John Bartholomew tops group but narrowly misses out on second GM norm

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

He almost did it – but Chessable’s own John Bartholomew fell just short of winning a hard-fought second GM norm today.

The Scandi king put in a phenomenal performance on the final day of the Charlotte Chess Center’s GM/IM Norm Invitational tournament to top his group above three GMs and the much talked about Indian super talent Ramesh Praggnanandhaa.

But when his final game ended in a hard-fought draw, he just missed out on the norm.

John Bartholomew at a chess club
John Bartholomew at a chess club

Unlucky John, it’s only a matter of time!

Going into rounds 8 and 9, John was out in front on 5/7 needing to hit the 6.5 mark to pick up the norm.

In round 8 John faced 2430-rated IM Denis Schmeliov, and picked up a vital half-point with this quick 24-move draw in the Slav Defense, covered in his 1.d4 Repertoire for White:

That left John with everything to do in the final round – an all-or-nothing win with black was needed against the teenage IM David Brodsky (2405), a player he hadn’t faced in classical chess before.

Going into it he tweeted:

So #finittiwinit it was and John received a host of replies urging him on. Among those wishing him good luck were the Ginger GM Simon Williams:

The English IM Lawrence Trent also pitched in along with the host of the Perpetual Chess podcast, Ben Johnson, and yours truly.

Here’s how the game went:

Afterwards, John tweeted:

John has been made to wait for his second norm. He picked up his first GM norm in December 2013 at the Saint Louis Classic so when it does happen we expect he’ll be very pleased.

The final results table from the Charlotte Chess Center event
The final results table from the Charlotte Chess Center event

John, of course, is co-founder of this chess training site and an avid user. The Minnesota master has also authored several chess opening books here including his hugely popular 1.d4 Repertoire for White and his IM John Bartholomew’s Scandinavian opening trainer. The title for that may have to change soon, we hope.

All that remains to be said is another well done to John for getting so close – you’re an inspiration to so many chess players here and we’re proud of you.

Now go and get that norm… make it GM John!

John Bartholomew’s win over Indian wonderkid Praggnanandhaa

By Leon Watson / On / In Chess news

We don’t want to get you too excited, and we don’t want to pile too much pressure on John Bartholomew to get his next norm.

But we thought you’d like to know Chessable’s resident IM has beaten the 12-year-old Indian super talent Ramesh Praggnanandhaa at the GM Norm Invitational in Charlotte.

Praggu, as he is known, is of course the wonderkid everyone is talking about who is launching an assault on Sergey Karjakin’s long-standing record for being the youngest ever grandmaster.

John Bartholomew in action. At the weekend he beat Praggnanandhaa
John Bartholomew in action. At the weekend he beat Praggnanandhaa

Against John though, he came unstuck. Playing white, John essayed a nice win out of the Zurich Variation of the Nimzo-Indian. This opening is covered in IM John Bartholomew’s 1.d4 Repertoire for White chess opening trainer, but Praggu played an early move order shuffle with 3… Nc6 and then departed entirely with 11… a5.

John took full advantage, pressing him with solid positional play before Praggu blundered then wilted in the endgame. It was another impressive win for John at the tournament.

John now needs 6.5/9 to secure his second GM norm. Praggu, unfortunately, is now out of the running for a norm in this tournament, but has the Gibraltar Masters to look forward to.

Here is the game:

After the game, John said: “I’m very happy with this game, I think it was my best game of the tournament. A pretty smooth, strategic win.

“Every game is tough, you can’t expect to enter a tournament like this and beat up on anyone really… I’ll do my best with my remaining games here.

“It’s just cool to play a guy like Praggnanandhaa, he’s a fantastic player and 12 years old just to see the focus he has is incredible. I think this time next year he could be 2600.”

John is currently leading the pack in Charlotte with 5/7, and needs 1.5 from his remaining two games today. But he has two tough games – against GM Denis Schmeliov (2420) and in the afternoon IM David Brodsky (2405).

If you want to cheer him on, the Charlotte page is here.

And if you haven’t already, check out John Bartholomew’s 1.d4 Repertoire for White – we think it is one of the best chess books on this site – it is rated 5-stars by our users, and it is free.

