2020 FIDE Candidates Tournament: Everything you need to know about the most competitive event in chess

By Leon Watson / On / In Chessable news, World Chess Championship

Get ready for the fast-approaching 2020 Fide Candidates tournament – the penultimate stage of the World Chess Championship cycle and, without doubt, the most exciting until the final showdown.

This is an all-play-all tournament to decide who has the right to challenge the king of chess, Magnus Carlsen. It is the nearest chess gets to a Bruce Lee film.

Where and when is it?

The FIDE Candidates 2020, the tournament’s proper name, is scheduled for March 16, when the opening ceremony will take place, to April 4. It has a prize fund of €500,000 and there will be a total of 14 days of play, excluding tie-breaks.

The event will be held in Yekaterinburg, a Russian city east of the Urals, at the Hyatt Regency, a five-star luxury hotel in the heart of the city.

Who will win the right to face Magnus Carlsen?
Who will win the right to face Magnus Carlsen?

Yekaterinburg is famous for being the site of the Romanov executions in 1918 when Russia’s ruling family, including  Tsar Nicholas II, were executed.

Will Yekaterinburg be the first step on the way to the present Tsar of chess being deposed? We’ll find out in November when the World Chess Championship takes place.

Who is taking part?

The eight competitors qualified for the Fide Candidates tournament via a variety of routes. Here is the line-up:

  1. Fabiano Caruana (USA, 2842) – qualified as the Challenger of the World Championship match 2018
  2. Teimour Radjabov (AZE, 2765) – qualified as the winner of the FIDE World Cup 2019
  3. Ding Liren (CHN, 2805) – qualified as the finalist of the FIDE World Cup 2019
  4. Wang Hao (CHN, 2758) – qualified as the winner of the FIDE Grand Swiss Tournament 2019
  5. Alexander Grischuk (RUS, 2777) – qualified as the winner of the FIDE Grand Prix 2019
  6. Ian Nepomniachtchi (RUS, 2774) – qualified as one of two top finishers in the FIDE Grand Prix 2019
  7. Anish Giri (NED, 2763) – qualified by rating as the player with the highest average rating for 12 rating periods from February 2019 to January 2020
  8. Kirill Alekseenko (RUS, 2704) – was given a wild card by the organizers

What is the Fide Candidates tournament format?

The Fide Candidates tournament is an eight-player double round-robin. In the end, Carlsen’s next challenger will emerge.

Round 1 will take place on March 17 and then the pattern will be three rounds of play and then a rest day, followed by three more rounds of play.

If necessary, tie breaks will be held on the final day along with the closing ceremony.

Here are the pairings for Round 1:

Radjabov Caruana
Ding LirenWang Hao
GiriNepomniachtchi
GrischukAlekseenko

 

You may notice one of the rules is that players from the same federation play each other in earlier rounds. So for example in round 1 Ding Liren and Wang Hao will play each other.

In the FIDE Candidates 2020 tournament the players have 100 minutes for 40 moves, then 50 minutes for the next 20 moves, then 15 minutes to the end of the game, with a 30-second increment from move 1. No draw offers are allowed until after move 40.

Who is the favorite?

At this stage, it seems most people’s tips are either the 2018 Candidates tournament winner Caruana or Ding Liren, the impressive Chinese number 1.

Ding went on an incredible 100-game unbeaten streak of classical chess games from August 2017 to November 2018. If you want to find out more about that, check this out: The Golden Streak: Ding Liren’s Tactics & Strategy in 100 Unbeaten Games.

However, Carlsen has since bettered that and remains on his own record-breaking unbeaten run. Don’t discount Ding though, he is still considered a big threat.

Caruana, meanwhile, is way out in front as the FIDE Candidates 2020 favorite. He has experience of getting through this stage and facing Carlsen, plus he is the world number 2 and closest to Carlsen in the ratings.

Caruana, who challenged Carlsen last time, is the FIDE Candidates 2020 favorite
Caruana, who challenged Carlsen last time, is the FIDE Candidates 2020 favorite

Unibet, the betting company that takes an interest in chess and recently sponsored Carlsen personally, currently has the following odds:

  • 21/20 Caruana
  • 9/4 Ding
  • 7/1 Grischuk
  • 8/1 Nepomniachtchi

Where can I watch the Fide Candidates 2020?

We recommend our partner chess24, where you can follow all the Fide Candidates 2020 games live with commentary here. Other streams are available, of course.

But on Chessable we will also be releasing our own Candidates 2020 tactics course so you can not only keep up with the action, but learn lessons from it. This course will be released soon – stay posted!

Chessable Pricing Strategy Discussion

By David Kramaley / On / In Start-up life

Hi everyone, the launch of 100 Endgames Video brought a lot of community interaction and amazing feedback our way. Many of you absolutely love the new video course and how accessible John makes the material. This course took an incredible amount of work from John and the rest of the team and we truly thank you for all the support.

With all of the wonderful comments, the course also sparked a few conversations around pricing. Some have suggested that the price is above other video courses in the market. Others have asked us to shed some light on our pricing strategy. We’ve always been as transparent as possible, so we are happy to offer some insight from our team.

For background, we at Chessable have a goal of trying to create the gold standard of content while allowing chess students to improve in a more efficient and fun way. We also want to help more chess professionals to make a living out of the game that we all love. We are proud that Chessable has just crossed 100,000 registered users, and that we have managed to bring back top talent to chess, having hundreds of independent authors and publishers on our platform.

