The 5 Best Ways to Get Better at Chess

How to get better at chessChess is a competitive game and those who play it like to win. But it’s not always so easy when your opponent is hell-bent on winning too. If you want to win more games, more tournaments, more prizes and perhaps become a titled player, you need to be constantly improving.

But how? It’s a running joke that many chess players spend more time asking “what should I do to get better at chess” than they do actually training! And with the seemingly infinite number of suggestions out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and never actually start.

Now first off let me say that doing anything is better than doing nothing. If you want to practice the Knight’s tour daily, it’s not going to harm your chess… but your time could be spent better elsewhere.

The purpose of this post is to give you the 5 best (most efficient) ways to get better at chess. Don’t expect any massive secrets – you’ve probably heard all of them before. But do know that, if you take action and spend your time on these 5 things, you’ll get better at chess much quicker than if you do anything else.

Ok, let’s begin:

1. Analyse your own games

No doubt about it, analysing your own games is the quickest way to get better at chess. I know this from personal experience but let’s listen to what Garry Kasparov has to say:

By strictly observing Botvinnik’s rule regarding the thorough analysis of one’s own games, with the years I have come to realize that this provides the foundation for the continuous development of chess mastery.

Why is analysis of your own games so effective?

  1. You’re practicising all the skills you need in a real game. Sure, you can take more time and you can take moves back. You can see what works, what doesn’t and work your way back to find out why. But everything you notice will be something that will help you in your future games.
  2. You learn all about your personal strengths and weaknesses including mistakes that you consistently make. If you notice that you often start an attack without proper preparation or you underestimate your opponent’s Queenside pressure, these are things you can work on. On the flipside,if you notice that you tend to come out on top in complicated tactical positions, you might purposefully choose sharper moves in your games.
  3. You’re learning more about the positions you actually find yourself in. If you play the Sicilian Defence exclusively, you’re going to get a better return from your training looking at those positions than, say, Caro-Kann formations.
  4. You’re studying a whole game – not just the opening, middlegame or endgame – and learning something new about each phase.

2. Practice, practice, practice.

This means playing more games. How many you play is a personal decision but, if you want to get better at chess as quickly as possible, I recommend playing as many games as you can at 100% concentration. For some people this might be 1 a week; for others it might be 10. The number doesn’t matter so much, everyone is different. What is important is you are putting in your very best effort for every move of every game (or, at least, aiming for this ideal).

Referring back to point #1, analysing your own games, it’s best not to play more games than you have time to analyse. Get the balance right and you’ll have a beautiful cycle of study and practice, constantly eliminating weaknesses, building on your strengths and testing your strength on the battlefield.

A note: blitz games don’t count, bullet games don’t count, chess variant games don’t count. Not if your aim is to get better at classical chess, anyway.

3. Study the endgame

No, don’t run away! It’s not that scary, I promise! It’s fair to say a lot of chess players find the endgame boring and I understand why. Learning theoretical endings can be tedious. But I’m not talking about that (although there are a number that you really do need to know).

I’m talking about practical endgames, which normally revolve around promoting a pawn, winning material or perhaps even delivering mate.

“In order to improve your game, you must study the endgame before everything else,  for whereas the endings can be studied and mastered by themselves, the middle game and the opening must be studied in relation to the endgame” – Jose Raul Capablanca

By analysing some famous endgames, you’ll learn a ton of surprising tactics (the endgame is full of them), game-winning strategies and, perhaps most importantly, how to coordinate your pieces. It stands to reason that if you can’t handle 3 pieces well, you’re not going to do great with 16!

You’ll also add to your ‘database’ of pattern recognition. A simple example being if your opponent has an isolated pawn, you know you can trade pieces, attack the pawn, force their King to stay defending it while you march your own pawns to promotion.

4. Train tactics

Nearly all chess decisions involve some level of calculation and improving this skill is perhaps the fastest way to get better at chess. So why have I put this at #4? Mainly because all of the above involve practicing calculation anyway!

The major benefit of training tactics on their own is to save time. If you’ve only got 10 minutes spare, you haven’t got enough time to do the 3 recommendations above – but you can solve a few tactics.

I really recommend solving tactics daily, even if it’s only a few. Every day off blunts your tactical ability. And make sure you give it 100% – no guessing, no “this looks ok”. Calculate everything, look for the strongest responses and try to find problems with your move. When you’re sure you’ve found the right idea, play it. Of course, this applies to your thinking during games too.

