Chris Wainscott and the Quality Chess Challenge

Andrew writes:

“Early this year we were interested to hear from Chris Wainscott, an enthusiastic amateur from the US and an avid fan of our books. Soon the ‘Quality Chess Challenge’ was born, and earlier this week we were excited to receive an update from Chris about his training.

We are pleased to present a guest blog post from the man himself, where you can find out about the goals he has set for himself and his progress so far.

Over to you Chris…”

Chris writes:

Before I delve in to detail, let me first take a moment to acquaint the readers of the Quality Chess blog with myself and the Quality Chess Challenge.

My name is Chris Wainscott and I am from the USA. I am 43 years old and currently working to prove that it’s quite possible to become a master after the age of 40. I stopped playing chess in 1992 and didn’t begin again until 2011. At that time my Elo was just under 1500; now I am 1800.

The Quality Chess Challenge came out of a discussion between a friend and myself that caused to me make the offhand remark to Jacob Aagaard that I felt that it would be possible for me to get to 2200 reading nothing but books published by QC.

So for one year, from 2/13/17 through 2/13/18 I am committed to training using only books published by Quality Chess. Of course I don’t expect to become a master in that time frame, but I do expect to show the value in using high quality training materials.

Right now I’m about one quarter of the way through the Challenge, so it’s time for a progress update.

We’ll start with the most obvious thing.

Rating. It’s what so many of us obsess over day after day. My rating is almost exactly the same now as it was when I started. I was 1804 when the challenge started, and I’m 1801 now. However, I haven’t really played very much during that time. I am now able to work more events into my schedule.

Setting aside rating, which in a small number of events can be as much luck (good or bad) as anything I’d like to dive a bit deeper into some particulars regarding results and training.

In terms of training, my hope was that taking on the Challenge would get me to focus in a way that I hadn’t been. I gained roughly 100 Elo per year peak to trough for my first four years back. For the last two I have stalled. This tells me that more focus is clearly called for, and so far this has worked incredibly well.

Although I haven’t been able to train quite as much as I would like to, the time that I have had has been quite productive. I feel like I’m sitting down in my studio to train in a serious fashion rather than just going through the motions like I had been for the past couple of years.

What I have been focusing on training wise has been split into a few areas. Briefly, they are:

Yusupov: I have been working through the first volume of Yusupov’s series. I am almost through it, and my goal is to make it through the three original orange books, along with the new orange revision and test book. If I can stay on the track I’m on now, I will hit that goal.

Gelfand: There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. I have been working my way through Positional Decision Making in Chess and as soon as I am done with that I’ll be on to Dynamic Decision Making in Chess. I have long been a fan of Gelfand’s, and this series will clearly be his magnum opus. I have implored Jacob to keep Boris talking until they both collapse. Jacob points out that both he and Boris have families that they would like to spend time with, but I typically appeal to his sense of altruism 

Openings: I don’t spend much time at all studying openings. Generally about the most I’ll study them is to do a little bit of prep. I play in a club tournament where we have one round each week, so I always have a few days advance knowledge of who I am playing, and with what color. So depending on who I’m playing I might spend an hour at most prepping the opening. Typically it’s most like 15-20 minutes.

Tactics: That brings us to the bread and butter of what I have been studying…tactics. Do yourself a favor and if you don’t already own it, pick up a copy of Tactimania by Glenn Flear. This book has been a godsend to me. My tactical play has improved by leaps and bounds since I started working with it. I knew I made a good choice when Andrew Greet mentioned to me that he had used this book as part of his prep for the Baku Olympiad. Good enough for Scotland’s Board 1 at the Olympiad, good enough for me!

So how about results? Well, other than the rating itself, which shows results to some extent, there are two specific results I would like to discuss.

The first is that shortly after beginning the Challenge I enjoyed my strongest ever win. I defeated a master rated 2279 rather nicely. You can see that game here.

Then, earlier today I drew a 2114 player. I’ll have that game on my blog in the next few days.

Lastly, let’s talk about next steps. The first thing I want to accomplish as I head into the second quarter of the Challenge is to get through the next two Yusupov books. I’d like to press to get through both of them in the next three months.

