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Friday, March 4, 2011

How to Become a Chess Master...or not

      What is a master? A master is everybody’s secret evaluation of his own ability. Anyway, several years ago I came across a very interesting article at Chessville, Rose's Rants, by a player named Tom Rose who was what we call in the US an “Expert” as he was rated around 2100. In the introduction Rose wrote:

     " I had a well-prepared repertoire of simple openings. I knew basic endings well. I fought hard in inferior positions. I rarely made gross tactical blunders, and could spot an interesting tactical blow. This was enough to beat most of my opponents. As I plodded along, not blundering, most of my opponents would self-destruct within 40 moves."
      "I never really had any great understanding of the game or where the pieces belong. I never mastered the art of maneuvering and gradually improving a position until it becomes overwhelming. Whenever I met a really strong player I was mercilessly crushed."
      His goal was to increase his strength to that of a solid master and he mapped out his strategy. When I first read the articles I believed he was on the right track and it would only be a matter of time before he was well over 2200. Unfortunately Rose failed in his quest; he never got any better.
      He says it was because he did not love chess enough. He came to that realization right in the middle of a tournament game and asked himself, "Why am I doing this? I would rather be practicing the piano!" As he wrote, when it came to the sustained hard work of learning endgame theory, cataloguing and comparing middle game themes, internalizing positional ideas, meticulously preparing an opening repertoire, practicing calculating variations in real-game positions to the point where they can be made fast enough and accurately enough under time pressure, he neither enjoyed them nor had the ambition to do the required work. Many years ago a young friend of mine who was barely over 2200 told me that I had no idea how hard he had to work just to keep his rating over 2200. He eventually gave up chess.
      I can understand Rose’s feelings because it was over 30 years ago in between rounds of a tournament that I asked myself the same question. “Why am I doing this?” When it comes to chess, I realized that correspondence was my preferred method because there’s no rush. The truth is I have always been “chessed out” after playing about two hours and in CC I am not forced to do anything unless I feel like it… things can always wait a couple of days.
      Still, if you are young enough, have the time to devote to the game and have the ambition, I think Rose was on the right track and his articles are definitely worth reading because I think he hit on the right method. It just doesn’t work if you have other interests, a demanding job, family or lack the necessary gumption.

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