One thing I’ve learned through my years as both a player and a coach is that outcome orientated goals (i.e. those that are rating and/or title driven) don’t work. Worse still they can lead to great frustration by those who set them for themselves.
What are the reasons for this? First of all I think that wanting a particular outcome does not provide any indication as to what it takes to get there, and chess improvement is not achieved by will power alone. There are things you need to do be good at chess and when you learn to do them better you improve.
Accordingly I much prefer a model of diagnosis (assessing a player’s strengths, weaknesses and abilities) followed by looking at how they can become a better and more complete player. If you get this right the results take care of themselves.
In the early 1990s I took inventory of my own strengths and weaknesses and, although I was a reasonably strong International Master, did not like what I saw. My choice of Flank Openings and the Modern Defence was doing me no favors as it led to a style of trying to out-think my opponents in complex positions rather than playing good chess. I would reject good moves in favor of complex ones and my endgame play was weak.
So I decided to make a switch (and a painful one at that) to more classical openings and study the endgame. And lo and behold this resulted in an improvement that put the Grandmaster title within my grasp.
The following game was one of the games which marked the way, a ‘dull’ classical opening was followed by grinding my opponent down in the endgame. And it was very unlike the kind of chess I was used to playing at that time: