20

I'm stuck at 1600-1800 in chess.com. My rating fluctuates within that range. There must be something that I still don't understand that is already understood by a 1900-2000 player.

So I am asking for tips. How can I reach elo 2000? Should I focus on opening?

UPDATE
Thank you so much for the contributors. All answers are great and I really appreciate your efforts for sharing your ideas.

  • 22
    They know how to beat a 1900 rated player but you don't. – SmallChess Jul 12 '15 at 14:00
  • 3
    Good student... – user1764381 Jul 12 '15 at 14:56
  • 2
    I had a similar experience in the past when I was playing tournament chess in that I couldn't get past mid-1800. I couldn't find tactical or positional flaws against stronger players, while though my tactical mistakes were few, they found positional weaknesses in my game and eventually took away any opportunities to improve my position. So I guess they understood positional play better than I did. The solution to that would probably be more study and practice, specifically on positional play. I don't think focusing on openings is the solution, since your game is not won or lost there. – CConero Jul 12 '15 at 15:05
  • 1
    Ask your opponents to analyze your game with you. I have never been refused advice (at the very least) when I asked. Also, run your games through a computer. You'll find both sides missed decisive shots. Find our why you missed those opportunities. – Tony Ennis Jul 12 '15 at 16:49
  • 2
    I think the title of the question is superb. I suspect the 2000 does not know more, per se, but applies knowledge better. That is, perhaps he sees an extra half-move ahead sometimes. – Tony Ennis Jul 12 '15 at 16:52

10 Answers 10

20

Should I focus on opening?

Do you regularly fail to get out of the opening? Regularly get beaten whilst still in the opening? If yes then you definitely need to work on your openings.

Do you usually come out of the opening with a playable position? If yes then you are wasting your time spending more time working on openings if your goal is to improve.

Do you get a lot of pleasure working on openings? I know I do and that's why I still waste time on them even though I know my time would be better spent on other things.

Once you get to something like 2300 then openings start to become a lot more important. At that level and above games are much more often won and lost on superior opening preparation, often geared towards a particular opponent and his known opening repertoire.

Twice in the last 15 years I've prepared a specific opening for a specific opponent and they've gone along and played what I wanted / prepared. In both cases the resulting position was what the book told me was a much better position for me. In one game it certainly looked that way because even though I was playing somebody about 100 points stronger than me I went on to win.

In the second case I again reached a position which was supposed to be better for me but I couldn't really see what to do and went on and lost. When I put the second game through the computer it didn't think much of the "much better position for me". So, you can't always trust the opening books. The top players, of course, are writing those books. Are they still playing? Are they really going to give away their best moves? Or save them for the next time they play Kramnik or Carlsen?

Bottom line: the effort v reward equation isn't very good. What I've been doing recently on openings is just making sure I have a repertoire which gets me safely to the middle game where the real fight at my / our level begins.

Here's another question for you. Can you mate with KNB v K? If not then I would strongly recommend that you study this endgame until you can win 100% of the time against the computer.

Now I know what you are going to say. "But I've never, ever had that endgame and I'll probably die without ever seeing it in real life" That's true. But the point of learning that particular endgame is that rounding up, corralling and then mating the opponent's king with just a bishop and knight requires remarkable co-ordination between your three pieces. The important thing you gain from mastering this endgame is not the ability to mate with KBN v K but the ability to co-ordinate king, bishops and knights in the endgame and this will come up a lot.

I remember years ago being very pleased to reach what looked like an even endgame where we each had king, knight, bishop and several pawns against a much stronger player. I offered a draw, as you do. He was very polite and didn't burst out laughing. After he'd beaten me he explained. "Look", he said, "No disrespect, but you are a much weaker player. This kind of position is actually quite difficult. Of course it should be a draw but I know how to play it and you probably don't. So, of course I played on."

Now, I could have just given you the standard reply of "Study endgames" but that wouldn't have really helped because it is too general.

Now, go away and learn how to mate with KBN v K. Practice until you can beat the computer 100% of the time and you will get a lot more points. Not only will you start drawing games you would previously have lost and winning games you would have let slip away to a draw but you will also recognize earlier in the game how you can steer the game to the kinds of positions you know how to play well in the ending and avoid ones which are not so good.

