Every day, I receive dozens (and sometimes in the hundreds) of questions from players, parents, and even coaches asking for chess improvement advice. Obviously it is impossible for me to answer all the questions. However, sometimes when I run into really good questions, I will address my answers in various posts so everyone can benefit from it.

Question (from a German IM): Can you explain the transition from IMs to GMs? What is needed to make this move to GM?

This is a very good question and it is very often asked. I will address it more broadly as the process is the same to go from a club player to master, master to FIDE master, FIDE master to IM, IM to GM, and even GM to super GM and World Champion.

The reason why SPICE (Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence) is one of the most successful chess programs in history is the process we use. Unlike many others, I do not have a one size fits all training method for more serious players. There is no such thing as one size fits all chess ability. So why would we have the same training system for everyone at higher levels? Every player is unique like our DNAs.

When I accept a new student, there will be at least 1 one on one meeting to start out with. In that meeting, each student must give me his / her absolutely objective assessment of strengths and weaknesses. I will then offer my evaluation and the third assessment will come from the chief strategist of SPICE. It will be wonderful if all three of us will come to the same conclusion. It most cases, there will be differences. We will then discuss it and come up with a general consensus. After that, we will come up with a training program specifically for that student.

The improvement process

There is no perfect player in the world, not Magnus Carlsen, Garry Kasparov, Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, not anyone. Everyone has weaknesses. Some are just better in hiding their weaknesses.

Therefore, knowing that, one has to understand what it takes to win or draw, and not lose. Each chess game has many phases which may or may not contribute to the results we want: Opening, middlegame, endgame, tactic, mental toughness, physical fitness, nerves, and many other tangibles.

So the situation is simple. If a player is 2400, he/she is not as good as others who are 2500 or 2600 and above. This is simply a fact. The next question will be are the players objective enough to understand their true weaknesses? One of the big reasons why many do not improve is they fail to be objective about themselves, or worse, not care about it.

If you look through the chess database, you can see countless weaker players losing to stronger players in absolutely equal positions (sometimes even slightly better) because they lack something. Perhaps it is deficiencies in understanding the positions, weakness in tactic, bad nerves, bad endgame knowledge, etc. Any player can review their own games to spot these weaknesses. Then focus on fixing these problems ASAP. Study random materials or random phases of the game will help very little. Many are just so fixated with openings and they neglect all other parts of the game.

Another problem I see quite often is “CDS”, Chess Delusional Syndrome. Too many people are delusional with their chess ability. They think they are stronger than they actually are, or they think that they are training hard enough. They simply cannot be objective with their own assessment. Flattering yourself with false analysis will only make you feel good about yourself momentarily until someone kick you in the rear during a game.

“CDS” is quite common with parents and / or family members. Many of them do not like coaches who will tell them the truth. They want coaches who will tell them what they want to hear about their children. That is something we would never do at SPICE. We have to be 100% honest and objective about our assessments and advices. We are not here to please players or their families. We are here to build champions, on and off the chess board, by teaching them the right things and helping them fix their weaknesses.

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