25 July 2015

Expectations for improvement

The "Unrealistic Expectations" blog over at The Chess Improver is a recent helpful reality check on our general expectations for improvement.  Pessimists often say adult chess improvement is impossible, due to our failing brains as we age, while the opposing legion of optimists believe they'll make master level after a couple years.  And as for the rest of us?  Perhaps it's best just to be happy playing the game, although I do think seeing improvement over time is an integral part of my enjoyment of chess as a pastime.  Time, I believe, is the hardest factor for fully-employed adults to control and is the primary constraint on our progress.  In any case, for those who can devote effort each week to serious chess study, I say continue doing it - while being objective about your results and how far you have to go (see the Alekhine quote above).

For a more detailed look at this topic, it's also worth checking out IM Silman's "The Curse of Unrealistic Expectations" at Chess.com.


  1. There is no doubt that an adult player can improve but the question is, if they can improve substantially! The most famous chess improvement blogger Temposchlucker was not able to do that: http://temposchlucker.blogspot.de/ and i dont know any blogger ( or chessplayer i met ) who did.

  2. Anonymous26 July, 2015

    I think the reason that adults have problems improving are that they are in a hurry and don't just enjoy the game! (including just playing thru games for FUN!) I also find that adults tend too wrong-goal oriented. The goal is to get better at and enjoy chess. Simple. The goal is not to get a certain rating at ChessTempo.

    These end up causing people to foster feelings of negativity towards their chess activities and thus they either give up or or so anxious about the entire endeavor that they won't improve much.

    Slow down, smell the roses and just improve over time!

    Below is a response that IM Andrew Martin gave to an adult improver. At first glance Martin's response seems negative! But it isn't the last paragraph is beautiful! Just enjoy the game and the process and it will open up to you! BOOM! Martin nails it on the head!

    "My advice is to forget about becoming world-class. At your age it simply isn't going to happen. It's unrealistic and even quite impossible. Your main barrier is your age. Your second barrier is your talent; to release the talent if it is there would take a level of energy a middle-aged man has long since lost. Your third barrier is time. Do you really have the time to study chess to the exclusion of everything else?

    What you must concentrate on is enjoying playing and studying chess, not results. The game will then open up its secrets to you and you will realise your potential. If you continue wanting to be 'world class', you will soon become demoralised at the apparent lack of progress and give up. "

  3. As I have commented elsewhere, I am unclear what you(AoxomoxoA) consider substantial improvement.
    I was, at age 20, rated in the 1300s. My all-time high was 1429. 2 years later I was still in the 1300s. I had played over 100 long time control rated games at that point.
    At age 22 I started improving and was up to a high of 1672 shortly before my 24th birthday and was holding steady in the 1600s-low 1700s until age 29. I am now 40 with a high of 1886 and a typical rating right around 1800.
    That is 400+ points of improvement after age 20 and after 100+ rated games. That is 200+ points improvement after age 24.
    It is not expert/master admittedly.
    In my 30s my chess study has been quite sporadic related to the typical stuff(work, marriage, kids) but I do spend some time more days than not doing something.


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