
Chess.com has a nearly endless array of tactical exercises randomly presented to you.
Since the tactics shown to you won’t be repeated and seem to be matched well to the level of chess tactics you’ve already solved, this is a good way to gain progressive strength.
This is also a way for you to measure the crossover in strength from the static exercises.
Chess Opening training
This part of my training most likely runs against most conventional chess training.
I am devoting a sizable chunk of my energy to studying the opening. My rationale, as a lowly club player of barely respectable strength, is as follows:
- The opening is the easiest part of the game to study because there are fewer things to consider and fewer ways for things to go wrong. I figure that by mastering this phase of the game, I can win some close games, get myself into more middle games to learn from, and avoid mistakes and traps that make a game almost impossible to win, even with strong play going forward. As the old saying goes, “well begun is half done.”
- Because openings have so few permutations, you can easily study variations in your opening. As I see it, the goal of studying the opening isn’t to know exactly what to do for every one of the first 12 moves. It’s to understand why the moves are played so that you know what to do in case they aren’t played.
- Strong opening theory saves time and energy. It saves time because you can quickly make moves in familiar situations without giving it too much thought (though you should, so you avoid making blunders), and it saves energy because you don’t have to think hard about something that has a proven solution. That’s brain power that can be saved for the middle game, where the board is more complicated with many more things to consider.
For my opening training, I’ll be using chess.com and analyzing the moves for my selected opening repertoire.
As white, I’ll be studying the variations that arise from 1. d4 (Queen’s Gambit accepted, Queen’s Gambit declined, The Slav, The Nimzo-Indian, and the King’s Indian) and as black 1. e4 c5 (The Sicilian System) and 1. d4 d5 (The London System).
I’ll also be using Chessable.com and its training programs.
Chessable’s MoveTrainer® turns any chess book or videos into a fully interactive course. It figures out what I know and don’t know by regularly quizzing me. It then uses the science-based principles of spaced repetition along with implicit and explicit learning to make sure I learn the moves by making and being told what’s correct or not.
I’m a big believer in a rising tide moving all ships, but I’ll likely master only one opening system at a time. With that said, I anticipate that understanding one opening well will increase my overall grasp of opening theory.
I’ll not just be going through the moves, memorizing what the computer says is best, but I’ll be taking notes to understand why the computer thinks something is a good or bad idea. That brings me to the next part of my training.
Chess game review
Everything in my plan has been merely supplemental.
Chess game review is how I anticipate making most of my progress. This 20% of my plan will account for 80% of my progress.
I plan to extensively review my games using the Chess.com engine and the Decode Chess engine.
Chess.com’s engine has a more aesthetically pleasing interface, but Decode Chess gives a more thorough explanation about why a certain move was a good idea, why it was not, and some ideas about alternative moves instead.
The engine on Chess.com also provides some descriptions, but it’s not at the level of detail as Decode Chess. If anyone is looking to replicate this plan to improve their chess, my suggestions are as follows
Decode Chess vs. Chess.com
Decode Chess is good if you don’t quite understand the chess strategy behind why the computer might suggest a move. It gives multiple positives for the best move and multiple negatives for the worst. With Decode Chess, you get more information about why a move you made in the game was no good.
Chess.com only gives you the most potent idea when it suggests better moves or when it tells you what’s wrong. A stronger player will be able to understand the suggestions of chess.com without the additional commentary.
I’m using both to review my games because while I have access to a coach who can explain truly difficult ideas and points to me, and I’m strong enough to understand the reasoning behind most of Chess.com suggestions, Decode Chess sometimes offers a more detailed look into why a move isn’t the best.
Using the Chess.com terminology, it’s pretty easy to see why a move is a “mistake” or an outright “blunder.” The bigger challenge is seeing why a move is only “good” and not the “best” you could have played in that position. Decode Chess will help me to better understand that.
Training the endgame has always been difficult for me. One issue is that I’m not quite sure where it starts. The other two phases of the game have pretty clear start points.
- The opening is right from the start.
- The beginning of the middlegame is roughly defined as the point after you’ve moved all of your minor pieces off of their starting squares.
Those are pretty straightforward ideas and have been widely agreed upon by various chess coaches I’ve had. However, things get tricky when talking about the endgame.
Is it when:
- The minor pieces are off the board?
- The queen is off the board?
- The king becomes an attacking piece?
- One of the rooks is gone?
These are all different things I’ve read or what the literature suggests. Even Chess.com’s definition—the official website for all things chess—gives a rather nebulous definition of the endgame:
The end game iswhen most of the pieces are off of the board. There is no definite number of pieces, but it’s usually a safe bet to call it the endgame when each player has three pieces (knights, bishops, rooks, queens) or less. Hope this helps!
Using a mix of these definitions, I’ve roughly determined the endgame’s definition. At the very least, I’ve figured out a definition that will allow me to formulate a study plan and begin to execute the ideas:
The transition from the middle game to the end game starts when the point totals of both sides are less than 21. The end game is underway when both players have their total points under 11.
Each piece has a certain value.
- Pawn (1)*8
Added up, this comes out to 39. I don’t include the king because he can’t be captured. I know some literature gives him a value of 4, but that’s to estimate his attacking potential. As a piece, his value is infinite—i.e., the king is never removed from the game—so his value is infinite.
Endgame principles become applicable when your fighting strength falls below 20 points (you’ve had 19 points captured), and you can execute knowledge of specific endgames once lower than 11 (28 points have been captured).
Based on the standard and common endgame configurations we study, This was the only commonality I could find between all of the end game training exercises on Chess.com or in other chess books like Silman’s Complete Endgame Book.
My definition will likely change as I grow and develop as a player through this training exercise. If you’re a strong player with ideas for my definition or things I might consider adding, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What isn’t included in my study plan
I have no intention of studying classic games or positional play.
I’m not arrogant enough to think I can ignore studying some of the best games and ideas ever executed in chess. It’s just that I think I will gain more from following a plan that involves a high degree of tactical feedback.
Or put differently, I’m going to learn a lot by doing and making mistakes. For now, until I reach 2000+ on Chess.com, I will not study anything else.
I want to develop a sort of fluency in chess. A person can become fluent in anything. Not just language.
We tend to only think of “fluency” when speaking other languages. Fluency doesn’t just apply to language. A person can be fluent in anything. All that matters is the ease and speed with which one can effectively string together the fundamentals of their craft.
The best way to develop this is through constant practice and drilling of the fundamental components. Better to spend a lot of time on a few key concepts than a little time on a lot.
Summary of my chess improvement plan for internet chess
- Give each game my undivided attention
- Review each game after it’s played
- Slow down and though a check-down
- Drill chess tactics
- Opening training
- Chess game review
I’ll continually update this post as my rating grows and changes. If you’re interested in playing me on Chess.com, my handle is Ed_Latimore.