I’m happy to report I’ve dropped 135 rating points in the past 10 days. If you’re unfamiliar with what this means, this is the equivalent of a 17 game losing streak. Starting at a rating of 2210, I declined steadily to 2075, where I was roughly 2 months ago.
This stretch was 93 total games. Imagine playing 93 games of anything and getting progressively worse every day you play.
Fortunately or unfortunately, this is a pretty common occurrence. Here is my entire blitz chess rating history ever since I created my account on chess.com in 2012. Look at the big dip and rise in 2015 just as another example.
If you are unfamiliar with what blitz chess is, its a fast paced variant of chess. Each side typically gets 5 minutes to make all the moves they will ever make in the entire game. Each turn, you clock loses time until you make a move; then your clock pauses and your opponent’s clock loses time.
These games are shockingly addictive. They can last anywhere from a few seconds to 10 minutes. Quick enough to play many games in a single sitting but also long enough to put some thought into each move. You can remarkably always find thousands of other players online, and the fast feedback cycling paired with the lure of increasing my rating has led to many late nights. I’ve personally played more than 10,000 of them.
Chess is interesting because when someone is better than you, it is immediately clear why and how. There are very few competitive advantages one can score outside of frequent study and play. Being a single player game, there really is no one else to take responsibility for your performance other than yourself.
I’ve used playing often as a headspace check, a sort of meditation. With experience and practice, games are often an exercise of pattern recognition. Positions are straightforwards enough that you really only have to do deep thinking at a few key points, allowing your mind to wander most of the game. Based on how I’m playing on a certain day, I instantly know if I’m tired, or if I’m stressed, and also when I’m having a fantastic day.
Chess also builds mental strength and toughness. When you’re on a losing streak, you have to know how to stop the bleeding. You need to be able to diagnose and correct mistakes without taking up too much time. A winning advantage can quickly transition to a loss with just one critical mistake so players need to operate with precision on every move while still keeping a long term strategic vision and plan.
I’ve probably spent too much time on what is ultimately just leisure. Thousands of hours have been spent on chess youtube (ChessNetwork, Chessexplained, ChessBrah, and St. Louis Chess Club), hundreds of dollars have been spent on chess books, and whole weekends dedicated to over the board tournaments. This Saturday, I’m competing in another tournament to eventually one day hopefully reach master status. Chess is universally accessible, a tremendous exercise in developing mental clarity, and to me at least, very fun. I’d highly recommend starting up this new hobby in the new decade.