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I agree with Boletus about the analysis thing; realistically even the basic 2200 engine is over your head (and mine). I recently finished a game in which I checkmated my opponent in 27 moves. I made a plan and executed it and got the mate: the engine said 5 of my last 7 moves were mistakes.
Several people have mentioned Tactics Trainer and puzzles, don't forget the Chess Mentor application. I actually get more out of it than the Tactics Trainer.
I don't know what you should study either. But I recommend opening theory last. GM Maurice Ashley said studying middle and endgame is the fastest road to improvement. Just an USCF expert's 2 cents.
ThrillerFan, the endgame program you've described will take like 12 months for beginner. Do you seriously suggest that he does nothing else during this time?
I have seen Soviet training programs from beginner to expert level. I had a look at highly successful Dutch "Step by step" method. None of them is similar to what you suggest. They all start from basic tactics, basic mates. Only then come basic endgames, some openings, some notions of strategy. And so on - it's all mixed and well rounded. And there are thousands of strong players trained according to them. What are your credits? How many successful stories behind your method?
For anybody below IM level chess is a hobby, not a job. So what's wrong with having fun? Then it's everyone's own decision how much to invest. One can work hard and still have fun. But your proposed way of doing things seems to me too pedantic and boring.
The answer is a simple No!
You are trying to make this into a simple "Black and White" process, and it's not!
I learned how to play the game in 1983. It wasn't until 1995 that I started taking the game seriously. I started studying in the fall semister of 1995. I read How to Win in the Chess Endings by Horowitz, Winning Chess Tactics by Seiriwan, and Winning Chess Strategies by Seiriwan. Then it was "The Inner Game of Chess" by Andrew Soltis. I also at that point started to dab at the French and Queen's gambit, but it wasn't detailed opening study, it was simply going thru games, ignoring annotations except for spots where they indicate blunders, the idea being to find pattern recognition, not to memorize 15 moves of French or Queen's Gambit. Notice the pawn structure for Black is the same in both.
I played a bunch of games in the lobby of the dorm against 3 or 4 other players, and played in my first tournament in June 1996. I played in my next tournament in March 1997, and have since played over 2000 tournament games. My rating started at 1177 in 1996, shot up to 1468 by the end of 1997, 1771 at the end of 1998, hit a slump in the summer of 1999, and shot up to 1927 just to fall right back down to 1771 again, then was about 1900 again by the end of 2000, and hit 2000 for the first time in August 2001. I of course fell back down, and maintained stability in the low 1900s. Since then, I've fluctuated, but ignoring peaks and valleys, the stability point of my rating went from about 1910 in 2002 to 2040 in 2012, up about 130 points in 10 years. My goal is to hit 2100 by mid-2013, and stablize at 2100 by the end of 2014.
So am I saying that you shouldn't ever touch a chess board and play a game before you complete step 3? No! However, you might consider the following:
1) If you got a bad game out of the opening, don't go running for opening theory books. Most players you play in a tournament won't know opening theory anyway. Understand the general concepts. Did you not grab your portion of the center and let him roll you over? Did you move too many pawns on the outside instead? Did you move a piece multiple times in the opening even when it wasn't attacked? However, don't kick yourself for losing such a game.
2) For those games that you do get to an ending, which will probably be about 1 in every 3 or 4 at your level, (as you get higher, the higher the ratio of endgames you'll encounter), make sure you apply what you've studied. If you lose it in the endgame, spend at least 30 minutes studying that game you just played, focusing mainly on the endgame, not the opening moves.
3) Do still pay attention to what you did in the middlegame. However, again, don't kick yourself for screwing up at that part of the game. When you get to stage 2, tactics, you might say "Oh yeah, like that time that Jack was playing against me and he forked my King and Rook with his Knight!
4) Don't be afraid to play in a tournament, but you must be willing to lose. If you aren't mature enough to accept losses, and playing in a 5 round tournament with 5 losses or 4 losses and 1 win or draw is going to make you give up and quit, then hold off until you have reached a maturity level where you can accept losing. Maturity plays a major factor at succeeding at chess. Study habits, accepting losses, being willing to study the boring aspects of chess, and avoiding distractors (like jiggling things, tapping pencils, stress balls, walkmen/MP3 players, etc) are all key factors to succeeding. You'll see some players playing with a walkman or MP3 player. If you really want to succeed. DO NOT FOLLOW THEIR FOOTSTEPS!
So therefore, you need to follow that guide as a general approach, not try to mimic it like a robot. You can still play tournaments while you are on steps 1, 2, or 3. However, after you complete the first 3, go to as many tournaments as possible, and every game should be heavily analyzed from start to finish, ESPECIALLY your losses!
Regarding playing while listening to music: I've known some players who play with headphones on. Even a 2400+ FM. But as my GM teacher once said "if you want you can play with headphones. But I don't know a single Grandmaster who does that."
I am looking to seriously improve my game, but I'm not sure where to start. Which order should I study these topics in? Or should I be studying several of them at the same time?
