Finding Your Real Weaknesses

Finding Your Real Weaknesses

IM Silman
Feb 18, 2016, 12:00 AM |
65 | Other

I get a lot of letters from members, and though their ratings run the gamut, I do my best to address all ratings as best I can.

Today I’ll turn my attention to two players below 1500 : Mr. Prashant1994 and Mr. Rrrtttyyyuuuiii. I’ll look at a few of their games, isolate their most obvious weaknesses, and then offer some basic advice to both gentlemen.

Will these two prove to have the same basic flaws, or will their weaknesses be completely different?

That remains to be seen! 

Rrrtttyyyuuuiii wrote: “I play the Queen’s Gambit for White and the Scandinavian for Black. What do you suggest is the best way for me to improve my game?”

Answer: I appreciate you asking me for help, but what you wrote isn’t enough for me to have a clue what your weaknesses or strengths are (I mentioned the flaws in this general, “What will help me?” question a few articles ago.). I would much prefer that anyone that wants to ask such things tells me what HE THINKS his weaknesses are, what HE THINKS his strengths are, and add a lost game (or a few positions) that demonstrate his typical errors (with his notes attached). Getting better occurs if you put a lot of work into the game, so why not start by doing that with your questions?

However, I went to your page and played through some of your games.

Let’s take a look at what stood out:

In this game, Black:

1) Placed a knight on a poor square (c6).

2) He ignored the importance of castling as quickly as possible.

3) He missed a simple/obvious move that creates a serious threat against c7. Odd since White’s dark-squared bishop was eyeing it.

4) He added to his woes by refusing to take notice of White’s knight and f4-bishop ganging up against c7.

5) He completely lost hope after 6.Nxe5 and folded with 6...a6.

From one game I would say:

1) Rrrtttyyyuuuiii has a poor grasp of tactics.

2) If things go wrong he folds.

3) He doesn’t pay attention to enemy threats.

Of course, one game doesn’t mean much. He might have been sleep deprived or simply having some other kind of bad day. So, let’s take another look at his games.

Black was clueless, but we are trying to help Mr. Rrrtttyyyuuuiii (who was White), so let’s glance at his failings in this game:

1) He created a big pawn center (which is good!), but he didn’t understand what the pawn center offers (it gains space and takes away key squares from the enemy).

2) He makes moves without asking what the opponent’s best reply would be.

Let’s do this one more time:


It pins the d7-knight, but who cares? And to top it off, after 10...c6 the bishop has to run in terror. Also notice that the bishop is all by itself on b5. Chess is a team game and you need to have your pieces work together, AND you need to obey the dictates of the pawn structure. Thus, since White’s center pawns are “pointing” at the kingside (note the f6-square is attack, which stops the d7-knight from moving to that classic defensive posture), White should play 10.Bd3, preparing to castle and taking direct aim at Black’s kingside. On d3, the bishop will be working with the f3-knight, the e5-pawn, and (eventually) the queen.



  • MAJOR/REPEATED ERROR: When he makes a move, he doesn’t bother to look for the opponent’s best reply. In a way, this is “chess in a vacuum” -- people that do this are basically playing a game all by themselves. It’s like saying, “After this move my opponent will do nothing and then I’ll checkmate him! Oh yeah!”
  • MAJOR PROBLEM: Poor tactical vision. Time to crack open various books on tactics. I talk about this in my article: Chess Tactics and the Hookah. For those that don’t like to click links, here are the books I recommended:

Combinations the Heart of Chess by Irving Chernev, Chess Traps, Pitfalls & Swindles by Horowitz and Reinfeld, The Art of the Chess Combination by Eugene Znosko-Borovsky (as a child, I gained 300 rating points after reading this little book), The Art of Attack in Chess by Vukovic, Chess Tactics for Advanced Players by Averbakh, The Art of Sacrifice in Chess by Rudolf Spielmann, and on and on it goes.

More modern books on this subject: 1000 Checkmate Combinations by Henkin, Chess Gems: 1,000 Combinations You Should Know by Igor Sukhin (this is actually a very special book since it not only shows you many of the best combinations throughout history, but how combinations evolved and what was discovered via the book’s timeline), Chess: 5334 Problems, Combinations and Games by Laszlo Polgar, The Magic Tactics of Mikhail Tal by Karsten Muller and Stulze, Chess Tactics from Scratch by Weteschnik, etc.