Want to solve some tactics now? Click here and solve the 500+ on this site!

5. Healthy body, healthy mind – exercise!

I almost left this off as it’s not strictly chess related – but it makes such a huge difference to your performance, it would be wrong not to mention it.

Chess requires concentration and a lot of tiring mental work. You need energy, you need to be getting oxygen to your brain and exercise is the way to improve this. It’s no coincidence that top-level chess, despite not being a physical sport as such, is dominated by young, healthy players.

Avoid heavy meals before playing, take a walk, stretch, do some deep breathing. These are things most people can do regardless of physical shape. Of course, the fitter you are, the more you do, the greater the benefit.

You’ll stay alert longer and find it’s your opponents who blunder on move 40 instead of you.

So there you go – the top 5 ways to get better at chess. Sure, you’ll hear a million others: read this or that book, study openings, analyse a complex position for 20 minutes and so on. But if you want the biggest bang for your buck, do the above.

Make a commitment to yourself, decide what you’re going to do to get better at chess and how often. Keep it realistic – very few people can manage 3 hours a day. Perhaps you can only commit to 2 study sessions of 1 hour each per week. That’s fine. Steady progress is better than doing nothing (and trying to do too much usually ends up as doing nothing).

Good luck with your chess improvement!




The 6 Types of Chess Player – Which one are you?

Yuri_AverbakhYuri Averbakh, Russian GM, author, endgame expert and currently the world’s oldest living GM at 93 (!), revealed in a 1997 interview in New in Chess that he placed chess players into 6 categories.

Here they are with his description of each and the names of some famous examples (as given by Yuri).

  1. The Killers – “players who are, figuratively speaking, trying to kill their opponent. As a rule, the main definition of a killer is a man who was raised without a father.”
    1. Fischer
    2. Botvinnik
    3. Korchnoi
  2. The Fighters – “They try to win with all means, but it’s not necessary to kill. ”
    1. Kasparov
    2. Bronstein (“He tries to pose as an artist. Maybe he has something of the artist but his main strength is that of the fighter.”)
  3. The Sportsmen – “For them chess is a sport like any other kind of sport. They are normal people, but when they play it is for them just like any other sport.”
    1. Spassky
    2. Keres
    3. Capablanca
  4. The Gamblers – “He wants to play any game.”
    1. Karpov
  5. The Artist – “For whom not only the result is important.”
    1. Simagin
    2. Rossolimo
    3. Zukertort
  6. The Expolorer
    1. Averbakh
    2. Nimzowitsch
    3. Rubinstein
    4. Fine

” Of course, not everyone fits just in one category. For instance, Tal had something of both the fighter and the artist. Karpov and Kasparov also have some killer characteristics, but not as strongly as Botvinnik.”

Endgame Study 73: Capablanca – Conde

White to play and win.



(Answer ↓↓↓)






(Answer ↓↓↓)


There are many ways to win but all involve the theme of pawn breakthroughs (see our article on King & Pawn Endgames) and 2 passed pawns. White can always deal with the Black passed pawn on d4. In the game, Capablanca played  39. b4! axb4 40. a5 Kc7 and then created a passed pawn on the Kingside with 41. g5 fxg5 42. fxg5 hxg5 43. hxg5 b3 44. Kd3 Kd7 45. g6 fxg6 46. fxg6 1-0


Capablanca Interview 1925: Chess as Art

(This interview was published in New York World, 25 October 1925.)

‘Chess is not merely a game nor a mental training, but a social attainment, in the opinion of José Raúl Capablanca of Cuba, the world’s chess champion, who stopped off in New York a few hours between boats recently on his way from Havana to Moscow, where he will participate in the International Chess Masters’ Tournament, opening 5 November, under the auspices of the Soviet Government.

“Chess”, said Capablanca, “is more than a game or a mental training. It is a distinct attainment. I have always regarded the playing of chess and the accomplishment of a good game as an art, and something to be admired no less than an artist’s canvas or the product of a sculptor’s chisel. Chess is a mental diversion rather than a game. It is both artistic and scientific.”