The challenge is that a lot of chess is completely free. Hence the market that is ready to pay anything at all is smaller than it should/could be. For a long time, people working in chess, other than the top 10, spent their whole life perfecting their craft only to be severely underpaid. With this, chess has to overcome certain challenges. For instance, how do you hire people away from competitive industries where they can receive 1.5x-4x the salary a chess company can pay?

High quality standards take a lot of time and resources. It takes months of work by top chess professionals. There are also dedicated teams of people at Chessable that provide feedback, edit, post-produce the content and provide after-service support. This process ensures that we can add value to our customer base who purchase the products. This also means we can confidently offer a 30-day no questions asked money back guarantee.

With major works like 100 Endgames Video, which took hundreds of hours of collective labor to produce, and was years in the planning, the extra effort is magnified. In such a project, there are many stakeholders, lawyers, production teams, content teams, rights owners, etc. If not priced right, such popular courses may not get created in the first place. The right price often just covers salaries and costs. Forget profits.

We also release plenty of free material. 100+ free courses to be more precise. There also always is the option to get only the MoveTrainer course and buy additional video content later or not at all. However, everything that we release, whether free or not, we try to maintain a very high quality standard.

On the technology side, it can be costly to develop code, especially code that deals with people’s copyrighted work and livelihoods. With regards to R&D updates, we realise not much has been visible lately. This is because the majority of the team is stuck in trying to complete the full rewrite to MoveTrainer 2.0. We are very very close to release. Many beta testers will be happy to attest, the amount of work that the team has been doing there. 2.0 will allow for iOS and Android apps to be released.

We would love to make cheaper prices happen today, however, the reality is that cheaper prices come with bigger market sizes and scale. All included subscriptions are often not enough, especially at small scale. In fact, technology often initially increases the price of goods, until economies of scale have been reached.

Chessable has never turned a profit yet, as part of our reinvestment strategy for growth. Despite that, thanks to our pricing, we have sustained a community of hundreds of people between part-time and full-time, so that they can do what they love without struggling for income.

Finally, I’ve seen companies go under or really struggle because they didn’t price things right. We don’t want to follow suit. We are here to stay. But here is a promise, if we can reach scale, we will, of course, pass some of the savings of scale to our customers.

I hope this helps shed some clarity into our line of thinking and thank you for all your comments. Here is a link to a forum thread where we can discuss more.

Retraining a rusty brain at the Kidlington Chess Tournament

By Peter Dove / On / In Case studies, Chessable reviews

After a 14-year break from chess, I decided to start playing again, only online at first, in November 2018. Recently, I played the Kidlington Chess Tournament, a well-established OTB event in the English weekend congress calendar.

Before that my last recorded official rating was way back in the year 2001 when I achieved my highest ever rating of 127 ECF, which converts to around 1650 ELO. But that rating was about to change – dramatically.

When I started playing on ICC I was shocked by how bad I was and how much I had forgotten! It took me until February 2019 before I broke 1700. I was so shocked by my play that I started looking around for ways to improve faster and in early December I joined Chessable.

Chessable gave me the tools to retrain my rusty brain and to learn new things that had been missing from my play. Not long after joining Chessable my rating began to climb!

I admit to having rather lofty goals; I am 49 years old, and I plan to be a FIDE Master. I try to study 2-4 hours every day, and a lot of that study is on Chessable. Chess is a very difficult subject to gauge progress, there are ups and downs, so it was with determination and hope that I entered the under 145 section of the 2020 Kidlington event on the weekend of February 1.

I felt that my strength had been increasing, so hoped it would be true and not just in my imagination! Happily, just over one year after joining Chessable, I scored 4.5 out of 5, winning a tournament for the first time in my life. Thank you Chessable!

I scored a tournament performance of 179 ECF = 2042 ELO.

What makes Chessable so different?

Chessable’s big draw is that it trains you by showing you positions over and over until they are memorized using spaced repetition. This is the case with openings, tactics, strategy and endgame and it works! In this article, I’d like to share some of the Chessable courses that have helped contribute to my improvement and some moments from my winning games.

Chess intuition is simply what we have deeply learned previously being served up by our subconscious. What I mean is that we remember subconsciously certain ideas and certain moves in familiar positions or fragments of positions. It is then up to positional evaluation and concrete calculation to determine if those moves and ideas stand up in the real world.

Chessable excels in building up our store of knowledge much more so that reading a book. You pick up a chess book, maybe read it once, maybe engage with some of the content and maybe nod your head at some of the ideas. However, at that point, the book goes on the shelf never to be read again. This is a poor model for learning. You will have forgotten a huge percentage of that material in a very short space of time.

You might get lucky in that you play a game soon afterward and happen to successfully deploy some nugget of knowledge from the book. If this lucky co-incidence happens then the knowledge maybe drops into your longer-term memory. However, you are likely to kiss goodbye to the rest of the material you had spent time reading.

Chessable’s biggest revelations

My tactics suck!

I spent a long time studying tactics as an adult at a complexity too high for my skill level. No one told me that I needed to get very basic tactics and mates embedded into my brain BEFORE I look at more complex tactics. This meant that I was forever struggling with tactics, always having to calculate everything and making little progress. I would also miss tactical shots of my own and fall foul of simple tactics used by my opponents.

