Chess FAQ

Chess FAQ

| 42 | Chess Players

Promoting chess and helping other people is very important to me. That’s why I reply to lots of messages every day and give many interviews. Of course, many of the questions are getting asked over and over again. To avoid acting like a parrot and repeating the same thing all the time, I decided to publish a weekly FAQ at A few months have passed; over 150 questions have been addressed in public.

Today I would like to share with you some of the most popular Q&As dedicated to chess in general. All the personal questions (How much do you study? What are your chess goals? When did you get your first rating? etc.) have been left out to make this article more interesting. Hope you will enjoy it:

Q1: Is chess more of a logical or intuitive game?
A1: It depends on the player. Some rely purely on logic and principles, others just *see* the moves. Personally I am more of an intuitive player.

Q2: After reading your article about making money in chess, I'd like to know what your thoughts are concerning scandals in chess (such as Zurich 1953) and to what extent scandals have damaged the reputation of the "noble game" in the eyes of potential (financial) backers.
A2: Chess is indeed a very noble and intelligent game, you don't hear about such scandals that often. That's why sometimes media produces cheap sensations like "chess player (sic!) X did Y", and at the end of the article one learns that the "chess player" is someone rated in the 1200-2000 range. Also, even if some tension between top players occurs, it is rarely visible. For example, you mention Zurich 1953. Do you think many people have at least some notion about what happened there? My guess is no.

Q3: Is it hard to become a titled player?
A3: Depends on the title. While in the professional community only GM/WGM and IM/WIM are considered to be "real" titles, there are also semi-professional ones like FM/WFM and amateur ones - CM/WCM. The top two titles are rather hard to achieve and require many years of persistent work, while the lower ones can be obtained relatively quickly.

Q4: I'm an amateur who has about 1 hour per day to spend on chess. What is the best way to do it?
A4: Tactics, tactics, tactics! Make sure you solve tactical problems on a daily basis. Also, it's better to solve 5 or 10 problems that are relatively difficult for you than a hundred cheapos which teach you nothing except for mouse-racing.

Q5: Do you think that in the future we will see a woman as a World Champion?
A5: Maybe in distant future, not in the next decade for sure.

Q6: Do GMs have a full-time job apart from playing chess?
A6: Chess is highly competitive and professional these days. Most grandmasters who have a non-chess job are either retired or amateurs.

Q7: Do you like to listen to certain music before critical games?
A7: No, I try to stay focused. However, this is highly individual. Also, after terrible losses or draws, music sometimes helps me to get over it quicker.

Q8: Why did Russia have 5 teams in the Open section at the Olympiad?
A8: It is strange, actually. In Russia the first two teams are labeled as Russian, with the other three known as "local." In fact, the team composition is strange: not entirely, local, junior or strong enough. In my opinion, Russia should have avoided this situation by having only 2 or 3 teams (as the organizers normally do). On the other hand, it's a chance for some more players to enjoy the Olympiad (even if they don't compete for the medals), why not?

Q9: Can Anish Giri become a top-3 player?
A9: I generally don't like it when some people start acting like arrogant prophets and claim that "this guy will be a World Champ, while this guy doesn't have the talent." It depends on Anish himself and his competitors. As far as my opinion is concerned, he does have the potential.

Q10: Will Carlsen beat Kasparov's rating record?
A10: Probably. Only 26 points separate him from doing so. However, 2851 now and 2851 ten years ago are two different things. Now there are three 2800+ players and two very close to this border, so if you score a small plus against the world top-5, you will be at about 2850. Ten years ago there was only one player above 2800 - Kasparov (rated nearly 100 points above world's number 5), so he had to crush the opposition to sustain the rating. Therefore, the interesting question is whether Magnus can get to 2900 in the next few years - now that would be an achievement!

Q11: What are the good and bad gambits for people rated under 2000?
A11: People under 2000 have a lot to learn about chess, and that should be done by playing classical systems, not relying on outsmarting the opponent by playing a rare gambit. So, if you wish to improve, you had better either abandon gambits completely, or play only the most reliable ones (e.g. Queen's gambit, the Benko, Marshall gambit, etc.). There are dozens of them, but you can easily google the info on any opening and find out whether it's considered to be sound or not. Don't play for traps! On the other hand, if you have no intention of improving your game or results, you can play anything you like, even if it leaves you in a lost position after 10 moves.

Q12: How much tactics per day should I do?
A12: An hour of tactics a day keeps the patzer away. Another good idea is to combine tactics with purely positional exercises. This will make you a more balanced player. Otherwise (if you only solve tactics, nothing else) there is a high chance that you might go berserk otb and start sacrificing pieces wildly for no reason (since you're accustomed to it) only to see that this approach doesn't work out!

