How to improve your correspondence (online) Chess game.
1. Look up the opening positions in an opening manual or database. (yes this is legal and ethical as long as you are using books or static lookups in a database.) Don’t use a chess engine for any of this process.
2. Before each move set up the pieces on a board and write down in a notebook all the possible captures or checks on the board for each side. Then for each capture or check write an analysis tree for each variation. Do this 3-4 moves deep. Be sure you are moving the pieces for each move you are analyzing. Now repeat this process for any candidate moves you have found.
3. After you know what the takes and checks are look at the position.
a. Are there any immediate threats?
b. Do you have any positional issues that you need to worry about on your side or in your opponent’s position that you can exploit.
c. Do you see any tactical opportunities?
i. This is where your study of tactical problems comes into play. I also highly recommend IM Danny Kopec’s DVD “How to visualize Chess Combinations”.
d. After all of this information is written down in your notebook. Write down 4-5 candidate moves, complete with an analysis tree 3-4 moves deep and write down your assessment of the resulting position. Make sure that your analysis tree is complete with all possible takes and checks (EVERY take and check even if they look nonsensical!) Based on this analysis you will sometimes add or remove some candidate moves.
4. During this analysis and after each move in #3 take all the pieces off the board leaving only the Kings and Pawns. Decide if this is a winning or losing endgame. If it is not a winning or even endgame you must be very careful not to trade off the pieces. GM Lev Alberts endgame book “Just the Facts” is a very good study reference to improve your endgame performance.
5. After all of that effort, make your move. Not only will your online performance improve, but your OTB performance will improve as well.
This process can also be used to improve your overall chess knowledge and your feel for the game. I recommend the following for club level players.
1. Get a copy or database of Jose Capablanca’s games. Do not study modern masters games until you have a thorough understanding of Capa’s games and can play at a high club level >1700 over the board. Then move to another master.
2. Set up a chess set on a board and start thru one of Capablanca’s games. Follow the steps above for each of the moves in the game and then see what move was played in the actual game. After you have written down your analysis trees and overall analysis of the position for each move in the game, go over the game with a chess engine. Note any places where the chess engine rates your move at more than a .5 less than the engine’s best choice. Look to see why your move is not optimum.
3. Follow this process with your own games.
4. At the end of the game write down your impressions of your analysis. EG did I miss a tactical shot? Did I ignore the endgame ramifications of the position?
As you get better at this process you will find that your understanding of chess will improve.