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I am 24 years old, and only recently got my interest in chess back. I used to play it on and off as a child, but never took it seriously.

Is it too late for me to start playing competitively? I'm not aiming to be GM or anything, and neither am I planning to make chess my life. I am just wondering if I can still qualify to participate in some tournaments here and there, maybe get a few awards, maybe have a ranking of some sorts, and possibly call myself a competitive chess player.

Thanks!

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  • 7
    Don't measure yourself up to Beth Harmon's young age! It's never too late to start. I dabbled in chess when I was 14, but had a very long break, and now I'm picking it up again 20 years later!
    – ADTC
    Nov 26 '20 at 10:31
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    I got back into chess in my early-mid forties after a ~30 year break. While I'm never going to be a world beater I've got to a respectable club level, even managing a draw against an FM, and when the world was sane regularly took part in tournaments. And if you want a more extreme example to show chess is for all ages take a look at twitter.com/FromeChess/status/1130117944694980608/photo/1 which shows a 90 year old playing a 9 year old
    – Ian Bush
    Nov 26 '20 at 10:44
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    Also note that most tournaments have different sections for different experience levels so you will find tournaments that suite your level. For instance my father started playing chess when he was older than 50 already.
    – koedem
    Nov 26 '20 at 12:52
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    Amateur tournaments don't require any kind of qualification, just that you pay the usually very low entry fee.
    – JK.
    Nov 26 '20 at 21:51
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    Then answer to all "Is it too late for me to ..." questions is almost always "No."
    – KingLogic
    Nov 27 '20 at 0:06
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Sure why not! The important thing is to enjoy the game and learn whatever life lessons you can take from it along the journey. Chess offers tremendous companionship and fun and that is what is more important than focusing on results (which will inevitably follow as you keep improving learn from your mistakes).

Make sure you keep a database of the games --- especially your victories! --- you play on online using softwares like SCID, and then submit it to computer analysis (via Stockfish available on lichess). Learn where you went wrong during the game. I have improved tremendously myself over the past few months by following this process (having returned to chess only 2 months ago).

Focusing on improving a specific precisely defined skill like chess, I feel instills a growth mindset and set of habits that permeate other areas of life automatically.

And speaking of becoming a top player at a "late age" (if by that you mean physical age rather than mental age) then there is precedence! https://www.quora.com/Is-there-any-famous-chess-player-or-grandmaster-who-started-late-like-in-their-20s-or-30s

The important thing however I repeat is focusing on making sure that chess offers you enjoyment, a place to practice a growth mindset, companionship and a chance to make friends in both meatspace and cyberspace.

You might come across players online who have some sort of ego issues but these are precisley the players who only want to show off and will never improve past whatever miniscule talent they think they might have. It is one thing to be proud of your accomplishments but another thing to denigrate another person for playing worse chess. Stay away from people like these and build a healthy community of friends that you enjoy playing with and will help you improve.

Hope this helps!

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  • The OP asked "Is it too late?", and you answered "Sure why not!". It's jarring.
    – ikegami
    Nov 27 '20 at 18:50
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    See the last sentence. "I am just wondering if I can ... possibly call myself a competitive chess player." Nov 28 '20 at 1:11
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It's not late. Starting early in only important if you aim at the very top. I've had a student who started in his forties and managed to enjoy hundreds of games of competitive chess, with somewhat decent results (he reached 1800 while having a full-time job and a family).

Join a chess club and play your first tournament as soon as you can. Also, what is your budget? If you can't afford sessions with a coach regularly, can you afford at least an occassional season to guide the training you'll do on your own? I'd offer my services but I'm not sure if my answer would be removed for self-promotion in that case. Anyway, the skills a serious chess player needs are, more or less:

  • Tactical awareness and accurate calculation: this is put shortly the ability to find the best moves "on the spot", and predict its most direct consequences. You can work on this by solving puzzles on a site like chesstempo.com or from a book. Reviewing your own games first by yourself, maybe later with a chess engine, will also help you find what opportunities you missed in your games. Consistency is key here. 90 minutes a week distributed in 15 minute sessions will be enough for you to feel the difference after 8-10 weeks.

