Thoughts on Chess Improvement

Chess study is hard. Chess improvement is hard. I’m sure there are lots of chess players out there who like me have got plenty of partially read, or even completely unread chess books on their shelves. How much better would I be if I’d read all those books? I don’t know the answer to that, but I’d like to share with you a few ideas which in recent years have helped me improve my grade from around 100 ECF to 150 ECF (that’s about 1450 ELO to 1825 ELO). These ideas are mainly aimed at players in the sub-125 bracket, though the next couple of paragraphs may be useful beyond that.

Learning from your games

Nearly every coach will tell you that you need to go over your games, especially your losses, work out where you went wrong and learn the lessons. If you go wrong in the opening, or in a technical endgame, then it’s important to look up what you should have done, and to commit those things to memory. That’s easier said than done, of course. Especially if your memory is anything like mine. However, this is often not a helpful approach. When you’re out of the opening, and not in a recognised endgame there is no concrete theory to memorise, but there are still plenty of ways to go wrong.

Having religiously analysed my games for several seasons, I decided it wasn’t enough to simply work out where I’ve gone wrong. Many of my games were being settled by gross blunders and it’s obvious without further analysis what cost me the game. That’s not always the case, but at my level it’s often the case. Working out where I went wrong is easy. The question is, what to do about it? To answer that, you need to know not just what you did wrong, but why. Knowing the “why” means you don’t merely have something to remember, but something to address, something to change about the way you’re playing the game. Perhaps it’s a thinking pattern you need to break. Perhaps it’s one you need to establish.

Over the board

My first and most obvious “why” was that I kept overlooking simple tactics. These tactics weren’t anything I hadn’t seen many times before. So why was I missing them? What was I doing at the board, or failing to do, which caused me to slip into such ridiculous mistakes? Here some concrete advice from Ed Player was particularly helpful. His commonsense advice was that every move we should make sure we consider all the checks, captures and attacks on the queen (or major pieces). We should not only consider those available to us, but those which will be available to our opponent should we make the move we’re considering.

For a player of my standard, this takes some time … and depending on the situation on the clocks you may need to cut this short. Still, I’ve found this advice amazingly helpful. In years gone by, at the board my thinking has been very unstructured and more based upon how I feel about the position than on any objective assessment. Such feelings have their place, but they need to be undergirded by at least a minimal awareness of the tactical situation.

This gives me something concrete to do at the board. If I reach a position when I really don’t feel I know what to do, I always make sure I carry out these basic checks. What can I capture? What checks are available? Can I threaten their queen? Do the resulting positions look good? If I make such-and-such a move, what can they capture? What checks will be available? Can they threaten my queen? How do I like the look of the resulting positions?

At 150 ECF, I still make stupid errors, and it’s mostly because I struggle to follow my own advice as given above. But having improved significantly on that, I now begin to notice different patterns in “why” I lose. More things I should try to address. It’s all grist for the mill.

What’s your “why”? Perhaps you’ve found a way to address it. Do you have any useful routines for at the board which you’d be willing to share?

Steve Lovell

Steve is the Communications Officer for the Bury St Edmunds Chess Club. He is also the Internet Officer for the Bury Area Chess League and the Suffolk County Chess Association. Since 2015, Steve has been the organiser of the Bury St Edmunds Chess Congress. Outside of chess, if there is such a thing, Steve works in IT at Greene King.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Chess Improvement

  • 22 October 2015 at 10:11 am

    Hi Steve
    Nice post, thanks for your thoughts. This is a topic I too have considered.
    I started playing chess later in life only after taking my son (Chris) to Bury Knights Junior Chess Club. Chris rapidly became a good player at the club and remains so even though long play chess never really appealed to him. He played several long play games that resulted in boring draws because the opponents played ultra cautiously and he rather preferred to set up and run his own football team and play football which was more fun for him.
    However back to my case, as despite me playing at the BSE adult CC my chess and rating did not improve much. There is though, a big difference between the adult club and the junior chess club set up, and essentially this means rapid improvement is harder to acheive at the adult level for someone like myself starting to learn chess later in life. For such a person, a lot of time is needed for self study (and with a coach if possible) which requires dedication and effort!

    Well in brief over the years, I have collected some experience in self study chess improvement and I play mainly blitz against computer chess engines and on chess servers (eg ICC / FICS etc) and I am close to completing a chess rating rise improving course based on my personal experiences to help others improve. I will post more details on this when it is finally finished (which should be soon now..hopefully!). Happy chess playing..regards 🙂

  • 10 May 2017 at 4:44 pm

    This is a great inspiring article.I am pretty much pleased with your good work.You put really very helpful information. Keep it up. Keep blogging. Looking to reading your next post.


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