Some time after returning from China I began thinking seriously about chess improvement again, and devised a simple study plan. It is my hope that the successful completion of this plan will result in my strength increasing by at least 100 points. It is based on two observations about my game:
- Despite having spent many hours over the course of this project thinking about and working on my openings, my opening repertoire is still a sorry thing, cobbled together from different sources over the years, often with little regard to how well a particular opening suits me stylistically. It is also full of holes, one early example of which can be seen below:
I’ve played 1…e5 all my life, but after 3. Nc3 in a tournament game I would be forced to start thinking.
- My endgame knowledge is extremely patchy. I recently purchased Silman’s Complete Endgame Course (excellent, by the way) and found that I didn’t even know everything presented in the ‘Class C’ (1400-1599 rating) section – knowledge that Silman thinks players rated 400-600 points lower than me should have.
The position above is an example of the famous ‘Philidor position’. Black to move draws easily with Rh6! I expect I have known this in the past, but I had forgotten, and would probably have played Rh1?! in a tournament game (after which it is still a draw with best play, but black must demonstrate some technique). (For anyone wondering, I did remember the even more fundamental ‘Lucena position’.)
These two observations led me to formulate the following three-step plan:
- Analyse all the serious games I have played in recent years, with a view to understanding which types of positions I play especially poorly and which types a little better. I took my method from this Chessbase article and the book Chess for Tigers (a book which has been recommended to me many times, and which I have finally got round to buying, and, even more remarkably, reading cover-to-cover several times).
- Devise a complete opening repertoire based on the results of stage 1, and learn it thoroughly.
- Obtain a thorough grounding in endgame theory by reading Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual in its entirety. Retain said grounding using a technique I will talk about in a future post. This step has now been modified slightly to include reading the Silman book mentioned above before Dvoretsky (more about this in another post).
Of course, my openings and endgame knowledge are not the only two areas of my game which could be improved. My calculation, positional understanding, and almost any other area you care to name leave much to be desired. However, I’ve chosen those two areas to start with because it’s easy to see how to improve them and I’m fairly confident that my plan to do so will have measurable results.
The first stage has already been completed, and saw me look through around 175 of my long time-control games and record my observations in a spreadsheet. It would certainly have been easier and I would have learned more if I had had a very strong player looking over my games with me, but even without that assistance I have gained one or two useful insights. Stages 2 and 3 can be completed in any order, and I have been dabbling with both. I am inclined now to focus on stage 3 until it is completed, before turning my full attention to stage 2.
Please let me know in the comments section what you think of my plan, but don’t be surprised if I disregard any suggestions to radically change it. I believe my main problem so far has not been my method of study, but rather my frequent changes of approach, which has led to me starting to study many areas/openings/books and finishing very few. I have learnt a thing or two about how not to get things done in the process, and my completion of the first stage makes me hopeful that this time I may be able to stick with the plan to the end.