Whilst looking for a way to solve my problem I saw a course on Chessable called 1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners. I bought it thinking that if it was too simple for me then I could always get a refund or give it to my 10-year-old son.

The book made a profound difference to my game and my ability to solve more complex tactics. Take the position below from the book – this is one from the section on pawn promotion.

White to move

To solve random tactics I sometimes go to Chess24.com or Chess.com. In one of those sessions, the following position came up. Using the simpler tactic above can you solve the position with black to move?

1.. Qxb4 2.cb Rc1+ 3.Kxc1 ba – when the pawn cannot be prevented from promoting.

After studying these simple tactics repeatedly, I am starting to see much more complicated ideas without the need for brute force calculation. The following position appeared in one of my games at Kidlington.

I had previously seen several mates in which the rook delivered a check from behind the enemy king with a pawn cutting off the side squares on the same file as the rook. In the above position, I saw all these possibilities and played Bc5 with the threat of Rd8+ and Rf8 mate. In this case the white knight did the job of cutting off the escape squares.

Only a few moves later in the same game the following position arose. Again I saw straight away a typical mating pattern of Knight on g6, pawn on h5 and Rook entering the back rank. All of these patterns coming straight from memorizing the simplest of mates and tactics.

The game concluded: 39.Rd8+ kh7 40.h5 g5? 41.hxg6+ Kg7 42.Bc3#

I could go on with many examples of how much studying this one book has helped improve my ability to spot tactics but I fear this article is already going to be long! Learning tactics isn’t just about being able to spot tactical opportunities for making a quick ‘buck’; it is also about using tactical threats and ideas to help improve your position and assist in implementing strategical ideas.

My basic knowledge has more holes than Swiss cheese

How can I know what I didn’t know? In chess, this problem shows up when you look at positions and have no clue what to do. It shows up when you find yourself lost then relying on brute force calculation because no plans or ideas spring to mind.

It is easy to get disheartened especially when chess knowledge is so vast. What can we do? We can buy dense tomes on the endgame, or middlegame or openings and dive in. The trouble I find though is that improvement seems to take ages. You spend an awfully long time on one topic, gradually getting better, whilst all your other basic problems keep killing you in your OTB games.

Enter my most favorite series of books on the planet. These books consist of a complete course by Artur Yusupov. Artur Yusupov’s award-winning training course the Complete Series was Winner of the 2009 Boleslavsky Medal from FIDE (the World Chess Federation) as the best instructional chess books in the world (ahead of Garry Kasparov and Mark Dvoretsky in 2nd and 3rd place).

Chessable has the first two books available already with the other 7 coming in the near future. These books are masterpieces of step-by-step learning delivered via Chessable in a way which they will stay with you forever. The books cover tactics, positional play, strategy, the calculation of variations, the opening and the endgame all in bitesize chunks. You don’t get bogged down in too much detail, or too much focus on one topic. Yusupov fills in those knowledge holes that so typically occur with western training methods.

Every single topic covered is introduced through multiple example games/positions with explanatory text. Then you are presented with a test of 12 positions. Your task is to write down your solutions and calculations for each of the positions. You can then compare your analysis with the answer. Yusupov awards certain points for correct lines and solutions. You then add up the points you got for that chapter to determine whether you passed or failed. If you fail to get the right number of points Yusupov recommends you review the chapter again. The nice thing about Chessable is that review is built into the system!

Don’t take my word for it check out all the different topics covered in these two books.
https://www.chessable.com/the-fundamentals-1-build-up-your-chess/course/19145/
https://www.chessable.com/the-fundamentals-2-boost-your-chess/course/14534/

In this game from the tournament, Yusupov’s multiple examples of attacking weaknesses brought the move b3 to mind. The plan was that if black took on b3, after taking back with my a-pawn, I would have a nice diagonal for the bishop on a3.

I did look at playing f5 but somehow missed that the pawn sac would allow me to play Bf4. Pawn sacrifices are something I haven’t yet looked at!

My thinking process – woollier than a sheep on a bad hair day

This became really clear in my OTB games, where I would miss tactics, fail to look at alternative moves and react without a clear plan in mind.

There are two important books on Chessable which did much to help fix my thinking process. They are both considered books for advanced and expert players, however, I found their advice to be easily explained and workable. The advice would really help players of all levels, however, the exercises in the book get tough rather quickly.

Grandmaster Preparation : Positional Play
This book helped a great deal by getting me to ask myself some basic questions about the position and helping me to attune my eye to more position elements. Aagaard explains his examples well in a way that should be accessible to a large range of players. This book focuses on positional play but not in the traditional sense. Instead of listing endless positional features the author provides you with three questions as a lens with which to analyze a position.

These three questions guide you to spot weaknesses, improve your worst placed pieces and also discern/disrupt your opponent plans. These questions, along with others, I have learned to bring into my play every move.

Grandmaster Preparation : Calculation
This book added some much structure to my thinking process around the topic of calculation. Again it is a book meant for more advanced players due to the complexity of the exercises however, each chapter starts off with simpler challenges and I find that the explanations of the thinking/calculation process will help players of all levels.

Summary

I could go on much longer about the many ways in which Chessable has helped improve my game however I’d be here writing all day! Suffice to say that Chessable helped get my first win in a tournament and makes me optimistic about the improvement possible.