Praggu’s race to be youngest ever chess Grandmaster

By Leon Watson / On / In Chess news

While Chessable’s own John Bartholomew is continuing his quest to get the Grandmaster title, time is running out for another International Master hoping to secure what would be an even more incredible achievement.

On January 10 Indian super talent Ramesh Praggnanandhaa, or Praggu as he is known, was exactly 12 years and five months old, meaning he has just two months left to write himself into chess history.

The boy from Chennai is in the final straight of his race against the clock to become the world’s youngest-ever Grandmaster, a feat that would put him in an exclusive club of chess greats who’ve held the record.

Ramesh Praggnanandhaa at the London Chess Classic. Photo by LENNART OOTES
Ramesh Praggnanandhaa at the London Chess Classic. Photo by LENNART OOTES

If he does it, it will be some feat. The most famous member of the youngest club is of course the American genius Bobby Fischer who became the world’s youngest Grandmaster at 15.

Yet that achievement that now looks rather paltry compared to Sergey Karjakin‘s long-standing current record of 12 years and seven months.

If – and it is a big if – Praggu breaks the Russian’s mark, predictions that he will one day emulate his hero Vishy Anand and become world champion will start looking very serious indeed. The big guns will really start looking over their shoulders.

Norway’s reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen, for example, only achieved it at a relatively late-to-the-party 13 years four months.

Right now Praggu has one GM norm (a high level of performance in an elite chess tournament) and needs two more to qualify for the title, and it has to happen before March 10. That is a very tall order.

His next tournament, the Winter 2018 CCCSA GM/IM Norm Invitational in Charlotte will take place between January 11 and 15, where he is expected to face a certain John Bartholomew, IM. It may be that our own Scandi master has a part to play in this.

He’s not norm-al!

In his last norm attempt at the Rilton Cup in Stockholm, Sweden, Praggu had a torrid time. But afterwards he was typically sanguine about his chances.

“I am not thinking about it,” he told Norwegian channel NRK Sport this week. “It’s fun to play some good chess. But if I can achieve it, I will be very happy.”

Don’t be fooled by that though – Praggu clearly wants it.

Praggu is gunning for his final two Grandmaster norms. Photo by LENNART OOTES
Praggu is gunning for his final two Grandmaster norms. Photo by LENNART OOTES

After starting out at the Rilton with two wins, Praggu’s attempt to bag a second GM norm ended in round 8 of 9. He finished the tournament with a performance rating of just 2485 – way below what he needed.

In a large part that was due to a final round loss to the English International Master David “Eggy” Eggleston after the chance of a norm had gone, but it has led to doubts over whether the youngster will manage it.

Before Christmas Praggu fell agonisingly short of snatching the record outright at the World Junior Championship in Tarvisio, Italy.

In the final round he had the chance to win the tournament, which is unique in that it carries an automatic GM title for the winner, but ended up finishing fourth (joint second).

It followed a similar close but no cigar performances at the Isle of Man International in September and before that the HZ Tournament in August.

However at the Isle of Man he did play this brilliant 18-move miniature against one of the best players in South America, a 2645 GM from Paraguay:

The other wonderkids

Praggu, who is sponsored by an Indian property entrepreneur, has not been the only wonderkid in the running to beat Karjakin’s 2002 record. But now he is the only realistic chance right now who’s still standing.

Praggu’s international compatriot Nihal Sarin, now 13, and Nodirbek Abdusattorov of Uzbekistan both battled hard to get there.

Grandmaster hopeful Praggu with his mother. Photo by LENNART OOTES
Grandmaster hopeful Praggu with his mother. Photo by LENNART OOTES

Abdusattorov, who is nine months older, had long been considered a potential record-breaker after he beat two GMs in a tournament aged just nine.

But time ran out on him in July leaving the younger Praggnanandhaa in pole position.

Praggu, meanwhile, hit the 2500 rating requirement on his birthday in August at the HZ Tournament in the Netherlands, but just missed out on a first norm when he lost in the last round.

Disappointment then followed again at the Isle of Man International tournament where he missed another chance to secure the required norm.

Next up is the Charlotte event. And then Praggu is targeting the Tradewise Masters, a 10-round open tournament in Gibraltar that starts on January 21.

