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I've played chess for almost 13 years now (I'm 23), and I don't know how to improve my game level. I'm rated ~1400 FIDE, and have never been higher. I'm also ~1300 on chess.com after 700 games, and between 1700 and 1900 on their tactics problems. But even with this, I'm still losing games against 1200 ratings.

However, I don't think that I have a bad level. I win regularly against 1600-1700 in official tournaments in South France, and I finished 38th out of 200 in the ~1500 French Championship in 2018.

I think that my biggest problem is that I don't recognize when a good move is playable or if I'm winning on the board.

I never worked on tactics, openings and stuff in my youth. Maybe it's the cause of my problem, but today, I don't improve my level much. I can sometimes win against 1600 but still losing against 1200, and more than that. I saw new players that have begun because of The Queen's Gambit and are already almost better than me. I also saw someone on this forum become 1900 in only 2 years!

So I'm really questioning my chess level at the moment, but also questioning my learning. I would like to be given some very nice tips or advice.

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    "I think that my biggest problem is that I don't recognize when a good move is playable or if i'm winning on the board. I've never worked on tactics, openings and stuff in my youth." Have you considered working on tactics, openings, and figuring out what are good moves and what are bad moves? You can't improve if you don't spend time improving your own play. – NoseKnowsAll Dec 10 '20 at 1:04
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    How much time do you dedicate to playing/studying chess right now, and how much free time do you have at your disposal? What stages of the game are you struggling with (opening/middlegame/endgame)? How do you go about evaluating a position? General suggestions on how to improve one's game may or may not help you very much. And if there are a lot of areas of your game that you feel that you need to work on, then I think it would be good to ask more specific questions. – Scounged Dec 10 '20 at 1:06
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    @NoseKnowsAll "figuring out what are good moves and what are bad moves" isn't exactly trivial. And OP does apparently work on tactics at least some, or they wouldn't have a tactics rating. – D M Dec 10 '20 at 2:43
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    It's not easy to give specific advice without knowing details about your games. What is the common cause of your losses? You may want to get a couple of sessions with a coach – David Dec 10 '20 at 7:20
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    Everyone has a higher chess.com tactics rating(I have ~3000). Your problem can still be calculation despite having a high rating. – CognisMantis Dec 10 '20 at 20:52
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Some suggestions, in addition to doing some tactics regularly (that's number one).

  1. Play at a time-control that is comfortable and not too fast, especially if you are playing blitz.(eg: switch to 5 min if you normally play 3 min); improvement is difficult anyway by playing only blitz games. Slow chess is needed at some point.
  2. Analyze your games and see what kind of mistakes that you are making. You might even be repeating a tactical mistake in an opening and these are things that can be noticed and avoided.
  3. Pick some opening/strategy of your choice and play that every game; over time, you'll be familiar with it and get some confidence.
  4. Learn some basic endgames; knowing at least simple ones like King+pawn vs King will give some confidence; you can build on that and learn Bishop vs 1 pawn ending, R vs pawn.
  5. Play stronger opponents whenever you get a chance (there are settings you can adjust to seek only players above a rating). This will force you to raise your level.
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  • Sound like great advices ! In fact, yes I play in 3'+2s and it seems be a bad thing. About analyze, I make one after every game, and I look for my worst moves quickly. But yeah, analyze blitz is not very good. – LittleBig Dec 11 '20 at 8:14
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I've never worked on tactics, openings and stuff in my youth, maybe it's cause of my problem

This almost certainly the source of your problem. I am actually the guy you're referring to who got from 600 to 1900 in 2 years (in reality 1.25 years since I quit during school) ; my relatively fast improvement is ,and I'm convinced with a very small margin of uncertainty, due to my obsession with tactics. There were many days where I would solve puzzles on chess.com for 3+ hours a day. As of today, I'm currently standing at 16 000 tactics attempts on chess.com.

Don't get me wrong, I did not enjoy doing that many puzzles, I would've very much rather do like most people do, play bullet/blitz get the adrenaline and have "fun". But there's almost no ambiguity amongst the chess community that tactics are the fastest and most efficient way in improving. So with that in mind, I did tactics !

Further, you mention you're 1700-1900 rated in tactics, don't pay attention to your tactics rating. Your goal should be to spam them as much as possible to further strengthen your pattern recognition. All in all, if you want to improve, spam a lot of tactics, your improvement will be striking and you shall never regret it.

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  • Well, I'll try hard problems so xD thanks for your answer ! – LittleBig Dec 11 '20 at 8:21
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I see that you are good at chess puzzles, so you must be good at tactics by now. The major question here is that what is the time frame for your games? Are you playing 3, 5, or 10-minute games?

