How to Get Good at Chess, Fast

November 24, 2013

How to Get Good at Chess, Fast

A step-by-step guide to rapid chess improvement

Last updated: March 1, 2016

Edit: This article was unexpectedly popular, reaching #2 on Hacker News and being linked to on LifeHacker. I plan on returning to competitive chess soonish to make my overdue march to master (USCF 2200), so I’ll post an update describing how this plan fares at the higher levels.

Edit 2 (August 2015): Comments keep rolling in! It may take me some time, but I promise I’ll answer all questions about this post and rapid/quick chess improvement in general. Thanks for your patience.

Magnus Carlsen’s meteoric rise to the top ranked player in the world (at age 19), the highest chess rating in history (age 22), and as of a few days ago, the title of World Chess Champion (age 22) has brought with it a renewed interest in chess. This is exciting, because Carlsen represents the first real hope of renewing chess’s mass appeal since the days of Bobby Fischer1.

In the context of discussions about Magnus Carlsen, many people mentioned that they enjoyed playing chess but quit because of the sheer time commitment it took to get “good.” It turns out there are many misconceptions about rapid chess improvement. In this post I’m going to lay out a simple but effective way to get good at chess, fast.

What does it mean to be “good” at chess?

I define “good” as the 90th percentile among the player pool you’re competing against. In competitive chess in the United States, that means a United States Chess Federation (USCF) Elo rating of about 18002. If you’re a casual player playing against your friends, my guess is that 90th percentile is around 900. Even though I was only rated 1100 when I first began playing competitively, I was already able to beat the vast majority of non-competitive players.

Results with this system

This system is based on lessons learned from my own chess improvement and from coaching others. The good news is that you can become better than the vast majority of other players with minimal but targeted effort.

I actively trained for a period of about 3.5 years using a (much, much less disciplined) version of this system, during which my rating increased from 1100 to 1950, a 135 fold increase I strength3. In one 12 month period I improved from 1198 to 1639. I improved even faster with my quick rating (games with less than 30 minutes per side), where I went from 1001 to 1740 in 15 months (75 fold increase in playing strength).

My first experience using these ideas with other players was in high school, when I began coaching the lowest ranked player in our chess club. Within a few months he had improved so rapidly that he represented the school in the state championships and won every single game in the tournament.

Given that I managed to do this despite my own inexperience and mistakes with studying chess and my own laziness, I’m convinced others can improve much more quickly if they follow this system strictly4.

The system

Since this article is meant for both casual and competitive players, I specify minimum rating requirements when appropriate. If you’re a casual player and this is overkill for your goals, skip to the footnotes for a much simpler system5.

Playing

To improve quickly you need to play often. If you are (or aspire to be) a competitive player, play as many over-the-board (OTB) tournaments as possible. In my heyday I played 3-4 tournaments per month. Online is not enough! Use online games (15 minutes per side or slower) to practice openings or for practice if there is no tournament for a while. If you’re a casual player, play OTB chess with your friends as much as you can, and play online if nobody wants to play with you.

Tactics

I did two types of tactics training. The first was “Chess Vision” and “Knight Sight” exercises, as described in this article. They may sound stupid, but they work. I did these exercises every day for two weeks initially, and then would do them the day of a tournament and once in a while as a refresher.

My primary method of tactics training was using Chess Tactics for Beginners, which is absolutely fantastic.

If you only buy one thing to help your chess game, this should be it. I did 50 puzzles per day, every day, and once I finished the entire CD I repeated the process six more times. Online tactics sites usually don’t cut it, because they aren’t structured so that you learn based off previous ideas and many don’t incorporate the pedagogical features of Chess Tactics for Beginners. Trust me, paying for CTB is worth it. If it becomes too easy for you (which won’t be a problem until you hit about 1600), use it as a refresher from time to time and get Chess Tactics for Intermediate Players.

If I had to recommend a book to accompany such study (which is helpful, since the above software doesn’t actually have any explanatory text), I’d recommend Chess Tactics for the Tournament Player for intermediate players, and Winning Chess Tactics for less experienced players.

 

        

I’ll admit, there is a bit of a leap between solving tactics puzzles and applying it to real games–obviously nobody’s going to tell you when a tactic is available, and you won’t be “primed” to find tactics the way you would be when solving a bunch of puzzles. To counteract this I created a binder of puzzles taken from tactics I missed in my games, and reviewed them from time to time.

Analysis

Analysis is by far the most undervalued part of chess training. As a kid I barely analyzed my games after tournaments, because I was lazy. This was a huge mistake—your games are worth their weight in gold! Learn algebraic chess notation so you can write down your moves, and analyze your games using the method outlined in this article. Use the analysis phase to brush up on your openings and endgames and practice your strategic play. If possible, have a stronger player go over your games with you after you’ve done your own analysis.