Gibraltar has a stellar field that includes Armenia’s in-form Levon Aronian, the US blitz king Hikaru Nakamura and the French number one Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

And after that he will have to find another high-level tournament to enter – and do it fast.

After all, time waits for no man – or boy.

Happy New Year! The 2017 year in review + 2018 spoiler.

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

Dear Chessable learners,

At the end of 2016, I wrote about how, with your backing, we had a fantastic year. Having been so incredibly overwhelmed by your support then, I lack words this New Year’s Day to express our gratitude for your backing during 2017. Your continued choice to use Chessable as part of your chess training is hugely appreciated. Not only did we want to send you a big thank you from the team, but I wanted to let you know that we will continue to work hard to improve Chessable to make it even better.

Here is our brief year in review:

  1. Our learning community is almost 30,000 strong (nearly tripled!)
  2. We’ve gone from 2,2 million chess positions studied to a staggering 6.4 million positions.
  3. We are now backed by private investors.
  4. We’ve gone from a chess openings trainer to nearly a complete chess training suite, with endgames and tactics, bringing several classic print books to life in the process.

Last year my New Year’s resolution was to help us all study beyond the opening, and we’ve done that. However, you may have noticed I said we are “nearly” a complete training tool. This is not because our endgame or tactics courses are lacking, not at all, you’ve all loved them so much that both those books have impeccable five-star ratings. I’ve said nearly because in my own quest for chess improvement I know there are several things still lacking in the chess world, and we plan to make them, hopefully, you’ll know exactly what we mean by this Spring. We can’t wait.

Finally, I promised you a spoiler so here it is. We plan to have a regular publishing schedule for more great print books that can be brought to life. So far it’s been a bit here and there, but we plan to up our game. We have three print titles almost ready for their interactive release. One great tactics book and two awesome openings books. The titles are: Improve Your Chess Tactics by Neishtadt, The Hyper-Accelerated Dragon by Raja Panjwani and My First Chess Opening Repertoire for Black by Vincent Moret. By letting you know of these books in advance, I hope to start a new trend where you will always know what’s coming soon so that you can plan around it on your quest for chess improvement.

Thanks so much for your support again, wishing you the best New Year possible, and please stay tuned for more exciting releases…!

Learn chess tactics: for beginners and beyond!

By David Kramaley / On / In Chess news, Chessable news, Features, Learning chess

Today we’ve reached another milestone. You can now learn chess tactics for beginners (and beyond) right here on Chessable. We’ve taken the classic puzzle book, 1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners, by New in Chess, and made it fully interactive! Ever wanted to apply the Woodpecker method to an excellent tactics book? Well, here is your chance.

There are plenty of chess tactics training resources out there, so why another one? Here are three good reasons. Every tactics trainer that I know of has lacked at least in one of these categories:

We wanted to offer guided tactics courses with puzzles of the highest quality
We don’t want you to study any randomised tactic set. We are working with some of the most highly regarded chess trainers and authors out there. In this manner, we can bring you some of the best-curated tactics compilations that exist. The author’s teaching experience shines through, maximising instructional value.

We wanted for tactic solving to be all about learning and nothing else
Many of the existing tactics trainers constantly remind you of your changing rating (or unchanging!). In others, you are stuck with a very fast timer. It shows you how much faster others are than you. Having carefully studied the psychology of learning, I assure you none of these things are optimal or conducive to good learning. We want you to be free to take as much time as you need and we won’t give you a tactics rating. Instead, you should care about solving for accuracy, ultimately increasing the number of tactical patterns you know.

We wanted to take advantage of spaced repetition, and the Woodpecker method
In his award-winning book, GM Axel Smith credits the “Woodpecker method” for a large part of his quick improvement.  In a nutshell, it involves selecting a set of chess tactics exercises, and once you have solved them all, to repeat them many times. This is a good strategy, but inefficient. With Chessable’s spaced repetition, you will go over the same set of exercises as many times as you need (the Woodpecker method). However, we will show you the ones you know really well, less often, and slowly phase them out. The ones you struggle with? We’ll give you a nudge!

