23 June 2013

Amateur vs. Master

As part of my studies, I periodically run across examples, both from my own games and from master-level ones, that highlight discrete concepts that I believe are key stepping stones on the path to mastery.  Recognizing and comprehending different concepts of play, then internalizing them so they become part of your game, is critical to gaining strength at the board.

This identification and absorption of key concepts is part of any serious training program, in both tactical and strategic terms.  It's much more difficult, or even sometimes impossible in practical terms, to calculate a tactical win if you don't have an idea of what the final position should look like, for example a particular mating pattern.  Similarly, failure to recognize key strategic or positional factors can lead to missed opportunities or being effectively dominated by an opponent who is able to capitalize on them.

Future posts along these lines will be documented here for reference, under two categories:

Amateur Hour
Instances of what not to do and why, as illustrated by mistaken concepts at the amateur level.  The Amateur's Mind by IM Jeremy Silman has a book-length and systematic approach to covering some of the most common issues and is part of my library.  A more recent treatise on the topic, more from the professional's point of view than the amateur's, is Grandmaster versus Amateur (Quality Chess, 2011) edited by Jacob Aagard and John Shaw.  Based on reviews (included the linked one above) it seems to offer useful insights, although I don't yet have it myself (perhaps in part because of the silly cover).  A classic example of the genre is Max Euwe's Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur, which would be a great candidate for an updated "21st century edition".

Mastery Concepts
I periodically run across clear, fascinating examples from master play that cause a lightbulb to turn on inside my head.  These concepts are worth documenting for my own use in training and in general should be known by any strong player.


  1. What is your USCF/FIDE rating? What was your peak? And what is it currently? Also what is your age? How long have you been playing/training seriously for improvement? I am a 57 year old class "A" player with a USCF Rating of around 1840. My peak, just shortly before that rating was up to about 1890. I am having reservations about the pursuit of a master rating given my age and experience. I am now drifting more towards enjoyment (which I do like studying, especially tactics and the endgame) and creativity at the board. Although it has now been years (about 7) since I was in an OTB tournament, perhaps someday I will be able to play more in tournaments and improve my skill/playing level. Thank you very much for your blog. I just recently discovered it and find your articles, analysis, and commentary fascinating. My name is Kirk Plankey from Wisconsin if you'd like to look up my USCF rating history online. Thanks again, I hope you'll choose to keep this blog active and going strong for some time.

    1. Hello Kirk, thanks for the comment. If you look at "The Long Journey to Class A" post in the sidebar, that should answer most of the above. My last tournament was over the summer - the first one in a while - and that re-validated my Class A (low 1800s) rating, so I felt pretty good about my training program sticking, if not making a lot of rapid progress while I grapple with other demands on my time.

      Honestly I think playing for enjoyment, while still having a goal of playing with excellence and maintaining curiosity and willingness to learn, is probably the best mindset to have in order to improve.


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