  • Theoretical endgames: only a few are required to survive, so this shouldn't take too much time. Once you know the most basic ones you'll be able to handle most practical situations. Can you mate a lonely king with just a rook? If you have the option of entering a king+pawn vs king endgame, can you know if that will be a win or a draw beforehand?

  • Technichal endgames: this is often mixed in with the "theoretical" ones but I like to make the distinction clear. If you reach a position like bishop+5 panws vs knight+4 pawns (on either side), how comfortable do you feel? Can you outplay most player near your skill level or do you feel like you are losing a lot of points at this stage?

  • Strategy: this is for many the most "beautiful" or "elegant" part of chess. Concepts like piece activity, king safety, weak squares, bad bishops and alike simplify the way we think about chess, guiding our decisions when there isn't a clear "tactical" reason to prefer a move over another.

  • Opening theory: since there are a few positions that will appear over and over again in your games, you'd do yourself a favour if you already know what the best moves are on each of them. For now, however, I'd stick to a more "strategic" approach, based on playing around solid concepts like development, king safety and control of the central squares.

Work on this and you'll go far! But remember that this is a long process and results won't be felt fast nor "linearly". In other words, improvement will come gradually until you hit some "jump" at a certain point, then you'll feel like you're going backwards before another "jump", then another stage of gradual improvement.... I think you get the point.

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  • @Francesca You're welcome. I can offer you a trial coaching session for free if you want to know what to expect from them.
    – David
    Dec 4 '20 at 16:52
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There is no reason you can't get into competitive chess unless you hold yourself back. I played as a child and into my late teens and then stopped. It wasn't until around 8-10 years ago that I picked it back up and playing in competitively in tournaments only recently. I know the chances are really low that I'd become a GM but if I become a local good club player that is perfectly fine.

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Definitely not to late. I know people who have taken up chess in retirement to reasonable club level success. There is literally nothing holding you back. Go get em.

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How competitive? Your chances of becoming a GM are very low. You might reach IM if you spent enough time on the game, but there is no guarantee. You should be able to reach the expert level if you try, but even NM would be unlikely unless you don't have a life and only do chess.

As to tournaments, you can always play. They have them for all levels of players. As to winning awards - you could win at your level in a section based on ratings and not 'open'.

Everybody who plays gets a rating. You could certainly call yourself a competitive player if you actually played in sponsored tournaments by USCF or your national body.

With proper training, you should certainly be as good as most club players in a few years.

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  • I have no plans of becoming a GM. I just want to be able to play competitively, but I honestly don't see myself becoming GM.
    – Francesca
    Dec 4 '20 at 2:45
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Not unprecedented for even world class players to only become serious after 20 years old; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikhail_Chigorin coincidentally became serious also at 24 and only learned the moves at 16. However, incredibly rare and perhaps nowadays with kids getting world class competition from computers from as soon as they are old enough to learn the moves, it is much harder. Here is a suggestion that may not be popular: There is a variant known as "bughouse" which is played with two boards and 4 players, 2 on a team. When you take a piece as white, it is passed to your partner (who is black) and they can (instead of moving a piece) place the piece on the board. This is a completely legitimate form of chess that even top players enjoy. However, I happen to know that even grandmasters at standard chess are not necessarily great at bughouse and there is very little written about the game; what's more, a computer with a human partner would still be beatable. If your goal is to become a top player, bughouse might be a game to consider.

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I think you ask the wrong question. Better: "What are my ambitions when I return to chess?" I have no idea what your innate talent is, what trainers you have and so on. As long as your ambition is "I want to have fun at chess", it doesn't matter at all how strong you are. I was a FM once (OK, even if I dropped under 2100, I still am, but you know what I mean) and I'm burning for Corona getting the boot so I can return to the board. If that is your attitude, you find joy even with 1000 ELO.

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  • I guess that works ahaha Honestly I'm very competitive, but I'm also realistic. I see myself not being able to get GM, even if I dropped everything now and just became a chess player. I want to be able to get some sort of accolade, maybe some awards in chess, even if I don't reach FM or IM status.
    – Francesca
    Dec 4 '20 at 2:48
  • @Francesca: This is rather modest :-), since there are enough tournaments, even officially limited to some playing strength, that may earn you a nice cup in your showcase to boast to your grandchildren :-) Dec 7 '20 at 12:48

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