For those reasons and more, we are super excited to have 1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners on Chessable. Of course, there will be more exciting books to come! So for the new year, let us know what you’d like to see. Do you want to learn more chess tactics? Or would you prefer more opening books? Send us a tweet or an e-mail and let us know. Happy holidays, and enjoy your chess learning.

Do you want to learn chess tactics, chess openings, something else? Let us know!Click To Tweet

Chessable’s new study flow is here!

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Features

At Chessable, our mission is to make learning chess as effective, as fun and as easy as possible. If this means re-engineering part of our core features, then that’s exactly what we’ll do. Today, the long awaited and highly requested change to Chessable’s study flow is finally here. From today on your learning experience should feel quicker, smoother and more natural.

The main goal of this update was to make the study experience more efficient. To achieve this, we have stopped redirecting you from page to page as much as possible. Instead, you will be given an opportunity to complete whatever lesson you’ve chosen while saving your progress on the go!

For instance, if you have 231 moves to review, and you want to do them all in one go without browsing away? Now that’s possible! Want to continue learning things within a chapter of the new book you picked up without distractions? Now that’s possible! Feel like you are in the flow and just want to keep going? This is it!

The new study flow on a phone

We are pretty excited about this update because beyond all that, it is expected to speed up Chessable as a whole, so it can feel even snappier and faster than you are already used to.

Together with a very kind and gregarious group of beta testers (thank you!), we’ve worked hard the whole of last month testing this update for you. We have polished it up as much as we could for the launch date, but already the new ideas and suggestions are flowing! After all, it is a shiny new feature, and it does open up a ton of possibilities. We’ll work on them next year, and make this even better.

However, next year is still some time away, so to begin with, we’ve added five shiny new badges for you to earn. And to put the cherry on the top, this feature will allow us to release a new print book that we are really excited about. Really, really, really soon. Can you guess what book it is? If you’ve guessed it without cheating, we’ll give you a prize. Send us a tweet @chessable!

The new badges.

We hope you enjoy it and if you have any feedback, check the forums, or please e-mail us via the contact us link at the bottom of the site.

PS.- Don’t like it? The old study flow is still available in your study settings 🙂

Can you guess what new book we are bringing to life this week? Let us know via a tweet!Click To Tweet


The MVP approach is contagious: taking it step by step is a wonderful idea.

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Features

MVP. We’ve thrown this acronym around here a lot. It stands for Minimum Viable Product. While we are fortunate that the days when Chessable was a bare-bones MVP are now long gone, I still remember those days fondly. The MVP idea is simple, build just enough to see if there is an interest, and then make it better. This approach allows for constant improvement without the need for substantial upfront investment. This is useful when you don’t yet know if anyone will find your creation useful.

Since the MVP approach has always been part of the Chessable culture, I was delighted to see that many of our eBook authors have embraced it. We’ve always talked about Chessable eBooks being different because they are like living, evolving organisms. The authors are free to update the variations, clarify concerns and add more content whenever they need to. This is not something you can do while publishing a traditional book! Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Even if you find an embarrassing error, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to change it. Not so in Chessable!

In the last month alone, we’ve had many authors updating their books. The co-author of GM Rafael Leitao’s Sicilian Najdorf published an exciting massive revamp of his book. In October we revamped and re-launched IM John Bartholomew’s Scandinavian. All of these updates to books are infectious, during launch month FM Marko Makaj has added nearly 20 variations and over a thousand words of instruction to his Fighting Sicilian eBook. Perhaps the most impressive update yet was announced today: GM Alex Colovic has added over 13,000 words of instruction to his Queen’s Gambit Declined eBook!

GM Colovic was one of the first masters to embrace working with Chessable when the platform was much smaller. Investing the time to write a 17,000-word book back then may have been perceived as stretch and a bit risky. We weren’t even investor backed yet! He did, however, launch a book that revealed his entire Grandmaster preparation, and annotated his lines at a high level (2000+). Many students found it useful, but this being a GM-level repertoire, it was not easy going for those lower-rated but ambitious players who dived into the deep end.