One big mistake is to rely heavily on computers for chess analysis. Too often, players use computers as a crutch to replace their own study of the game. Working through games on your own and trying to find the best moves and ideas is highly instructive. Computer analysis should be done only after you analyze the game on your own, so you can compare your analysis to the computer’s and unearth any mistakes you made in assessing critical positions in the game.

Openings

One of the biggest mistakes players make is to devote massive amounts of time to openings. This is because openings tend to be very concrete, and beginners think that simply memorizing an opening will give them an unassailable advantage over their opponents6.

Don’t bother spending any time studying openings outside of analyzing your games. Just make sure you know the basic opening principles. I teach my beginning students simple openings like the London System as white, and a kingside fianchetto system as black7. These openings are simple, solid, can be played against virtually anything.

Once you hit 1600, get a good opening book that gives you both specific moves and the ideas behind the opening. Don’t mindlessly memorize! Some good books here are Alburt’s Chess Openings for Black, Explained (I hear Chess Openings for White, Explained is pretty good but I’ve never used it), and Cox’s Starting Out: 1. d4!8.

         

Obviously this depends on your opening preferences. Even here openings should not be your main focus. I only consult these books when analyzing my games to see where I deviated from established opening theory

Strategy

Until you hit 1400-1500, you should be picking up strategic play from analyzing your games and going over annotated games. Once you hit that level, I recommend Silman’s The Amateur’s Mind and Seirawan’s Winning Chess Strategies. 

         

Once you hit 1800, Silman’s Reassess Your Chess, Fourth Edition.

Endgame

After learning the basic checkmates (King and Queen vs. King, King and Rook vs. King, etc.), Silman’s Complete Endgame Course is the only book you need. Study the appropriate section based on your rating, and only come back to it if it’s clear that you keep messing up endgames.

Annotated Games

Go over at least one annotated game a week (and more frequently if you’re a serious competitive player). A good annotated game book is Winning Chess Brilliancies by Seirawan. I hear the Mammoth Book of the World’s Greatest Chess Games is pretty good too, but I can’t personally vouch for it.

                

Psychology

Magnus Carlsen is my favorite chess player. In equal positions where many grandmasters would agree to a draw, Carlsen patiently pushes and probes, waiting until his opponent cracks and then grinding out a win. Magnus Carlsen is the world’s best player because he doesn’t give up.

When I was younger, I had an unfortunate habit of withdrawing from tournaments where I was doing badly. I made various excuses, but usually I withdrew because I had mentally given up after a few demoralizing losses. I did the same thing in chess games—after making a major mistake, I mentally gave up.

If chess is anything, it is a game of second chances. Chess, like life, rewards perseverance. I’ve turned countless losses into draws and wins because my opponents got overconfident while I dug in. I’ve also turned wins into losses because I was too intimidated by my opponent’s rating or reputation.

Chess psychology can be distilled to two simple rules:

  1. Don’t ever be afraid of your opponent
  2. Fight as hard as you can until the game is over9

Simply following these rules will add hundreds of points to your rating.

General Advice

Study broader topics, like strategy or endgame, only when you feel like that topic is causing you to lose. For instance, only open a strategy book if you keep getting outplayed positionally. Otherwise, your default state should be studying tactics and analyzing your games.

The tl;dr of this training plan is: play a lot, analyze your games, and primarily study tactics. Your knowledge of openings, endgame, middlegame, etc. will come from analyzing your games and going over grandmaster games. Only study one of those specific topics if it is clear you are specifically losing because of that topic.

Recommended Materials

This is just a compiled list of all the stuff I recommended in this article, and rating recommendations for each item.

Analysis

A hardcore guide to analyze your chess games (all levels)

Annotated Games

Winning Chess Brilliancies (1000+)

Mammoth Book of the World’s Greatest Chess Games* (1500+)

Endgame

Silman’s Complete Endgame Course (1000+)

Openings

The books will vary depending on your individual opening preferences

Starting Out: 1. d4! (1600+)

Chess Openings for Black, Explained (1600+)

Chess Openings for White, Explained* (1600+)

Strategy

The Amateur’s Mind (1400+)

Winning Chess Strategies (1400-1800)

Reassess Your Chess, Fourth Edition (1800+)

Tactics

Chess Vision and Knight Sight exercises from 400 Points in 400 Days Part I (all levels)

Chess Tactics for Beginners (all levels up to 1600)

Chess Tactics for the Tournament Player (1400+)

Winning Chess Tactics (1000+)

* I haven’t personally used these items

Tournament Materials

If you’re playing in tournaments, you’ll need three more items: a chess clock (pretty much mandatory, since tournaments don’t provide them), a tournament chess set (sometimes tournaments provide them, sometimes they don’t, and it’s useful to have a set to analyze between rounds), and a scorebook (optional, but highly recommended).

