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I have been playing a lot of chess recently after not having played much in the last few years. My rating (sorry, I don't know which rating systems) on most chess websites and so on tends to sit comfortably in the 1400-1500 range, but I can't seem to break that. On various tactics trainers, I seem to able to reach a tactics rating of around 2000 or sometimes higher. Again, I don't know how useful these numbers really are, but if I take them at face value then it would seem that tactics are not my problem. I also think my grasp of strategy is not too bad, I am quite aware of outposts, open files, weak pawn structures and so on and they tend to drive my moves in my games, more so than tactics I would say.

I have a couple of questions to ask regarding improvement here. Firstly, I play a lot against computers, since I can just play a game on my phone without worrying about internet connection. Is this a bad idea if I am trying to improve? The computer I play against seems to be totally brain dead below a rating of about 1300, then suddenly above that rating seems to make almost no blunders. It makes plenty of strategic errors, (advancing way too many pawns early on and stuff like that) but it just seems to be able to plug every hole so quickly, even though it creates a lot for itself. My question is: is it a mistake to practice against computers, given their somewhat erratic way of playing?

I think my game is okay in most areas, and I feel like it could be one or two crucial weaknesses that are holding me back. My opening and end game skills I think are adequate for the level I am playing at, but my middle game seems to be remarkably uninteresting. I can notice where the most important squares are and tend to avoid any big blunders, but against computers the games tend to seize up in the middle...they are just really dry in terms of attacking opportunities because the computer has got it all covered, and I can't create strong threats as quickly as it can defuse them.

I think this may be the big gap in my game. I can solve tactical puzzles quite easily, but I cannot consistently create those sorts of positions that appear in the puzzles in my own games. So my second question is: is this a common pitfall in players around my level and, if so, how do players usually break through this?

Thanks for any input, and sorry for the life story. :)

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Unfortunately playing against computers is a mistake amateur players often make.

There is not much to learn from computers as they are just that, computers. You will lose the psychological aspect which dominates a significant part of human chess. Computer's "plans" are based on brute calculation and not a "feeling" for the position, as human players do. You cannot calculate to the level of a computer, nobody can, but you can obtain a "feel" for the position, and this can only be learnt by playing with strong human players.

That is the key, to play against strong human players, be it on the internet or in real life, preferably in real life. I myself never played against computers, and instead concentrated on playing on internet chess websites. But the greatest aspect of my improvement was my experienced gained from playing strong human players, in real over-the-board games. This helped me to absorb their ideas, their plans and to become an overall better player.

Keep solving tactical puzzles, your doing good, don't stop! Tactics is a crucial part of chess and can help in transforming advantages from one form to another and to decide the game in your favor. Tactical Awareness can also stop you from making blunders and seeing your opponents threats before he executes them...

 "My opening and end game skills I think are adequate for the level I am playing at"

The endgame is a crucially important part of chess which amateurs always disregard. I cannot stress enough the importance of it. The legend himself Capablanca stressed the importance of the endgame. Improvement in the endgame will guarantee improvement of your entire game. Do not just neglect study of it because your endgame skills are "adequate for the level" you are playing at (1400-1500). Move forward. You neglect study of the endgame, and you wonder why you are not improving, well...

For openings its not as serious at your level. You just have to know the basic principles (control the center, develop pieces, castle quickly). Restrict your opening choice as well to make study of it easier. For example, don't play all 1.e4 1.d4 1.Nf3. Don't respond to 1.e4 with all 1...c5 1...e6 1...c6. Play just one opening! This will make it easier to absorb the ideas of that opening and will leave you more time to improve other aspects of your game.

Jeremy Silman's Complete Endgame Course is the perfect book for the improvement of the endgame at your level. I recommend reading up and practicing until the 2000 level. Do not be intimidated by the rating, it's just a number. Some of the material is challenging but I'm sure with repeated practice you will absorb it easily.

OK I know I'm a Jeremy Silman fanatic but How to Reassess Your Chess is truly a great book which helped me to improve. Not trying to sell anything here, but it really is fantastic material.

