How to improve at chess? USCF rating increases 300 pts in 1 year. Here is how.

By David Kramaley / On / In Case study, Chess improvement, Chessable review, Learning chess

GermanMC has gained 300 USCF points in one year.
GermanMC has gained 300 USCF points in one year.

How to improve at chess?

This is a question we all ask ourselves at one point or another. It’s the reason why I read all the science there is on Chess and started Chessable! Recently, I got news that one of our users made some remarkable improvement, 300 over the board points in one single year. I got in touch with him to find out a bit more about it. GermanMC is not only one of our power users, but he has also made his opening repertoires available on Chessable for anyone to use. Some are free, and some, cost a few dollars. His top book is on the Ruy Lopez, it’s free and has been studied by an impressive 1,238 people! He has learned 764 variations with a modest maximum daily streak of 9 (there are some who have kept a streak for over a year).

I’ve tried to keep the questions similar to previous chess improvement interviews so as to stick to a familiar theme. Now, let’s find out a few more insights on how to improve at chess, here we go!

1) You have improved around 300 USCF points in a year of tournament chess since joining Chessable, that’s impressive, how do you feel?
Improvement is very satisfying of course, but it also makes me feel hungry for more knowledge and improvement. It’s really nice to live in an age abundant with brilliant resources like Chessable; all I have to do is open up my laptop and get to work.

2) A lot of work must have gone into this, and your game must have improved all around for such a brilliant change. Let’s break it down, how have you improved your chess openings?
Over this past year, I have become much more familiar with the typical plans in my openings as well as the “theory” moves. I often understand how to handle the positions that I get out of the opening better than my opponents, which has allowed me to win many easy games against strong players. Chessable has been a key contributor to this aspect of my game because so many of the available repertoire books contain very high-quality instruction and allow me to easily review lines

3) Which openings do you play (if you don’t mind sharing!)?
My style has changed a lot over this past year as I have become a stronger player. As Black, I like to play the Najdorf against 1.e4 and the Benko Gambit against 1.d4 because I always seem to get fighting positions that are interesting to play. As White, I enjoy playing 1.d4 and going for Catalan-type structures with a later Kingside-fianchetto (spoiler alert – this will be the topic of my next Chessable book).

4) How have you improved your middle game?
The middlegame is probably the most critical stage of the game because it is where most games are decided at the amateur level. I personally have improved my middlegame significantly by obtaining a better understanding of the plans out of my favorite openings, as I mentioned earlier. Working daily with an online tactics trainer has also improved my middlegame play a lot. Other than that, I recently got started with Jeremy Silman’s How to Reassess Your Chess, which I find to be a very enjoyable read.

5) What about your endgame, have you worked on that at all?
I have to admit that I have slacked off a bit in my endgame study, but I have taken the time to learn a few basic king and pawn endgames as well as some rook endgames. John Bartholomew has some great videos on his Youtube channel about various essential endgames that I find very instructive!

6) You gained over 1,000,000 points on Chessable, that’s pretty impressive. What would be your tips to new Chessable users about how to get the most out of the platform?
My biggest tip to new users would be to develop a “Chessable routine.” To get the most out of the platform, it is important to do smaller (but daily!) review sessions rather than reviewing a very large quantity of lines every few weeks.

7) What would you personally like to see improved on Chessable?
I think the user interface could be improved a bit, but it seems to be getting better almost every time I log on!

8) What’s next for you? Any new goals?
I have my eyes set on 2200, which is when the National Master title is given here in the United States. It would be great to reach that goal sometime in 2018. I would also love to play in some international tournaments when I happen to be in Europe so that I can increase my FIDE rating, but that’s more of a long-term goal.

Thanks GermanMC!
It’s very inspiring and motivating to hear of your chess improvement.  I am sure many of our readers, including myself, will take a tip or two away from your experience and apply it to our own game. Best of luck on the road to 2,200 and see you on the leaderboards! Personally, I am aiming for 2,000 FIDE this year, which right now, seems a long way away, a long way away!

So, how to improve your chess? In summary, it involves a lot work (1,000,000 points don’t come easy!), habitual study, and a balance between knowing chess openings and understanding the middle game concepts that are relevant to that chess theory.

A bit more about GermanMC:
GermanMC is a chess player who is also a student in Austin, Texas. His nickname stems from the fact that he grew up in Munich, Germany. His passion for chess has been highlighted in recent months as he reached his age-groups Top 100 List for the USCF after improving 300 rating points in one year. He spends his free time playing chess tournaments, solving tactics, reading chess books, and of course, creating Chessable chess books.

