The End of the Road?

Tomorrow I will be moving to China to study Mandarin for a year at Xiangtan University.  Although my desire to improve at chess has not waned, and I still believe my project is achievable, I no longer feel able to blog under the ‘Road to Grandmaster’ heading without making chess my first priority.

Two years ago today, I wrote in my first post and ‘mission statement’:

“This blog will document my journey as I attempt to improve from a ‘Class A’ chess player to a Grandmaster, the highest title awarded by FIDE (the World Chess Federation).  I propose to do this without failing my degree (an MSci Joint Honours in Physics and Chemistry), without dropping my other hobbies (guitar, Go, Mandarin Chinese and more), without losing my girlfriend (who has not the slightest interest in chess), and even whilst maintaining a normal student’s social life.”

Starting with the secondary aims, I wasn’t able to dedicate much time to my other hobbies, though the more important degree and girlfriend-keeping have been or continue to be negotiated successfully!  The primary aim has not of course been completed; I am not a Grandmaster.  However, I do feel my chess has improved, and when FIDE takes into account my performance at the Czech Open I will finally have progressed from ‘Class A’ to ‘Expert’.  The graph below shows my ECF grade (converted into an approximate FIDE rating) up until July 2011, with the vertical blue line marking the start of this project.  In September of that year I got my first FIDE rating, and the points thereafter reflect that rating.  (It would be remiss of me not to mention that my latest ECF grade has actually gone down, but I believe my FIDE rating to now be my most reliable one.  The 2009 point is artificially high because the ECF made alterations to their grading system in that year.)

My rate of improvement during the project has been solid but unremarkable (+~150 points in two years).  Please refer to my latest study plan post for my thoughts on possible reasons for that.

For those of you who, like me, aspire to take great strides forward in your chess understanding and strength, a few words:

1.  Do not be discouraged by those who claim that ‘talent’ is all-important.  (The Polgar sisters are one great example which demonstrates that practice is much more important.)  For an entertaining and inspiring read about the power of ‘deliberate practice’, try ‘Bounce’, by Matthew Syed.

2.  Prioritise.  The American wrestler Dan Gable has been quoted as saying: “If it’s important do it every day, if it’s not don’t do it at all.”  In other words, if you try to improve your chess whilst working full-time, learning the shakuhachi, and playing golf four times a week, you won’t get very far.

3.  Make yourself accountable to someone.  I did that in a big way with a public declaration of my intent and regular updates on this blog.  It’s been a mixed blessing – a source of both motivation and anxiety – and I think a smaller-scale declaration could work as well.

In closing, I’d like to thank everyone who has helped me in any way over the past two years, whether by offering to share their books or learning materials, their time to play and analyse, or their words of wisdom and encouragement in comments on my posts.  You’ve helped to keep me going after bad tournaments, and have fuelled the improvement which I am confident will continue even after I stop posting here.  Although I have not achieved my goal, I hope some of you have nevertheless found some value in my posts.  It may well be that at some point in the future I will once again find the time to pursue chess improvement as a top priority, but until such time, goodbye, and good luck.

18 thoughts on “The End of the Road?

  1. This is sad news for me as a deliberate practice follower and fan of your project, but i’m glad that you came to a relatively harmonious conclusion here and i agree that the Road to Grandmaster title wouldn’t be appropriate if your main focus was China and Chinese. I’m also glad your other plans didn’t fall by the wayside and you seem to have a great time ahead of you. Whether you plan to continue the project after China or not, i wish you a good time and best of luck in all your endeavours!

    1. Hi Torbjörn,

      I e-mailed the Chinese Chess Association before I left but they didn’t get back to me (it may have been an outdated e-mail address). Hopefully my university will have a chess club, but I haven’t been able to find out yet. Do you know anything about chess opportunities in Xiangtan or the surrounding area?


      1. Hopefully they have a chess team and chess events in Xiangtan. I think they have.
        I have been looking around with help of Google and Wikipedia.

        Some pages I have been looking at first:

        I used Google translate. Chess Xiangtan translates to:

        I found then pages with ‘Chess Xiangtan’:

        Good luck to continue the research!

  2. I enjoyed reading your blog and am also a practitioner/fan of deliberate practice. You’ve inspired me to perhaps try a blog.

    1. Bryan – it’s been almost 10 months since your comment and I’m only now replying, which must be a record – sorry! Glad you enjoyed the blog, and if you want to start one of your own I say go for it (but try not to let it put too much pressure on you).

