It’s incredibly irritating to see youngsters make such rapid development with so little effort, while we adults work so hard and barely make any progress! While it is true that everyone eventually reaches a plateau, I believe there are other, less obvious aspects at play when it comes to adult chess progress.
I’d want to share my own personal experience with this issue. I swiftly progressed through the ranks as a youngster, and by my early twenties, I was already an IM. But then I became trapped for much too long at the same level.
As the years went, I put in an absurd amount of effort, and my understanding of chess improved. My understanding of chess openings in a new light, middlegames, and endgames grew, but my aptitude and outcomes remained mostly same. Something wasn’t quite right.
I had a really shocking realization after a lot of reflection. I won’t go into detail about the daily work I put in to improve my math skills. That kind of labor is self-evident.
I made a significant discovery
The value of comfort was one of the lessons I learnt. “Get out of our comfort zone,” as they say, but this is different. Many variables impacted me along the way, whether it was my idols, the great champions of the past and present, my friends, a certain playing style, or possibly a book. All of these influences expanded and strengthened my grasp of the game, but they also caused me to lose touch with my own likes and tastes.
I was playing in a specific way, and I was obtaining positions that weren’t quite to my taste, and the problem was that I didn’t realize it. I always had a nagging sensation that something wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. The preceding-mentioned Deep reflection revealed the root of the problem: I wasn’t happy with the situations I was getting and the manner I was playing over the board.
This was a real eye-opener for me
The nagging notion that I should be playing a certain way, or that chess should be played a certain way, vanished. Finally, I had the freedom to play the way I wanted.
I was free to modify my repertoire and play music that reflected my actual self. This flexibility allowed me to have more faith in my intuition, even in instances when I couldn’t “prove” it with math.
Playing chess by emotion drastically transformed my chess experience
I’ll offer an example of a “misguided” decision made on the basis of what “should” be played. The Grunfeld Defence has long been regarded as a popular and effective opener. Fischer and Kasparov, two of my idols, have both played it. As a result, I decided to give it a try.
I began to play it after spending some time studying it. While it didn’t help that the time I was playing the Grunfeld coincided with a rough moment in my life outside of chess, my results with the opening weren’t terrific. I was merely uneasy with the positions I was obtaining (albeit theoretically, I was OK after the opening), but I didn’t realize it. Most of the time, I blamed my defeats on poor form.
While I still adore the opening, and I’m confident that if I started playing it again, I’d be far better at it than I was before, my awareness lead me to see that I wasn’t at ease in those spots, and then to a deeper knowledge of where I am most at ease.
I realized that a steady center, rather than the flowing one in the Grunfeld, is more comfortable for me. It’s no wonder, however, that my performances in the Grunfeld were average despite my good preparation. My performances increased after switching to the Slav and QGD.
The term “comfort” refers to more than just the apertures. It also has to do with the way you play. Don’t feel obligated to play like Tal simply because he’s your idol if your genuine inclination is toward calmer play. You may like playing in that manner, but it will never work, and you will suffer as a result. Find your own path and do what works best for you.
The familiarity zone
I began to love chess more after identifying my “comfort zone” (here with a good meaning!). I was doing something I enjoy in a way that I enjoy doing it. One of the most important criteria for progress is to like chess. It’s also hard to appreciate anything if you’re not comfortable doing it.
You are looking forward to the game and the manner you will express yourself in that game when you sit at the board and want to be there. In such a frame of mind, it’s extremely probable that you’ll play chess that is, if not the greatest, then very close to what your best chess is at the time.
When you approach every game you play with that mindset, you’ll be able to demonstrate what you’ve learned. Otherwise, all of the information that has gained over the years would be wasted.
Finally, you will be able to improve
You’ll experiment with the inner calm that comes with discovering your genuine self, and everything you’ve learnt will start to surface in that condition. Chess will be a joy to play once more.