Have you fallen into the chess training trap?

In this article I want to share a few important thoughts on what I call the “chess training trap”. It’s important to avoid this trap if you want to enjoy the game!

The “7 Skills” Chess Training Model
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In 1931, Dr Siegbert Tarrash released his book “Das Schachspiel” (The Game of Chess). In the foreword he famously wrote:

Chess, like music, like love, has the power to make men happy.

And for the most part it’s true. However, as some chess players may have experienced, it could also read:

Chess, like music, like love, has the power to make men sad.

Let me explain.

How chess can make you sad

You get a lot of enjoyment from chess when you’re new to the game. It’s an absolute thrill to unleash your creative ideas on the board. Even when you fail you readily accept your losses as part of the game.

You improve quickly. But then you start to face stronger players. Eventually you get to the point where some players seem impossible to beat. You need to train more. Maybe you buy a few books and watch some instructional chess videos. You may even go as far as buying chess courses online. It’s all great and you thoroughly enjoy learning so many new things!

But then you play a few games. And for some strange reason, you find that you didn’t improve much. You’re confused. You’ve learnt so many useful things. Then why didn’t you improve?

Maybe you should train harder and longer? The trap door opens. You question the training you did. You question the way you did it. Chess isn’t fun anymore. Chess starts to make you sad.

Chess, like music, like love, has the power to make men sad.

And then you fall into the chess training trap.

What is the chess training trap and how can you avoid it?

The chess training trap is when you fall into a habit of training a lot – at the expense of enjoying the game. Because let’s face it – studying chess in the comfort of your study room is not nearly as intimidating as facing the risk of losing an actual game!

To help you avoid the training trap you must consider this:

Capablanca said you must lose many games before you can be good.

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

I like that. Because no amount of training can teach you the lessons you will learn from losing a 1000 games! How many games have you played this year?

Conclusion

The most important training activity a chess player can do is to “play and review.” In other words, play often and review your games. Identify your mistakes and try to absorb the lesson from it. It will be particularly valuable if you can analyze your game with the assistance of a stronger player (or a chess engine). Then focus your training on the skills that you find lacking. The 7-Skills Training Model provides a reference of the important skills you need to work on.

32 thoughts on “Have you fallen into the chess training trap?

  1. Most of my problems when it comes to reviewing my own games can be summed up in one word…memory (or rather the lack of it). I have lost count of the number of times I’ve made the same mistake in the same position!
    I have been playing Chess for over 50 years but my ELO rating is only 1300. I know a huge number of facts about chess but I can never decide which of them I should be thinking about in any given position.

  2. Yeah I like your Idea about not falling to this type of trap (Kasparov said also there is a time for playing & a time for analysing ) Spotting new things in games is important as you might us an idea again but in a different way. Thanks again Worrell Robinson Optical chess Press

  3. I just went through your slides on the KIA for white, and since I couldn’t comment there, I’m posting here.

    The material was simply amazing! I have never before seen any opening study material like that. Crisp, to the point, and yet powerful enough to impress the ideas and patterns. Shall go through it a few more times.

    But I have 2 observations about the pawn structure slides:

    Side 15: the recommended move ignores Black’s obvious Knight fork threat. If there is a good follow-up for giving up major material, I couldn’t see it, honestly the possibility of losing a Rook put me off.

    Side 19: Nxe6 wouldn’t be check, as annotated in the slide. Nevertheless, the recommendation is well understood.

    I’ve never had so much fun and clarity learning openings. Your slides have given much confidence that I may soon be able to play the KIA comfortably.

    Lastly, I have an earnest and humble request. Could you please make similar slides for 2 Black defenses, one each against e4 and d4, because that would really help us beginners a lot.

    Many thanks for the efforts you’re putting in to make cheers accessible to us mere mortals.

    • I added this comments to slide 15 – if black plays … Nxc2 then after gxh5 Nxa1, Nf1! The black knight will be trapped on a1. Next white can play Be3, threatening Rxa1. White gets a bishop + knight for his rook.

