First of all a few facts about myself: I am an International Master, an active chess player and for the last 10 years I have been chess coach. I wish to share some of my knowledge and even to let loose the anger I got from so many absurdities I have heard from weak coaches, from some students and chess books. I will be posting in this thread regularly from now, as well as on the blog which is hosted for free on chess99.com. Still, I prefer keeping my anonymity.
My articles are addressed specially to the players with ratings up to 2300, who want to progress. These articles have all a certain structure. I welcome any feedback but I’ll answer to questions when my spare time allows me to.
What to do to improve at chess?
In order to seriously and constantly improve, there are some things that you need to do for you. So, first of all, I will write about what you need to do/know, and further on I will talk about what the training program should offer to you.
The goal is essential for anything you set to do in life. In a good diet for losing weight, if you are constant and you do not deviate from the rules, within one year tops you can reach the aim you have long dreamed of. In chess things are different. Unlike many other domains, the goal in chess has to be set for the long and very long term.
The first goal (an intermediate one) has to be fixed after one year. The objective does NOT have to be measured in gained rating points, but in finishing certain preparation stages.
The objective to become IM or GM in 2 or 3 years, as a beginner, is completely unrealistic. As a coach, I encounter this situation in such a large proportion that it frightens me. It must be clear to everyone that, without a great memory, an inborn talent, 6 to 8 hours of study/day, 7 to 10 serious contests a year and a ‘cold’ heart, these categories cannot be reached in less than 7-10 years! The objectives have to be set annually, according to the time available for chess study, the number of games played in one year and the results obtained the previous year.
A good objective for a year of study should look like this (note that the order reveals also the importance that should be devoted to each item):
• Going over a complete material on chess strategy. It would be best to choose a very complex material, well structured, with clear explanations, thinking methods and tests.
• For beginners only: solving simple tactics exercises (like “fork”, “disrupting” etc.).
• Going over, understanding and even memorizing basic endings (by studying a book on endings).
• Creating an opening repertoire, even if at the beginning only the main variants will be “worked upon”; understanding the ideas behind the systems played. The “pet lines” are not recommended as they are only a waste of time, as well as any repertoire which is too complex and which needs a fantastic memory and practice that many cannot afford.
• Studying a good material on king attack.
• This is optional, according to everyone’s spare time: going over a book with games annotated by former world champions. For the beginners Capablanca is recommended, for the intermediates Alekhine, and for the advanced players Botvinnik and Karpov.
A player’s rating is usually relevant for his/her playing strength. But this is only available for the players who have already reached a 2200-2300 rating. Still, for the players who are in their first serious preparation stage, this is less important and that’s why trying to reach a certain rating is a trap which attracts many students. During the preparation stage, the chess player is advised not to think about the accession in rating but to play chess as well as possible.
Still, there is an advantage in the fact that the games played influence a player’s rating. The advantage is that this gives importance to the final result of the game. Otherwise, how many of us wouldn’t play a very risky chess or would just give up quickly in a difficult position.
As a conclusion, the player must play a tenacious chess, to much care about the result of every game if he wants a higher rating. On the other hand, rating does not reflect the level of knowledge, but rather the “playing technique”, the stoutness and the power to concentrate, which, along with the experience will improve.
Many people want progress and for this they buy many books having in mind to study them first and to start playing only when they would have already become very strong. This is practically impossible and one of the biggest mistakes one could ever do in chess! The chess study must go hand in hand with playing games within serious tournaments. I would say that without 3-4 annual tournaments the progress is very difficult, if not impossible. For high performance you need 5-7.
Only the direct confrontation with different opponents can make you realize how to improve your play and that actually, even if chess is great, it is very difficult. Playing a chess game brings you to the real situation, it forces you to concentrate for 2-5 hours, things that even the most intensive home-preparation cannot offer.
A lot can be said here but I will conclude with: play, play and play more. Don’t be afraid that you don’t have yet an opening repertoire or that you don’t know endgames like you would like to. In a way, you will never know… I’m sure you got my point.
The next paragraph does not address to those who are fans of “online chess” exclusively.
The only games which are taken into consideration for a “real chess” player are the OTB (over-the-board) games and not the ones played online. The online games have their good role but they do not participate to the playing experience. I will be writing more about this subject in a future article. So, the games have to be OTB and, moreover: time control over 1 hour/player (“classical chess” according to the existing FIDE rules), rating evaluation (or any other stake) and part of a competition totaling more than 7 games.
4. Training method
Another grave mistake many people do is unorganized study. It doesn’t matter if you have 6 or 30 hours a week at hand for study, but how you use that time.
A chess training session should last at least 2 full hours, preparing the player also for the soliciting situation during a real game. So, the chess training should also have as a goal "stressing" the brain (in the good way, of course).
Moreover, within every training day, studying a certain material should exceed at least one hour (besides the simple tactic exercises.)
An example of bad training in a day: 15 min of tactics, 1 hour to study Alekhine’s games, 30 mins to study a material on strategy, 15 mins watching some games online etc.
If you had 6 hours devoted to study per week, good chess training would be of 2 hours in 3 different days:
Day1) 30’ simple tactics; 90’ strategy (2 hours)
Day2) 60’ openings; 60’ strategy (2 hours)
Day3) 60’ complex tactics, 60’ endgames (2 hours)
If you had 12 hours of study per week, a good training would be:
Day1) 30’ simple tactics, 90’ strategy, 60’ endgames (3 hours)
Day2) 120’ openings – study of variations (2 hours)
Day3) 90’ complex tactics, 90’ annotated games (3 hours)
Day4) 120’ strategy (2 hours)
Day5) 60’ complex tactics, 60’ endgames (2 hours)
Of course, these are only some examples, but each student should have his own study program according to the proposed objective.
The commercial products of nowadays and the different softwares are extremely harmful. The study of chess must be done with the real board in front and not on the computer with different “magical” softwares! It’s almost like you would learn to play billiards on the computer. Our brain must “see” the chess board in 3D not in 2D and, of course, it must “see” the real board and not one on the computer!
I am convinced that many people will contradict me because they have seen some GM studying on the computer. That GM is situated at another level, he plays a great amount of games every year and his preparation is very different from the actual “chess learning”.
The computer is an excellent instrument and a very important one in our days but only for the following:
• The access to information through Internet;
• The chess engines which can show us certain mistakes;
• The games databases which have a great importance and are an obvious advantage;
• The possibility to play online, under certain circumstances;
• The possibility to create an opening repertoire without using the old notebooks which, when a system evaluation changes, go easily to the trash.
BUT, and this is a big but, when you study chess you have to use the board and not the computer. A printer can solve this problem. Some good materials found on the Internet or on the chess database can be printed out and studied as it has to be.
6. The apportionment of the openings/strategy/tactics/endings
There are a lot of bad hypotheses about this apportionment. All these things are essential and need to be studied. I don’t have to go into details about the importance of each of them, besides the strategy. In many of the false spread hypotheses, the strategy is situated behind the tactics.
Actually, strategy is the most important in your training for progress. Only by deeply understanding the strategical elements:
• You can well play and understand the openings;
• You can create favorable situations for combinations;
• You can get to an ending, let’s say, normal.
As it is pretty difficult to study/comprehend or to find some materials good enough, strategy is the last in the training program’s plan of many people.
So dust off the materials on strategy and consider it on the front-rank in your chess study. Until you reach a value of approximately 2300 rating, you still have got a lot to learn.
7. The Study with Criticism and Analysis
As coach I am forced to own all...