Summer of Chess

This summer is make-or-break for the ‘road to Grandmaster’.  No, I don’t expect to make GM (or close) in three months, nor is there technically any time limit on my ambitions, but if I don’t make significant progress now then I doubt I ever will.

With that in mind, I intend to dedicate July, August and September largely to chess improvement.  I’m open to suggestions on how best to use that time; in particular if anyone knows of any good chess camps or training opportunities I’d be interested to know.  In the absence of any special opportunities arising, my basic plan is as follows.

Aim for 40 hours’ study per week.  This time will be split roughly evenly between opening, middlegame and endgame training, with plenty of tactics problems.  However, I don’t intend to try to divide the time up too strictly as I think that can decrease productivity.

I also plan to play in several tournaments.  Ones I’m considering include the 11-round British Major Open in late July and early August, the e2e4 Uxbridge International in mid-August, the Paignton Congress in early September, the e2e4 Sunningdale Congress in mid-September and the e2e4 Gatwick Premier at the end of September.  I’m also open to the idea of travelling to a tournament or two in mainland Europe (if my bank balance is healthy enough).


34 thoughts on “Summer of Chess

  1. Sounds like a solid plan, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself and focus too much on results and progress. Also when analysing, hindsight doesn’t get you far (“Oh, i see, this is how it should have went”), rather you need to develop foresight (solving the problems on your own), Rowson talks about this, i think in ‘Chess for Zebras’. Oops, ranting over!
    One Europe Tournament Suggestion: Czech Open in Pardubice, C-Open:
    it’s part of a huge festival with lots of different tournaments, even other than chess, and food and stay in czechia is quite cheap. If you can find a cheap flight as well, why not? Are you more on the Manchester or London side of things?

    So, again, great plan, but better keep to a “let’s see!” attitude rather than a “let’s do it now or never!” one.

    1. The Czech Open looks like a good tournament – I’ll look into it. I live in the south during the holidays (Somerset) and the north during term-time (Durham). Assuming I get a job after next year, this summer could be one of the last long stretches of free time I have, so I think a certain degree of ‘now or never’ attitude is justifiable!

      Thanks for your thoughts,


  2. Hi Wil,

    I see you have a very interesting project. I would follow your blog closely from now, and here is some things that I personally think they would benefit you:
    Openings: Always study the main lines of Sicilin, Ruy Lopez, as black you should try the KID against d4… the main lines of the most popular openings will benefit you later – most GMs (actually I dont know any exception) always study the main lines of Sicilin or Ruy Lopez or at least Queen Gambit not any other secondary openings when they were young.
    Then how to study them?
    You should follow the main line as much as your opponents allow you, you should also at least remember some games of GM to understand how to develop your plan after you finish your openings. You can play blitz game G/5 and review your wrong moves in openings immediately after you finish – you will have a nice openings knowledge soon after you practice this.

    About other phase, I will talk to you later when I have time – I have to go now.

    Hope that will help you and good luck with your dream.

    1. Hi Liem,

      Thank you very much for your advice! I am currently playing the Ruy Lopez as black, and will take it up with white too. I play Open Sicilian lines as white, but not as black. I play the KID against d4 but haven’t really studied the Queen’s Gambit before.

      I look forward to hearing your other tips when you have time.


  3. You wished Garry would coach you, well with top-GM Le Quang Liem this is just what you have. Congrats on getting his attention.
    Learning main, sound lines of major openings makes much sense. Playing them you cannot be outprepared so easily, even if your opponent knows what you play, he won’t find a refutation of the Ruy-Lopez. Plus, you can play them either with black and with white.

    Now for the tournaments. In an Open tournament with the usual weak-strong pairing, being an intermediate you will beat a patzer at round one, then lose to an IM at round two, rinse and repeat with very few interesting games. Play instead IM-norm, closed tournaments or Scheveningen ones. The opponents will all be of similar strength.
    Here are two organizers in Hungaria
    If a marked improvement in chess strength at the end of Summer is what you wish, this is where you should play. I stayed there five weeks and gained 75 Elo points. Imagine if you stay the whole Summer.

    1. Interesting suggestion. I was aware of the ‘First Saturday’ tournaments but hadn’t considered going to any until I was strong enough to have a chance of making a norm. Still, I think it would probably be a great idea if I could afford it, but I’ll need to look into the costs of staying there for an extended period.

  4. If that was the real Le Quang then it was really cool and should be really encouraging for you. By the way, take things easy. I think that trying to guess a grandmaster move is a good training, there are some articles by Daniel King where he present a complete game and you have to guess the winner´s move. It is active learning so should be good.

    1. I assume it was, and, yes, it’s very encouraging. I’ve seen the Daniel King columns before and they seem fun, but I don’t currently subscribe to ‘Chess’ magazine.

  5. Any idea what your ecf grade has increased to for 2011-12?
    I spotted your 4NCL performance of 179….and Im sure you gained some points at Blackpool ?
    152 up to 170+ would be a success in year 1 Id say…..

    1. My best guess is that it’ll be about 163. I’ve been performing at 180 or so for much of the season, but unfortunately I performed at 139 over 11 games in Paignton back in September which will drag it down.

      1. ok…still…thats a nice jump up none the less…I guess the target for next year is 180 ?…or maybe more ?
        I dunno if Ill still be alive in 10 years time…but its fascinating to see whether you can indeed make medium sized strides towards your goal each year…or if there comes a point where you simply plateau….