  • First of all, thank you for sharing your ideas. Do you regularly fail to get out of the opening? Regularly get beaten whilst still in the opening? If yes then you definitely need to work on your openings. I realized that I don't really fail at the opening. As long as I can play Caro-Kann, Reversed Closed Sicilian, or King's Indian Attack, I like the resulting middlegame. But when I have the Black pieces and the opponent opens with d4, I come out alive after the opening but I don't enjoy the middlegame of d4 games. – user1764381 Jul 12 '15 at 15:37
  • KBN v K almost never occurs in tournament play. – limits Jul 12 '15 at 15:37
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    I couldn't mate with just KNB, and I often fail to handle R + P endgames even if I have the advantage. I have problems handling pawn structures. I don't know when to restrain the opponent's pawns and when to initiate a exchange of pawns. That often gives my opponent a passed pawn. And I often proceed with my own plans and only stop the passed pawns when they reach the 6th rank. I just couldn't find good resources about pawns that have good reviews. – user1764381 Jul 12 '15 at 15:42
  • I am not sure, but I recall that capablanca books were very strong for engames. After all he was the master of endgames! – Ant Jul 12 '15 at 16:01
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    I do not agree @jaxter. I guess most GM know how to mate with KBN vs K. It's a rare endgame and a player can live without seeing this endgame. But it's rather straightforward and easy to learn: it took me less than half an hour to learn the Deletang method and 3-4 failed games vs computer before I started to win all games. BTW, I had to play it once at chess.com, so I can say I was lucky enough to see such an ending in my life! Never in OTB tournaments, however :( It's a lot harder, for example, playing a KQ vs KR ending, and equally rare, and I'd bet that most GM know how to play it too. – sharcashmo Sep 19 '16 at 14:36
13

I recently progressed from 1800 to 2000 in my USCF tournament rating. I don't know how that compares to chess.com ratings. Here are some differences I think I can perceive between my play now and then (I'm not sure what the relative importances are):

  1. I memorized a lot of opening lines using spaced repetition (I know, you're not supposed to do this at such a low rating). As a result I am often ahead on the clock after the opening stage and also am often more familiar with the relevant tactics and strategy of the positions I end up in. Of course sometimes it gets me in trouble too.
  2. I also used spaced repetition to memorize solutions to a lot of exercises, particularly Ivashchenko's Manual of Chess Combinations, Yusupov's Build Up Your Chess et al, and Hellsten's Mastering Chess Strategy. The intent was to become much better at pattern recognition in both tactics and strategy. I do feel like I recognize tactical and strategic patterns more than I used to, and am less often at sea in the middlegame.
  3. I feel like I am much better about putting my pieces on good squares and not rushing into tempting tactics than I was at 1800. When I look at my games from back then I often see myself lashing out with some tactic instead of taking time to set up all my pieces well. When your pieces are all on good squares and working together, it is much easier to find tactics, it's easier for the tactics to actually work, it's harder for your opponent to find good tactics against you, and when you miscalculate something it's easier to accidentally be lucky and have some saving move. When I play a bad game these days it's often because I didn't remember this!
  4. Related to #2, I feel like I am just better at telling what is important in a position and discarding what is unimportant than I used to be. I feel like I am making better decisions faster and wasting less time considering bad moves.

I don't honestly feel like my calculation is much better than it was when I was 1800, though maybe I'm able to prune my tree of variations better.

  • I can definitely relate to 3. and 4. – BlindKungFuMaster Jul 16 '15 at 7:58
  • taking time to set up all my pieces well - Most of the time, I am afraid that by the time my pieces are already well-placed, the tactics that I saw few moves earlier are already gone. – user1764381 Jul 20 '15 at 10:10
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    @user1764381 Yes! You have to get over that fear. Also of course, you have to know when you do have to take action. That also comes with experience. – dfan Jul 20 '15 at 16:01
  • @dfan But that means that I will have to start looking for another plan if the previous plan is not possible anymore? – user1764381 Aug 6 '15 at 12:18
  • @user1764381 Yes, it does. – dfan Aug 8 '15 at 17:36
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My feeling when playing players under 2000 is, that they usually lack a certain sense of urgency. They often play decent chess, when there is something to do, like attacking the king, but they don't understand that if they allow a certain setup, they will always be slightly worse.

