Chess Advice That's Worked Best for Me

Jan 24, 2009, 7:34 AM |

Amid the enormous quantity of advice I've received on how to improve my chess play, the following dozen items have proved the most practical and important:

1. Immediately after each of your opponent's moves, ask yourself: "What's the threat?" Then look for everything he might be trying to do. (From various GMs' books.)

2. Immediately before each of your own moves, ask yourself the Marathon Man question: "Is it safe?" Then look for every opportunity your proposed move might give your opponent. (From Sir Laurence Olivier.)

3. Develop all your pieces before you attack. (From various GMs' books.)

4. Koltanowski advised against playing "skittles," i.e., quick games. So, in CC play here on, play only a few games at a time and delve into each position. You will learn more studying a complex position for an hour than by playing 30 moves in 30 games during that same period.

5. Throughout the game, check your opponent's position looking for backward pawns and undefended pieces. (From various GMs' books.)

6. In early middle game when you have no ideas yet, check each of your pawns and pieces to see if you can improve by advancing it, defending it, or trading it off. (From various GMs' books.) Particularly check each of your pieces to see if it would be happier on a different square. (Thanks to my friend, Daniel W.)

7. "When you find a good move, look for a better one." (Attributed to various GMs.) Karpov has said that in OTB play he looks at every possible move before he chooses one. I doubted this when I first heard it, but I tried it and it can be done. (You will give some moves no more than a glance.) You can actually do this quite well in CC-type play where you have three days for each move.

8. In regular CC play, use an analysis board that will save all your investigated lines of play and let you play through them again. I'm a Mac person so I use ExaChess for this. (No chess engines or tablebases involved, of course.) (Thanks to Rolf Exner.)

9. When your analysis tells you that your opponent has a winning position, don't despair and assume that his analysis is telling him the same thing. Remember that you're playing a human, not a computer. (From a GM's book. I don't remember which.)

10. Analyze your own completed games, especially your losses. (From various GMs.) If you are able, first do the analysis yourself, then with a stronger player, and lastly with a computer. (Merci à mon ami, Laurent S.) Caveat: Use's Computer Analysis to check for gross errors, but do not expect it to give you accurate suggested lines of play more than a few plies deep. See (Thanks to cuendillar.)

11. Take time out from playing chess to study chess. Every time I've done this I've come back a stronger player. (From me. Smile)

12. If you can swing a Diamond membership (maybe for your birthday?), use's excellent Chess Mentor for training.'s Tactics Trainer and Computer Workout are also very fine tools. (Many thanks to Erik A. and his outstanding staff.)

[Rev. 2009.03.29]