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:
Black strives for an equal position, and this is a useful little chunk to simplify the position as a first baby step towards equality.
You may want to check Nigel Davies’ (paying) opening repertoire on his tigerchess.com website. He built it with the “busy adult player” in mind, and this is a very well-thought repertoire that combines simplicity and depth.
Thanks for your comment(s), LaurentS. I’ve actually come across Davies’s busy-man-repertoire(s), and I really enjoyed the chessbase videos I’ve watched so far. But I don’t really want to play a “busy-man” opening such as the Modern, the Colle or for instance Purdy’s 24-hour repertoire … I prefer “mainstream” openings such as QGD or the French/Caro. However, think Davies has a DVD on the QGD exchange variation that I might look into.
Welcome to the Caro-Kann club! If it suits your play style/preferences, I think it can be a very effective weapon. I’ve never changed it as my response to 1. e4
“If it suits your play style/preferences” … well, as I’ve just learned from your blog and GM Naiditsch: I’m too weak to have a style! ;) Thanks for the comment!
If your chess sense did develop – then why does your rating not increase?
Chess is only about knowledge.. as long as you have still more time at your clock to apply it. “Understanding” of chess is most of the time an illusion. If you tell someone , that in a given position the best move would be move “a” then he will find a reason why this is a case but if you tell him that move “b” would be the best.. it will take only little time to find an explanation for this one too. Usually you find good reasons for many moves in a given position. Declarative knowledge is to slow to be performed quick enough in a real game. Knowledge has to be transformed into automated skills, these can be performed parallel and subconcious.
Sensing more of what’s happening on a chessboard doesn’t necessarily win you games at first, and as far as I can tell, rating increases do quite frequently occur not gradually but in bursts. So while my confidence has been shaken, I still believe such a burst is possible in my case.
Chess is DEFINITELLY NOT only about knowledge! Chess requires skills! If you have a broad range of knowledge and you do not know HOW to apply it… it means you have not obtained a required necessary skills.
Recently I filled my bucket (i.e. my head) with new knowledge and now I cannot apply it yet.
The simple proof to show why knowledge is not the same as skills is the following example:
1. You perfectly know how to mate with B+N.
2. You cannot reach the specific endgame (B+N) more than once a thousand games.
Conclusion: you can have broad range of knowledge, but it does not mean you can play well or show all your skills related to your knowledge. That’s why people use the term: “chess understanding”. They refer to the situation anyone can have a lot of experience that is enough to show how the things should work (i.e. how to win or draw specific position, etc.).
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