Chessable user CurtisM97 and his remarkable chess improvement

By David Kramaley / On / In Chess improvement, Chessable review, Learning chess

Chessable user CurtisM97 and his remarkable chess improvement
Chessable user CurtisM97 and his remarkable chess improvement

Recently I had the opportunity to have a brief exchange with one of our Chessable members, CurtisM97 who has achieved vast improvements in his chess. Curtis is Memorial University of Newfoundland student intending on majoring in Psychology, and his Chessable study patterns are commendable. While not one of our power users who have managed to gather millions of points and studying hundreds of positions in relatively short periods of time, Curtis has made slow but steady gains.

At the moment of writing this, Curtis has learned 135 variations and his maximum daily streak is only 4. However, this is more than enough! You don’t have to learn 300-500 variations and log on every single day, we all have other commitments. Regular and incremental study sessions of chess openings is what’s important. Keep those tricky variations fresh in your mind and don’t try to cram it all in one day, take your time and slowly build up!

My own personal streak has never gone above 30 days, and that was with a lot of effort. I am surprised how some of our Chessable members have kept it going for over hundreds of days! Incredible!

Now, let’s find out a bit more about this amazing rapid chess improvement:

1) You have improved around 500 points in a year of online chess, that’s impressive, how do you feel?
I can only describe my progress as satisfying! I started playing the game because it seemed so satisfying to be good at. So starting with no knowledge of any chess fundamentals and then developing to the point where I am today is very pleasing to me.

2) A lot of work must have gone into this, and your game must have improved all around for such a brilliant change. Let’s break it down, how have you improved your chess openings?
I am very privileged to grow up in a time where information is accessible. Having a tool like Chessable on hand has improved my playing significantly, it really sums up what the Internet has to offer chess. Having so much information in one place has allowed me to develop a system for my own playing preferences, and that’s the only way I could learn openings without frustration.

3) Which openings do you play (if you don’t mind sharing!)?
I’ve always played 1. d4 as white, just because I was exposed to that when I started playing. As black, I play the Nimzo-Indian versus d4 and the Caro-Kann versus e4.

4) How have you improved your middle game?
Middle games are a little harder to get used to than the opening for me personally. I mostly depended on chess personalities on YouTube for middle game help. People such as IM John Bartholomew have helped me understand the middle game, as he is one of the most coherent commentators on the Internet. Other than that, Nimzowitsch’s book “My System” has helped me out a lot.

5) What about your endgame, have you worked on that at all?
Admittedly I haven’t really read a book that solely talked about end games. But I have taken as much advice from Grandmaster games and YouTube videos as possible, but I don’t think I could consider that study. I just know the very basics about end game fundamentals.

6) You gained over 200,000 points on Chessable, that’s pretty impressive. What would be your tips to new Chessable users about how to get the most out of the platform?
Studying chess is much like studying anything else. Chessable is a fantastic program for chess study, but you have to study at a healthy pace. Cramming yourself with information will not improve your play, you’ll just get overwhelmed! Develop a study plan, and review what you learned every day! There’s no rush. I’ve been using Chessable since release, so It’s not like I’ve gained 200,000 points over night, it came with time. Making a system for your playing creates consistency in your results.

7) What would you personally like to see improved on Chessable?
At this point in time, the only thing that could be improved with Chessable is purely aesthetic, but that’s being updated very frequently! For a site that’s only in an open beta, you’re getting much more than what you could ask of it.

8) What’s next for you? Any new goals?
Of course my only goal right now is to keep improving! At this point I’m more than happy with the rate of my success. It’s a long shot, but I’d like to increase 200 rating points by November of 2017. That would be my goal for the year. Although it’s only Internet elo, it’s a nice sign of improvement until I have confidence to play OTB in my local tournaments here in Newfoundland!

Thanks Curtis! It’s very inspiring to hear of your progress for our readers and us! As for your struggle with middle games and chess endgames, I am happy to say that adding more chess strategy, chess tactics and chess endgame books is one of our priorities that will hopefully soon be a reality. We also have some novel ideas on how to make studying those as efficient as possible, even more than our system already makes possible. Since those are the areas of my own game that could now use some improvement, expect to see something cool soon!

Chessable review: How Chessable can help you become a Chess Master

By David Kramaley / On / In Case study, Chess improvement, Chess openings, Chessable review

Chess Master Illustration

I had a chat with a Chessable user, Professor Tim McGrew. Tim provides an in-depth Chessable review and how it has helped him improve his chess. Tim told us that opening preparation was one of the keys to achieve his lifelong ambition, the USCF National Master title. Openings that Tim rehearsed on Chessable were played in some important games. Thanks to our science-backed chess opening learning tools, Tim was able to make the most out of his opening preparation. His review follows in form of an unaltered interview:

Read on; this review style interview is packed full of instructional moments!

