Strenghtening your weakest leg in chess
Learning chess is quite a journey. If you have a bit of a talent, you will progress quickly in the beginning. But what next, since the topic is so vast and the amount of material so intimidating?
Well, your tournament games can be a pretty good indicator of where you're failing. In my very first tournament I kept on being killed by simple forks and skewers (not to mention my very poor openings). So people told me to study tactics. This is an advice
So off I went to do tactics puzzles, there is no shortage of them: you can use tactics trainer here on chess.com, and there are numereous Android and iOs apps for free that will give you boatloads of material. You learn basic back-rank threats, forks, skewers and pins and all combinations of those.
A bit better
So I did not fall for those simple traps that often anymore, but instead sometimes could trap others by a small tactic, which got me out of quite some otherwise hopeless games.
I had strengthened my first weak leg. Did I mention a well-versed chess player has at least four legs? Look at the study plans and you will see http://www.chess.com/article/view/study-plan-directory
Still not good - study openings
But alas - I still did not get the results I was feeling would be appropriate for me. Most of the games I would be worse right out of the opening, making almost every game an uphill battle. Apart from being no fun, needless to say it is not very successful.
Openings are the topic that is probably most written about in chess. Numerous books, articles and all that (for the beginner) confusing ECO nomenclature make up for a maybe exaggerated focus on this part of the game. As if you could win every game if you only knew every line of the Grünfeld and Sicilian.
How to study openings
I still got no answer to this, but at least gotten to a point where I invest less time into opening theory.
One should aim for a repertoire and be prepared for every possible reply to the first moves. Sounds harder than it is, but costs some time. So as a black player, be prepared as to what to play against e4 and d4. And if you answer e4 with e5, be prepared for the most commom replies - which are quite some (King's gambit, Ruy Lopez, Italian, Scotch to name a few).
I studied those for about 5-7 moves deep not to fall into the basic opening traps and mistakes. The work is still not finished. But I feel confident that this should be enough on my level (~1600 DWZ, hard to say what the ELO Equivalent of that is, maybe 1600, maybe 1650).
Still not there - study strategy
If you look at the study plan for intermediate players, you will notice that two sectors are yet untouched: strategy and endgame. It was pointed out to me by a chess teacher I contacted through the listing of chess coaches http://www.chess.com/coaches that my positional understanding was close to non-existent.
Does not sound nice, but is probably true. That is the part I am currenly working on. Trying to solve some mentor courses with strategic puzzles http://www.chess.com/chessmentor/courses?keyword=&cat_id=4, I realized: the coach was right. I could not only get one single move right, I also had a hard time grasping the concepts at all.
I can recommend Jeremy Silmans strategy mentor lessons for that. Silman often chosses rather quiet positions, where you have to think further about piece placement, pawn support and structure and more mid-term goals to succeed. It is quite frustrating at the beginning, as you thought you could play chess and in these lessons you feel like a complete beginner again.
After a while...
Today - in week 2 of working on the strategic stuff - I had a revelation - I figured out most of the moves correctly in one of those puzzles. So slowly but ever so surely the strategic thinking is starting to get a foothold in my brain. I am confident this will get better. Suddenly you begin to see the patterns in the games you play, weak pawns and squares, outposts and pawn structure becomes as concrete as a winning tactic.
Strategy is a complex topic, so it might be worth of a blogpost of its own.
On to a brighter tomorrow...
So I will continue to letting me be challenged by Jeremies genius, and surely tackle some endgame study after that. Who does not hate to win an seemingly equal endgame...
A lot of the stuff I recommend is only available for diamond members of chess.com. I have no personal or financial gain from doing so. But up to now I have not found a collection of learning materials that can equal the width and depth of what you get for the 11 Euros per month on this site. So I am very thankful to Danny Rensch and the rest of the staff and all the people that contributed material to this wonderful learning space.
You can buy DVDs, books and whatever for the same money, but having it all in once place and continually growing sure is convenient.