Review – August 2016

I made an undertaking last month, and guess what? I stuck to it. Yes, August was officially the first month in 2016 where I did not change my study approach!

That said, I did not spend a lot of time on chess in August. Other priorities in my professional and personal lives kept me very busy and I had ten days away. Being away from chess always creates this peculiar feeling in me. I am not sure if it is a feeling of being rested, or one of apathy towards chess. It feels as if I can take or leave chess and not care either way. Very odd, since I certainly don’t want to give up on playing or improving. Fortunately the regular season starts within the next month or so, and I’m sure that will perk up my enthusiasm.

Here is the dashboard that sets out my activity over the past few months.


My focus in September will be to

  • complete the opening repertoire capturing so that I can move onto the next phase of committing my repertoire to memory and understanding it,
  • hit that tactics target and shoot well beyond it,
  • hit that endgame study target of 50 pages,
  • get the most out of the Yusupov book. It is tough going, but I suspect it will pay good benefits over time.


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Review – June and July 2016

Two bits of news for the two months of June and July.

Firstly, the July 2016 ECF ratings list is out and I now have my highest rating yet, of 111 (1533 Elo). Nothing special, but at least I have arrested the slide I suffered at the end of 2015. The next phase is to break out of this range of about 105 to 110 I’ve been in for the past 18 months.

Secondly, the simplification of my study plan continues. I’ve had a go at all sorts of methods this year, including measuring days active, using four or five different tactics trainers, using various methods (flashcards, databases, opening trainers) to study openings, and jumping from book to book across all topics. I started out this year simplifying how I study, and every month since January I’ve tinkered more and more.

In February I dropped Chessity, flashcards, ChessBase opening printouts, Fritz endgame training and Chess Position Trainer. I started using Chessable and expanded my ChessTempo use to include endgame training. I hinted at not adding new skills, which turned out to be a bug which I finally cornered in July – more on this later.

In April and May I added Capablanca’s best endings for endgame study and started watching endgame videos from Tiger Chess every day. I also added Kotov exercises, but dropped memorising games and’s tactics trainer.

Now back to the bug. What itched at the time has become more clear since. I enjoy structure and progression. Give me the option between a series of 10 videos on a subject (such as John Bartholomew’s Climbing the Rating Ladder series) and 10 random videos (such and John and others’ exploits in Lichess blitz tournaments) and the choice makes itself – I want the progressive, structured series. Tiger Chess offers this to some extent, in that GM Davies offers courses as part of the £5 per month fee, including strategy, endgames, analysis and members clinics. The first two certainly are progressive. However, although they are fantastic value and content, they entail mostly passive training (watching rather than doing).

To address the itch and to balance the passive training element with an active element, I’ve decided to work through Artur Yusupov’s chess course. This means my study plan now looks like this:


  • Anki cards – work through whichever are due. I keep adding to them from my coaching session and other patterns and ideas I think are worth seeing regularly. Current size is 54 cards.
  • ChessTempo – around 50 problems from my bespoke sets.
  • Openings – review in ChessBase to learn lines and plans. On recommendation from a study friend, I now use Perfect Chess Trainer for learning lines while on the move. Great app.
  • Yusupov – work through the book and pass 4 tests per month (24 in a book).

Mon, Thu and Sat are endgame days:

  • ChessTempo – 5 problems in practice mode.
  • Tiger Chess – watch a set of videos.
  • Books – study from progressively difficult books. Currently on Pandolfini’s Endgame Course, up to topic 100 of 239.

Sun, Tue and Fri:

  • Manual of Chess Combinations – around 20 to 50 problems. Still on book 1a at the moment, up to problem 222 of 719.
  • Openings – get my ChessBase notes on the Tiger Chess “Building an Opening Repertoire” in order. I have done it for White and for Black against e4 and will do Black against non-e4 this month. Once that is done I will only do the daily learning and practice to ensure I ingrain the lines and plans and expand on the base knowledge.
  • I will then use this extra time on these days for more Yusupov study.

