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I've been stuck around the 2000 rating mark on various different online chess websites for a few years now. I seem to have hit a wall. I'm quite busy so when I do find time for chess I tend to just play some blitz for enjoyment. But I suspect that is what is stalling my game. I've decided to spend more time studying than playing in order to finally progress further.

I am looking for concrete advice on what other players have found successful in their own experience of going past 2000. I've just ordered Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual and I plan to study several key positions each week over the next year. I hope that improving my endgame will bring my overall game up. But I'd be interested to hear other ideas too.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Ywapom, Brian Towers, Glorfindel, fuxia, GloriaVictis Dec 2 '18 at 8:19

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Specific advise might be different for different players. Assessing your weaknesses and working on them, could be a good start. – user1583209 Nov 29 '18 at 14:37
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    "I'm busy so I can't afford to spend a lot of time studying" you could add that you are also too busy to use the "Search" facility. If you do so you will find many questions asking about how to improve. Why not start by looking through those questions and answers? – Brian Towers Nov 29 '18 at 17:03
  • @BrianTowers Thanks for your exceptionally kind comment. – kandyman Nov 29 '18 at 17:15
  • @BrianTowers If you think the question is a duplicate, you could of course mark it as such. – D M Nov 29 '18 at 22:05
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Without actually knowing your strengths and weaknesses, I'd suggest doing the following:

Studying endgames is a great idea - it will help you to convert equal positions into wins against players with worse endgame knowledge. However - an equal position has to be reached first.

Find out what style of play you excel in - and learn how to get into positions that fit that style. The most drastic example of this might be the Fried Liver Attack. An engine really doesn't mind playing black here (I mean - it's a free knight!), but human players, even Grandmasters, are just screwed; they are just not able to calculate a complicated position like that well enough. Improving here starts with analyzing openings and getting a feeling for positions, the weaknesses and strengths they bare and what long-term consequences your moves make. Aim to always know why you make a move. To practice this, you take any position, make out weak and strong points and formulate a plan for both sides - then think about moves you want to play to pursue your plan - and delay your opponents plans. Bonus points for moves that do both. Take your time for this - it will help you find a plan OTB if you practice it.

At higher ratings games are usually decided by strategy, not tactics. While it is important to have a good eye for tactics, tactical opportunities will be rarer and rarer. Get a good position, keep a good position and the checkmate will come naturally! :)

  • I always allow the Fried Liver because I prefer to the active play for Black that follows from just ditching the pawn, getting a bishop on d6 and rolling the central pawns forward. – kandyman Nov 30 '18 at 14:44
  • @kandyman Please elaborate. The Fried Liver Attack 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 Nxd5 6. Nxf7 6. ... Bd6 loses the queen to Nxd8 I am guessing you play 5. ... Na5? I am honestly not sure if that still classifies as the Fried Liver - But I guess that is just hair-splitting at this point... :) – Benjamin Raabe Nov 30 '18 at 15:39
  • Sorry I didn't mean playing ...Nxd5. I guess I meant the lines in the Two Knights similar to this: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 Na5 6. Bb5+ c6 7. dxc6 bxc6 8. Be2 h6 9. Nh3 Bd6 10. d3 O-O – kandyman Nov 30 '18 at 15:47
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Don't over-emphasize studying over actually playing. Studying is good, but if you neglect actually playing chess in the meantime you will suffer a great deal; you need to play to keep yourself from getting rusty and losing trust in your decision making over the board. Since you've stated that you don't have lots of time, I'd suggest that you play rapid chess instead of blitz; something like 15 minutes + 10 seconds/move is enough to get some good practice if you don't have the time to play actual slow time controls, since it will not take a huge amount of time (20-40 minutes in total per game) and will still give you a chance to go for some more refined ideas than the ones one may go for in blitz.

With all this being said, I think it's a good idea for you to study endgames as well since those are always going to be important for players of any level. And you can't really go wrong with DEM, it's a truly excellent book. The only thing with DEM is that it's quite high-level stuff and will require some serious effort on your part to get the most out of it.

