Five Ways to Improve Your Chess Right Now

There is a lot going on in the world right now and maybe because of the stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines you have some extra time on your hands. It does not look like May will be too much different for many here in Michigan even if the stay-home order is revoked.

I have been taking advantage of the time during this quarantine and diving deep into my chess study. Because of this I have found some truly beneficial practices that have helped me and I thought I would pass those along to you. Here are five ways you can improve your chess during quarantine.

#1 – Tactics, tactics, tactics!

The famous saying goes that chess is 99% tactics. This saying is too true! For any player of any level tactics training should be a part of your chess improvement plan. You can be very strong in endgames, prepared in the opening, and have a solid understanding of middlegame planning and positional play. But, if you are much weaker tactically you will always be held back.

During quarantine I have dedicated myself to study tactics every day. I use the new Tactics Frenzy app which is a really well done tactics application for phones. Chess Tempo is my favorite desktop trainer. But, has nice puzzles and with a little money you can use their other tactics training tools like Puzzle Rush. Books are good too if you are just starting out your tactics study where you can study tactics by theme. (pins, forks, kingside mates, mate-in-one, mate-in-two, etc). This is a great way to start improving! The quicker you grow your patterns library in your mind the stronger and faster you will play while also avoiding mistakes!

#2 – Play a Mixture of Time Controls Online

Too often you can get stuck playing one time control, quite often blitz. Or, maybe you struggle having any interest in blitz or quick time controls because you are more serious? I think the best way to improve is to mix up what time control you play.

What are the benefits of blitz, rapid, and classical? Blitz gives you a lot of games to practice openings and test you for moments in longer games when you need to outplay your opponent with little time. Rapid allows you to play higher quality games, think a few times, and practice your openings. But, has the added benefit that since your quality is better your post-game analysis matters more. Longer time controls G/30+ would be rarer but are an important way to hone your thinking skills in all phases of the game. Try to get it in some longer games and then do a detailed analysis of them soon afterwards.

#3 – Analyse More of Your Games

One of the best ways to get better is to analyse your own games. Sometimes we forget this because there is so much you can study. But looking at your own games in detail has many benefits.

First–and most obvious–it will reveal your repeated mistakes. This is the most basic way you will improve. Notice the mistakes you make in your games and you will common patterns. Second, you will learn to understand why you did/did not consider a move or idea. This is a great benefit. If there was a better move figure out why it was better and then figure out why you didn’t notice it. Chess is so rich, we all have these kinds of things to work on! Thirdly, the different variations and options in chess often lead to different positions. You can then study and learn from the positions that could have been which will better prepare you for them in the future while also understanding how to get to them.

#4 – Study Classical Chess

Chess through the ages has developed, changed, and grown. How we understand and play chess is different today than it was in the 19th century. But, without the key discoveries and advancements made in the 19th century we would not be where we are today. For most players an understanding of the great masters in the 19th and early 20th century would do a lot for their game.

I have enjoyed Kasparov’s first “My Great Predecessors” volume during quarantine. It has given me such an appreciation for their advancements and skill. With almost no resources they formed the very foundation of our chess understanding. For most players the laying of this foundation is still needed. For that reason, study the classical players. Learn about tempo, key positional ideas, initiative, the value of pieces, basic endgames, the value of the center, material, and more. Yes, many games do not look anything like the way top players play today. But, their games contain so much that we “normal” players can learn from. If you want to improve your chess and understand chess at a deeper level, learn from those that built our game.

#5 – Master More Endgame Positions

Endgames are critical. Understanding how to play them well is a life-long journey but every step you take to familiarize yourself with an endgame is one step closer to big improvement. Learn endgames that take memorization and learn endgames that require understanding. This will grow your understanding of chess as well as your calculation ability. This, sometimes dry study, can truly net you big gains for you. Pick five endgames you think you need to understand better and try to understand them and learn them.

Hopefully these five points resonate with you. What would you add to the list? What have you done to improve? Comment your suggestions! Try to make lemonade out of lemons during this time and improve your chess.

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