After analyzing my games I realize that I can play a LOT better than I did, I still have some thinking mistakes based on discipline levels and there is a lot of basic holes still missing.

One thing I do know is that Chessable is going to help me fill in those missing holes AND make sure the knowledge gets memorized! Knowledge that is well memorized allows you to move faster, assess positions more quickly and reduce the amount of brute force calculation needed.

MoveTrainer 2.0 – Open Beta

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news

Dear Chessable members,

MoveTrainer 2.0 Beta is here! But before you head over to take a look, please read the few paragraphs below. It’s important to highlight what kind of “Beta” this is, what MoveTrainer 2.0 is, and where it is heading.

First of all, perhaps unlike traditional open betas, ours is not yet replacing the default site. Instead, it is open, but only open to those willing to swap their Chessable study at https://www.chessable.com with https://mt2.chessable.com. It’s important to highlight this, the new MoveTrainer 2.0 (mt2) site is not yet ready to replace the old site (mt1) because mt1 is still more complete and stable.

Our goal with mt2 was a simple one: we wanted to re-work everything underneath the hood so that complex features became possible. Mt1 was built with old technology, whereas mt2 uses powerful newer technology.

Because of the newer tech, features like offline, resizeable boards, dark mode, new mobile iOS/Android app etc, become a lot easier to release. However, before we can start launching the new features, first we have to complete the rewriting of all existing features which has been a process that has taken quite some time.

We feel we are nearly there! New features, like an improved settings panel, are already becoming a reality. Try it out, there may be a new setting or two you really appreciate (some are still experimental and may be removed!).

New Settings Panel

There are other features, almost ready for you to play around with, that are undergoing the final stages of testing now. It is only but a few more steps before we fully complete the rewrite and hopefully a short-ish time before mt2 becomes the default site we all use and love. 

Meanwhile, if you want to take a peek and see if you are ready for mt2, or if mt2 is ready for you, please head over to https://mt2.chessable.com

If you have some feedback, we are all ears: https://www.chessable.com/discussion/thread/168933/open-beta-feedback-thread/ and  https://www.chessable.com/discussion/movetrainer-20-feedback/10/

Note: Mt1 and Mt2 use the same study data, so whatever you do on mt2 will affect mt1 and vice-versa.

 

The Sale of a Lifetime

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Start-up life

Dear Chessable members,

Today we announce the “Sale of a Lifetime” and a new 15% discount for PRO members (1yr+). Chessable pioneered the concept of a “Lifetime membership” in the chess world, and it has been fantastic, with hundreds of you backing us over the past few years. Thank you. Your usernames and profile photos shall forever be displayed in our About Us page, right next to our team.

Slightly over a year ago, I hinted that we were thinking about removing Lifetime as an option, and after a full year of thinking about it and all the hard at work we’ve put into MoveTrainer 2.0, we are finally taking this step. This is your last chance to upgrade to a Lifetime membership.

Some of you may be wondering, why are we doing this? Well, the answer is simple. Chessable is building for the future. We are here to stay for the next decade and more. We want to make a sustainable, useful and fantastic service that everyone can appreciate.

As we keep developing the platform and adding to the benefits of PRO, Lifetime was simply becoming a deal too good to be true. We cannot promise it for much longer, and we will only have our standard yearly and two-year deals after this sale is over.

With the full year of work we’ve done on PRO, there are many more features coming, many of them built especially for PRO. Many of you have asked for this, so today we’ve launched a 15% discount on select courses for PRO members only.

We aim to add more select courses in the near future, so that you may enjoy a discount year-round. PRO will keep getting better and better, and we will keep adding more and more benefits to it through 2020 and beyond. For example, offline mode, resizeable board, better study feeds/stats, and more!

So there it is, your last chance to buy Lifetime PRO is here, and at our great old price of $299 + tax (if applicable). We’ve frozen the price for Lifetime PRO despite just announcing a price increase on all the other packages. See you around on the leaderboards (and maybe the About Us page 😉 )

PS.- This announcement coincides with the official launch of MoveTrainer 2.0 Open Beta today, but more info on this tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Chessable PRO Price Changes

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Start-up life

Dear Chessable members,

Today, we are announcing a change in our pricing structure of PRO. The Chessable PRO membership launched in 2017, and we’ve kept the same price since then. In this time, we’ve added to, and improved PRO. In this new year, we have huge plans for it.

Today, it is time for a price adjustment that will allow us to keep investing heavily in the development of our beloved platform. Our basic monthly package will become $11.99 instead of $9.99. Our yearly package will be $74.99 instead of $59.99, and our two-year package will be $114.99 instead of $94.99.

It’s important to note, that if you have an active monthly or yearly subscription, you can keep your old rate forever, provided you do not cancel the active subscription. Please note, price freezing will not apply to non-auto recurring promotional packages (e.g. if you got a promotional offer where you got 3 years for the price of 2).

Some of the things you have to look forward to as PRO are:

  1. a 15% discount on select items in our store, year-round. This discount does not stack with other offers. We aim to build and expand on our catalogue of selections from today onwards.
  2. Offline mode for your courses – free accounts will have access to one offline course, while PRO will have it limited only by your device storage. Offline mode is expected later in the year.
  3. Smarter, more in-depth learning stats and data (late 2020).


Some of the things that your PRO membership has helped facilitate:

  1. we will release a Chessable interface in your language in the next few months. First languages planned are German and Spanish.
  2. we will release a resizeable chessboard, and potentially board themes.
  3. we will release a Dark Mode.
  4. we will release Chessable mobile apps later this year.

