Learning to Study

Hi everyone,

My blog can be kind of random at times, with tournament/game experiences, picking out lesser-known but very fun games, and local chess. It's been a few months since the last time I played a tournament. It's been nice to have a little time off from tournaments but I'm eager to start playing again. The time off has been good though in a few ways. Due to the fact that most of my chess these days has just purely been studying, it made me do a lot of thinking on this subject. I'd like to share some of my thoughts on this subject as well as a nice, recent blog post by Jacob Aagaard on his Quality Chess Publishing blog.

Here is what he writes on the subject (my comments are in bold):

1. Analyse your own games deeply (and the games of others).

This is the most important tool to improve. Your games will always be the best to look at.

2. Solve puzzles regularly (my advice is six times a week x 20-30 minutes).

3. Understand what type of player you are and adjust your style accordingly.

Many players have a certain style of play that they prefer. Openings are the easiest things to adjust in order to reach the type of positions that you prefer. If you aren't convinced that you are better in a certain area of chess or that you have a strong preference for certain types of positions, maybe doing a thorough review of your games will help you see what you are doing well and in what types of positions your decisions aren't the best that they can be.

4. Push your levels of concentration upwards and become a fighter.

Many coaches even advise their students to have a no draw rule unless the draw is very clearly favorable to you. A fighter does not mean you have to play sharp wild games - but that you must be prepared to play for the maximum in all stages of the game. If you follow elite tournaments, how many times has Carlsen squeezed a win out of what looks like a drawish endgame?

5. Play real openings. Throw away the London, c3-Sicilian or whatever rubbish you are playing. If you want to develop as a player, playing main lines is important.

Even though this may seem a bit over the top, I think there is value to playing/learning main lines, whether or not you want to make them your main opening choice. Popular lines/main lines change all the time but they generally are forcing, and very direct. It's useful to see how strong players generally see a way to get the maximum out of a particular position/opening system.

6. Learn by heart all the 222 obligatory positions from Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual.

Not for the faint of heart.

7. Play through game collections with good comments.

This might vary from player to play; for some the Move by Move stuff from Everyman might be reasonable. But for most readers of this blog, I recommend books written either by great players, or books with a great reputation. For example, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Kasparov, Nunn, Anand, Karpov (the old books), San Luis 2005 and so on.

The Zuerich 1953 book by Bronstein also comes to mind in this category. If possible finding a game collection of a strong player who plays your opening would surely be good as well.

8. Use your body to the best effect for the game (stop poisoning it, for example).

9. Analyse your openings deeply and find your own systems with your own ideas.

The higher the rating, the more important this becomes.

10. Understand the basic principles of dynamics, statics and strategic play. These can be studied indefinitely of course, but you can always improve your understanding.

I find it easy to get caught up in studying openings but of course your studies must extend to the other areas of the game.

There are always a lot of ways to do anything. Anyone who wants to sell “the only way” is either selling chess studies or tablebase printouts. In the same way, it is possible to reach the same conclusion by many different thinking processes.

The only real danger here is that you fall in love with one system and become fixed to it. You can be the openings guy, or the endings guy, or the expert in solving studies. My closest-sitting colleague in the office, GM Colin McNab, is the last two. I am not sure if it has given his over-the-board play any great advantage, compared to if he had spread out his studies. On the other hand, he just regained the British Championship in solving (yes, Nunn and two other World Champions were competing)…

If you have to pick only one strategy (could be ‘Number 11’ for all I care), I would recommend to either do the one that excites you or the one you know you have been delaying forever.

I think this is a great comment that would apply to myself. I know there are areas of my game that need work but I am reluctant to do it because I don't enjoy that kind of studying as much. Only you will be able to tell what that means for you but it is definitely something good to think about.

I think he makes a lot of good points in his posts. I have never seen anyone recommend learning all 222 main positions from Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual, but I am sure it would be quite helpful. I'm excited to give this a shot, and I will definitely let you all know how helpful this turns out to be!

I think GM Aagaard does a good job offering a good chess-based study program but I think there is something else that helps me a great deal. I know that I can plan to do all the studying in the world but actually making it happen is another story. One of the things that I have found to have helped me the most is creating a daily routine. The routines may vary for each person but I think it is very important to have your body in sync with your brain. The best way to do this is to program your body and follow along the path that makes you feel best.

I hope that this helps! If you have any suggestions on what works best for you or anything else that could be useful on the list, please share!


