The time has come for a reality check.
Liquid Egg Product had a thought-provoking post a few days ago, How bad do I want it?:
Right now, I’m 1600-ish, the same as 10 years ago without putting effort into improvement. What would happen if I tried? Does the thought of “maybe there’s an Expert somewhere in here” motivate me enough to work?
More likely, the “I’m sufficiently skilled so most people can’t dismiss me; that’s good enough” win out (again).
This is something to be considered seriously; I'm pretty confident I could just play a tournament game most weeks at the Reno Chess Club, play a few blitz games at FICS when I have the time, and still have a lot of fun with chess while maintaining my rating at approximately its current level. Hell, I have a 1600 USCF floor, so I could go to the club and play gambits and weird, wild openings all the time, move fast and get the game over with in a couple of hours and go home to a good night's rest. As everyone who's tried it knows, to maximize your score in tournament play you've got to be willing to sit and sit and sit, grinding out tiny edges for a win or grimly defending lost positions with chances, you've got to use most or all of your clock time and be willing to play out the full five hours (at my club) if necessary.
Sometimes, it's a lot more like work than playing a game.
Drunknknite makes some great points:
I am REALLY tired of players who will blame a loss on one move or even worse, the opening. Sentences like "Well I blundered and then the game's pretty much over." really mean 'and then I pretty much stopped playing'. "I messed up the opening" means 'He surprised me and I stopped playing chess and watched him beat me'. A won position does not equal a win. No one loses when they deserve to win. Every point is earned. If you are not willing to own up to mistakes then you will never correct them and your development as a player will be severely stunted. Everyone makes mistakes, that's part of the game.
Okay, accept the fact that if you really enjoy playing tournament chess (and I do) then it's a titanic struggle, with yourself and your fatigue and your personal weaknesses as well as with an opponent that would like to (symbolically) chop off your head. I believe I've improved that part of the equation lately, in that I'm trying hard, I'm not being lazy at the board, never saying "The hell with it, let's just get this over with!" after a long, grinding struggle (admit it, you've said this to yourself at least once in your life if you play long games!).
Away from the board, I've fallen down on the job.
For the last two months of 2007 I had a Plan (thanks dk, for the gentle prodding), I was posting weekly on my working of the Plan, then I fell down on the job once I got back to playing in tournaments every week. Besides the sins of omission, there have also been sins of commission; I have gone back to playing occasional blitz sessions at FICS (the horror, the horror). I've been scattershotting around, solving occasional tactical diagrams sitting on the john, playing over the games of my rivals on their blogs and worst of all, for the last six weeks not analyzing and posting each tournament game as promised.
Making a plan and sticking to it has never been one of my strong points, which is too bad since it is probably the most important factor in long-term success; "studies prove" and all that. I've fallen back into old habit-patterns.
So, this is a decision point, right here, right now--do I just go "chess for fun" and play around and enjoy it and not worry too much about improvement? Or do I get back to writing down and posting my plan, staying with it, striving to rise through the ranks despite any and all challenges, setbacks and disappointments?
Ad astra per aspera!
Despite my laziness, my other failings and shortcomings, the weaknesses of the flesh, I'm still up for having written goals and plans, and reporting progress here. Look for an update every Tuesday.
Improvement (to the stars!) is a long (rough) road. There's probably nothing I can do to drastically increase my chances to win my game this Thursday except to get physically prepared, play over a few games and do some tactical exercises just to get in the flow. It's how much better I can get six months, a year, two years out that will pay off the steady, consistent work.
I have 3-5 hours, most weeks, to study and a game at the Reno Chess Club to put it into practice. This 8-10 hours of chess a week is a precious resource, not to be squandered.
After careful consideration, I'm going to (with an average of four hours/week) spend:
1) Two hours of analyzing my own games, getting into the backlog of the last six weeks and posting them here, then once caught up, analyzing the current week's game or an older one I never looked at when it was played.
2) One hour looking at two master games (30 minutes each) in openings I play, trying to "guess the move." As little as it is, this at least touches on all phases of the game.
3) One hour of tactics study, starting with the 203 positions not grouped by theme (in other words, no clues) in Neishtadt's Test Your Tactical Ability. I'm going to go through them, writing the lines in pencil, not looking at the answers in the back until I've worked through all 203. Besides tactics, this will train patience, perseverance and "backbone." I need all three.
I'm also going to use a board and pieces rather than the computer where possible--at this point, I'm still playing my serious games the old fashioned way, and I've rarely studied without the computer recently. Seeing and feeling the pieces can only help when real game time comes. I rarely have a chance to use them at home, but I'm going to devote two lunch hours to study per week, and that is a nice opportunity to find peace and quiet and work with the "real thing."
I've got my score sheets, board and set and books with me today.
Reports here next Tuesday.