In this article, we hope to examine some of the potential routes to victory and help you develop your chess smartly. Underlying all the advice here must be the following two caveats:
- You must be prepared to work hard
- You should have a genuine passion for the game
What are the silver bullets and shortest paths to success?In short, there are few short-cuts to GM level. GMs require a well-rounded and intense education in chess. However, the following will help you get to a 2000 ELO (roughly 180-200 ECF) grade in less than 12 months.
- Know your endings
- Practice tactics often
- Study great games - really study them!
- Have clear strategy which constantly evolves
- Play the board, not the player
For best results, dedicate 1 hour per night or at least a consistent time to cement your knowledge.
Part 1 of 5 - Studying Endgames boosts your ratingWhat a cliche!
Everyone says this but I do not see the point - I can just work it out over the board!Why is this recycled and over-heard advice top of our list?
Answer - because the single fastest way to improve as a chess player is to learn, understand and apply endgame knowledge. It will affect your rating positively.
Let's present the case:
Let's deep-dive on the case for learning endingsScenario #1
Let's imagine you're on a car journey back home from some far-away place.
When you get within 5 miles of your house, you know the route, you can switch off and go into autopilot and get home nice and relaxed.
The next time you do that journey, you remember actually how to do the last 10 miles. Each time, you remember more and more and become more relaxed.
Let's imagine you're going somewhere you've never been before - you know where you want to go but have no idea how to get there.
You reach a number of cross-roads on the way - which way is best? They may all get you there but you are consumed by anxiety - is this a dirt track? It's late and I may lose daylight soon...
Scenario 1 is playing a chess middle-game when you've studied endgames. The last part of the journey is a breeze - you know what to do. You've practiced this and you're on autopilot. The technique is clear and you are executing a well-rehearsed routine.
Scenario 2 is playing chess with no endgame knowledge. You know you want to checkmate but aside from the basics (queen and king mate a king), you've no idea what to do.
Which scenario do you want to be in?
Perhaps you're still not convinced...
A very important chess history lessonLike the 1974 Holland Football team, one of the best ever chess players to never become world champion was David Bronstein. In his 1951 World Championship with Mikhail Botvinnik, it was three minor endgame blunders which cost him vital half-points. Like this incident from game 6:
- The same endings come up again and again, so studying these patterns is not wasted
- One slip in an endgame can be decisive, whereas earlier in the game there is scope to recover
- GMs, IMs and every good player will take you apart in an ending if you don't know your onions!
Key takeaway - commit real time to studying endgames and top up that knowledge regularly.
Part 2 of 5 - Practice Tactics often!Tactics are often not a known part of all chess-players arsenal. Ironically, players such as Petrosian and Karpov who are best known as positional and strategic players were actually some of the best tacticians. Their play was so astute they had full awareness of tactics to justify their positional superiority and were not afraid to unleash a tactic or two themselves!
So why are tactics so critical?Tactics, a bit like critical moves in endgames, can be decisive in a chess struggle.
Let's look at a brilliant example:
There are two main reasons you need to get your tactical knowledge up to speed -
- If your opponent finds a tactic and you don't see it, it can easily cost you a game
- If you miss tactics, you can miss full points that are staring at you!
Part 3 of 5 - Study Great Games!Like all great prodigies of a skill, you will have heroes. The reason we idolise great players is because they can teach us so much and are great role models to us. We have annotated many classic games.
What should I do when I analyse a classic game?To get the most from a classic game, there are some great exercises to really extract the most knowledge:
- Guess the move - go through the game and before reading the move, have an educated guess at what the move was - when it's something different really deep-dive into why!
- Study each move and understand why this move has succeeded and don't be afraid to challenge it - if it's sub-optimal, explore what else the opponent could have done to survive the onslaught!
- Take three clear takeaways from the game - for example 1. Study Rook and pawn endings, 2. Develop pieces quickly in the opening 3. don't write off strange moves - eliminate them objectively.
Part 4 of 5 - Have a strategy and keep it fresh!
What is a strategy?A strategy is a long-term set of aims in order to gain victory. Chess strategy can range from "utilising pieces better" (vague but not a bad strategy at all - "invite everyone to the party") to "go for the isolated pawn".
In reality, your gameplan will consist of several small strategies whose priority will regularly shift.
For example, in Anand v Lautier 1997 , Anand's strategies may have included:
- Get minor pieces out quickly
- Take space on kingside
- Take advantage of lonely bishop on g2
- Allow concessions in the centre of the board to exploit black's lack of development
- Undermine the weak f7 point
Why should I change it during a game?The position after the opening will be drastically different to part way through the middlegame - in fact, after every move. Each piece being moved, taken, retreated or pushed forward will change the whole nature of the board and you need to be able to adapt to that.
The very best players will happily commit time to analyse variation after variation and then never need to play them.
Key takeaway - have a plan and be adaptable!