Years of experience have shown me that most players don’t show significant progress anymore after 10 years of playing and training. Even those who study a lot and are convinced that they have learned, seldom see a structural increase in their ratings.
Therefore Michael de la Maza cannot be praised enough for showing the chess world that the sheer impossible can be achieved. You can improve significantly if you are willing to put in the hard work that is necessary. The program he devised made his rating go up for 600 points in two years. Others who followed his program have also seen their rating go up with hundred points or more. In the links section you can find the two groundbreaking articles in which Michael explains his program.
There is however also reason to be a bit skeptical about the claim that anyone can improve 400 points in 400 days. The Knights Errant is a community that has committed itself to following the program, but the results achieved by its graduated members don’t show an increase with 400 points. Besides acknowledging that Michael’s program has been a breakthrough and has a lot of pros, we must also be aware of the cons. A major objection mo Michael’s program is that it does take a lot of time, and allows you almost no time for other activities besides work and chess. As a father of two children, I cannot afford to follow the seven circles in the way Michael did himself, and suggests to his readers. But even the people who have followed his footsteps did not get the results that Michael had. So one wonders, are there perhaps some flaws in this program?
As far as I can see, there are two aspects on the program that can be criticized. The first is that I cannot see what the contribution is of doing the circles in one (the seventh circle) or two days (the sixth). Solving really difficult tactical problems in just a minute or two, may boost your ego, but if you only solve them because you have learned the position and the solution by heart, it will not contribute much to your chess playing skills. It may even be harmful in some ways. If your mind is too much focused on solving chess puzzles, almost every tactical motive is perceived as winning. This state of mind works wonderfully if you have to solve puzzles because you know the solution is there to be found, and you don’t waste any time on unnecessary verification. But playing a game and solving an exercise are two different things. In a game you cant be sure that there is a 'solution'. Although there may be tactical motives, it is not sure that there is a forced tactical sequence to exploit these motives.
The other flaw in the program is that it ignores the endgame. Michael dismisses this, and said that endgame training is useless if you don’t make it to this final stage, because you or your opponent drop pieces or are mated. But there is a significant percentage of games in which this isn’t the case, and then some basis endgame knowledge is quite useful. It will give you some extra wins or save you some draws. In my next posts I will make some suggestions on improving Michael’s program.