Games per Year?

  • WGM Natalia_Pogonina
  • | Sep 7, 2010

One of the most popular questions that is asked by amateurs and pros alike is “How many games per year should I play?” Of course, no one in the world knows the right answer. In fact, the one and only solution doesn’t exist since this is highly individual. Nonetheless, all of us know that lack of practice doesn’t allow one to improve efficiently, while competing too often makes one feel like a squeezed lemon, lose interest in chess and shed rating points. So where is the golden middle?

To answer this tricky question, we will review the schedules of the very best chess players in the world. While in general copying the training routine of a top grandmaster is unreasonable for less proficient players, here the situation is somewhat different. The world is not perfect, so most amateurs simply can’t afford to allocate too much time for tournament play. On the other hand, non-elite grandmasters often have to flock from one event to another to earn a decent amount of money. Naturally, neither of these cases is optimal. That’s why we will be looking at top pros: they are supposed to know this as no one else does, and have the opportunity to choose the amount of games that suits them best.

First of all, here’s the September 1, 2010 top-20. Next to each name you can see how many rated games the person has played in 2009:

1. Carlsen – 75

2. Topalov – 41

3. Anand – 25

4. Aronian – 93

5. Kramnik – 26

6. Eljanov – 86

7. Grischuk – 55

8. Mamedyarov – 69

9. Ivanchuk – 135

10. Gelfand – 96

11. Ponomariov – 42

12. Shirov – 93

13. Radjabov – 60

14. Karjakin – 69

15. Nakamura – 86

16. Wang – 83

17. Svidler – 114

18. Adams – 74

19. Jakovenko – 71

20. Malakhov – 84

Now let’s sort the list by number of games per year to make it more expressive:

  1. Ivanchuk – 135 (well-known chess addict)
  2. Svidler – 114 (admitted being tired, but couldn’t miss some important events)
  3. Gelfand – 96
  4. Aronian – 93
  5. Shirov – 93
  6. Eljanov – 86
  7. Nakamura – 86
  8. Malakhov – 84
  9. Wang – 83
  10. Carlsen – 75 (median number)
  11. Adams – 74 (median number)
  12. Jakovenko – 71
  13. Mamedyarov – 69
  14. Karjakin – 69
  15. Radjabov – 60
  16. Grischuk – 55
  17. Ponomariov – 42 (doesn’t play a lot after becoming FIDE ex-World Champion in 2004)
  18. Topalov – 41 (was busy preparing for the WC match against Anand)
  19. Kramnik – 26 (always acts like he’s preparing for a WC match) Smile
  20. Anand – 25 (was busy preparing for the WC match against Topalov)

It’s easy to see that the median number for elite grandmasters is 74-75 games per year (ironically, by doing so we get Magnus Carlsen, the highest-rated player in the world, as a role model in this respect). This should be close to the optimal amount of games/year for a person who takes chess seriously. However, it is essential to remember that this list doesn’t include rapid/blitz/blind/exhibition events, training games; doesn’t reflect the time spent on studying chess and analyzing one’s games. To become an eminent player, one should keep in mind all the intricacies of the training process, not only one feature.

Warning: this article should serve as food for thought, not a medical prescription stating that “you won’t improve unless you play X games a year.” Smile

In case someone is interested in my chess schedule, it normally includes about 90 rated games per year. The end of 2010 is going to be especially busy since upcoming are the Women’s World Blitz Championship (unrated), World Chess Olympiad, European Club Championship, Russian Superfinal, Women’s World Championship and (maybe) ACP Rapid World Championship (unrated).

Meanwhile, let’s take a look at another game from the recent Russia – China friendly match:

My opening choice was rather unambitious, and after d5 my opponent could have equalized. However, she made a mistake, on which I failed to capitalize. After I missed a chance to head for a better endgame, the game quickly ended in a draw by repetition.


  • 3 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    Let’s stay in touch on social networks! Here are my official accounts:

    Account 1, Account 2, Account 3

  • 6 years ago


    i wish to be as u

  • 6 years ago


    Some comment to comment, some comment to brag.

  • 6 years ago



    thank you very much

  • 6 years ago


    ihave 45 in this months.Smile

    Good question!

  • 6 years ago


    chess is cool ..its like an economy where we study of human behaviour that have limited resouces(queen , bshop etc.. to produce unlimited tactic. thats why everyone play chess and impossible to stop anytime soon.

  • 6 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    @ rockettorque It's not only about being rusty or not, it's about motivation and time. Nowadays I have to keep an eye on my baby all day long and can only practice chess for about an hour a day (during his evening nap). Not enough for a chess pro.

    @Caliphigia Agree, that amount of games allows one to keep his form (or even progress slowly) and enjoy the game while working full-time.

    @sryiwannadraw I am not talking about bullet/blitz. Of course, some people average thousands of blitz/bullet games per year.

    @ Twobit They don't have a lot of choice (playing only in the very top events) & are occupied with match preparation. When not having a WC match in sight, they play more games.