Chronos Chess Clock: This is the clock most serious players use, because it’s built to last. Mine is ten years old and still running strong, despite lots of drops and falls. Two cheaper clocks I bought before my Chronos eventually broke; in the long run, the Chronos is the cheapest clock to buy. Nonetheless, if $100 is too much, I recommend the DGT North American Clock.

Triple Weighted Tournament Chess Set: A chess set is another long-term investment; you want one that’ll last. Weighted pieces feel so much nicer than hollow, plastic pieces, and are less likely to get knocked over during time scrambles when both sides have little time on the clock. However, here’s a cheaper, unweighted set as well.

Deluxe Chess Tournament Scorebook with Lay Flat Binding: This is the scorebook I use to notate my chess games (required in most chess tournaments). The cheaper, spiral bound scorebooks with paper covers eventually rip and tear, while this holds twice as many games (100, versus 50) and lasts forever.

United States Chess Federation Official Rules of Chess, Fifth Edition: This is strictly optional, but the official USCF rulebook is useful to have in case of disputes (for US players, of course). I’ve used my copy to successfully appeal unfair rulings made by tournament directors.

What about all the chess books I already have?

If you’re like many other chess players, you’ve accumulated many chess books that you simply don’t need for rapid chess improvement. My advice: trade them in for Amazon gift cards.

Footnotes:

1 – Fischer’s appeal was that he was a sole American fighting against the Soviet machine that had dominated chess since World War II, and is 1972 World Championship match against Russia’s Boris Spassky was imbued with Cold War symbolism. Carlsen’s appeal is his incredible talent, his youth, his normalcy (compared to Fischer’s infamous egotism and antics) and yes, even his looks.

2 – I couldn’t find recent aggregate percentile data, but the USCF provides percentile data for individual active players, so I determined rating percentiles by looking up individual player ratings. The 50th percentile is around 800.

3 – I stopped playing serious competitive chess about four years ago (when I was 16, rated about 1950) because I got burned out. I still plan on someday making a return to competitive chess, and when I do I’ll pretty much be using this system to train and improve.

4 – I think the only reason I managed to improve reasonably quickly despite being so undisciplined about training was because I was young (my main competitive years were from age 13-16), I played a lot, and I had at least some natural aptitude. How quickly could I have improved if I had followed this system in a disciplined way? Probably about twice as fast.

5 – Here’s a very simplified guide for beginning players who want to improve rapidly in a month or two

  1. Learn the basic opening principles: control the center, develop your pieces, and king safety. Googling this should yield useful articles.

  2. Learn the basic checkmates: King + Queen vs King, King and two Rooks vs King, and King and one Rook vs King

  3. Get Chess Tactics for Beginners and do 50 puzzles a day

  4. Do the Chess Vision and Knight Sight exercises from 400 Points in 400 Days Part I

  5. Play as much as you can

  6. If possible, go over your games with a stronger player

6 – A lot of this is just to impress other players. It’s a common sight at chess tournaments to see players rattling off complicated sounding opening variations. At first these players intimidated me, but as I grew stronger I realized that these players were often the easiest to beat. Just get ’em out of the openings and crush ’em with tactics!

7 – This setup involves the moves Nf6, g6, d6, Bg7, and O-O, resulting in a setup as seen below. Experienced players might point out that this could lead to the King’s Indian Defense or the Pirc Defense, which turn out to be rather complicated openings. This is true, but you can play both these openings with little theoretical knowledge up to the 1600 level and still be fine.

8 – Incidentally, I own but don’t recommend the book’s counterpart, Starting Out: 1.e4!

9 – This doesn’t mean never, ever, resign. If you’re down a queen in an absolutely hopeless position against a strong opponent, it’s good etiquette to resign rather than needlessly drag on the game. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “If my opponent were playing Magnus Carlsen in this position, would Carlsen be able to win?” If the answer is yes, keep playing. If it is no, then resign.

Recommended Posts

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69 Comments
Adria
November 25, 2013 @ 6:15 am

Thank you very much for taking your time to write this article. It’s definitely going to help me a lot.

Reply
November 25, 2013 @ 11:36 pm

I enjoyed your personal take on how to improve at chess.

I reached 2057 at age 15, with barely any study, then stopped playing for 20 years, and when I came back, I decided to get serious, and found it tremendously challenging to improve further, because of so much that I didn’t really understand in chess. Analysis turned out to be the single most important source of improvement (and yes, the computer is indispensable for checking one’s own preliminary work). I did get up to 2197 during my comeback, then faltered (psychology played a role) and never made it to 2200! Still playing a little now, hope to continue to improve, although time is very limited now. The important thing is, based on experience (and my losses), I know now how to improve and what to focus on.

