The difficult and harsh road to improvement.

Sep 23, 2017, 7:59 PM |

     A lot ask about improving.

      I very well know that hardly 1 out of 100 is determined to do what it takes but I decided to give the guidelines my trainer gave to me when I was a kid.Don't judge him harsh.He failed with me but 2 of the kids in my class are now GMs , so he most likely did something right.

     First let me note that these are guidelines for beginners.

    1) When it comes to chess everything matters.Don't ever do the mistake to leave things in luck.Don't just pick random opponents. Find better players than you(at least 200 -300 points higher rated) that can create really challenging games.It's not easy , I know , but  nothing is easy in chess.Get used to it.

    2)Play long time control games only.You need to develop a thinking process and to do that you need to have time to think.If you want to improve forget blitz.Forget anything under 30 minutes.

     3)Play all the games to the end.You need to see how your opponent will win and you need to learn not to be affected emotionally by the negative turn of events.

     4)Do your best even in hopeless positions.If you are not a natural born fighter ,here is your chance to fix it and be one.

        Always remember:The most dangerous beast is the wounded one.

    5)Extensive and thorough analysis of your defeats(without an engine) is absolutely necessary.Find the mistakes , find the reasons.What did you miss?A tactic?Was it something you didn't know?Was it lack of focus or concentration?

     6)Create an archive of mistakes.Write them down in a paper.The wrong move and the reason.Try to remember the position.Have the paper with you and read it every time you have the chance.Try to recall the position(good memory exercise) and the reasons of the mistake(that won't be difficult at all if your analysis of the game was extensive and thorough).No mistake must be repeated second time.If it does, it will point out a serious weakness , focus on fixing it.If a mistake is repeated 3rd time , you are doing something wrong(can be lack of concentration or too hasty reckless moves) , focus on fixing it.If the mistake keeps repeating despite your efforts then you have the first sign that you are indeed not talented but that doesn't mean you can't improve.It only means that you need to try harder.It's not easy , I know , but  nothing is easy in chess.Get used to it.

    7)Study Program

    Here I have quite a lot to say

7a)Study the basic checkmates and practice them a lot.They are good planning/tactical exercise for beginners.

7b)Also study the basic pawn endgames.They are a very good calculation and planning exercise and it's a knowledge that the more you improve the more valuable it becomes.

7c)Do a lot of tactics but not mindlessly.Try to understand them.You won't be able at start.It doesn't matter.Keep trying.

Do I need to emphasize the importance of tactics?I don't think so.

      p.s. Until you learn not to blunder nothing else really matters but if you have spare time or if you want to do something different then either study annotated(or not annotated , they are not so hard to understand, give it a try)games of the players of the classical era(Morphy , Andersen, Staunton , etc.)or do rook endgames(or both).I will repeat that endgames are extremely beneficial because they increase the calculation and visualisation skills more than anything else.Your study program must plan ahead like your moves in the game.Now you are 800 , soon you will be 1800  and when that happens you will be happy for learning endgames(you thank me later). Opening knowledge will prove useless once your opponent gets out of theory.Endgame knowledge is always useful. Don't do the critical mistake to underestimate the importance of endgames.Also important is to study games from the classical era.They will entertain you , they will show you the creative side of chess and they will teach you at the same time.Many do the mistake to jump to Fisher , Kasparov and Tal ignoring the classical era that set the foundation of chess development.Don't do the same mistake.

As my teacher used to say :

 "If you want to be the future you must first understand the past"

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     Here are the in-game rules every beginner must follow:

Rule No 1:Examine carefully your opponent's moves.

   All the info you need is in your opponents moves.They will tell you what to do and they will tell you what not to do.

    Rule No 2 : Protect material

Always protect your pieces and pawns.Don't leave anything that is threatened ,undefended.Move it , protect it or exchange it.Be sure  that your chosen move doesn't leave unprotected pieces and pawns that are under attack.Double check.

    Rule No 3:Exchanges

Always exchange pieces when an exchange is available unless you have a very serious reason not to.Beginners lose a lot of games from exchanges they afraid to do.You want positions as simple as possible that will help you understand planning.And you want to learn which exchanges are the wrong exchanges(that will help you once you get better).You need to do a lot of wrong exchanges before you are able to tell which is the right one.Of course avoid  the exchanges that lead to loss of material(don' give a knight for a pawn , don't give a rook for a bishop , etc.) unless there is a reason(checkmate  gain of material , etc.)

