Adult Improver or Adult Enjoyer?

Ben Johnson
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Ben Johnson: the face of the voice of adult improvement (courtesy of the subject)

Adult improver. This phrase was largely unknown until the past few years. The first time I heard it was on Ben Johnson’s “Perpetual Chess” podcast. It’s since become rather ubiquitous. You hear it on podcasts, read it on Twitter in discussions amongst the #ChessPunks, and it comes up in casual conversations at the chess club.



Indeed, over the past half-decade, Ben Johnson has chronicled over three dozen interviews with adults of all ages and skill levels. While the inspiring point he has made is that we all can become adult improvers, there is a less alluring phrase that I believe should be getting attention as well: adult enjoyer.

The definition of an adult improver seems straightforward: an adult working to improve at chess. The definition of adult enjoyer seems a bit more amorphous. Is this someone who enjoys playing chess? Watching chess? Studying chess? All of those? Turns out that it depends on the person.


thanksgiving open
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Was the 2022 Thanksgiving Open for adult improvers or enjoyers? Ask them after the game (courtesy SLCC)


There are some players I see every week at the chess club for their weekly US Chess rated game. They never seem to study, or even analyze their own games. They don’t seem to care about such things. They enjoy playing for its own sake, and for them that’s enough.

Other players I know love to study chess. They don’t really care about their rating, they just love the process of studying and learning. They’re not results-oriented, rather choosing just to embrace the journey of learning while not worrying about any practical application.

Still others I know choose to watch high level chess tournaments and don’t play much serious chess any longer. Certainly, they aren’t spending their time studying. For them, watching chess is a reminder of a time when they were competing and working to improve.


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Some adult enjoyers prefer watching top level chess to working on their own game (courtesy SLCC)


My own journey has taught me that it’s possible to move from the world of improver to that of enjoyer and back again. Along the way I’ve learned that there is no limit to the number of times that a person can switch between the two camps.

Currently I’m in the enjoyer phase. Right now, for various reasons — some family, some career, and some personal — I find myself not having the time to be truly obsessed with chess like an improver must be to maximize the chance for improvement. Caissa is a demanding mistress, and it’s hard to improve past a certain point without near total commitment. Some may argue with me here, but in my life, these are just the facts as I have observed them.

This doesn’t mean that I’m not still taking many of the same steps that I do when I’m on the improvement path. I still take occasional lessons from my coach, GM Elshan Moradiabadi. I still solve puzzles each day and enjoy playing through annotated games as time allows. It just means that when I do those things, I am not as concerned with any particular outcome related to the effort I put in.

One interesting side effect that has resulted from this switch in perspective is that I have been maintaining my level with relative ease. I started 2022 rated 1714, and I’m leaving it rated 1787. This is still well below my peak rating, so nothing about this increase is something that I consider to be improvement. Nevertheless, as I have joked several times with Elshan, somehow not obsessing about my results has helped me play rather consistently.


human chess
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Some adult enjoyers prefer unorthodox approaches to over-the-board play (courtesy SLCC)


In 40 rated games in 2022, my record stands at 18 wins, 14 draws, and eight losses. The lowest rated player I lost to was 1761. It’s not that I didn’t care about my results, but rather that they weren’t the be-all and end-all of my focus. When I played, I played to win. I worked just as hard at the board as an enjoyer as I ever did as an improver. It’s what I did, or rather didn’t do, between games that defined me as one rather than the other.


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The author's ratings graph may tell the story of improvement, but less-so the enjoyment.


I didn’t spend hours each week working on openings or working through positions. I didn’t play through dozens of annotated games each month. Sure, at times I did some of those things, but not consistently. Instead, when I was looking at chess, it was more of an activity I was doing for the love of the game instead of work that I was doing to get better.

Are my days as an adult improver finished? I don’t know for sure, but I tend to think not. After all, I won’t always have the same level of work and business commitments that I do now. There will come a time in which I will have the ability to play more than I do now. The realist in my understands that I’ll be 50 in a little less than six months, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that improvement will be impossible. Will I ever become an IM or GM? Certainly not. But those weren’t goals for me anyhow. Can I become a national master? I still think that this is possible, but that it will involve a lot of sacrifice.