Reply
Geoffrey
November 26, 2013 @ 4:04 am

Awesome site to play chess online (free and opensource too): http://en.lichess.org/

Reply
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  • November 28, 2013 @ 11:41 am

    I appreciate your post. It is very helpful. I am about a 1800 or maybe a 1500. But it is because i wouldn’t finish games. It is important to finish your games. Since i finished my games and studied my openings and end games.i have started my advanced . Now i can beat 1700 & maybe even 1800 rated players, with a rating of 1300.

    Reply
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  • November 29, 2013 @ 8:21 pm

    I appreciate this, Gautam. Do you know of anyone who has made a similar guide for Go?

    Reply
      gautam
      November 30, 2013 @ 4:05 pm

      I don’t play Go so I can’t personally recommend anything, but a recent discussion of this article included a thread about Go with a few recommended resources. Good luck!

      Reply
        December 24, 2013 @ 8:28 pm

        Thanks! That’s great.

        Reply
    Spyrunner
    November 30, 2013 @ 7:04 am

    Wonderful article. Thanks for sharing it.

    Reply
    Nate
    December 1, 2013 @ 7:03 pm

    Good article!

    I might give this a try in January…

    Reply
      Nate
      December 1, 2013 @ 7:04 pm

      For playing online, what is a good site do you think? I realized recently there are about 100 to choose from.

      Reply
        gautam
        December 6, 2013 @ 5:10 pm

        Someone below suggested lichess.org, which I tried out and enjoyed using. I’m not a huge fan of the interface at chess.com, but it’s free and you’ll always have plenty of opponents. Another choice is the Internet Chess Club (ICC) if you’re really serious about your game, but it isn’t free. I’ve also heard good things about FICS (Free Internet Chess Server), but I’ve never used it.

        Reply
    December 3, 2013 @ 2:57 am

    I just wanted to tell you thank you for this post! I am inspired to try and study chess now. I’ve played 10,000s of games of speed chess online. I was able to win prize money as an unrated player in my first tournament. I think my rating afterwards was 1500. I have never tried analyzing before, but now I want to since you’ve laid it out so nicely. Thanks again.

    Reply
    Dan
    December 12, 2013 @ 6:04 pm

    What if I can’t use CTB? Any alternatives to this?

    Reply
      gautam
      January 5, 2014 @ 6:58 am

      I’ve heard CT Art 3.0 is decent, but I’ve never used it. If that doesn’t work for you, you may just be best off with internet resources. Chess Tactics for the Tournament Player and Winning Chess Tactics are decent tactics books if you can’t find any good websites.

      Reply
    David
    December 14, 2013 @ 5:31 pm

    Nice article, i bought Chess Tactics for Beginners and i love it :)

    Reply
    Fridah
    January 16, 2014 @ 3:03 am

    Nice article.Thanks for sharing it am certain it will help many begginers in chess.Regard

    Reply
    Glen
    February 7, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

    I’m turning 78 this month and just became very interested in chess about six months ago. Other chess club members tell me how much I’ve improved in just a short time. I have been playing OTB about 12 to 15 games each week and many games with different computer systems during the last five months. I read articles like this (I just found yours today), read, study, and play about six hours per day. I plan on following your suggestions, playing rated tournaments, not being intimated, fighting as hard as I can until each game is over, and resigning when I’m be overrun. This material you have given me is the most important help I’ve received to date. My first official lesson with a Master is tomorrow morning and I hope I’ll start improving even faster. Thank again!!! Glen B.

    Reply
      gautam
      February 7, 2014 @ 7:25 pm

      Glen, I’m really glad this article helped you, and I hope you inspire many others with your example. Good luck!

      Reply
    Zeyofa
    March 14, 2014 @ 7:55 pm

    Awesome post! This will soooooooo help me! Thank you so much!

    Reply
    Jarrod
    April 27, 2014 @ 8:05 pm

    I really loved this article! It helped me get over the beginner’s hump. I was wondering if there any books or sample games you could point me to on the opening for black you recommend? Or books with annotated games on a similar, closed opening for black?

    I’ve found “Win with the London System” and “Play the London System” really helpful after reading your post and was looking for something similar with black to see middle and endgames developing out of the opening.

    Thanks!

    Reply
      gautam
      April 28, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

      Hey Jarrod,
      Glad you liked the article. However, the whole point of my opening recommendations is that you don’t have to do any outside study to play them. For instance, I don’t think a book on the London System is necessary at all. Your opening knowledge should increase organically from playing and analyzing your games. If you’re rated below 1600, dedicated opening study is overkill and will suck up a lot of time while providing very little increase in playing strength. If you really want some practice with the opening as black, play some practice games on lichess (http://lichess.org) with the opening structure I recommended. Good luck!

