When I first started playing over the board (OTB) chess, I didn’t know the name of a single opening, I didn’t know about titles or world champs or tournaments, and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, although I thought I was pretty good because I could beat my friends.
I spent a solid year, and I am not at all exaggerating, losing every single game I played at the local chess club. Yes, it was only five-minute stuff but still, I couldn’t beat these guys. Then one of them, a USCF expert, took me to my first rated tournament. Let me tell you, that’s a chess wake up call if there ever was one.
I became active in tournament play (time controls were 40/2 SD/1) and believe me, I got better. After a year of active chess tournaments, I was very, very tough to beat at the club. The players that were steamrolling me before couldn’t get a single game off me, no matter what they tried. Tournaments definitely made me a stronger player.
Now I’m in a different club, and the only two people in it who can play a challenging game against me are both active USCF players. I can’t believe that is coincidence. Long time controls OTB will season any player in a hurry. The others play casually once a week and don’t study at all, so they never improve. Well, they may improve nominally, but no leaps and bounds like an active tournament player would.
For the same reason, players on pay chess sites tend to be much stronger than on free ones. If you are paying to play chess at home, you are likely serious about your game instead of wanting the occasional casual match. For instance, a 1300 rated blitz player on the ICC would probably be 1600 or 1700 on a free site. Of course, that isn’t fact or gospel, but it’s what I’ve found to be true. When the competition is tougher, it’s more difficult to move up the ranks.
I understand the five-minute chess, I really do. Win or lose, you rack the pieces back up, restart the clock, and go again. But when your game lasts six hours and your opponent is sitting right across from you, it’s a different world entirely. Those losses hurt, bad, and the wins are far more enjoyable.
What do you think?