Thanks for your help!
There are no best order. You have to keep studying these and improve them bit by bit. You can't learn tactics to perfection and then move on to the next topic to learn to perfection.
Its like walking. It has different "steps". If you only move your right leg you won't get very far no matter how good you are at it.
Isn't a problem with headphones that the player could be getting his moves transmitted to him via the headphones? I saw that on Mission Impossible.
Yes it's possible. It's one of many ways to cheat available to the tournament player. Personally, I would think that just going to your room and firing up Fritz would be easier than the Mission: Impossible setup you describe, but they are both possible, along with a whole host of others.
In my most recent tournament, I contacted the TD to tell him I was about to make a phone call, and he came with me. It seemed the right thing to do, because talking on the phone is such a public display of contact with the outside world. But having a smart phone in your pocket when you're out of site is much more menacing of a threat.
In many of the more serious tournaments in the United States, like the World Open in July or the Chicago Open in May, they have a policy. If either player from the 3rd round on has an 80% score or better (I think it should be all rounds at all board with a score of 50% or better), then you can't use Earphones, Headphones, Cell Phones, or any other electronic devices, or leave the floor of the tournament hall. In other words, if the tournament hall is on the 2nd floor, you must remain on the 2nd floor (i.e basically limited to the tournament hall, director's room where the pairings are, and the restrooms). You must get director's permission to use any of these. Probably the most common scenario of getting permission is a hearing aid.
In 2009, it was 70% score or better, and I had 1.5/2. I was the lowest 1.5, facing a 1. Even though he had 1, he had to follow policy. He went down the escalator to smoke, and never contacted the TD to do it. I reported it, and he was docked 10 minutes with a warning of 1 more violation throughout the tournament and he would forfeit. This was round 3 of a 9 round tournament (2009 World Open). If you contact a TD, they will usually let you, but typically they will go with you to make sure you aren't calling friends about what that move was again that you were supposed to play on move 21 of the Classical King's Indian.
The problem I have is too many people want to blast their MP3 players. If I can hear a single musical note from where I'm sitting, I report to the TD and demand lowering of volume. The rules grant me that right. I can tolerate background noise, like at smaller tournaments that take place in a mall or restaurant or whatever else. But I won't tolerate a peep of noise from MP3 players.
You wrote such a long message but I don't see any reference to what I said. So I'll ask it again: do you insist on strict order: 1. endgames; 2.tactics; 3. strategy; 4. tournaments; 5. everything else excluding openings; 6.openings ? If Yes then how comes that every known training method mixes all this together?
I feel your pain on the noise thing. I recently played my nephew; I was up two Bishops and a Rook on him, then his dad started hovering over the board and talking incessantly, got me distracted and I lost to a sneaky backline mate. His house, can't very well tell the guy to shutup and sit down!
Uri65, it does answer your question. Read your first paragraph, dealing with should you just do endgames and nothing else for the first 12 months? I responded with no, you can and should actually play as well, but don't get all uptight about losing a game in the opening or middlegame until you've reached that point, and the fact that you've played a bunch of games before you got to the point of tactics will make things pop in your mind like "Oh, that's what happened that game I lost so quickly" after you have reached that point.
Also, the message also states, in the very first sentence, that learning chess isn't all "Black and White". There are lots of shades of gray. In other words, it doesn't mean you take an endgame book, read it for 12 months, never touch an endgame book again, read tactics for 12 months, etc. You might read the first half of an endgame book, pick up a tactics books, read a chapter, go back to the endgame book for 2 more, read another tactics chapter, go back and do 2 more chapters of endgame, read another tactics chapter, finish the endgame book, read another 2 chapters of tactics, a chapter of strategy, etc.
I will re-iterate, IT IS NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE! MANY MANY MANY SHADES OF GRAY!
The order I gave is the order in which the PRIMARY EMPHASIS should be. Not 100% of item 1, then 100% of item 2, etc. Like you might start off with 70% endgames, 20% tactics, 10% game play. As you finish the book on endings, you might do 70% tactics, 20% strategy, 10% game play, then you might do 80% strategy, 20% game play. After stage 3, hit the tournaments hard, and while you are doing that, start on stage 5, and finish with Openings!
Start with the endgame and master the elements of chess first then study the middle game and the openings last tackling several or nine topics all at once is useless you'll only tie yourself in knots. Chess as Tarrasch said is a very difficult game one must begin with the simple then gradually master the more and more difficult topics in a systematic way.
Studying and doing alot of hard work is just a small part of it you also have to play alot of Chess (60-80 minutes game is recommended) to develop your power of intuition and feeling for the squares and the board, learn how play with discipline and patience, build your tactical skills and board vision, learn the real art of planning from experience.
Pick your opponents well players who give you a tough game and make you work hard for every square every inch of space on that board and fight like tigers are the ones you should seek at Chess clubs or online their good playing habits will rub off on you and have a positive affect on your Chess.
Thank you for clarification - I understand it now.