You see I suck at blitz because I am just a hobbyist, but I am very good at slow play. My rating is around 1400 in 10 minutes and around 1800 for daily play because, in my daily games, I get to think before I move and I have 7 days to move. In rapid games, it boils down to who is the fastest, and that usually comes with memorizing lines and playing way too many games in a concentrated time frame.

Since you are good at tournaments, I strongly suggest you use the same time restrictions on your online games.

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  • Yes effectively, I play in 3'+2s; so I'll change for 15'+3s, which I'm more comfortable with, and because it's the cadence that I play with in tournaments. Thank you for for your help :) – LittleBig Dec 11 '20 at 8:24
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Given your description, here are several likely problems:

  1. Tunnel vision, leading to blunders. You need to learn to see the whole board.
  2. Lazy moves. Instead of looking for the best move, you're playing the "good enough" move in order to avoid having to think.
  3. You lack a coherent game plan, but are paradoxically always playing a strategic opening (d4 or c4).

Long-term stagnation at that level is a behavioral problem associated with mental laziness. You can only fix it by getting out of your comfort zone, and thus changing your expectations. That usually means changing your opening to something you're not used to playing, preferably something sharp.

So basically... learn a new opening which is completely different from what you do now.

Also, never resign because players at approximately your level will blunder often enough that a game isn't lost until it's completely over, and in your settings for internet chess, set your opponent rating selection to no lower than 50 points below yours so you don't have your rating completely trashed by a single idiotic moment against a 3-year-old with an 800 rating. You are entirely capable of beating yourself against terrible players and likely prove it regularly.

Finally, if you think you've found a good move, look for a better one... preferably something entirely unrelated to the idea in the first. The first idea might indeed be the best move, but this is a way to force yourself to see the entire board. It can also help you get out of defensive mode when you should be counter-attacking.

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  • Yes I've considered to change my opening from c4 to e4, but there is too much variantes with e4 to study compared to c4 and I haven't dared yet, but I think that is necessary at his point. – LittleBig Dec 11 '20 at 8:39
  • Actually, C4 has a huge amount of variations to study. It's not just English. It transforms into variations of Queen's Gambit, Polish outflank variation, Indian defenses, Reti, Grunfeld, etc. As a matter of fact, it's usually just a first move that transforms into something else, mostly d4 openings but not exclusively. That's part of the point of c4. – Max Morris Dec 13 '20 at 12:57
  • It can even transform into Caro-Kann or Pirc variations with black playing c6 and d5 (if your response to c6 is e4). – Max Morris Dec 13 '20 at 13:09
  • If you want to avoid lots of theory, f4 (Bird's Opening) is probably the better way to go. But there you'll definitely need to know how to respond to From's Gambit (1. f4, e5 2. fxe5, d6 3. exd6, Bxd6), which is quite dangerous, or you can just transform it to King's Gambit with 2. e4. – Max Morris Dec 13 '20 at 13:23
  • You can also avoid From's Gambit by not taking the pawn on d6 and play Nf3 instead. Avoids forced lines. But you'll still develop differently than the usual reverse Dutch. – Max Morris Dec 13 '20 at 13:38
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The standard advice is to play a lot and analyze your games. Playing others at about or above your level is good for improving. Playing over annotated games by strong players is also recommended, such as game collections by noted players. But you seem to be playing a lot already. This along with doing tactical puzzles should improve your tactics. Since tactical skill is rated highly, this is recommended. Even at higher levels than yours, most games are decided tactically. With experience, you should be able to recognize a good tactical move, i.e. one that wins material, when you see it. As well as finding your own tactical ploys in a game, you must also avoid your opponent's. So you must be careful to avoid mistakes, i.e. by analyzing their tactical possibilities on each move. If you're playing white, the first move gives you the initiative, which you should try to maintain, but if you're Black, you have to equalize before trying to take the initiative, barring mistakes by your opponent. As far as openings are concerned, it is advisable to try to learn as much as possible about one given opening that you will use regularly rather than a little bit about a lot of openings. To simplify this process, concentrate on an opening that lets you establish the same formation in most games, minimizing having to learn a lot of lines. An opening like the King's Indian Attack as White for example is one such opening. And basic endgame skill is also a requirement, since you have to know how to capitalize on an advantage if and when you get one and reach that stage. Learn about the king and pawn vs. lone king endings from a manual (or online) as well as the minor piece endings, K and R vs K, K and Q vs K, K and 2 B's vs K, etc. I'm sure that playing regularly and carefully, trying to gain an advantage and avoid mistakes, should inevitably raise your rating. And I would also avoid playing a lot of quick chess as too superficial and the source of bad habits.

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  • It seems like a very good and complete answer, with, I think, great advices ! Thank you ! – LittleBig Jan 7 at 8:10
  • You're welcome. I've played since 1948 (I'm 84) and at a high level (Category I) when I played reularly in tournaments some 40 years ago, so I learned a few things through the years. – CConero Jan 8 at 1:09

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