 

The team and I will continue to work hard to make Chessable the best platform for chess education out there, and your ongoing support is hugely appreciated. Thank you for helping us make this happen.

We’re getting behind a 4NCL team! Chessable sponsors White Rose in England’s top league

By Leon Watson / On / In Chessable news

We are excited to announce that we’re sponsoring one of the top chess teams in Britain’s strongest league, the 4NCL.

From today White Rose, the proud side representing the county of Yorkshire, will be known as Chessable White Rose.

At Chessable we have a few connections with White Rose and we want to support chess at all levels. So we thought, why not?

The team competes in the 4NCL league which features teams from across the UK and now a team from Ireland. It is probably Europe’s second strongest league after the Bundesliga in Germany.

Round one of the 4NCL’s 2020 season kicks off this weekend in Daventry, Northants, with Chessable White Rose taking on Liverpool-based Spirit of Atticus.

Help us support the White Rose chess team!

With our help, we are hoping Chessable White Rose will spring some surprises and qualify for the European Team Chess Championships.

The team run by Paul Townsend, from Kirk Hammerton, North Yorks, finished fourth overall last year having competed in the 4NCL’s eight-team division 1. Guildford, the big fish of the league, won it for the seventh year in a row.

However, this year the competition will be even fiercer with Chess.com Manx Liberty, sponsored by the corporate giants, and Cheddleton among the contenders.

We may line-up some Chessable authors!

We think the team we’re sponsoring is strong and very capable of doing well, but they’re certainly the underdogs – and we like that. A push for the title is unlikely, but not impossible.

And, to help them, you may see some of your favourite authors on Chessable making the odd appearance…

The White Rose squad includes former MEP and Scunthorpe United commentator Jon Arnott, who is a Candidate Master and former member of the England Under-21 squad.

White Rose stalwart and editor of the UK’s leading chess magazine, CHESS, Richard Palliser said: “With Chessable’s backing we’ll be looking to build on last year’s fourth-place and again to take down one or more of the heavyweights.

“Trying to surprise the top sides is always one aim, but so too is to finish ahead of our main northern rivals, 3Cs from across the Pennines in Oldham.”

You can follow how Chessable White Rose get on at their Twitter feed here.

Happy new year, 2019 year in review + MoveTrainer 2.0 update

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Start-up life

Dear Chessable learners,

From myself and the entire team, we would like to send you the warmest and best wishes for 2020. We wish you a happy and prosperous 2020. May your goals and dreams all be a step closer to being fulfilled this year.

I also wanted to have a little look at what we achieved together in 2019:

  1. We’ve grown from 50,000 to 90,000 members;
  2. We’ve gone from 17.3 million positions mastered to 43.7 million;
  3. We are well on our way towards building the world’s largest interactive digital chess library, with new high-profile authors joining us every single month. We’ve doubled our catalogue size in the last year alone to 300+ titles and 2020 is set to be even bigger;
  4. We’ve doubled our team size, with up to 30 people involved in helping us deliver Chessable to you;
  5. We’ve launched MoveTrainer 2.0 in Closed Beta, with Open Beta expected in early 2020;
  6. We’ve completed stage one of our re-brand/re-design;
  7. We’ve joined the PlayMagnus group of companies, giving us access to more resources and ensuring we continue to build an amazing tool for students, coaches, parents, chess masters, authors and everyone else who makes up our wonderful learning community.


Not everything has been positive, of course, like with any growing company we have some growing pains. Some of you did not like the new color scheme, for example. However, once MoveTrainer 2.0 is completed, we will be able to offer at least one alternative color scheme. Dark mode is coming soon! Apps are coming soon!

Of course, speaking of 2.0, it has taken us a little bit longer than we originally anticipated. However, this is because the new system is being built with more robust technology. This will allow us to have fewer bugs, more features, and generally a better experience.

While there have been a few hiccups, we hope that our genuine motivation in building the best chess learning tool and community has at all times shone through. We want you to know we will continue to work super hard in 2020 to make it an even more memorable year.

Little spoiler alert, we are expecting a MoveTrainer 2.0 open beta this very month. Thank you to all of you who have helped us test and improve it during closed beta. It’s almost here!

Spaced repetition: Tips and tricks on how to get the best out of it

By William Hoggarth / On / In Chessable news

I used spaced repetition to learn Russian as my first foreign language and found it to be an extremely effective tool. I was able to memorize and master things much faster than the average student. I can’t put it down to talent as I was terrible at French when we studied it at school.

When I returned to chess I wanted to use the same powerful study technique so I googled “space repetition chess” and discovered Chessable for the first time. In this article, we will explore what spaced repetition is, why it’s such a powerful learning tool, how to best make use of it and common mistakes to avoid.

Chessable developer William Hoggarth
Chessable developer William Hoggarth

There are other ways of studying too (the woodpecker method for example) and one might want to also optimize for pleasure rather than retention if the improvement isn’t a key goal. But in any case, a good understanding of spaced repetition will help you better understand the Chessable platform and make more informed choices about how you study.

How spaced repetition works

The idea is based on two simple observations – we forget things over time, and the stronger our memory of something the longer it takes us to forget it.