      Reply
    Jarrod
    April 28, 2014 @ 5:00 pm

    Thanks for the response! I think I phrased my question poorly. I’m not interested in heavy theory/memorizing, I’m just looking for annotated games that arise from a similar position. That’s why I enjoyed the books I mentioned. I think if I look up some games with the Pirc or Alekhine’s Defense that should do the trick. Even though it takes up the smallest chunk of my study time, I find studying games with positions I play really enjoyable and rewarding.

    Reply
      gautam
      April 28, 2014 @ 11:17 pm

      In that case, I recommend looking at games in the Kings Indian Defense, Pirc Defense, and Benoni Defense. I don’t have any specific book recommendations, but what you can do is find top players who play their openings then look online for annotated games. For instance, Tal played the Benoni, Kasparov played the Kings Indian, and Alburt played the Pirc. Another possibility is to search a game database (filtering for rating) for games in those openings. You’ll find players who play them, and if they were played in major tournaments there’s a good chance of somebody annotating those games as well.

      Reply
    May 30, 2014 @ 10:33 pm

    THANK U! for the help im just a begginer if i played 10,000 puzzles or 1,000 does it wiill increase my rating (950) to 1000+?and what shall i use for white best defense?becoz if i play e4 sometimes i lose wat shall i do?

    Reply
    Prashant Purshottam
    July 29, 2014 @ 1:40 pm

    thanks a lot for this wonderfull article.
    its really very valuable advice for all the chess player

    once again thank you.

    Reply
    Prashant Purshottam
    July 30, 2014 @ 1:36 pm

    thanks a lot for wonderfull article

    Reply
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  • John Moyer
    October 5, 2014 @ 11:30 am

    I read and study books. I have DVD’s. I play every day I win and I lose. I sit at the chessboard everyday. I still can’t get my rating to go up. I have opening, middle game, endgame, tactics. Games by various masters. Exercise books. Checkmate books. To no avail nothing seems to work. I play good and I play bad. I get on a roll of wins and then there are some days I can’t buy a winning game. I try different websites. What should I do? Continue reading more chess books? John Moyer

    Reply
      gautam
      November 14, 2014 @ 11:32 am

      Do you analyze your games? Do you play in over the board (real life) tournaments? If you’re getting stuck after doing all that, something isn’t working. Many players get trapped in this shotgun approach where they buy many books/DVDs/website subscriptions, dabble a little bit here and a little bit there, and ultimately see no improvement. If you want, email me at gautam@gautamnarula.com with one of your games and I’ll help you analyze it to see where you should be focusing your study.

      Reply
    jason
    November 12, 2014 @ 8:17 pm

    I am a beginning player and u know more than me but everything ive read they tell beginners to stay away from the black openings u recommended.they say u need to know strategy or you will vet destroyed.they recommend French or scandanvian.

    Reply
      gautam
      November 14, 2014 @ 11:38 am

      Beginners don’t really need much strategical or opening knowledge at all beyond general principles, because most games will be decided by tactical or endgame blunders. I used to play the French when I was a beginner (USCF 1100ish) and occasionally played the Scandinavian as a 1900 player. The French and Scandinavian are fine openings, but there’s nothing about them that make them particularly beginner friendly. The advice you’re reading doesn’t sound very good.

      Reply
        jason
        November 14, 2014 @ 3:32 pm

        THANK you I will try the kings Indian. Sometimes I read to many things like I said you know more than me.I appreciate your time.

        Reply
    Tim
    November 20, 2014 @ 12:36 am

    Very useful post, relevant too for my season of life. I played a bit of chess as a younger person and was one of the better players at my club (rated maybe 1200-1300 back then). However, I stopped playing due to work, school etc. and now I want to take the game seriously and try to improve my rating as fast as possible. Do you have any knowledge on chess.com? I signed up as a member there and they seem to have TONS of resources at their disposal. Sometimes there is so much I can get lost (Learning videos, tutorials, mentor lessons, coaching, tactical puzzles, just to name a few). Do you have any thoughts on this? I am planning on ordering the Tactics for beginners and until it arrives, focus more on the tutorials and tactical puzzles from the chess.com website. I”m going to try and devote about 3 hours of chess study per day, any thoughts on the amount of time one should devote? I know it’s quality over quantity etc and that is kind of open ended question but would appreciate any insight. Thanks!

    Reply
      gautam
      December 9, 2014 @ 1:06 pm

      If you have that much time to devote, you should focus on OTB chess instead of chess.com. Playing 2-3 tournaments a month + deeply analyzing those games + using books to focus on your weaknesses you’ll have no problems using up that time.

