Back to the US Chess School: Greg's Top Five Tips
By IM Greg Shahade   
September 14, 2013
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IM Greg Shahade founder of the US Chess League (USCL) and the US Chess School, just unveiled a redesigned website for the USCS at http://www.uschessschool.com/. You can also find the USCS on facebook   and get a glimpse into the 22nd session in Matan Prilletensky's CLO article

To get us into the "Back to School" spirit, Greg unveils his top five tips. 

1. Study as much as possible. Your studying should be relatively challenging. Most importantly, analyze your slow games as deeply as you can. Most players fail to do a good job of this. You can spend a lot less time analyzing your faster time control games. 

2. Stick to Your Openings: Try to play the same thing for at least a year (longer would be better if it's a good opening), or else you'll find that you never really learn anything. Remember that no matter what opening you play there are going to be one or two lines that annoy you. Therefore a few annoying variations, assuming that they are theoretically considered okay for you, is never a reason to switch to another opening because the same exact thing is going to happen again. (You can find more of Greg's thoughts on this topic in his CLO articles, Building an Opening Repertoire, Opening Books, The Value of Studying Openings and most recently, Magnus Carlsen on openings.)

3. Make Friends with Strong Young Players: You can gauge your progress against your friends. Try to get better than all your friends, or at least  make sure that you are keeping up with them. This may sound overly competitive but competitiveness within a small group will raise everyone's skill level. Just make sure to keep it friendly and to be supportive of each other, even if you want to be better than them. The top kids in the country are often great friends but have to battle each other in major scholastic tournaments all of the time. Friendly rivalries played a big role in my chess development and I always get upset when I see parents shielding friends from playing each other, although I almost never see this at the top level of scholastic chess.  (Also see Greg's piece on why he thinks the current young generation is more promising than ever.)

4. Be Active. As long as you don't see any detrimental effects from playing fast chess, don't shy away from rated G/30 tournaments. Detrimental effects would include moving too quickly in slow games, but in my opinion the top kids usually don't have this problem (the reverse - moving too slow - is much more common these days.) In my opinion these fast games, assuming they are usually played against slightly stronger opposition than you, will only help your progress. A quick look at the top young kids in the country shows that they play a huge number of tournaments.  

There are some top players who play more than 1 tournament per week, and I don't think it's a coincidence that they are ranked so highly. If you are playing just once a month, the odds are stacked against you and it will require you to study even more than normal. Slow tournaments should still be prioritized, as these time controls will also be used in national and international events.   

5. Play Up A Section (Most of the Time): Play up usually, but in your own section approximately 25% of the time. When you play in your actual section, pick tournaments with the biggest prize funds to get used to playing high pressure games. Having the experience of playing for thousands for dollars prepares a kid for a high stakes match at a Nationals or the World Youth. 

Beating players around your level is a very useful skill, so it shouldn't be completely ignored. On the other hand you or your kid will probably have to play a bunch of scholastic tournaments in which there will be many lower rated players, so they will have plenty of opportunities to not play up. 

Just try not to play up two or more sections on a regular basis. Games are more instructive against players 100-200 points higher rated. If a kid is rated 2000 and is constantly playing 2200 players, that kid will become 2200. 

If you happen to be rated in the 2200-2300 range and there is a U2400 section (World Open), I would recommend playing in it since it's such a rare experience to play so many players around your level at this rating.

Find the USCS on http://www.uschessschool.com/ and on facebook.