How a Math Professor Broke the Plateau and Crossed 2000 Rating

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How a Math Professor Broke the Plateau and Crossed 2000 Rating

Do you have goals you've wanted to achieve but never found the time to pursue? This story will inspire you to think differently about them!

Success Story | 5 min read
How a Math Professor Broke the Plateau and Crossed 2000 Rating

Picture this: You're a busy math professor, married, with two kids, and you haven't played chess in 25 years. Do you think you can still succeed?

Many would give up. But not 48-year-old Angelo Sifaleras from Greece. He saw things differently.

After such a long break, he returned to chess and managed to break the daunting 2,000 rating barrier.

Given his busy life, what Angelo did in order to achieve it can help a lot of players, but it's not for the faint-hearted!

In this article, I'll share the secrets of his success.

Big dream - small chances

Angelo started chess around age 10 and quit at about 20 after playing in a local club.

After 25 years, he saw a tournament for professors and decided to give it a try.

"Chess is a virus you can never eliminate from your heart," Angelo laughs. 😀☠️

With a rating of around 1,600, Angelo dreamed of crossing the 2,000 barrier.

But on top of a very busy lifestyle, he also faced other challenges when reviving his chess career.

Challenges on the way

With work and family, it was tough for Angelo to play a lot of over-the-board (OTB) games, so he mostly played on Lichess. He regained his 1,600 rating but faced several problems on the way to his goal.

"When I was younger, I always played long OTB games. Switching to quick online games was super tough and unusual."

After such a long break, Angelo forgot many of his past skills and felt a lack of knowledge.

So he decided to train and improve, but he had two big difficulties:

A huge lack of time and not knowing how to improve.

Crafting the training habits

After some research, Angelo became our student. On top of our offered study plans, during the 1-1 call with a GM, he got his personalized study plan. Now he needed to find the time to train and organize his playing sessions.

Since it’s required to be at your peak focus while playing, Angelo dedicated his few free hours during the week to playing in his private room.

He used any other free moments, even 5-10 minutes, to watch videos on his mobile phone. Sometimes, he even watched videos while holding the kid on the sofa.

It sounds tough, but if you're committed to your goals, you'll use any opportunity.

Out of comfort zone

After returning to chess, Angelo faced opening repertoire issues. In the past, he played rare lines of 1.d4.

He was never a 1.e4 player, but he wanted to play more active and interesting positions. So, he decided to step out of his comfort zone and learn a new opening.

“At first, I was obviously scared. So I proceeded little by little until I became familiar with the 1.e4 repertoire.”

As often happens, learning a new opening was difficult at the beginning and Angelo felt inexperienced. But his commitment played a crucial role.

Angelo followed the 4-step advice on how to memorize opening variations shared by GM Avetik.

The 4 steps he followed were:

  1. Study with 107% attention
  2. Create your files on the opening 
  3. Lots of practice
  4. Fixing the mistakes

Following these steps helped him over time to feel much more comfortable when playing 1.e4!

Disciplined effort

In addition to crafting training habits and stepping out of his comfort zone, discipline was crucial for Angelo.

He regularly trained tactics, which is essential at the U2,000 level since players often miss tactical opportunities.

To optimally spend his available time, he used short windows during the day to watch training videos and dedicated his best hours to playing.

And there is another thing Angelo constantly does that impressed me more than anything.


Twice a week, I am doing private interactive lessons for PRO Members.
Angelo always attends them — I turn on the meeting, and he is there!

Once, he even joined the lesson from nature with a can of beer in his hand!

This level of commitment always makes me admire and respect Angelo's discipline!

One of the things we do differently at ChessMood is, besides the courses (giving theoretical knowledge), during live events, we often play our openings against different levels (giving practical knowledge).

So our students see how their theoretical knowledge can be applied in practice and they understand their openings much deeper.
His ultra-attendance to our events, in my opinion, was another huge part of Angelo’s success.

He constantly grew his rating and reached a rating of 1,900!

Crossing that barrier was fantastic! The effort paid off, and it was a super-exciting moment.

 You reap what you sow

However, growing above 1,900 became tough for another reason.
Since being not very used to quick time controls, often even in super-winning positions, Angelo kept getting flagged and couldn’t climb higher.
The feeling that he might never make it above 2,000 was tough, almost making him give up on his dream.

However, the solution was much easier than he could ever imagine.

The cherry on the cake helped to break the plateau

To accelerate his growth, Angelo also wanted to find the right coach, so we connected him with one of our trusted coaches, International Master David Shahinyan.

David Shahinyan, Angelo's coach and barbecue GM of ChessMood
2491 peak elo, and our “Barbecue Grandmaster” – IM Shahinyan

David shared a simple piece of advice with him that changed everything!

"I don't understand how I never thought seriously about that," he says.

The recommendation was: just play with increment!

After the first week of trying this advice, Angelo reached out to his coach in an overexcited mood and said he won every single game he played.

With this approach, he eventually crossed the 2,000 barrier!

Angelo Sifaleras lichess rating chart
Angelo’s rating graph

It’s super important to find the best time controls suiting you
You also need to have well-organized playing sessions.

By choosing the right time control and the correct number of games, you will extract maximum value from your online training sessions.

Takeaways that can help you

When you fight a battle for your dream for a long period, the unlimited flow of happiness fulfills your heart.
That’s what Angelo felt when he crossed the so-much-desired 2,000 rating plateau.

Let’s summarise the keys to his success.

1. Knowing how to train with a study plan - instead of learning random ideas

2. Ability to get out of comfort zone - learning new openings and finding ways to train every available minute

3. Commitment and disciplined effort - training hard for a long period

Thanks for reading! GM Gabuzyan was here with you, and if you are a ChessMood student, I'll be waiting to highlight your success in another article.


P. S. I’ve interviewed Angelo and started writing his story a month ago. 
Today he made my day when I learned he hadn’t stopped there and had crossed 2,100, too!

You can share your congratulatory messages with Angelo under this forum thread.

P. P. S. If you are not our student yet, I have 3 gifts for you.

1. Opening Principles - The fundamentals and beyond in detail

Opening Principles

2. GM Avetik’s 10 best games

GM Avetik best games

3. My 10 best games

GM Gabuzyan best games

You can watch all three courses for free, by creating a free account here.
(Takes a few seconds)

Originally published Jul 03, 2024

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