Here is an undertaking: other than the change explained in the last two bullets, I will not change this study plan again this year (at least). It covers everything it needs to, is spread well across openings, endgames, tactics and general, progressive improvement. I use the Yusupov books in the way he prescribes, by setting out every position on a real chessboard and not moving the pieces until I have no other option. This therefore also contributes to my chess vision, calculation and visualisation; it is proper deliberate practice.

Finally, an update on OTB play in June and July. I played six games in June, including four games in a congress where I scored -1 =2 +1 in the U145 (1788) section. In July I played eleven games, including two congresses. In one I played in the U175 (2000) section and predictably didn’t score well (-2 =2). In the other I played in the U140 (1750) section and scored 2.5/5 (-2 =1 +2) to win the grading prize.

The club season doesn’t resume until October, but I will get a few games in from two congresses in September.

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Current Chess Study Plan – June 2016

Here is my current study plan:

study plan

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Review – May 2016

I somehow missed out giving an update at the end of April, so this will be a double.

I mentioned in February and March that I had simplified my study plan. In April and May I made further refinements and that the plan now looks like this:

study plan

I feel this gives me balance between the various phases of the games and different media. In terms of activity and results, here is a recap of April and May.

PLAYING OTB rated games

  • April 10 and May 3 for a total 27 YTD (target 50 for the year).
  • Some indifferent results; not my best two months.


  • I’ve started tracking how much I do, so I can be more accurate now.
  • April: ~1,300 tactics, mainly on ChessTempo.
  • May: ~2,200 tactics, again mainly ChessTempo.
  • My Tactics Trainer rating remains over 1600, but only just at the moment. I had peaked in the 1670s.


  • Spaced repetition training on (I have just completed a 100-day streak!).
  • Working with Chessbase, a few books and the Tiger course to consolidate my opening repertoire. Focus now is on documenting and understanding the pawn structures the lines normally lead to and the plans which flow from those. Once I have that in place (it will take a while) I will reduce opening study to say every other day.



  • A lesson with my GM coach around once a month.
  • Memorise relevant games: I have now memorised 4 games relevant to my opening repertoire, so I am behind my target of 12 for the year.
  • Book study: I have worked through Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna, skimmed through Kotov’s Think Like a Grandmaster (to learn about his training method, not for the analysis tree) and am working through the hefty Chess Strategy for Club Players by Grooten.

I have signed up for a few tournaments over the summer, but am hoping to put in the hours on study to help get me off my current ratings plateau over the next twelve months.

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Chess Sets

Through an online training group I belong to, I discovered that in the USA players have to take their own chess equipment to tournaments. This is different from the UK, where clubs or congress organisers supply equipment.

I don’t like the idea of taking my personal set for others to put their grimy hands on. It is not a special set by any means – mahogany and maple board with 50mm squares (around £30), with super weighted wooden Staunton pieces (about £15) – but it is akin to sharing cutlery with strangers in my mind.

So what would I buy if I had to play in the US? Well, the site Best Chess Sets provides some interesting inspiration. Apparently younger players are pervasive in US tournaments, so maybe the LEGO set? Sicilian Dragon players have an obvious option.

One thing is obvious from the photographs of these exotic sets though; the sellers (not the site owner, he just links to others’ sites) are often quite clearly not chess players. Just on the front page, at least four sets are set up incorrectly. It may be five, but who knows which of blue and yellow is light in Springfield?

I’ll leave you with Bobby Fischer enjoying his Dubrovnik set.

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Review – March 2016

March felt like a slow chess month. I only played two rated OTB games and stagnated a bit on training. However, I feel comfortable with the simplified study plan I introduced last month and just need to tweak around the edges, especially in terms of time spent on each part of my daily training plan. Here is what the plan looks like at the moment:


  • Around 20 problems, alternating between ChessTempo and Chessimo.
  • 5 problems on’s Tactics Trainer.