Q13: What is the best way to prepare for a tournament?
A13: Diagnose your main weaknesses and fix them. Sometimes it's about dealing with health issues. Sometimes you have to find the motivation to perform well. If you are tired of chess, you may want to rest for a few days and feel the desire to play again. When being rusty (after not playing for a few months/years) a few training games or even lots of blitz may be handy. And so on.

Q14: Thanks for your articles! What should I study more - the opening, middlegame or endgame?
A14: While beginners need to pay special attention to the endgame to learn basic mating techniques and get to know how the game ends, top pros spend most of their time trying to find interesting plans and novelties in the opening and middlegame. The golden medium for an average (between beginner and grandmaster) player is to pay attention to all the three stages and concentrate on the weakest one.

Q15: Who is stronger - Anand, Topalov or Kramnik?
A15: The answer depends on the circtumstances, motivation and many other factors. I guess every person can have her/his own favorites.

Q16: What are the most trendy openings today?
A16: The Berlin, Catalan, Gruenfeld, Petroff... Hope you are not asking this to abandon your repertoire for the "fashionable"?

Q17: Do you know any efficient chess doping?
A17: I guess that some people could be taking some special medicines (just like students who wish to sharpen their memory, sleep less, stay concentrated, etc.), but for me and my friends the only "doping" is proper nutrition, sleeping well, staying positive and fit, support from fans, and love for the game!

Q18: Why do many top players in countries such as Russia, England, France, etc. avoid playing in the national championships?
A18: Sometimes it's simply a matter of circumstances. In other cases there are conflicts with the federation or lack of motivation (financial, competitive, etc.). Both sides are responsible here: players should be more respectful towards their national championships, but the federations should also find ways of motivating their top guys to participate.

Q19: When is the next Women World Championship?
A19: In December, 2010 in Turkey.

Q20: Is the Dutch popular among top players these days? Why?

A20: No, it's not that popular nowadays since modern theory states that White has an advantage there. Also, it's a matter of chess fashion. As variations are getting refuted or improved, the trends change.

Q21: What tools do you rely on in your opening preparation?
A21: Mainly chess databases - Chess Assistant, ChessBase. Also (occasionally) opening books, recently played games and the advice of my GM-friends.

Q22: I'm planning to become a grandmaster and play chess full-time. Will it earn me a lot of money?
A22: It normally takes over 10 years of hard work to become a GM even for talented people. Depends on what you mean by "a lot", but an average (non-elite and non-coaching, etc.) GM makes less than $50k per year.

Q23: I want to increase my rating. Should I wipe out a lower-rated tournament or play against stronger opposition?
A23: If you wish to improve and increase your rating in the long run, it's better to "play up". Just make sure the field is not excessively strong (or you might lose all the games and hardly learn anything). Scoring next-to-perfect results in lower-rated groups is also a valuable experience, but you still need to face more skilled opponents to improve.

Q24: Has the Internet helped promote chess (in your opinion)?
A24: Generally speaking, yes. Nowadays one can watch broadcasts from chess tournaments all over the world, find sparring partners, communicate with chess friends, stay tuned to the news, etc.

Q25: What do you think about the ChessMaster series?
A25: They are quite entertaining and lively, can be especially recommended for kids. However, professionals are somewhat sceptical of the software since the engine itself is not top-notch (although quite strong).

Q26: I hear women chess players deriding the separate championship for women. They say they would never take part in it because it is demeaning to women. You are a WGM. What is your response to this?
A26: I know just one female player in contention who doesn't compete in the Women World Championship. Judit Polgar. That's her personal choice, while I have a different opinion.

Q27: I have a few hours per day to improve in chess. What should I do?
A27: It depends on your level and weaknesses. A coach would be handy, but if you are on your own, start by solving a test to determine your weak spots. Then create a training plan featuring all chess aspects (opening, middlegame, endgame, tactics, psychology, physical shape, etc.), but concentrate your efforts on eliminating the shortcomings. Realistically speaking, at sub-master level one should dedicate from 60 to 80 percent of the time to playing and analyzing one's own games. Don't get carried away by sophisticated openings or other theoretical stuff at this point. It's hard to answer such a question quickly, but you may check out for articles on improving in chess. Many people claim them to be helpful.

Q28: Do you think Allen will be able to
get to 2100 from scratch in a year?
A28: I have never seen anyone go from knowing the rules to 2100 in a year. However, a) it doesn't mean that it's impossible b) I can't comment on Allen's case since I have never played him and don't know where he's at (and where he was before the bet).

