Last Updated on January 13, 2021
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I am by no means a master chess player, but was at one point nationally ranked for my age and still am in the 1800-2100 range of chess strength.
Here is the 20% of my old training that I feel gave me 80% of the results. This is assuming you know the basic principles.
If you are tight on time, doing the tactics section the most will give you the most bite for your time.
Hopefully this will help you climb that rating ladder!
Chess Openings (Least important to study)
- Choose a simple repertoire starting with 1.e4, 1.d4 or 1.c4 as white and know some basic response to those moves as black. Choose one and stick to it so that you can become familiar with the patterns that arise from it.
- My personal repertoire was:
- English Opening (1.c4) as white
- Sicilian Accelerated Dragon (against 1.e4)
- Grunfeld Defense (against 1.d4)
- Generally, I recommend newer players stick to more open systems rather than the repertoire I used above. You tend to have more exciting, tactical games and learn more from them. That means, playing 1. e4 and getting into sharper lines.
- My personal repertoire was:
- Know the general opening principles. When in doubt early, follow these
- Learn the opening variations while analyzing your past games and pay special attention to openings when you’re playing blitz rather than studying and memorizing opening lines or reading deep opening books.
Chess Tactics (Spend most of your training time here):
- Tactics show up in every game and will improve your chess vision and calculation. If you don’t have a lot of training time, just consistently do tactics and you’ll improve.
- http://chesstempo.com/chess-tactics.html was my favorite resource for chess tactic training back when I used to train. Used to spend hours a day on this site. You will see a huge noticeable improvement by doing these. Most chess sites now have tactics trainers now, I hear Chess.com’s is pretty good as well
- DO NOT guess and check. Don’t make a move until you see the entire continuation until the end. Randomly making moves, hoping to guess it right won’t help you improve. Don’t worry about tactics timers. Just worry about getting the puzzle right from start to finish. If you’re really stuck, do other puzzles, come back to it tomorrow.
- Follow this study plan. The first couple are most important and will give you a general idea
- King + Pawn endgames tend to be great exercises for calculation, so when you have complex king and pawn endings where you win or lose but don’t know why, analyze it and figure it out. You’ll learn a lot from it.
Playing Practice Games
Just keep playing. 5-minute games are great ways to try out openings and practice some fast tactics. 15-minute games are good for some more thoughtful chess. 60 min+ for more tournament style. If you’re looking for sites to play on, Lichess.org is my favorite site to play on.
Analyze every game you play
For best results, go over your game without a computer engine first. Analyze it yourself. Think on critical moments. Play out some variations. Then run the computer analysis and compare your notes and see what you missed in your analysis.
When it doubt though, it’s much better to analyze the game than not analyze it, so if you know you’ll probably not analyze if you have to do it without the engine, just look it over with the engine.
If you see a confusing computer evaluation, don’t just play through the line and accept it, see if you can figure out why the computer is evaluating the position the way it is (chess.com, ICC, and lichess have engines built in that you can use to do the analysis).
In games < 5 minutes, take a close look at opening moves and how to improve the opening moves. Because you can play a ton of them, you’ll be exposed to a lot of opening scenarios and opening traps. Always understand why moves are made in the opening. Don’t just memorize. There are too many moves to memorize. Understanding why moves are played scales better. Be hard on yourself for every mistake. Look for mistakes in both victories and losses. Eventually you’ll see enough patterns and alongside your tactics training, you will calculate more accurately and make fewer mistakes.
Even several minutes a day of chess tactics and a blitz game with analysis a day can lead to dramatic improvement.
Dealing with Burnout
Chess can be very a frustrating game. You will take steps backward. You will feel invincible some days and you’ll feel like you can’t win a single game another day. If you get bored or frustrated and still want to improve but don’t want to play, chess videos are useful, some of the Chess.com premium tutorials are decent. Focus on game analysis and principles rather than learning openings. Watching chess coverages can also be very entertaining, look for the live stream analysis for the US Chess Championships on the St. Louis Chess Club YouTube channel. You’ll pick up a lot of “how to think”. This shouldn’t be the bulk of your training but can be a fine supplement or for when you don’t feel like playing/training.
Chess Books I Recommend
A lot of great chess resources can be found online these days, but there are still some amazing chess books that are seriously worth it:
- The Winning Chess Series by Yasser Seirawan: These are the most fun chess books I’ve read. They’re accessible, easy to read, and still full of great info. Designed a bit more on the beginner side. Yasser covers all kinds types of important chess topics in these books!
- My System by Aron Nimzovich: This is a hard read, but a brilliant book on strategic thinking. If you want to understand pawn structures and deep positional chess, this is one of the foundational books. It’s dry and full of flowery language, but the content is quite good. You probably don’t want to touch this book until you’re at least 1400 strength.
- My Great Predecessors by Garry Kasparov (5 volumes): Former World Champion Garry Kasparov breaks down games from the greats. Play through them. Analyze the positions. Calculate key moments. The games are fantastic and worth the time to study.
- Think Like A Grandmaster by Alexander Kotov: An old and legendary book. The game analysis is great. Not the most fun read but you’ll come out learning a lot.
- Fundamental Chess Endings by Mueller and Lamprecht: The World Champion Magnus Carlsen used this book to study endgames as a kid. This is a pretty comprehensive endgame encyclopedia that is great for studying if you want to improve your endgames.
- Endgame Manual by Mark Dvoretsky: This is a tough read and is really only for advanced players really looking to improve their endgame abilities. The book is incredible and is incredibly in-depth.
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