  • Yes but playing and not studying has led to me hitting a wall. Hence the idea to focus more on study. But I guess a balance between them is better. – kandyman Dec 2 '18 at 13:46
  • @kandyman That is a fair assessment I think. As you've noted, only playing and completely neglecting actual study of the game will not help you improve that much (unless you're playing serious standard games against strong opponents). I agree with you that finding a balance between playing and studying/analyzing is the best way to go forward. – Scounged Dec 2 '18 at 14:03
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I'm 2100 in online blitz so we have a similar rating. I'll give you the same advice that Judit Polgar gave to me. Study middlegames and basic endgames. And tactics. I think that Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual might be overkill. It's a little too in depth. It's hard to apply the knowledge that you glean there to your games. For the amount of time you invest in it, you get very little application.

Let's explore this in further detail. There are three components to Judit Polgar's advice: (1) middlegames (2) basic endgames and (3) tactics. It's important that she left out openings, because at the 2000 level it's more important to know plans and ideas than to memorize sequences of moves. It's also important that she said "basic endgames" and not "thoroughly know all the theoretical endgames", because basic endgames have enormous application -- such as opposite colored bishops, a- and h-pawns, knowing to put your king in front of your pawn and your rook behind your pawn -- whereas knowing the theoretical diagrams in Dvoretsky's book has little application unless you're a grandmaster. Why? Well, even if an endgame is theoretically drawn, at the 2000 level your opponent will often make mistakes which render the theoretical result irrelevant, since what's really relevant here is whether you exploit their mistakes and use that to win.

Instead of Dvoretsky, I would recommend looking at annotated games (e.g. books, Chessbase, Chess.com) and watching top players play. This will help you absorb plans and ideas that you can then use in your own games. If you have a good plan during the middlegame then on the 2000 level you often have an edge against your opponent. Forming a knowledge base of plans, ideas, motifs is a lot like building a vocabulary. In order to build a good vocabulary it helps to be a voracious reader. Well, by analogy, you want to be a voracious chess observer. In addition to reading annotated games, you can watch the world's best players play blitz on chess.com. Why blitz? Well, Magnus Carlsen recently said that blitz and rapid are in a sense a purer form of chess because it takes the element of preparation out of it. It's easier to understand a grandmaster's ideas in blitz or rapid because the barrier of opening preparation, to which you are not privy, is removed to a certain extent.

If there are positions where you feel uncomfortable, such as isolated queen pawn positions or even the endgame itself, then it helps to play those positions at every opportunity with willingness and enthusiasm, so that way you can get a feel for them and improve. I think it was like eight or nine years ago that I was afraid of the endgame, and preferred to win by attacking my opponent in the middle game to get a decisive material advantage or a mate. To improve this hole in my game, I just decided to play endgames with (1) willingness and (2) enthusiasm, often trading off pieces just for the sake of entering the endgame, especially when it was equal. Then I started winning equal endgames, and I found it enjoyable. What improved my endgame was not Dvoretsky but a basic endgame knowledge and lots of practice - and, of course, willingness and enthusiasm for the endgame.

But this last bit of advice is important. If you watch grandmasters play blitz on chess.com, you'll notice that even 2700s and 2800s miss basic tactics that afford their opponent the opportunity to win. That's why it's so important to learn tactics. You can use them to win at almost any level. The number of tactics available to you in a position depends on how well your pawns and pieces are placed. The better position you have, the more tactics you likely have. In order to improve tactically, you also have to improve positionally. That's where studying the middle game helps. When Polgar gave me that advice, she said something like "spend 70% of your time on the middle game". Because if you have good plans and ideas in the middle game, then chances are you'll reach positions where you have winning tactics. There's a big disconnect where some players place their pieces well but are then unable to find the winning tactics. I think this comes with experience. The better chess shape you're in, and the more experience you have, the more easily you can convert advantages, and know when to convert advantages. It's a skill in itself. Some times you have a strong knight on d5, but then you have to give it up in order to break up black's pawns on the kingside. Some players would be unwilling to give up this knight and never make any progress in their attack.

At the 2000 level, so many games are decided by not seeing one or two moves ahead. In other words, tactics. In order to get those tactics you need to have a good position. Hence Polgar's emphasis on middle games. When you go online, don't forget to watch top players play. It's something that I only started recently, and I wish I had started a lot sooner!

  • I appreciate your answer, thanks. One thing I find problematic about studying annotated games is that the moves are often beyond me. A game between two GMs (even if it is annotated) can be full of move order subtleties, tactical points, etc such that a move can be very mysterious to someone like me. But I do take your point that annotated games can be very helpful. – kandyman Dec 2 '18 at 13:48

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