It took me a year to get better at chess

My buddy and I started playing chess regularly during lockdown in 2020. We were both competitive and couldn’t leave the house, so we battled on the 64 squares online.

He was better than me. I hated it.

It became my life’s purpose to reliably beat him. That summer, we were both around 1000 ELO. Grandmasters are rated around 2500-2800 ELO.

Since then, I…

Played in tournaments with my friend, with both of us winning trophies and cash prizes.

Played in tournaments by myself, getting absolutely destroyed.

Went head-to-head against chess hustlers in Washington Square Park.

Bullied children.

Hired a chess coach. (In this lesson, he played me blindfolded…and won.)

Interviewed Eric Rosen, my favorite chess YouTuber. I’m writing a chapter about him in my book.

Studied chess puzzles and practiced almost every day.

Started a chess club.

Analyzed my games—looking for mistakes and checking out other possible lines.

Played whenever and wherever I could.

Got to 1300.

Got to 1400.

Got to 1500.

Climbed and climbed in 2021.

Got to 1600 before plateauing for the entire year of 2022.

And after being stuck at 1600 ELO for a year, I’ve finally broken through to the next level. On January 1st of 2023, I surpassed 1700 rating points.

Here’s the graph of my chess journey these past two and a half years. Notice the stagnation between December 2021 and December 2022.

They say it’s around 1600 ELO where a player can’t just increase his/her rating by playing more games. It takes study and game analysis. What got you here won’t get you there.

It was frustrating. I had to confront the humbling reality that much of my love for chess was my constant and visible improvement. When that improvement stopped, I had an identity crisis. I thought about quitting the game entirely more than once.

But cooler heads prevailed. I kept solving puzzles, seeing my tutor, and playing in tournaments despite the resistance.

I believe in cutting out draining and unfulfilling activities. But it’s wildly important to grit through something when it doesn’t feel exciting. We have to know if we can make it out to the other side.

Martial arts. Playing an instrument. Learning a language.

The image of being really good at these things is gorgeous. But the road to get there requires hours of mundane and tedious practice.

I don’t feel like going to most of my chess lessons, jiujitsu classes, or workouts. But the comfort level of a thing says nothing about our ability to do it. And more importantly, once we actually get going, much of that initial resistance fades away.

I’ve never regretted a workout or study session. But I almost always regret skipping one.

Anyway, let’s wrap this up.

My driving force in my early chess career was beating my buddy. That was all in good fun. I’m grateful for our rivalry because it kept me coming back.

But along the way, our games became just one of the many reasons I love the game. I see chess as a perfect cocktail of science and art. I love watching chess creators on YouTube explain games and play at high levels. I just signed up for my first international tournament in Argentina when I move there.

Maybe 1800 ELO will take me another year. Maybe two years.

It doesn’t matter. So long as I’m finding new ways to enjoy the journey. The only thing that matters is staying in the game.