2 min read

Reps Counterpoint

Reps Counterpoint

Last week I wrote about how the internet allows us to get an order of magnitude more reps when practicing a skill, and how those extra reps help folks get better faster.

However, doing a thing a lot doesn't guarantee you'll get better at it. If you want evidence of this, look at my lichess rating.

Over the last five years, I've played 1,900 blitz games, and 1,700 bullet games. 3,600 games of chess. And yet, my rating has remained remarkably flat.

Blitz games are fast: each player gets either 3 or 5 minutes on the clock to start. Bullet games are faster: each player gets 2 minutes or less. Blitz and bullet are the most exciting way to play chess. It's a race against the clock and there are wild swings because people make time-induced blunders.

80% of my chess games are played when I'm in one of two states: procrastinating, or on the toilet. As much as I'd like to believe that the experience of playing 3,600 games has made me a better player, my lichess rating tells me that notion is objectively false.

I play chess. I do not study it.

My friend Mel is an 82 year old software developer who is also very good at chess. Here's a picture of him at the Twilio office in Feb 2020.

It's entirely possible that Mel has played less than 3,600 games of chess in his life. And yet, every time we play, he kicks my ass. I told him once I mostly play blitz games. He told me, "You'll never get better playing blitz." Mel grew up playing slow chess. Deliberate chess. Considered chess. Mel got better.

There are a few noticeable spots of hill climbing in my rating chart. Those were stretches where I strung together a few weeks of getting intentional about improvement. I'd play a game and wouldn't allow myself to move onto the next until I ran the computer analysis and critically reflected on my mistakes. I'd watch YouTube instructionals, take notes, and drill what I learned. I'd do exercises to improve my board vision and tactics. I'd play 10+ minute games and take my time.

But all that shit is hard, and not nearly as much fun as slinging pieces and trying to score a middlegame mate.