      In terms of how much time to devote, there’s no limit, though I think below 2000 or 2200 spending more than 1.5-2 hours a day is probably overkill. The most important thing is to devote as much time to playing OTB chess as possible, and analyzing those games, supplemented with tactical studying. That alone will get you from 1200 to 1600+ in a year.

      Many people (myself included, when I was younger) make the mistake of blindly trying to absorb and utilize as much of the vast amounts of chess tutorials and literature out there as possible, when you really only need one percent of it (but the right one percent) to reach your goals. That’s why I wrote this article in the first place: to give people a proven, effective way to navigate through the overload of chess resources.

      Reply
    Michel arvidsson
    November 26, 2014 @ 3:44 am

    Hello,
    I am 50 years old and I know the basics of chess. Now I want to learn more about chess. Your advices about starting with Chess for beginners sounds reasonable.
    But before I read your advice I thought I should get a good start by reading and studying in this order:
    1. comprehensive chess course 1+2
    2. the complete idiots guide to chess
    3. Winning chess strategy for kids (coakley)

    Then
    4.Predator at the Chessboard 1+2
    5.Play winning chess (seirawan)
    6. winning Chess tactics (Seirawan)
    7. chess tactics for champions (polgar)
    8. Logical chess move by move (Cherney)
    9. The Amateurs mind (Silman)
    10. Silmans complete Endgame course
    11. How to beat your dad at chess
    12. The art of checkmate

    my question is : do you think it is better to skip 1-3 and start with Chess for beginners in stead or do you recommend only 1 of the three first books to get a good basic knowledge – for example Comprehensive Chess Course.

    I understand theimporta ce of playing chess OTB and analysing the games to be better. I will start with 6 months reading and training tacticd and playing agains the computer (Chesstrainer, deep fritz).
    Then I will join a chess club when I am more solid.

    Reply
      gautam
      December 9, 2014 @ 1:01 pm

      I think you run the risk that many lower level players run: buy tons of books, spend lots of time nibbling at each of them, and ultimately not seeing much improvement. I knew many of these players back in my tournament days. Ultimately, their program was unstructured and not focused on their weakest point, which meant their chess studying was much like waxing and washing a car when the engine isn’t working.

      I think you should read Comprehensive Chess Vols 1 and 2 (or, Play Winning chess and Comprehensive Chess vol 2), and then follow the guide in this article as written.

      I also think you should join a chess club and play OTB right away, not six months from now. I promise you will improve much faster if you combine your study with OTB play rather than waiting until you’re “good enough” to join a club.

      Reply
    Branden O'Donnell
    November 27, 2014 @ 10:36 am

    Hello Sir,

    Thank you for this article! It is very insightful and I really look forward to trying it.
    Can you please let me know if you do all of these micro drills and tactics at the same time? Or do you do the 1,000 tactics seven times and then begin the micro drills?

    Do you have plans to release part 2 any time soon?

    Thank you!

    Reply
      gautam
      December 9, 2014 @ 12:57 pm

      You do both the micro drills and tactics at the same time.

      Unfortunately I haven’t had time to return to competitive chess, but I’m hoping to do so in the next 6-12 months, which is when I’ll update this article with part 2.

      Reply
    Bahee
    January 26, 2015 @ 10:37 pm

    Thank you very much for this wonderful articles. I coach my daughter ( 8 year old ) with my basic chess knowledge & some resources from the Internet. She scores around 4/6 ,3.5/6 in most of the tournaments. Can you suggest me some some useful websites or some free online sources for her age group to improve more.

    Thank you

    Reply
      gautam
      January 27, 2015 @ 4:28 pm

      I’m glad your daughter is interested in chess and playing tournaments! When I was that age, what drove me most (both in terms of wanting to play and becoming a better player) was my competitiveness. I had fun playing, and I wanted to win! It’s hard to give specifics when I don’t know her playing level or specific level of interest, but for playing online I recommend she play on http://lichess.org (you may want to disable chat during the games). She can practice tactics and chess puzzles at http://chesstempo.com. And, if possible, go over her games with her and point out areas where she can improve. Above all else, make sure chess is always fun for her!

      Reply
    Henry Leung
    January 27, 2015 @ 2:32 pm

    Hi Gautam!
    I’m not sure where to really start.
    Should I start with tactics?
    Should I just play with the GT Chess Team?

    Reply
      gautam
      January 27, 2015 @ 4:32 pm

      Hey Henry,

      Assuming you already know the basic rules for chess, the GT team is a good starting place. I’ve played/competed against/been friends with many of the people at GT’s chess club, and the great thing is that the club has players of all levels: casual beginners who play for fun, and master level players who compete nationally. You’ll get better just by playing against people there, and chess clubs are usually pretty fun.