  3. This is the first time that i came across this blog.

    To me the reasons why you did not improve as much as you could are clear.
    Let me give you some background- currently i am a player in the 2000-2100 range and my goal is more modest than yours-I want to become a strong IM.
    I did some research along with my study. a 2400+ player dedicated about 5000 of hours on average STUDYING. not playing. So the two main reasons are
    1-Not enough study time was dedicated. You put your playing time as time which was put towards chess improvement,which is wrong according to this study:

    From going over your reports,you dedicated about 6 hours to “chess”including playing and about 3 hours of study per week. Now,since you have about 90 reports,that amounts to 270 hours. You need about 5000 to become a 2400+ player (look at the study!).

    2. The mixture of topics when you did study was outright wrong. According to what Yusupov does in his books,it should be tactics-40% of the time,calculation-10% (yes he knows and i know it is coorelated) endgames-20% strategy 20% and openings 10%.
    I did not even go into the topic-when you did study,what was done? Was it interactive with a series of problems you should solve for the most part,and a little bit of theory?

    I really am considering opening a blog like that myself.
    I wonder if the tradeoff between wasting time doing that and having to give someone a report does pay off though?

    1. Yoni – thanks for your comment, and sorry for the ridiculous length of time it’s taken me to reply (I’ve been doing other stuff, and not keeping up with blog comments at all). The best of luck to you in your project, and let me know if you do decide to start a blog (but try to make sure it doesn’t put too much pressure on you, as this one has on me at times).

      With regard to your point 1 – yep, I didn’t put in nearly enough hours. The exact percentages you give in point 2 are of course debatable, but I probably didn’t have an optimum mix.

  4. I wish you give your best to your priorities on hand, without bothering about your pace of improvement in chess to become Grandmaster, this will happen. Only when other priorities get accomplished you will seemingly derive pleasure from chess playing, upon this you will definitely become Grandmaster.
    Hope you are playing chess to a minimum level regularly, wish to see your blog that you have earned Grandmaster title, but do it absolutely without any pressure.Your making a public statement must not have any negative stress on you, as you must have influenced quite a few on treading the right path.

    1. H.K. Srinivas – thanks for your nice comment, and apologies for the inordinately long time it has taken me to respond – I’ve been focused on other things and not keeping on top of blog comments at all. Your point about deriving pleasure from chess is important, and is definitely something which suffered a bit at times as a result of this project.

  5. Hi! My Elo is about 2045 and my playing strength is about 2100 or maybe even 2150.
    I think in the last 2 years your progress of 150 rating points still left you a class A player and the real problem is understanding chess and going through the depth of it. I figure your aims are totally unrealistic- becoming a GM as a hobby. I think it won’t happen and maybe you should set a more realistic aims first and try to achieve a NM then maybe FM. It is a long way still….I really don’t want to discourage you, in fact I would be happe to see you as GM;)
    the problem is that you have to aquire a lot of knowledge and while doing so forgetting will occur. So if the learning steps are so small and the forgetting is about the same then there is no net win. Also progression at 1900 level is merely through better tactics, which is in fact the easiest way, that doesn’t require much time like 1h every day is totally fine for that. But building a GM repertoire and endgame skills is way to complex, besides without thourogh understanding of middlegame it is of no use to say the least. I don’t think that becoming GM is something everyone can do….maybe up to expert level it is possible for every one, then probably not.. maybe with great training a FM, but this is just my opinion and what I see in many chess clubs.

    1. Willie – thanks for your thoughtful comment and apologies for how long it has taken me to reply. I agree entirely that my aims are unrealistic without being able to dedicate a lot more time to it (though I don’t agree that it’s a matter of talent). Breaking the path down with intermediate goals is also a good idea, and something I intend to adopt if I get a chance to start studying hard again.

  6. I loved the blog and I’m sorry to see you go.

    I think your study plan and time expenditure were totally unrealistic. Based on my research, 4 hours/day for 7 or 8 years might get you within spitting distance. You weren’t going live long enough to get there with the pace you set. 🙂

    Good luck in China

    1. Hi Matt,

      Always nice to hear that someone liked the blog, and I’m also sorry to see me go!

      Yep, I think my pace was ok at the start, but overall I didn’t do nearly enough.

      Thanks – I’m now back from China.

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