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Not getting any better?

For most of us getting better at chess is a thankless task once we are past the main learning phase of our lives. It is great to see juniors improving all the time, grades rising and confidence growing. But what happens when your grade starts to plateau and even decline? Well can I offer some advice? First, stop worrying about your grade! Ask yourself what you play for. Do you really think you are going to become a grand master? That would be like taking up running and expecting to win a marathon. I am going to talk more about managing expectations around junior players in a future blog, but for now what about managing our own expectations. I have personally been through phases when I felt like giving up. I wasn't improving - in fact the opposite, and wasn't enjoying it. But two things have changed. The first is I asked my self the question as to why I played. It was supposed to be for enjoyment, but also to challenge myself. What bigger challenge could there be than picking yourself up after a bad patch, sticking at it and then coming out the other side with some better results. So see it as a challenge - set reasonable targets. 'I am going to win every game' is not a reasonable target. But looking for 50% for a season is. If you get into time trouble a lot, then a reasonable target would be to not lose any games on time. The second is to actually enjoy the company of fellow chess players. Do some analysis with them after the game, which can often lead to chatting about backgrounds and other interests. You can make friends through chess! Have a drink with your fellow club mates and get to know them better. Chess players tend to talk endlessly about chess, but don't know the first thing about fellow players they have played with for years. Make it a social activity. Because I now look forward to the social side, it means I actually enjoy the game more.

So could you get better? Yes - but keep it simple. Most of have started a chess book with good intentions, but given up somewhere into chapter two through sheer boredom. They are often written by GM's and mere mortals can't follow and memorise long lines of variations. So don't try. There are some great videos on You Tube. which are short, easy to follow and digestible. This could either be a famous game which is instructive, or an opening you can easily get to grip with. Talking to better players at your club and learning by playing them is also great. Not every game needs to be graded - so play some friendlies and learn.

Finally - do analyse your own games a bit and learn from mistakes, and stop repeating them. I have learnt a lot from making my own little videos on a game - much better than trying to follow computer analysis. I have included a recent one here as an example. I hope you like it.




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