Monday, 8 June 2015

Now that I'm a stable 98th percentile, it's time to step up my game. Here is the plan.

3 months ago I set myself a goal to hit the 99th percentile by basically, today. I had some concrete goals and plans set and now is the time to reflect on them. The benefit when you aim high and fall short is that, if you do fall short you can still achieve something you are proud of. Well, I am stable 98th percentile player now! That means on 15|10 chess I am ranked #14,044 of 817,724. That's and improvement of about 50,000 ranks in 2 years! Considering my studying has been all over the place at points, with many months where I did not study at all, I think this is great! Now, I am going to take studying chess seriously, since I no longer have to study my Masters in Psychology, but that's another long story.

It may not seem like much of a difference going from the 97th percentile to the 98th, especially when I was already flirting with the 98th percentile, but at this point every 0.10% I can go up matters to me, a lot, and I definitely managed to remain with my head above 98th and right now I am at 98.3%. In rating terms it means I went from being a high 1,600 to low 1,700 player on Standard to a stable 1,800 contender. Big difference compared to 2 years ago when I was stuck at the 90th percentile, happy if I managed to hit 1,500. Back then my goal was to get to the 97th and join a chess club. Well, I guess reflecting back on that goal, I have managed it, and I am now attending a small chess club in Cuenca every Saturday!

So what went wrong? Why did I not reach the 99th percentile over the last 3 months?

Well actually, I followed the 4 goals I set myself without even realising, almost to the letter. But things did go wrong, here they are:

1) I did not work with any form of schedule, aside from doing tactics mostly every morning, everything else was done at random times without any planning. This meant that if my mood was low (and in the last 3 months due to personal circumstances that happened often...!), then some things didn't get done or time simply flew away with random things.

Resolution: For the following 3 months, every night I will plan my next day's study & work schedule, including meals, this way, I make the most of my days.

2) A lot of life things got in the way of chess. Mainly making some complicated decisions, for instance, about where to live for the next 6 months (or longer). Would I travel? Would I settle down somewhere and get a job? Would I give my own business ideas a spin again? Difficult decisions, and when you feel like you will leave the country any day bound for an unknown destination sometimes it is hard to get a good study routine going.

Resolution: A couple of weeks ago I decided I would stay in Ecuador for at least 6 months and give a few of my business ideas a spin. This will provide a 6 month "stability" window to improve at chess and to try and generate an income again. I put stability in quotes because I still plan some weekend getaways, camping trips, mountain ascents, and perhaps even La Cordillera Blanca in Peru! Heck, this counts as stability in my life though! :)

3) To summarize (TLDR!), point 2, I let a lot of things interfered with my studying which meant my studying was all over the place.

Resolution: Try to write shorter paragraphs.

4) My tactics training was suboptimal. Although I managed to stay around 1,800 and hit 1,900 for a short period, the overall feeling was that of being stuck at 1,800 and not making any progress. After thinking about it, this was because the tactic problems that were hard for me I would consistently get wrong, and due to rushing because of the time vs. point dilemma , I would always rush. This rushing would make me get the problems wrong, again and again and not improve.

Resolution: Today, I reset my tactics training stats after almost reaching 100 hours (97.8 hours I believe!), I had about 55% problems right and 45% wrong in almost 7,000 solved tactics. More than half in the last 3 months I believe. I reset my tactics because my goal is to update you next time on my tactics and report at least 70% of tactics solved correctly as opposed to just 55%. I will no longer care whether I lose or win rating points while solving tactics, I will care about the percentage I get right. Period. I strongly believe this will allow me to familiarize myself with more patterns and eventually be able to stabilize my tactics rating at around 2,000 or more. Let's see!

5) My opening theory preparation was suboptimal. I attempted learning all the lines to an opening which took forever. While I am proud to report I am somewhat of a Nimzo expert as white, I found that people stopped playing the bloody Nimzo almost as if by chance and I hardly get to use my knowledge. Instead I often get lost in some obscure line of the King's Indian, Benoni, Slav, openings where I lack knowledge. In the rare case someone plays a Nimzo, they go off the book and I do not immediately know how to punish them. Hence many hours of learning opening theory have not yet reflected themselves on my rating, but maybe it has somehow improved my play by helping me recognise certain plans in certain pawn structures, maybe.

Resolution: I want to memorize shorter lines, instead of knowing an opening 20 moves down the opening lines, I am going to try to prepare my repertoire to 10 moves or so across a wider variety of openings. I also would like to study the book Pawn Structure Chess as I have noticed how important it is to recognise plans based on pawn structures, when your opponent is not giving you anything else.

6) I did not add any new chess knowledge. While I am very familiar with the strategic concepts of positional chess talked about in Simple Chess, I thought I would learn something new in the book "My System" which I did finally finish. It turns out, Simple Chess recycled everything My System talks about, and I must say, Simple Chess is easier to read than My System. Therefore, I did not learn anything new, which got me wondering, is there anything new to learn? While watching IM and GM videos it seems I am extremely well versed in any strategic concept they talk about, but indeed, some areas I have recognised I lack knowledge in are pawn structures and their according plans as well as perhaps some imbalances that IM Silman talks about, although I think Silman probably mostly talks about the same stuff as the author of Simple Chess and Nimzowitsch. I also lack a lot of endgame knowledge.

Resolution: Study the endgame, study pawn structures.

Having now completely recorded my progress and reflected on my weaknesses, I will set a new goal. My goal is to hit the 99th percentile on Standard Chess 15|10 within 3 months and be able to remain there without  dropping below it. I also want to hit the 99th percentile on on-line chess. I have a lot of motivation to achieve this goal as there is a FIDE rated tournament coming up and If I can reach the 99th percentile, I may play it. I say may, because I really wanted to be closer to 99.9% before doing so, but heck...!

Just for recording purposes, here are all my ratings:

Correspondence 1839 (97.1%)
Standard 1814 (98.3%)
Blitz 1603 (94.4%)
Bullet 1503 (92.4%)

Two things stand out, I managed to really pick it up on Bullet chess by getting a lot of games and thus practise in, before this I used to play at 60th percentile level on Bullet, it was almost shameful. The second thing is the lack of progress on Correspondence chess, but this is because I got caught up playing a lot of Standard, Blitz and Bullet games. Time to go and sort this out. 99th percentile, here I come.