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The question of how to improve your game is a tough question to answer for some players. The amount of chess knowledge and options available out there can easily become overwhelming for the unsuspecting player.
Should I solve puzzles and tactics problems? Should I read more chess books? Do I need to study opening theory? What about the endgame?
Questions like these aren't so easy to answer and in the end, you must find a way to correctly manage your time.
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In addition, there is no universal answer for such a question.
When GM Yasser Seirawan was prompted with the general question of how to get better he replied, "I don't really have the answers, so much as I can share the experiences I've had." But, In the end, it all depends on the level of the player and what they are struggling with. Though, all training programs should implement some sort of tactical exercises to improve calculation and game analysis to improve positional understanding of the game.
GM Yasser Seirawan
As for me, I can provide a basic template for chess improvement and share the way I jumped from 1846 to 2007 in less than half a year.
Some ways to improve your game are as follows (for players up to 2200):
1) Reconsider your opening choices/Broaden your repertoire
2) Study difficult calculation exercises
3) The "woodpecker method"
4) Basic positional knowledge
5) Game analysis
1. Reconsider your opening choices/Broaden your repertoire
This is an excellent way to quickly improve your game. Players must find their style and opening that corresponds to it. For example, someone who likes sharp, tactical play would prefer a KID or possibly a Leningrad Dutch as black. It would make no sense for the player to play a Benoni or Queens Indian Defense.
Though, there may be some point to this: broadening your repertoire can help improve understanding of the game and of different structures. Pawn structures determine the way the game is played and can not be overlooked. As Philidor said, "Pawns are the soul of chess."
But, for players <2200, it is advised to choose one opening and stick to it. This would allow for mastery of that opening and no holes in the repertoire. The only way to tell what structure or style you like is to play chess and see which games you lose the least!
2. Study difficult calculation exercises
Without calculation, you can't play chess! It's as simple as that. Even if you're a solid, positional player like Petrosian, calculation is still essential. So, if you let go of those skills, you let go of your rating. There is an abundance of exercises readily available to anyone with or without an internet connection. Many chess books are filled with hundreds or even thousands of exercises while the internet has an almost limitless supply of them. So hurry up and start solving!
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The two exercises below are extremely difficult and come from the book, The Woodpecker Method by Axel Smith and Hans Tikkanen which I highly recommend. Then, there is another exercise that comes from one of my own painful losses and is very doable. Sadly, I missed it in the game.
3. The "woodpecker method"
This idea first originated from the book Pump Up Your Rating by Axel Smith. The process is quite simple: solve as many tactical exercises as you want and then solve them again, and again, and again, until you have the exercises memorized. The exercises do not have to be nearly as complicated as the two above. They may be simple exercises that require just a little bit of calculation. Over time, repeatedly doing the same exercises will ingrain the patterns into your mind. This will help not only your chess but also your puzzle rush score!
Once you can solve the exercises very rapidly, then it is time to start the process over with new puzzles or find something else to study that it worth your time.
4. Basic Positional Knowledge
For anyone to excel in chess, they must have some knowledge of positional chess. This includes knowing where and when to employ pawn levers, when to trade to pieces, and devising a plan. To start with, anyone that doesn't know the fundamentals should read about it in order to not commit positional suicide.
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After that, gaining knowledge in positional chess mostly comes from experience and thoroughly analyzing your games, which is without a doubt the best way to improve your chess. But, you can do positional exercises and complete some strategy lessons on Chess.com. Also, you could go through annotated master games and try to make the moves yourself. This is an excellent way to excel your understanding as you are comparing your thoughts with those of masters immediately!
Listed below are a few exercises to get the ball rolling.
Annotations by Axel Smith
In addition, you may find it helpful to ask yourself questions throughout the game such as: where are the pawn levers?, what are the imbalances?, what candidate moves do I have?, what is my goal?, etc.
5. Game Analysis
This is the best way to improve your game. Like I said earlier, there is no concrete answer to how to improve at chess. It all depends on the player and their personal struggles. By deeply analyzing your own games, you can quickly find what is going wrong and fix it. I will share my process to how I analyze my own games.
First, I put in my own commentary and lines to the game with no engine. This will allow me to compare my thoughts to the engine's answers and other references such as annotated master games. Once I have done a thorough job, I turn on the engine. Analyzing with an engine is an extremely powerful tool but must be used intelligently. For example, some lines the engine suggest may not make any sense and a human may never play them. So, you must incorporate your own ideas with the engine's so they flow together.
After the final analysis is done, I create a list of mistakes. This is preferably done with a set of games played in the same time frame; such as tournaments. When the list is complete, there may be a category that stands out. For example, maybe I am overly cautious or losing in time trouble or not calculating deep enough. As soon as you figure out the biggest weakness, it is time to hone in on it and fix it. This method allows you to go through your games with a fine tooth comb and quickly improve. Below is an interesting game that I analyzed against Viktors Pupols.
Analyzing online blitz games may also be of help despite the tediousness. And it doesn't have to be in depth analysis (it shouldn't be as it is only blitz). It can be simply knowing what improvement to make in the opening or what tactic you missed. Over time, extra knowledge of your mistakes can really add up.
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In the end, improving at chess takes time and dedication. It is not something that will happen overnight. So start playing and analyzing and watch your rating soar!
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