Six months ago, while rated 2.800 at blitz on Chess.com, I woke up and decided to give myself the goal of achieving 3.000 by the end of 2020!
But my story starts much earlier...
Around a year ago, my FIDE rating was 2.620, having won 3 tournaments in the USA! But then I had a bad period. Not only did I fail to hit my rating goal of 2.650 but I actually started to lose rating, falling all the way to 2.557.
My online chess rating (which I believe is a good way to tell if you’re becoming a better chess player) was in the range of 2.750-2.850 on Chess.com and I wasn't able to reach 2.900 – even temporarily.
I reached a plateau and couldn’t move forward – a feeling that many of you might have experienced in your chess career.
Luckily for me, this was not the first time it had happened.
Why luckily? Because I knew how to overcome it. I had my “golden pills”.
My golden pills for overcoming a plateau
Plateau - a state of little or no change following a period of activity or progress.
While there are different techniques for overcoming a plateau, my method is very simple – there are just 2 steps.
If you’re working hard, but you’re not growing, or in other words, your rating isn’t increasing, something should be changed!
Sounds super-simple, right? However, I see time and time again, chess players who after hitting a plateau, continue to push forward in the same way they have done for many years, and then find themselves in the same place many years later.
2. Figure out the bottleneck
It may hurt your ego a bit to believe that you’ve done something wrong, but if you’re really committed to improving your results, then you must work out what’s really holding you back.
This can be hard for some players to do, especially ones that aren’t very experienced or don’t have a coach. The key is to be objective. If you aren’t objective, then you may decide that your tactics are weak, when in reality you have problems with strategy.
What did I realize?
I was like “Okay, something should be changed...But what?”
So I jumped to the 2nd step to figure it out.
I knew I was good at chess, I was quick at calculating, I was good at playing dynamically and positionally, I was making good practical decisions, and I felt many of my skills were strong.
But where I was weakest, was my openings…
All my life, I played 1.Nf3, 2.g3, 3.Bg2…
I was trying to get playable positions, get out of opening theory, and simply out-play my opponents later.
If I were to say that when playing with White, I was happy if I didn’t get any problems out of the opening, it would be not a joke, but at minimum a half-joke.
I became a Grandmaster and then achieved a rating of 2.600 with just 1.Nf3!
And what I realized was that earlier on, I could simply outplay my opponents because of my sharp chess skills. But now that my rating was higher, I was playing very strong Grandmasters whose skills were also very sharp, and it was impossible to outplay them like the others I used to.
I was fast at calculating– but so were they.
I was good at dynamic and positional chess – but so were they.
Then, for what reason, if I get no advantage from the opening, should I be able to beat them?
Aha! And then it clicked. I need to learn good openings! My approach to playing 1.Nf3 and “trying not to get a bad position from the opening” needed changing!
So that I didn’t start a long process, and discover at the end that my feeling was wrong, I decided to ask my Grandmaster friends to tell me honestly what they thought about my chess – where I’m good, where I’m weak, and what I should do. After all, very often, the view is much clearer from the outside.
After my friends confirmed all of my suspicions and told me exactly what I was thinking, I knew that I had figured out the reason that my rating had plateaued.
Now I came back to the 1st step – change.
I realized I needed to change my old approach and change my openings.
The hardest part
Why did I play 1.Nf3 all of my life?
I bet you guessed it. I was just too lazy to learn the opening theory.
When I saw the analysis that my friends had, how much they worked on their openings, and how much they had to remember, I was like “Ehh… I’m good with my 1.Nf3”
And now realizing that I could go no further with 1.Nf3, I had to overcome my laziness and start the hard work that other Grandmasters do.
What was inspiring me, was the feeling that “if I can fight with strong Grandmasters without serious openings, what could I achieve with good ones!”.
This was a big motivation.
And now that I’d figured out what needed to change, and had the motivation to do it, I needed to make a plan.
My first encounter with ChessMood openings
I’ve been part of ChessMood from the very beginning.
I’ve seen how much our Grandmasters worked before the launch of the website, and how much they continue to work to provide good material.
I have seen them analyzing with cloud engines day and night, finding novelties, changing theory…
Why am I saying “they” and not “us”?
I bet you can guess why!
Because all of my life I played 1.Nf3, these “bad guys” were not involving me in the process of exploring 1.e4.
Instead, I was responsible for working on the material of the middlegame and endgame courses.
But anyway, I could see all their analysis, and their excitement when they were creating a practical opening repertoire with 1.e4.
What’s more, I saw their good results with ChessMood openings.
I saw Avetik posting in our Facebook group, games when he beat top Grandmasters in less than 20 moves.
One day I saw he posted a game, which he won against Alekseenko Kiril without doing any move himself! All of the moves were in the courses, everything was in the analysis I had on my computer!
And I thought to myself “Ah… If I had such openings I would be rated 3.000 on Chess.com…”
What? What did I just say to myself?
If I had such openings I would be 3.000?
