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From 1400 to 2000 in Blitz on Chess.com - A 10½ Year Journey
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I’m now back after 3 weeks of vacation with my family. I did not spend much time on chess, and I didn’t even read a chess book. However, I reached an important chess milestone during the summer. Finally, I made it to the 2000 blitz mark on chess.com after 10 years on the platform! The journey hasn’t lasted half a year like you sometimes see on Reddit, it actually took me 10½ years to get to this point.
Therefore it seems like a good time to take a look back and reflect on the things that worked and what slowed me down.
But first, I will like to state that I did not start my chess journey as a 1400-rated blitz player. When I created my account on chess.com in January 2012 I was 25 years old and had already played chess for about 7 years.
I was living together with my girlfriend, who just had gotten pregnant with our first child. It was my final year of University working on my last paper called “Fox News, WMD, and the Iraq War” and I was looking into a hopeless job market.
Before we jump to the year-by-year walkthrough I have listed the key takeaways I have learned:
Daily games are not the best use of your time.
Rating gains of over +50 a year do not happen every year (at least for me). Therefore, set mundane rating goals and do not get discouraged when nothing happens.
Do not play 3-minute blitz, or god forbid bullet, play slower time controls.
Solve and learn basic tactics and improve your board vision.
Learn the important strategic concepts of the game.
Analyze your games.
Experiment, fail, and learn from your mistakes.
Play OTB chess when you have the opportunity.
Use your study time effectively.
Learn the value of time in chess.
Play a lot of games to sharpen your skills. Do not spend all your time drilling opening lines.
Openings are overrated. During the 10 years period, I have played e4, d4, c4, Caro-Kann, Benko, London, Catalan, Queen’s Gambit, French, Petroff, Dutch, Sicilian, Ruy Lopez, and many more; and the openings never seemed to be the real issue.
Okay, now I think we are ready for the year-by-year way to 2000 blitz.
Start rating: 1474 (after the first month)
End rating: 1452
Blitz games: 281
Rating gain: -22
When I started playing on chess.com I mainly played daily games. I actually played 322 daily games vs. 281 blitz games. As I remember it I switched between Wordfeud and chess on my phone, and I do not think it helped in any way. In total, I have recorded more than +1000 daily games on chess.com. One tournament with a 14-day per move limit lasted over 5 years! I have reached the conclusion that they are not the most effective way to use your time. Chess is a game with finite time. You have to perform under time pressure, you do not have a perfect opening tree (with chess.com premium) and an analysis board in your hands.
I solved only 20 puzzles on chess.com this year. I might also have solved some puzzles in Ray Cheng’s book ‘Practical Chess Excercises’ which was the first or second chess book I bought.
Start rating: 1452
End rating: 1179
Blitz games: 125
Rating gain: -273
Back in 2013, I was busy getting a decent job, learning how to be a parent, and trying to get some sleep. Getting enough sleep was maybe the hardest part. Please remember, people who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one!
I only played 125 blitz games and it only went one way. One mistake I made was switching to 3-minute chess, while the year before I played 5-minute and even 5|2. This resulted in some really bad blunders like this one where I played a fine game up til a fatal blunder:
Or in this game, I missed an easy tactic to win the game!
don’t play 3-minute chess if you are trying to improve
solve basic tactics and learn the important motifs
I did not solve a single puzzle on chess.com in 2013 and my puzzle rating was around 1500 at the time.
Start rating: 1179
End rating: 1213
Blitz games: 353
Rating gain: +34
At this stage, I’m not fully invested in my chess hobby. I played a few rated OTB games and also a simul against GM Carsten Høi. A game that was lost without much resistance. My book collection slightly grew, but I don’t remember doing a lot of studying. I still often played games with random blunders and it seems like my board vision is just not very developed at this point.
In 2014 I also got my second child. Having two kids with two years in between was both a challenge and a joy. I also switched jobs to the one I still have today. Switching jobs also takes up a lot of energy, so again there was not a lot of time for chess. I did however find some time to get started on puzzles on chess.com. It did not have an immediate effect on my rating.
Start rating: 1213
End rating: 1433
Blitz games: 744
Rating gain: +220
After 3 years I managed to get back to my starting rating on chess.com from 2012. As I remember I start to spend more time on chess again and to study the game more seriously.
But I was also working hard at my job, having two small kids, and everything that entails.
Besides chess, I also spent a lot of time on a new hobby. Aquascaping. The concept is to make a beautiful underwater landscape for your small fish and plants. I started posting pictures on Instagram and at one point my aquarium had around 4000 followers. I remember ordering special stones from Poland, not cheap to get delivered.
I decided to stop (or pause) this hobby in 2018 because I wanted to spend more time on chess. I was also a bit tired of cleaning the aquarium. Focusing on a few or one hobby is one way to create more time for training when you have limited free time.
