24 December 2023

Article: "Can Adults Improve at Chess?" by NM Todd Bryant

The title of NM Todd Bryant's article at Chess.com is somewhat misleading - of course adults can improve at chess, a more relevant question is if (and how) they do it. My long journey to Class A pointed out what works for me: playing tournament chess on a monthly basis; seriously analyzing my own games; at least a brief period of chess skills study daily (including realistic tactical puzzles); and other dedicated study and practice on a weekly basis. As of this year I've been able to return to OTB tournament play, but it has been infrequent and I have not coupled that with sufficient dedicated chess study time to break through my current plateau. Here I'll start sharing analyzed tournament games again, as I process them, and we'll see what 2024 may bring.

In the above-linked article, NM Bryant does a good job of examining available data on ratings improvement by adult players (defined as over 25) in the U.S., which is really an analysis of the what of adult improvement - describing it as a statistical phenomenon, along with some specific examples of individual cases. Although the article by no means can be used as a "roadmap to improvement" or the like, it does set out the facts, including establishing the possibility and documenting the regular, if not necessarily frequent, phenomenon of significant strength gains in adulthood. He also captures some of the common qualitative characteristics of those who have in fact succeeded, which I'll quote below. None of them should be surprising, but they are a good reminder of how putting in the work and a strong mental attitude can in fact be rewarded over time.

"Play A LOT. This is more important than studying, coaching, chess psychology, or anything else. Overwhelmingly, the improvers I found had jagged ratings graphs for decades, meaning that they were constantly playing.
Care about chess, not your rating. I’ve been fortunate to know many of the adult improvers on my list, and I looked up others on social media. Aside from playing all the time, these people are deeply invested in the quality of their chess. Many of them have told me they were too busy focusing on chess to worry about rating. They are curious. They like analyzing their games. They have chess blogs, book collections, particular areas of the game that they are experts in. These things, not rating obsession, occupy their time.
Never, ever, ever give up. All of the people above experienced setbacks, sometimes big ones. When this happens, it is easy to get frustrated, discouraged, or nervous that we are washed up and can no longer compete with the kids. These people did not do that. And this gave them a chance to catch a good run later."

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