How to keep balance between chess & academics

Last September, I began my college life in London, with excitement, curiosity, and expectation. But at the same time, I felt worried. School would be very busy, and I would not be able to spend too much time on chess. In July and August I had experienced failures in many tournaments, and I became disoriented and confused. I did not know whether it was worthy to continue to put efforts on chess.

I contacted the captain of UCL chess society to try my luck, and he told me that there was a second year student called Ravi Haria, who is an International Master with Elo-rating of nearly 2500. I was excited, and I immediately wrote him. Ravi was enthusiastic, and he said he was going to hold a lecture sharing his experience on chess. This was the first time I met him.

Tournament of UCL Chess Society

Ravi is the paragon of keeping a well balance between chess and academics. He is an active player and often plays tournaments for England; he majors in history as I do, and achieved a fair grade in his first year; besides, he is also fluent in Spanish. And most importantly, he was admitted to UCL not because of his achievements in chess, but only because of his excellent grades in A-level exams. But he is not a bookworm. He is outgoing and helpful, and he likes to go to the pub, drink till midnight, and sleep late on the second day, as most British students do.

The most important advice Ravi gave us is to keep practicing chess every day, even only for half an hour. He said, you only need to get up half an hour earlier, solve some puzzles or play some blitz, and then you will improve significantly by every day’s accumulation.

He was right. In 2015, I won the champion of National Youth Chess Championship despite the participation of many professional chess players, because I kept on chess training every day for at least one hour no matter how busy I was for schoolwork. Such long-term training provided me with intuition and enabled me to handle complex positions. However, from the 11th grade, I stopped playing chess for more than one year, because I was occupied with various tests and university applications. After I graduated from high school, I picked up chess again, and hoped that one month of 10 hours training every day could bring me good results in the upcoming tournaments. But this did not work. I was still rusty in chess. Though I often played well in the midgame and achieved better positions, I always spent a lot of time thinking, and often failed to find the correct moves under time pressure.

Thereafter, I adopted Ravi’s methodology of training, and began to solve puzzles and play blitz on every day. I also went to UCL chess society to play on a regular base. By constantly playing with them, I learned many new openings and my thoughts became faster. As a result, I played well in 2019-2020 Hastings International Chess Congress, drawing many games against grandmasters.

During the course of coaching chess players, I find that many students have the same problem: they are not willing to put efforts on chess every day, and like to cram for tournaments. This is a bad habit, because without every day’s accumulation, it is hard for them to cultivate their intuition and proficiency on chess.

Another crucial quality Ravi possesses is his passion for chess. For him, chess is recreation, and he is willing to spend time digging deeper into chess. 

He really impressed me in the British University Chess Association Team Championship, where each team was consisted of four players. He played in Board One and I played in Board Two. The whole team got up very early to catch the train to the tournament venue in Birmingham. Even though I got nearly seven hours’ sleep, I still felt very tired. I ask Ravi how much time did he sleep and he said he only slept for one hour. I was startled and worried that whether he could perform well in the tournament. But he became energetic when he sat in front of the chessboard. I was very nervous, and when I saw Board Three play terribly and lose every game, I could no longer concentrate on my own games. Besides, I thought too much about title and prize, and calculated whether our team could finish top fourth (teams which finished top fourth were qualified to participate in European University Team Championship, though later it was cancelled because of coronavirus). As a result, I lost many games I should have won. But Ravi seemed not to be troubled by the performance of other boards. In many games he was caught into time trouble, but he still projected an air of calm self-confidence, and won most of the games. Unlike me, whose mind was occupied with title and prize, he just left all these matters behind and enjoyed the process of playing chess.

UCL Team in the BUCA Team Championship. Ravi: the one lying on the ground

Many players have high expectations, and gradually, playing chess can become a cruel struggle for prize and honor. For some of them, failures are painful. As a result, they no longer consider playing chess as enjoyable, and are reluctant to devote time on chess. But if you really love chess, and play chess for the sake of chess, you will be willing to take time from busy schedule to study chess. And because your time is valuable, you will learn to cherish your time of studying chess, and your efficiency will eventually improve.



Young and active tournament player with excellent results including a 1st place at the BSSZ Aranytiz International Master, 1st place at the Chinese Youth Chess Championship G16, and part of the top 10 contenders in two World Chess Championships for girls G16 and G18.

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