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Chess Improvement Study Plan

In the chess study plan I present below, I will show you the training activities that will maximize your chess improvement.

How this chess improvement study plan will help you

  • You will focus your attention on the training activities that give you the best value for the time you spend on it.
  • You will enjoy a sense of personal growth as you notice how your understanding of the game improve.
  • You get a complete study guide where all the important aspects of training your chess will be covered.

I’ve arranged the items on this list in order of importance (more or less). Use the chess improvement study plan as a guide to what you should train. You can also use it as a checklist to identify areas you feel deserve priority.

1. Play often and enjoy it!

To improve your chess, you should regularly play against (preferably) stronger opponents. Playing against weaker opponents will not improve your game. You need resistance to get better. Your mind gets lazy when you go easy!

You may learn much more from a game you lose than from a game you win. You will have to lose hundreds of games before becoming a good player. – JR Capablanca, World Chess Champion, 1921-1927

In other words, every game you lose is an opportunity to improve!

Nobody likes losing, but don’t let your hurt ego prevent you from learning the lesson! This also means you must be willing to review the games you lost.

Adopting a teachable attitude will help you improve and you will get more enjoyment from your chess study.

There is a good reason why playing more is the first point on this list. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to improve through a focus on training only. Aim for a ratio of 50:50 playing and training. If you upset this balance too much, you will not get sufficient opportunity to put your training into practice.

2. Learn how to review your own games

Reviewing your games is a great learning activity!
Reviewing your games is a great learning activity!

Games you played contain a wealth of information. It reveals your strengths and weaknesses.

You must not only play often, but you must also review the games you played.

Your games are a reflection of your thinking process. Therefore, reviewing your games will reveal which aspect of your training needs attention the most.

To review your own games you will need to notate your games. Alternatively, if you play online your games are usually notated automatically.

If you’re not sure where you could have done better, then you will need the help of a strong player (or even a chess engine).

3. Make an in-depth study of the 3 chess principles

3 Main Chess Principles 300

Even though the 3 main chess principles appear pretty simple, there are a lot of depth to them. They are easy to understand, but it takes a bit more to apply them effectively.

The principles help you understand chess strategy. Whenever you are not sure what to do in a position, just think about your principles. It will guide your thinking process in the right direction.

Summary of the 3 principles:

  1. Principle of King-safety: Keep your king safe and try to expose your opponent’s king. The king is the most vulnerable piece on the board. If the king is exposed, you can often make powerful threats and tempo-moves against him.
  2. Principle of Piece-development: Help your pieces achieve their full potential by finding the best squares for them. Well-developed pieces have more fire-power than undeveloped pieces.
  3. Principle of Center-control: The central squares are the most important squares on the board. Most of the action take place in the centre. If you control the centre, you also control most of the action. Controlling the centre increases the mobility of your pieces. At the same time it restrict the mobility of your opponent’s pieces.

You should study the details of the 3 main chess principles as a part of your chess improvement study plan.

4. Eliminate blunders from your game

The quickest way to improve your chess performance is to make fewer mistakes. Nobody can completely eliminate mistakes but strong players rarely blunder. Beginners, on the other hand, blunder a couple of times in each game! The good news is that there is a way to reduce mistakes in chess–read it here. It will have a big impact on your overall improvement.

“First learn to not lose, then the wins will come.” – A Karpov, World Chess Champion, 1975 – 1985

If you are still making regular blunders (oversights), then you should immediately drop everything else and focus on reducing your mistakes.

One mistake spoils an otherwise well-played game.

You need 30 or 40 good moves to win a game, but ONE blunder can undo all the hard work and cause you to lose the game instantly.

5. Develop Your Personal Opening Repertoire

The opening refers to the starting moves where the players seek to develop their pieces as quickly as possible.

A good opening gives you a good start
A good opening gives you a good start

Quite simply, the goal of the opening is to give you a good start. It’s a simple but important goal. A good start can go a long way in helping you play a high-quality game.

You can even do fairly well in the opening by simply applying the 3 main principles. However, learning a few well-respected openings will give you more confidence. It helps if you can start a game knowing you will use a proven way to get a good start.

Why should you study 3 openings? At its simplest, your opening repertoire should include at least one opening as white.  Then you will also need an opening as black against 1.e4 as well as an opening against 1.d4

I will recommend a few openings you can play. They are solid, easy to learn and top-level players regularly use them. Study and play these openings on a regular basis. In time you will get used to the typical situations that arise from your opening and will ensure that you get a really good start to the game.

Suggested Openings

To get you going, here’s a few openings I suggest. They are all solid openings and easy to learn. You can check them out and decide if they suit you.

Openings for white

Openings for black against 1.e4

Openings for black against 1.d4 or other

Important note on training openings: Don’t blame your opening for a game you lost. Inexperienced players often think their bad position was a direct result of their bad opening choice. Ok, maybe you did in fact misplay the opening. But more often than not, the mistake will not be related to your opening. Review your game objectively. It will help you understand where things really went wrong.

