Today I crossed 1400 on Chess.com rapid for the first time. This rapid rating is the main metric I use for my online ratings.
I started studying seriously and making the ratings climb in early 2021. You can read about my first year here. For the first few months I was crossing one of the 100-point thresholds every 4-6 weeks. I would go up and down, but looking at the first time I crossed each milestone gave me a sense of my progress. I figured this rapid progress is how it would continue. Then I hit 1200. Whatever I tried, and I tried many things, I did not see much improvement in this rating. It took me 9 months to first see 1300.
I played my first ever OTB tournament at the end of February. After that I knew I needed to make some changes. It was a great experience, but I was not ready for this level of competition.
One of the big things I wanted to change was my opening repertoire. For that, I started using ChessMood. I spent the past 2 months learning complete new openings for both white and black using ChessMood’s simplified openings. I spent a lot of time watching videos, taking notes in Chessbase, and drilling lines in Chessable. I know a lot of experts advise against spending time on openings at my level, and I somewhat agree. I did not go very deep on my openings, but I really like having at least a few solid responses to all the first few moves. I have much more confidence because I am not totally taken by surprise in most positions. I also started having better plans in the opening, which is a bit beyond simple opening principles.
For the past 6 months or so I have wanted to be focused on tactics. This is the advice everyone gives to players at my level. I’ve tried a few different approaches, but what I found worked best for me was using Chessable and spaced repetition. The series of courses I’m working through is - Learn Chess the Right Way by Susan Polgar. I’m currently done with books 1 and 2 and working on book 3. Every day I review any open puzzles from all the books, and then add more as I have time.
When I started with ChessMood, I slowed down on tactics. I learned more about some basic endgames and middlegame ideas, but it was at the expense of tactics.
After meeting with a coach (see the next section), I stopped watching all the ChessMood videos except for the Tactics videos and some of the commentated master game videos. Instead I spent all of my study time drilling tactics. I used to study about 10 minutes of tactics puzzles per day, only using Chessable. For 2 weeks I increased that to almost 60 minutes a day. I spent about half of that in Chessable, and the rest doing Chess.com puzzles and puzzle rush.
Combined with my new openings, I was focused and ready to play.
Two weeks ago I met with a new coach for the first time. It was more of a consultation than a full lesson, but I have another lesson tomorrow. He confirmed what I had been thinking, that I should be more focused on tactics. This wasn’t news, but having someone else tell me made me actually do it. He also gave me the best compliment, that I have potential and I haven’t hit my peak yet. That was a bit of a confidence boost.
A note on coaching: I have tried some coaches before, but I do not think I was mentally ready to have a coach before. I thought I had it all figured out, so I wasn’t ready to listen to the advice of a coach. For a long time I thought I didn’t need a coach because I had plenty to work on. My mindset was often “I’ll get a coach after I finish this study list of books/videos/courses/etc.” Then I did a quick goal exercise based on an article on ChessMood. I realized the important things to me weren’t finishing specific books or videos, it was a more basic idea of improvement. The best way to do that was to listen to a coach.
Last Sunday I tested positive for Covid-19. Luckily I was fully vaccinated, so the symptoms were fairly mild, considering how bad it could be.
To protect my family, I’ve locked myself in my room for the past week. I spent time alternating between resting and playing chess. That first day I won 9 in a row and gained 80 points. I was a bit in a mental fog, but somehow that seemed to help me. I wasn’t thinking about ratings as much. I wasn’t thinking about my opponent’s ratings. I honestly couldn’t think about anything much other than being in the moment in the games I was playing.
Over the past week I won 70% of my games and gained 94 rating points. This put me to 1402, the first time I was over 1400 ever! In the past 30 days I am up 209 points, since I had dropped down to 1193 just one month ago.
Let me be clear, I would take being healthy over these wins any day. However, I am making the best of a bad situation. A big part of my rating gains was spending a week with very few distractions, which rarely happens for adult improvers.
This is what my ratings looked like over the past month or so:
I am really excited about this rating milestone. I am also realistic. I’m not planning on hitting 1500 next week or anything. I know I will lose games and my rating will drop. That is just part of the game. More important to me is the knowledge that I can play at this level. For 9 months I wasn’t so sure.
I am going to continue to focus on the process of improvement. Keep pushing on tactics for now. I am not sure the hour a day is sustainable, but I certainly can do more than the 10 minutes a day I was doing. I will work with a coach to see what else I should be working on. I need to keep (or restart) analyzing my games. All the basic things that I know I should do, but sometimes forget.
Here is the game that got me over 1400. It wasn’t a perfect game at all, but I’ll take it.