In this post I will give the serious player who wants to go the distance some recommendations and some significant advice on how to study the game itself.
I know I'm no chess master, but I hope my post is brandished by the fact that I did a TON of research on the effects of deliberate practice on your chess game. In fact, I spent 20 required hours doing this as a senior research project in high school! Here's some important research that I did:
It takes 10,000 hours to reach mastery of any given field. Very very very rare exceptions to this rule. In my experience, there is NO SUCH THING as NATURAL TALENT (eh maybe only with vocalists...but Elton John had been playing the piano since he was 2 or 3). Einstein was documented to have spent well over 10,000 hours just thinking about time and space, and wha-la, he becomes one of the most talented physicsts of all time. Magnus Carlson, believe me, has put in over 10,000 hours of study. TRUST ME. He's no more a natural talent than Topalov.
If someone's ever told you that you need an IQ of 160 to become a grandmaster, he is MIS-INFORMED. Do not understimate the power of hard work. Chess is not a game between 2 geniuses.
My study plan is designed to put in 1,000 hours of deliberate study per year, for 10 years (10,000 hours of practice in 10 years!). (This means 2.75 hours of study per day if you want to go the distance).
I started playing chess in 2005...when I joined this site in 2006, I was a consistent 1400-1500 player. Two years later, without having studied at all, I was a...take a guess....1400-1500 player. In the past 4 or 5 months that I HAVE studied, I have become a 1600-1700 player! Amazing what some hard work pays.
First, some recommendations and resources:
Sharpen Your Tactics! to be a good mechanism for tactical improvement
Tactics Trainer on a chess website (PM me if you want it)
Complete Endgame Course - Endgames
Online Chess Videos - Endgames
Reassess Your Chess - EXCELLENT middlegame book if you read it all thoroughly
Art of Attack - nice little 'casual' book for learning about middle-game attacks, when appropriate and tons of examples.
Pawn Structure Chess - it has been recommended to me, I am just about to start it.
Online Chess Videos (PM me for the site again) - GM games are analyzed by GMs themselves
Think Like a Grandmaster - this is a follow-up to Reassess Your Chess, I think - by Kotov....
I've heard "My System" is good, probably similarly to "Reassess Your Chess."
Chess Mentor Program - written by GMs teaching you various themes of the game - available through a site I can PM you (no advertising here).
Openings: *********.com videos discuss some in detail
I have not yet studied openings, so have no books to recommend.
STEPS TO BECOMING A GREAT CHESS PLAYER:
1. I recommend that all novice players taking chess seriously start out doing tactics, tons of them, i.e. purchase Sharpen Your Tactics! or Winning Chess Tactics.
2. Next, get the endgame basics down (Read about half of Silman's Complete Endgame Course, and watch the *******.com videos if you're willing to invest in improvement)
3. Now you're ready to get into the meat of the game. This is one of the toughest hills to climb as it is an exhaustive topic. Here, you'll change how you THINK about the game. It deals with the study of the middle-game, you learn about the logic of the game. I strongly recommend "Reassess Your Chess" and closely adhering to its advice. "My System" is good too I've heard for this.
3.: Read about "The Art of Attack." Attacking is of course a major middle-game concept you should be familiar with - it opens your eyes to dynamic play.
3.: Read about Pawn Structure and the art of dynamic defense.
4. Take a closer look at your favorite openings as well as major openings such as Ruy Lopez, French Defense, and Sicilian. Understand them; understand the logic, don't memorize lines or it will hurt your view of the game really badly.
5. Pick up a book that has games from a player you admire, such as Alehkine, Kasparov, etc. Take this book, and pick out games. Play out the opening, and then once you get to the middle-game, try to predict the move the GM on your side of the board will make. WRITE OUT your analysis for the move you choose - this could take 20-30 minutes at first. Then read the annotations on the actual move to understand why a move was played. This is a great way to improve, but I would wait to do this after you've read My System or Reassess Your Chess (or do this concurrently).
I'm not really sure what comes after that (step 5 ought to take you a few years) other than studying your own games and determining what you can do better. Become well versed on many openings and understand the game. Look at the advanced endgames. Re-read some of those books to gauge your weaknesses and improvements.
Playing is alot more fun and tempting than studying after awhile. Personally In order to try to discipline myself, I came up with a written, weekly study plan (that I plan to update to include new books). I also follow this rule: "For every hour you play a game of chess, spend at least 1-2 hours studying the game." So that leaves me playing a game of chess about every other day (3 hours / game). If I had time and was still a minor who didn't have to sustain myself, I'd play everyday!