My Chess Study Plan

Jan 2017 EDIT: See this post for a summary of my current chess plan.

In the summer of 2013, at the age of 43, I took up chess as a hobby. One of my main aims was to play a regular game at a local chess club. I knew I would have to spend some time studying chess, since I had no more than a basic grasp of the main rules. Earlier I described how I floundered about trying to find study material and a study method. What I did in the first twelve to fifteen months just did not work.

As so often in life, it was not one thing that made the way clear, but a combination of a few.

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I had stumbled across GM Nigel Davies’ chess training site, Tiger Chess. At the time I still thought the path to being a better chess player lay via studying openings and I bought GM Davies’ Building an Opening Repertoire video course. Reading forums suggests most beginners share this view. It is a view that I no longer have, but more on that later. It is ironic that my search for a killer opening repertoire, led me to a teacher who would reveal that opening study is completely overrated for anyone under Master level.

The second thing was an approach to life I had been reading and thinking about. I wanted to reduce the number of things I did, had and were involved in. Whether you want to call it minimalism, essentialism, or some other name, the principle is the same. Find the few things that matter to you, focus on them, aim to master them, and discard the rest. The more I thought about this as an approach to life, the more it became clear that I could also apply it to each aspect of my life, including chess.

The final thing is that I got the occasional good result in my over the board games. Some of the flood of information I had exposed myself to over the previous year or so had obviously stuck. My results were – and still are – inconsistent, but there were signs that I had moved on from being an absolute beginner.

These three things converged toward the end of 2014 and over the Christmas holiday I spent time thinking about how to create a new study plan for chess. It took some refining and I am sure there will be more refinements as I move along, but I believe I am on the right path now. Here is the outline of the plan, which covers the next six to twelve months.

The cornerstone of the plan is endgame study. I spend most of my chess study time on the endgame. Second is tactics. This consists of practice, practice and more practice. Third is opening study. I follow the Tiger Chess Building an Opening Repertoire course. That course unexpectedly also forms the core of the fourth aspect, strategy. I top it up with the strategy course and monthly clinic videos on the same site. The last aspect is playing – you’ll never get any rating, never mind a title, if you do not play over the board chess. I have stopped playing online, as it will expose me to the temptation to play wasteful 10 minute games. I play for a club where I get a weekly over the board game.

The plan is conventional insofar as the five aspects are probably what you would expect them to be. It may be more unconventional insofar as the weight and priority I give to each aspect. In the next few posts I will talk about each of the aspects of the plan in more detail, including my plans beyond the next six to twelve months.

I feel confident in this chess study plan, but as with all plans, it is only as good as it is used and delivered. And that is up to me to do.

35 thoughts on “My Chess Study Plan

  • 17th March 2015 at 10:30 pm

    Good luck on your chess journey, and I hope you’ll enjoy the trip 🙂

  • 19th March 2015 at 3:00 pm

    you got mentioned on a thread on GJ.

    welcome to the chess improvement community! I’m 42 BTW, so hopefully we discover that real improvement in the 40’s is possible; even though its undoubtably difficult.

    • 19th March 2015 at 4:17 pm

      Hi Jason. Great, I’ll see if I can find the thread.
      Yes, age is not our friend. However, I don’t think it is the massive limitation people seem to think it is, either. The main obstacle for me is time. Work does have a nasty habit of getting in the way of my hobby! Good luck with your own improvement too.

  • 8th April 2015 at 3:07 am

    Do you have a USCF rating? No offense but I don’t think you need to study openings. You just need the basic ideas and some main lines of the opening you want to play. I think this sufficient enough for people under master level which is 2200.

  • 8th April 2015 at 3:09 am

    Never mind I just saw the 1495 thing. My rating is 1550 USCF. The only reason I got from 1450-1550 in one tournament is because of my training plan.
    I find tactics and positional chess to be the most important thing to study. You might want to look at my blog on Chessattackman’s Training Plan.

  • 8th May 2015 at 1:40 am

    I don’t think that you can get by with not studying your opening choice very deeply. In this age of Stockfish 6, it is too easy for opponents to prepare against your inadequate opening lines. Know your opening better than anyone you will play. Know it forward, backward and inside-out. Your plans will flow, your recognition will save time, tactical themes will become more readily apparent. When an opponent makes a questionable/dubious move, alarms will go off in your head. Most importantly, you will come to the board with a collection of plans…a guiding thread.

