TADOC: How to improve at chess

[NB: this post is currently in draft form.  I’ve published it because it still says something ... just not exactly what I want to say at the moment.  When it’s totally finished I’ll remove this note]

"Given that we have now created an environment conducive to study, what form should the work take? … what I want to emphasise now is active involvement, thinking for yourself.

Merely playing through the moves and reading the notes is not an effective way to learn … A far better method is to question everything, try your own ideas, analyse

To get the ball rolling I strong recommend readers to study the positions in the 'Beat the Masters’ column."

Chess Training by IM* Nigel Davies, CHESS September 1988

In truth nobody really knows for sure how to improve at chess. Especially as adults. Fortunately, for most of us it doesn’t really matter.

The importance of active learning is going to be key. Other than that, do what you find most enjoyable.

The idea of active involvement in building your chess skills was around 30 years ago when I started playing. It still gets talked about now. Ben Johnson talks about it in his Perpetual Chess Podcast interview with IM Kristen broadcast just a couple of weeks ago.

So you can take active learning to the bank. You’re going to need that.

Getting feedback on your work is also critical. There’s no good thinking for yourself and being totally oblivious to the fact that you’ve just come up with some total nonsense.

It doesn’t matter that we get things wrong. It’s completely fine. Actually it’s essential to any growth process. Being wrong is totally cool as long as there’s someone to point it out to you and to make suggestions as to where you can improve things.

This is what makes improving at chess hard. If you don’t know you’ve left a knight en prise the board isn’t going to light up a square and tell you. It’s not like learning the piano, for instance, where if you play a scale and you hit the wrong key somewhere along the line you will hear it. It will just sound wrong.

So, yes, you need active involvement but you also need feedback. The third and last thing you’ll also need is motivation. That and strategies to keep your enthusiasm topped up so you can keep going when you don’t really feel like it.

You probably won’t need to do this work today. Or tomorrow or next week. A few months down the line, however, you’re going to have to grind out some work when you’d rather be watching the TV/tending your roses/sleeping or whatever your thing is.

So you need active learning.

You need feedback.

You need motivation and ways to keep your motivation ready so it’s there when you need it.

Luckily Beat the Masters gives you all three of these things.  Well, it gives me all of these things. I hope it will work for you too, but if it doesn’t that’s also fine. If you find something else that ticks more of your boxes then please let me know. I’d love to hear what it is.

That said, my hope is very much that you’ll be encouraged to make studying these positions part of your regular chess training routine.

Most of all, though, I hope this blog gives you another way to enjoy chess.

* Now GM


  1. "Given that I’ve also started gobbing off about how people can improve at chess, and given that I’m somehow attracting readers from all over the world, it would not be unreasonable to ask who I am and how I know what I say I know.

    So I should really put something here to answer those questions. And I will one day, dear reader, I will.

    In the meantime, my answer my anonymous correspondent who left this blog’s first comment - see the head of this page - can be found at How to improve at chess."

    I'm confused. So you're secretly Maxim Dlugy?

    1. Fortunately for all of us ... no.

      You have reminded me that I need to update the who am I page though.


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