A. J. Windless is ranked #24 in the 15-minute pool on ICC
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Playing the Best Chess of My Life as a Senior (Page 4 of 4)
I am currently working on what might become front page chess news. I think the oldest person to become a master was 71. It might take me that long to become an official "over the board" master, but things are going very well right now. For the first time in 15 years I have risen above the 2000 mark on the Internet Chess Club. My friend who has conducted tournaments and started chess clubs for the last 40 years says that ICC ratings are about 200 points lower than the ratings of the U.S. Chess Federation. To become a U.S. master you need a rating of 2200, so he feels I may be playing at master level right now.

I already had a rating of 2115 on ICC way back in the year 2002, so what has gotten me so far off  track? On the previous page I mentioned some of the factors that make ratings more difficult today, but I feel that the biggest obstacle was that for more than 10 years I was addicted to 5 minute chess. I never played longer games and I never did any study at all. At the end of every game I would immediately start another game, not even taking the time to look at my losing move, not giving my brain any time to process it, or to store it into long term memory. The whole experience immediately got replaced and crowded out with a new game. At the end of several games I could not tell you anything about the earlier games. But the worse part is that I was developing bad habits. Because of the time pressure I was learning to jump to quick conclusions, to make quick assumptions that might be erroneous, and to attack impulsively without substance.

About 5 years ago I started playing 15 minute chess again. I climbed rather quickly to a rating of 1970, but then immediately started falling. Even though I had returned to longer games and studying, I still spent a lot of time in the 1700's and occasionally got as low as the 1600's. Over the last 20 years my rating will climb high once in a while (usually after a month away from chess) but then I would immediately tumble 200 or 300 points lower.

This past year I have been taking a closer look at myself trying to understand what it is that is keeping me down. I have  lamented to my friends that I seem to be frequently "gift wrapping" my pieces, that is making a move that is so bad that even a 1100 player might not make such a move. Because I am getting older I worried that maybe Alzheimer's or dementia might be setting in, or that I might have diabetes or some other underlying medical problem. But I researched each of these diseases, and I didn't seem to display the predominant symptoms that are characteristic of these maladies. My mental problems seemed to be confined to the chess board.

Then over the last month or two I made an important discovery. Going back and looking at my games, and especially at those instances where I seemed to "gift wrap" a piece to my opponent, I found that I only used one to five seconds for those moves. In fact, I noticed that frequently I only used 5 minutes for the entire game. I understood very well that in a 15 minute game I should use about 15 to 20 seconds per move. I had even posted a video about how to pace yourself against a chess clock, but all those years of playing only 5 minute chess had ingrained some very bad habits into my game. I am assuming that's why I always played so well after a month off. I usually felt rusty so I would concentrate and use my time, but after playing for a while and watching my rating climb I would get confident and start falling into my old speed game habits again.

That was one of the biggest problems I needed to resolve, but there were others. Over the past 9 months or so I have also discovered that age and fatigue can be a factor for me. I usually play real well for 3 days, but on the 4th day I lose about the same number of games as I win. If I continue to play beyond that without a break my level of play continues to get worse. My current strategy is that after three consecutive days I should take one day off. That seems to bring more consistency to my game. So watch the chess news (lots of laughs) maybe one day I will become the oldest person to officially become a master. I haven't played in a tournament in over 20 years, my USCF rating is only 1637, and I am not even living in the U.S., so it just might take me until I am 71 years old to get my USCF rating up to 2200!  smiley

(Above picture: I am currently rated 2014 on ICC. Of the 761 players who play in the 15 minute pool, which includes masters and grandmasters, I am ranked #24, which puts me at about the top 3%. You will notice on the first page of my chess story I am in the top 1 per 1000 on "chess.com". Why am I so much higher on one website than the other? It costs about $70 a year to play on ICC whereas people can play for free on "chess.com". The result is that I face a more serious sampling of chess players on ICC.)
(July 12, 2022  This page and the first page of this story have been updated to reflect my rating increase from 2012 to 2046, as well as my percentile improvement.)
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