    Of course, you can just dabble with an opening and suffer losses that you might otherwise circumvent through deep study of both the strategic and tactical themes of your opening choice, not to mention typical endgames that result from said opening. Studying master games in your opening selection is crucial…good, annotated and illustrated games which highlight what the player should be aiming for. You can’t sit at the board without ideas and typical game plans at your disposal. It is the surest recipe for a loss.

    Tactical training: select 1000-1500 tactical puzzles from actual games and do the entire set over and over until you can solve the whole battery in one days time…then select another battery and begin again. Positional training: compile a database of important master games or illustrative positions (like the Positional Chess Handbook) that highlight individual concepts like exchange sacrifices, backward pawns, hanging pawns and color complexes. Repetition…repetition…repetition. Pawn Structure Chess (soltis) and any other books that examine typical pawn formations have been the most instructive that I have ever read. A master must know what to do with the pawns in many different situations.

    I too am 45. I have been playing “on and off” for 17 years…uscf 1595, but the last otb was a 2250 (4/4) performance and I picked up ~100 rating points that year. That was 8 years ago. Chessmaniac elo estimator puts me at 2050-2100 level, which I think is correct. I study tactics “at least” 6-10 hours per day (currently 2046 elo on tactical battery). I am currently doing “deep” study of Larsen’s Opening and Reti’s opening, along with transpositions to Bird and Catalan formations. I am a hypermodernist it seems, but g3/b3/Nf3 just all makes sense to me and I like being an opening alchemist. 1. Nf3 can reach any number of positions…flexibility being key, especially in holding back the d-pawn until the time is right.

    I am lucky to be able to study/play for 24 hours a day if I choose. I am divorced with no children and I work alone…I also work 7 and 7, so there really is no excuse not make it to a high level, which for me would be Fide Master (2300) or at least CM/National Master USCF (2200). I recently decided that the starting and stopping has to end and I need to see what is possible over the next 15 months before going to the World Open next year (U1600). Lots of tactical puzzles between now and then…about 30,000. That is a lot, but my positional sense is pretty good, having played closed openings exclusively (never e4) since the beginning (Logical Chess by Chernev was a first, along with Chess Praxis by Nimzowitsch). I strive to combine the hyper-awareness of Petrosian with the tactical sense of Kasparov…if there is such an amalgamation of coexistence. I will be very strong tactically by this time next year. It is hard, aggravating work, but watching Kasparov’s “My Story”, one cannot help but be inspired/seduced by the world of tactics (especially in the Najdorf). He could get away with elementary opening knowledge before the advent of computers, but today’s chess players all have super grandmasters at their fingertips.

    Just my two cents. I don’t think that opening study should be avoided when properly annotated and illustrated by master players. Rote memorization without explanation is one thing but the former is much more than that. Banter blitz with strong players is another important resource. Fun listening to GM’s think out loud as they play 3-5 minute games, especially Maxim Dlugy.

  • 12th May 2015 at 1:59 am

    One thing that I think you should seriously consider is getting yourself a one-on-one coach. I can’t believe the dividends this is paying for me. So much so, I’ve gone from one session every other week to two sessions per week. Not only do you have a second, much more experienced voice, to discuss chess stuff with, but the difference an outside perspective can make is incredible. Each time I’ve though, “I should be doing X,” my coach has told me, “no, do Y!” The more expensive coaches, who have quite a bit of pedagogical know-how will have lesson plans already constructed, and the best will be able to quickly construct a plan for you. However, if you are like me, and not looking to spend $400 per week on a coach, you can look into cheaper coaches who can help analyze games with you, help point out strategic mistakes, etc. I can point you in the direction of GM Miroslav Miljkovic, who does single-hour sessions for $20 and two-hour sessions for $70. One of his students, Arjun Thomas, who’s rated about 1700, made a huge leap this past week, beating two masters and drawing a third. He’s a good coach who invests in you, but you’ll have to be proactive in telling him what you want to work on, and then he’ll make suggestions along the way.

    One thing that came to my mind, when reading your bit about not playing online, is the fact that blitz games permit you to see thousands of new and unique positions in a very short time. Maybe you play lots of blitz in the club, but I’d imagine it’s more convenient to play online.

    I completely agree with you about openings.

    I’m looking forward to your other pages. Cheers!