      I fixed the + on slide 19. Thanks!

      I will see if I can make something similar for the black side, but can’t give a time on that.

  4. As you get stronger playing chess ,you will come to a point where, anything you do to improve doesn’t work, that means improvement will come outside of yourself. You need a Chess Coach.

    • That is true – the help of a stronger player is valuable and necessary. The first thing a coach will usually ask – is to see a few of your games. That is because a good coach understands the importance of using your games as a starting point for improvement.

  5. I agree I always fall into this trap. Once I used to study my games after a few games …..and continue playing over the same openings commenting or putting notes down on what I think went wrong eg.

    1. Overconfidence
    2. Impatience
    3. Didn’t calculate tactics when required

    …and so on

    With this I improved much. Thanks a lot for the reminder. Am going out now to get a small notebook for reassessing my games once more.

    But there is a place too for the thousands of hrs of training each part of the game I think.

    • Thanks for your comment.

      Training has it’s place – that’s for sure. But it should not be at the expense of playing often and reviewing your games.

      The notebook is a great idea!

  6. I keep falling into and out of this trap so frequently, it almost feels like a way of life! Engines, with their seemingly endless streams of variations and sub-variations, fail to impress any lessons upon my mind. Master games are a class apart, and even when fully annotated, are not fully digestible. I share with chess what I’d call a love-hate relationship, at distinct times either inspirational, comical, or debilitating. So much about it is so subjective that I wonder if it can ever be learned logically and systematically, and every attempt to do so pushes me toward articles, posts, videos, or books on strategy, which inspire until they overwhelm, and the loop repeats.

    • Your situation is a good example of what I am talking about in this article.

      You will probably find that you already possess plenty knowledge of the game and your real challenge should be – practicing to apply it.

      I recommend you focus on playing. Then go through the games you lost and identify where you went wrong. The point is then that your primary training should be focused on improving your specific weaknesses.

    • Yea , I personally get frustrated at times when I go back to search chess vids online because I seem to be less and less strong.

      But I have the same question. Is there a formula in thinking in chess, apart from the “10 day challenge” on this site which helped a lot.

      Is there a formula which or a weather cock which tells you that it’s time to calculate or to evaluate or to play this or that.

      THE DILEMMA

      Because frankly speaking, during a chess tactics session I can solve 2600 tactics but during my own game I never come to find any except here and there against weaker or equally strong opponents.

      That’s why I always go online to check if such formulae exists , you find a few, they work a day or two but wears off

  7. Thanks, Louis for this, and all your training resources. I think it’s important to keep our chess fun, not turn it into drudgery. Improving our game helps us enjoy it more, but over-training can ruin the fun factor. So I try to find the happy medium that’s right for me. Your training materials allow for this. I’ve come to accept losing to stronger players, in fact those are the games I enjoy most and learn the most from; I am thankful they will play me. It is fun for me to help less-advanced players as well. I analyze most of my games (with Hiarcs), I always find instructive and intriguing surprises, very worthwhile.

    • Hi Bob, you’re doing it right! That’s great. I think what many people overlook is that most of the opportunities to improve lies in what their own games will reveal to them. Training material and courses can be useful if you know what you’re working on.

      One reader emailed me and said: “The whole purpose of training is to master the needed skills to become competitive and win.”

      The skill you need most will become clear when you play and go through your games again.

  8. I disagree in some sense, because there are much more people who more play than do training and they are not progressing either.

  9. I agree with you that there is such a thing is such a thing as training trap. – which comes from more training than playing. I however tend to play more than train. Should I spend more time analyzing/reviewing game than playing? Should every game be analyzed?

    • That is good if you play a lot. That is important. I personally don’t think you need to analyze all your games. Instead, I believe you should analyze a game if you want to find out where you went wrong or if you found the game interesting.

  10. I agree with you. That being said, could you pls create more visualwize not in pdf but something like in version 3.

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