      Rule No 4: Develop your pieces fast  in good positions and castle quickly

  With all your pieces developed , and your king "safe", you can coordinate your attacks better.Don't bother with opening lines.It doesn't really matter what you will play.  


    Rule No 5:Win material

This is the rule that cancels all rules(except rule No 1).If you can win material , forget all other rules.

For example let's assume your bishop is threatened.Rule No2 says protect it.

But you can take opponent's queen.Ignore Rule  No2 and  take the queen.

Second example.You can take a free bishop but you will misplace a knight to do that.

Rule No 4 says develop in good positions.Ignore rule No 4 and take the bishop.

    Rule No 6: Plan

This rule is enabled if all rules have been checked(opponent's move examined carefully ,pieces and pawns protected ,exchanges not available , pieces developed , king castled ,material gain not possible).Try to always have a plan in mind.It doesn't need to be a complicated one.Simple plans are the best plans(double rooks on a file , improve a bad piece , exchange a strong enemy piece ,bring a rook on an open file, etc.)Remember that a plan can change if your opponent's moves enable something better or if they somehow prevent your chosen plan.You don't follow a plan blindly , but you don't change the plan without a SERIOUS REASON.     


  That's it.

Do they seem simple?They are not because the point of these rules is to teach you that you can't play chess by following rules.

Yet they are the heart and the soul of chess.

What?It sounds complicated?Of course it does.

Nothing is simple in chess.Get used to it(and no , I don't like Justin Bieber).



    The goal of the in-game rules is not to protect you from making mistakes as you might think.On the contrary , the goal is to make you do a lot of mistakes.

     Does that sound controversial?Yes it does at first but once you understand the true nature of chess you will realise that there is a deeper meaning.

    In chess you learn from your mistakes.No player , even the most talented denies that.

You need  gazillions of mistakes(triple them if you are not as talented as Carlsen) before you start understanding the important concepts.

    I will give you an example:

    Rule No 3 forces you to do an exchange when avaialable.The rule "knows" that at least half of your exchanges will be actually wrong moves.The rule also knows that a bad exchange is equivalent of a blunder and can dramatically change the balance of the position.

     So since exchanges is such an important concept , why this rule exists?

Exchanges is one concept that no book fully explains because it impossible to do so.It's a very difficult subject that demands a lot of difficult to explain side-concepts related to the exchange itself.Sometimes it is the domination of a single square which leads to some attacking chances related with the other piece positions.Sometimes it's simply freeing a square for a piece, which will free another square for another piece,  which will free another square for another piece(overal it gives the available manoeuvring space).Sometimes the exchange aims in enabling a break that will create some exploitable weaknesses.And many many more.Note that an exchange can change so much the nature of the position , that every move and plan after the exchange, is closely related to the exchange itself.So understanding exchanges is essential to understand a whole lot of important  opening moves , middlegame concepts ,even endgames.It is an especially important but also difficult subject for a beginner.But chess is not easy and these rules don't attempt to make your life easier.On the contrary.The rules have suceeded if you suffer.   

     You need to do a lot of bad exchanges and feel the concequences before you are able to tell which is wrong and which is right.It's the only way.Rule No 3  "encourages" you to do the necessary mistakes that will alow you to start understanding this very critical concept and guideline 1 forces you to find better opponents that will punish these moves and will help you understand the consequences of a bad exchange(everything in chess is interconnected).With an opponent as ignorant as you , great learning opportunities will go wasted.

     So does this rule makes sense now?I'm sure it does. 



I want to show a game of a woman that was a total beginner 5 years ago.Her opponent is another woman that is 1590 FIDE rated.

This woman was a beginner 5 years ago.She hasn't read any book , she doesn't do tactics training(although she has been encouraged to) , she only plays , analyses her games and does the basic endgames regularly with the help of others in the chess club.In total it's about an hour or an hour and a half a day when she doesn't play and can be a little more when she has a game(rarely her games last more than 2 hours).
Her game has no difficult concepts ,no multi move calculations or deep planning.She is now  1720 FIDE and she will soon be higher.
This is the chess anyone can play and those who don't ,can only blame themselves for that.You only need to follow some silly rules and put your mind in work.Understanding when the rules aren't working is not that difficult.But you have to analyse your games THOROUGHLY!