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.