Often after we hit one of our big goals, we tend to be satisfied for a while and have a hard time stepping it up/taking it to the next level. I have even found that sometimes we might do the opposite. You’ve hit one of your goals and don’t feel like you have to try as hard right away for your next goal. To me, this seems too often to be the case with IMs. I see a lot of people that get the IM title, try for the GM title and eventually give up because life makes it hard to practice, or getting to tournaments that give them GM opportunities just don’t present themselves, or they just can’t do it.
The thing I don’t like is people that justify giving up something they crave so badly by saying I got IM (or FM maybe NM or Expert), which might still be impressive, but to just give up on your dream is saddening.
The question is once you hit one goal how can you push it to reach the next goal? How can you just keep it going to keep rising and getting higher? I recently reached one of my goals and achieved the FM title so I am asking myself these same questions. I am shooting towards the IM title next and with two tournaments coming up, I will hopefully be able to keep it up/continue strong. (I talked about earning the FM title in my last blog: http://blog.chess.com/KaydenTroff/the-fm-titlehellip-playing-with-intensity)
I think some of it has to do with the psychological things. I feel like the psychological part of Chess is a lot more important than some people give credit. The two biggest things I would think affect the ability to reach your next goals are over-trying and under-trying. Over-trying, in my definition, is when you want it so badly you make yourself terribly nervous and upset and generally miserable while trying to accomplish a goal that is suppose to make you happy. Under-trying, again in my opinion, can be two things. First, you’re saying, “Oh yeah, I just got one of my goals so I can easily do well and don’t need to try as hard.” Or “I just got my goal and my next goal I’m not going to get for a while so why try so hard right now.” Another thing that goes along with being nervous, once you hit your goal you (and others) might expect more from yourself going forward which could make you more nervous about losing.
Another thing might be you just don’t know how to get to the next level, maybe your knowledge was good enough for what you got, but you really just don’t know enough to get you to your next goal. The thing I recommend for this is to find someone that does. Someone that is at/or has been at that level you are looking toward getting. Now if you are Kasparov and looking to become even higher rated, you are out of luck on this one. But if you are looking for the IM title, take lessons from an IM or a GM. They do have the knowledge to get you to the next level. And if you’re looking for an FM title take from an FM or an IM and that is pretty much the general idea. Another thing, if you’re looking for a coach, check if they themselves seem active and up-to-date (especially with openings). Then also check references, but also keep in mind a coach might fit better with you than someone else or Vice-Versa. Like if you are pretty much tactical and looking to improve your positional play then a coach that is better at positional play would work better for you rather than someone who is good at positional play and working on tactical.
Don’t push yourself too hard. Yes, you want to push hard, but if you just hit Expert don’t be looking at GM as your immediate next goal. I think it helps to set little goals or goals along the way. First look for NM then FM and then IM and then GM. IM and GM titles work really well for this because you could say 1st goal get my first IM Norm, 2nd goal get my 2nd IM Norm, 3rd Goal get my 3rd and final IM Norm, 4th goal get my FIDE Rating above 2400. Separating and making small goals that eventually lead to your main goal seem to help and then after you get one of those goals celebrate: do a little dance! I want to be a GM someday, but right now I am going to focus on getting my IM title first. And then on the GM title.
Always review the basics! One of the things I think is overlooked is just sometimes we need to review the basics. The basics for me would be things like always make sure I have a plan, try to be aggressive, King safety, and one of my biggest thing seems to be look for the simple moves (I get too caught up in trying to be fancy that even if I win I might have had it a lot quicker). I think when we are trying to get to that next level and continue strong we might get caught up in all the new things that we are learning and stop paying attention to the very basic things. I think this could be one of the most important (at least to me) because I feel like I have had some problems with this.
Time Management! Ok, it might seem like to some people “Why time management?” But I think some of you are like “Yes!” I am always getting low on time in tournaments! When you go to that next level you start playing higher rated players and that can cause you to take more time. Maybe you have more respect for your opponent so thus you take more time because you know they are going to play better and that leaves less room for mistakes, or it could be (again along the line of respect) they make a mistake and you sit there thinking “They wouldn’t do that right? They must have their reasons they wouldn't make that mistake.” Yes, sometimes they have tricks up their sleeve, but sometimes you need to keep in mind that everybody makes mistakes. And another thing is you might calculate a line 10 times and then spend 5 more minutes calculating it again. Yes, I would say you want to be careful and not miss something obvious, but you have to realize you aren’t going to play a perfect game and will make mistakes so you need to trust yourself. That doesn’t mean make the first move you think of, you still need to take your time, but don’t keep looking over something you’ve already figured out to the best of your knowledge. My mom is always telling me that it doesn’t really matter how good your moves are during the game if you leave yourself no time in the end to finish it up.
Along with this, (because I do this) be careful about walking around. Sometimes it is nice to stretch your legs or maybe just look at other games, but it isn’t nice if you end up losing time or making a mistake in time pressure because of it. When you are walking around try not to do it that much and also watch your board constantly because you never know when your opponent is going to move. And if you’re playing one of the time controls where you get another 30 minutes or an hour after 40 moves, be careful if you had to Blitz it out before (because you were low on time) to not keep Blitzing even though you now actually have time to think. One of the things that could really help is thinking on your opponent’s time. It can sometimes seem like extra time… even though that is not the case (I’m sure all of us could use some extra time), the time is always there, there is no extra, but it definitely could seem that way if you don’t usually think on your opponent’s time. One thing I think to take full advantage is if there is this really complicated line you are calculating, but you know right now this move HAS to be played move it and think on your opponent’s time. I have had some problems with time management myself and found that a lot is just trying to spend the time when you need it, but when you really don’t need it to not just waste it. Luckily for me, I’m getting better at it, but I have found that a lot of the time it has been just forcing myself (no matter how much I still want to keep calculating it) to make moves I KNOW have to be played.
Practicing! Don’t think that you are just going to be able to continue like you are without practicing! In my opinion I think 4-5 hours is good if you are serious about Chess, 5-7 hours if you are really serious and maybe even hoping to live off your Chess skills someday, 7+ hours if you are a super GM or a Chess Professional. I do understand that sometimes people’s schedule might not allow them to do that much and I would recommend trying to get 2-4 hours at least. Then obviously you need to spend that practicing time wisely and study/do what you need to, to get better. I think this is probably the most important! You need to practice if you want to get better!
Experience! I feel like there needs to be balance between practicing and getting experience. Yes practicing is good, but there are some things that take experience to either learn or help you improve on. I think if you ask any of the top players they will agree that experience is very important! This does not mean you can play a tournament every week and just expect to get better. I think it is just finding the balance between practice and experience and not drowning yourself in one or the other.
I leave next week for my first of two big tournaments in October. I will have two days at home in between. There are norm possibilities at both tournaments. We will see how it goes. Hopefully I can take all these ideas and use them to continue strong as I work for my next IM norm. Thank you for reading and any comments (as long as they aren’t offensive) are of course appreciated.
Another way to continue strong is to work on a hard puzzle so here you go, please no engines/chess computer program assistance: