The road to master level- how to study chess


How to study chess- the road to master level

I would like to discuss in this article, tips that have helped me a great deal in becoming a stronger player. I will share my insights and thoughts on how to do this based on my experience.

I have mentioned that I earned 175 elo points in just one year of playing chess. My rating went from 1935 to 2110. See previous article for more details.

Now I am on my way to becoming a master which is my objective. I plan to become a master in 1 or 2 years. Results are being positive as I have done recently 2230 and 2300 performances in strong tournaments.

I hope you will learn something from this article and you will be able to apply the methodology that has given me great results.


Opening Repertoire- how to deal with it?


How important is to be well prepared?

I am assuming you are below 2100 fide and you are trying to improve. However, in my opinion openings do not matter as much as you would think at this level. So my recommendation will be to be “well prepared” but not overly prepared as you would probably just waste your studying time for nothing as other areas in your game probably need much more attention.

What to play as white

As white, I recommend that you specialize in one line. It’s difficult to perfect e4 and d4 simultaneously, and it would be the wrong strategy. 1c4 goes along with d4, so it can be included, but remember , you have to specialize!

In my case I only play 1d4 as white. And it’s probably my most solid part of the repertoire. I tend to win more games as white than I do with black. Funny enough I probably do little study on the white side. I tend to get good positions and decent ways to play for a win, and I am rarely in trouble with the white pieces. So I tend to study very little lines with 1d4.

What to play as black

I recommend that you put all your attention of your studying time in the openings to the black repertoire. You need to be very well prepared against anything that white throws at you. In my case I play ...1e5 against 1e4 and 1…Nf6 against 1d4, trying to get nimzo, bogoindians or similar variants. For my preparation, having a solid repertoire as black was the most challenging. There were so many positions that you need to get accustomed to (especially if you play …1e5) that it took me some time before I could start to call my openings as black “solid”.

As black you may want to have 2 weapons, a solid choice and an aggressive one. For example you might consider …1e5 solid. And if you would like to surprise your opponent choose the Alekhine …1Nf6 as your second choice.

How to study openings?

You need to be wise as how you study openings. I don’t recommend that you buy opening books until you hit 2100, and if you do so, not more than 3 or 4 books. Use them as a reference on your preferred lines but do not try to memorize anything from the book! This would be the wrong approach.

If you want to get more knowledge on openings, a simple database will do the work. You don’t need to buy anything fancy (megadatabase 2014 etc), chesstempo has an online free database with an opening book showing most popular moves played with performance and results attached to each move.

Selecting lines and building the repertoire

I recommend that you play a lot of training games online (FICS server is great free place to play), standard 15min or more. Try to practice openings in these games as if it was an OTB game. You will learn a lot, I guarantee. After each game research the opening, and try to find ways to improve on the position you got. Maybe you got out of the opening and you didn’t like the type of position you got. That’s a good sign that something can be improved. I assure you, there are enough possibilities in chess as to give you a way to play always positions that you feel comfortable in. There is always more certainly, a solid line, a risky line, a passive but easy to play line, an ambitious line with goods chances for win, etc… And you have to choose with what suits your style. Don’t try to memorize too much if anything. You have to learn ideas in openings; these get stuck in your mind. Like, “ I play the knight to a5 reroute it to this square to control this other square blabla” This is the way to learn, by learning ideas. Don’t try to get too deep in any opening, you will certainly forget all the possible plans and you will waste your time. However, if you find that an opening gets played a lot to you, up to move 10-15, then its time to look deeper and learn 3-4 moves ahead. Don’t try to cover everything, practice will show you the way of the things you need to improve. Learning openings is an open process which never ends, the more you play the more knowledgeable you will become. So experience plays a big role here.

Preparing for an opponent in an OTB game

As tournament players, this is a must for everyone. I will give you two tips:

1)            Try to guess what your opponent is likely to play by looking at his games

2)            Prepare one or two lines he might play, by looking a chess database

In preparing lines to play, I recommend to select lines that make you feel comfortable. Try to avoid your opponent preparation and bring him to your territory. Select lines that he might not know too well and propose problems.

Play one or two 15 min games versus Houdini engine, in the most like variation he will play, just to get a feeling of the type of position that will arise in the OTB game. This will help a lot.

Learn something useful, learn endings!

I cannot overstate the importance of studying endings. The most efficient and rewarding way of studying chess is to learn endings. Learning endings has made not just a better player in endings, but a better player in chess overall. By learning endings I don’t mean that you buy the latest ending manual of Dvoretsky book and you go page by page. I don’t think this is the right approach. You can learn endings in a cheap way without books. But if you really want to buy a book that will change the way you think about chess, buy Sherevesky books on practical endings.

Again I’m going to recommend that you play a lot of training games 15 min or longer with increment online. Try to play the endings the best possible way you can. If you are up a pawn, try to convert it to a win, and don’t give up by submitting to a draw.

Afterwards, it’s time to analyze. If it was a trivial win, let’s say two pawns up. Review it briefly and then move on to the next game. Try to review the game on your own, the learning experience will be greater. Bring the engine only when you have no clue on the position.

Now you played an interesting game, with a complex ending with winning chances. You didn’t convert. Now devote 30min-1h to study this ending. Try to figure out on your own the best plans, only then research with an engine. Most likely there would be 1 or 2 key moments in the ending that you misplayed. Focus on this, and try to visualize a winning plan or a drawing plan. Once you get a conclusion, “ I should have cut off the king from the 5th rank, and activate my rook,etc…” move on to the next game, and hope you will get a game worth of analyzing.

Last words

I hope all my tips will make you a better player. I sincerely hope so. It made me a better player, why not the same to you?!

Thanks a lot for reading this article.

Take care, and stay tuned for future articles.

C ya all!


Nice article


I used to play 1.d4 with the Colle-Zuke or Barry/150 Attack in mind. With black I used to play French and Tchigorin. About 3 years ago I switched to 1.e4 as white and play both sides of the Two Knights Defense. Against 1.d4 and every non-1.e4 move I narrowed it down to the King's Indian Defense. Was this switch detrimental to my chess development? Because I got bored with 1.d4 and French as it became stale - been playing that repertoire for more than 10 years. I just wanted to find a way to be more creative when I play. I can always resort to anything from my old repertoire because like you said it was much easier to absorb the ideas than variations.

And I agree with you - technique is everything. I am looking forward to your future posts!


Great article, thanks for sharing.


I can't say I agree with specialization (well, depending on the term, it's relative) because 1.e4 or 1.d4 can give some great games and one may not be in the mood for a 1.e4 or 1.d4 game so it's good to fall back on knowledge of one or the other.  With 1.d4 I typically like to play some semi-mainlines like the fianchetto or Averbach variation against the KID, queen's gambit or sometimes 2.Nf3 against 1...e5 but almost always 2.Nf3 against 1...Nf6 because it avoids the Budapest while keeping the c4 square free for a knight manouvre if black opts for a Benoni.  Also the knight will end up here anyways whereas I don't always know I want a pawn on c4. (1.d4,Nf6 2.Nf3,g6 3.Bg5,Bg7 4.Nd2,0-0/d6 5.e4 or 4...d5 5.e3)


good advise but also see


cool article

Kingzilla wrote:

Maybe you got out of the opening and you didn’t like the type of position you got. That’s a good sign that something can be improved.

Do you have a rule for when you are out of the opening, or do you just know from experience?

rtr1129 wrote:
Kingzilla wrote:

Maybe you got out of the opening and you didn’t like the type of position you got. That’s a good sign that something can be improved.

Do you have a rule for when you are out of the opening, or do you just know from experience?

If I understand your question correctly, let me rephrase it: " how do chess players know when they are out of the opening?" usually the opening lasts maybe 10-12moves. Could be more or less depending of the position. What matters is the transition to the middlegame, in other words, when all of your pieces are developed, your king is safely castled etc, then you are basically in the middlegame. GrandMasters sometimes study opening lines that can go very deep up to 20-30 moves, going directly into an endgame. So everything is relative, opening theory, can be more than just the opening phase. But in general, the general rule, is that in the opening your pieces are undeveloped while in the middlegame its rare to have a piece undeveloped.


Why-is there such an obession on here with becoming a Gm I see it over and over------just play for fun


This is nice plan for prepare opening and endgame..But my main problem is middlegame...I am 21 year old and now my rating in about 1400 fide..I have long vacation of 6 month now, and i want to improve my middle game along with opening and endgame...In middle game,,there is three parts...1.strategy/planning..2.tactics/combinations..3.visulation..Now real question come here...If i have 6 hour a day for middle game...How many time it take average adult to reach 1800-1900 fide rating..One of my 1830 rated friend told me that it takes 6 month approx....Please suggest me how to improve middlegame and how much time it takes to reach 1900 for my level{1400-1450} of player...   How much puzzles i should solve daily...How much time i should give to strategy/planning books...And how much time to playing games?


Great article, thanks for sharing.


I think that playing against humans is better practice than playing against engines (i.e. FICS). However, I support the idea of playing set positions against engines, such as endgames and critical middle game positions.


You cannot have too many chess books.


1...e5 is indeed very wide. You can get a lof of positions from it. Very sharp ones. I got bored with scandinavian or caro kan. With 1..c5 you can get in a lot of trouble and not always black can counter-attack without getting his king checkmated. Hate that. 1..e6 you just cramp yourself at beginning holping for counter player later.. not very smart , specially with that bad light squared bishop.

1..d5 1..c6 Same positions, same pawn structures etc and you don't have much schance for a win vs strong positional player. And i am not positional expert at all.  . So I changed to 1...e5. It gives you much more play and attacking possibilities or positional game too if you prefer. Also from 1.d4 to 1.e4 with white. But it takes huge amount of time to get used to alll of possible opening and side lines that black can play vs 1.e4. At some openings i am completely not sure what to do like a beginner.

Thank you for the insight.
kaynight wrote:

See you come from Pamplona...Load of bull there too.


Except that this is NOT "bull".  It is good advice.  Many of us know in our hearts that this is the right way to improve, yet we cannot make ourselves do it!

Do you have any recommendation on how to study tactics?
ryan_duan_02 wrote:
Do you have any recommendation on how to study tactics?


"... As is the wont with modern opening works, these books usually centre their recommended variations around an instructive and/or entertaining game, without great depth but with sufficient detail to show the main branches and explain basic ideas. ..." - IM John Watson (2012)

Thanks for the advices! I am sure you are right with the specialisation in the openings. For people interest in improving the game it is certainly wrong to change the repertoire after losing some games. I heard already the advice of using a database and not books to prepare for openings. I always used opening books, but doing so I feel that I am not really taking responsibility for what my opening's preparation. Anyway, I am right now learning openings with an interesting tool (chessable), and I think I will finish what I began. But the next step will be certainly to use a database.