Chess Challenge 2024

One of my strongest childhood memories is the first time I saw a game on this magical machine called personal computer in the early 90s. The game was called Battle Chess and at the time, I knew nothing about chess except how the pieces moved and that you had to “make the king run out of places to hide”. My eight year old self was fascinated that you could play games against a computer and it could actually beat you. I also loved the quirky animations when pieces were captured. I spend hours trying to get all captures done so I could see different animations. Pawn takes knight was just the greatest thing for a small boy to laugh about. I also loved moving the rook around because of the animations and to this day, sometimes I say “rook eats queen”. And while I think that this magical encounter with Battle Chess was the moment that lead to my interest in computers and later artificial intelligence, I quickly moved on to other games. But there was a small spark because over the years I have always been sort of interested in chess without putting any serious effort into it. I played against friends occasionally but that was it. Every now and then I even tried to get good at the game but it was mostly an intellectual endeavor as I simply didn’t play many games. I own a couple of chess books and tried to understand openings about five years ago but that’s about it.

This January I was running out of podcasts to listen to during my commute and for some reason I searched for “chess podcasts” and found the Perpetual Chess podcast. I scrolled through the episodes and the first one I listened to was episode #366 “GM Raven Sturt” because I found the idea of a largely self taught GM fascinating. I loved the episode and searched for Raven’s Youtube channel. During my next long train ride, I watched some of the videos where he tries to coach his editor Kevin up the rankings until 2200 on I though to myself…interesting, maybe I can try to do that (minus the GM coach). So let’s finally try to get good at chess. Alas, I have a job and other obligations in life so I’ll only be able to practice for 1-2h per day on average.

2200 – Can it be done?

Since the target for Kevin was 2200 I started there. So down the rabbit hole I went. I gave myself roughly a week to research about chess, relearn some basics and gather information. I started with a couple of questions:

  • Is 2200 a realistic goal and if not, what is (and why this number 2200)?
  • How fast can someone over 40 like myself even improve, are there limits?
  • Have people done this before?
  • How could I go about this?

The first thing I did was research a bit what sites there are to play on and what these ratings mean. It seems the two big options are and I even remembered that I have a lichess account (with four rated games!). However ratings don’t seem to be comparable and lichess is quite inflated. So to keep things simple, I’ll play on I don’t want to play super fast games but also don’t think I’ll have the time to play longer games so I’ll try rapid.

After settling on a site and time control to play, I simply checked ratings on the leaderboard. As of this writing, If you’d be rated 2200 for rapid on you’d already be #2793 in the world. If you only look at one country, you’d be #398 in the U.S. for example. In Germany you’d be #114, France #105, India #181 and in Norway, home of the best player in the world, you’d be #17. According to this reddit post about percentiles from April 2023:

  • 2200 means you are better than 99.93% of players
  • 1800 means you are still better than 99% of players
  • 1200 means you are roughly better than 90% of players
  • 1000 means your are roughly better than 80% of players

I also started to build a list of resources and interesting Youtube channels and there’s a pretty interesting Chess Dojo discussion if Neal Bruce can get to 2200. They make a good point saying that it basically means you’re a 1 in 100 type of person if you reach this goal and few people would even try to be better than 99 other people at a gym for example. Sobering but realistic summary. However there are also more positive examples.

My takeaway is that 2200 is a lofty and likely very unrealistic goal. I also figured out that people choose this number because it is the requirement for the Candidate Master title in tournament chess (OTB FIDE rating which is even higher than rating). 2000 is a very ambitious goal and even 1800 seems hard. And while it’s nice to have some targets it’s probably better to focus on the actual improvement and not some number. I also checked what ELO people that play competitions in Germany have in case I ever want to compete.

Setting targets

As I still want to have some potential milestones, I made this list:

  • 801 – It seems starts you at 800. Any improvement is a step into the right direction.
  • 1000 – Four digits, pretty cool. Better than 80% of the player pool already. Should be achievable.
  • 1500 – Five hundred points more. Probably very hard to reach, maybe I should set smaller steps…this seems like a level I’d be quite happy to reach.
  • 1800 – Better than 99% of players, OTB this seems to be the “entry level” for league play.
  • 2000 – What a nice and round number. Unlikely. Would be “top 8 team player” for lower level leagues.
  • 2200 – If OTB this means CM title is possible. Also seems to be a rating that would allow playing for the state level senior titles in Germany.
  • 2222 – A nice number and just enough to be top 100 in my country (currently 2218).