Q29: What is the highest level an average person can reach without coaching? 2000? 2300?
A29: It's hard to define "average". Also, this leads us to a Guinness-book type of record, something not common. People usually hire coaches not because they wouldn't reach 2000 or 2300 otherwise, but to speed up the process. It's like asking if one can get a decent education at home, without going to the university. The answer is probably yes, but it's much easier to go to college, isn't it? 

Q30: Is it hard to live with a female chess player? What is the toughest part of it?
A30: I have never actually *lived with* a woman. Chess players are very different, it's hard to find something in common. Ok: they probably won't be willing to play chess at home and are likely to beat you (most men don't like it).

Q31: What does a grandmaster do when she wants a business to sponsor her as a professional chess player?
A31: It depends on the grandmaster, of course. The typical way is to send out business proposals and try to attract sponsors by showing how beneficial the partnership can be. However, this way is not very efficient unless you have connections. People will just regard such letters as spam. So, the best way is probably to become so popular that companies will start contacting you with offers themselves.

Q32: Do you support the idea that more female players should also do a good quota of photograph sessions or even modeling to help confirm and show that chess is not a game of only old boring gentlemen sitting at a library and smoking pipes?
A32: Absolutely. Of course, it should be done with grace, but photo shoots of beautiful female players definitely contribute to the popularity of the game.

Q33: What's your opinion on the Kasparov vs Deep Blue famous games?
A33: There is so much controversy around the match, I just lack the information to comment on it. In my opinion Kasparov should have just played his own game rather than tried anti-computer strategy and dubious openings. At that time the machines were much weaker than nowadays, he had a perfect chance to beat Deep Blue.

Q34: Do you think it is possible to reach GM-level by training at home, without playing in official events?
A34: That's usually a dream of people who think that GM-level is something one can achieve in a few months by solving tactics, reading some biographies and being smart. In theory, if a gifted and motivated person will work on his chess for years, hire top coaches and sparring partners, etc., he may get to GM strength at home. But that is irrational and highly unlikely.

Q35: Bishop or knight?

A35: No special preference, depends on the position.

Q36: How many rated games a year should I play?
A36: It depends on your aims, opportunities and chess level. Elite players like Kramnik may play only 30-50 games a year, while some grandmasters literally travel from one Swiss event to another and average 200 games a year and even more. My estimate is that an improving players should play from 60 to 120 games a year. For me the average number is about 80-90 games/year.

Q37: Do you have chess dreams when you come up with solutions to problems, find new moves, etc.?
A37: I have chess dreams occasionally, but no revelations came to me while asleep. I.e. I haven't ever dreamed about novelties or new plans...

Q38: Sometimes I keep playing friendly chess matches even being very tired so that to learn something new. Is it a good thing to do?
A38: I don't see the point of getting oneself over-exhausted. 3-4 hours (about the time a regular games lasts) is enough. If you still have some energy left after it, you may spend it on analyzing the game in detail.

Q39: Do you believe that chess talent is more of a nature, or nurture ability? I remember reading in one of Seirawan's books that he thought anyone could obtain a grandmaster title after 10 years of hard study, regardless of "natural gifts." Do you agree?
A39: I believe in the power of a human's brain. Probably, given proper conditions, hard work, motivation, etc., an average person may indeed become a master. Not sure about 10 years/GM though. It took most pros longer than that...

Q40: What do you think of this division into male and female grandmasters? Are you opposed to it? Do you think it is currently gradually eroding?
A40: I believe that separate titles for women and men should exist until we have more strong female players. Currently only Judit Polgar is on the world's top-100. It is eroding slowly, but inevitably. In the future there will be more proficient female chess players.

Q41: At what age do you think chess players peak? Is the amount of learning and preparation required by grandmasters increasing in modern times?
A41: The average age of peak level is probably about 35. At that time people already have a lot of experience, but are still young, have the energy it takes to play chess, a good memory.

Of course, one needs to know much more these days than in the good old times when Botvinnik had a secret notebook which had some 5 moves for each side or so and the evaluation. Nowadays one has to memorize a myriad of 20+ move lines and generally study all aspects of chess more.

Q42: I have found that becoming a parent has lessened my ability as I have less opportunity to play matches and even when I do have time I still feel rushed. How do parents cope in the professional chess world?
A42: Being a parent provides one with more energy and motivation, but it is very hard to find spare time for chess. Generally, both married and single players excel in chess, both with children and not. Having a child is not something that is totally incompatible with playing at a top level (or, at least, I hope so). :)

Q43: Also meant to ask for your take on the positional/overall adequacy (as opposed to incidental shock value) of a7-a6 and b7-b6 to e4 and d4.
A43: These moves are good for a one-time surprise (e.g. Karpov-Miles), but no good in terms of employing them regularly since they are a) inferior b) aren't based on sound chess principles.

