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How to Improve at Chess – Part 6

We’ve already discussed the big tips in the five previous posts on this topic; please go back and have a look (if you haven’t read them already). But there’s more to come. While the remaining tips are arguably less important than the “big five”, they’re still pretty important regardless.

I’ve been involved in the “business” end of chess since the early 1990’s and I’ve seen certain scenarios repeat themselves time and time again. One of these involves the player who is new to chess and goes crazy buying “chess stuff”. He maxes out his credit card buying stacks of books and software, and even splurges on very expensive chess equipment, before he really even knows whether or not he wants to pursue chess as an active hobby.

Worse yet is the player who spends buckets of ducats on chess books and software, but never goes much beyond finishing the installation process or cracking a cover and reading a book’s introduction.

That brings us to today’s tip:

6. When you spend money on instructional materials, use them!

And as a corollary, use them properly — don’t put a book or a ChessBase disk under your pillow at night and expect to absorb the information by some strange osmosis.

Be aware that the typical chess book is (in page length) often the size of a novel, but that such a book will take you much longer to read than will a “normal” book of comparable length. My copy of Richard Reti’s Masters of the Chessboard is 436 pages long and, as I recall, took me about three or four months to work through — and I was reading it every day. Even a relatively “light” book like Bruce Pandolfini’s Principles of the New Chess took me a solid week; my son Sam has spent the last month reading at least a page or two of Chernev & Reinfeld’s Winning Chess every day and , looking at the bookmark, he’s just shy of halfway finished. I’ve seen novice players at chess tournaments walk out of the book room with a stack of fifteen or twenty newly-purchased books; assuming that the majority of these were instructional (rather than entertainment) volumes (and the player isn’t going to “blitz” through them in a cursory manner), that’s easily more than a year’s worth of chess study.

Electronic chess books (such as the previously mentioned ChessBase 3-CD set Basic Principles of Chess Strategy or Intensive Tactics Course) can be even more deceptive. Those works I just mentioned look like a little stack of four CDs, but are in reality massive works — Intensive Tactics Course alone contains more than 4000 tactics problems.

Chess DVDs are equally deceptive. A running time of three hours makes it sound like you can just breeze through the material in an easy afternoon. But you’ll typically want to view them one section or topic at a time, and even then it may take multiple viewings to fully absorb the material.

I’ve talked to (far too) many chessplayers over the years who buy a chessplaying program and just play a very occasional game against it — and never use the software’s game analysis functions at all (never mind the database, training features, or myriad other interesting and valuable features). That’s a real tragedy, because those analysis features are pretty close to being an “around the clock GM” at your beck and call.

There’s really a dual point to today’s tip. First, nobody ever became a great chessplayer just by “throwing money at the problem”. The Master or Grandmaster title isn’t awarded based on how much money somebody spent on books and software. Second, when you do purchase chess literature or chess software, use what you buy! It’s far more beneficial to purchase a few chess instructional materials and use them thoroughly before buying more than it is to burn up your credit card buying the metaphorical “boatload of stuff” and leave it sitting on a shelf untouched (or on a hard drive unused).

Please understand that I’m not trying to discourage anybody from purchasing chess instructional materials. Far from it — such materials are absolutely invaluable resources in the improvement of every chessplayer. My intent here is to encourage you to consider and purchase them responsibly. I’d much rather hear later from a customer who bought a few training materials and says they helped him improve his or her chess than hear later from somebody who went into serious hock to buy everything he could get his hands on, never used any of it very much, and regrets the expenditure.

6. When you spend money on instructional materials, use them!

And use them correctly. Take your time with them and don’t rush things. Reading a chess book or taking an electronic chess course isn’t a race to see how fast you can “get through” the material and move on to the next thing. Make sure you understand a game or lesson before moving on; if possible, it’s often a good idea to try what you’ve learned in a “test” game (either against a cooperative friend or against a chessplaying computer) before tackling the next section/lesson.

Chess books don’t stop at the end of Chapter One and a chess program’s usefulness is just beginning when the installation program ends — and sleeping with them under your pillow won’t make you a GM through osmosis; you’ll most likely just wake up with a stiff neck.

ChessCentral does offer quite a selection of chess books, eBooks, and chess software. For absolute beginners and players who know how the pieces move but aren’t quite sure how to proceed from that point, we recommend the Think Like a King training software.

Have fun! — Steve

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2 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ChessCentral. ChessCentral said: Another #chess improvement tip from #ChessCentral is now online! http://wp.me/pAdpb-5O […]

  2. […] How to Improve at Chess – Part 6 « ChessCentral's Blog […]

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