So what targets do I pick at the end of the day? I’ll shoot for the 1500 range as an intermediate target (2 years) and see if 2000 is possible in 10 years when I am allowed to play senior events 😀

What I know about chess and training

My current simplified understanding of chess on a higher level is the following:

  • There’s three phases: opening, middle game, endgame
  • There’s a fine balance between tactics and strategy
  • You either win with a fierce attack and mating or by gathering up small strategic advantages and converting them in the endgame

My basic understanding of training priorities is that at the lower levels, tactics trump everything. Not blundering pieces and finding simple tactics should be the highest priority. It’s also commonly recommended not to overdo openings and focus on fundamentals and study endgames a bit but also not too much. One common recommendation, which I first read about in Perpetual Chess Improvement, is to split training into one third tactics, one third games+analyze and one third other things (opening, endgames etc.). I’ve also read a bit about the Woodpecker Method which seems to be a good starting point for tactics.

How others train


  • Play long time controls (30, 15+10)
  • Keep a live journal while playing (Word document) noting stuff for yourself and villain
  • Annotate games, ideally with friend or coach (at least critical mistakes and missed tactics)
  • Practice tactics: 1h or so per day (recommends aimchess)
  • Calculate entire line before moving pieces
  • Pick opening rep and play it well, become familiar with the ideas, look at master games
    • What plans typically occur (structures, struggle over certain squares)
  • Work on your endgames (she did around 1800+)
    • She recommends 100 Endgames You Must Know (also on chessable)
  • Study master games (she recommends Morphy games)
  • Book recommendations
    • Yasser Seirewan: “Winning Tactics”
    • Jesus de la Villa: “100 Endgames You must Know”
    • Nick de Firmian: “Modern Chess Openings” (no necessarily recommended but she used it), Opening Explorer on
  • Content creators recommended:


  • Puzzle Rush to warm up, can’t play a game until 3×30 in 3 min PR (before 1h/day until comfortable)
  • 1 Rapid game (anything >10 minutes is not part of the study time)
  • Analyze game afterwards
  • Openings → Check the game just played to make sure you’re playing the opening optimally
  • Calculation over physical board (for tourney go over openings), timer 5 minutes to 30 minutes, position from books

Chess Dojo

  • Principles
    • Long games & analyze
    • Training plans for accountability
    • +/- principle
  • Publish your analysis (a la Botvinik)
  • Under 1000, play faster games to learn not to hang pieces
  • Universal Training Plan (500-1500)
    • Going over your games (review and annotate 50 classical speed games that you have played
      • Tools: Lichess studies, Chessbase, library
      • Coach is good for this but can be done without
    • Polgar mate in 1s
    • Puzzle Rush score of 5
    • Mate with queen 3x in a row
    • Play vs. peers
    • Memorize Morphy vs. Duke Karl
    • Opening principles video

Perpetual Chess Improvement

  • Play and analyze (meaningful / tournament games) → most important
  • Calculation and pattern recognition
  • Community (coaches, friends, mentors)

What I have done in week 1

  • Decided on openings from books I already own, practice main lines a bit. Sources:
  • Practiced against bots all the way up until Antonio
  • Tactics training every day with Chess King app (beginner) and bedside reading of Polgar book (50 mate in 1s each night)
  • Watched some Youtube videos on different topics to get a feel

The plan

I’ll try to go for two hours of practice each day to to start and roughly follow the previously mentioned 1/3rds approach.

  • 30 minutes tactics in the Chess Kings Beginner app until all exercises are completed -> repeat when done (woodpecker)
  • One rated rapid game each day (~10 minutes), warm up with puzzle storm on lichess before playing (~10 minutes)
  • Analysis of said game (~30 minutes)
  • Blog post (~10 minutes)
  • Misc studies for 30 minutes (openings, basic endgames)

I’ll do that for one week, reassess and go from there.