It’s incredibly irritating to see youngsters make such rapid development with so little effort, while we adults work so hard and barely make any progress! While it is true that everyone eventually reaches a plateau, I believe there are other, less obvious aspects at play when it comes to adult chess improvement.
I’d like to talk about chess openings for adult chess improvers, as well as my personal experience with this issue. I quickly progressed through the ranks as a teenager, and by my early twenties, I was already an IM. But then I became trapped for much too long at the same level.
As the years went, I put in an absurd amount of effort, and my understanding of chess improved. My understanding of openings, middlegames, and endgames grew, but my ability and outcomes remained mostly same. Something wasn’t quite right.
I had a really shocking realization after a lot of introspection. I won’t go into detail about the daily work I put in to improve my math skills. That kind of labor is self-evident.
I made a significant discovery.
The value of comfort was one of the lessons I learned.
“Get out of our comfort zone,” as they say, but this is different. Many variables impacted me along the way, whether it was my idols, the great champions of the past and present, my friends, a certain playing style, or possibly a book. All of these influences expanded and strengthened my grasp of the game, but they also caused me to lose touch with my own likes and tastes.
I was playing in a specific style, and I was obtaining positions that weren’t quite to my liking, and the problem was that I didn’t realize it. I always had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. The above-mentioned deep introspection brought me to the root of the problem: I wasn’t happy with the situations I was getting and the way I was playing on the board.
This was a real eye-opener for me.
The nagging notion that I should be playing a certain way, or that chess should be played a certain way, vanished. Finally, I had the freedom to play the way I wanted.
I was free to change my repertoire and play music that reflected my actual self. This freedom allowed me to have more faith in my intuition, even in instances where I couldn’t “prove” it with math.
Playing chess by emotion drastically transformed my chess experience.
I’ll offer an example of a “misguided” decision made on the basis of what “should” be played.
The Grunfeld Defence has long been regarded as a popular and effective opener. Fischer and Kasparov, two of my idols, have both played it. As a result, I decided to give it a try.
I began to play it after spending some time studying it. While it didn’t help that the time I was playing the Grunfeld coincided with a rough period in my life outside of chess, my results with the opening weren’t terrific. I was merely uneasy with the positions I was obtaining (albeit theoretically, I was fine after the opening), but I didn’t realize it. Most of the time, I blamed my losses on poor form.
While I still adore the opening, and I’m confident that if I started playing it again, I’d be far better at it than I was before, my awareness lead me to see that I wasn’t at ease in those spots, and then to a deeper understanding of where I am most at ease.
I realized that a stable center, rather than the fluid one in the Grunfeld, is more comfortable for me. It’s no wonder, then, that my results in the Grunfeld were mediocre despite my good preparation. My results increased after switching to the Slav and QGD.
The term “comfort” refers to more than just the apertures.
It also has to do with the way you play. Don’t feel obligated to play like Tal just because he’s your idol if your genuine nature is toward calmer play. You may enjoy playing in that manner, but it will never work, and you will suffer as a result.
Find your own path and do what works best for you.
The comfort zone
My “comfort zone” (here with a positive connotation!) was discovered after I discovered my “comfort zone.” Chess became more enjoyable to me. I was doing something I enjoy in a way that I enjoy doing it. One of the most important criteria for improvement is to like chess. It’s also impossible to enjoy anything if you’re not comfortable doing it.
You are looking forward to the game and the manner you will express yourself in that game when you sit at the board and want to be there. In such a state of mind, it’s extremely likely that you’ll play chess that is, if not the greatest, then very close to what your best chess is at the time.
When you approach every game you play with that mindset, you’ll be able to demonstrate what you’ve learned. Otherwise, all of the information that has gained over the years will be wasted.
Finally, you will be able to improve.
You’ll experiment with the inner calm that comes with discovering your genuine self, and everything you’ve learnt will start to surface in that condition. Chess will be a joy to play once more.