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On Chess: The blueprint of a chess professional

Cristian Chirila at the 2017 Spring Chess Classic
Austin Fuller | Saint Louis Chess Club

Becoming a professional in chess takes years of practice, of course. But there are also some key skills that can help someone go from amateur to pro. Today, I'm going to give an outline of what those skills are.

Being versatile as a chess professional is probably one of the most important aspects of successfully managing and developing a career in this very competitive field.

On more than one occasion, I was forced to shift my attention to different aspects of the game. Currently, I am a player, coach, journalist and commentator. Often, I have to re-adjust my own way of thinking and process new ideas that will help me elevate my professional level in each of those roles.

I am the resident grandmaster at the Saint Louis Chess Club. My main job is to lecture on chess themes that will help people break through their own plateaus. This is an extremely daunting task because I have to adjust the lectures to suit a variety of levels as well as take different approaches and schools of thought that those in attendance bring to class. In order to do that, I have come up with a curriculum that will not only help my students improve their play, but will also help them understand themselves better and adjust their own training regimen. Here are the basic steps:

Step 1. Analyzing your games

In my opinion, this is the foundation on which a chess player’s abilities will be developed. It is critical to immediately assess your performance after each game and understand what ideas worked, as well as shortcomings, understanding the thought process you encountered during that matchup. Ideally, you should analyze games you've played, which allows you to work with a fresh memory of the tempo one has of the game. Information is processed faster and new adjustments have a longer-lasting impact.

Step 2. Be versatile in your training

Getting out of my comfort zone and trying new methods of training will always remain one of my favorite tools when preparing for a tournament or simply trying to smash previously held plateaus. Only recently have I consciously implemented this powerful technique, and the results have been quite encouraging. Abiding by a certain routine can create burnout that will stall your progress. In order to correct that, try maintaining a playful training regimen and don’t forget to always diversify it. For example, if you have been recently focusing only on opening preparation and you feel your game is no longer improving, try adding a few studies (difficult and aesthetically pleasing puzzles) to your routine. This will help you keep a fresh mind and find your enthusiasm once again.

Step 3. Competition

Competition is tough, and therefore you will have to adjust accordingly. One weakness that I see in a lot of players is the absence of intensity and willingness to win. Next time you play a tournament, understand that chess — as any other competitive endeavor — is a zero-sum game. You are at the board to outsmart and impose your ideas on your opponent, who will certainly try to do the same. Achieving victory will only come as a reward to your exhaustive scrutiny of the position.  This can only be achieved if you maintain intense focus for the whole duration of the game. Understand that and do not let complacency at the board take over.  

There are plenty of other techniques you can use to improve your game, but I think the three steps listed above is quite a powerful starter pack. Now go out there and achieve your full potential. Good luck! 

Grandmaster Cristian Chirila is the GM in residence at the Saint Louis Chess Club. He is the head coach and resident GM at Bay Area Chess and is a frequent commentator and journalist for the Saint Louis Chess Club.