Grandmaster Chess Training and Opening Preparation

  • GM arunabi
  • | Jun 27, 2011

Kkjimbo asked:

I am a low ranked club player (British Chess Fed 109) A fellow patzer at my club has agreed to spend some time with me in the close season training. We plan on a once a week 1 or 2 hour session. Have you any tips on how we could get the best out of this time.

Dear Kkjimbo,

What we would recommend is, to play a lot of practice games. Never mind about the result but try to give your best in each game. Take your game seriously and do not think that the player you are playing against is your friend. Try only to give your best in each game. Whether you win or lose you still have something to learn. After each game you both can analyze the game and share the ideas.  If you learn a new opening try to play those lines in practice games. You will gain lot of ideas before the real tournament game.

One more idea is, try to play blindfold games. One of you can play with the board and the other player will be playing blindfold. This will make you sharp if you are getting ready for a tournament. Try to solve as many tactical problems as possible. 



What does it take to become a grandmaster, how much training and how much dedication. And do you think everyone, regardless of talent, can become a Grandmaster?

Greetings from Denmark, Simon Seirup

Officially the GM title is the highest title one can achieve in Chess apart from becoming a World Champion. It cannot be said that everyone can become a Grandmaster. To become a Grandmaster you definitely require talent and proper training. I have seen a few IM’s who definitely play at a Grandmaster standard but still don’t become a GM. One of our friends who became a Grandmaster a couple of years back, missed the GM title in a single game in 2005. He just needed a draw against a GM in the final round to achieve his 3rd GM norm and cross the 2500 mark. But he lost that game and it took him another four years to achieve the GM title. It is clear that not just training and talent matter, but also strong nerves. 

A Grandmaster should have a good opening repertoire. Hence to be a good GM, opening training is also important. Opening theory is developing in leaps and bounds in recent times and it is essential to keep track of recent developments. It does not matter how many hours you work but it is important to do the necessary work. Kramnik in one of his interviews said “Chess training is like gym training:” no matter what you will have to train every day. If you miss one day then you will have to work several days to makeup for it.

Players who are pretty good in tactics and attacking chess might not be strong in positional chess and vice versa. If there is a weakness it is important to work on it and eliminate it.   


I know GMs and IMs play the opening differently from other players, but how differently do they play the opening, what is their intention in the opening?

GM’s and IM’s are usually well prepared in the openings. They have clear ideas about the openings they play and they often try to get the advantage in the opening itself.

They prepare the openings in such a way that they have analyzed all the possible ideas for the opponent and they know the exact way to counter them. They study the opening in a much more concrete way than the normal players. They know the piece placements and pawn structures for different openings.

That is why when a GM plays a Novelty against another GM, it is not really easy for the latter to play, since the player who introduces the novelty would have analyzed all the possible ideas his opponent can play and will be ready to face them. But the one who is facing the novelty has to work out everything over the board, which is really not easy. Unless you have analyzed the opening and know the games previously played and ideas used in that line you cannot even understand that the opponent has played a novelty, much less respond correctly.


  • 5 years ago


    Well, the problem is, many people train, and hard, but not properly at all; in fact it may be those few who train both consistently and properly that make it to exceptional levels like we see today; maybe this is why Carlsen made it. We can't really know because we have very limited knowledge of what goes on "behind the scenes" if you will.

  • 5 years ago


    "He [Lazslo] announced what he would do before his children were born, and he did it. The result speaks for itself."

    Seriously, think about this -- that's incredibly impressive. What's more, he didn't just raise a chess genius, he raised three!! So now we have to assume that all three of the daughters had the same talent? I dunno, that seems pretty unlikely -- it's not like Fischer's siblings were anything special. This does not prove or disprove talent (that would be quite a task; in any case I think everyone has natural aptitudes so I think it exists in small amounts but I think people underestimate what high quality training can really do for anyone), but it still says a lot about what nurture can do, don't you think? Give the guy some credit here!

    "I can say with extreme confidence that I will never rise to the level of Anand, Nakamura, Shirov, or Joe Schmoe 2500+ GM who can calculate in their sleep, playing multiple blindfold games at a time, in tournaments, against world class competition. My brain simply doesn't work that way."

