Jason Spector USCF 2200!

11.04.13 Former Bowdoin College student and former Maine State Champion Jason Spector has achieved the amateur chess player's holy grail. At a chess tournament played in Nashville, Tennessee on September 30, 2013, Jason's USCF rating reached 2200. In this ChessMaine.net interview, Jason traces his chess development from its humble beginnings to master level and passes on advice that may help you get there as well.

A stop along the road to chess mastery: Jason Spector plays in the 2008 ChessMaine.net Championship at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

Jason Spector's USCF Member Details Page

ChessMaine: You are Tennessee's newest master! Congratulations on this fantastic accomplishment!

Jason Spector: Thanks, Dan!

CM: Looking over your USCF tournament history I noticed that your first tournament was played back in October of 1994. At that time you were unrated and received your first rating of 894.

JS: Yes, I started playing tournaments when I was seven years old. I remember that I only got one point in my first tournament, but received a third place trophy. I was hooked!

CM: So your master rating was nineteen years in the making!

JS: I guess so! It's been a goal most of my life. I think the fact that it did not come easy makes me appreciate it that much more.

CM: As someone who has come up in chess from the ranks of absolute beginner to master you are in a unique position to share your insights, pitfalls and accomplishments with those of us aspiring to greater chess heights. Could you bring us through your journey to chess mastery?

JS: Well, there have been a lot of pitfalls with the accomplishments. It must be how I'm wired, but I tend to remember the pitfalls more. I won a few scholastic state titles in Massachusetts as a kid, but the state championship that I remember most is one that I lost. In the last round of the tournament, my opponent's coach began telling his student the moves to make in Russian; I eventually lost the game. Six months later, I played the coach in an adult tournament and won. That is probably the best win I've ever had.

I've had many memorable losses along the way. I think the fact that I've managed to lose in so many crushing (at the time) ways has really helped me learn. When I play tournaments now, I see positions which are similar to prior games that I've lost and am able to avoid making the same mistakes. In many ways, knowing my own weaknesses has allowed me to improve as a player. Managed properly, I think losing can be very productive.

CM: While you were in Maine you attended Bowdoin College. What were you studying and are you continuing your academic career in Tennessee or have you entered the workforce?

JS: At Bowdoin, I studied government and education. After working for a few years at a children's legal advocacy organization in DC, I moved to Nashville to start a master's program in education policy at Vanderbilt. I am currently working in two different positions in education organizations and going to school full-time. Life is busy! I will be graduating in May and hope to return to New England at that time.

CM: What are your first memories of chess? Who introduced you to the game and why do you think it clicked with you?

JS: When I was I five, I flew out with my mom to visit family in California. She tried to entertain me on the flight by teaching me to play chess and I immediately latched on to the game. I wanted to play constantly throughout the trip. (I'm sure a little too much for her liking!) I think I liked the challenge of the game and I've always been competitive, so any chance to beat my mother at something was quite appealing.

CM: Have you considered codifying your experiences from scholastic beginner to chess master in an article or book? I do think it would make for very interesting reading.

JS: I hadn't thought about doing that, but do think it could be fun to write--and hopefully read! I've met some very interesting people playing chess and would enjoy sharing their stories along with my own.

CM: Have you been self-taught or have you used the assistance of chess instructors along the way? If you have used some formal plan with or without instructors could you describe it for us?

JS: Up through high school, I had the assistance of several chess instructors. When my mom first brought me to the Boylston Chess Club at the age of six. I was lucky enough to be taken in by Billy Collins and two other strong players at the club. If you've ever been to the chess tables in Harvard Square, you've probably seen Billy holding court there (Billy is an expert rated player, who is also a master-level speed chess player and a known personality in Boston.) Billy, Charlie Mays, and Dave Diamond beat me in every possible way, but also fostered a sense of joy in the game for me. I began formal lessons a couple years later with Jacob Rasin, who is a full-time chess instructor in Boston. I took lessons with him for nearly 10 years, with our lessons covering the gamut from tactical visualization to analyzing grandmaster exemplar games. Since high school, I've started teaching more myself and have not taken any lessons. For most players, I think that practicing tactics and expanding visualization skills is the best use of preparation time. This is something I work on with my students and try to do myself. Clarity in thought goes a long way.

