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Monday, April 25, 2011

Will I Ever be a GM?

If you frequent chess forums and/or chess playing sites with any regularity, I’m sure you have heard this question asked a million times. Heck, maybe you’ve asked it yourself. The funny thing is, I’m not sure why it’s ever asked, really. The answer is almost always a resounding NO.

How do I know that those folks won’t ever become Grandmasters? It’s simple. If your actual chess rating is 2300 or 2400 (2500+ is GM level chess) and you have an actual shot at the Grandmaster title, you will not be on a forum asking how to gain 100 points. You’ll be studying and playing at tournaments. Instead, it’s always the 1100-1600 crowd that seems to ask questions like those. Of course, I’m not saying that every 1100 who has ever asked if he could become a Grandmaster hasn’t actually become one, but it’s like winning the lottery – your chances are really, really low.

The average USCF rating is 1391. *Average*. That means that a good portion of actual tournament players fall below that mark. It’s really intriguing to walk around some of the big tournaments that have hundreds of competitors. In Las Vegas, for instance, the tournaments are held in huge ballrooms, inside one of the big hotels. You walk past row after row after row of people who are intensely into their games. They are all playing the exact same game, which is chess. However, only the last five or six rows feature any players who are worth a damn. 90% of the room is filled with patzers, trying hard to make their way to one of those front rows.

A rating of 2,000 USCF makes you an official chess Expert. That alone is an awesome feat that very, very few chess players ever achieve. And yet, Experts still have 200 hard-to-earn points before they become a “lowly” Master with a 2,200 rating. The Master then has 300 points to climb through if he wants to get near a Grandmaster title. See what I’m getting at here? The 9th grade kid who finds he loves chess and has set himself a Grandmaster goal is going to find things out the hard way.

Of course, setting goals is never a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong here, I feel that goal-setting is very healthy, but only if they are actually attainable. Instead of announcing that you will stop at nothing to earn the Grandmaster title when you are rated 1550, maybe tell folks that 1800 is within view, and see if you can jump that hurdle. Once you crest the 1800 mark, you can start hitting the books and seriously consider shooting for Expert. If you continue to improve from there, Master may not be out of sight. But remember, the higher your rating the harder it is to improve on it, in general.

For example, if a 1400 rated player has taken a whole year off of tournament play to study and improve their chess, it may not be very difficult at all to fly through 300 points and acquire a rating of 1700. However, unless you are a super bright prodigy, improvement after that will prove to be slow and painful. Instead of setting unattainable goals, always bring you’re A-game to tournaments. That way, you are sure to get as far as you personally can. Wherever you plateau, if in fact you do, should be acceptable to you no matter if you secretly want to be a GM or not. We all secretly want to be GMs, it goes with the territory.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Time Management in Chess

So, something has confused me since, well, since I began playing chess, I guess. Why is it that some folks, especially online, play long or “standard” games as if they are 3/0 or less? If I had a quarter for every time I checkmated someone who had ten minutes more on their clock than I did, I would be able to buy a golden chess set. Let’s discuss some of the drawbacks of moving fast in slow games.

No time to plan. Well, I guess it’s no secret that chess involves planning and strategy. In fact, that’s the entire point of the game. So, if we have (for example) twenty-minutes on the clock to begin with, and have only used two of them when we resign or get checkmated, while our opponent has used twelve minutes, we simply must recognize that something is wrong. The average player simply cannot create sound plans, attacks, and defenses when they bang out thirty moves in under three minutes. Not going to happen. In those instances, the player who uses more time almost always wins.

Reduced benefits. Can you imagine if our parents only grounded us for three minutes every time we were caught doing something horrible? Would your lessons be learned, or would the lesson be that it’s really okay to be bad? If you sign up for a longer game, be prepared to use most or all of your time. Losing game after game because we moved too fast isn’t going to teach us anything, and so there is no way to improve. If you get into a bad position, *play* that position. Make it hurt a little. Chances are, you’ll remember it the next time you see it and be more careful. Likewise, if you have the winning position, *look* for the fastest win. Just because you have three pieces and your opponent only has a king doesn’t mean you start giving mindless checks, waiting for the mate. If there is time on your clock, work it out – heck, that’s half the fun, isn’t it?

Rating never changes. Take the average fast-moving 1450 rated standard player on the Internet. He is obviously inferior to a 1900 player, but will he beat that player occasionally, even though he’s moving fast? Sure. It happens. So he’ll gain maybe 40 points for that scalp. But then, he loses the next five because he keeps playing lightning fast, and his 40 points are gone. Then he’ll take out a couple unwitting 1600s and gain them back, only to lose them again in the next four games or so. The *only* way that rating is ever going to climb (or even fall) dramatically is if we take our time and commit ourselves to the game. It’s quite the roller-coaster ride, trust me.

It just doesn’t make sense. If you want to use two minutes to make thirty moves, why aren’t you playing three-minute chess? Although it’s kinda funny and seems to be obvious, I’m being quite serious. If instant-moving and “game after game” is your goal, why aren’t you playing bullet or very fast blitz games? Honestly, you have a better chance of rating increases at those time limits if instant-moving is your preference. Because a good standard player is going to scalp you 9 of 10 games. That’s just the way it is. Nobody who has reached expert-level ratings (2000 or above) ever got there by moving instantly in any portion of the game. They may also be good blitz or bullet players, but a real Expert will take his or her time in a long game. Take my word on that.