Discussing the progress of chess in America, Capablanca said:

“Chess was greatly injured in the United States when two of its foremost players, many years ago, were credited with having been driven insane because of their absorption in the game. There was not a word of truth as to either of these men, yet the propaganda became so widespread and your newspapers made so much of it that the man or woman who took up chess came to be regarded as a little ‘strange’.

I often have had men and women of otherwise fine intelligence actually ask me if I did not fear I would lose my reason by continuing to play the game. It seems a fixed idea among many Americans that facility or expertness in the game indicates some mental disorder.”

Winning the world’s championship in chess has its handicaps, Capablanca admitted, for often periods of two years have elapsed in which he has not moved a chessman for the simple reason there was no-one within four or five thousand miles with whom he might play.

Climate, Capablanca said, has more to do with creating chessplayers than any other factor. He regards himself as an “accident” in the chess world, as, he asserts, tropical or semi-tropical countries seldom produce a chessplayer.

“I began playing chess when four years old”, he said. “I can’t say that I played it with any intelligence, but I played it. One has to begin very young in order to make any headway.”


capablancaThe world’s chess champion is now 37. He is in appearance eight to ten years younger than that.

England, he thinks, produces excellent chessplayers because of its peculiarly raw climate, which drives men into indoor pursuits. He said that one year, when in London, playing with Members of Parliament and of the House of Lords, he noted not less than 300 members of the British Upper and Lower Houses and of the King’s Bench who played chess, and played it well. At that time, he added, he frequently played with Andrew Bonar Law, British Prime Minister in 1922-23.

Capablanca was asked if there were not limits to the number of plays possible in chess.

“Such a thing as a limit is so remote”, he replied, “that to my mind it would require at least 50 years for two or three extremely gifted players to be able to master the intricacies of the game to such an extent as to make it practically impossible for one of these two or three men to beat the other. I should say that it is next to impossible, if not actually so, for one single individual to master the game so as to be perfect. No one, so far, has been able to avoid mistakes in chess.”

One of the interesting revelations made by the champion is that he does not make a habit of polishing up on the game or studying moves in advance of a game. He does not, he said, intend to play any game on his way to Russia. He plays only when he sits down to a board against an adversary, he added, and obtains his chief pleasure from playing in seeing if he cannot, at the right moment, make the right play to win.

“Just as an artist would make the right stroke of his brush at the right moment and in the proper manner to complete his canvas”, is the way Capablanca describes this.

Russia and the Teutonic countries, Capablanca asserted, produce excellent chessplayers, by reason of their colder climate, while France has never yielded to the game to any great extent.

Informed that since the Soviets have come into power in Russia the character of the chessmen has been made proletarian, and that anvils have taken the place of pawns, while blacksmiths and gleaners have replaced the knights and bishops, Capablanca said:

“That might be for exhibition purposes, but I am confident that in Moscow we shall use the regular chessmen that are used throughout the world wherever chess is played.”

Capablanca, besides being world’s chess champion, is a real estate man of considerable note in Cuba, having large holdings in Havana, where he resides.’

The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played – Chernev

Publisher: Batsford             £15.99/$23.95         312 pages           


InstructiveGames1First published in 1965, Irving Chernev’s book has become a classic in the field of annotated games. Now Batsford bring us an algebraic edition to make the book more accessible to further generations.

The author, born Russian but a nationalised American, presents 62 games played by the greats of the game from Steinitz to Fischer, each with an instructive theme. These include demonstrations of how to play with the Bishop pair (Game 20: Rosenthal – Steinitz, 1873), weak colour complexes (Game 38: Bernstein – Mieses, 1904 amongst others) and creating and supporting a passed pawn (Game 9: Fischer – Berliner, 1960). This is a real treasure trove of positional and endgame play in particular.

Let me start with Chernev’s style of instruction. His annotations favour explanations with words rather than multiple variations, although short lines are used to explain tactical points.

In the following position from the famous Capablanca – Tartakower, 1924 game, Chernev writes:


CapaTart“Now comes a brilliant continuation which Capablanca must have planned many moves before. In a simplified ending, where Pawns are worth their weight in gold, he gives away two Pawns! Moreover, he lets Black capture them with check!

35. Kg3!

The King is heading for f6, a square from where he can assist the Rook in mating threats, and also help the passed Pawn take those last three steps.”

This is the sort of plan which might not occur to someone who hasn’t seen it before but will stay with them forever when they have. One of my competitive OTB games last year was won using this very idea, letting some Pawns go in order to advance my King and shepherd a Pawn home.

