Loathing The Plateau

The book ‘Mastery’ by George Leonard talks about ‘loving the plateau’. His idea is that improvement in a particular sphere comes in sudden moves forward within extended periods in which we stay at the same level. So by ‘loving the plateau’ we are motivated to continue practicing despite an apparent lack of progress.

I think there’s something to be said for this but with one rather large caveat. Plateaus are often brought about by poor or ineffective practice, in which case loathing the plateau would be a rather better idea. Dissatisfaction can be a great stimulus to change and growth.

What sort of change should one look for? The default answer seems to be to change openings, but this usually proves to be a never ending search for a magic bullet that never works. Opening choices usually have little effect on a player’s progress unless they’re accompanied by a growth in their understanding.

A much better idea is to perform a kind of inventory, taking stock of where things went well or badly. I’ve performed this kind of study on myself, most notably in the early 1990s, but had considerable input from a super strong GM in the form of Lev Psakhis. Guidance from a strong(er) player can can be invaluable as on our own we can often lack objectivity, knowledge or both.

The results of my own inventory were that I switched to more classical openings and started working on the endgame. The results were also very good, I went from being a goodish IM (in the mid to high 2400s) to GM level, in the lower to mid 2500s. It cost me a lot of work but it was well worth it, both from a career perspective and in terms of personal satisfaction.

Here’s one of my games from this period, a win over the Hungarian GM, Peter Lukacs. What was particularly unusual about this game was that I managed to outplay my opponent in the opening, something that would previously have been unheard of. His 8…Be7 was very unusual at the time, but I had already examined this line at home and found something strong for White:

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About NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in Southport in the UK. The winner of 15 international tournaments he is also a former British U21 and British Open Quickplay Champion and has represented both England and Wales on several occasions. These days he teaches chess through his chess training web site, Tiger Chess, which has articles, recommendations, a monthly clinic, videos and courses. His students include his 14 year old son Sam who is making rapid progress with his game.