      If you like it and are motivated to study on your own, you can follow the plan outlined here. The most important aspects for a beginner are tactics (use CT for Beginners, or a free website like Chess Tempo) and basic endgames like King and pawn vs King and the basic checkmates. Silman’s Endgame Course is a great book for that kind of stuff. Good luck!

      Reply
    February 24, 2015 @ 11:51 am

    I noticed you referred to lichess, but not chess.com.

    I have a friend who is on chess.com, and only for that reason did I select chess.com, and it’s free!

    Any commenst on which might be better and why, or how they are different?

    Can I play you on chess.com and get instruction after games? !!!

    Reply
      gautam
      March 17, 2015 @ 3:12 pm

      Hi Jay,

      Both lichess and chess.com are free. However, I prefer lichess because it’s an open source, nonprofit venture. Chess.com bombards you with ads and constantly tries to upsell you on their premium subscriptions. Further, I find lichess’s user interface to be much more clean and simple than chess.com’s, and their developer team seems much more innovative and open to feedback than chess.com’s. Chess.com has interesting articles/blogs/chess columns, but you don’t need to be a member to read them.

      I’m pretty busy these days, but I may have time for a few games a week. Email me at gautam [at] gautamnarula.com with your availability and we’ll figure something out. I’d prefer we play on lichess instead of chess.com.

      Reply
    Hasnain Mehedi
    April 25, 2015 @ 9:34 pm

    Gautam, how do you calculate and compare rating difference with playing strength (e.g. you mentioned that ‘from 1100 to 1950, a 135 fold increase of strength’).
    Will you please explain the calculation method?
    Thanks in advance.

    Reply
      gautam
      April 26, 2015 @ 3:30 pm

      Hey Hasnain,

      The calculations come from the expected win rates based on elo differences. So, as per the elo rating algorithm, a player rated 1950 is expected to score 135 out of 136 (135 wins and 1 loss, or 134 wins and 2 draws) against a player rated 1100.

      A simple way to calculate this for yourself is to use the USCF rating estimator: https://www.uschess.org/content/view/12211/726/

      For the above example, we enter one opponent rated 1950 and our current rating as 1100. Then we use trial and error to find the exact score that will result in a performance rating of 1100 (meaning the actual score matched the expected score). In this case, you’ll find a score of .00745 is the expected score, since that results in a performance rating of 1100. To get the relative odds of winning, we simply divide (1-.00745)/.00745 which is approximately 135. Hence, a 1950 is 135 times stronger than a 1100. Hope that helps!

      Reply
    Carlos
    July 13, 2015 @ 11:48 pm

    For the concentric square Chess Vision exercise, I’m a little confused. By safely fork/skewer the king and rook, does M. de la Maza mean on the next turn, the queen should be able to capture the piece safely without being recaptured by the king? I’m just worried since there are no safe forks/skewers I see on c3, d3, e3, f3, f4, f5, f6, f7, e7, d7, c7, b7, b6, b5, b4, and b3, which are squares on the second concentric square.

    In the case that I am mistaken, I fear I may overlook other forks/skewers on the way to the rest of the squares. Is there software available that can help me check if I have gotten all of them? Thanks

    Reply
      gautam
      July 27, 2015 @ 5:06 am

      I interpreted the exercise as the queen should be able to capture the piece safely without being recaptured by the king. As far as I know, there is no software to help you out with this (other than tedious custom positions and looking at engine suggested moves), but with enough practice you’ll instinctively find all of the tactics. Start off slowly and look carefully for as many tactics as you can find. For many of the squares in the second concentric square, there won’t be any (as you mentioned).

      Reply
    Steve Peterangelo
    July 27, 2015 @ 7:34 pm

    Wonderful article, thank you. I’ve dabbled in chess for years (mainly playing internet and computers). I recently joinced my local chess club and am looking for the best way to improve and your article spells it out perfectly. As you pointed out, there are so many resources out there that it’s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Do you have any experiece with the tactics probelms on chesscademy.com? I’ve recently joined but am not sure if it’s the best use of my time. Thanks again!

    Steve

    Reply
      gautam
      July 28, 2015 @ 1:12 am

      My girlfriend (a beginner) plays on chesscademy and seems to like it. I can’t really vouch for it one way or the other, since the one time I used it (admittedly over a long time ago) the material was too basic for me. I will say that personally I still have yet to find a tactics resource as good in instructive value as Chess Tactics for Beginners–not only because of the quality of the puzzles, but the hints are instructive and it’s very well organized in a natural, pedagogical fashion. Hopefully they’ll make it available on the web instead of just a computer download.