You can (and should) bolster your tactical study with Kotov’s Think Like a Grandmaster, My Best Games of Chess, 1908-1937 by Alekhine (Russell Enterprises), The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal by Tal, Mikhail Tal’s Best Games 1 – The Magic of Youth and Mikhail Tal’s Best Games 2 – The World Champion by Tibor Karolyi, Tal–Botvinnik 1960 by Tal (a classic), and other game collections by super-attackers like Frank Marshall (Marshall’s Best Games of Chess, also known as My Fifty Years of Chess, is endless fun), Arthur Bisguier (The Art of Bisguier: Selected Games 1961-2003 by Bisguier), Alexei Shirov (Fire on Board: Shirov’s Best Games and Fire on Board Part Two: 1997-2004), Rashid Nezhmetdinov (do a study of his games from a database, or pick up a book like Super Nezh: Rashid Nezhmetdinov by Pishkin), and Yeffim Geller (Application of Chess Theory by Geller). 

I will also recommend Susan Polgar’s Chess Tactics for Champions.

  • COMMON PROBLEM: Lack of positional understanding.
  • MAJOR/REPEATED ERROR: He fails to hold onto his stuff (in other words, he allows the opponent to capture material for free).

Let’s move on to our other player.

Prashant1994 wrote: “I play good opening moves but I’m facing problems in middle games. What can I do to improve?” 

Let’s see if Mr. Prashant1994 understands his own weaknesses.

Black eventually won this game, but it’s clear that White didn’t do a good job protecting his pieces. Is this a common part of his play? Let’s see:

Mr. Prashant1994, you mistake playing a few book moves as “good opening moves.” It’s a common mistake. The fact is that your opening play is a disaster due to this mistaken view that a couple book moves will make everything sparkle and shine.

An opening isn’t about moves, it’s about ideas, plans, and patterns. Even if you play 15 perfect “book” moves, if you don’t understand the ideas behind those moves you’ll crash and burn. On the other hand, if you do understand the basic ideas and plans then even if you don’t remember the right moves, you’ll be able to figure them out yourself (or at least find moves that make sense).

Though both Mr. Rrrtttyyyuuuiii and Mr. Prashant1994 had positional weaknesses (the bad 12.d5?? in Rrrtttyyyuuuiii vs. Rookqkoor -- an error that many higher-rated players make) and the 7...e5 blunder (both tactical and positional) in chiman2015 vs. Prashant1994, it’s to be expected. These things can only be cured if you have a teacher, or if you read any one of the many excellent books on positional play.

More immediate is the non-stop dropping of pieces and the inability to win material when it’s literally hanging out to dry. These two things will leave you at the bottom of the rating ladder for the rest of your lives, so you really need to deal with it.

Teachers and books won’t help you here. 



  • Train yourself to be aware of all your undefended pieces and pawns. ALL of them!
  • Train yourself to be aware of enemy pieces that are aiming at your stuff. If you have one piece defending your guy while the opponent has two attacking units hitting it, you need to see it and make sure that targeted piece/pawn is safe!
  • The same goes for loose enemy units. Always be on the lookout for vulnerable (undefended or inadequately defended) enemy pieces.
  • Finally, look for the opponent’s best move! You have an opponent, and that opponent wants to wipe you off the board. He will do his best to find the strongest reply possible to the move you make. Thus, be ready for what you feel is his very best response. 

I’ve seen comments under some of my articles saying, “That’s too much to think about!” Okay, then never get better and good luck to you. However, these four bits of advice are critically important, and if you consistently practice what I’ve said you’ll find that, eventually, you’ll see these things instantly.

One last thing: both players have problems with tactics. I gave a list of books that will prove very helpful, and you can also make use of the Tactics Trainer.

Once you learn all the basic tactical patterns (which is actually quite easy), and once you train yourself to guard your stuff and leap on him if he doesn’t guard his, you’ll find your rating, and your enjoyment of the game, will go sky high.

More from IM Silman
How To Learn Chess Patterns

How To Learn Chess Patterns

The Extremely Important Manipulation Of Pawn Structures

The Extremely Important Manipulation Of Pawn Structures