Does progress feel like progress?

You practice your openings, look at master games, work on tactics, study the endgame – and you drop in rating or feel like you play worse than before. These points might comfort you when you are questioning your training or just give you a new perspective on what is going on.

Categorize your mistakes

It is important to figure out what went wrong in your game. Did you fall for a stupid trap when you were otherwise totally winning? Did you have a tough way into draw but missed it? Did you have a great move but missed it and went on to doing something completely different? Did your mistake happen in the opening, middlegame or endgame? Categorizing mistakes is the first step to improve those weak areas. Most platforms offer statistics in this regard. This should also be one of the first things a coach assesses with you.

Categorize your strength

Similarly, it is important to notice what actually went good in your games. This is very important to find your style. Did you lose a pawn in the opening but decided to start an attack which was somewhat sound? Maybe you should look for opening lines that favour this. Did you grab some material and defended it correctly with great finesse? Great, there are opening lines for this as well.

Did you really win (or lose)?

Just like categorizing mistakes it might help to relabel your wins, draws and losses. Losing on time in a won position is not the same as a loss in position. Flagging someone isn’t a great win. Playing on for a cheap “king only stalemate” (and yes, we have drawn it all both ways) isn’t a real draw. Especially in faster (online) time controls the above has nothing to do with evaluation or calculation skills but more about time management in that particular time control. If you are training tactics a lot and find yourself losing on time because you are actually looking for tactics in your 3 0 game: Well done! That’s the path of improvement. Of course, for your rating a loss is a loss and being in constant time trouble means you have poor time management. This is something that can be (and should) worked on separately. Don’t relabel them just to feel better or to cover up another area. But regarding playing strength, relabelling might be more accurate.

What are you playing for?

It is important to have the correct mind set before starting to play. When I play eg. online rated rapid my intention is to learn about my openings. I really enjoy thinking in some positions and can spend half my time ending up making a move I wanted to make after 2 seconds. Sometimes the time is wasted (regarding the game at hand), sometimes it is useful. But I consider it always useful regarding my improvement even if I lose the game on time. In rapid, I want to see positions resulting from this opening and if never seen get a first idea on how to handle them. If you are playing for eg. positional understanding and you want to visualize your progress you should try to find another way measuring than your online rating or you might be frustrated.

On the other hand, when you play for rating: Set yourself a goal and go for it. Grind it all the way, try to enjoy the process and then feel really good about it the day you achieved it.

Practice delay

Give yourself and your improvement some time. Spring ‘21 I did the woodpecker project and it took me about two months for eight cycles. Right after and during those two months I only felt a slight improvement – if any at all. Now, about a year later (with more daily tactics in the meantime) finding tactics has become so much more intuitive. But it only feels different back then compared to now. I did not notice any change day to day. My rating went up considerably, but not on day X after the exercises. I simply cannot pinpoint the day “it” got better. If you are working eg. on positional understanding and middlegames just continue and then at some point dig out a game you played at least 24 months ago and you will see the difference! Or you replay a game from an annotated book and revisit that one 18 months later after you played a long time control in the same opening. You will be suprised by the difference focus of yours and to what you are paying special attention. The game didn’t change though, you did.