Your ratings graph over time show a fairly rapid ascent to just under USCF 2000 in your first seven years of tournament chess followed by a more moderate climb from 2000 to 2200 over the next 13 years. Could you describe these two periods in your chess development?

JS: When I first started playing, I had good coaching, some talent, and played regularly against strong competition. I was able to reach close to expert level fairly quickly as a result. I definitely plateaued after that though. For the last seven years, I had been above 2100 without reaching master. While I really enjoyed my first years of playing chess, I never enjoyed studying it. I don't regret not studying more (it might be the reason I didn't burn out on chess as a kid), but it did make it harder for me to improve once I reached expert level. I periodically took time off from the game due to frustration at my lack of improvement, but I also think this second period in my development was when I really came to enjoy chess in a deeper way. It was not just about winning (something that was perhaps too strong of an impetus for me when I was younger). I found that I was continuing to play because I truly enjoyed the challenges of the game; improvement was not easy. I think this was a really valuable realization for me and one that I hope allows me to keep chess as a lifelong hobby.

CM: Many players would like to reach a master-level rating but very few do. Do you think you had a special disposition for the game or, in your opinion, do you think anyone with a novice rating (similar to yours in 1994) can make it to 2200?

JS: I think I might have had a little more of a disposition for the game than the average player but not overwhelmingly so. I certainly think reaching master is an achievable goal for many people, although it is much easier if you are able to start playing at a young age and consistently practice and receive instruction. With all the different computer chess programs available now, it is definitely easier to learn and practice if you are dedicated to doing so.

CM: What advice would you give aspiring players?

JS: Enjoy the game! I grew up playing with a number of very talented juniors who were pushed hard by their parents and quit chess as soon as they were able. Despite some very high ratings, there was more pressure than joy in the game for them. I've been fortunate enough to have never felt that way. I've always enjoyed the challenge of chess and the struggle of pushing my mental limits. I would also say that while I think there are ways to improve relatively quickly (i.e. practicing tactics to improve your visualization skills and consistently playing and reviewing your games), I would encourage aspiring players to have patience. Sometimes it takes a while for things to click. You can learn without your rating immediately reflecting your growth and that's ok.

CM: Are you available for lessons online?

JS: Unfortunately, my schedule is at the bursting point right now so I'm not able to give any additional lessons.

CM: Outside of chess what occupies your time?

JS: I've been very busy with work and school the past couple years so that's where the majority of my time goes. Nashville does have a great music scene though (not just country!), so I try to go to shows as often as I can.

CM: Can you give us a prediction for the upcoming Anand-Carlsen match?

JS: I think Carlsen is going to be the new world champion. Should be a fun match!

CM: How can we make chess commercially viable in the US like other popular sports?

JS: Sponsorships are key. I think what you've seen Susan Polgar do with her foundation promoting chess for girls in the US through corporate partnerships is really encouraging. I think this type of model has great potential, especially at the scholastic level.

CM: Is there anything we have not covered that you would like to add?

JS: I don't think so. Thanks for reaching out to me. I look forward to playing chess in Maine again soon!

CM: Thank you so much for speaking with us and congratulations again on your outstanding accomplishment!


Hi Jason ... Congrats on achieving the master title and soon, I take it, your masters in education. I enjoyed reading your interview and catching up on your chess and personal life. I love your attitude about chess, I remember,,I think, some of your peers who were so pressured that they burned out on chess. Good luck.

Congratulations Jason! Great interview Dan, and I'm happy to see Jason doing so well since moving on from Maine.

A great interview and an
interesting young man is
Jason..........Thanks, Jon Malev

Great interview and he should do well in the future. I played a lot of chess with Harlow Daly when he lived in Sanford and he was at one time champion of the Boylston chess club when he lived in Massachusetts. Even though I live in N.H. I like reading all the Maine news... As usual Dan, great job.

Jason- I will always remember fondly sitting with you and Matthew in the Chamberlain Room at The Moulton Union at Bowdoin on Sundays. You were a great coach to him, and taught him to visualize many moves ahead. If he achieves his Master rating, it will be in large part thanks to you! Dan

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