Q44: I'm an adult who loves chess and wants to become a GM. How do I do that? Should I obtain a rating or something?

A44: Normally it takes at least 10 years to become a grandmaster (given the proper environment, talent, a lot of time invested, good coaching, etc.). Also, even this title doesn't ensure a comfortable life by itself. Therefore, I don't want to say you won't be able to do it, but rather point out that there is no real sense in going for it. Moreover, if you really love chess, you will be practicing and studying for the sake of doing it, not for getting a diploma and boasting among your friends.

Q45: I am a casual chess player, but I’m interested in entering a tournament. What tips would you suggest a beginner such as me to prepare for my first tournament?
A45: First of all, you should make sure you are familiar with the rules of
playing in a tournament. During casual games some people chat, neither write
the moves down nor use chess clocks, ignore the "touch-move" rule, etc. Playing in a chess event is a different experience. Therefore, you had better visit some
tournaments to see how things are going there, talk to a friend or read a
book on this.

Secondly, start solving tactics each day before the event (for maybe a week or two) to be in your top shape. Revise your openings (if there is anything to revise, of course). Make sure you are entering the type of competition that suits you. Not too strong, not too weak.

Good luck in your first chess competition!

Q46: May trying to play like a computer ruin your intuition?
A46: When analyzing with a chess engine one has to be careful since it's very easy to switch off one's head entirely and start relying on the engine's suggestions only. One problem is that even chess engines are sometimes wrong (so one has to monitor what they're doing). The second is that this way it's easy to forget how to think for yourself and become weaker in terms of otb play. To avoid that, one has to use an engine as an assistant, not as a guide.

Q47: I never played chess, does that make me a dumb person?
A47: Of course not. However, why not try this wonderful game? I am sure you will like it!

Q48: What is better: 2d computer chess or 3d (like an actual board and pieces)?
A48: Many pros don't use the real chess boards at all (even Carlsen once said he doesn't). The times when you had to take a chess set with you during travels are long gone. However, at training sessions it's very convenient and useful to employ a real board. It helps you feel the position much better and memorize the main ideas by playing them out with your hands. Moving pieces on the computer screen is convenient and fast, but less efficient in terms of memorization. Therefore, I usually use both a computer and a chess board.

Q49: How do I create a plan?
A49: This question is almost as general as "how do I play chess well?". One should feel the position and its main factors (material, open lines, king safety, weak and strong squares, etc.). Understanding what is really important is an indicator of mastery. To give a simple example, if you are having the opponent's king mated, you may forget about material (e.g. sacrifice a queen). And in a quiet ending one may be happy to create a passed pawn, slowly improve the position of one piece, etc. By estimating the priority of the factors one can choose what plan to implement. It's not possible to compose a table "when to care about what", one should consider each position individually.

Q50: How to look for a move? How do you understand when to play for a win, or where a draw is enough?

A50: First of all, it depends on the tournament situation. Sometimes only a win suits you, so you have to take chances in drawn positions, try to somehow outplay or trick your opponent. In the general case White is supposed to have some advantage from the opening. Then, during the game, one compares his own play to that of his/her opponent. If you are playing equally well, White will still have a small edge. If your opponent makes a mistake, you are supposed to be better. And so on. With Black you start with a small disadvantage. If things go well, you may at some point feel that the position became equal (if your opponent didn't play that well), or you are even better (if he blundered).

Q51: On what does my initial FIDE rating depend?
A51: This is the official article on this issue at the FIDE Handbook. Briefly, it depends on the rating of your opponents and your score against them.

Q52: Is there a correlation between IQ and chess strength? Do you know your IQ and can you share this information?
A52: Few studies have been conducted in this field. People tend to view chess as an intelligent sport and think that high IQ is a strong requirement for playing chess well. There was even a dead wrong formula along the lines of (max. ELO one can reach)=1000+IQ*10. I don't know my IQ (since such tests are not popular in Russian schools), but don't think that it's extraordinary high. In fact, some people with ordinary IQ play really good chess. On the contrary, my husband qualifies for the Triple Nine Society, but is not playing professionally. To sum it all up, the good news is that you don't have to be an overall genius in order to play chess on a high level.

Q53: Should I solve tactics timed or untimed?
A53: In a real game you always have to keep in mind how much time you've got left. Therefore, I suggest timing yourself. If you can't solve a problem after 10-20 minutes, leave it (don't peek into the answers!) and return to it later. Sometimes it's inconvenient to time oneself (e.g. in trips, or when solving tactics blindfoldedly). However, generally it's a good idea. Also note that we're talking about a relatively large amount of time. I am not an advocate of solving a few hundred "2 seconds per move" cheapos per day - that type of "training" is likely to get your chess killed, not improved.