This is something that I think gets lost in the shuffle of improvement discussion. Can an adult improve? This discussion has answers that run the gamut. Most seem to think that either it simply can’t be done or that it unquestionably can be done, but few seem to discuss what sacrifices it takes to try in the first place. To me that’s the only real question. Can I improve? Perhaps. Would I have to give up quality time with my family or time to pursue other business or personal interests? Definitely yes.




Chris, thank you for this much-needed reminder to all of us out there who have (involuntarily?) fluctuated between the two personas in the title of this article, that it is okay to be an enjoyer.
As an author and coach, I do worry about my rating too much. I imagine that some people look it up when deciding if they want to buy my books or hire me to coach their child. But, I wish I did not have to think about it.
Maybe we need a new series of tournaments in which players can get a "fun rating" which differs from the regular rating. I say this in half-jest. But only half!
I plan to play in a tournament in September. That's how far away I have to plan. I will have a flexible month leading up to it, and that's what it might take to get this 56 year-old ready to face the young sharks (and the adult improvers!) out there.
Nice job, Chris!

Thanks, Jay!

It’s funny because with all of the coaching, directing, and organizing that I do - which is a lot - I still consider myself a player first.

Dvoretsky was right. Coaches need to play too. Otherwise the tendency is to wind up too far removed from the game.

Nice piece. Enjoyed it. I'm an 86 year old (soon to be 87) and I am a chess enjoyer. I played seriously in the 1970's, reaching a rating of a bit over 2,000. I would really like to get back to playing serious chess, but the present time control (60 +10) is way too fast for me. It really doesn't give me time to really study a position. 90 minutes for the first 40 moves seemed reasonable.
Speed is for the young, and the present time controls give them an edge. Memorizing openings would help, but old people also don't have such good memories. I won a local tournament last week 5-0 and picked up all of 9 points! But even with all my complaints, after 75 years of playing, I still enjoy the game and look forward to improving. :-)

To the entire US Chess mighty crew....Publishing this nifty article proves you get it. Millions of chessplayers are out there , on the move...The entire very curious indeedie chess world is also beginning to move delightfully toward a totally uncensored wonderful US CHESS media operation... Gee whiz...I wonder how this fairy dust wonder tale has happened ? I will tell you why...US CHESS has the greatest chess editor of all time. THAT HARTMANN GUY. No censorship, let it rock. OH WAIT...who was that other gentleman who said it all?...why it's the little
Hans chess bad boy , certifed REAL DEAL 2700 elo plus FIDE
chess grandmaster in latest rankings...who called it. " The chess speaks for itself. " Chess will tell you why it is wondrous.
Jude Acers/ New Orleans

I am a simple enjoyer. When, ages ago, the faster time controls + my interest in directing/organizing + my rulebook duties all kicked in - my rating took a nosedive. That was soon followed by my chess playing ability also going downhill. Still, going over a game of chess is one of my pleasures.

I consider myself an adult improver and an adult enjoyer. I have used numerous tools to improve my game. I like Pandolfini's monthly column. I use Chessable to work on Openings, end games, and tactics. I use LiChess and too. If you look at my rating over the last 25 years, you will see about 100 point improvements each decade. I went from 1550 in to the 1600's... Then I finally made it to the 1700's and finally the 1800's. I peaked at 1893 last summer after a great US Sr Open Tournament. I am retiring from regular tournaments since rating is important to me. I plan to still play QC events. I love learning and understanding the game.

I define myself as "Senior Chess Improver". Breaking through the 2000 Elo rating in USCF within a short time frame is a testament to senior chess skills and the ability to improve. Notably, my participation in the Electronic Knights 2021 semi-finals showcases my adaptability to the modern chess landscape. I ventured into the ICCF Veterans World Cup semi-finals, demonstrating that age is no barrier to achieving success. And I'm close to get my second norm, hopefully winning my first title ever. However, I don't like the online hype and buzz and also I question -after testing a while - Chessable. Maybe because in my age 65+ I'm old school, but nothing is better than a book and ChessBase (or comparable software). And yes, US CHESS still printed edition. What a fine magazine! Great editors! Great articles to learn from. Onwards!

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