Since starting this blog in March 2021, I learned a lot. Putting my thoughts into words has been a tremendous experience. I also got a lot of great feedback from my readers, which helped me to improve further.
In this article, I will focus on the three biggest learnings I had in 2021:
- Don’t overthink, start doing instead
- Rating doesn’t matter, what matters is good instruction
- The problem for most Chess improvers is not WHAT, but HOW
Don’t Overthink, start doing instead
The first point is closely linked with the start of this Blog. For many years, I wanted to share some of my insights with the world. I gave some lessons, had done several seminars but never really started sharing my thoughts in an organized way.
Creating a website and sharing weekly articles just seemed like way too big a project to take on. So after contemplating on it many times, I always decided to postpone that project.
Until I re-read the 4-hour workweek in March 2021. A part of the book is actionable challenges.
In the doing category, I wrote down “starting a Chess Blog”. What really made me do it was the second step: defining the steps now, tomorrow, and the day after.
Just like that, I had an actionable way to start this blog:
- Now: Finding a guide to create a Blog
- Tomorrow: Following the guide and creating the Blog
- Day After: Writing and publishing the first article
What seemed like a too big project for a long time now suddenly was an actionable three-step plan. Wow! Just like that, I actually uploaded my first blog post only two days after filling out that Dreamline worksheet. Once I got going, everything felt more manageable.
Figuring It Out Along The Way
Obviously, I still had many questions connected to having a blog. By going so fast and following this actionable worksheet, I did not have enough time to contemplate all these questions.
By taking action overthinking literally gets impossible!
Thinking back it is crazy how much I learned in around 9 months’ time. Just to give you a taste of how few I really knew back then:
I had no idea what google SEO (search engine optimization) was, did not know how to design a website, and certainly had no training nor knowledge of writing coherent articles.
While I’m certainly not an expert in any of those three points, I started picking up information whenever I needed it most. Instead of mapping out all the steps, I just took it one step at a time.
Luckily enough it is easier than ever to find information on anything you try to do.
Now you might think: but Noël, I don’t want to create a Blog, I want to improve my Chess. How does this help me get better at Chess?
Many concepts I teach on this blog are derived from other areas. What works for creating a blog or starting a multi-million dollar company will also work for chess improvement!
The concept I learned is: By overthinking, we can easily get discouraged to take on big projects. You do NOT need to know how to arrive from start until the end. Take action and learn while you go.
From 2000 To GM; Step by Step
I started the last decade with a mere 1957 FIDE rating. At the end of the decade, I reached my all-time high, 2588.
Now imagine I would have tried to map out everything from start to finish. Seems literally impossible!
The day has not enough hours for me to write down all the things I would have to learn until getting that Grandmaster title.
Besides this, how do I know what I lack if I haven’t made it yet?
Instead of contemplating if that goal was possible or not, I just started to train. One day after another I tried to learn something new in Chess.
This resulted in me getting my first GM Norm only 4 years after being rated 1957!
That was the first moment when I actually thought I might become a GM one day. Unconsciously I had taken the action instead of the overthinking approach.
Once we are “responsible adults” we tend to overthink things. What will others think if I say this is my goal? Is it even possible to reach this? How exactly can I reach this goal? All these questions will most likely pop-up in our minds.
While it is good to think about if a goal is really fitting for YOU, the line to overthinking is thin.
The more you think about a big goal, the more you might see why you will NOT be able to reach it. That is not really the best way to create positive energy working on a big project…
You Only Know If It Is Right If You Try It Out
There is an additional advantage of taking action: you can never be sure the goal is really worth doing until you try it out.
Imagine I in reality do not like writing articles at all. I might have fantasized about it for several years before understanding that it isn’t something I actually like. Much easier to just try it out and see how it feels instead.
My advice for you is the following:
- If you want to be a professional Chess player, try training 4 hours/day for 1 month. You can do so without quitting your job or leaving school. Do you really like the daily hard training? Or is it only the glory of winning a title that motivates you?
- Want to reach the GM title? There is no magic pill or short cut. Start by training every day (don’t forget to at least take 1 day/week off though!). You will figure things out along the way. Also, don’t read books aimed at GM candidates if you aren’t yet on that level. By getting better every day you will one day have to chance to read and understand this material. Step by step.
