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Friday, September 21, 2012

Chess Study: What is Correct?

I see a lot of advice about what, when, where, and how much to study chess. This advice is flung around like the Sunday laundry on every chess site and forum I’m a part of. Of course, if we wish to improve we *should* study, and that does raise the empirical questions: How? What? When? How much?

It’s a cycle, really, and it never seems to end. So, I’ll throw in my two cents.

I do not have a FIDE title and I’m not even a USCF expert, but I don’t believe one needs to be a powerhouse in chess to know the answer to the above questions. I think a good, healthy dose of common sense can get us quite far, both in chess and in life.

1. What should I study?

Well, I think it’s crucial for each player to assess their own play and get an idea, however hazy, where they are weakest. Do you lose a lot of games out of the opening? Do you have zero endgame skill? Maybe you rush through middle games and end up with really bad positions? Whatever your weakness, it’s probably easier than you think it is to recognize them and strengthen those areas.

2. When should I study?

This one is easy: Whenever you have time! Take a chess book with you to the doctor’s office, watch video lectures in the evening instead of a TV show, play through your own games with a critical eye and then an engine to see where mistakes are made, etcetera. Each person’s own life situations will dictate when they can study.

3. Where should I study?

This one seems simple, but maybe it isn’t. Should you study at the PC? Should you study on a board with a book open in front of you? Should you buy chess DVDs and study that way? Should you hire a coach and do what he/she tells you? The options are almost infinite, and I believe it’s up to each person to determine how they learn best. I was dealt a good helping of ADHD and so book study for me is trying; I far prefer videos, and the information sticks deeper. Try each method – see which one is best for YOU!

4. How much should I study?

Again, this is largely going to depend on YOU, and how quickly and how much YOU would like to learn and improve. See the trend, here?  If you get bored and space off after an hour of study, then you should study for one hour at a time. If you really love delving into a good chess book and working through the positions and variations all day on Saturday, then you should study like that. If you hate studying chess and would rather play bullet and fast blitz, then do that; just don’t complain when your rating and skill level never increases.

So, you see, ladies and gents, it is MY opinion that each student and lover of chess will require something different to get the maximum benefits. I guarantee you that I can get more out of a quality thirty-minute video than I can from a full hour of book study most of the time. I learn well that way, and so I tailor my study habits to reflect that.

Play a few long games, whether OTB or on the Internet, then take a critical look at them and decide where you most often go wrong. Then, study that part of the game! It really is that easy, folks.