  • 7 months ago


     Very helpful,,,i will try this,,,Thank You GM MacMolner

  • 2 years ago


    I think it would be fair to link to GM Jacob Aagaard's blog as well :


  • 3 years ago


    Thank you so much mate much apreciated :)

  • 3 years ago


    Awesome post

  • 3 years ago

    NM Petrosianic

    Excellent advice!  Probably the best blog post I've seen on studying chess.

  • 3 years ago


    Surprised Wow.. Guess who just found the right chess discussion? This guy! Thanks for everyone's contribution here... I learned decades ago to start with endgame study, when beginning to play and studying chess; it seemed so counterintuitive at the time, but proved to be so true over time. I think Reuben Fine was one of the first to categorize many common endgames in our modern era, but I can't wait to see what Dvoretsky has to say on the subject. I enjoy endgames most of all, although I'll take the quick win or advantage any day if that is what unfolds. Endgames though, are how we mulitiply, and magnify, our advantages oftentimes, and close out the game. Very much appreciated for the heads up, yet another 'chess gift', from fellow players. Artur Yusopov is Huge, a student of Dvoretsky, and a very talented player.

  • 3 years ago


    To FM BoorChess,

    Give SCID a try.


    Just my 2 pesos.


  • 3 years ago


    I am now in the summer months in Calgary.  I speculate that chess is a better game played when it is cold, very cold, because it is very very fatiguing.  Chess as such seems to activate the largely left hemisphere and this is limiting, ie, fatiguing, unlike the right hemisphere which is essentially bottomless as it is the key to the unconscious.  I hypothesize that due to these things, management of focus is key in chess.  I have many responsibilities, and therefore while I would like to study more chess games, I find that my will is not strong enough for my physical capabilities.  There is another game called Go, or wei-chi which has been shown to activate the right hemisphere during an MRI brain scan.  Therefore, I also study Life and Death Go problems at lunch and sometimes during weight lifting sessions so as to offset mental and physical fatigue.  I strongly suggest this study of this as an adjunct to any serious chess player to potentiate mental focus.  As it is quite warm now in Calgary, I need this extra boost as I dont have the fear potentiation of -30 degrees right now.  Dont laugh, the cold makes me seriously afraid, and chess helps to manage the fear of death and problems from the cold.

    I believe #2 and #4 are covered very well by this study also of Go or wei-chi.  Wei-chi is very cutting and this helps with study of chess and vice versa.  

  • 3 years ago


    I object solely because of No. 8. ;)

    Seriously, excellent list.  I would like to have the ambition and time to do a study plan of this nature.

  • 3 years ago

    FM Boorchess

    Odd, Just today I was trying to figure out what software would be best to use to train the Dvoretsky positions. Chess Hero is finicky, Chessbase is not good for flash card style training, Perfect Chess Trainer is a candidate but I am sketchy about buying it considering there is not even a manual, and Chess Position Trainer would be perfect but it does not even do fen positions. I am amazed that in 2013 there still is not a simple way to train chess positions from a database that allows you to be in control (not random positions, etc). If anyone solves the best way to do this with software please post. At the moment the best method I can figure would be to photo copy the relevant diagrams from the manual and then cut them out....

  • 3 years ago


    GM Andrew Soltis writes that for the club player the maximum amount of actual endgame scenarios one needs to know is about two dozen, maximum.

  • 3 years ago


    Great Blog bro!! Keep it coming!!

    I'm going to venture into Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual after I finish off with learning the french opening!!....

    Can't wait to memorize or at least know the 222 endgame methods!!

  • 3 years ago


    This is great information!  Always an insightful blog.  

    Looks like a great roadmap to becoming a better player, and I think everyone can agree that I have plenty of room to improve  Cool

  • 3 years ago


    What are the openings that a beginner should study to save time?

  • 3 years ago


    @Babs : those are the positions highlighted in blue

  • 3 years ago


    Kamsky plays the London system at the highest level, Yusupov the Colle, just sayin.

  • 3 years ago


    "The routines may vary for each person but I think it is very important to have your body in sync with your brain. The best way to do this is to program your body and follow along the path that makes you feel best"

    What do you mean by 'to have your body in sync with your brain ?'

  • 3 years ago

    NM Bab3s

    222 main positions? I have the Endgame Manual and I have no idea what that means. I would love to take up the task of memorizing all of them!

  • 3 years ago


    This advice must be for those who are thinking about becoming a titled player at some point.222 endgame positions and only main line openings-not me and probably not most on here!Still,lots of good advice.

  • 3 years ago


    Thanks for the helpful advice. 222! Thats alotSmile

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