New year, new goals, new chess tournaments, new games, and most importantly, new skills to master. Are you willing to put in all the effort necessary to progress this year? If your answer is yes then keep reading; chances are you will get something valuable.
The best time to start thinking about our career as chess players is, without doubt, the beginning of a new year. At this moment, you can read what future events you would like to participate in, how much it would cost, as well as create a training program to achieve your goals.
But, what if: instead of focusing on achieving a specific ELO, place in a tournament, or any other kind of aim we might have, we start to focus on developing the skills that will lead us to it? It sounds much better, at least to me.
Everyone wants “something”, but not many people focus on what is takes to achieve that “something”.
To add more context to what I want to say, I would like to mention that I organize my chess training in skills – specific things to work with – I hate routines like:
- Monday: 1hr of openings
- Tuesday: 1hr of solving puzzles on chess.com
- Wednesday: 1hr of blaming my internet connection because I lost blitz games
Instead, first, I like to discover one weakness in my game. For instance, last year I discovered I had a huge lack of endgame understanding. I threw away positions with a good advantage just because I did not know how to play this stage of the game properly. The first step to getting better at something is recognizing that you are a complete idiot at it.
You already know what you need to know. You decide that if you want to repeat the same mistakes, or work intensively hard to be a less-idiot player at that particular aspect.
Instead of creating a routine where you are randomly training on different skills, focus only on training this specific lack of your game. Notice how I make emphasis on the word specific not to show you that I know how to use word documents, but because you need to know what exactly you should train.
In my example, I was bad specifically on practical endgames, I knew how to play theoretical endgames, how to draw in a Philidor position, how to win a Lucena position, how to win with a queen against a pawn that is on the 7th rank on the C or F file and my while my king is far from the action (of course I am lying, that’s not possible, but if you doubt just one second about it then well, you know what endgame to study). But in positions where I just simply had to play an equal or advantage endgame, I was struggling, making mistakes, creating weaknesses, and more chances to win for my opponent.
Less talk, more action, analyze your recent games and ask yourself:
# 1 "In what specific area of my game am I completely an idiot?” (Applicable even to our lives too)
Great, it might be disgusting to realize how bad someone is at something, but there is only one Magnus Carlsen (the world champion) in the world. Take it easy!
Next, it is time to create the proper steps that will lead you to get better at a specific part of chess, and there are many different ways of doing that:
Get a coach: probably the best one, someone that is already better than you in that regard and with a good capacity of teaching will help you to overcome any problem you have faster than with other methods. Here it is important to mention the list of high-quality coaches that mmchess.org is offering: mmchess.org
Consume content related to that specific area: read books, watch YouTube videos, buy a course, just Google about it and for sure you will find something.
Practice, for God's sake, practice: people think that because they read “how to play practical endgames, specifically those where you lost an advantage and thrown away the point” they improve. If it were that easy, everyone would be a GM. You need to test what you have been consuming to find out if that works and if you can apply it correctly. You do not learn to swim by reading “how to swim”.
In summary, #2: “Consume and practice that specific area where you are an idiot”
It may all sound pretty basic to you so far, but that’s what it really is, the thing that makes this process difficult is us. We need to dedicate an abundant number of hours to consume and practice, we need to be able to find that specific thing that keeps us at the same ELO (unless, again, you have a coach), we need to stay motivated every day to train.
So yes, it sounds easy, but it is harder when you start to take action. I am not saying this to depress you, quite the opposite, I am pointing it out so you can see that it is a difficult-love process! Because there is nothing in the world more rewarding than when we see our improvements.
#3 "It's okay if you don't improve much after training that specific skill after days-weeks-months, remember the goal is to be less of an idiot at it."
I cannot say I am a genius at the endgame. It is probably the worst stage of my game yet and something I need to keep improving. I am still bad, but not a complete idiot like years ago, and I think that is what we all want get.
Happy 2022! I am Gabriel Salazar, Fide Master, and chess coach. Available for new students.