1) How did you find out about Chessable?
Word of mouth — my teenage daughter had found the site and described it to me.

2) What were your first few days on Chessable like?
Initially, I clicked around to see what was free and started exploring it. IM John Bartholomew’s Scandinavian repertoire — the free version — blew me away. Once I had seen that, I realized that I needed to get an account and import some of my own analysis for study.

3) How has your experience using Chessable changed since the first few times you used it to what it is like now?
The biggest change came when I realized the kind of work I needed to do in order to create my own opening repertoires for self study. There are two critical points here. First, a serious repertoire that will actually serve in tournament conditions at master level has to be fairly detailed. Yes, there are some openings that require a lot more work than others, but even theoretical sidelines demand some detail work these days. Second, I realized that the fundamental feature of Chessable — the spaced repetition — would enable me to recall much more than I was used to carrying around in my memory.

4) How many hours per day on average would you say you use Chessable for?
This varies greatly, as I have a family and a day job. Some days I may put in several hours (which fly by, since it’s fun); others, just a few minutes.

5) Your 53 day streak is impressive, any tips to fellow users to achieve such great study habits?
I like to do at least something every day. If I set myself a micro goal of doing ten positions a day, there is really no excuse not to do it. And generally I will do much more than the micro goal, even on a busy day.

6) What’s your favourite repertoire? If it’s a private one, could you please describe it a little bit that would be great.
My favorite public repertoire has to be the full version of John Bartholomew’s Scandinavian repertoire. It’s solid, interesting, and full of ideas that he has clearly tested with computer assistance. And he covers even the more obscure sidelines, making it a complete repertoire against 1.e4.

I have several private repertoires that I have constructed. Usually I will start with an idea I like, fold in the main lines from some GM games, and then look it up on a theory site to see what is current. Once I have built it out to a certain level of detail, I run through all of the lines with Stockfish 7 at 20 ply or deeper to do some tactical cleaning.

It’s very important, however, not to restrict the repertoire to lines the computer comes up with. Human opponents are going to play moves that look natural to them, and at this stage of repertoire building one needs to include those lines to maximize the probability of using one’s preparation over the board.

7) What have you noticed that is different about your chess play now that you use Chessable?
I had several holes in my repertoire that needed to be plugged. I’ve been in the upper 2100s USCF for about a decade, and my repertoire was fine for beating most club players, but closer to master level it began to break down. I was still playing some lines that weren’t ready for mission-critical applications. And these days, strong opponents do their homework between encounters with the assistance of GM-strength chess engines. So if there are holes in your repertoire, they are going to find them!

With the Chessable tools, I was able to address this problem and plug those holes. I have also built some repertoires just for fun to explore some new lines I am considering playing. So Chessable has not only helped me to fix concrete problems but also inspired me to widen my repertoire, which should make me a moving target for my opponents’ opening preparation.

8) If you had any rating changes, what were they? Do you think Chessable contributed to this rating change?
Actually, yes! About a month and a half after I started using Chessable heavily, I finally went over 2200 and earned my National Master title, a lifetime ambition of mine. I’m over 50, and at my age, most chess players find their ratings going down rather than up, so you can well imagine how pleased I am with this turn of events! I have no doubt that my work on Chessable was a significant factor, not only because it sharpened my openings but also because it increased my confidence in my opening preparation.

9) Some people say studying openings is unnecessary and you should be able to play any opening well (eg Capablanca was a natural! Apparently). What do you think of this kind of statements?
I think it’s unrealistic for non-professionals to aspire to play every opening well, if by “well” you mean at their own rating standard. For example, I don’t play the Grünfeld from either side. Now, it’s good to understand the basic strategic concepts behind openings one doesn’t play. But the most important thing is to understand the openings one does play.

10) What would you say to someone who has either just started using Chessable or is thinking of using it?
Players at different levels need different things. If you are a beginner, you need to get into the middlegame alive. I’ve been thinking of creating a repertoire for just that purpose for some of my younger students. If you are a club player (say, 1400-1800) and serious about moving up, you may want to work with a stronger player to develop a repertoire that is right for you. If you are over 2000 OTB and are willing to work at it, you can develop your own repertoires and upload them as private repertoires for personal study. But have a look at some of the ones that are built and for sale already — it could save you some time, and who knows, you might fall in love with something new!

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Tim McGrew is a Professor of Philosophy at Western Michigan University. He has been playing tournament chess for about 40 years and coaches his two chess-playing daughters.
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The answers to the interview questions appear unaltered as Tim answered them. Hyperlinks were added for the reader’s convenience by Chessable. This case study and Chessable review is made available with the kind permission of Tim. Thank you Tim for providing us with this Chessable review and interview. We really appreciate it!