  • Spaced repetition training on
  • Working with Chessbase, Chesstempo, a couple of books and the Tiger course to fill gaps in my repertoire.


  • 5 problems on ChessTempo Practice mode.
  • 5 problems on Chessimo.
  • Tiger Chess course video couple of times a week.


My Tactics Trainer rating took a hit over the last week or so. After starting the month at 1588 and spending most of the month at around 1630, I peaked at 1646 on 27 March before hitting a dry spell and ending the month on 1578. It doesn’t make a pretty picture…


On a positive note, I had my best OTB win ever, beating a player rated ECF 161 (Elo 1908).

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Review – February 2016

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight
‘Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Joseph Brackett – Simple Gifts

Despite simplifying my study plan and following it in January and earlier this month, I found myself enjoying chess less and less. I felt as if I was spending too much time planning what to do and recording what I did, and studying felt like a chore. So I’ve simplified even more.

For TACTICS, I’ve dropped Chessity in favour of Chess Tempo. The reason is that I can create specific training sets in Chess Tempo. Since my aim at the moment is to drill in all the basic mating patterns and other motifs, I created mate in 1 and mate in 2 sets. I plan to do these in volume over time, so that the patterns become second nature. I will add simple tactical motif sets over time too. I still use Chessimo, as I love the way it uses increased difficulty and spaced repetition, serving the same aim. So my daily tactics training now consists of:

  • either Chess Tempo or Chessimo for a few minutes;
  • then the 5 free Tactics Trainer problems.

My Tactics Trainer rating went from 1518 to 1588 in February, after a short peak at 1627.

For OPENINGS, I dropped the flash cards and ChessBase printouts I produced. My focus has to be on the simplest and most effective way to memorise my repertoire. For most of the month I used old favourite Chess Position Trainer (CPT), but since the launch of, I have moved to it. CPT has been playing up a bit, for example jumping between different positions, and chessable is backed by the IM behind my favourite YouTube channel, John Bartholomew. The product was only launched a week ago, so there are some teething problems, but David, the programmer, has been excellent in responding to feedback. I will write a longer review in a month or so, once David and John have had an opportunity to work through initial ideas for improvement.

For ENDGAME study I now do 5 Chessimo problems and 5 Chess Tempo Practice mode problems every day. Then two or three times a week I watch a Tiger Chess endgame course video and make notes in ChessBase if required. I’ve dropped training in Fritz, as I feel I get enough with Chessimo and Chess Tempo. There is also of course more variety in these problems. My Chess Tempo endgame practice mode rating went from 1509 at the end of January to 1600 today.

To address my goal of memorising a relevant master game per month, I used ChessBase until chessable was launched. In ChessBase, I would just play through the game, or open a new board, replay the game from memory, then compare it with the database. With chessable, I still have the option of playing through the game, but its spaced repetition method then feeds me with reminder tests at appropriate intervals. So far I have memorised Colle-Delvaux, Gand-Ternuezen 1929 and  Alekhine-Davies, Hong Kong 1933.

It may not sound much of a change, but being more laissez-faire has meant that I enjoy what I do and I do it in less time. This leaves more time for something that I have added. Yes, I know, that seems to contradict the approach, but there is some logic. I think a reason that the only rating that matters (until I start playing FIDE rated games), my OTB ECF rating, has stalled, is that I don’t learn enough new things. Doing tactics, remembering my opening repertoire and studying basic endgames of course add some knowledge, but in the main it is just sharpening the same tools, not adding new ones. So I see those areas of study, those 30 to 45 minutes a day, as the starting point for real study. And that real study is using the many chess books I have. I have undertaken to study my chess books one by one from front to back. I started with Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna by Emmanuel Neiman, a recommendation by IM John Bartholomew.

Of course playing is still the key. I played four games in February, all against players rated higher than my 1473. I managed a win against a 1560, a loss against a 1640, and draws against a 1615 and a 1660.

But most important of all, I am enjoying chess again.

I’ll leave you with Jewel doing her version of Brackett’s Simple Gifts.


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