Fully focusing on Chess for a year or two is a dream many Chess lovers have. In the past couple of months, I have gotten many questions as to how I would structure such a year. In this article, I will try to answer that question.
Planning the year right will set you up for a great experience. I would do that in three steps:
- Set your expectations of this year: What would make this year amazing?
- Where are you now vs where do you want to be at the end of the year?
- Plan your year: 80-120 games, 1-2 deep study periods.
Set Your Expectations For The Chess Year
A Chess Year can help you kickstart your career as a professional player. Or you might just want to focus on your favorite hobby for a year before getting back to your “normal” job.
No matter the underlying reason, you will certainly have some expectations connected to your Chess year. Whatever they are, write them down and be honest with yourself.
Especially expectations in terms of results & rating gains can ruin your whole once-in-a-lifetime experience. Chess improvement is hard and it can take a long time until you see your training pay off.
In order to find out your expectations and how you can make the best of the year, ask yourself the following questions:
- What would make this year a great success?
- How can you make this year a success even if the results are not going your way?
When thinking of expectations, we usually think in terms of results. That is why the second question is so important. If the only purpose of your Chess year is achieving a title or a certain rating, you are in for a rollercoaster.
Every loss will hurt tremendously and you will often think “what am I doing here” or “why am I wasting my time” on bad tournaments.
I‘m not saying you should not pursue a great achievement in that year. But if that achievement is the only thing you care about, your results will determine your mood.
I have been there many years during my career and it is a very painful experience. Once you manage to focus on the process and little wins, your year will be filled with great moments. Bad tournaments will be great opportunities to learn and not only “wasted time”.
Obviously, losses will still hurt. But it will be much easier to focus on other things that matter more. Like your health, your loved ones, and all the benefits such a Chess year can have.
The magic happens when a big goal motivates you, but you are fine with not achieving it. Or in the words of my favorite human guinea pig Tim Ferriss: “what would you do if you knew you would fail?”.
Possible Benefits Of A Chess Year
There are dozens of benefits a Chess year can bring you that go beyond your results. Let me list some ideas that can influence the quality of your life forever:
- Building up great habits such as: working out, meditation and a healthy nutrition.
- Improving the quality of your study time: use this year to really understand how you can learn the most and how you can use the knowledge in practice.
- Finding out what you like doing most with your time: is that what you want to do as a living? Are you enjoying Chess as much when you study 3-6hours/day as when you only do it 1hour/day?
- Working on your mindset: believe me, there will be tough losses & disappointments. Take them as a great opportunity to work on your mindset. Either you win, or you learn!
These benefits are ENTIRELY in your control.
They will also last much longer than your Chess year.
Focus on those benefits instead of results. Then the results will come by themselves. Just maybe not when you expect (or want) them most.
Skill Goals For The Year
I am a fan of setting goals. But as discussed, result-oriented goals can affect your mood negatively. They are also not fully in your control! That is why I prefer setting skill-based goals.
If you want to read more about my goal-setting methods, you can read this article.
Forming good habits can be a great non-chess skill-based goal. When talking about chess, a good skill goal might be having a full 1.e4 repertoire by the end of the year. Or playing a full tournament without blundering anything.
You can compare your current situation to where you would like to be at the end of the year to find adequate skill goals.
Let’s say you would love to achieve that GM and you are IM at the moment.
Instead of focusing on the result, you can analyze a 2500 GM and define what they do better than you. Now work on improving your skills.
Even if the results will not come in time, the likelihood that you will get the GM title goes up tremendously if you build the same skills as a GM.
Get some help to define what skills you need to be working on. Either get a Coach that achieved what you want to achieve (find your perfect Coach with this article), or simply ask a GM.
You will be surprised how many stronger players will give you some kind of advice if you simply ask them nicely.
Now instead of going to a tournament and hoping for a great score, you will be able to focus on one skill you want to improve in each tournament. Like this, you can feel the improvement even in tough tournaments where results seem not to go your way.
Plan Your Chess Year
Playing 80-120 games per year is the sweet spot in my opinion. You will have a lot of material and enough games to make up for some stupid mistakes. But also enough time to really work on your game and analyze every single game you played.
Now you might check my activity in the past years and find out that I always played less than 80 games per year. How come I suggest you do something different than I did? Two reasons for that:
- As I had health issues, I had to carefully plan every tournament. Playing two tournaments in one month was extremely tough for me.
- Searching sponsors, giving talks, organizing a Chess tournament and other chess-related activity were quite time intense. I did them partly because I enjoyed doing them, and partly because I needed to pay my bills.
In my experience, it is incredibly helpful to have 1 or even 2 study periods per year without any tournaments. These periods should be at least 1 month and a maximum of 3 months long.
By the way, this is something I would recommend any Chess player do. Even if you are an amateur playing 30-50 games per year you absolutely should structure your year that way.