When they do realise that they shouldn't have allowed a certain move, they often overreact and conclude that they are much worse or even losing.

So the pragmatic skill of realising who is slightly worse and why as early as possible seems to be quite important if you want to cross the 2000 mark. To me it was helpful to just read opening books, without really learning the opening, to know which positions are "normal" and therefore balanced positions.

  • Good answer and it seems from someone who crossed 2000 not too long ago. – magd Jul 15 '15 at 18:21
  • Actually I crossed 2000 Elo when I was still pretty much at the beginning of my tournament career, 12 years ago. And I still made a lot of the typical 1800 mistakes for at least 3 more years. Only when my national rating crossed 2000 as well did I really feel the differences I describe. – BlindKungFuMaster Jul 16 '15 at 8:09
  • That's what I meant, someone who remembers what it is like to reach 2000. What's your rating now? – magd Jul 16 '15 at 12:01
  • 2100-2200. Close enough to 2000 to remember/not too close to remain 1800 in thinking. – magd Jul 16 '15 at 16:23
8

Well I believe that surpassing the 2000 rating would be commitment and dedication, analysing all your games and study your weaknesses.

When the clock ticks, rating will be a distraction, rating will not matter after that.

In my opinion, stretch more time in chess, analyse, play, and read more. The ratings will take care of itself.

8

I am always confused whether I should fix/keep or change the current pawn structure

That is a very difficult question, one which much stronger players, grandmasters even, often struggle with. So, it's not possible to give you a concrete answer which you can take away and always make the right decision. The best I can do is give some general guidelines which will get you thinking in the right direction. At the end of the day there is no real substitute for the vastly greater experience and hard work which top players have put in.

The key thing about changing or keeping the pawn structure is that it is a dynamic thing. If you change the pawn structure in some way, either by advancing a pawn or capturing a pawn (needn't be with one of your pawns) how does it change the dynamism of the pawns for each side and, often more important, how does it change the dynamism of the pieces for each side?

I'm going to give some examples but it can't be comprehensive because it is really the subject for a whole book which I am not good enough to write.

1) Passed Pawns

We all know the rule "passed pawns must be pushed". The dynamics of the position for me as white are very different if I have a passed pawn on a7 than on a2. In the first case my opponent will be sweating, in the second case he will be calm. Of course, make sure the opponent can't just take it.

2) Opening the position / giving my pieces more freedom

The two most common opening moves are e4 and d4. These moves release a bishop and allow it to move but this principle occurs many times in different guises throughout the game. If I can open a file which I can control with my rooks, if I can open a diagonal for one of my bishops, particularly if these are pointing towards the enemy king, then this is usually good.

3) Opening the position / giving my opponents pieces more freedom

If I have a pawn on a half open file or diagonal controlled by my opponent then I should try and avoid capturing with this pawn if at all possible. Conversely you may have a position where your opponent has a blocked pawn in the middle of the board which also blocks one of his bishops and so drastically reduces the effectiveness of that bishop. In that case it could be a big mistake for you to take that pawn with a piece even if the pawn is a free pawn.

4) Strengthening squares

I mentioned earlier that e4 and d4 are the most common opening moves. Apart from releasing a bishop these are good moves because they strengthen important squares in the center of the board. e4 strengthens d5 and f5, for instance. Later in the game you may get the chance to move a pawn to strengthen or take control of an important square. For instance your opponent (black) has castled kingside and pushed g6. If you get the chance to play g5 you will be exercising a lot of control over the weak squares f6 and h6.

5) Weakening squares

Say you (white) have castled kingside. Your white squared bishop has been exchanged. You want to move a pawn in front of your king to give it some air. g3 would often be a bad idea because of the way it weakens f3 and h3. h3 would usually be a better option.