  • 15th May 2015 at 8:13 am

    I have been thinking about getting a coach. At the moment I feel there is a chunk of work I need to do myself to prove I can rely on myself and not defer the thought process to someone else. There is a risk of getting lazy and using a coach as a crutch. Of course the benefits probably outweigh the risks, but I feel I have much groundwork to do first. Once I get over that initial ‘low fruit’ period (I guess in the next year or so), it is my plan to get a coach.

    • 15th May 2015 at 1:09 pm

      It’s been my experience that a coach has kept me honest. In fact, I feel the social pressure from the other person to bring my A-game to coaching sessions, in addition to thinking about making the expenditure of money worth it.

  • 15th May 2015 at 5:48 pm

    I’ve learned so much from your website!! I just started to learn chess a few days ago. Good luck on your journey to beome CM!

  • 23rd July 2015 at 6:12 pm

    I like your spirit. All the best to you!!

  • 12th October 2015 at 6:03 am

    I’m 41 and I like this idea very much. My rating at its best was probably south of 1650, and then I gave up the game for a long time, which was inevitable, and probably necessary, but unfortunate.

    I would like to know how much time do you plan on putting into this daily/weekly?

    • 12th October 2015 at 9:11 am

      Hi. I aim to put in 2 to 3 hours a day, but rarely does it work out that way. Weekdays (other than Wednesday, which is game-day and therefore takes up around 3-4 hours between playing and then analysing) I spend between 30 minutes and 3 hours, but I probably average 90 minutes. If I am really pressed for time, I do at least 5 or so tactics, or maybe one endgame lesson, just to keep chess in my mind. When I have the luxury of time, as I did yesterday (Sunday), then I can spend 4 or 5 hours on chess. The amount of time is of course important, but I have found that of more importance is how you spend that time. Make sure you know exactly what the most important thing is you want to study and what exactly the next step is, so that when you have only 5 or 10 minutes, you use them in the most productive way.

  • 8th November 2015 at 8:56 pm

    good luck

    if you really try you can become uscf expert
    maybe even national master but unlikely

    at this age becoming a fide master is impossible
    maybe 50 years ago
    but now with training materials that young minds absorb like a sponge you are up against an impossible goal

    • 9th November 2015 at 3:13 am

      You make a good point about young people having much more content available to them, and they are fully capable of soaking it up in a way that adults cannot. I was at a tournament this weekend in which 2 adult 1700 (USCF) players lost 4 of the first 6 games to kids rated 1100 and under.

      However, when it comes to the human spirit and the drive of passion, nothing, no matter how improbable, is impossible.


  • 10th January 2016 at 3:56 am

    For adults…TIME is THE number one problem. They simply cannot live like young child prodigies, who have everything taken care of for them…who can concentrate completely on chess (for 10 to 12 years), unhindered by adult responsibilities. If you had all the time that you needed, then it would simply be a matter of will. Then the question becomes one of time spent versus the highest elo you would like to achieve. The time element is the biggest obstacle I see for adults. If you could live like Fischer for five years…imagine what you could achieve with organized, studious, and deliberate practice. Maybe not GM, but certainly 2200 or 2300…given you are starting around 1700 – 1800 or so…you are only talking about 400 points, or 80 points per year (or about 7 points per month over 5 years). That type of progress seems doable for adults who have lots of time.

  • 14th November 2016 at 2:17 am

    I just came across your blog. This was an enjoyable post. We’re roughly the same age and I began dabbling with chess in my mid 30s, didn’t play very much for several years and only recently began pursuing it as a serious hobby (without any desire for title).

    Anyway, a couple of brief thoughts on your post.

    First, your comments on openings and endgames. I studied the Josh Waitzkin Academy in Chessmaster 10 and he makes the same points. Openings are important, of course, but many players overemphasize them. Rather, he encourages students to understand the principles behind openings rather than rote lines and place greater emphasis on endgames. Early in his career he beat many brilliant players that were heavily coached on openings but would fall when they had little idea what do afterward. Also, I’ve seen newer players utterly stumped when an opponent doesn’t play a classic line. They can’t go off script and have no idea what to do. I think you’ve got the right approach.

    I can also heartily agree with your desire to thin out the number of things you’re involved in. Perhaps it our particular chapter of life, but I also have been consciously deciding on focusing on fewer things to greater depth…and much greater enjoyment!

    All the best to you. I subscribed and look forward to following your journey.

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