Saturday, May 23, 2015

4 tips to help you in your chess training

You come into the classroom for your sessions and games, 2 hours per week. Some of you go for another 2 hours on Monday. Most of you come in to play games and have fun, a few come with the serious mindset on improving your play, and another few sit there wondering what the f___ you are doing with your life.

So how many of you have experienced significant advancement in your playing skills? Perhaps a couple. Maybe 10 people. Or half the team. But definitely not everyone.

Because if you're serious on improving, spending those 2 or 4 hours per week in your CCA is not enough. You will need to take your learning out of the classroom, and incorporate some practice habits into your daily life. And while doing so, you need to know what methods can help maximize your training efficiency so that you will not end up wasting time.

Having said that, here are 4 tips that will help you work out some good training habits:

1. Don't focus all your time on the opening

Many club players love to imitate grandmasters, and invest the bulk of their training into opening theory. Instead of spending their time on tactics, they would rather memorize the first 20 moves of the Berlin Defense or the Sicilian Dragon. But this is not the right way to train.

Dat feeling

Grandmasters can afford to sit before their engines and explore deep opening theory simply because they have perfected everything else. With little chances to win through tactics or straightforward plans, they must rely on gaining that small opening advantage to outsmart their opponent. But at club level, we ought to focus on building our foundations first. It doesn't make sense to gain that +0.3 advantage only to lose it by blundering away your Queen three moves later.

If you wish to train a solid opening repertoire, I recommend familiarizing yourself with the basic plans behind a couple of openings (ideally 2 for White, 2 for Black) that you feel comfortable with. After that, stop. Go and hone your tactical skills and other relevant stuff. You may come back and review your opening repertoire only if you feel it isn't working right for you.

2. Focus on the more important aspects of the game

This is related to Point 1; don't waste your time memorizing obscure opening lines, or complex theoretical endgames that are unlikely to occur in real play. It's like mugging pages of physics equations in preparation for a biology exam; sounds nonsensical, right?

Instead, devote your training time to areas that are more likely to help you in an actual game. In my opinion, the 3 most important aspects of the game that you should work on are:

  • Tactics. Sounds cliche, but I simply can't emphasize more on this. Spotting that winning blow or avoiding a blunder is something that can can occur anytime during the game, and you should be proficient in it.'s Tactics Trainer provides members with 5 free puzzles per day, and that is enough for your practice.
  • Strategy and Planning. Various strategic elements are vital in devising a plan during the middlegame, so it's important to have at least a basic understanding of them. A good way to hone your strategic thinking would be to go through annotated grandmaster games, and understand the plans that both sides are trying to come up with.
  • Relevant Endgames. Imagine the frustration if your opponent blunders a piece, but you can't win the resulting endgame. Check out this article which talks about endgame positions that are relevant to actual gameplay (though I would suggest leaving the Bishop-Knight checkmate to the last, since it's the hardest), as well as this one which explains fundamental endgame principles.

Study the right things, and you will be more confident during gameplay.

3. Evaluate your practice games

You've already been playing 1-2 practice games every Friday. That is good. But blindly playing your game and forgetting it after the match is not going to help you improve. To make the most out of it, it is best to evaluate your game, identifying your strengths and shortcomings from it.

Take a photo of your record sheet before submitting it, and write down a couple of lines about the game: What was your plan, and overall how did you achieve/fail to achieve it, etc. Then you can annotate and evaluate in detail over the weekends. Don' be embarassed by any of your mistakes, for it is through them that you identify your weaknesses and work on them.

If you are keen, you can go one step further and play time-control (and by that I mean at least 25-30 minutes, NOT blitz!) games with a friend or over the internet. Then you can evaluate those games.

I have included a couple of my annotated games below as an example:

Example 1:

Example 2:

4. Have a fixed training schedule

Self-explanatory: Having a fixed plan allows you to learn more than studying haphazardly. At the amateur level, you only need to spend a small amount of time on chess daily; there is no need to spend 8 hours a day studying chess theory. If you do, chances are you will collapse from exhaustion and become sick of the game, unless you're Bobby Fischer.

"2 hours per week is tiring? Do tell me more, brother."

However, keep in mind that regular practice is important: It is better to train for 1 hour per day, than cram 5 hours of training into a single day and forget about it for the next week or so.

Seeing that most of you have your own hectic schoolwork to deal with, coming up with a rigorous training plan might be tricky. If you're unsure on how to devise one, here's a suggestion on what you can provide yourself if you dedicate 1 hour each day for chess:

  • Analyzing an annotated game (20 minutes)
  • 5 chess problems (10-15 minutes)
  • Studying a practical endgame position (20 minutes)
  • 10 minute buffer time

If time is really tight, you can spend 10-15 minutes per day on chess puzzles, and leave the rest to the weekends. It still works, but the point is that it must be done regularly... preferably every day!

Wrapping up

So you know how to maximize your training efficiency after reading this article? Well... go and get started now! (:


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