Should You Have a Rating Goal?
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When Alexandra Botez announced that she had 30 days to beat her all time high online rating or else she would have to bleach her eyebrows, I dashed off some thoughts about how I would approach the challenge. Since one month is not enough time to fundamentally improve your chess, I recommended focusing on performance: refine an opening repertoire for blitz; upgrade your playing environment and eliminate distractions; only play at times when you’re able to focus.
The more I thought about this strategy, the more confident I became that it would work. And it sounded like fun. So I decided to try it myself. My goal is to beat my all time high Chess.com blitz rating of 2716 by October 30. As of October 5, my rating is 2622. If I don’t make it, I will learn King + Queen vs. King + Rook, a tedious theoretical endgame I have thus far managed to avoid acquiring the slightest knowledge about. If I succeed, Alexandra has generously pledged $1000 to a charity of my choice.
I’ll go deeper into my strategy and progress later in the post, but first I wanted to address a more fundamental question: does it make sense to have a rating goal at all?
In thinking about that, I asked myself a different question: between a long-term goal and a daily process, which is the means, and which is the ends? At first the answer seems obvious. “Goal” is nearly synonymous with “end.” And for some goals, this makes sense. If you’re a coast guard tasked with rescuing the passengers of a sinking boat, you have to do everything you can to accomplish the mission.
But the goals we set for ourselves are different. If you’re reading this, chances are, hitting a specific rating isn’t going to change your life. You’re not going to receive invitations to tournaments or a spot in the Candidates And I’m no different. If I hit 2716 I don’t get anything, apart from the satisfaction of achieving my goal.
For that reason, I see a rating goal as a tool for managing my relationship with chess. If it helps me engage with chess in a way that’s more meaningful, fun, or otherwise better, it’s worth it. If it makes me feel stressed or overwhelmed, the goal has probably outlived its purpose and should be discarded.
Right now, the idea of trying to set a new high rating in October feels fun and motivating, so I’m going for it. But if I sense that it’s no longer serving my day-to-day engagement with chess, I may drop it – even at the cost of learning a boring endgame.
How to use goals effectively
Perhaps a better question than whether to have a goal is how to use goals effectively. Personally, I’ve had the best success with a “set it and forget it” strategy:
Choose a goal that feels motivating and inspiring
Work out the daily process needed to achieve the goal
Forget about the big picture goal (apart from occasional check-ins) and focus on the process
It makes sense to focus on the process goals most of the time because they’re under your control. I can hardly expect my rating to go up every day, so if I focus on that, I’m likely to become discouraged. But I can play a fixed number of games and analyze them every day, and if I stick with that, I have a good chance of accomplishing my goal.
Here’s the process I’m planning for October:
Create and stick to a core opening repertoire designed to be effective in blitz.
Play four games per day. I will play these first thing in the morning while I’m relatively fresh and undistracted.
Warm up with one Puzzle Rush at the beginning of each session.
Analyze all games immediately after the playing session. Update my opening files and save key positions to my flashcards file.
Play the late Titled Tuesday every Tuesday. This is a nice weekly capstone where I get nine games against very tough opponents.
I’m prepared to go it alone, but I thought it could be fun if we make All Time High October a thing, sort of like No Shave November. So let me know in the replies if you want to have a go with me. Maybe we can create a Discord or something to share our progress.