Play to Your Strengths in the Opening, or Play the Best Openings?

2 04 2010

In a recent post about How to Study, I mentioned I thought it was better to play openings reflective on your chess strengths rather than play the best openings out there.

This is a very debatable topic and one that needs some explanation about why I think that.

The reason why I have the opinion that I do is that the opening is not what determines the game. Sure, you can occasionally catch your opponent with a refutation (always play those), but will happen only rarely, and even if you get a good position out of the opening, if you aren’t comfortable with it, then you won’t play well and you’ll lose the game anyways.

The argument (I guess) is that you will get in a bad position if you play an opening that possibly isn’t the best, or that perhaps anyone could play well in a good position.

To deal with the first one, I have to say that I agree completely; with the part about getting a bad position. Only play openings with positions that you feel comfortable playing in. If you play a “bad” opening but get in a position that you like more than in a “good” opening, then the opening is better for you.

The second one is just bogus to me. It seems silly to think that anyone could play well in a “good” position. Only if you’re comfortable with it.

So the best openings for you are the ones which you’re most comfortable playing; that’s what I think, and that’s what I think makes sense. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.


How to Study

26 03 2010

A little bit ago, I wrote a post on getting a study schedule. However, just having a book to study and having the time to study isn’t quite enough; you need to know how to study. If you’re doing it wrong, then you’re wasting your time, and I really don’t want that. Each genre has a different method you should you to study, so I’m breaking it up into those sections.


Know that just because I recommend playing the lines of a certain opening or a certain book or DVD about the opening doesn’t mean that you’ll want to actually play it. Every player has different styles. I would recommend using the test that I tell you people to use so often on this site to measure their chess skills: Opening, tactics, positional, calculation, strategy, and endgame. Certain openings require different strengths. For example, the Caro Kann and French are both positional, while the Dragon or Grunfeld is more tactical, calculation, and strategy. I obviously recommend playing to your strengths, and that’s something I’ll talk more about in the future.

I’ll do my best job relaying you the information on what type of play you get from the opening, and hopefully you’ll heed that and only buy things to your strengths. However, if you somehow miss it or are buying it from another recommendation (I’m far from the only reputable source out there), skim through it and check out the positions you’ll get from the opening and if you’re comfortable with them.

Once you’ve got an opening that you want to learn, you now have to memorize it; or at least its ideas. You don’t have to memorize every line, but you should at least memorize the few main ones and some side variations so you’re comfortable with the position.

The main problem that I’ve found is that most of the advice out there is simply not the best possible. So I enter the line into Rybka, analyze it, and if it thinks there’s a better move, then I’ll leave it alone for a while, have it analyze deeply and play some engine matches. I will then study the material Rybka provides, as Rybka is the strongest player in the world and is perfect. You may have to recheck if the lines Rybka provides would still give you a comfortable game. If not, then I’d recommend going back to the original.

I have a photographic memory, so memorization is pretty easy for me, but here’s what I do:

I sit at the board and play through the first two moves of the line off a printed paper. I then set the board back up and try to play them without the paper. I keep doing this every two moves until I’ve memorized the line. Repetition is great for memorization, so I think this is best way.

Finally, load up ChessBase and look at games in each line Grandmasters played. Go over these games on a board, and you should get a good feel for the position.

I redo my openings every sixth months, including starting from scratch with choosing my openings based on my current chess skills (luckily, I usually am able to stick with the same openings).

Middle Game

The middle game is easier to study because the materials out there on it are simply much more comprehensive.

I skim over the book first to see if it’s worth reading. If I decide it is, I go through it very carefully, and take notes on the lessons I learn. I admit this is partly so I have some more guidance for when I write my own books (I’m not copying; I add my ideas to those notes), but mainly so I can read my notes instead of all that conversational talk and blah! in the book.

If it’s a really good book (and I’ve only done this with a few), I label it in my “classics” shelf, and every sixth months, I take it out and read through it again. I put the books which I won’t be looking at again into my chess collection, though I do go through the notes periodically, because I only take notes on things which will help. The books that are really good, though, I will read them again, every six months.


