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Years ago, I was a bullet-chess (1 min. games) addict. I played daily and often. Then I stopped for about 4 years (and played off-and-on). My rating was mediocre - around 1400 on Yahoo Chess.

Recently I started again, 3/0 games and blitz games. I noticed that I play better overall, but I can't pinpoint what it is - I just know I can see combinations better. I wonder about this a lot, because as I age I should be slightly slower mentally (I'm close to 30).

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    Whoa... Wait a minute... Almost 30 and you think your going to be slower? Where is that scientific survey that says you peak at 25? I've been 30 for a few years and I've been getting better (not at chess, but in other avenues that I practice). – WernerCD May 20 '12 at 2:23
  • My favorite joke about this is the one told by Karpov's coach and close friend Furman during an interview. He said he had a dream about playing chess... against himself. The interviewer was baffled and asked who won. "Of course I won!" Furman replied and wrote a position and a multi-move winning combination to "prove it". Unfortunately I forgot the context where I heard this and I never succeeded to find the position and the combination in question. – AnonymousLurker Nov 1 '12 at 13:01
  • I had a similar experience with correspondence chess. Six years ago I played correspondence chess on Redhotpawn at around 1400 rating. Eventually I got burned out, frustrated at making mistakes, etc. In the mean time I got a master's degree, made a career change, married, and bought a house. Now i'm 30 and have started playing again on Chess.com, and I feel like I am playing much more confidently. I practice tactics, analyze positions carefully, and try to learn from my mistakes. Maybe I've matured, or learning from the stress of grad school/work has improved my game and focus. – ckb Jan 14 '16 at 16:15
  • Wait, isn't time-control a serious factor here ? Even without the years-long break, if you switch from bullet to blitz (a smart thing to do btw), of course you will play better chess and see more things on the board. – Evargalo Mar 4 at 9:22
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First, saying you "feel" like you're better is does not appear to be very scientific, so keep that in mind when attempting to understand the events you're describing.

Also, I don't believe what you're experiencing is related to the subconscious development of your understanding of chess, but you experiencing the difference between cramming knowledge into your brain, and what's called the "Spacing Effect".

(Let me know if this answer addresses your questions, or if there's something I'm missing.)

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Over time, I think that you may expect improvement via the following:

  1. "Forgetting" bad habits
  2. Adding to your experience in non-chess-specific but useful skills, such as reading the opponent, time management, and recognizing your own limitations.
  3. More capable or willing than before of purchasing help (lessons).

Specifically to your question, it's worth noting that 1 0 bullet is a far different game compared with 3 0, or 5 0. Also, sites will differ, and the site you mention (Yahoo) has changed over time. As you probably know, the specifics of each site's implementation has a dramatic effect on optimal strategy. For example, does the site allow premove? If so, is there a minimum amount of time which must come off the clock? So leaving 1 0 bullet four years ago and returning to 3 0 today is a far different game.

For the issue of whether you should be faster mentally at 25 or 30, I don't know if the difference would be discernible. But this is not my field of expertise.

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    Welcome to the site, really good answer, you make some great points! – Andrew Oct 17 '12 at 19:14
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Being older doesn't mean inferior. I'm probably a better computer programmer now at 50 than I have ever been. The frenetic power of youth does not always yield a superior result in situations where experience and discipline matter.

Regarding 'subconscious' learning and chess... I don't believe there are any shortcuts.

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Supposedly chess improvement comes in plateaus. This is most likely because as you continue to play, you are accumulating chess knowledge. At some point this knowledge will begin to exceed that of your less experienced opponents, and you will reach the next plateau. This is probably akin to what happened to Bobby Fischer when he said that "he just got good" when he was asked as a teenager how he had improved.

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You can solve chess problems this way by sleeping on the problem. But I would say you have improved because you play less bullet, which is not good for most aspects of chess generally, and most likely detrimental as it does not help you to generate situations where you must work to find the best move and therefore experientially learn.

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