Realizing that myself, I had just said the solution, I immediately called Avetik to ask his opinion.
“Bro, what do you think? Should I learn ChessMood openings? Are they really so good?”
His answer was “You should try it! I can show you many-many examples, but unless you don’t play them yourself and see with your own eyes how badly people react to our toxic opening repertoire, you’ll never believe me.”
My next question was “Avetik, will you help me to learn the openings?”.
And the answer was “Of course, bro!”.
More than anything else, I believe it's our decisions, not the conditions of our lives, that determine our destiny.
I knew I had to make a decision to learn new openings.
What was stopping me? Nothing. Only myself and my thoughts.
What was pushing me forward from the inside?
My goal to overcome my rating plateau.
I made 2 decisions.
1. To learn ChessMood openings
2. To stay committed until I succeed
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and it may take a long time to learn all of them. But there is no way to play better chess without any effort so I was ready for it.
Because of the pandemic and the lack of tournaments, It would not be reasonable to make a goal of achieving a 2.650 OTB rating.
So I set another goal.
To achieve a 3.000 blitz rating on Chess.com!
I know that goals should not be very easy to achieve, but not be impossible to reach at the same time. So for me, 3.000 sounded like a happy medium.
This was the start of my journey to learn the ChessMood openings and hit my rating goal of 3.000 on Chess.com!
Whenever you start learning a new opening, the most challenging part is to remember the variations and the correct moves. Now imagine learning so many new openings at the same time! My brain was crying
After playing for so long with 1.Nf3, I now had to learn the Scotch, the Anti-Sicilian, how to play against the French, the Caro Kann, the Scandinavian, and the rest…
The good part was that I didn’t need to analyze them all from scratch.
All of the analysis was already recorded onto videos. I just had to watch them, learn them, and somehow memorize them!
Instead of trying to learn each opening deeply, I briefly went through all of the courses, created my PGNs, and started playing the variations. (See how I created the PGN’s here.)
For the first 3-4 months, I was suffering.
I was completely out of my comfort zone.
I used to start the game quietly and try to outplay my opponents later.
Now I was in an open fight from the very beginning!
Additionally, very often I was forgetting the variations, making wrong moves, and getting bad positions.
It was making me super mad!
Sometimes I was doing a wrong move in a variation which I had revised the same morning!
I also should confess that I was really missing 1.Nf3, where even if you did 5 mediocre moves in the opening, nothing particularly bad would happen.
But now, sometimes, I was making such bad moves in the opening, that I couldn’t make the comeback anymore...
Another problem was that I wasn’t feeling the positions very well.
I was playing totally new pawn structures, with new ideas for me.
How was I keeping myself from not moving back to my old approach?
1. There was no reason to go back to something which didn’t work.
2. I always reminded myself of the following quote.
So whenever I felt the temptation to go to 1.Nf3, I said to myself, “I’m out of my comfort zone! I’m growing!”
How I solved the problem of memorization
I absolutely agree with the thoughts in the article about memorizing variations, that the key to memorization is through understanding.
If you understand the philosophy of the position, even if you forget what was written in your file, you’ll be able to find the correct move yourself.
So how do you begin to feel the positions and understand them deeply?
I started to play a lot!
And I didn’t worry too much about the results.
Then after each session, I was downloading the games, going through them, and comparing them with my PGN files to figure out where I went wrong.
Being fully aware that in order to improve, you might need to take one step backward before you take two steps forward, I wasn’t worried that I was performing slightly below 2.800.
Instead, I patiently waited for the fruits of my hard work, which I was seeding by playing 1.e4 to pay off.
The elevator is going up!
If you imagine that the growth process is like going up and down in an elevator, I can tell you that the first months were like going up to the fifth floor and then back down to the first
But suddenly when I started feeling more confident with our ChessMood openings, my elevator slowly started going up to floor 7 - 9 - 15 and most importantly was not going down anymore!
Even in bad shape, I was hardly dropping much rating.
After the opening stage, I often had a position that was very easy to play!
Finally, I started enjoying the benefits of having a strong and solid opening repertoire.
The table has turned!
When I started to play with ChessMood openings, I was often being crushed in the opening in such a bad way, that I was not able to manage a comeback. But now the tables had turned!
I could remember the variations and now often my opponents were not getting out from the opening stage themselves.
I remember winning a very nice game against super-strong GM Pavel Eljanov with the black pieces when he was “testing” ChessMood openings.
If you watch the game, you might be surprised if I say that the entire exchange sacrifice variation was covered in the course “The Nightmare of the Rossolimo.”
What I was pleasantly surprised by was that I could remember a long line with 18 moves!
It was such a cool feeling to see the result of my hard work.
It was so cool being in my comfort zone again.
And finally, it was very nice to play chess with an advantage from the opening! A feeling that I never had in my chess career.
On the 24th of September 2020, I finally crossed 2.900.
Enjoying chess much more than before, seeing my study pay off, and beating much stronger players than before.