      Reply
    Ajeeth S
    August 14, 2015 @ 5:02 am

    Thank you very much for taking your time to write this article. It’s definitely going to help me a lot.

    I appreciate your post. It is very helpful. I am about a 1800 or maybe a 1500. But it is because i wouldn’t finish games. It is important to finish your games. Since i finished my games and studied my openings and end games.i have started my advanced . Now i can beat 1700 & maybe even 1800 rated players, with a rating of 1300.

    Reply
    sai arvindh
    August 23, 2015 @ 7:03 am

    this thing helped me lot in my journey of chess . it gave me enogh confident to bravely face grand masters

    Reply
    Supreem
    August 26, 2015 @ 3:33 am

    Hello Gautam, thanks for the great article.

    You seem to stress playing OTB chess as opposed to online chess. Why is that exactly?

    Reply
      gautam
      September 4, 2015 @ 3:41 pm

      Darn, I wrote out a lengthy reply and it seems to have been deleted!

      Four reasons:

      1) OTB games are limited and thus not “disposable”, so you and your opponent take them more seriously. A chess tournament usually had between three and seven rounds, so there is no endless stream of new games to replace a low quality game. The relative scarcity of games will subconsciously make you play better, because who wants to waste an OTB game with low quality play?

      2) You can more easily analyze the game after with your opponent, which is useful if done correctly.

      3) You’re in a serious environment surrounded by serious players. It’s a healthy form of peer pressure that brings out the best in you and your opponents.

      4) I believe the physical connection created by actually holding pieces and moving them on a physical board helps you retain information and learn better, just like writing notes physically can be more effective in helping you remember them than typing them on a computer. It’s quite literally hands on learning.

      Reply
    winnielovesgames
    September 14, 2015 @ 10:51 pm

    i want to be good at chess but my rating is 280 i dont understand how im losing, ive got 1/50 wins with 3 ties i dont know how to get better and i dont understandwhat most of the things that youve said are

    Reply
      winnielovesgames
      September 14, 2015 @ 11:05 pm

      correcton 168

      Reply
        gautam
        September 17, 2015 @ 1:47 pm

        Winnie, at a rating of 168 (is this a USCF rating? Chess.com? Lichess?), you’re probably lacking some very key fundamentals that will prevent any further improvement.

        I would focus on learning the very simple checkmates: King and Queen vs. King, King and two Rooks vs. King, and King and Rook vs. King. Then focus on playing each game by checking, after every move, whether a move your opponent made drops a piece, or if a move you want to make will drop a piece.

        Learn the basic opening principles–control the center, develop your pieces, and get the king safe.

        This alone should take you to the next level, and furthermore allow you to understand how and why you lose your games and how to improve.

        You may find a book I wrote, Chess for the Novice Player, useful: http://www.amazon.com/Chess-For-Novice-Player-Beginning/dp/0984547800

        Alternatively, you can find lots of useful information on the topics I mentioned online by googling or through sites such as Chesscademy. Good luck!

        Reply
    deepak
    September 26, 2015 @ 1:12 pm

    i am an un rated player till now bt my strength is above 1400….. How can i carry forward my self to a top player……

    Reply
      gautam
      October 14, 2015 @ 10:56 am

      The article lays out exactly what you need to do. Start by analyzing your games and practicing tactics.

      Reply
        Jordan
        October 27, 2015 @ 3:39 pm

        This is interesting. Look forward to seeing you on action. I play the London as white for many of the reasons you stated, it’s a universal opening that gives me a playable middle game.

        As a dad with limited time, I definitely understand and value the keep it simple and worker smarter not harder philosophies. Great (and limited!) book referrals, I have a few of those also and find them a continual source of useful information.

        Reply
          gautam
          November 12, 2015 @ 2:02 am

          Thanks Jordan! I’ve decided to set a firm date for my long postponed return to competitive chess (it’s been nearly six years since I quit playing seriously): summer of 2016. I plan on using this basic formula (but at a higher level) to become a chess master in a relatively short amount time. I’m sure I’ll have to tweak things along the way, and I plan on eventually writing a sequel to this article based on what I learn.

          As for the London System, I have had complaints that it’s a bit “boring”–if that’s the case, I recommend the Colle or Colle-Zukertort, which are very similar openings but allow aggressive players some scope for attack.

          Reply
    Greg Waite
    March 11, 2016 @ 3:35 am

    Great post. I’d add that once you are past 1800 there is value from 1) a book or two of your favourite pro players games, some of those higher level skills are picked up by osmosis with thorough analysis of games in your own style 2) choosing a repertoire to suit your style (agree not exhaustive memorisation, but again analysing new pro wins in the line will give you lots of inspiration, available via 1 month free trial of chessbase)
    Cheers, Greg

    Reply

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