For the endgame, I simply study two books every sixth months, Silman’s Endgame Course and the Dvortsky book or however you spell it (I don’t have it with me). I’ll tell you how to use those when I review them.

Begin Already!

So I’ve told you why you should study, how I study, how to set your study goals, and now I’ve told you how to study. Not only that, but I’ve given you some book reviews of books that I’ve read. Now you don’t have any excuses to go out there and start studying! I give you the best of luck.

Setting Your Chess Goals

19 03 2010

See full size image

A while ago, I wrote some posts about studying. I mentioned how important it is in chess to have goals, and I briefly explained how to set the goals.

Today, I want to talk more about that subject.

What is a Goal?

Most people set rating goals. However, I think that is a very bad idea.

The first reason is that it is simply impossible to calculate what will happen with who you’re playing and good luck trying to figure out the USCF algorithm. Some people do have an idea, yes, but an idea isn’t good enough; the only ones who really know work for USCF, and they aren’t talking.

You also have to remember that your rating isn’t really a good indicator of your strength. It’s a rough estimate, and when I saw rough, I mean very rough. I’ve been out here playing for over five years now, and my rating still isn’t even close to being where it should be. If your rating is pretty reflective of your actual skill, it means one of two things: 1. Your rating is over 2300 (the points become much harder after that) or 2. You’ve hit a plateau. I think it’s safe to say that most of you are below 2300, and hitting a plateau is obviously something that nobody (aside from the World Champion) would be happy about.

When you give yourself a rating estimate, it also puts a lot of pressure on you to win games. Most people will fold under the pressure, and chances are good that they won’t meet the goal. Then they start doubting themselves.

Just because your rating isn’t going up doesn’t mean that you aren’t getting better. I’m about 100 points below where I was a month ago, but I’m much stronger. Learning about the opening is great, but just getting a good position out of the opening doesn’t guarantee you victory. If your opponent previously had a skill rating of 1500 and you had one of 1200, then even if you get to 1350, you’ll still lose most of the time, but the games will be closer.

Finally, a rating goal is just too general. Saying that you want to get to, say, 1600 in sixth months doesn’t really mean anything if you don’t take the steps to actually do it. Instead, you need to set goals of what you’re going to do to actually get there.

Setting a Study Goal

I recommend setting a study goal. Studying is a great way to get better, so the more you study the better you get.

I will warn you that if you study for a while out of the blue, your rating will suffer and you’ll get worse at the beginning. However, after that, it will take an enormous jump, and you’ll be a much stronger player.

How to Set the Goal

So how do you decide what your goal will be and how to set it? Well, here’s what you do:

First, you look over your past ten or fifteen or so games and see what has been going on. Then, rate yourself based on opening, tactics, strategy, positional, calculation, and endgame. You should study all aspects, but the ones which you rate yourself lower in, of course, you should study more.

Next, take a look at your schedule and how much time you have for chess. If you don’t have much time, ask yourself if there’s anything you’re willing to drop in order to play better chess? If you just can’t find time, then be aware that you will probably never progress much in chess.

You have to choose what cycle you’re going to use. I use a weekly cycle, because I have the time each week to get to all of those aspects of the game. However, for many of you, that will be impossible. I would recommend that there should be around ten hours in each cycle, and then you split that up accordingly to your schedule.

You can study in small periods of time gradually to get up to those ten hours, but if it’s possible to study for longer periods, that would be much better, as I think it takes people a while to get into the groove.

So a three week cycle might look like this:

Monday: 20 minutes: Openings
Tuesday: 30 minutes: Strategy
Wednesday: 45 minutes: Tactics
Thursday: 35 minutes: Positional
Friday: 25 minutes: Calculation
Saturday: 25 minutes: Endgame
Sunday: 20 minutes: Free (on Sunday, I always like to either study whatever or just spend that time doing something else. A different day for you might be appropriate.