Ideally I’ll be able to get through both in about a month each, which will then leave me the final month of the first half to finish up Positional Decision Making in Chess.

Granted, those are fairly aggressive goals, but it looks like I finally have my life schedule set up in such a way that I can achieve those goals if I press and make them priorities.

Of course I’ll keep sending updates from time to time for publication here, but in the meantime you can follow me online on my blog.

Also, if you’re planning on going to the Sinquefield Cup I will be there for the final three days (and the first day of the rapid) so stop by and say hello. If Jacob ever sends me a Quality Chess hat I’ll even be easy to spot!

35 thoughts on “Chris Wainscott and the Quality Chess Challenge”

  1. @John
    Well, I don’t want to sound too negative, but I doubt whether it’s a realistic goal (it sounds more like a wish)… 1800 is still a long long way from IM.

  2. @Ray: I think he wants to reach 2200 ELO, if I read that correctly. I believe in the US they’ve got something below the Fide Master title, something like NM and/or CM, which is still very good but that’s maybe possible.

  3. Chris’s blog is titled: “On The Road to Chess Master – An Adult Competitors Journey Towards 2200”. It may mean 2200 USCF or 2200 ELO. Anyway I think Chris is trying to reach NM level (2200 USCF) and I think it is possible (even if not easy at all!) in about 3-4 years time. However getting to 2400 ELO (it is the average level of IM) may probably be close to impossible. At least there are too less players who can make a significant improvement (progress) when they are 35+ years old and rated below 2000 (1900 ELO).

    I will be really curious if the final goal could be reached by Chris (and if not – what were the biggest obstacles). Anyway Chris – please do it and you will break the negative trend (of 95% of players who are not able to reach FM/IM master level) 😉 🙂

  4. Thanks for your clarifications! I clearly misunderstood the meaning of ‘master’. I agree a rating of 2200 should be possible with hard work.

  5. Matthew Sadler`s book “Chess for Live” comprises a detailed interview with FM Chapman, who started to focus full-time, as I understand, at the age of 51 with a rating of 2160 and reached a peak 7 years later at 2330. Chapman ranks his preparation and repertoire knowledge to be beyond 2500, however, he was not able to improve neither his calculation skills nor his time management problems. Instead, he improved a lot in strategy and endgame. In the interview, Chapman became a bit philosophical when he weighs the life time spent with the game… that maybe quite a critical question as well.
    Anyway, thanks to Chris for the insights and good luck with it!

  6. Jacob Aagaard

    @Hard Truther
    This is true. Chris will not be World Champion. I was rated 1700 at the age of 17, 2150 at the age of 22. John was rated 1900 at the age of 19.

    I was comfortably beating 2600s in 2007/8 and winning the British Championship. John almost won it a few years earlier and also became a Grandmaster and at one point had a rating around 2540, as did I.

    We are mules, not horses. But we are not unhappy ;-).

  7. I think Jonathan Tisdall (“Improve your chess now”) claimed that anyone with a normal intelligence could become a GM by dilligent training. I’m not sure if this has been scientifically proven though.

  8. @Jacob Aagaard
    To be exact, at 19 I was 1745 (national rating) and my peak FIDE (between lists) was 2525. The general mulish point stands.

    One more topical example: QC author Vassilios Kotronias was 2250 at 19, and much later peaked at 2630 or so. Large improvements as an adult are possible.

  9. One thing I read that interested me a lot was an interview with Terry Chapman in one of your rivals books. There he said the best improvement he got from an openings book was one written by someone 200-300 points above his c2000 rating at the time (the Wojos weapons series)- before qualifying Avrukh took his understanding gained from this to another level.

    Would perhaps be interesting to see more of these works…e.g. What does Nikos play as white?

  10. Chris Wainscott

    Just for clarification, I am talking about 2200 USCF which is the USA’s National Master title.

    Once I hit that I’ll think about going for FM.


  11. It is very disingenuous and misleading to tell people that hard work will get them to some plateau. It will not.

    Without the pre-requisite skills to be a 2200 USCF no amount of work is going to get you or anyone else across that threshold.

