01 January 2017

Empty Promises

Year in Review

2016 was a rough year that dropped my USCF standard rating to 2009 levels. In 2007, my rating climbed over 1700 for the first time, albeit briefly. In 2008, it appeared that I would keep it over 1700, but then in the first event of 2009, it fell again to 1698. Then, five months later, I hit 1800! My rating continued to rise, reaching a peak of 1982 in mid-2012. After that height, it was up and down, but mostly slowly dropping. I fell under 1900 a couple of times, but then brought it back up through 2014. In 2015, it fell to 1847, but then I won a weekend Swiss and it popped back up to 1902 (see "Winning an Open"). The last event in 2015 end every event in 2016, except the last, dropped my rating further. In October, I fell to a six year low of 1750.

Later in October, my play seemed better. I won a quick event at the Spokane Chess Club four days after winning an online USCF rated tournament (see "Winning"). Then, in November, I placed second in the Spokane Game 10 and won my section of the Turkey Quads 3-0, lifting my rating to 1791. I have become a B Class player, but the year seems to end on a positive note.

In late December, I managed to lift my Chess.com tactics trainer rating over 2000 for the first time since the early years of the site when such ratings seemed grossly inflated (I have a peak of 2400).


Chess Skills has documented many New Year's Resolutions aimed at chess improvement. None were kept all year, although several lasted into the summer. 2013 was a particularly ambitions year (see "A Time for Reflection"). My goal was to make expert (USCF 2000+), but the resolutions were training oriented. Well into the summer, I posted monthly spread sheets showing my tactics training progress with the accompanying narrative assessing the other goals--whole games, pawn endings, and weight loss. I admitted failure in November.

My resolutions each year since then have been less ambitious, and yet remained unfulfilled (see "Year in Review 2015").

A Fool's Errand

With such a fabulous track record, my resolution for 2017 should be to avoid setting any goals. Stubbornness gets in the way, however. I want to set a goal.

My attitude changed a bit after my abysmal performance in the Eastern Washington Open. I started making time for study again. The main behavioral change was that I started using Chess Mentor and the videos on Chess.com with some regularity. These resources are the reason that I pay for Diamond level membership. It would make sense to set some goal regarding regular use of these resources. For example, I might set out to complete a certain number of lessons each week, or watch a particular series of videos each month.

I need to focus on thinking. I need to look at the position in front of me when I am playing, slow down, and calculate. Tactics training can help. So, can chess mentor.

But, I need a resolution that I can keep.

In 2017, I will set up a chess board on my dining room table and play through games from a printed book. I will perform this task at least once each week.

I make no promises to myself to complete any particular book, but I do plan to make use of several in a manner that balances classic games with contemporary. Hence, I will read portions of Tartakower and DuMont, 500 Master Games of Chess (1952) as well as the latest issue of Chess Informant.


  1. It's so hard to know where things went wrong, if you don't track a large amount of your own data. I have a great anecdote on the topic. I know a competitive player who insisted that his tactics training was irrelevant to progress, and that it was some other factors, X, Y, or Z, that were the cause for his improvement (and rating drops, when he did not do X, Y, or Z). He attempted to prove this to me by halting his tactics training, going from about 1500 problems per month to almost zero, except for a few tactics here and there to show where is tactics ratings were. His USCF rating improved for the following two months, as did the metrics on his various tactics software and servers. After a couple of months, all of his ratings began to go down, no matter that increased his time spent on X, Y, and Z. I later found in my own and others' data the suggestion that there is 45-90 day lag in results one would see from intense tactics training. I have no clue how much X, Y, or Z helped this guy in his training, but that's the point: without data, everything is a pile of opinions. Even with data, waters can be murky, but it is best to have something quantitative to reflect upon.

    Anyways, from the data you've taken, even if it is not all quantitative, you should be able to get a sense of what has gone wrong. When I saw your downswing, I was shocked. I have no clue how someone can go from 2000+ performance ratings, consistently, to consistently under 1600. Hell, I'd probably have a consult with a doctor, just to make sure something isn't wrong. (I've known two cases where rating declines in guys over 50 indicated an underlying health issue, even if relatively minor.) I know you have dogs, but I don't know if you get your exercise via walking or hiking with them, but that sort of information (i.e., exercise time and intensity) might be relevant.

    Best of luck, James.

  2. Good idea to mix review of classical and modern games.

    I find modern masters very hard to follow though, because of all this computerized opening play.

  3. PROCLAMATION: In 2017, I will reach 2300 and James will reach 2000.

    James, can you please email me some of your tournament games from 2016? I am curious to see where you are typically running into problems. And analyzing other players' games is a good exercise for me.

    toddbryant at live.com

  4. I have that same Kramnik book that I have been working on lately as well. I like playing over games over a board best as well.

    The rating is probably due to competitive factors. You did well at a one-day quad tournament, probably because you went in their normal, not making it out to be anything bigger than it was. A five round tournament can seem like it's supposed to be this big deal, and then you over-anticipate for it, and then the reality is that it's just more of a grind than a quad tournament. I went back to playing mostly blitz games, and then it hurt when I recently played a five-rounder at mixed, but longer time-controls. Blitz requires different thinking skills than longer chess, and then longer chess requires even more time than they give to exercise those slow-chess thinking skills properly. In blitz, you don't have time to be wrong, so sometimes you get better feedback on your skills through blitz, but classical chess is a lot about competitive skills, who wants it more, who is processing more lines, etc.