Start rating: 1433
End rating: 1621
Blitz games: 772
Rating gain: +188
2016 was the year I discovered Chessable and my interest in chess was growing. As I remember it I started spending more time reading books and solving puzzles on the board. I also started to get a few hours of coaching with an IM. However, one key to my 188-point rating gain this year was switching from 3-minute to 5-minute chess. This eliminated some of the blunders and allowed me to win more games. In regards to OTB chess, I only managed to play 4 rated games, so that cannot explain the progress, but often you see these jumps after a long plateau.
Start rating: 1621
End rating: 1617
Blitz games: 1,592 (also started playing on Lichess)
Rating gain: -3
This year I went all in on chess. I did the following
- Created a chess blog
- Joined Chess Twitter
- Played a record number of blitz games
- Increased my puzzle rating by 350 points
- Started working more on Chessable
- Started playing on Lichess
- Started playing rapid and classical chess on Lichess
And after all that work I gained -3 blitz points!
In my chess games, I was still making horrific blunders. In the below game I played fine in the opening and suddenly decides to play Nb4. That totally overlooks the Knight fork.
Another example of pure judgment is from the following game, where got this position out of a London. In the game I played Ne6 missing the pin and I lost the game. Simple stuff.
But it wasn’t all bad moves. I also started finding some nice moves in between. Here I played Nxg5 sacking the Knight.
Start rating: 1617
End rating: 1638
Blitz games: 270 (I also played on Lichess)
Rating gain: +21
In 2018 I got my third child, so I still had plenty going on besides chess, so there was no time for OTB chess this year. Here are some of the highlights from 2018 in tweets:
I was now a 1600-player with a 2100 puzzle-rating. Looking over my games from 2018 gives me the impression that I’m very focused on material and that I lack strategic understanding as well. Here are two examples:
Start rating: 1638
End rating: 1718
Blitz games: 374 (I also played on Lichess)
Rating gain: +80
In 2019 I created a YouTube channel while also spending a lot of time on chess. As part of an experiment, I documented one week of chess activities. I recorded 13 hours of chess activities in one week. Using 2h33m on Chess Twitter did probably not cause the 80-point rating improvement. Something I can still improve on is using my time more effectively.
I even had ambitions to reach FM back in 2019, something I now have realized might have been too ambitious with my limited time to play OTB chess.
I think many players make similar mistakes to what I did. The goals are maybe +500 rating points from where they are. A 50+ rating gain in a given year should be celebrated as a win!
One last important thing I did this year was to read Silman’s giant book ‘How to Reassess Your Chess’ from cover to cover. It really made me think more about strategy and closed some holes in my chess understanding.
Start rating: 1718
End rating: 1826
Blitz games: 256 (I also played on Lichess)
Rating gain: +108
At the end of 2019 and the start of 2020 I managed to play some OTB games, they definitely helped. I also started following the Chess Dojo. In the below video GM Jesse Kraai looks at one of my games. The lesson I took away from the analysis was that I needed to stop wasting time.
I even managed to get a blitz game against GM Kraai. In the below position I had a chance to get a good position. Do you see it? I did not and lost the game.
2020 was also the year my newsletter was created for the launch of my first chess book. Leave a comment if you signed up back then!
I also remember that I started to play a lot more rapid and slow chess online and I spent time analyzing the games. This gave me the opportunity to learn from my mistakes. It sounds simple, but it took me a long time to learn this lesson.
One last thing I did this year was the #puzzlegrind experiment. I solved 4901 puzzles by doing puzzle rush as much as I could during a 14-day period. During the experiment, I reached a new peak rating in tactics of 2400 (in 2022 I reached 2707).
Start rating: 1826
End rating: 1867
Blitz games: 327 (I also played on Lichess)
Rating gain: +41
Last year I played a lot of rapid chess on Lichess. My rating peaked on December 21’ at 2378. I’m sure all these games have improved my chess skills. Sometimes I see chess improvers who study a lot, but hardly ever play chess. I think this is a mistake. You need to practice the skills you study.
Since my peak, my rating has dropped all the way down to around 2220. I think part of the explanation is the return to normal after Covid. It has simply been hard for me to get into the same habit as under lockdown. In total, I have played 1105 rapid games on Lichess since 2019, or equivalent to 264 hours and 32 minutes.
Start rating: 1867
End rating: 2007
Blitz games: 383 (I also played on Lichess)
Rating gain: +140
What have I done this year? I did play an OTB weekend tournament. Classical chess is something else. The tournament did not go well, but it was a good learning experience for me. The pressure you experience during a long weekend tournament is something that hardens you. It is the real deal. So when playing blitz I want to believe I’m now calmer than I was 10 years ago.
My blitz games are now more accurate than when I started, and as I started with a game from 2012 here is one of my last games against a 2000+ opponent, where I manage not to blunder anything and implement strategic concepts that gave a nice win.
I hope this post will inspire you to keep working on your chess, even the years your rating goes down or just stays the same. I had 6 years of negative growth or under 50 rating points gains out of the 10½ years. And 4½ years with massive jumps, so if you give up early you might never see one of those jumps.
If you have any questions please leave a comment! In the next newsletter, I will continue on ‘My Chess Career’ by Capablanca.