Q54: Do you like playing bullet?
A54: Bullet is a way of having fun while detoriating one's chess skills. The common arguments against this are that bullet "helps learn to recognize patterns", "try out openings"; "the level of play is still very high". Re patterns - strong GMs know them anyway, and amateurs will hardly spot those within a few secs. Even if they do, it has little instructive value. Trying out openings - you can't afford to spend even 10-15 seconds on thinking about a novelty, coming up with a plan. It's pure reflexes. Yes, some people can create quite impressive games even within 1-min frame. However, they are capable of playing way more stronger within longer time controls. And beauty in bullet is overrated due to a large amount of people who value a simple two-move tactical shot above a long and creative strategic plan (which looks boring to them).

Q55: Who was the first female player to become GM?
A55: Nona Gaprindashvili, the legendary Women World Champion, received that title in 1978 for her achievements. Another Women World Champion, Maia Chiburdanidze, met the official requirements for becoming a GM in 1988.

Q56: Should I play stronger players to improve?

A56: Yes, playing reasonably stronger (100-200 ELO points) opponents allows one to learn something new without getting mercilessly crushed every time. Facing too strong or too weak opponents is not that productive.

Q57: Everyone is excited about facing strong opposition, why do GMs play in open tournaments then?
A57: For GMs it's a chance to earn some money by beating their colleagues and lower-rated players. Not everyone gets invited to elite tournaments with large appearance fees and prizes, you know.

Q58: Do GMs live in the "eat, sleep, chess" way?
A58: I hear that sometimes from people who envy stronger players and want to justify themselves ("I would have been Kasparov if blah-blah-blah"). The funny thing is that they often actually spend more time on chess than the GMs they are referring to.

Q59: Will I benefit from working with two trainers instead of one?

A59: As long as they are both skilled enough, probably. The more approaches to studying chess you know, the better. The only issues that can arise are organizational: one of them may not know what the other one taught you already, blame your failures on him, argue who the main coach is, etc. If you avoid all that, it's going to be all right.

Q60: I suck at blitz, does that mean that I should improve in it to become a better player?
A60: While there is a certain correlation between playing strength in standard chess and in blitz, these games are quite different. If you feel bad about playing blitz not well enough, you may decide to train and improve. However, if you are thinking about boosting your blitz skills for the sake of becoming a better player overall, then it is hardly the best way to do it.

Q61: How many hours a day should one study chess?
A61: Few people can afford to spend a lot of time on it. Besides, after 3-4 hours one gets tired, and it becomes much harder to learn something new. The optimal time for a pro is about the same as the duration of a game (about 4 hours). Some practice more, some less.

Q62: What do you think about forfeiting players who are not present at the board at the start of the round?
A62: That is probably acceptable for World Championship matches and other top events, but not for regular open tournaments.

Q63: I am bad at Math, is it possible for me to play chess well?
A63: It seems that the relationship between Math skills and chess is strongly exagerrated. I myself and many of my friends are pure humanists, and it doesn't prevent us from playing.

Q64: Should I stay at the board during all the game?
A64: While some people try to make the most of it and keep thinking even when it's the opponent's turn, I believe this approach is not suitable for most players. That way you often waste a lot of mental and physical energy ("what if he goes there?!") and then see a totally different move! Being surprised and tired, you are likely to blunder. Therefore, when my opponent is pondering his/her move, I prefer to relax a bit, take a walk, drink some tea, etc.

Q65: Can you tell me the strongest line against the Sicilian?
A65: There are no "the lines" for humans. Unlike chess engines, we are not fighting for an ethereal 0.05 of a pawn each move.  Depending on your chess tastes you may choose a lot of different options which are all more or less equal.

Q66: It is possible to improve chess level just by playing a lot of games?
A66: Yes, if you carefully analyse them and learn from your mistakes. However, that is less efficient than playing and studying before the next tournament.

Q67: I am 20 (30,40, 50). Do I still have a chance to improve?
A67: Yes, although it is harder to learn chess at an older age, you can still progress, no matter how old you are.

Q68: Why do GMs avoid playing at public chess portals?
A68: They don't want to reveal their opening preparation by showing what lines they are working on.

Q69: Is it ok that I'm playing 400 (500, 600) correspondence games simultaneously?
A69: It's nothing to brag about. Playing so many games at a time, you spend a few seconds on each move. That leads to detoriation of skills and superficial play. Concentrate on quality rather than on quantity of games.

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