    @forrie Yes, it's highly individual. Grischuk mentioned 60 as the # he likes, Khalifman says "at least 60", guys like GM Korneev may play up to 270 games/year. I don't remember the exact count for Botvinnik, but he was rather conservative by modern standards...

  • 6 years ago


    Hi Natalia

    Thanks for your instructive article.

    The following in "The life and games of Mikhail Tal":

    JOURNALIST: Let us suppose for the moment that you had a perfectly free choice of events, and you could play 365 games a year if you wished. How many would you play, and with what intervals?

    TAL: Its purely a theoretical question. Sometimes after a tournament I feel so tired that I promise myself that I wont touch chess at all for a certain length of time. But a week or 10 days pass, and I once again feel myself being drawn to the board. So after each tournament, I think that an interval of two or three weeks, or a maximum of three, is quite sufficient.

    JOURNALIST: So you would play in ten tournaments a year?

    TAL: Well, what of it? That is what I did in the period from 1972 to 1974, and I didnt feel in the least unhappy.

    JOURNALIST: Korchnoi once wrote that to keep in good form he has to play 80 games a year. (Close to the median above of 74/75)

    TAL: I need more. A minimum of 100, since calculating play requires constant practice, although, strange as it may seem, I am not a particularly 'calculating' player.

  • 6 years ago


    Thank you very much for the Najdorf game, it's by far my favorite opening. : D

  • 6 years ago


    "Chinese players like the Najdorf."

    I lold. Adding sarcastic remarks to chess is inherent.  I could see Samuel L. Jackson (circa Die Hard 3) yelling, "WHY IS IT THAT THE WHITE MAN ALWAYS GOES FIRST?"

    Every time I hear "Najdorf" I think "Nazgul" from Lord of the Rings and imagine a Sicilian Dragon ridden by a demon knight.

  • 6 years ago


  • 6 years ago


    So it is obvious that the number of games played do not necessarily correlate with your position on the rating list. My take home message is that you just keep on practicing with non-rated games, as rated games do not necessarily will elevate your skills, but your rating. And skill will eventually will lead to a rating increase anyway. If rated games would make you better, why would world championship contenders would play only 25 or 41 games, respectively?

  • 6 years ago


    After acquiring the theoretical and thematic knowledge of a 6 opening repertoire, you have built what in some chess circles is known as 'The Brick Wall'.  It is a good nickname because to players rated 1900 or less your opening repertoire feels like a brick wall during the opening stages of the game.  Once you have built 'The Brick Wall' then one of the most important type of games to play alot of is 5min.  There are 3 main reasons for doing so:

    1. It reinforces your knowledge of, the variations, transpositions and themes in your 6 opening repertoire.

    2. It sharpens your tactical sight and pattern recognition.  You can see tactical combinations very quickly in a given position.

    3. It sharpens your clock skills in tense, short time control move sequences over the board in tournament games.

    Regarding regulation time control tournaments(Game 120, Game 90, Game 60), your individual strengths and life schedule should control how many tournaments to play in per year.   A good # of tournaments to play in is about 12(one per month).  If you don't have time as an amateur player to play one tournament per month, you are just too busy.  The average tournament is a 6 round Swiss System.  If you play in 12 you will play 72 games. 

    How much skittles and occasional games you play is up to you.  One caution is to play individuals of your playing strength or stronger.   Unless it is in a teaching or consultation type of game.   Occasional games with lower rated players that are friends or strangers that challenge you to a game at a Star Bucks or some other venue are ok, but keep them to a minimum.

  • 6 years ago


    jajajaja Thank you Natalia :) I play like 10 tournaments of five rounds per year and I thing it is enough for my level... Im very surprised of jow many games Ivancuk plays jajaja...

  • 6 years ago


    Though the games with USCF are completely different. I know a guy who plays in over 2 tournaments a week. Perhaps three...

  • 6 years ago


    Perhaps now that they have intensive daily coaching and the resources to devote much time to non-rated practice.  I am curious as to how many rated games they played per year to GET to the top.  I suspect the Magnus the schoolboy played more than 75 games per year.

  • 6 years ago


    im at 3000 played in a year, but its all about the "best" time spent so whatever works for one isn't always the best for another

  • 6 years ago


    Ivanchuk is an addict, wow!

  • 6 years ago


    Our weekend tournaments have between 4 (G90+) and 7 games (usually G60) and there's typically one per month.  So average 5 games * 12 months = 60.  But UI can only do that in the Winter the other six months of the year it's a little less frequent. 

  • 6 years ago


    Natalia, You've mentioned in a few articles that you're a bit rusty from your time off. I understand that you had a baby ( and he's an adorable future gm), but how much time do you anticipate it would take before you were back in the swing of things? I know that a 10 day vacation can wreck my ability to calculate lines for a week or two, I'm wondering how you compensate at the highest levels.

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