    Only those people with the skill set and also willing to do the work have any chance of reaching this level.

    I know several people that started the Yusupov series as 1600’s and 9 books later they are 1700’s.

    It is an absolute lie that anyone can do it and that hard work is the key. Most human beings do not have the intellectual capacity or skill set to even become 1800 FIDE.

    Be happy and content with what you are. This whole push for everyone to be a title player is an absurd form of hubris and ignorance that is exploited by those selling the snake oils that will cure you weaknesses and give you your needed strengths.

  12. Jacob Aagaard

    @Hard Truther
    That’s why I cheat in my taxes. They are all wasted on stuff like schools…

    I know of no people that have done what you say. However, I do know of people that improve much slower than others. But so much work and nothing? I would have liked to see how they went through the books…

  13. I also don’t think anyone with intelligence that works hard can make Master or even Expert. Tons have been trying for years and cannot do it. If the rating system was like bridge where you only gain points, then that would be different. But we are in a competitive chess world where others are also studying and losing to a lower-rated player sets you back big time.

    Also when people think of adults making great strides there are not thinking of 19-year olds, or indeed players in their early 20s.

    I love the beauty of the game and am working slowly through the Yusupov series. But as you get older your rating tends to drop rather than go up. Kinda like the rest of the body.

  14. @Gerry: In my opinion that’s simply not true. Of course, your physical preconditions may be best for calculation or endurance when you are aged between I don’t know, let’s say, 18-30. But if you increase the amount of your training, you can still get better at a later stage of your life and I noticed enough examples of players whose ratings were higher at the age of 40 or 50 than before. Simply because they started to train seriously and played a lot.
    @HardTruther: You said most people were not intelligent or skilled enough to reach the 1800 FIDE mark. I also disagree with this. There are of course many people who struggle to pass this mark but maybe they do not try hard enough. Of course there are some who practise a lot and still struggle but you cannot say that “most” people are not smart enough. I agree that there are limits, maybe you cannot become a player of a strenght above 2200 FIDE if you are not talented but I’m convinced that most players could pass the 2000 mark with serious training and a lot of work. And a lot of work means many hours a week and playing many OTB games per year. If you are more talented, you may be able to do with a lot less work. But for the others the problem often is that they just don’t have enough time or will to put in that much effort. If you are not talented and have reached a certain mark you cannot pass, it will not be enough to look at a book for 1-2 hours once a week.

  15. Chris Wainscott

    The key word here though, is work.

    There’s actually working hard where you properly go through the material in a meaningful way, and there’s “work” where you just shuffle pieces without trying to digest what you’re seeing or actively engage in the process.

    When I first started playing again in 2011 I was around 1490 and was told that if I got really lucky I might be able to get my rating up to around 1600 – maybe.

    Hard work has made a difference and will continue to do so.

  16. I’d like to second Chris’s comment — “hard work” can be useless if it’s the wrong kind of work, or you’re working on the wrong things. It needs to be structured, directed hard work. Ideally, you have identified your weaknesses and desired areas of improvement, and structured your work toward those ends. And even then, you have to do the right sort of work in the right manner and with the right attitude.

    On the other hand, I was surprised that Chris said he doesn’t play enough, and then said that he played 50 games a year. A while back on this blog, Yusupov addressed this question, and said the number of games isn’t that important (although Botvinnik recommended 60 per year), but that it was essential to analyze the games — and this doesn’t mean just letting your computer analyze them. He specifically said not to play more games than you can analyze. For me, that number is around 50-60 per year. Any more than that, and I either don’t get them analyzed, or that’s all I do — I have no time left over for studying Yusupov’s books, playing through annotated GM games, doing tactical puzzles, etc. I think you have to limit your playing to leave time for the other stuff. Playing a gazillion games won’t help if you’re not learning from them.

  17. I know a GM who was sort of desperate of not improving ?
    He was confortably 2600+ in his late twenties
    He went to 2700 after he worked with one of the best players of the world
    It’s less than 100 pts but they were priceless for him

  18. Jacob Aagaard

    The main reason why people do not learn things in a progressed age is that the hunger has often died. For those that have the enthusiasm of youth, learning something well is by no means as hard as it is told to be. Hard, yes, but not that hard.

