Amateur to IM Preview

  • GM SumoHawk
  • | Nov 27, 2012

*Please be warned, this is part article, part shameless book plug*

Hey guys this is IM Jonathan Hawkins from England.

My book 'Amateur to IM' was published last month, where I discuss some of the study material I worked on over the last 7-8 years in going from enthuisatic amateur to titled player. seemed the perfect platform to give the chess community a sneak preview of some of the material I give.

The subject of this article is planning, with a little twist. No grand plans, no long term strategy, just what I call 'little plans'. Small incremental goals which are regularly reassessed and new goals made. 

The reasons for this are clear: firstly the opponent can take many different paths so we constantly need to update our plans. Secondly, the goal of winning the game is usually too distant to visualise in any useful way. It is more useful to visualise ways to improve our position and damage our opponent’s position. Through repeated application of this we can hope to build up a winning advantage.

You will see how this works when we look at the example. I chose this topic because it works quite well as a self-contained lesson even if you decide not to read the book.

Let us dive into a game. It is my game with Nigel Short from the 2011 British Championships. This game was awarded 'best game' prize at that event, the 2nd year in a row I have been on the wrong side of that prize. I seem to have an ability for losing brilliantly.


Me smiling for the camera

After being move-ordered in the opening into a line where my knowledge was fairly poor, I was moderately pleased to have reached what appeared to be a fairly level position. Surely with my strong (or so I thought) central structure and reasonably placed pieces I would not be in any danger...

However the difficulties of playing without a plan against an (admitted much stronger) opponent with a clear plan made this an unpleasant experience.

What does 16...h6 do?

Plan A:

  • Force a concession from white with an eventual g6-g5 break.


  • If white captures then the h2 weakness will become exposed, allowing black to capture on f4 will create a host of new weaknesses.


Notice the ‘reflex’ 16…h5 has no function here, and in fact ends all of black’s counterplay,  there is no pawn which came come to g4 to kick away the knight.

With stage 1 complete, a7-a5 begins black's next plan...

Plan B: fix the white b-pawn as backward with the move a7-a5. Following this with a rook transfer to b6 (and later b4) to optimize one rook and put pressure on the b2 pawn (this can be increased with Be7-f6).

Again it seemed the crisis was over, clearly black has improved his position over the past few moves, but still everything is defended again and there is no clear path to victory for black.

Time for a new plan? This time it is more difficult but...

Plan C:


  • White is paralysed, so without a clear breakthrough it is best to simply optimize the black pieces.


  • The Rd8 can go to h8 (then maybe h4) black bishop to f6, and the black king can think about encroaching on the dark squares with Kc7-d6-c5.

After some toing and froing to reach the time control black needs to develop a new plan. It seems black cannot improve his pieces any further (unless he wishes to play Ka3 and possibly Ka2, although it is not clear what this achieves). Black develops a strong idea:

Plan D:


  • Play the pawn break b7-b5 which forces the capture on b5. Recapture with the king and then return the king to its optimal post on b4.


  • This has two possible ideas:


  • To create passed pawns with c6-c5-c4.


  • To open a route to improve the black rook further by bringing it to c5. After this black may be able to occupy c3 with a piece to tie down white further and weaken his protection of the b3 pawn.

The next lot of progress has been made. What is next?

Plan E:


  • Optimize the king further with Ka3-b2.


  •  This will also give additional opportunities for the black rook potentially on c3,c2 or c1.

The final position is completely lost because 67.Rxc3+ dxc3 or 67.Bc4 Rxd3 68.Bxd3+ Kxb3 and black wins easily.


In good spirits after 7 hours of pain


After my game with Short, I found a game he had played 18 years previously which followed a very similar path. Previous experience of a position or structure and the plans associated with it is a key component of chess strength and gives the possessor a huge advantage.

Summarising our work today:

  • A grand plan is a good thing, the move by move specifics are dealt with in the framework of little plans to achieve short term goals.


  • Remember always that whilst the direction of travel (where you want to take the position) is determined by your plans, tactics are always present and form the pathways which you can take to your destination.

That's all for now folks. Take care and good luck in your games. If you want to check out my book you can find details at:


  • 9 months ago


    Thank you Jonathan.

    Your book is the only chess book, I enjoyed reading. Very well written, even I could understand chess.

    Please write a book about middle game.

  • 15 months ago


    Just to say this book is an ending book, with about a dozen ending types given in detail the title is misleading.

    This excerpt with Short is by far the best part where presumably Nigel Short gave a lot of input in the games postmortem. Pump up Your Rating by Axel Smith is a much more wide ranging and advanced coaching book.

  • 20 months ago


    Go JONO

  • 2 years ago


    Congratulations to the author of "Amateur to IM" for winning the British Chess Championship, well done! May be the title should have been "Amateur to GM"? Cool

  • 3 years ago



  • 3 years ago


    Great advice!

  • 4 years ago


  • 4 years ago


    @leavenopawnbehind obviously NY Times doesnt need the money and the books practically sell themselves. Although a bit pricey chess books are probably going to get pricer since every publisher doesnt deal specifically and only with chess books.  If you want lesser priced go for the only chess publishers.

  • 4 years ago


    This is a ridiculously low prize for hours of structured learning and training by an expert in the field.

  • 4 years ago


    30 bucks for the book? are you stoned? im sure you spent considerable time and effort into writing that book but lets be realistic; even ridiculously publicized books, featured on NY Times, are fresh off the shelf for half that. 

  • 4 years ago


    from where I can buy the boock on pdf

  • 4 years ago


    I'm pretty much a beginner, and I found the article understandable and helpful-- a lot of the chess writing out there can be pretty tough for someone who is just starting out. I'll give the book a try.

  • 4 years ago


    Bad luck on the game. No shame in losing to Nigel Short, for crying out loud.

    That initial position looks good for White, surely. All those pieces pointed at Black's king. A very nice light-squared bishop owning the a8-h1 diagonal (I'd want to hold onto that). Open c-file for future doubled rooks. Black's rooks not connected yet. Plan is to break up his kingside pawns with your a- and b-pawn.

    Rather than a4, maybe b4 restricting the Black bishop and clamping down on the c5-square. Maybe Ba5 trying to induce b6 opening his king position (maybe not).

    Just my 2c

  • 4 years ago


    Thank you for good advices ;)

  • 4 years ago


    Just a warning: it is not explicitly said but this book is about endings. I am not saying it is a bad thing but do know in advance that 90 % of the book is explaining enings.

  • 4 years ago


    This is exactly the kind of book that I am looking for. The focus on planning, rather than playing almost move by move and concentrating purely on threats and weaknesses is something that can only get me so far. Laying medium to long term plans based on the position is a key weakness in my game. Cheers for the preview and will seriously check out where to buy your book.

  • 4 years ago


    really enjoying the book

  • 4 years ago




    I played an intense game. Go buy my book. 

  • 4 years ago



  • 4 years ago


    Brilliant article! Nice to see someone explain plans in a stepway manner. Would be nice to find your book in England without having to pay 25 quid including P&P though

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