Practical Play

Practical Play

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Dear Sirs,

Greetings of the day!!!

I am an intermediate level player ( I think??) and desperately want to improve my game.

I am facing a few problems with my  chess studies & games, which I am sure that you can help me out !!!, are as follow.

1. I think my opening knowledge is poor mostly I learn the openings by memorizing the move order, but don't know the idea behind those moves; secondly I am unable to shortlist  opening repertoire for myself on my own because I tend to mix-up too many things together and that becomes confusing. Can you suggest some good book( which have explanation for idea and plans ) and any other method for this?  

2. Sir, I am a middle-aged working professional that's why I cant manage to play too many tournaments ( wish one day I could!!!), but when ever I play it turns out to be a nightmare for me. Though during my practice (alone) and chess studies things seem understood to me, over the board after my opponent makes any new move (outside of what I remember), usually I don't find correct plan or make wrong plans. How could I improve myself in this regard?

Thanks & many regards


Vishal K. Gupta

Nagpur, India


Dear Vishal,

     I think you are spot on with your first point that you brought up. It is definitely difficult to memorize all those opening moves and try to exactly replicate them over the board without actually understanding the meaning of them.  Even if you did manage to remember some of the moves, it is never going to take you anywhere in the longer run. The right way to learn anything is to try and really understand the meaning of it. When it comes to the opening, understanding the meaning of each move is rather difficult since the explanations would lie in your knowledge of the middle game, which in turn would depend mainly on your endgame skills.

When it comes to studying the openings, the most common mistake that people make is to try and go to great depth. Knowing your openings just enough to survive is a great start. One does not need to memorize a bunch of lengthy opening variations and opening traps to be able to compete against strong players. Yes, I do agree that the ‘enough to survive’ part is pretty vague and in fact modern theory is advancing rapidly enough to get players over-indulged with their openings. The solution is basically to take one step at a time. For this, I would definitely recommend a good chess coach. Yes, you can learn a lot from the books, but it is not the same as someone who has played the same opening a few thousand times explaining it to you.  Learning your Mathematic equations from a book might be possible, but a classroom just makes it much easier.

Also from your question I presume you understand the importance of building a proper opening reportaire. Choosing the right opening for a player is like choosing your career. You want to study and work in areas that complement your talent and interest. If you end up making a mistake in your choice there, it will come back to haunt you for the rest of your life. Similarly, a bad opening choice will keep hurting you until you actually fix it. Your opening choices should reflect your chess playing personality. Every opening has its own pros and cons, you have to take a look at the type of middle game positions that a particular opening leads to, and then compare your playing style with it to see if it matches. As you can figure out, it is quite a daunting task to start off in the right direction and yet again a personal coach would be of great assistance in helping you with the process.

Regarding the books that are easy on moves and heavier on explanation, here are a few :

Mastering Chess Openings by John Watson

Here is a chessbase link with a brief explanation on the book

Ideas behind Chess Openings by Reuben Fine

You could also look through our previous column to find any openings that suit you.

Your second question is quite common among tournament players. While practice games and training sessions help you a lot, it still does not create an exact replica of tournament conditions. A good result in a chess tournament depends on several practical issues outside the chess board, which players usually tend to forget. A perfect example is a blitz game. Playing a blitz game at home with your friend and playing in a blitz tournament are generally two very different things and I am saying this from my personal experience. While the ability to calculate fast plays a very important role in playing a quality blitz game, I feel that delivering under pressure situations is probably more important. A player who usually thinks fast might always be blanking up when he is up against the gun. No matter how much you train yourself to play blitz games at home, you will not feel that pressure unless you actually play in a tournament. To be able to handle pressure better, you need to face it enough and understand it enough. I want to make it clear here that I am not trying to take the importance away from training sessions, but I am rather trying to emphasize the importance of tournament play.

Here is the difficult part of the answer: in order to improve your tournament results, frequent tournament play is definitely necessary. I do understand that you have mentioned that you do not get enough time to play tournaments. So in your position, I would continue to study and practice as always and try to keep plugging in every now and then in tournaments. Importantly, remove yourself from the results and just focus on the learning part. In general, we build stress worrying about our performance. Thinking about your results might only affect your results adversely. It is an extremely hard thing to do, yet it is important for you to keep focusing on learning rather than results.

It is hard enough for a chess player to show steady progress in his career with a healthy tournament playing schedule, it will be harder for you to try and achieve the same with fewer tournaments. Make sure you set your goals low and realistic. The reason being that you should account for an occasional bad tournament or a bad year itself. It is just hard for any player not to have bad tournaments. On the other hand if you had a great year and you exceeded your expectations by far, you just cannot complain. The fact that you did not have a huge target to begin with will relieve you from any undue pressure.

Remember that working smart is always better than working hard! ( ) I am pretty sure that the time you dedicate to work on improving your chess skills or the time you take off to play in a tournament is very hard to find, so just make sure you use that time effectively. Do not try and memorize your openings during that time, it can do you no good. Try to learn endgames, solve tactics, play practice games and spend a good amount of time analyzing and recording the games.

Lastly, try to record all ideas that popped out in your head during a tournament game (particularly the ones you lost) and look for patterns that lead to such losses. You will never be able to remember much later why you decided to make a certain move in a certain position, so record it for your own personal reference. By keeping a record of all your games added with your annotations, you are just helping yourself solve a million dollar puzzle. Someday when you look at it, you should say “Really? I made that move for that reason? I was bad then!” That will show that you have improved.

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