Why Our Chess Does Not Improve


Over the last few months while my knowledge of the game has increased my chess skill has not improved. If anything I have suffered a decrease in performance over the last few months. The frustrating part is that I have invested time into my chess improvement plan, and while I feel that both my tactical pattern recognition and strategic knowledge of the game has improved this new knowledge has not translated into increased chess playing strength.

I have a tournament in 1 month and I am concerned about my plateau. I am nowhere near where I wanted to be 3 years into my chess improvement plan.

My Downward Spiral

  • ICC standard rating at an all time low of 1330 from a peak of 1663
  • FICS rating temporarily increased to 1350, but over the last few weeks it is back down to 1225
  • ICC Blitz 5 0 dropped from 1250 to 970, it is now back up to 1170 and on the way up
  • USCF rating is the same (1278) I have not played any rated USCF tournaments in several months
  • OTB performance in friendly skittles games is the same as 6 months ago, I still ocassionally lose to players who do not take chess as seriously as me

Why I am Not Improving in Chess

  • Playing too much blitz versus longer games.
  • Not analyzing (not learning from) my games
  • Theory based learning versus practical learning
  • Faulty thought process

Getting to the bottom of it

I selected several of my latest games and anlayzed them looking for the reason I lost the game, and guess what I found:

Over 80% of the games I lose were because I blundered and not due to knowledge gaps.

Modifications to the Plan

  • Focus more on my thought process while I am playing in order to eliminate senseless blunders.
  • Begin playing at least 1 non-blitz game every night, which I must analyze before playing any other games.
  • Focus my study time around tactics and topics that I need help on based on discoveries during game analysis.

I need to strike a balance between blitz versus and standard games, and I must eliminate blitz play several weeks before playing in a tournament. While tactics will be a strong component of my training, I will be more flexible in my training schedule selecting areas of weakness that I uncover during my game analysis.

The key is to focus on building skills over knowledge, and learning to apply the knowledge I already have. As Dan Heisman likes to say, we need to subtract negatives if we want to get better. I have made the mistake of thinking that studying and reading chess books (adding positives) will make me a better player, and while I am increasing my knowledge of chess this does not translate into improving my performance (because we need to subtract negatives).

I hope that these modifications to my training plan, which will focus more on ‘skill building’ than ‘knowledge building’ will show improvements in my play. I’ll keep you posted…

beginchess has written 144 articles

9 thoughts on “Why Our Chess Does Not Improve

  1. Dean says:

    Good luck with your plan, I think a lot of us will sympathise with your comments. I found that I improved my game over the last few months by being able to concentrate and fully analyse every move, making less of the blunders that decide most of our games. This gave me the confidence to calculate deeper and not panic when something unexpected happens. Let us know how it goes. Dean

  2. kaguvkov says:

    HI, Would you mind if we exchange links in our chess blogs? I will your link in my blog and also my link in your blog. Just take a visit in my chess blog and inform me if its okay for you. Thank you so much.


    Borislav Kaguvkov

  3. I certainly sympathize. I often know more about chess than the people that kick my butt over the board. It is frustrating. Your approach seems quite sound, and I wish you luck. Slow games with postmortems and thought process are probably essential.

    Getting a coach helped me push through a plateau. His nagging voice in my head during games was quite helpful.

  4. Deathridesahorse says:

    I find that the quality of decision is most important but, basically: don’t get worried.

    You say that you are worried a lot…. just try and get rid of this worry and I’ll bet you will shine through because you know how to play but probably just panic and if you panic you are lost!

    Be brave: a Russian proverb, apparently, holds that even a bullet is afraid of the brave.

    Yes, I take inspiration from quotes and lately from sports like basketball: Michael Jordan etc. and how they are under a time pressure but still must come up with a solution.

  5. demon_szybkosci says:

    If you are playing faster that 10 minutes per player you are going in WRONG direction! Unless you are 1700-1800 player you should not play ANY game faster thant 10 or 15minutes per player. The best choice should be at least 20 or 30 minutes (I assume you want to play at least a few games daily).
    Secondly, you have to concentrate at EVERY move you play – not the most of them. Strong players play near 100% “clear” game (I mean without {major} blunders) and when they are playing in tournament… they try to concentrate up to 90% (100% percent is not alwasy as easy as it looks, especially if you play one game daily up to 4 hours by 8 days)
    Thirdly, you have to practice A LOT of tactics (combinations). If you see threats like mate in 1, 2 or 3 in one second… you should try to solve much harder. And tactis should stay with you forever (as long as you want to stay “sharp”).

    Eradicate simple blunders… as fast as it will be possible… the sooner the better. If you do not pass this phase (playing without hanging pieces) you cannot think of breaking (max) 1700 (ELO) barrier.
    Have a nice (hard) work 🙂 😉

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