    Actually, I used to think like this; now not quite. I used to think calculating 3-4 moves ahead was something I would NEVER be able to do; that it was impossible for me, with biology to blame. Moreover, subtle plans and ideas that grandmasters would always come up with (like the famous "quiet move") I thought were nothing short of impossible for me. Now, grandmaster level? That's saying a lot right now, but who knows, because it has happened before where something that seemed, quite intrinsically, impossible to me turned into something I am currently doing!

  • 5 years ago


    @fish food

    Being an educator myself, I know that many kids can play chess very well with very little training because the part of their brain that deals with abstract visualization is naturally more developed.  Lazslo was a chess player and though not a strong one, in relation to his daughters abilities, he had enough ability to know the key components of good chess players.  Being a Ed. Psych. he was able to find ways to teach that to his children.  His daughters happen to all be pretty well right-brained, able to see things abstractly.  Look at Sofias artwork, very abstract concepts.  Having met all 3 Polgars I know that they all have a great appreciation for art, which was part of their training, to develop their right side more fully.  That, however, does need to be there by nature first and can't be trained fully without natural help.  So Lazslo enhanced what his daughters had naturally, not welded it in there against the natural build of the sisters brains.

  • 5 years ago


    According to the latest theories its not talent but right practice that makes a genius.But to my mind,that is not fully right.No matter how hard any one works,some special qualities are needed to go beyond a certain level.

    I have been tracking a child chess prodigy-a 13 years old  in India.Having spent hours watching him make IMs squirm in their seat,I  believe quite apart from his chess knowledge he has special talents-memory,coolness under fire,fearlessnes(not afraid to lose) and as Aagaard said knowing where to put any piece(but this he does intuitively often enough). A combination of these gifts is what GM Arun is calling talent.

  • 5 years ago

    IM dpruess

    i have thought about it. i don't agree with you, and believe if you thought about what i said more, you could understand; whereas you think the opposite. i'm going to leave it at that. cheers.

  • 5 years ago


    "as i said, you can claim it was the one guy who knew the actual proper training; and someone else can say it was the one guy who happened to have three daughters born with great chess talent. neither claim has proof just based on the ratings of the three Polgar sisters."

    Ahem...I  trust when you play chess, you give more thought to your moves than you did to your reply above.

    Think about many chess families with grandmaster siblings can you name? The Bryne brothers 1 gm, 1 you think they had superior training(can you say 'Collins') Lazlo advertised for a wife who agreed to his experiment. What is the probability that he was lucky enough to find a wife (she did not play chess, she just liked Lazlo) who had genes for chess, as opposed to the more likely possibility his educational theories on practice were correct?

  • 5 years ago

    IM dpruess

    as i said, you can claim it was the one guy who knew the actual proper training; and someone else can say it was the one guy who happened to have three daughters born with great chess talent. neither claim has proof just based on the ratings of the three Polgar sisters.

  • 5 years ago


    "i believe ignatiusjreilly made the right point about the Polgar experiment. there are probably tons of people who set out to prove that with the proper training they could create a world class chess player."

    What is "Proper training" as opposed to just chalking up hours of ineffectual training is a key ingredient of the system.

    If you want to claim there are tons of people that think it is sufficient to just start a kid young and he/she will develop into a world class champion who defeates Karpov, Kasparov, and Anand (like Judit) or had one of the highest performance ratings in history (2879, Sofia)...but were proven wrong...fine (but still I doubt you can provide an example of these tons of people).

    Regardless, it is not the same as applying the method that Lazlo used on his children. Laszlo was an educational pyschologist, not a chess player...and he applied his educational theories to his children. He knew exactly what he was doing. He announced what he would do before his children were born, and he did it. The result speaks for itself.