6) To block or keep open

You have pawns on g6 and h6 opposite pawns on g7 and h7. Your opponent plays g6. Should you play hg or h6 or do something else and leave the position tense (unresolved)? It all depends on the what other pieces are on the board and where they are. It depends on the dynamism of the position. If you have your rooks already doubled on the h file or can get them there very quickly then you are going to chop off hg very quickly and crash on through. If there aren't many pieces left, queens and rooks are off, just the odd knight and or bishop along with the kings and a few pawns then you will probably favour h6 fixing the position. You then have the possibility of later trying to arrange to play Nxg6 or Bxg6 so that if he retakes with the h pawn then your h pawn is going to queen. If you have your queen and bishop lined up on the a1-h8 diagonal then you will probably want to leave the tension unresolved so that if he takes gh then you can take the h7 pawn. You would try and build up more pressure with your other pieces.

What you should take away from this is a bunch of questions to ask yourself when considering some pawn structure move.

1) Does this get me closer to queening a pawn?

2) How does this affect the mobility and possibilities for my pieces?

3) How does this affect the mobility and possibilities for my opponent's pieces?

4) Does this strengthen some important squares?

5) Does this weaken some important squares?

Quite often only one of these questions will be really important but sometimes several of them can be important and trade-offs are required. For instance, this move reduces the mobility and attacking possibilities for my opponent but it also reduces my mobility and maybe weakens an important square while also strengthening another important square. Balancing all these things up is tricky.

  • Good answer. Also Pawn Power in chess is a classic book and great for teaching common pawn structures in chess. – magd Jul 15 '15 at 18:24
4

At that level, games are often decided (or could be decided) by tactical means. If you analyze your current games with the computer, there will be quite a few opportunities to win a pawn (which can be almost decisive) or more.

So my suggestion would be to try and solve lots of tactical puzzles. There are numerous books and (free) websites on this topic.

3

Basically, they know how to finish: they know the kind of endgame positions they require, and they know how to use the middlegame to get there. At least, while playing against 1600s.

2300s are good at exactly the same thing, only more so. :)

Rinse and repeat

EDIT: besides, chess is WAY to complex a game for there to ever be a Magic Bullet solution to beating the next guy. There are 64 squares, a bunch of pieces, and an quantity of moves - each one is important.

  • Succinct but defeatist advice. Chess is a microcosm of life; sure it's way too complex for any individual to understand completely; that goes without saying. If it weren't, it'd be checkers. But we do in chess what we do in life; develop simplified models of reality, and learn to work with those. Then, we map the results back onto reality. The better we can do this, the more predictable and satisfactory the results. – jaxter Sep 15 '16 at 4:28
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If anything, the part of the game that is likely to lead to lasting improvement in your game is the endgame.

At the very "top" levels, masters are very nearly alike in strength and capability, and what usually distinguishes one from the other is endgame ability. That is, a top master may come into an endgame with a slight positional disadvantage, and "pull out" a draw, or even a win, from another player who is inferior at this part of the game.

More to the point, an understanding of endings will better enable you to "steer" your middle games, and even your openings, because you will know what "end" positions to play for.

Jose Raul Capablanca, a former world champion was not know for his knowledge of the openings, but was the best endgame player of his time. Unless you could beat him in the early middle game, you were unlikely to win an ending, and hence a game, from him.

