Practical Play

  • GM thamizhan
  • | Oct 31, 2011

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.


  • 5 years ago


    I tend to have that problems too. I ended up quitting in playing chess. but i realized that chess is in my hearts. I tend to read articles and digest. and realize that every aspect of opening tend to control the center and have a rapid development. From that time i slowly went to progress my games, It is also important that you have annoted your games for your future references.Back to opening: you have to choose whether you are an open game type, closed game, semi-open, and othes. from there you can gain insight. 

    hope that it helps you... best regard to your career.

  • 5 years ago


    MCOs are great too. even the old ones.

  • 5 years ago



  • 5 years ago


    Winning chess openings by Yasser Seriawan this book helped me a lot Smile

  • 5 years ago


    this is one of the best and most useful article I have read so far. it showed no chess games/positions but everything was informative and relevant. 

  • 5 years ago


    Thanks, Nygren, you are right, I myself also found a GM that suited my style, viz. Emanuel Lasker ! But how can Vishal find his GM ? He has to know his own natural ability and aptitude, some self-knowledge whether he likes to attack or defend etc. We can help him by listing characteristics of GM's such as:  Keres, risky combinations; Petrosian patience; Kortchnoi defending; Botwinnik rather pieces than pawns; Tal huge risks; Smyslov simple; Capablanca looking for danger and defending; Geller attacking; and finally Lasker, fighting spirit, creating complications, awaiting chances, open positions, good defending in lost situations. Being a senior (born 1934) I can only mention old names, let someone else add younger GM's with clear characteristics, to help Vishal.

  • 5 years ago


    I'm a chess coach for youngins and I don't like to introduce openings because most of them are just trying to have fun, not study.  To help them with their openings I keep it simple:

    1. Control the center of the board
    2. Get your pieces (non pawns) out

    You want to control the center of the board because if you are able to maintain that control, you have the power to control more of the board.

    You want to get your pieces out for a similar reason - controlling more of the board.  You don't get into a fight without bringing some friends along.

    Most openings that you see involve these basic principles.

  • 5 years ago


    The study and refinement of opening repertoire is a process that never ends. With few exceptions, the repertoire of the greatest players evolved with their careers.

    Sometimes going back and playing an opening that you have abandoned is like visiting a dear old friend.

  • 5 years ago


    I think that one of the best ways to study, is to study one GM that suits your style. Don't try to study Kasparov or Fischer, just because they are some of the best!

    Try to put you in the position of the GM and work every move just as if you were playing in tournament. Compare with your own ideas and let a computer assist you.

    If you find a good annotated book, they often have marked some critical points in the game. Focus on them and maybe record them in a database. So if you are short of time, just repeat the critical positions for yourself a few weeks later.

    Spending a lot of time on one game actually gives me a lot of experience. Improves my focus as if I was playing myself and all aspects of the game from opening to endgame....

  • 5 years ago


    I also face the same problem but in  a differnent way.The more i tend to study chess games,the more i tend to master most of the moves and varriations but another problem comes up which is,i run away from invention and creativity and this makes me to lack killer punches in most of my games,because i always want to think in a particular way Instead of playing according to the situation at hand especially in the middle game....

  • 5 years ago


    I am very much a beginner and struggle with such things also. Thank you for you question - and thank you even more for such an excellent answer.

  • 5 years ago


    How do we record our previous games?

  • 5 years ago


    Fine's book is truly fine- and worth finding.

  • 5 years ago


    I am impressed by the candor of both parties. Chess could not be better without thanks

  • 5 years ago


    I have memorized a lot of openings when I was younger, that is, when I still competed for our school.  But I have forgotten about them.  The Sicilian is the one I studied the most.  Almost all my games here in involve the Sicilian and Sicilian Najdorf if I am black.  It is really difficult to master it.  Up to now, I still struggle.  But losing should not be a nightmare.  Do not resign right away when you get a bad position - do not be disheartened by it.  When you finish the game and lose, make it a point to know where you went wrong.  Learn from your mistakes! Do your best to defend.  This will also improve your play.  If you just whine without learning from your mistakes, then you won't improve at all.

  • 5 years ago


    You have to improve with your calculations/combinations first and foremost.  There are very many puzzle books out there.  Then study the openings.  Reuben Fine's book entitled "The Ideas behind the chess openings" is a good start.  Then read about the middle game..."The middle game in chess" by Reuben Fine.  But really, tactics can be improved with those puzzle books.  Do not look at the answers, do your best to solve them as best as you can.  Bring it with you everywhere so that when you have time, you can continue solving as many as you can.  Your only opponent is TIME.  

  • 5 years ago


    This is great.  i have a lot of problems with openings.

  • 5 years ago


    If you are are a middle aged professional your memory may not be what it used to be-speaking as a middle aged professional myself! You might choose something solid without too many early tactics. The traditional choices for Black would be the Caro Kann, the French and perhaps the Queen's gambit declined. For White, if you like 1. e4 I like the Spanish Four Knights ( although it can be plenty tactical also) or the Scotch Game.  1.d4 is more positional and generally less tactical, but you have to stick with it, as there are many defenses. However, your play will be more similar from game to game than 1.e4.  The London, Stonewall attack, or the Colle system are solid choices without so much theory, and may provide a gateway toward learning to play the Queen's gambit, which is more theoretically challenging for both sides. Call it boring if you will, but your results will improve with time.  That being said, there is no real substitute for the tactical vision that playing 1.e4 will help you develop. I already did that, but now am trying to develop more of a positional style with 1.d4 or 1.c4.

  • 5 years ago


     "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."

    I just look back at my games after there over and go "really?"

    I must be improving!! Wink

  • 5 years ago


    What works on all levels is to play only against stronger players, if you can handle defeat you will step by step "steal" the techniques (example my live statistics (66/96/7) with my rating of 14xx and the average opponent is 1530. At most players you would see the opposite)

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