  6. Following on from GM Le Quang Liem’s comment… if you could get hold of Mastering the King’s Indian Defence by Robert Bellin and Pietro Ponzetto, and Mastering the Spanish by Daniel King and Pietro Ponzetto, they’d probably prove to be wise buys. Matthew Sadler’s book Queen’s Gambit Declined is highly regarded too. Mastering the KID is one of the best openings books I’ve ever read; it teaches the opening in terms of pawn-structure and strategy. Mastering the Spanish has sat on my shelf unread for a few years, time to read it I think: I’m following the GM’s advice 1…e5 and 1…d5 for me too.

    1. I don’t own any of those books. I’m sure they’re good, but I wonder whether they might be a bit too basic and/or outdated.

  7. Also(!) Winning Chess Middlegames by Ivan Sokolov is supposed to be very good on QP/Queen’s Gambit structures – my copy arrived today, from a quick browse through it, it looks extremely instructive. Good luck this summer!

    1. I recently bought Sokolov’s ‘Ruy Lopez Revisited’, and though I haven’t had a chance to read much of it yet, it looks good. ‘Winning Chess Middlegames’ gets very good reviews, but it seems to be mostly about d4/d5 openings, which I don’t play (at the moment). In John Donaldson’s review he says: ‘If you play 1.e4 as White and answer it with 1…e5 and play the King’s Indian you would not find many of the pawn structures you routinely encounter in Sokolov’s book.’

  8. R.e. tournaments over the summer:-

    With Pardubice there’s not much there apart from cheap beer from what I hear, so could be fun, but perhaps not great for achieving a decent result 😉

    The e2e4 tourns are always worth entering, but the British Major Open probably isn’t tbh.

    Can’t remember it’s exact name but theres a decent tournament held in Barcelona each summer, and I’ve heard good things about some of the summer tourns in Greece. Both pretty suitable if you’re looking to combine a decent holiday and decent chess at a relatively affordable price.

    1. Why don’t you think the Major Open would be worthwhile? Regarding Pardubice, the mere existence of cheap beer does not necessarily mean that it must be consumed in copious amounts. 🙂 Thanks for the other tournament ideas.

  9. Missed out mentioning in the other post, the South Wales International is usually a decent tournament to play in. It’s July 9th- 14th.

  10. Have you thought about your decision making process?

    Is all in the head…is about getting to know your self, accepting who you are and why you are like that. That should be your next step…without that you wont know where you are.

    AND don’t ever let failure ideas in(what is that about?)…let your self out of your statistics…they might work against you if you don’t get over them.

    Believe in your self.

    Enjoy the trip Will best of luck!

  11. Hey i wanted to jump from 1700-2200 a 2 1/2 years ago in FIDE rating and i managed to do so in around 2 years. I don’t know if you will listen to me but i really think you should stop solving so many problems as the important part is how to get the position where you can go for the tactical kill. If you don’t get these positions then there is no use of problems. What i did was that i got Fritz Chess Grandmaster 11 . I suggest you get it too and practice calculation training regularly. That really was beneficial for me. Also try to get the book ” How to Reassess your Chess “. It is a real gem. I am very happy to have completed my goal a few months back and i wish you all the best towards your goal. ( Sorry i can’t give my real name.)

    1. I’ve never heard of Fritz Chess Grandmaster 11 before and a quick google didn’t make it entirely clear which product you mean. I’m a little confused by your ‘calculation training’ suggestion – surely that’s (at least part of) what problem solving is? I’ve got ‘How to Reassess Your Chess’ and intend to work through it asap. Well done on completing your goal and thanks for the good luck.

  12. Hey Will, first of all I wish you all the best in reaching the GM title.

    I think you have to work with a strong trainer (2350+, or even IM-GM) regularly, at least 2-3 meetings a week. Studying alone is OK, and much cheaper, but you have to be working all the time with a good coach to make real improvement, IMO.

    Also, do you have clear mid-term goals? saying “GM or I quit” is rather harsh.
    Maybe decide you want to reach 2200 by X date, and go from there?

    1. Hi, and thank you.

      As of yesterday I have restarted weekly lessons with GM Damian Lemos, which are great value, but I’d struggle to afford them more often. I will think about ways of working with a strong player more often.

      No, I haven’t set many mid-term goals, though I would like my next ECF grade (in a little over a year), to be about 190 (~2200). I should have a full FIDE rating by September, which I can use as the basis for goal-setting.

  13. Will,

    Good luck on your project, of course! You asked a question about what you should be studying, but I think the more important question is *how* you should be studying. I myself am just now figuring out (at the age of 50!) how important it is to actively engage with difficult material in order to improve. When I look at how I gained piano mastery decades ago, that was definitely the key. I would take on a piece that’s a little beyond my ability, work through it phrase by phrase, repeatedly, until I got it under my belt. In the same way, with chess I am starting to focus on:

    * Analyzing my own games–first by myself, then with coaching assistance. I can’t afford a GM, so I use Coach Fritz and Coach Houdini. 🙂

    * Practicing tactics, and especially revisiting on a regular basis the problems that I struggled with. (I don’t need to review the problems I solved quickly.)

    * Actively analyzing GM games. I tend not to do videos because it’s a very passive medium. Instead, I read books with GM games, performing my own analysis alongside the author’s analysis. Occasionally I’ll find a huge error! Not often….I’m sure if I authored a book it would have an error frequency orders of magnitude higher.

    I recommend these books to give you background on the learning process that leads to mastery:
    “The Talent Code” (by Doyle, I think)
    “Talent Is Overrated” (by Colvin, I think)
    If you only have time for one, go with The Talent Code.

    1. Hi Chris,

      Thanks for a very interesting comment. I’ve just started thinking along similar lines about how to study (ideas like ‘deliberate practice’) myself. I agree with your thoughts on music practice (I’m an experienced guitarist and double bass player myself), but think it’s not entirely straightforward to apply the same ideas to chess. I expect to write a post about it within the next few weeks, and would appreciate your thoughts when I do.


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