We don’t want to repeat our study of something we know well, as it will be a waste of effort. Equally, we don’t want to put off reviewing material until we’ve long forgotten it, as we’ll have to learn it all over again.

The ideal approach is to review something just before you are about to forget it, allowing you to strengthen the memory without having to review it too frequently.

Spaced repetition: Chessable uses methods rooted in science to revolutionise chess learning
Spaced repetition: Chessable uses methods rooted in science to revolutionize chess learning

Once something has been reviewed and the memory strengthened, it will be longer until the next point of forgetting is reached. So the gap between reviews will steadily increase.

Using this technique we can memorize the maximum amount of information with the minimum of effort. This makes spaced repetition a really powerful tool.

The concept is not so very far from a common-sense understanding of the practice. Things you can do easily don’t need much practice, but things that you find hard should be practiced more frequently until they become easy.

For more information and the science behind spaced repetition, click here.

Tips and traps

Pace yourself with the Time Planner

In a rush of enthusiasm, it can be all too easy to study a lot of material only then to be promptly swamped a large number of reviews. There are two ways to prevent this from happening. Firstly, make sure you do all your reviews before studying new material, and secondly keep an eye on the Time Planner to see how the reviews are adding up for the future. Find a target number of reviews for the day and use that to determine whether you need to be adding more new material or doing more reviews.

It may seem like this slows down your pace of study, which indeed it does, but it only serves to underline the fact that it takes time to really absorb the material on an ongoing basis. No-one became a chess master in one day. By pressing ahead too quickly you always run the risk of forgetting old things as fast as you are learning new things.

Do your spaced repetition reviews regularly

In the ideal world, an item should be reviewed as soon as it becomes due, but that’s not always practical, we have to work and sleep, etc. However, a good habit is to try to get your reviews down to as close to 0 as possible at least once a day. Consistent daily practice is key.

If you leave reviews for too long, they accumulate, creating a backlog. Equally the longer you leave the spaced repetition review the more likely it is you will go past the point of forgetting and will need to relearn the item from scratch.

Deal with problematic material

Sometimes you may find that you are reviewing an item again and again. For whatever reason, you are not retaining it on a long term basis. If you let too many of these items build up, they’ll take up the majority of your review time and you’ll see little benefit from it. If something is costing you time in this way you must be ruthless in dealing with it. There are several options depending on the root cause of the problem.

If you have a PRO membership you can use the “Difficult Moves” feature to see where you are making the most mistakes and which moves are therefore taking up most of your time. Then you can choose your plan of action.

You can improve your understanding by rereading the explanations that accompany the variation and watching the associated video if available. You can also analyze the position with the computer, trying out different moves with our “Analysis Board” feature. If other people are finding a position challenging there may be helpful comments written by them when you view the variation. Lastly, there is our “Ask a master” feature for when you need the insight that a strong player can bring.

You can also pause variations, this is especially useful if something is too difficult for you or if you feel it’s not that important to learn. Remember that there are many more positions and variations to be mastered, don’t get too attached to something if it’s proving problematic. You can always come back to it later when you’ve improved your knowledge or skill and are ready to learn it.

Don’t archive your courses

If you are steadily working through a course and consistently doing your spaced repetition reviews then over time, due to the increasing intervals between reviews, the workload will get less and less until it’s barely noticeable. However, if you archive the course then slowly over time you will begin to forget the contents.

Conclusion

We’ve covered the concepts behind spaced repetition, why it’s so effective and how to implement it in practice, but this post only scratches the surface of the subject. We’d love to hear your comments, questions, and feedback. Look out for future posts on this topic and other approaches to chess study!

Improve your tactics and become a beast at the chessboard!

By Bryan Castro / On / In Beginner Guides, Chess improvement

Training guide for hardcore improvement

If you are a chess player, you’re probably aware that studying and practicing tactics is one of the best ways to improve. However, many players study tactics and aren’t able to apply them to their games consistently.

This problem is so prevalent that I would venture that most games below master level are decided by tactical oversight by one or both sides. It stands to reason that if you can become a tactical beast you will have a distinct advantage over your non-beastly opponents.

So in this article, I am going to discuss a series of methods on how to build your tactical skills up so that you can apply them to your chess games. The methods prescribed are not hard to implement, but they require focus and dedication. With effort and consistency, you’ll be devouring your opponents soon enough.

Basic Patterns

Take a look at the following position:

Position 1: White to Play

How long did it take you to find 1.c4! attacking the pinned d5 knight? If it took you more than 5 seconds to see that 1.c4 Nxc4 2.Rxd5+ wins a piece for a pawn then perhaps you need to spend more time building up your basic tactical pattern recognition.

An important step in becoming a strong tactician is having a master’s grasp on the basic tactical patterns. Basic tactics like pins, forks, discovered attacks, and skewers are the building blocks of more complicated tactics.

A boxer practices his jab, cross, hook, and uppercut hundreds of times a day. It’s not because he doesn’t know how to throw these basic punches. However, he doesn’t just want to have knowledge of these punches, he wants to have command so that he doesn’t have to think “okay, time to throw a jab” – it just comes out at will!

Admittedly, after I found I could solve these basic problems, I itched to move onto more complicated and harder problems. However, as I gained experience I realized that I should review these easier problems occasionally. Of course, this was all before Chessable – which makes it both easy and fun.

