Hi CoolchessGM! I have a rating of 1356, and have stagnated in terms of rating improvements for quite some time. I am aged 32 and I have always played chess occasionally (until now) and solving tactics puzzles here and there, but I’ve never done any professional studying. I was wondering what the most effective way of improving my rating to 1800+ would be. If there are any pointers in this regard, I would appreciate it. Book recommendations would also be great. I’m mostly looking for a discussion about what exercises maximize your return on rating– opening, tactics, positional understanding, end games, analyzing grand-master games, analyzing your own games, etc.
ANS: The reason players reach a performance stagnation aka plateau has to do with the fact that they are no longer pushing themselves. Gaining 400 points in a single year is not a reasonable goal for an adult playing at 1300. To do this, you will need to be having a PR of approximately +50 elo against the stronger guys. That said, if you are going to try it, the first step is to get an instructor.
Your instructor will be able to identify the weakest parts of your game and help you shore those up. If you do not or cannot hire one you will be wasting your precious time chasing the inconsequential. There are many things that you must NOT learn (yes I know that is strange) at a given rating range and things that you MUST learn and drill down into the subconscious mind that it would be impossible to list out without a coach.
In case there is no one available near your place then the next best alternative is to seek one online. I will be writing about the hallmarks of a good coach and how you should be choosing one in a later article, so watch this page or better still bookmark it for reference.
As far as books are concerned, I can only say that you need to look or solve any puzzles that deal with the simple to moderately hard tactics. Opening books are a complete no-no. So are all the Endgame books for reasons that will be explained later. I will list out some good books as per the rating ranges and it would do well to stick to that syllabus for some time. Also, do look at my previous articles and contact me if you have any further questions.