Training as a Pro
Many chess players ask the question: What is the best way to train? How do I improve?
In this article I will introduce the methodology of Deliberate Practice for chess improvement.
Deliberate practice is a training methodology developed by Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University. In 2016 he published a book called Peak about the subject of deliberate practice. He studied peak performance of athletes in various sports including chess.
He identified the common elements in the training of top athletes and integrated those elements into one methodology called deliberate practice.
The key elements of the concept of deliberate practice are:
- Train with a coach who uses proven training techniques and who understands the abilities of experts (Grand Masters) and how to develop those abilities.
- Train outside of your comfort zone and try new things. This requires great effort.
- Deliberate practice focuses on specific goals. These are small steps in a overall well designed learning plan that will get you to the next level.
- It requires the person’s full attention and conscious actions. Active learning!
- Deliberate practice involves feedback and modification of efforts in response to that feedback. Many times, the feedback will come from the coach. In a later stage when the improvement plan and target state is clear, the student can evaluate his own performance.
- Deliberate practice both produces and depends on effective mental representations. In chess, these mental presentations are the core knowledge that every super GM has. A super GM automatically sees patterns and related plans when he sees a position. These are based on the pawn structure, king safety, activity of pieces etc. The trainer should convey these ‘mental representations’ when analyzing games and train on the development of new ones.
- The trainer should check whether your existing chess knowledge is sound and there are no misconceptions. The new knowledge will build on the existing knowledge so the existing knowledge should be correct.
I really enjoy watching the Grand Chess Tour broadcasts. The commentators take questions by phone from chess players who are watching and often their question is ‘How do I improve my chess?”
Yasser Seirawan answered on several occasions that a great way to learn is to get together with a group of chess players and analyze games together while they are being played. No engines, working out possible continuations before the moves have been played, and challenging each other on analysis.
Christian Chirila suggested digesting every morning the top games and chess developments from around the world, emerging yourself with chess information.
So how do these recommendations stack up in terms of Deliberate Practice?
In both cases there is no coach, although in Seirawan’s recommendation the group or stronger players in the group can act as a surrogate coach. Seirawan's recommendation is more active than Christian’s. Christian proposal has not a very specific improvement targeted. So overall I believe that Seirawan’s recommendation has more elements of deliberate practice than Christian’s.
I hope you can use the principle of Deliberate Practice to improve your own chess training. To me it is obvious that they will lead to good results. But is not easy and takes a disciplined approach!
So when you analyze your own games, do not use an engine. Annotate your game with the thoughts you had during the game. Then analyze your game with your coach and have him point out to you where your assessment was off and how that translates to missing chess knowledge. Then have a specific plan to obtain that knowledge and evaluate whether you put your acquired knowledge into practice in the subsequent games you played.
And ofcourse you can also just play chess for fun without wanting to improve. I also play bullet, not to improve but because I like it better than TV or another activity at that moment.