6. Understand the psychology of becoming a better chess player

Chess is an emotionally tough game. Your state of mind possibly impact on your results more than you realize.

I suggest you become your own personal chess psychologist! This means you should spend some time thinking about the impact your own emotions may have on your moves. An ideal time to do this is when you review your games. It is easier to be objective when you are not in the heat of the battle.

For a start, here is some important advice for when you play:

  • Never think you’re going to lose.
  • Never think you’re going to win.
  • Fight as hard as you can.

Think about this. When your mind already believes in a result, you won’t put in a special effort to try change that result. You shouldn’t allow that mindset to cause your failure.

No matter your opponent’s age. No matter your opponent’s rating. No matter what happened the last time you played against this opponent. This time – fight to win!

Did you know? When your opponent has a higher rating than you, they will experience pressure to win. They are expected to win but they know they can easily lose if they make a mistake. This is why it is important to believe in yourself, even when your opponent is higher-rated than you.

To read more about psychology in chess, see the article – The Psychology of Becoming a Better Chess player.

7. Study Tactical Patterns

Qe4! Threatens Qxh7+ and Qxa8. A fork.
Qe4! Threatens Qxh7+ and Qxa8. A fork.

Any player who ever asked “how can I improve my chess?” have probably come across the standard advice: “Train tactics.”

A tactic is a move or a combination of moves that carry strong threats. In fact, the threats add pressure on your opponent to such an extent that they are forced to give up some material (or compromise their position in some unwanted way).

Tactics is indeed a very important skill and you should train it regularly. However, no-one gives you advice on how to train tactics. It isn’t quite so simple because there are many different tactical ideas that you need to study.

Pins, forks, discovered attacks are just 3 of the numerous tactical motifs that exist. There are many different motifs and you need to study them all if you want to improve your tactical skill.

Here are 2 tips to keep in mind whenever you study tactics:

  • Study tactics often so you can start to recognize the patterns
  • Focus on understanding the tactic. Don’t just glance at the solution – study the idea behind it.

To help you master the most important tactical motifs, you can check out the video course: 20 Important Tactics Motifs

8. Make an in-depth study of strategic ideas

It’s not a move, not even the best move that you must seek, but a realizable plan.

– Eugene Znosko-Borovsky

A strategic idea refers to a plan that can improve your position. There are a number of common strategic ideas you should know because they can be useful in many situations.

Do you sometimes feel – I don’t know what to do next? The plan you finally decide on, will show how well you understand the position. The first step in deciding your plan, is to evaluate the position. Your evaluation will help you understand what you need to focus on. The evaluation thinking method is the first of the 2 most important thinking methods presented in the 10-Day Chess Challenge. (more details in point 10. The 2 Important Thinking Methods.)

Typical strategic ideas include the following:

  • Exchange pieces but keep pawns if you are ahead in material
  • Launch a pawn-storm attack on the side if you have a firm hold in the centre
  • Focus your attack on the side where your pieces have more space
  • Neutralize your opponent’s best pieces by exchanging them or chasing them away
  • etc

All in all, your strategy is the answer to the question: “How can I improve my position?”

9. Learn the 2 Important Thinking Methods

The next item in this chess improvement study plan is based on the 2 most important thinking methods in chess. Study them well – they are the heart of this study plan.

Calculation Thinking Method Evaluation Thinking Method

Summary of the 5-step Calculation process

Calculation Thinking Method
Calculation Thinking Method

Calculation is the process whereby you determine the logical outcome of your intended move by considering the possible replies your opponent could make.

Calculation is to your mind what a physical workout is to your body. It is probably the hardest skill to train. And since calculation can become rather complex in some positions, it’s good to keep the process as simple as possible.

The 5-step calculation method below will help you develop an simple, yet highly effective calculation skill.

It’s useful to always start by finding your opponent’s threats. This will go a long way in helping you reduce blunders and oversights. A great way to practice this calculation process is to solve tactical puzzles using the 5 steps.

What about all the other moves then? Shouldn’t you calculate them too? The answer is that you only have to calculate your opponent’s forcing replies. If there aren’t relevant forcing replies, then you can simply evaluate those moves based on your evaluation thinking method.

Summary of the 5-step Evaluation process

5-Step Evaluation Method
5-Step Evaluation Method

Evaluation skill is the ability to look at a position and say who has the better position. It is also quite possible that one player has an advantage in some respect but their opponent has compensation in another.

Evaluating a position is not always an objective process. Experience will play an important role in the evaluation process. An experienced player will usually have a better developed intuition.

The 5-step evaluation process will help you evaluate a position. It will also guide your thinking process in the right direction.

A good way to improve your evaluation skill is to take random chess positions and try to evaluate them. Compare your findings with the opinion of a strong player. Or, if you know how, use a chess engine to check your findings.

These thinking methods should be 2nd nature to you. I recommend that you spend a good amount of your time on it. Thinking in this way will help you find good solid moves in your games. It will also help you understand the game on a deeper level.