  19. Well, I agree to a large extent with ‘hard truther’. Not all wishes can become true by hard work. The danger of this reasoning i.m.o. is that if you don’t succeed it must be your own fault – you simply didn’t try hard enough. Our whole society nowadays is filled with this reasoning (if you’re unemployed or terminally ill you just have to fight harder or you have ‘made the wrong choices’ in the past – don’t expect any help from society). I have been training very hard and put many many hours in chess over the past few years (and not just on my own, but also with a certified chess trainer, as well as playing more than 50 serious games a year and analysing each of them). My goal three years ago was to increase my FIDE rating from 2200 to 2300 (i.e. to become an FM), but the reality is that my current FIDE rating is 2179. So it has hardly moved. Now you might say maybe it’s a mental thing and I can also work on that. But does it make one happier to continually aim for more? Do I have to change my whole personality at age 50 just to become better at the game of chess, and is it really worth the effort? I’ve decided I’ll just enjoy chess and put less hours in training.

  20. I agree with Ray. It is nice to improve and go through the process. But one should not forget that it is quality time playing the game and no matter you are at 1700 or 2700, the struggle over the board, the greed, fear, bravery… it is (feels) the same for everybody.

    Also, there simply is no correspondence between your IQ and your rating. Relax. Alan Turing tried hard but did not improve, though he was one of the greatest in math and science of the last century. Young Garry`s IQ was tested to be 130, which is nice but he is in good company with 2% of the world population, hardly an explanation for being world champion. An IQ test comprises several sub-tests and he got an outstanding 185 only in one sub-test, with rather inconspicious results for the rest.

  21. @Ray: You write many good things but I’d like to add something: There are of course limitations and once you have reached a rating of 2200 it is getting much more difficult to get an even higher rating. If you start out at a lower level, it is much easier to make progress though. Moreover, it is maybe also important to consider why someone does not make progress “ratingwise” anymore. If you already do quite a lot – like in your case – then maybe this is your personal limit, but there are many other players who do not pass a certain mark for others reasons such as family duties, not working on their weaknesses, looking a openings only, etc. And if these people put in more effort at a later stage of their life and do the right things, then to my mind improvement is still possible – up to a certain point, of course. If you are rated below 2000, you cannot become a Grand Master for example.

  22. @ McBear: good points, but actually I have reached a rating of 2200 without much focused training at all – basically I was just studying openings. Three years ago I decided to start training more seriously but as I said that didn’t yield any results ratingwise. But indeed, it could be that I’m at my personal limit – I guess that was exactly the point I and some others were trying to make: that we all have our personal limits and that putting more and more time in when you are already close to that limit won’t help a lot (or could even be counterproductive). I can give another example: Jannes van der Wal was world champion checkers in the 90ies, and at one point also started to play chess seriously. But he never made it past a rating of 2100 or so. Not every wish can be fulfilled by just putting in a large amount of effort. I know that no matte how many training hours I spend on running, I’ll just never be able to finish 100 m in 10 seconds.

  23. @Ray: There could be many reasons for not improving in spite of more training.
    Maybe you want too much in your games, have too high expectations being so well trained?
    Maybe you were not training your main weaknesses?
    Maybe you lack energy at the board? Or confidence?
    Maybe you play better chess but make more simple mistakes?

