In 2014, rated 1750, I asserted with some confidence that I was steadily improving. Two years later, my rating tells a different tale: After a brief spike, I dropped back to 1750. My blitz rating on chess.com has hovered between 1400-1500, my tactics rating between 1900-2000. For the past 6 years, I have beaten a few players rated above 2000, lost to a few players rated below 1700, and have a balanced score against opponents of similar strength. So looking at it from a purely performance point of view, I have not improved much at all.
However, chess is not just a numbers game, nor is it merely a sport. Chess is knowledge, too, and despite my modest to zero improvement as a tournament player, I feel as though my “chess sense” has developed. My awareness of key squares, plans, pawn levers, etc. has grown, as has my repertoire of chunks. Yet my limitations are keenly felt as well: Chess, as we know, is solving too many problems in too little time, and I do feel overwhelmed at times by what a complex positions demands. I struggle to come up with a decent plan and calculate the complications: in certain positions, I still burn a lot of time on moves that I then dismiss, only to make a move that’s terrible. Yet I am also a more patient player than I used to be; I have more trust in certain positions and do not feel obliged to play a forcing move just yet, and instead calmly improve my position. Occasionally, I commit egregious errors under time pressure, and my calculation skills are extremely limited in general, but it’s been a while since I made a serious tactical blunder while I still had enough time left on the clock.
With these strengths and weaknesses in mind, I have now decided it’s time to bid farewell to e4 and play d4 instead, and respond to e4 not with e5, but e6 and c6. A more solid repertoire, in other words, one in which tactical skirmishes and opening complications are a tad less likely. To celebrate this momentous shift in my chess career, here is a chunk from the Caro-Kann: