In June (as with every month so far) I started off with a well-defined plan. When all was said and done I feel like I somewhat adhered to my plan. But I don't feel like I nailed it.
One thing that I did in twice in June that I had only done perhaps twice in the preceding year was to take a lesson. I had two lessons with my original coach Nolan Hendrickson.
I feel that the most valuable piece of learning that I did all month came in those lessons. What I learned was that I am focusing on the wrong things. I was worrying about certain aspects of technique that aren't that important right now in terms of maximizing performance.
In other words, when I put down that I needed to "Work on Rook Endings" I was not allotting my time where it would be the most useful. Right now the three biggest issues that I have are in this exact order: understanding of openings, analytical ability, and calculation. Those three items come in to play every game, whereas rook endings come in to play maybe one game in ten. That doesn't mean that I don't need to work on rook endings, or that I will stop doing so. What it does mean is that I need to address the real problem since it's been identified.
So how to do that...
Step One - Opening Prep
I know that this is one of my biggest areas of concern. I honestly feel like I could gain 200 rating points if I just solidified my openings. I think that most players spend too much time working on openings, but I also feel that I have done the opposite and not spent enough time.
I know that I have made this point before, but now it's time to embrace it. My opening problems aren't that I don't have the latest line of ______ memorized out to move 20, it's that I don't have a basic understanding of the openings I play.
This should be somewhat easy to fix. I need to work on memorizing lines, sure. But I also need to make sure that I understand the positions that arise from the openings I play. This means becoming familiar with the plans and ideas that arise from the pawn structures in those openings.
In order to do that I just need to sit down and start playing through games and analyzing them on my own. I took a step in the right direction yesterday by going over to a friends house and looking at some openings that we both play either one or both sides for. We literally just played around moving pieces, checking the Fritz opening book, and trying to get an idea of the plans and ideas in those lines. This was only for about two hours, and I feel that I need about 20 or so hours per opening to really start to understand this.
So it will take time, but I'm OK with that. After all, improvement by it's very definition takes time.
Step Two - Analytical Ability
My analytical ability is garbage. Absolute garbage. I'm the guy who would try to analyze my games and who couldn't ever see anything other than what was played except for how to improve on the losing move. Going over a game took me perhaps as many as 10 minutes.
In fact, I'm embarrassed about the terrible quality of my annotations that will be published in an article I wrote. They are weak and practically nonexistent.
I've started taking steps in the right direction to fix this issue. I've worked with Nolan to begin to develop this ability. I still think that I'm rather bad at it, but I have also started to feel the seed germinating within me. So I'm feeling like given enough time I can really learn this skill.
One of the things that Nolan has said to me is that I should analyze every game I play from now until I make 2200. I assume that I should continue to do so after that as well. I've tried to take this to heart so much so that I played a game last Thursday that ended in a draw by repetition after 15 moves. I still came home and analyzed that game.
So in order to develop this ability I will not only analyze my own games at depth, but I will try to analyzed the games of others as well. Sure, I won't find the same things that GM's do, but I'll certainly find a lot more than I am now. I also believe that learning to properly analyze openings will be a godsend to my openings.
Step Three - Calculation Ability
My calculation ability is OK, but needs to be much better. I have a tendency to lose the thread of some of the stuff that I calculate, and I have a tendency to spend time calculating stuff that I should dismiss and move on from much sooner rather than waste valuable time on.
I know that those are skills that are easier to talk about than they are to learn, but I also know that as long as I work on developing them I'll improve greatly from where I am now. And that's the real goal here.
I believe in the power of calculation so much that I honestly believe that I could make Expert by doing nothing other than learning to calculate better.
My forcing calculation is decent, but my non-forcing calculation is very bad. I have a tendency to stop calculating a non-forcing line too early, thereby missing out on some prime opportunities.
So how to work on this? Well, Nolan has sent me some calculation exercises which should help quite a bit. And I will get books on calculation as well.
I feel that I am well on my way down the road that I want to take. I know that I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I am starting to truly feel the results of the work that I have put in. I feel like I am getting better on an almost weekly basis.
So let's see how far we can drive this train!
Below are links to some products that would help with calculation and analyzing. If you are interested in purchasing them I would appreciate if you would use these links. Amazon will then give me a couple percent of the money spent and I will use whatever I earn towards chess lessons.