Keep Hammering Away

When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.

-Jacob Riis

Do you sometimes get frustrated about your chess progress? Unless you are not human, most likely you have. This is natural, especially with an endeavor like chess improvement, because chess is not easy! However, the challenge of improvement and mastery keeps us going. In today’s article, I’d like to discuss how to stay patient with your chess journey and encourage you to take the “long cut” to chess mastery.

Pounding the Rock

It’s important to remember that even though it doesn’t seem like it, you are gradually making progress – assuming you are training and studying sufficiently.

For example, let’s say a player makes four big blunders a game. Let’s also imagine that these blunders on average lose at least a piece, which should be sufficient to lose in most cases against stronger competition.

After studying and practicing his tactics, our friend reduces his hypothetical blunder rate to two per game. He’s reduced her blunder rate in half, which is incredible improvement. However, because each of these blunders are game losing moves, his rating remains the same.

Eventually, as he continues to progress, eventually all of the habits, knowledge, and experience will combine into more wins.

Stick with the Process

Although we all have our aspirations of winning the big tournament, or moving up a ratings class, or eventually becoming a titled player, we should realize that it is the daily and weekly work done consistently over years that will get us to our higher goals.

In his article Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead.,  self-improvement writer James Clear encourages us not to focus on the long-term “outcome goals” but instead to focus on the system to get there.

For example, instead of focusing on becoming awesome at endgame play, you would focus on studying endgames for an hour twice a week. By focusing on your schedule and sticking to it, you will definitely improve your endgame play over time. Sometimes, focusing on the long-term goal can be motivating, but sometimes it can also be disheartening if we focus on it too much. instead, but focusing on the system or process we set up to get there, we will make continual and consistent progress.

The Long Cut

People love shortcuts. It is the reason that books and articles with titles such as Rapid Chess Improvement and Improve Your Chess, Fast! are popular. However, we all know in our hearts that mastery of something as complex as chess is going to take years, if not longer.

Instead, I propose you take the long cut towards chess improvement. What is the long cut? For chess, it is building up your knowledge and skill over time. The process can be optimized and improved of course. Reading good books, working with qualified coaches, and playing tough competition will help you improve over time. Doing so systematically and thoughtfully will do so more efficiently.

This is where working with a coach and learning from the experience of others can be very helpful. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to studying chess. A systematic program such as GM Nigel Davies’ Tiger Chess program provides a comprehensive solution to studying chess strategy. Combining such a program with study of your own games and tactical training can help you cut down on seeking out your own materials. Of course, sometimes plotting your own course can be part of the fun. The choice is yours!


Ratings eventually follows chess strength, although sometimes not instantaneously or even gradually. The climb could be a general upward slope with many jagged peaks and valleys. Sometimes, it looks like a plateau with a sudden jump.

Don’t be fooled though, sudden increases in rating result from a longer period of much consistent study and training. This takes perseverance and determination.

Embrace the long cut and keep hammering away.

Bryan Castro

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About Bryan Castro

Bryan Castro is a businessman and writer from Buffalo, NY. When he's not spending time with his family or working, he can be found playing chess or practicing martial arts. He combines his interests of personal development and chess on his site Better Chess Training (