  • 5 years ago



  • 5 years ago


    If one makes the title GM, they deserve all of the so called "ego stroking" people are claiming here.  Whether chess comes easy to you (being a genius) or hard to you (working 10 hours a day on chess).  I take my hat off to all GMs for their success and dedication.  It cannot be easy to obtain the title GM, and where all GMs most likely aren’t created equal, that’s life.  There will always be the best of the best in all things in life, chess included.  People who think they can be or do anything in this life and get to the very top of the bell curve just if they work hard are lying to themselves.  Sometimes we are just plain limited by what the man in the sky put in our brains.  I know many people who are just dumb as rocks.  Nice people but not potential Chess Grandmasters.  My two cents…

  • 5 years ago

    IM dpruess

    i don't see how you could know that, ayoung12. to me it appears to be a reasonable suggestion.

    anyone who watches chess tv knows that i think there is such a thing as talent. i believe ignatiusjreilly made the right point about the Polgar experiment. there are probably tons of people who set out to prove that with the proper training they could create a world class chess player. you hear about the Polgar claim because it was successful, and you don't hear about all the unsuccessful attempts. that could be because Laszlo was the only one who actually had a correct method; or it could be because he was lucky enough to be dealt several daughters with lots of talent.

  • 5 years ago


    Only God knows he gives each man different talents

  • 5 years ago


    It helps me to becoming a Grandmaster. Thank you very much, sir.

  • 5 years ago


    Well, it's controversial, but interesting. After all, that is how one calculates variations -- visualizing positions not on the board -- just that the position from which calculations are being made normally remains constant! But personally, I wouldn't find a scheme of that abstractness essential by any means, when compared to other methods of training.

  • 5 years ago


    Advising a low-ranked player to train for a tournament by playing blindfolded is just plain silly.

  • 5 years ago


    im 18 and 2000 rated so you can do it :)

  • 5 years ago


    Well, the talent part is a bit controversial and has been debated a bit here:

  • 5 years ago



  • 5 years ago


    Good thing for the GMs that many people just will not believe what has been demonstrated...The question has been settled, you do not believe it --that is your loss.

    It was no accident that Hikaru Nakamura renounced competing in this years US Championships. The reason he gave is he needs to completely devote himself to his training to compete against the likes of Magnus and Kramnik. If he trains smarter and harder, he will win. He understands this. Talent is not the issue.

  • 5 years ago

    FM BecomeanIM

    i saw an article yesterday on the chess instructor book by New in Chess. Dvoretsky shares a quote of Botvinniks where he states that 4 qualities are needed to be a chess master. Talent is the first one, and the point is that from all qualities, only one is beyond our control. additionally the qualities are elaborated by putting them on a chart, where you compare a player that is very talented, and one that works hard.

    it was very insighful you should try to check it out. here is an excerpt:


    1. Components of success

    Mikhail Botvinnik defined as follows the

    main factors determining the strength

    and the prospects of any chess player:

    1. Natural chess talent.

    2. Health, reserves of energy.

    3. Purposefulness, will-power,

    competitive character.

    4. Specific chess preparation.

    Of these four factors, only the first - natural

    talent - is out of our control; it is

    'God-given'. The rest can be developedhere

    all or nearly all depends on the player

    himself and those who help him (trainer,

    parents, friends).

    Note that, according to Botvinnik, pure

    chess preparation is only one of the factors,

    a very important one, of course, but

    not more so than the others. I will explain

    the need for the comprehensive development

    of a person using a graph proposed

    in a similar connection many years ago by

    Napoleon Bonaparte.


    We will draw a graph, along the horizontal

    axis of which we plot a player's chess

    mastery, and on the vertical axis his personal

    qualities (character, reserves of energy

    and so on). The practical strength of

    a player and the level of success that he

    can achieve are equivalent to the area of

    the square with sides equal to the indicated

    components, measured in some

    arbitrary units.

    Let us suppose that 10 units is the maximum

    possible. For a player with an

    average development of both components

    (5 and 5) the level of achievements

    will be 25, while for a player with brilliant

    purely chess qualities (9) and low

    personal ones (2) the result obtained is

    substantially lower - 18.

    Following this line of reasoning we can

    make an important observation: for such

    a player a step forward in the purely chess

    aspect (which, incidentally, is very hard

    to make when the level already attained is

    high) will give a small addition - only 2.

    But even a single step forward in his re

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