Some of the game commentaries may seem obvious but I feel they are useful, for instance, in the following diagram, Chernev writes:

TarrThob“29. Ke3! This move accomplishes a great deal.

  1. The King protects the pawn, freeing the Rook for active duty.
  2. The King is brought closer to the center.
  3. Black’s Rook, blockader of the Pawn, is forced to retreat.
  4. The passed pawn will be able to advance.”


All obvious enough but by stating the benefits of the move, the reader is aware of its logic and what he should be doing to achieve his aims. This awareness can be used in more long-term planning in his own games.

The games are very well chosen, they are excellent examples of the various themes. Here’s a look at Game 39: Steinitz – Sellman, 1885.

SteinitzSellmanChernev writes: “16. Be3! This move, seizing control of the black squares, marks the beginning of White’s positional attack.

White plans to win the game by taking possession of the most important squares in sight, eventually leaving his opponent without a single playable move.”


A few moves later…


SteinitzSellman2“23. Na5! The Knight has taken five moves to get to a5, a square at the edge of the board, but there is method to Steinitz’s madness. The Knight is bound for c6, to kill off the King’s Bishop.”





SteinitzSellman3“30. Bf2! This Bishop has been idle for quite a while, but it is now ready to go to work on the black squares. Its first threat is 31. Bh4, attacking the Rook which protects the Knight. This would win the exchange at least.”




and finally…

SteinitzSellman4“35. Bd6! Places Black in zugzwang. Let us look at the choice open to Black:

  1. The King may not move.
  2. The Bishop may move, only at the risk of instant capture.
  3. The Rook may move to b8, when 36. Rxd7 Kxd7 37. Bxb8 wins a piece for White.
  4. The Knight may move to b6 (not to f8, as 36. Re7 is mate) when 36. Re7+ Kf8 37. Nh7+ Kg8 38. Nf6+ Kf8 39. Rd7 is discovered check and mate.
  5. Capitulation – upon which Black decides.”

As a good portion of chess players buy books with the hope of improving their play, a game collection of “The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played” sounds very promising. Does it live up to its billing? Absolutely. The clear-cut strategies together with Chernev’s elucidations will soon become part of the reader’s understanding.

There has been slight criticism of this book by some who say that Chernev over-simplifies the games, suggesting the win was all down to a general principle which one side ignored and the other used. This is fair comment and the reader should bear in mind that there is often a stronger defence to be found. However, the real value in this book, and game collections in general, is in the ideas.

By absorbing the themes in this book, the reader is accumulating plans and methods of executing them. Then, in his own games, he can calculate the best way to realise his aims.

There are some errors in the book, of two types. Firstly, an incorrect move in the notes of Game 5: Rubinstein – Duras, 1908, after White has played 34. b7:

RubiDur“With the threat of winning by 55 Rh8+followed by Queening the Pawn”.

The original book does not make a mistake here: “With the threat of winning by 35 R-R8ch followed by Queening the Pawn.”

Of course, it is obvious what is meant and this was the only example of this that jumped out at me.


The second type is some errors in the analysis, which were also in the original. In Game 3: Boleslavsky – Lisitsin, this position occurs:


BoleLisBlack plays 24…Qh6 and Chernev notes: “If 24…Qxg3 25 Rd2 leaves Black curiously helpless against the threat of Rg2 winning the Queen.”

However, on 25 Rd2? Black has …Bh6! 26 Rg2? Rc1+ 27 Qxc1 Qxg2.

The reason Black can’t play 24…Qxg3 is the simple 25 Rh3 winning the Queen.

Whether the analysis errors should have been corrected is open to debate. I have seen some comments (with regard to other books) saying that such corrections have detracted from the lesson being given, although I don’t think that would apply in this instance.

I have had an old copy of this book for many years and have always enjoyed the games and Irving Chernev’s writing. The book is invaluable for the ideas contained within and should be a part of every player’s library. In terms of player strength it is suitable for, I would say everybody up to 1700 strength will gain hugely from these examples and I would be surprised if stronger players didn’t also find plenty that they had not seen before.

Even a chess improver with severe time constraints can play through a game from this book a day and learn a great deal in a couple of months. If you haven’t got this book already, take this opportunity to get a real classic in algebraic format.

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