Nearly a year ago, I said that I still preferred to play on the paid Internet Chess Club (ICC)because of the consistent good level of professional competition. I knew that GMs, IMs, and other strong players used Lichess, but I wondered if the site was merely had some really strong players, and a bunch of weak opponents for players like me in the 2000-2200 range.
I was also concerned about opponents on free sites not always … shall we say … playing fairly.
Well, I have now regularly used Lichess for the past few months, and must admit to being converted. In fact, I rarely log into ICC any longer.
There are many features I have not felt a need to try yet, but I can recommend playing and solving puzzles on the site. I haven’t yet had the thought that my opponents are dishonest, and the puzzles are typically quite good.
I also recommend it as a platform for (virtual) classroom tournaments. In my opinion it is far superior to ChessKid.
I’m ready to proclaim something I never thought I would: after all these years, I don’t think I will renew my Internet Chess Club membership when it next runs out, and I’ll stick to Lichess.
ChessKid is a wonderful concept, but needs a lot of improvement before it reaches the level of ICC, Lichess, or even its parent chess.com. Their issues for me are mainly about ease of use for children in getting a game, and flexibility for coaches in setting up and adjusting tournaments.
I hope its developers continues to work, because it has promise. The more good chess sites, the better for the long-term growth and health of chess.
For a long time now, the chess world has tried to get more girls involved and keep them in the game long term. In my years as a chess teacher I’ve seen a similar story as many others: female chess participation is often quite good in elementary school, but later falls off a cliff.
When females don’t stay in chess, we lose more than half of our potential audience.
I admit to being selfish: I love teaching girls because I’ve found that, overall, they take coaching better than boys! Some of my very best students have been female — and I want more of them!
I wrote a post last year titled: Should Every Kid Get a Prize? In it, I argued that tournaments where every player receives a medal or trophy, regardless of results, have a right to exist. Anyone opposed to this idea simply doesn’t have to play such events.
Similarly, my stance on girls-only tournaments is that players or parents who don’t like these events don’t have to play and can stick to mixed events. But a lot of girls do enjoy them!
A New Event
The fifth edition of the New York State Girls Chess Championships were held the weekend of January 9-10, 2021. The tournament has been held since 2017 and drew well over 200 players in its debut year! It is an official New York State Championship event.
There are four Championships: Open (K-12), K-6 Championship, K-3 Championship, and K-1 Championship. The highest finisher from New York in the Open section becomes the state’s representative for the Ruth Haring National Girls Tournament of Champions. The tournament’s namesake, Ruth Haring (1955-2018), was a Woman International Master (WIM) and former USCF President.
In addition, there are four sections for less experienced players: K-12 Under 1200, K-9 Under 1000, K-6 Under 800, and K-3 Under 600.
K-1 Championship and the four “Under” sections were one day events: five rounds, Game/30 plus 5-second increment. The other three Championship sections were 6 round events held over both days (three games each day), with a time control of Game/60 plus a 10-second increment.
The NYS Girls is the brainchild of National Tournament Director (NTD), International Arbiter (IA), and International Organizer (IO) Sophia Rohde (Little House of Chess). This year’s event was also organized by Steve Immitt (Chess Center of New York); he too is an NTD, IA, and IO.
Nils Grotnes, Bob Messenger, Daniel Rohde and TDs Korey Kormick and Helen Xue also contributed much to the cause, as well as the folks at ICC (see below). I played a small part as well. It takes a village!
With the ongoing pandemic, the 2021 event was held online at the Internet Chess Club. Nearly a year ago, I discussed why I still support ICC. I was not disappointed: the NYS Girls ran smoothly with hardly any issues. Well done, everyone!
On another note: clearly, attendance in this event was not going to match the turnout of the last over-the-board NYS Girls … but a welcome sight was the entry of players from several other states.
The online format of this event made it possible for players from California, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia to play! A total of 187 players competed across both days and eight sections.
You can find all of the team and individual results here. It almost goes without saying these days that results are only pending until the fair play review is completed in a few weeks.
At the end of the month, the Greater NY Online Scholastic Chess Championships will be held on ICC (January 30 and/or 31, depending on section). That event will also be organized by Little House of Chess and the Chess Center of New York, and sponsored by the Kasparov Chess Foundation.
You can increase your chess rating quick, fast, and in a hurry. Almost immediately, in some cases. But if you’re a “chess romantic,” this method is not for you.
Everyone wants to win more games, but what price are you willing to pay? If you’re 1000+, I have long been convinced that the quickest, surest path to more wins and a higher rating runs through the opening.
Embrace this. Don’t allow yourself to be brainwashed by the group-think that pervades chess instruction and insists you look for a pot of gold at the end of the tactics rainbow. Or worse, insists you focus on endgames.
Are you still reading? Good. Let me be very clear about what I mean, and explain my reasoning.
Use opening study to drive your rating gains
Knowledge is power in chess. When looking to increase your chess rating, laziness won’t do.
That said, there are different layers to opening study.
Wait! Why not tactics and endgames?
You are working on tactics! If you study openings properly, you will learn recurring tactical ideas in lines you actually play. This makes them easier to find in real life instead of hoping to apply something from solving thousands of random puzzles.
Your endgame results will also improve as a side-effect of serious opening study. Not only will you get more familiar positions and practice playing them, good study will provide you with better endgames than you had in the past!
Okay, let’s keep going!
Know what kinds of positions you play well, or can learn to play well.
A player can’t completely avoid tactics or strategy — we all know this. As for the lecture about “stunting your chess development,” that applies to aspiring 2700-rated grandmasters. Almost everyone else spends their chess career managing their weak spots.
If attacking play comes naturally to you, play openings that allow you the kinds of attacks you like to play. Not all attacks are the same!