Insert any other goal or dream and the same concept applies. Do not overthink, start today & find out if you really like it!
Your Rating Doesn’t Matter, What Matters Is Good Instructions
Once you reach an “expert” level in any field, it is easy to come to believe that only experts can explain things well.
The extreme of that thought is manifested in so-called chess elitists.
Chess elitists, consisting of mostly elderly titled players, are thinking they know the absolute truths of Chess, and no one below a certain level (GM, IM, FM?) is allowed to teach Chess.
Well, actually they even feel offended if entertaining personalities are playing chess online & earning money.
While I luckily never was a Chess elitist (would also be weird while being happy in a relationship with a very entertaining chess streamer…), I did weigh the author and quality of concepts much higher than the correct presentation.
Through valuable feedback from readers and chess improvers around the World, I have come to understand that simple and understandable explanations are the key to good teaching/writing.
Sometimes even more important than the content itself.
Obviously, you can also take this concept too far. Even the most charismatic Coach will fail to explain that a Rook is always more valuable than a Queen.
Well… by writing these lines I can sadly recall some recent events in the “real world” where Charlatans have managed to explain total utter nonsense in a charismatic and easy way so that millions believe these ‘alternative truths’.
However, let’s stick to chess for now ????.
Changing Opinion On Yusupov’s Series
As a former pupil of the renowned Coach Arthur Yusupov, I have always been fond of his award-winning book series. The positions are carefully chosen and I love the structure of learning about many parts of chess in one single book.
Content + Author are very good. Therefore, it was obvious to recommend the series on my blog. Somehow the feedback, especially from the Twitter community, wasn’t stellar. What happened?
While the content is good, the explications are sub-par.
Why did I not understand that?
As my level is much higher than the average reader’s is, many concepts seem natural to me. The same applies to Yusupov. For us, there is no need for a thorough explanation in a seemingly simple position.
That is exactly the biggest challenge as a teacher & author. It does NOT matter what comes natural to you if the same does not apply to your audience!
The audience is always right.
If they say that the concepts aren’t explained well enough, then this is the truth
I do still think that the series is great, but only if you do it with a Coach/stronger player. Once you solve positions and the solutions don’t make too much sense, you can ask questions in this case. These questions may be more important than anything else.
Sometimes the most ‘logical, common sense’ phrase to me is the most enlightening to someone else.
Meet At The Students Level
If you go a bit deeper, this is actually a big problem in the (Chess) World right now.
Most books are written on the level of the author (mostly titled player) and not the audience.
That is why most “greatest game” books are inspiring, but not really great learning material. The explanations are on a too high level, way beyond the scope of the audience.
I also remember one time the Swiss Team had an extremely talented GM (2700+) as Coach at the Olympiad. He is pretty lazy but certainly one of the most talented players in the World.
For me, the opening preparation with him was a total catastrophe. In most positions, he would say: “and then you just play this position”.
Thank you so much!
While the position might have looked “logical” to him, it was a total mess for me. I believe this is how most chess improvers feel when they read books / are coached by people that can’t fit their level of explanation to the level of the student/audience.
I tried to conceptualize the above written in six easy-to-follow “rules”.
- As a Coach/author, always go to the students level. Teach from eye to eye, not looking from above. Meet them where they are and don’t expect them to jump on your level.
- Refrain from using subjective language like “easy” or “logical”. For players of a different strength, these words will result in completely different moves.
- Experts mostly arent’t the best teachers for beginners. There obviously are some exceptions to this. However, if you search a private Coach and have below 2000 rating, chances are that you are better off with a FM or weaker Coach than a Grandmaster. The reason is that this “weaker” player will find it easier to meet you on your level.
- Work with material that is aimed at your level! Don’t let your ego take over and study too complex material just because it feels good. You will most likely be more confused than it helps you. The study material should be difficult.
If you feel like a non-russian speaker dropped somewhere in the Ural region not understanding a single word, it might be time to take a step back.
- Sometimes a complex concept should be made simpler in the first explanations. This technique upsets most GM’s. But you simply can’t explain all the details and nuances to a beginner. Start with simple concepts and slowly increase the complexity. We also don’t start with Algebra before teaching kids the 1×1. One-step at a time.