Well, over the last year GM Colovic’s students have asked many questions. I started studying the book myself, and contributed my fair share of queries. The result? GM Colovic has put pen to paper (or keyboard to screen?) and added 13,000 words worth of instruction. This is extremely useful for club level players and below! The repertoire now thoroughly explains all plans and ideas, weaknesses, opportunities, double-edged positions and much more! A true display of the MVP approach. Start small and solid, and grow into an amazing and great work. The overhaul has been so massive that we had to change the name, from a Grandmaster’s Guide to the Queen’s Gambit Declined to the new title, Queen’s Gambit Declined: A Grandmaster Explains.

Such incremental work by authors will always be what sets Chessable eBooks apart from the rest. I am thrilled to be part of a community where learning is everyone’s priority and incredibly grateful to all the hard working teachers who make it possible. I’ll see you on the leaderboards!

Beating Magnus after a month of training: the neuroscience of why learning chess is so much harder than learning a language

By David Kramaley / On / In Chess improvement, Chess science, Learning chess

By now, most of the chess world is familiar with the story of Max Deutsch, so I will keep it brief. Max is a 24-year-old chess amateur who wanted to beat World Champion Magnus Carlsen with a month’s worth of practice. No handicaps.

Max completed 11 other learning challenges, one each month. Perhaps the most impressive one was to learn Hebrew up to a conversational level in just a month. His success attracted large levels of attention, and his last challenge was upgraded from beating the top level of a chess app, to beating the man himself.

If one can learn a new language in a month, why is it that the game we love so much is so difficult to master? I spent over a year reading scientific journals about learning chess asking this very question. I also happen to speak five languages. I would love to share some valuable insights from cognitive neuroscience with you.

Learning chess and playing it well, is an infinitely more complex challenge than learning a new language.Click To Tweet

Learning a Language
Learning a new language is no easy feat. It requires hard work, motivation and daily practice. It is so tough that neuroscientists have shown that if you do not hear the sounds of some languages during your baby years, you may never acquire them up to a native’s standard. Could this be why many countries of the world remain primarily monolingual?

If you do however make the effort, learning a new language has pronounced effects on your brain. Neuroimaging has shown growth in the brain areas of the hippocampus and superior temporal gyrus. Your brain changes as you learn a new language. Like a muscle, it gets bigger and better.

Once you have acquired a new language, you will have to use it. When you speak it, you will use the left inferior frontal gyrus (Broca’s area) for the motor act of speech. You might also tap into the hippocampus for vocabulary. Your superior temporal gyrus will mediate these functions and help you form sentences rich with meaning.

Learning a Language vs. Learning Chess
Okay, so learning a language is no easy feat, but doable. So why is chess so much harder? The answer is simpler than you might think. While speaking a new language taps into a few skills, chess requires a much wider variety of skills to come together in perfect sync. Like the difference between the sound of an instrument, and that of an orchestra. Chess needs the orchestra. Let’s look at some of the skills that you will need on your path to mastery:

Parts of your brain grow as you learn new skills. How does one’s brain change while learning chess? Let’s find out.

Learning Chess: Visualisation & Calculation
When we calculate a few moves ahead, we need to visualise chess positions. The visual cortex part of your brain is hard at work. Your mind’s eye recreates what your eyes would otherwise do for you. Have you tried playing a game of blindfold chess? It is tough, but it is a required skill. Most masters can do this.

The better you are at visualising, the easier it will be to do everything else. This is because the cognitive load caused by calculation will not be as high, freeing up valuable brain resources for other tasks such as evaluating positions, strategising, etc. This is why famous chess psychologist De Groot noted that strong players no longer see the pieces on the board, but rather the lines of force and pressure that the pieces are exerting on the squares.

Learning Chess: Decision Making
Once you have calculated a few lines, it is time to make a decision. Will you play a prophylactic move or an aggressive move? Will you open the position up and go for the tactical line or play the solid positional line? So many options, so little time! Neuroscientists stipulate that areas like the anterior cingulate cortex, amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, among others, have important roles during decision making. Not much overlap with the brain areas required for visualisation, right? This is a skill in its own right.

Learning Chess: Impulse Control
Grandmaster Alexander Kotov noted that one of the fundamental differences between amateurs and masters is their discipline in thought processes. Do you always look at all you candidate moves? Do you always perform a blunder check? Do you always maintain a disciplined thinking process? Chances are that you do not. This is because this is an entirely separate skill set relying on different parts of your brain.

