Talent is Overrated
I have over the years run into chess players who talk about how they don't have enough "talent" to reach certain skill levels. Although this may be true, as I am not disregarding that we all may have natural limitations to our chess ability, I think that it can be something of an excuse as well.
When we think of our limits instead of our potential, we don't work as hard as we might. If you thought that the best you could achieve is an A Class (1800-2000) rating, then would you put the extra effort trying to break through to the Expert level?
The truth is that even master strength coaches do not always have a true grasp of what an individual player's potential may be. I think chess is too complicated of a game with too many individual factors to be able to measure the potential of a player (in the long run).
With all of this being said, I think you should strive as high as your aspirations (and resources) allow you to strive. To help you along the way, here is a list of things you can do to improve your chess that have absolutely nothing to do with your chess "talent."
Play Tough Competition
As I wrote in Who You Should Play to Improve Your Chess? the level of competition you face is very important to improving. You want on average to face players who are slightly stronger than you.
It is good to occasionally play opponents who are weaker than you, so you can exploit their mistakes and demonstrate your winning technique. However, more often it is essential to play people who will exploit your mistakes and expose your weaknesses so you can go about improving them.
This is the reason many chess coaches suggest playing a rating class above your rating so you will face tough competition.
This is also easy to do online such as on ICC or Chess.com. You can just set your rating window to only face opponents with ratings between -25 and +200 (for example). Play stronger players, and soon you will get stronger.
Focus Your Attention
In over-the-board tournaments, how often do you see players away from their board during their opponent's turn? Now, I'm not saying the occasional stroll around the tournament hall to catch a breather or see what the top boards are playing is a bad thing. However, all too often, I think players underutilize their time.
I remember once during a tournament my opponent itching to get out of his seat to take a stroll but I kept playing my move before he could. I had to be careful, because I almost starting moving faster just to frustrate his efforts to leave his seat.
The same is true for online play. How often do you click away from your game to check Facebook or to play a video on Youtube?
Your time during your opponent's turn can be used to do many things, including:
- Studying the imbalances of the position from a general point of view.
- Considering the time control and planning out how much time you should use on your subsequent moves.
- Reassessing your game plan.
- Taking a breather to calm your emotions in a tense position.
Learn to increase your attention to the game and use your time more effectively. Here's a few ideas.
- Increase the "on-task" time of your study sessions. For example, if you study tactics on a chess server like Chess Tempo, increase the times of sessions incrementally.
- Take up a practice like breath awareness meditation, where you learn to bring your attention back to your breath. One site I use is Headspace.com.
- Keep physically fit. Better health increases attention.
- Make sure you are sleeping enough. Fatigue limits your attention.
Keep a Positive Attitude
Sometimes, we get disappointed about our chess results or our progress. Keeping a positive attitude about our play and our potential is essential to keep consistent with our training. Although this advice may seem a little esoteric, it is a technique that professional athletes of all kinds utilize to maximize their performance.
Being positive is not the same is having an unrealistic fantasy of our chess potential. In fact, having a positive attitude allows you to actually see the reality of your chess situation.
For example, instead of thinking "I stink at chess endings" you might adopt the belief of "I can improve at the endgame which will improve my overall results." The attitude is positive and focused on the action required to solve the problem.
To improve your attitude, I recommend looking up my friend Greg Liberto who works with professional golfers. He has a lot of free information on the topic. I also enjoy the books of sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella.
I think one of the reasons I have not progressed as much as I would like in my own chess journey is a lack of consistency. I'm guessing some of you may be in a similar situation.
It is true that work, children, and other responsibilities often predominate our lives. However, I think it is possible to develop a consistent routine with some organization and accountability.
Think of chess improvement this way. For every hour you study or practice chess, you receive 5 units of chess strength. You can study for three hours once every three days, earning 15 units of chess strength. However, let's say you lose a point of chess strength for every day you do not study or train. You can equate this to forgetting or getting "rusty." So if you only train every third day, you gain 15 units of chess strength, but you lose two points on the two days you don't train.
Compare this to doing a single hour every day. You gain 5 points of strength, and you don't lose any points, giving you 15 points of strength increase. Perhaps not an accurate model of how this works, but I think you get the point.
Getting consistent can be as simple as developing the habit of doing a certain amount of training at a certain time every day. James Clear illustrates the importance of consistency in The Difference Between Professionals and Amateurs and I recommend his writing if you want to improve your habits and life in general.
This list can go on and on, but I think these four will give you a great start. Talent for chess exists I'm sure. However, thinking about your chess potential in anything but a positive light can be an unhealthy thing for many amateur players.
Instead, I think you should focus on things you have control over, including your attitude and your chess habits. Doing so will do more than worrying about what level of chess you can ultimately achieve.