10. Take the 10-Day Chess Challenge

The 10-Day Chess Challenge is a unique opportunity to make a significant and permanent improvement in your chess.

If you don’t take this challenge, you will miss out on an exclusive opportunity that is not available anywhere else!

It’s not just another chess training course. It presents you a powerful training method aimed at seriously improving your game – by focusing on skills that matter most. You will improve core skills such as visualization, calculation, tactics and positional understanding in a way that no other form of chess training can offer you.

11. Observe games played by masters

Observation is a powerful learning method. By simply observing master games you will notice patterns and ideas.

Go back and forth between their moves and continually ask: “What could the reason for this move be?” You won’t always understand the move but it will be great practice for your critical thinking ability and an essential part of your chess improvement study plan.

The internet has immense resources where you can find such games. I will also include a set of master games that you can download and observe in your own time.

12. Improve your visualization skill

Visualization skill is the ability to visualize moves without moving the actual pieces
Visualization skill is the ability to visualize moves without moving the actual pieces

Visualization skill is the ability to clearly see moves and positions in your mind – without making them on the board.

Does this ever happen to you? You think about your next move and end up looking again and again at the same variations trying to make sure you aren’t making a mistake?

The skill to visualize tactics long before they actually appear on the board gives you a serious advantage over any opponent who can’t do it.

Visualization is an important part of calculation. If you can clearly see 3 or 4 moves into a position, you will also have much more confidence in your calculation skill.

I will show you unique and powerful exercises that can help you improve your visualization skill.

13. Master the essential endgame positions

The endgame can be defined as the stage of the game where it is reasonably safe for the king to join the action.

In the opening or middle-game your king is vulnerable and you must keep him safe. In the endgame the king can be used to attack and defend. This is because your opponent’s pieces are so few that they can’t exploit your king.

The main objectives of the endgame are to:

  1. Create a passed pawn and try to promote it
  2. Use the king as an active piece.

There are a few typical endgame situations that you should know.

Three of the most important endgame positions that you should study, include:

  • King + pawn vs King
  • King + Queen vs King + pawn
  • King + Rook + pawn vs King + Rook

They are important because they occur fairly regularly. A good understanding of these typical endgame situations will help you win many games that would otherwise end in a draw or loss.

14. Understand pawn-structures and weak squares

Pawn-structures are important because

  1. they have a big impact on the mobility of the pieces
  2. the pawn-structure determines where the weak squares are

Refer to the article: Why pawns are the soul of chess

The highlighted squares are weak because the black pawns cannot protect them.
The highlighted squares are weak because the black pawns cannot protect them. White will play Nd4-e6 and then try to get his king to f5. Also note how the Be7 is limited by his own pawns.

A weak square is a square that cannot be protected by a pawn.

The reason we call this a weak square is because a piece can occupy the square and a pawn will not be able to chase it away.

Whenever you move a pawn, there are some squares that becomes weaker.

Before you move a pawn, you should think carefully because a pawn can never move back again. The consequences of a pawn-move is permanent.

Once you have a weak square in your position, you will have that weakness for the rest of the game. Maybe the weakness is not a problem right away because your pieces protect the square well. But, once those defending pieces are exchanged, the weak square can become a real problem.

Inexperienced players often move a pawn when they’re not sure what else to do . This is a mistake. You should really only move a pawn if it helps you achieve an important objective.

15. Improve your chess vocabulary

Chess vocabulary refers to terms and phrases related to chess ideas and theory. Expanding your chess vocabulary is also a great way to improve your overall understanding of the game.

I made a useful video on the most important words in the language of chess tactics.

Using The Chess Improvement Study Plan

Here are a few tips to help you get the most from this chess improvement study plan:

The best way to know what you should focus on is to study your games and identify the main reason why you lose games.

Chess Training Tip: Once in a while, go through this chess improvement study plan and use it as a checklist to see whether you are still spending your training time in an optimal way.

Get yourself a chess notebook. Making notes is a great way to help you remember new insights.
Get yourself a chess notebook. Making notes is a great way to help you remember new insights.

Summary of the 15-point study plan

  1. Play often and enjoy it! (preferably against stronger players)
  2. Learn how to review your own games
  3. Review the 3 main chess principles
  4. Learn how to avoid common mistakes in chess
  5. Learn 3 good chess openings (optional till intermediate level; thereafter it becomes important to study openings in more detail)
  6. Understand the psychology of becoming a better chess player
  7. Make an in-depth study of tactical motifs
  8. Make an in-depth study of strategic ideas
  9. Learn the 2 Important Thinking Methods
  10. Take the 10-Day Chess Challenge
  11. Observe games played by masters
  12. Improve your visualization skill
  13. Master the essential endgame positions
  14. Understand pawn-structures and weak squares
  15. Improve your chess vocabulary

Chess improvement study plan: Conclusion

The chess improvement study plan on this page will show you exactly what you need to do in order to improve your chess consistently.

I highly recommend you get a notebook where you make all your chess related notes. It is a great way to help you remember new insights and interesting points mentioned in the study plan.

The 7 Skills Training Model