Tracking your improvement

by Webmaster on May 24, 2014

As a player, I was often unsure about my technical improvement over timescales of weeks and months. After I first become a rated player, my local (national) rating grew quickly and steadily: 1383 –> 1492 –> 1553 –> 1642 –> 1723 –> 1819 –> 1852. As foreshadowed by the final rating change, the increase in my rating was slowing down. I recall that soon after, I even had a rating period where I lost points. Though I occasionally had a handful of mediocre tournament results before that (including one occasion where I scored 1/7 in a junior tournament), for the first time, I had hit a rating slump.

This was a troubling time as it was unclear to me whether I was just temporarily out of form or whether I was actually no longer improving (implying that I was not trying hard enough). This kind of halt was quite testing for me as a youngster. In hindsight, I think I was always steadily improving during that slump period, whenever I was studying chess.

American International Master Joshua Waitzkin had a somewhat different worry when he was a youngster. He was worried that his brain would not be able to fit all the chess knowledge. He pictured a container “filled to the brim”. But, of course, many years later, he acknowledged that a brain can never be full – the more (quality) material it stores, the more efficiently the brain integrates the connections between the many areas of knowledge. You might want to ask a biologist or psychologist for a better explanation!

More recently, Armenian-born American Grandmaster Varuzhan Akobian, who played for the bronze-medal US team in the 2008 and 2010 Olympiads, said this in his bio for the US Championship: “Don’t expect to see constant improvement. You build knowledge and work hard, and after a while, you’ll see a big breakthrough.”

I think that as long as you stick the fundamentals (playing enough tournaments, analysing your games and spending some time studying books and DVDs), you will be improving your game. Even if you are improving steadily, it is not always reflected in your immediate rating or results. Just like artists, we all run through phases of poor and good form. In fact, the 14th World Champion, Russian Grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik has often compared chess and art in interviews.

It took a little while for me to get out of that slump. A bit less than two years later, I had my greatest tournament to date and was able to leapfrog about 150 points.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Johnny Tarrant October 5, 2014 at 10:41 am

Thank you for a most interesting and truthful article. I have heard it said by others that one plays a lot of chess, loses a lot of games, studies, and then breaks through to start improving. It has a lot to do with patience, and stay true to your game.

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