There are many good books on basic tactics but I highly recommend 1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners here on Chessable. Use Chessable’s Woodpecker schedule and go through the whole book several times in succession until the patterns pop in your calculations. After this program of training, you can review the tactics randomly and occasionally to keep sharp, but you can move on to other types of training. Speaking of which…

Beyond the Basics

After you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to move to more difficult combinations. Here, you will combine the basic tactics you have at your command. You will also start (or continue) to develop your calculation ability.

Take a moment to figure out the following problem:

Black to play

This position comes from the classic game Hamppe-Steinitz, Vienna 1859. Were you able to find 1…Bxd4+ 2.Kh1 Rxg3! taking advantage of the pinned pawn that was created by Kh1? Extra points if you noticed that 1…Bxd4+ 2.cxd4 fails to 2…Qxh2# this time taking advantage of the pinned bishop on g3.

The next phase of your development in tactics should be to tackle these types of problems as well as occasionally reviewing the basics. Here also you can start to tackle problems that don’t have a specific theme indicated. This will make it harder, but will also start to prepare you to see these tactics in your game.

There are many good resources, including online servers that have thousands of tactics problems for you to practice. There are several good books on Chessable that also are great for this stage of development:

  1. The Woodpecker Method
  2. 1001 Chess Exercises for Club Players
  3. Tactics Time

You can use Chessable’s review functions to go over these occasionally, but over time this can be quite burdensome in terms of time. I will solve the problem and if I either got it incorrect or found it particularly inspiring or useful I will continue reviewing it using Chessable’s spaced learning feature. For Chessable users, you can pause the other problems. The purpose of this phase is to practice combining the basic tactical patterns over and over, so memorization is less crucial here (but feel free to review combinations you enjoy).

Once you are proficient with these types of problems, you can be fairly confident in your ability to solve tactical positions in your games if you spot them. However, there are many times when we miss tactical opportunities in our games. Let’s discuss that next.

Tuning Your Tactics Radar

Knowing when to look for a tactical shot in your game is something that often develops with experience – you just feel when there is a tactic. However, until that instinct develops, what are you to do? It is inefficient to try to treat every position like a tactical problem.

However, there are some “red flags” we can look for in our games that may indicate that a tactical solution may be possible. Think about the words of Bobby Fischer:

“Tactics flow from a superior position.”

~Bobby Fischer

For tactics to occur, there usually needs to be some type of weakness (or preferably more than one) in your opponent’s position. Some of these weaknesses can include:

  1. Hanging (undefended) pieces
  2. Underdefended pawns and pieces
  3. Vulnerable king position
  4. Pawn weaknesses
  5. Trapped pieces

National Master Dan Heisman calls these “Seeds of Tactical Destruction.” The more of these you see, the more you should be looking for some type of tactical shot.

Take a look at the following position and identify any tactical red flags that you see (and if a tactic is available, see if you can find it):

White to play

In this position from one of my games, there are a few red flags:

  1. Black’s king is fairly vulnerable, with the a1-h8 diagonal open as well as White’s rook on the back rank.
  2. Black’s rook on b2 can be pinned by moving the knight.
  3. Black’s rook is only defended by the queen and another defender cannot be quickly added by Black.

These red flags should indicate that you should look for some way to capitalize on these factors – most likely by moving the knight.

  1. Non-forcing moves like Nf3 or Nc2 allow Black to bring the knight in to reinforce the pinned rook: 1.Nf3? Nxf2 2.Ra2 (attacking the pinned piece) 2…Nd3 and White cannot gain an advantage.
  2. Therefore, we should look at checks – either Nf5+ or Ne6+. However, one of these allows Black’s king to break the pin: 1.Ne6+? Kh6! and now Black threatens to fork White’s queen and king with …Rb1+ as well as leaving a knight en prise.
  3. That leaves the other knight check to examine: 1.Nf5+! (covering the h6 square and vacating the pinning diagonal) 1…exf5 2.Ra2 and White wins the exchange.

So be on the lookout for the typical red flags you see in your games. Here is a specific exercise you can do to develop this habit:

  1. After each of your games, analyze to see what tactical opportunities you may have missed. You can do this for your opponent’s moves as well.
  2. Use a chess engine to make sure the tactics are sound.
  3. Identify which red flags you should have seen that you may have missed.
  4. Note these in your annotations to your game.

Of course, sometimes we see the tactical opportunity but we miscalculate the solution. Part of our training needs to involve building our calculation skills.

Building Your Calculation Muscles

The previous parts of this article discussed developing and learning to spot tactical patterns. The other aspect of chess tactics is calculation skill, which involves the following aspects:

  1. Choosing appropriate candidate moves based on the position.
  2. Accurately visualizing positions several moves ahead.
  3. Discerning how far ahead and how broadly we need to look.
  4. Evaluating the resulting positions.
  5. Choosing a move.