To answer your question about creating positions that arise from puzzles

"is this a common pitfall in players around my level"        

Well this just shows that you are at that level. Common pitfalls of players at your level is missing tactical combinations, implementing the wrong plan (bad judgement of the position) and ignorance of the endgame.

Relating to your previous question

"how do players usually break through this?"

Break through the common pitfalls of players at your level?

Perfect question to finalize my post, as I mentioned before.

1.Play against strong(er) players (preferably in real life)

2.Study the endgame

3.Continue practicing tactics!

4.Read How to Reassess Your Chess Or take a look at this

OK just going to recommend a bunch of websites to help you

Chess Tempo

The Chess Website

Chess

Internet Chess Club

Chess Network

Chessgames

  • I think there is something to be gained from playing against (appropriately-rated) computers. – Patrick Coulombe Aug 17 '14 at 6:57
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    @PatrickCoulombe Playing against computers can be an ok thing to do - occasionally. However, playing mostly against computers will impede one's progress, since computers do not think or play like humans. A 1500 rated computer will be monstrously strong at finding tactics quickly compared to a 1500 rated human player, and will be pathetically weak strategically and positionally compared to the same human player. So playing against computers at your own strength will only make you alert to tricks, and will rarely - if ever - give you a strategic challenge, forcing improvement in that area. – Scounged Mar 24 '17 at 1:37
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I don't play against computers because it's too depressing. Practicing is another matter entirely. If you make a move and the computer thinks it's a blunder, use the computer to find out why it's a blunder. So don't play a whole game and say, "Oh noes I lost" but instead use it to find out why you chose the wrong moves.

Regarding the ratings you mentioned... ratings from different sites cannot be compared. So a 2000 on one site is not the same as a 2000 on another.

If you want to improve, join your local chess club. The director will pair you against opponents of your skill level. You'll make friends and get to cut some heads :-D

If you're in the USA, you'll also get a USCF rating which carries some weight in the chess circles. It's mathematically sound and there are enough players to remove the noise.

  • Thanks for the reply, Tony. I am suspicious about the ratings, but I think they are telling me something. Namely, I can consistently solve tactics puzzles that most players would consider very hard, but in real games I tend to be average or maybe slightly above average. I think this is telling me that I just simply am not creating tactical opportunities in my real games, so that's what I think my real question is. I am decent at tactics - but how do I consistently create positions where I can exploit that? Will it simply come with practice or are there specific things I should focus on? – phulcq Aug 10 '14 at 17:25
  • @phulcq That's a great question. Try this: chess.stackexchange.com/questions/1143/… – Tony Ennis Aug 10 '14 at 17:28
  • Thanks again Tony. Looks like I'm where you were a couple of years ago. Definitely some good advice there, thanks. – phulcq Aug 10 '14 at 17:55
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Learning to plan is important, an idea as simple as to try to create two weaknesses in your opponents field is a starter, but for sure there are plenty of excellent readings around. If you are good at tactics but find hard to create tactical positions try this books:

Art of Attack - Vukovic

The Art of the Middle Game - Paul Keres, Alexander Kotov.

To that add that an important way to score a point is to learn how to turn a good middlegame, into a won endgame, and for that you need to master endgames.

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I am an intermediate too. I have felt that playing against the computer for the WHOLE (entire) game does not help much! Even if I adjust the Elo rating of the engine to somewhat match my level, the resulting games are never the same as you get with a human opponent. I've tried various engines, free and commercial, tweaked them to be weaker etc., finally the result is the same- It plays a really weak move (like giving up an exchange for no compensation) and then plays invincibly.

I think playing against the computer will help in the following scenarios-

a) A position is known to be winning, but you need to develop the skill to convert the win. Then setting up the position against the engine with its full strength and beating it is very helpful.

b) Practicing known openings and endings.

c) You want to develop a routine or algorithm or steps to choose your candidate moves, then setting up a long time control against the engine is good time management practice.

So if you play 100 games, 95 with higher rated humans and 5 with equal rated engine is probably a good ratio.

Disclaimer: My Elo is ~1800 on ICC :)

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