Dries Buytaert

Elo 1500

Reached a chess rating of Elo 1500 on Chess.com after a long road of ups and downs.

Seventeen months after reaching an Elo rating of 1400, I finally achieved a stable rating of 1500 – a milestone that was far from easy for me. I never expected it would this long.

To be fair, I briefly reached 1500 in August 2023 but quickly fell back to 1300. In chess, progress can be slow and setbacks can be swift.

Because of my swift drop to 1300, I decided not to write about it at the time. However, I'm happy to update you on my progress today as I'm back over 1500, and it feels much more stable.

Chess as a personal mirror

Perhaps most importantly, over the past year, I've realized that chess is much more than a game – it's a reflection of my personal strengths and weaknesses. I've learned a great deal about my motivations, patience, discipline, decision-making, pressure management, strategic thinking, and learning ability.

For example, at one point, frustrated by my setbacks, I hired a chess coach. The first couple of months were fun and rapidly improved my understanding of chess. However, after three months, I was ready to quit chess. Despite hours of practice and study, my Elo rating wasn't improving. I felt stuck, began to doubt if I could ever achieve a 1500 rating, and started to think that maybe chess wasn't for me. I even questioned my own intelligence.

Feeling frustrated and disheartened, I confided in my chess coach that I was considering quitting chess. Instead of letting me give up, we developed a new training program tailored to my needs. Within three months, I achieved my highest rating ever!

Reflecting on it now, even though it was just a few months ago, it was actually relatively small adjustments that helped me progress – and all changes were unrelated to my intelligence. This experience showed that it can be important to keep going. Sometimes, a new strategy, some support, and a little faith are all you need to reach new heights. It also reminded me that, like in other parts of my life, I'm driven by seeing progress and achieving results.

Why did reaching Elo 1500 take so long, and what actions did I take?

One of the main reasons why it took so long is because I tried out different openings before finding ones that worked for me. To make matters worse, I didn't study or practice these openings enough before playing games.

My coach helped me build and study an opening repertoire, a set of standard openings and responses.

→ Lesson 1: It's important to select an opening repertoire that aligns with your style and level, and to practice them before competitive games.

Opening repertoire

For most of 2023, I was playing the Pirc Defense and King's Indian with Black, both of which are somewhat advanced openings. More recently, I switched to the Caro-Kann, which is better aligned with my level.

As White, I moved from the Four Knights Scotch to experimenting with the Stonewall and Queen's Gambit, before finally settling on the London System in early 2024. Adopting the London System improved my results.

Another reason for falling back from 1500 to 1300 is that I switched to shorter 10-minute games, which set me back quite a bit. I made a lot more mistakes under time pressure. Returning to 30-minute games helped me win more often.

→ Lesson 2: Longer time controls improve your decision-making.

Lastly, I mostly played games and almost never did chess puzzles. This meant my pattern recognition and tactical skills were weak. My coach quickly identified these as areas needing improvement.

Once I started focusing on puzzles, my pattern recognition improved. It became easier to spot tactical patterns such as forks, pins, and skewers. Puzzles also improved my visualization skills, i.e. the ability to calculate moves ahead.

→ Lesson 3: Rapid improvement in chess doesn't come from playing games 90% of the time. A balanced mix of playing, studying and solving puzzles is essential. For me, puzzles made a big difference.


My path to Elo 1500 was marked by many ups and downs. I had to develop better habits, dedicate more time to training, and learn new openings.

Although it took seventeen months to improve just 100 Elo points, my chess foundation feels a lot stronger now. I'm hopeful that the foundational work I've done over the past year will accelerate my progress toward a 1600 rating.

— Dries Buytaert

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