So you could just repeat that three weeks, and you’ve reached ten hours. Remember that the more you study, the better you get.

Note: Here is my current personal study schedule.

Changing Your Study Schedule

After every fifteen games, I recommend to reevaluate your skills (something I’ll talk more about at a later date) and change your study schedule in accordance to your new skills in certain areas.

How to Find Study Material

A great study plan is great, but it won’t do any good if you don’t have anything to study. If you can’t afford study books or DVDs, then you shouldn’t be playing chess; it’s a pretty expensive game.

I know how tough times are; I don’t want you to waste your money, and I want you to get better at chess. So I’ll be reviewing the books and DVDs (good and bad) that I read/watch and telling you if they’re worth it or not. Every other month, I’ll publish a list of the top ten books and DVDs to buy, so you really are getting the very best for your money. So get studying!

My Chess Studying Schedule

6 03 2010

As someone who has gone up very rabidly, many people ask me: Do I study, and if so, how much?

Of course, I study; if I didn’t, I can only imagine how low I would be. As my ambition for chess has grown, so has the amount of time I study. It depends on the player and their personal goals (for example, my goal to become World Champion is most likely higher than your goals). Tomorrow, I’ll tell you more about studying.

Here is my current study schedule:

  • Monday: Two Hours of Openings

These days, openings are crucial to know. I get my main opening studying out of the way early on Monday morning before school. Because I have a Monday night game every week, I often work on the opening that I expect to happen.

  • Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday: An Hour and a Half of Tactics/Strategy/Position

These factors are definitely the most important in chess game, as virtually nothing can be done without them. I study these the most.

  • Friday: An Hour of Theory

What I mean by this is what chess is and what determines wins and losses. Revolutionize Your Chess is a prime example.

  • Saturday: Two Hours of End-Games

If both players play correctly, an endgame will often result. End-games are very important, and I set aside two hours a week to freshen up on the many, many end-games.

  • Sunday: Free Day

On Sunday, I don’t do anything particular; just anything that I want. Sometimes, I just take the day off and spend it with different activities.

Most likely, a pretty vigorous training schedule compared to yours. As I said, it all depends on the person. Later in the day, I’ll tell you more about studying.


6 03 2010

Earlier in the day, I told you my studying schedule. Now, I want to talk about studying for you.

Should You Study?

Yes! If you want to get better, there is no better way to do it than studying. If you study openings, you will probably get a better position about the opening, etc.

I know of some people who don’t study yet are very strong; instead, they learn by playing an amazing number of games, and learning from those. Will that is possible, I don’t recommend it, because it’s faster to just get the answers from a book rather than finding them yourself.

How much Time?

How much time you study depends on your chess goal (something I’m going to post about tomorrow) and how much time you have. First, the goal.

If your goal is to get to 1600 in sixth months, for example, and you’re 1450 at the moment, then you need to be more specific; decide how good you’ll have to get at openings, middle-games, and end-games and look at how good you are now. Then choose a certain goal to help you get there.

So, let’s say you want to completely learn the Grunfeld and the Ruy Lopez. Choose what material you’ll have to study to get there and estimate how much time it will take. Perhaps you want to get through a book about strategy. It’s impossible to know how much your rating will go up, so you have to break it into these separate categories (expect more on this tomorrow).

If you don’t have the time, you’ll either have to scale back your goals, or (depending on how much you like chess) you might cut into things such as watching TV or going fishing. This will be a tough decision.

Breaking it Up and Being Consistent

I recommend you make a consistent study schedule, as if you’re flying all over the place, you will be probably not get very far as you might forget the material or go through curves. I think it’s much better to stick to a schedule.

Not just a time schedule, but a schedule that breaks down into separate opening categories. For example, openings on Monday’s, end-games on Tuesdays.

So to help you study, I will be telling you what I study, reviewing it, and giving you my own material for you to study. I can’t wait to tell you about some excellent books.