Fortunately, some of the skills you need for calculation you’ve been building all along if you’ve been following the advice from earlier in this article. In fact, building up your calculation muscles is more a matter of paying attention to how you train and not just what you study. With that in mind, here are a few key principles:

  1. Solve problems or analyze without moving the pieces. Visualization is like a muscle that gets stronger with practice but also a habit.
  2. Try to record what you see in your calculations. This can be a notebook or your can record it on a video. Then you can compare this with the solution or analysis checked by a coach or by using a chess engine.
  3. At the end of each line of analysis, try to come up with a conclusion or evaluation. This can be as simple as “White is better due to material,” using an informant symbol such as “+/=” or using an estimate of a computer evaluation – e.g. +0.3 pawns. The point is to develop your habit of evaluating positions.
  4. Try to find your opponent’s best replies to your candidate moves. In particular, make sure you have considered your opponent’s forcing moves such as checks and captures.
  5. Make sure you look deeply enough. This will help you develop your visualization skill as well as help you determine whether or not you are looking deeply enough as you review your analysis.
  6. Review your work and see where you can improve. Did you look at enough candidates? Is your picture of the position clear as you look deeper into a position? Did you miss any forcing moves of your opponent? Look for patterns of errors that you can focus on improving.

As an example of this, here is a page out of my training journal:

Training Journal
Record your work

This is from a position from Jacob Aagaard’s Grandmaster Preparation: Calculation. As you can see, I tried to write down everything I saw in the position. It isn’t always pretty, but after I looked at the solution in the book I can look for lines that I didn’t see as well as check the accuracy and evaluations of the lines I did see.

Much of this work can be done with the positions found in the books I mentioned earlier in this article. However, as you become better at tactics and calculation you will want to tackle more complex positions to strengthen your skills even further.

With that in mind, I recommend the following:

  1. Grandmaster Preparation: Calculation
  2. Endgame Studies, such as Dvoretsky’s Studies for Practical Players

Besides doing training exercises with these resources, another key source of material are your own games. Try to capture what you calculated during the game and annotate these into your game. Then go over your annotations with a coach or chess engine to see what you have missed. Be a detective and try to find out why you made certain decisions and how they can be improved in the future.

Personalizing Your Training

I have given you a lot of ideas on how to improve your tactics to beastly levels throughout this article. Hopefully, one of the lessons I hope you are learning is that it’s not only about doing the work of solving problems and analyzing, but also reflecting on the work you have done and planning how to improve from there.

Here is a position from one of my tournament games earlier this year. What would you play?

White to play

I was planning on Black capturing my knight on e6 and then gaining the initiative with Qxe6+. However, Black’s surprised me with 12…Bxf3 leading to the diagram above.

During the game, I made the following observations and calculations:

  1. I didn’t really consider 13.gxf3 because I thought 13…fxe6 14.Qxe6+ Rf7 led nowhere because the knight on f3 that I had planning on playing to g5 to attack the pinned rook was no longer available. I assessed that this line sacrificed the knight for two pawns without much compensation.
  2. I didn’t like 13.Qxf3 fxe6 because now my queen is in line with the rook on f8 and I’ve effectively sacrificed my knight for a pawn as I feared any discoveries after 14.Rxe6.
  3. With that in mind, I saw what I played in the game: 13.Nxd8 Bxe2 14.Nc6 Bxd3 15.Nxe7+ Kh8 16.cxd3 Nc5 17.Rd1 Rfe8 18.Nf5 and figured the position was about even (and post-mortem analysis would come to the same conclusion). There is more to say about this position, but the point is that the decision to go into this line was based on what I didn’t see.

Looking back at the original position, I had rejected 13.gxf3 because I hung onto my conclusion that I didn’t get anything from the combination after Black blocks my check with …Rf7. However, I didn’t even consider the simple line 13.gxf3 fxe6 14.Qxe6+ Rf7 15.Bc4! winning at least the exchange. This would force 14…Kh8 after which 15.Qxe7 leads to the same idea I originally had.

Actually, after analyzing the position extensively with my opponent after the game and then with an engine, 13.gxf3 is maybe only slightly better than 13.Nxd8 but the lesson for me was that I should have at least considered it so that I could make an informed choice.

So what conclusions should we draw from this example?

  1. The tactical idea I had was a good one – e.g. the knight sacrifice on e6.
  2. When considering sacrificing on e6, I should have considered my opponent’s forcing replies, which would have included 12…Bxf3.
  3. I rejected 13.gxf3 too early because I didn’t spend enough time to find 15.Bc4! and made an assumption that it wasn’t good.

And now that I have this information, what will I do with it?

  1. I seem to be okay with spotting tactical opportunities (although I had some difficulty seeing patterns several ply from the original position), so I don’t need to do additional training to tune my tactics radar.
  2. When solving tactical problems, I make sure I look for all of my opponent’s forcing replies to my candidate moves (particularly the one I’m going to pick as the solution). When recording my solutions to harder positions, I check to make sure I did this.
  3. I make sure that I push my analysis far enough to make a conclusion. When I spot myself making a snap judgment on a candidate, I try to push it a move further to see if there is anything else I may be missing. Again, if I record my analysis I check for these end-of-the-line evaluations.
  4. I will continue to work on my basic patterns by solving simple tactical problems to make sure my pattern recognition stays sharp.

This type of reflection on your own play and training can be very rewarding, but it does take some time. However, if you want to be a tactical beast, this is the type of self-discovery and awareness it will take!

A Lifelong Journey

Becoming truly beastly with tactics is an ongoing process. Like fitness, it is something that can atrophy quickly from disuse. However, if you think about all of the points you can win from punishing your opponent’s blunders I hope you will come to the same conclusion that I have – the journey is worth it!

Fortunately, Chessable’s library of tactics courses is continually growing, so you will never lack in quality training material. Combine that with Chessable’s review functions and the training methods I’ve shared with you today and you really have all you need to master tactics….the only missing ingredient is your desire and hard work!