Do you consider yourself a strategist? Fine (that’s a hint by the way, study his games). Do you like to maneuver in closed positions? Maybe you prefer queenless middlegames? Perhaps you have an affinity for certain types of endgames?
Research “candidate” openings that might suit you. Then test them out against good opposition online. I recommend playing games in the 5-minute pool. The results aren’t important; focus on whether or not you like the character of the play.
Don’t be delusional
I’m a poor attacker … and after 25 years of chess, this won’t change very much. While I’ve had some success with the Sicilian Najdorf (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6) , I have played the Dragon Variation (5…g6) exactly once in a tournament game — at the Manhattan Chess Club in 1996! I lost badly, too.
On the other hand, I like playing queenless positions, and for some reason I’ve always been able to play any kind of endgame with rooks well. Slow maneuvering is not my forte, which I guess explains why several attempts to play the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5) as black have been a failure. My attempts to play the English Opening (1.c4) have been disastrous.
As WIM Iryna Zenyuk once told me: “Play YOUR chess.”
A word about system openings
I’m referring to the King’s Indian Attack, Colle System, London System, Torre Attack, etc.
I would mostly avoid them … and not because of nebulous ideas about “limiting your potential.”
As I’ve said before, avoiding main line openings forces you to work harder at the board when you have nerves, a ticking clock, and an opponent to deal with.
Instead, choose openings with defined main lines you can study in advance and learn well. If your opponent deviates, you will either know how to deal with their subpar moves, or can take comfort that you have a route to a clear advantage. In other words …
Raise your rating by shortening the game
The more of a game you can pre-plan, the better your results will be — if your prep is good.
Think about it: do you have more confidence in your own moves, or those you learned from Stockfish or Grandmaster XYZ? As long as you have an idea of your moves’ purpose and aren’t blindly memorizing, I think the answer is clear. Lofty ideas about being creative or original stop most players from increasing their chess rating. That, and not wanting it badly enough.
Yes, you’re going to have to memorize some lines … some of them 15+ moves. That’s a good thing: your hard work will leave your peers behind and raise you to a new level. Let them do 20 minutes of tactics a day and play openings “based on ideas.” They will be at the same level five years from now.
Action steps to improve your rating
Buy ChessBase if you haven’t already. I consider it indispensible if you’re serious about trying to increase your chess rating.
Search for openings/positions you might be interested in playing.
Test these lines in online play to see if they suit you and you like playing them.
Create a database in ChessBase with your opening lines. I call mine “Opening Lines.” In this database is one “game” (line) for each opening.
Constantly play through GM games in your chosen lines, and keep testing online.
Add/edit lines in your database … this could take months to begin with, and never really ends. Be thorough.
Maintenance. Keep studying games, memorizing your lines, and practicing online.
Today I want to show one of my recent blitz games on the Internet Chess Club (ICC). I think it is somewhat instructive, especially in the context of IQP (Isolated Queen Pawn) positions.
I have enjoyed playing the white side of IQP positions ever since I read Alexander Baburin‘s phenomenal Winning Pawn Structures around 20 years ago. The book contains a couple of examples right out of the Panov-Botvinnik Attack as seen in this game. Even though I usually struggle with attacking, this one felt natural because Baburin’s examples are memorable.
There are a lot of popular chess-playing sites nowadays, many of them free. The biggest at the moment seem to be chess.com, chess24.com, and lichess.org. These “big three” are free.
Still, I happily pay $69.95 each year to play on ICC, the Internet Chess Club.
The former industry leader (established in 1995) keeps losing market share to other sites, but there are two huge reasons I haven’t switched.
ICC’s Barrier to Entry
I like the fact that to play on ICC with anything but a guest account, players need to make a financial commitment to do so.
I believe a person is less likely to “fool around” or cheat when they have real skin in the game. There’s no incentive to do so.
This means I rarely encounter players who let their clock run out in hopeless positions. I also can’t ever remember facing someone I felt was using computer assistance. Players give their best effort, and the games are very “professional.”
I don’t like to chat with my opponents. I have set an auto “Thanks for the game” message to appear after each game, and no talking allowed during play. It’s rare I get a rude comment after a game, even if I win in a time-scramble — I get such comments less than ten times a year.
Part of this “professionalism,” I’m sure, has to do with who I’m facing.
The Pool of Players (Literally!)
ICC has “pools.” When you join the 1-minute, 3-minute, 5-minute, 15-minute, etc. pools you are automatically paired against another player in the pool. Pools aren’t unique to ICC, other sites have them too.
The thing is, I nearly always get a worthwhile game. True, ICC occasionally pairs me against a player with too few games to have an established rating. Overall though, I don’t feel like I waste my time when I log on, having to face players far below my skill level or who may be using computer assistance.
I’m not saying no one cheats on ICC, and I’m not accusing other sites of having lots of cheaters. My point is, I see no need to change what works for me. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for everyone.
Caveat Emptor…ICC isn’t perfect
One of the increasingly annoying things about playing on the Internet Chess Club is that it can take some time to be paired in the pool, sometimes around a minute. No doubt this is because of the decreasing number of opponents available to play. It’s not too big of a deal, though.
A 1500 player probably wouldn’t get the same value from ICC compared to one of the big free sites. And for many years, I have only recommended ICC to players roughly 1000 or more. So if you’ve finished Chess School 1a, give it a shot!
My current USCF rating is 2075. Not enough to get perks on other sites (or on ICC either, for that matter), but too strong to be mixed in a giant pool with a lot of weaker players. At least I think so…maybe I’m wrong. The hypothetical 1500 player I mentioned earlier isn’t bumping against the top of the scale.
Perhaps my read is incorrect and I’m just being stubborn? I’d love to hear what other people think about this topic!