Playing every weekend 1 game would be one of the worst ways to plan 52 games per year. You will always feel the pressure of a game coming up and never really have time to dig deep into your Chess.
In this deep study time, you can really focus on improving your game without worrying about great form.
To make your training more practice-oriented I recommend playing 1-2 tournaments at the start of your year before going into deep study mode.
Assessing your weaknesses & strengths is much easier if you have some tournament games to look at.
Planning Your Tournaments
A sample year could look like this (to make it simple, I count every tournament as a 9-day & 9 round tournament):
- January: Playing 2 tournaments with short prep before & rest after.
- February-April: Deep study phase 1.
- Mai-July: Playing phase 1. Play 2 tournaments/month with adequate rest in between tournaments. Analyze your games in between tournaments & refresh your opening repertoire. Don’t do deep chess study.
- August: Break, Relax & take a deep breath
- September-October: Deep study phase 2. You will have a great number of games that indicate weaknesses and things to work on. Take your game to the next level and widen/deepen your opening repertoire if needed.
- November-December: Playing phase 2. Play 2 tournaments/month and let it all out. Use all you learned without making a lot of pressure on your results.
This sample plan would amount to 5 deep-study months, 6 playing months with a total of 108 games and 1 relax month.
Make sure to plan one of your favorite tournaments at the beginning & the end of your professional year. Starting & finishing with highlights will help you remember the year more positively.
Some important things to remember when planning your tournaments:
- Make sure to be able to rest 3 days before & after a tournament.
- Do not only play highlights. You need to have tournaments where you try out things (new openings) and care little about results. Out of 12 tournaments, a maximum of 4 tournaments should be highly important in terms of results (championships etc.)
- Plan some fun tournaments! Have at least one tournament per playing session at a beautiful location with lovely people. Let yourself inspire by this great place and consciously enjoy the tournament experience like a kid.
- Invest a lot of time finding the right tournaments. You can set yourself up for success or disaster by choosing the right or wrong tournaments. Read this article for more detailed infos on this.
- Adjust according to your liking. This year above all should be fun. If you want to take your family on two months of vacation in between working your ass off in chess, then do so! Enjoy the time off Chess so you really have the energy to work hard when doing chess.
Planning Your Training
Also with your training, it is key to invest some time to plan things out. By structuring your training you make sure that you really work on what will help you most increase your playing strength.
As written before, to do that you need to make a thorough analysis of your weaknesses & strengths when going into this year. I have written about an easy method to do so in my article on the most effective Chess training.
One year will not be enough to work on everything. So make sure to focus on 2-5 pain points that really should be improved in this one year.
Deep Study Phase
Focus on things that need some time to show real improvements in-game at the beginning of the year. If you plan to add some openings to your repertoire, do that as early as possible! It usually takes some time until you really play these new positions well.
Changing your openings only by the end of the year will be frustrating, as you most likely will lose some games before you start winning. The first deep study phase is perfect for such big changes.
You have enough time to first learn something new, then improve by playing online games and only then sit down at the board with your new weapons.
Here is a list of things you can do in your deep study phase:
- Adjust opening repertoire (either deepening current lines or adding new ones)
- Hard calculation exercises
- Working on your Chess understanding with books & courses
- Longer time control training games
The great thing about this deep study phase is that you do not have to worry about your form for quite some time. Really working on your calculation can be hard at the beginning.
You might want to use a new thought process. Until that thought process really is in your subconscious mind, it will take some time and effort. Thus you need some time to adjust to it and use it in training games.
Other things have an immediate impact and these you should do close before or in between tournaments.
The tournament phase will consist of small stops in between tournaments where you can make minor adjustments to your game. Changing openings or your calculation process will most likely lead to very bad results in the short term. So don’t do that.
- Improving the opening of EVERY game you played
- Solving small & easy tactics to get in shape
- Use 1 focus point per tournament and think about minor adjustments to avoid game-losing mistakes
Think of yourself as an athlete during the active season. You should not make huge adjustments. All the real work has been done in the off-season. For further information as to how to get in form, read my article on that matter.
By having two deep study & tournament phases, you can really get the most out of your time. I bet you will have an incredible amount of insights after your first six months and it will be much easier to do the right work in the second six months.
That is where the real improvement will most likely really kick in.
So be patient with yourself and celebrate small wins. I can’t promise that your rating will explode. But I am pretty sure that you will have a much different playing strength after these 12 intense months.
Summarize: How To Plan Your Chess Year
If you want to take a year to fully focus on Chess you should plan it well. Be aware that Chess improvement is hard and usually takes some time. Set yourself up for fun & success by focusing on the benefits and skill-oriented goals.
- Be clear on your expectations
- Compare where you are now with where you want to be at the end of the year chess-wise (skills, not rating!)
- Plan 2 deep study phases and between 80-120 high quality games
Above all: enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime year and make the best out of it.