- My personal experience is that more talented players are usually WORSE Coaches. They did not have to grind hard to understand some concepts. These concepts came logical to them. My lack of talent compared to other GM’s has helped me connect to my audience much better. I know how it feels to be lost in Chess improvement. I had to work hard & structured to reach the GM title. It did not come “natural” to me at all!
The Problem Is Not What, But How
Through hundreds of emails & comments of my readers, one thing got very clear to me. The biggest problem in Chess improvement is not what, but how.
This is not even limited to chess improvement. We all know that doing a workout & eating healthy is beneficial to our health and performance (both physical and mental!).
Certainly, there are better and worse workouts or healthy foods. However, obsessing about the “perfect” workout will not get you started. It also really does not matter that much. The key factors are:
- Continuously working out & eating healthy
- Working out with the right intensity & doing the exercises right
The same applies to chess improvement. Sure, there are some great and some bad books. But after only a short research you will be able to find a fitting resource and start.
For this reason, I have a recommended resources page. Just go there and decide on a resource that fits your level. You can also check out the book recommendations of Ben Johnson, host of the #1 chess podcast out there.
In only a few sentences the “what” has been solved. Any time you spend additionally on the perfect way to learn chess is most likely procrastination.
Now let’s get to the how. As in getting healthier, there are two main aspects to the how:
- How to stay consistent
- How to train with the right intensity & in the right way
Improve The How
I have written several articles that will help you stay consistent and increase the quality of your training. I won’t go into details in this article, but want to give you a quick overview of how you can combine these articles to reach the goal of consistency.
1. Plan your training
Planning your next training week increases the likelihood of you actually sitting down in front of the chessboard tremendously. Be very specific. Thursday 1 hour training is not enough. Write down the exact timing & material you will study.
The right way should look like that:
Thursday 10-11 AM, Step method 3, goal: solving 50 puzzles.
Start by reading my article on setting up an easy training plan.
You can also make your life easier by getting my Chess Training Planner. I’m guiding you through the planning process. This helps you stay on track and ask yourself the right questions after the training.
2. Start Small
Consistency is key. If you expect yourself to go from 0 hours to 4 hours per day instantly, you will most likely fail. Plan your training in a way that it is literally IMPOSSIBLE to miss a session in the first few weeks. Steadily increase the quantity if the quality is good.
3. Quality > Quantity
Once you have a habit of training, make sure the training is high quality. Avoid interruptions & possible distractions at all costs. If you can’t focus in training, you won’t be able to do so in a real game.
That applies to not only chess but also every other aspect of life. “How you do anything is how you do everything”.
The most important factor of Chess improvement is one of my favorite articles I’ve written so far. I have evolved from “do more” to “do less but better” over the years. I still tend to fall back into my old schemes sometimes though. Check it out and let me know if the same applies to you!
4. Train What Really Matters
If you want to dive into what is fitting for your exact situation, then check what area costs you the most points. Once you can stop the bleeding in your biggest weakness, your results will get better.
In this article, I explain how you can find out what to work on.
When you feel stuck or stagnate for a longer period, it is time to change something. The easiest way is to change the What. A new opening, a new book, or a new Coach are common ways to change things.
But often, these don’t solve the issue at all.
In order to change, we need to look inside ourselves and have some difficult conversations. If not you will end up “insane”, at least in the words of Einstein:
“Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results”.
Instead of only looking at the outside influences, look for ways to change your HOW.
- Are you studying with a high enough intensity?
- Do you stick to a consistent plan?
These are two good questions to start examining your how.
If you only memorize opening lines without understanding the ideas behind them, a new opening won’t help. After some initial wins thanks to the theory you memorized, you will be stuck in the same way as before.
Get out of the hamster wheel and really change something in your chess study. If you want to overcome a plateau, don’t change WHAT you study, but change HOW you study.
Your Feedback Makes This Blog Great
A big part of the ideas in this article came from the interactions with my readers, that is you. Thank you so much for the comments, feedback & occasional grammar corrections. These things make the Blog 100x better.
To continue this trend, I would love for you to write your biggest learning in 2021 in the comments. I’m really curious to learn more from you.