Besides being a fun game, chess has the reputation of supporting the development of higher-order thinking skills and cognitive abilities like problem solving, memory, concentration, analytical thinking and decision making; so it doesn’t come as a surprise that it is a game that has been practiced for years all around the world. I often get the question, how can I improve my chess? where should I start? which seems to be the struggle of many players.
I’ve rounded up the most important tips for anyone who feels stuck or would like to know how, and where to start.
Solve a lot of puzzles
I would say, the tactics are the muscles in chess, you always have to do them to be in shape.
Easier tactics (such as 1-2 moves that are easier to spot) will help you to learn the main motives and patterns in chess, which are often the bases of strategic ideas, plans and harder puzzles. They also help you to warm up before games.
Harder puzzles (where you usually have to spend minutes to find the solution) will help you to improve your calculation and your visualization. If you can see almost perfectly until 2-3 moves, you are already better than many players! Although, I would recommend harder puzzles only if you are familiar with almost every pattern.
Extra advice: when you solve puzzles, don’t use help, like arrows, don’t move the pieces on the board, and don’t guess a move thinking that “later you see what else to do”. Be sure of your solution before you make the first move and be sure you looked for the best defense(s) for the opponent. Remember, your main goal is to improve your calculation, not finding the solution.
Study analyzed games
Nowadays there is so much material out there that have games which were analyzed by masters, it would be a pity not to look at them. Of course, if you go through a game by yourself it is useful as well, but if you have the choice, try to pick games which are already analyzed by a stronger player. They will explain deeper reasons behind the moves and plans, and even point out connections that you could miss if you analyzed only by yourself. The best would be to study the classical games of grandmasters, but other explained master games should help you as well.
Practice with playing online and offline games
One of the best ways to learn is to play online and offline as much as you can. You need both practice games and training to improve, because what you learn needs to be put into practice, but if you learn nothing, there will be nothing to practice.
Of course, I don’t mean playing thousands of bullet (1+0) or blitz (3+0) games. You need to play longer games (rapid), where you have the time to think. If you only play short games, your mistakes will be blunders mostly, where the only conclusion is: don’t blunder! However, if you play longer games then you could spot strategic mistakes, and decision-making or calculation errors that you make.
In the end, when it comes to analysis, listen to a human being rather than the engine. They can tell you the whys behind the moves and plans, while engines will only tell you moves.
Concentrate in both your games and your training. Yes, even if you are tired. It might look tempting to chat or to multitask or think about something else while you play, but it’s not really worth it. You increase your chance to blunder, your thinking will be shallow, and you make mistakes that you would otherwise rarely or not do. Just by focusing more, you will make fewer mistakes, therefore you will win more games.
The case is similar to training. Let’s say you are watching an educational video, or your coach is talking about something you think you know, so you do something else and you only half-listen. You might lose track, and therefore you won’t understand important connections and conclusions. If you feel like you can’t focus, take a short break instead. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of high-quality concentration in chess.
The tactics are the muscles in chess, you always have to do them to be in shape.
Don’t be afraid…
Don’t be afraid of the opponent, of making a mistake, or of losing.
In spite of the looks, chess is an aggressive game, where you will have to pull out your sword, scream and run at your opponent, no matter who they are (just kidding).
On a serious note, that means you will have to be brave and attack, otherwise you won’t be able to win many games. As a result, sometimes you will make mistakes, and you will even lose games. You will become a very intimidating and annoying player, even for stronger people, if you always look for the forcing moves (checks, captures, threats) and you go straight for the throat! Never let a bad position or a stronger opponent discourage you, be optimistic, don’t resign and shoot straight. Learn from your mistakes if you don’t succeed.
But what to study?
Focus mostly on middle games and learning the basic endgames rather than openings. Those are important too, but mainly after a certain level. Of course, learn the opening principles, and pick one or two openings that you would like to play, learn the first couple of moves, the main plans, ideas, and be prepared against the common traps, but don’t spend most of your time on it.
Knowing how to evaluate, how to make a plan and make a decision, how to spot weaknesses, and how to promote a pawn in the endgame, etc., is much more important. Just imagine, you get the perfect position after the opening ends and the middle game starts, and you don’t know how to win the game. Yes, you had your opponent, but who won in the end? On the other hand, if you get a worse position after the opening, there is still a lot of chance and hope if you know middle games and endgames more than your opponent. You will be more successful this way.
One of the most important things to remember is, don’t learn everything at once! Instead of learning a little opening, a little middle game, a little endgame a day, you can decide to learn tactics in stages. For example, you can start with the Scotch opening, including learning lines, solving Scotch puzzles, you watch/read analyzed master games where the Scotch happened, you study typical Scotch middlegames, you play games where you try to play it yourself and later you analyze them.
This way, you make your learning time entertaining and more diverse, but not so overwhelming. Also, no one can offer magic recipes on how much time you need to spend on chess a day/week or on a certain topic, especially since everyone is different, and also because there will be days when you will have no time at all, but there will also be times when you have a couple of hours.
Use it, and try to be consistent. Finally, if you are looking for books to read, I would like to suggest Arthur Yusupov’s books, especially the “Build up your chess” series.
If you would like to get more personalized advice, please don’t hesitate to book a chess class with me.
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