  • Capablanca certainly has that reputation, but looking at the length of his wins and losses, and comparing them to those of a contemporary (Alekhine, for example), and to a recent player (I chose Jaan Ehlvest, more or less randomly), I found that, with White the stats were: wins: Alekhine-36, Capablanca-38, Ehlvest-41; losses: Alekhine-41, Capablanca-38, Ehlvest-41. With Black: wins: A-38, C-41, E-41; losses: A-42, C-42, E-42. This suggests that Capablanca's games lasted as long as any comparable player. And, his wins were no longer than his losses, so he wasn't winning more in the endgame. – jaxter Sep 24 '16 at 2:29
  • @jaxter: Capablanca had more draws than the other masters. I didn't say that he won more in the endgame. I said that he lost less. – Tom Au Sep 24 '16 at 3:49
  • Thanks for explaining that you were talking about draws. That makes things much clearer. – jaxter Sep 24 '16 at 7:48
  • As it happens, Bogoljubov was a contemporary, and I combined his draw stats with the other three. Here's what turns up: In games of 40 moves or more, Capa and Bogo both had draw rates of 33% (A: 30%, E: 32%). Win rates: C: 67%, A: 65%, B: 57%, E: 62%. So, his draw rates weren't substantially higher, and his win rates were also roughly equivalent to Alekhine's and Ehlvest's. I think what can fairly be said is that his methods were both elegant and effective, though. He was a natural. – jaxter Sep 24 '16 at 8:03
  • @jaxter: Capa "tied" for both wins (with Alekhine), and draws (with Bogo). But A"s draw rate was a bit less, and B's win rate was much less, and E's win and draw rates were both less. And of the other three, only A was also a world champion, so you'd expect his stats to be more comparable to C's than the other two (or other non-world champions). – Tom Au Sep 24 '16 at 12:21
3

In one of his DVD's, GM Nick Pert offers an interesting analysis of common problems in the skills of players in the 1800-2000 range. I'm assuming the implication is that higher-rated players display fewer of these problems. Here's my abbreviated version of the main points (I give a link to the DVD below):

  • Not being able to convert an advantage
  • Not anticipating the opponent's plans
  • Not knowing when (and how) to exchange pieces
  • Not knowing your openings
  • Not considering the opponent's possible replies, or not analyzing them deeply enough
  • Not exploiting your opponent's weak pieces
  • Not knowing how to exploit the pawn structure and when to change it
  • Not pressing the advantage
  • Not escaping pins religiously
  • Not keeping your best piece

If these sound like some of the things you suffer from, it may help to focus on them. I can recommend his excellent DVD on the subject, Typical Mistakes by 1800-2000 Players. He offers examples, tips on addressing the problems, and exercises. I found it very helpful in my play.

2

I wholeheartedly agree that competent endgame play is a hallmark of a master. In fact, chess history is littered with the corpses of games that were lost because a GM had no idea how to win or draw a purely theoretically won or drawn endgame. So you can imagine what kind of an edge this skill will give you over a typical club or tournament player.

To back up what I said about some GM's, here's an example:

[White "Aronian, Lev"]
[Black "Bacrot, Etienne"]
[FEN "8/b7/P4k1p/5P2/6K1/7B/8/8 w - - 0 0"]

1.Kf4 h5! 2.Ke4 Ke7 3.Kd5 Kd7 4.f6+ Ke8 5.Be6 h4! 6.Kc6 h3! 7.Kb7 h2 8.Bd5 Bd4 9.a7 Bxa7 10.Kxa7 h1=Q 11.Bxh1 Kf7 { All well and good, but Bacrot *resigned* in this drawn position without even trying this variation!} 1/2-1/2

Here's another one:

[White "Shirov, Alexei"]
[Black "Morozevich, Alexander"]
[FEN "8/8/R6p/2k4P/8/1PK5/7r/8 b - - 0 0"]

1... Rh3+ 2.Kb2? { This allows Black a neat escape by stalemate.} Kb4? (2... Rxh5! 3.Ra5+ Kb4 4.Rxh5 { is stalemate.}) 3.Rb6+ Kc5 4.Rxh6 { White secured a distant passed pawn, and after another 16 moves, Black lost.} 1-0

If you get good at endgames, when you reach one you will beat almost any player you will meet at tournaments in your class until you get to be about 2100 or higher.

Don't neglect the other aspects completely, or you'll never get to the endgame, but put in the investment of time, and your results will improve.

As for myself, I get into an endgame in about 40% of my games, and a little theory definitely goes a long way.

  • 1
    It would help to understand what the reasons are for a down vote. Just voting down without communicating your concern is not constructive. If you're just trying to earn a Critic badge, and have no real issue with this post, please reverse and find a post that deserves it. Thanks. – jaxter Sep 24 '16 at 17:55

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