  24. I was absolutely training my main weaknesses and have actually increased my understanding a lot, but it didn’t materialise in a higher rating. If I dig deep enough who knows I might find an explanation, but to be honest I doubt if it’s worth the investment in time. After all it’s just a hobby and I have other hobbies as well… That’s not to say I won’t keep buying the QC books of course, since collecting QC chess books is another hobby of mine 🙂

  25. I think the factor least mentioned in training for a higher rating is visualisation.
    I can give a reasonably good positional evaluation from a given position (eg a diagram in a book or the board position in front of me) taking into account more fluid factors such as initiative and more concrete factors such as pawn structure- unless there is a tactic I am missing on the way this would be enough to help me head towards choosing the best move positionally if I could move the pieces around to check- but my stumbling block is that this is not allowed in a real game and you need to use actual visualisation of these future positions to make an accurate evaluation and then pick the best move.
    I can imagine the board a certain number of moves ahead from a fixed board position in front of me with rough accuracy but need that board in front of me as a scaffolding to work from and the further I stray from this initial position the less accurate my visualisation of the board is whereas GMs don’t seem to err. And the idea of having the board position purely in my head and doing blindfold chess doesn’t even start to compute with me let alone playing to a high level and playing combinations from these virtual positions.
    Chucky doesn’t even seem to look at the board at all when thinking. How do you train that ability and is this a vital part of being a master level player?
    Thankfully QC rarely leave it more than half a dozen moves before putting a diagram in for the main line-…

  26. ……. this is enough for me to reasonably accurately follow the game from the book in my head rather than setting up the pieces but this ability decays quickly the more tactical and fluid the next few moves are eg a tactical sequence rather than a simple positional sequence -there seems to be no chess literature telling me how to improve this ability.
    But maybe I’m not representative- how good are other amateurs and is is it this lack of visualisation skills that hold us back?

  27. My recommendation is to do the yusupov challenge semi-blindfold–board but no piecres. Try to transfer the position one board section at a time from the diagram to visualizing it on the board. Then solve the problem from the visualized position. I’m through the two orange books that way and my visualization has improved substantially.

  28. Once read that part of Beliavsky training was to visualize 5 games blindfold every day .
    Not tried yet but seems good advice to begin with 1 and improve a bit daily

  29. An Ordinary Chessplayer

    Re required talent and the point made by Hard Truther (“Without the pre-requisite skills”) … This may or may not be true. The same subject forms a decades-long debate between two chess-masters of my acquaintance. I won’t even say which way I believe. But the funny thing about talent is that even if you say it is required (and rare) and without it hard work doesn’t matter, just about the only way to know if someone has the required talent is for them to work hard (and correctly), and see how far they can get. Since most arguments about talent are //ex post facto//, the jury is still out. To the individual wondering if they have the required talent, I say if you have the desire, go for it.

  30. @Johnnyboy
    For me it is almost the opposite. I have always been able to remember and analyse my teammates’ games, as well as my own, on the way home from a match. I can play blindfold not much worse than sighted. I have never been able to get much above 2000, currently a bit below. What I struggle with is weighing up different positional features. I tend to overweight both structural factors and direct attacks and underweight more general long-term dynamic advantages, especially my opponent’s. I also think I make horrible blunders, like not noticing his last move attacked my queen, more than other players at my level.

  31. Chess improvement is hard work, nobody will say otherwise. If you want to become good at something you need to work for it.

    For me the problem is mostly procrastination. Lots of plans, good plans but to start with it and keep doing it … . So I am jealous that Chris is doing so much work on his chess nowadays. Wish I could say the same.

    Go Chris go!

  32. One thing that is not always mentioned is that more information, even great information like Quality Chess Books, does not directly equate to better decision making at the chessboard. We have all heard the jokes: if the number of chess books owned made you a master, I would be a grandmaster, blah, blah. The more accurate humor is closer to “I’m lucky I got mated because I almost lost my queen.” Now when we lose, we have mountains of data to prove why. So the disconnect is correctly judging what matters most in every position. When do we force promoting the passed pawn, when do we look at structure, when do we go all in for forcing tactics? Because the right move at the wrong time is equally bad. Some players have little to no theory running in the background. Yet they win by simply knowing what to do when it is time to do it. As an 1800-1900 amateur, we all want that divining rod to point us towards water. I don’t even believe we need Grandmasters to teach us. They are in the clouds and we are struggling on the ground. I fear all I have learned will need to be unlearned before I hit the 2000 ceiling. And that is awful because it means accepting all my past efforts (years of study) were misplaced on issues that didn’t yet matter. Write that book, rewrite our incorrect thinking, and you will make millions and advance chess even further. Cheers

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