Despite the fact that I couldn’t go further than 2.900, I knew that this time I didn’t need to change anything. The only problem was that still, I was not remembering everything, and messing up a lot.
So the plan was just to play more, download the games, and fix the mistakes. I absolutely believed that if I fixed my mistakes, I would be able to achieve my goal.
I’m closer than I think!
And then one day I realized a very funny thing.
I was 2.900, a little bit up, a little bit down, like a boat riding the waves between 2.900 and 2.950.
But I was playing lots of games, against very strong Grandmasters during our ChessMood events, during the streams!
I was playing blitz games where you don’t have much time to think and you need to have full focus. But I was commenting, showing variations, and explaining my thoughts and ideas – all while playing!
I didn’t care much about the result during the streams, because I was trying to do my best to provide value to our students.
But the thing I realized was that if I play without streaming, fully focused, and not wasting time on my clock, I should be able to get 3.000!
Let’s do it!
Like any warrior, waiting for the right time for the battle, on the 8th of November I woke up and felt that the time had come!
That day I got from 2.897 to 2.950!
Two days later in the afternoon, I got to 2.964!
The same evening I had a stream, and I decided to play with another account. But I forgot, logged in with my main account, and it was too late to switch
Luckily I had a good session, and with the support of our students, seeing how they were rooting for me, I managed to get to 2.977.
The next day I got 2.997!
It was a moment when I was just 1 win away from hitting 3.000.
But I was already feeling very sleepy, and managed to maintain my self-control and go to bed…
No rematch, sorry...
The next morning, very excited, I opened Chess.com on my browser and got a challenge from a very talented Christopher Yoo.
Seeing on Chess.com that if I win I get +4 points and reach 3.001 I gladly accepted the challenge.
1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 g6!
“How to play against the English opening, 1.c4” – I had just made a course on this the previous month!
“I have to win this game. It’s going to be a nice end of my journey to 3.000!”
After a complicated game, I managed to sacrifice an exchange, get strong pawns in the center, and get an advantage.
In the position above, the last move I played 33...Kf6 planning Ke5, Kd4, and then pushing my central pawns.
I remember my heartbeat.
I was very very close...
After thinking for a while, Yoo resigned...
I saw on my desktop “GM GABUZYAN_CHESSMOOD” (3001)...
Yeah, I did it!!!
While I always give rematches to opponents and I hate people who don’t, I made an exception for this moment. I went so long for my goal, I worked so hard, that it was a time to scream “YEAH!!!” and enjoy the win!
(I’m sorry, Yoo!)
I always believed that I could get to 3,000, but it was unbelievable to me that I was capable of committing to the work.
I was really satisfied and proud of myself.
I even took this screenshot:
... and sent it to several friends
First was Avetik, a person who advised me to start this long journey.
It was definitely the best day of the year.
What did I learn?
Well, it was a fantastic journey!
Not only for getting from 2.800 to 3.000, but I improved my chess a lot and now I’m not the Gabuzyan that only knows 1.Nf3.
I’m the Gabuzyan with a very sharp opening repertoire, which I can’t wait to put into practice in OTB tournaments.
Here are some of the things I learned during the process:
1st – I learned to play 1.e4, the Accelerated Dragon, and the Benko Gambit for Black!
2nd – I learned that overcoming my rating plateau required big changes.
3rd – I learned that smart, honest, and objective analysis is needed if you want to raise your rating – even if it can hurt your ego in the short-term.
4th – I learned it’s all about the decision! I made the decision to get 3.000, and I made the decision to finally have a strong opening repertoire.
I could have made the same decision earlier. But at least I did it now.
I don’t regret that I didn’t do it before. I don’t like to regret.
But what I can tell you now, is that I’m very happy that finally, I made the decision!
5th - I learned not to be afraid of getting outside of my comfort zone. And not to worry if the results went down. It’s just temporary and part of the progress.
6th - I learned I can achieve anything! I just need to make a decision and a commitment.
I hope this article will help you with taking the necessary steps in order to further improve your chess skills and achieve your goals.
With best wishes,
P.S. What’s next?
Am I going to stop here at 3.000? Of course not! But I’m going to enjoy it first
Then I believe I can go much further, because even today, I don’t remember some of our openings very well.
Imagine what kind of troublesome guy I’m going to become for my opponents once I remember even 90% of the moves!
Also, raising your online rating is just an indicator that you’re improving.
I can’t wait to play chess with real pieces, with a real clock, seeing my opponent’s faces and their reaction when GM Gabuzyan plays now not only 1.Nf3 but he takes his hand and touches the e2 pawn on the 1st move.
Can I get 2.650 OTB?
It’s my next goal, and hopefully, another article is on its way
P.P.S. In the forum link, I’m attaching the best games I have played during my journey, including against many top Grandmasters who were testing ChessMood openings.
You can also share your thoughts there too.
And yes, Avetik was right.
I could never believe how strong and practical the ChessMood openings are until I saw it with my own eyes…
You should try it!