How to really get better at chess, no seriously really though

3 simple steps, $60 and hundreds of hours of work. (It’s like choosing a diet — the ones that require the least exercise are the least effective.)

1. Take the scoresheets of your last 30 rated games. Pick out the opening you dreaded most. Buy a book and start playing that opening WITH BOTH COLORS. Yes, even if you don’t play 1.d4 or whatever. Do it anyway. Study this opening.

When I say study, I mean:

a) Choose lines, play them out on a physical board, and write them down in a notebook until you can reproduce them from memory, with the resulting positions clearly visualized in your mind.

b) For each line, write out a positional goal or set of themes.

c) Ask questions and answer them in writing.

Example: In Play the King’s Indian, there are lots of lines where Gallagher says “White would like to tempt Black into playing h6 to weaken the king and prevent the Bg7 from being activated through that square.” Then there are lots of other lines where he says “…h6 is a good idea in this position. Okay Mr. Grandmaster, why doesn’t the previously stated objection apply in those positions? I wrote that question in a notebook, wrote out lines where he says …h6 is good, and studied them until I could articulate why.

2.Pick out the middlegame where you felt most uncertain, or where your opponent demonstrated to you that your ideas were completely inadequate. Study that middlegame and steer ALL your OTB and blitz games toward that exact type of position. Buy a book and study that.

That means if you score well in tactical melees, you’re going to start trading queens and playing symmetrical pawn structures. If you are happiest playing fluid structures like the Pirc or hedgehog, you’re going to start playing fixed centers. If you avoid trades, you’re going to start simplifying early.

3. Scan all the endgames and choose the type where you scored the worst. Rook endgames? B v N? Simple ones, complicated ones?  Study them. Buy a book and study that.

Ignore your rating for one year and do this work. Learn to enjoy these positions. At the end your playing strength will be 100 points higher.

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7 thoughts on “How to really get better at chess, no seriously really though

  1. Good ideas. But one needs more than a 30-game sample set. Seriously, what you’re really saying is put in serious, no-nonsense effort that takes oneself out of their comfort zone. I think this general idea works, no matter what the specific type of effort it is one is doing. All chess coaches worth their salt will recommend stepping out of one’s comfort zone. That’s basically true for all disciplines.

    Ignoring the rating is also a deep concept — Zen, very Zen. The quest is not about the rating, it’s about the work, enjoying the work. We so easily miss this idea. “The obstacle is the path.” -Zen Koan (I did not make that up.)

    I’ve been developing a lot of these ideas in my private notes. Someday soon I hope to start my chess memoir, which will explore some of these ideas in greater depth….. That is if chess does not get solved first!

  2. Hmmm… I think I like this. I’m going through my Eastern Class games and will look at them with your notes in mind…

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  4. Intense, sure to help if you put in the effort. Frankly this seems a strategy for people who are already pretty good. Those that really suck, just suck eggs? Perhaps too advanced?

  5. Hm. That’s an interesting question. Since the basic idea is “work on your weakest area” it ought to help anyone, I’d think. Maybe a guiding hand (coach) would be more necessary to make it work for a lower-rated player?

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