It is well known by neuroscientists that development of the brain area responsible for impulse control is not normally completed until at least the mid-20s. This is why they have the metaphor, “teenagers are all gas and no brakes”. Their prefrontal cortex is simply not developed enough, and in chess like in life, they might impulsively go for an action (or a variation) without completing their calculations. Of course, it is not only about teenagers, and once fully developed, there may yet be training to do to ensure we are all operating at the best of our abilities.

Learning Chess: Pattern Recognition
Pattern recognition is everywhere in chess, from tactical motifs and common combinations to typical plans and strategies. The more you play, the more your brain builds up its pattern recognition system. A fascinating finding from neuroscience is that your brain starts using the fusiform face area (FFA) to store chess positions! This is the part of the brain usually responsible for human face recognition. How can you tell your mom from a stranger? The FFA is hard at work. In expert chess players, this area doubles as a face recognition system for chess positions. Yet another skill to train up.

The fusiform face brain area helps you tell friend from foe. In chess players, it treats chess positions as faces!Click To Tweet


I hope that in this short(ish) article I have shown how learning chess and playing it well, is an infinitely more complex challenge than learning a new language. It is why some stipulate it may take up to 10 years of practice to attain master status. It is not by chance that many of us have fallen in love with this beautiful game, as what could be sweeter than to master one of the hardest human activities known to us? A game so infinite in possibilities that it is said there are more different chess positions than atoms in the universe.

In my work for Chessable, I am working hard to continue to develop tools that may help us tone down the training required to the tune of a few years instead of 10. This is why we are bringing print chess books to interactive life. Other than our work, technology has generally been improving learning for us anyway. This is perhaps why modern-day grandmasters are getting younger and younger.

I believe this trend of faster learning will definitely continue. It is also 100% possible to pick up the basics of chess and get playing within a few hours. It is also within the realms of achievable to increase your ELO by a very respectable level with a month of practice. However, beating the World Champion? I don’t think so. Unless we get the technology from The Matrix, it is unlikely this will happen in our lifetimes, if ever.

For those of us who practice chess daily though, and with technology constantly improving, the day of your Master status may be closer than you think. Good luck and I wish you success on your journey for improvement.

An Evening of Chess with John Bartholomew (and friends!)

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news

First things first, happy thanksgiving everyone!

With the occasion of Chessable’s second birthday, and IM John Bartholomew’s hunt for a GM norm in London, we are organising an awesome evening of chess at the Battersea Chess Club on Wednesday, the 29th of November from 17:00 to 21:30 PM.

This blog post is a reminder for you to RSVP, but also a special update. We now have some really awesome guests coming to take part, and we might just tell you who it is in the next couple of days 😉

The event is FREE to attend, but please RSVP early if you want to be guaranteed to play some chess and have a potential crack at John. And remember,  get your study sessions in and keep your streak up, as we might have a surprise or two in store for those with their activity calendars up to date and streaks on fire.

See you there.

Unlocking a premium feature: Advanced Line Study for all!

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Features

Have you ever tried to make or import your own custom Chessable book? If you have and you aren’t a PRO member, chances are you’ve run into our “Advanced Line Study” limitation. Guess what? Hurrah! It’s gone for good. Now everyone can enjoy making their own book.

Here is how one of our users described feeling before and after the change.

This limitation was for custom/private books only. Regular members were limited to the study of the first few moves and required an upgrade to study more. If you don’t know what I mean, don’t worry, you probably were never affected by it. Purchased, and freely published books have always been fully accessible. Nevertheless, this change is going to make many of our free members happy, so we thought we’d write this up to let you know. Just in case you were thinking of making your own book! 😉

As Chessable has grown and we have added more PRO features (move depth, soft fail for custom books, etc.), the PRO list has grown more impressive, and rightly so. In this manner, we show our appreciation for the many people who support us financially and save some server resources. However, it’s been a while since we’ve upgraded our regular members to something special, and since we love you guys just as much, today is the day.

So what are you waiting for? You can now enjoy using this part of the site without any limitations whatsoever. Why don’t you give making or importing your own Chessable repertoire a try? If you do, let us know what you think. We are always looking to improve.