Well, the holidays have come to an end. It’s time to take on some resolutions to a better version of ourselves this year, perhaps by getting into shape. But how can you make sure you do the same for your chess?
It might seem difficult at first to pick the game back up. Tournament play is usually on hold, and perhaps your game isn’t as sharp with all the holiday socializing. It’s time to start thinking of what you want to get out of your game in 2023.
Of course, there is a lot to consider when deciding what your game needs most this year. To help you get back into fighting form, we’ve asked some of your favorite Chessable authors what beginner to intermediate players could benefit from most.
Who have we consulted for this post?
GM Simon Williams – Known as the “Ginger GM”, he has many hit courses focusing on a plethora of openings (including the hit Grandmaster Gambits – 1.e4) as well as tactics courses. He’s one of the most notable and entertaining chess personalities out there.
GM Alex Colovic – Not only is he a user favorite on Chessable for his courses (see his Bobby Fischer and José Raúl Capablanca endgame courses), he is a regular contributor on this blog, where he talks about his decades of experience playing at the top level.
GM Eugene Perelshteyn – Perelshteyn is another Chessable author and player who has spent decades in the elite chess circuit, having been a former child prodigy. He now spends his days coaching students and has released one Chessable course, The Grand Prix Attack Reloaded.
A lot of people might be tempted to pick up a new opening or go over their repertoire to make sure they’re up to speed on the latest theory.
Of course, some opening study is necessary, after all; it’s how the game begins. Beginners and intermediate players generally won’t need to memorize dozens of lines deep of opening, and doing so can leave other more crucial parts of your game neglected
For some people, a starter repertoire or introduction to basic opening theory may be enough, while others will want to get a Lifetime Repertoire to know all the ins and outs of their favorite opening.
So what do the experts think about opening study for beginner to intermediate players?
Simon Williams recommends picking “one opening for White and one against 1.e4 and one against 1.d4.”
By doing this you’ll have a lot of the groundwork covered to start the game, as 1.e4 and 1.d4 are the openings you are likely to face in the majority of your games.
He also recommends finding a favorite player of yours to base your opening choice off of.
“It might be good to base your openings on your favorite player, try to work out your style, and pick openings that reflect that style. At this level, the opening is just a way to get into the game, so it doesn’t matter if it is even a bit dubious.”
Of course, with opening study, beginners often bite off more than they can chew and will study theory that is not likely to help them in their overall chess improvement, as other beginner players will often go “off book” and play lines that aren’t part of established theory.
Alex Colovic believes “Openings should feel comfortable. You want to like the positions you obtain from them and then know how to proceed when the theory ends.”
Basically, if you aren’t comfortable with your opening choices, you’re probably going to have a harder time understanding the ideas that go into them.
Eugene Perelshteyn reiterates the importance of understanding the ideas of the opening, rather than memorization of theory, “The most important way to study openings for this level is to understand the ideas and plans behind each move. If you don’t understand the point behind the move, pause and try to figure it out. It’s important to have instructive games you can reference.”
In summary, picking a response for 1.e4 and 1.d4, having a player to model yourself off of, playing in positions you feel comfortable and trying to understand the ideas behind each move (not memorizing them) are the best ways for you to improve your opening play.
Now we get to what can really help you. Even if you are a master-level player, more tactical training almost never hurts.
If you’re asking yourself, “what are tactics?”, then your chess is set to benefit greatly by discovering maybe the single most important thing to improve your chess game.
The classic tactics training workbook, The Woodpecker Method, states that an overwhelming amount of games are decided by tactics, even at the GM level.
Broken down further, that’s 42% of games decided by tactics in grandmaster games, 44% at the 2200-2400 level, 63% for the 2000-2200 level, and 72% for the 1800-2000 range.
That’s nearly three-fourths of games decided by tactics at the advanced level, so you can imagine how beneficial tactics training is at the beginner to intermediate level!
So what are they exactly?
Studying tactics involves principally doing puzzles and finding motifs and common patterns in those puzzles. For example, concepts such as pins, skewers, and forked pieces, as well as checkmates in 1 are examples of simple tactics training.
Working on tactics is kind of like studying new vocabulary in a language or doing your multiplication tables. By working out the answer and by drilling the exercise repeatedly, tactical motifs become second nature over time and you will begin to see them in your games.
Simon Williams had the following to say on tactics training for beginner to intermediate learners, “This is a KEY thing to do at this level, train your tactics. I made my biggest jump from baths… Each day I would take a puzzle book into the bath and aim to solve 2-4 puzzles. This made me calculate better and it also wrinkled my skin a little too much… So I would just suggest trying to solve challenging puzzles every day, without cheating and looking at the answers.”
Alex Colovic believes that drilling is extremely important to pick up tactical themes.
“Drilling is key. When I was a kid I went over a book of tactics containing all the tactical motifs several times and each time I noticed how my tactical skills improved.”
Euguene Perelshteyn has a similar approach, “Tactics at this level is about two things: patterns and repetition. The more you do basic tactics the better.'”
The main takeaway is repeat, repeat, repeat! Repeat the tactics puzzles until you can do them in your sleep, and while you don’t necessarily have to do them in the bath, finding the time to do even just a few minutes of puzzles a day will have a profound impact on your game.
Chessable is a great resource for tactics training as well. Its cyclical review tool makes sure that you learn common patterns by retesting you on the concepts introduced until they become second nature.
If you’re going to focus on one thing to improve your chess game in 2023, then tactics training is probably the best bang for your buck.
And make sure to be repeating those exercises until you recognize them like the back of your hand.
Besides tactics, endgame training is probably the best way for beginner to intermediate players to improve rapidly.
When the board is not cluttered with so many pieces, you can get a better grasp of the interplay of pieces and concepts such as coordination (how pieces complement one another).
Unfortunately, it is a part of the game that many beginner to intermediate players tend to neglect. It might seem counterintuitive to start at the end, but studying endgames will have many benefits, not only for the endgame itself but your overall chess as well.
Alex Colovic believes starting with theoretical endgames is a great start, “Start with some basic theoretical endgames and learn them well. Then move to practical endgames where you want to develop a feeling for the endgame. You can do this by studying great endgame players like Capablanca, Rubinstein, Botvinnik, and Smyslov.”
Examples of theoretical endgames are checkmating with a king and queen vs a king or rook and knight vs a king. The engine will tell you you have a won game in these types of situations, but if you can’t execute the proper technique, then it is all for nothing.
But it’s really about finding the format that works best for you…
“A very important and underrated exercise. Work out what format of media suits you best. Is it video, is it a book? And buy a basic appropriate learning material to study from, says Simon Williams.
Eugene Perelshteyn underscores the importance of having fun when studying endgames, “Endgames are best to study where they are fun! I like Van Perlo’s Sunnyside of Endgames book and Amateur to IM book.”
To improve your game this year, a healthy dose of tactics, endgame training, and having a pair of openings prepared will take you a long way.
But you don’t have to go at it alone. Chessable has plenty of courses to help you work on any facet of your game.
That said, Simon Williams sums up what is perhaps most important of all for your improvement:
“Whatever you do must be FUN! You won’t learn a great deal if it becomes a chore so if you feel that you are getting bored with something, mix it up or play 1 game of blitz.
Don’t play too much Blitz! Everyone does it, but you must limit it or even better use GChess to study your Blitz games.”
So whatever you focus on, make sure you’re having fun in 2023.