Most club players get stuck at a certain level and stop improving. They repeat the same chess training methods again and again – stagnation caused by routine. Hence, the following 3 chess tips might come handy to rethink old, antiquated chess training habits. Let’s have a look:
Improve Your Defensive Abilities
Let’s start on our chess tips with a little anecdote: The former World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik once published a chess DVD in which he retraced his career from a talented young chess player to finally beat Garry Kasparov in a World Chess Championship Match in 2000. In this DVD, he talks about a crucial game he played against Anatoly Karpov in the 1990s which made him understand the main difference between Super-Grandmasters with 2700+ ELO and normal Chess Grandmasters – the ability to defend bad positions. Kramnik completely outplayed Karpov in this game. He reached a position in which he expected to any regular Grandmaster to collapse and resign in the next 4-5 moves. Not so Anatoly Karpov. Karpov defended like a lion and played a series of only moves until Kramnik finally lost the believe to win the game. The game ended in a draw. Kramnik, being a rising star at that time, learned his lesson.
Club player’s Defensive Skills
The complete opposite applies to most club players – their defensive skills are usually extremely weak. Of course, every chess player likes to attack and to play comfortable positions in which the opponent has no counterchances at all. Once they are on the defensive, however, they struggle to put up as much resistance as possible and often lose worse positions in a few moves. Why is that? Here are some key aspects about defense in chess:
- First and foremost, attacking is easier than defending. When you’re attacking, you can mostly focus on your own ideas and plans. When you’re defending, you always have to react to your opponent’s moves and ideas. This is what makes defending a lot harder than attacking – you can’t really focus on your own ideas, but have to pay a lot more attention to your opponent’s intentions.
- It is highly important to constantly ask yourself the question: “What is my opponent’s idea?”. Not asking it will be a blockade to becoming good at defending bad positions. However, it is an extremely tough task for many chess players to care about the opponent’s plans, to play prophylactical moves and to anticipate their opponent’s ideas.
- A key element of defense in chess is the concept of the only move. There are positions in which you have to play a series of only moves to not lose on the spot. There are different techniques to find these only moves. One of these techniques is the concept of elimination. If you only have three candidate moves and two of them lose on the spot whilst the third one has unclear consequences, you can immediately play this move. This concept helps you to make a decision and to save valuable time on the clock.
- There is an old saying that goes “Attack is the best defense”. Being on the defensive does not necessarily mean that you have to defend passively. There are many positions in which you should seize your chance and defend actively. Or in the words of the famous chess coach GM Jacob Aagaard: “Just because we are on the defensive, we should not be blind to reacting actively.”
- Knowing how to defend properly will not just save you from painful defeats – it will also get you more wins! Many attacks are simply too ambitious and the attacker will do anything to keep the attack going – hold on and you will find yourself up a load of material with a winning position.
- In attack, many club players are too optimistic. In defense, in contrast, many players are too pessimistic. If you’re capable to change this, you will have a big advantage over your opponents.
Play Strong Tournaments
There is a famous quote by Anatoly Karpov which goes: “Chess is everything: art, science and sport.” Although this statement is undoubtedly true, it is important to know that these three characteristics of the game are not equally important in different situations.
When you’re at home, searching for an opening novelty with a strong chess engine, your database and the latest chess books and chess DVDs, you are more like a scientist than a sportsman. When you solve a beautiful chess puzzle or spot a brilliant combination, you might feel like an artist. But when you are sitting at the board for 5 hours or longer, playing a tense fighting game, you are – above all – a sportsman. You need to get training in playing against strong opposition.
You need to understand that chess improvement primarily involves these situations in which you perform as a sportsman at the chess board. Chess is competitive. Hence, it is of paramount importance for chess improvement to constantly get this playing experience where you can try to get the maximum out of you.
Look for opportunities to play against stronger chess players. One of the best chess tips for club players is to start a tournament as an underdog and try to bite other players. The games against stronger opposition allow you to evaluate your training progress, to identify your weaknesses and to better focus on certain aspects of the game which need improvement. In analogy, it is the same in other sports. If a tennis player only plays weaker opponents and does not have the chance to use his full potential, he won’t be ready to compete with the strongest opponents around in important games. Consequently, it is not always wise to take the easy way. You also need to have these tough experiences and exhausting challenges in order to get to the next level and to become a better chess player.
Solve Chess Studies
There are few things which let us better understand that chess is art than solving chess studies. Well-composed chess studies – there are several great composers of chess studies like Leonid Kubbel or Genrikh Kasparian – are aesthetically beautiful. On top of that, solving studies is a brilliant chess training method for chess improvement. Solving Studies is one of the best chess tips for club players and very helpful for chess improvement for several reasons:
- First of all, solving studies (and also tough chess puzzles) simulates the decision-making process we are frequently confronted with in our games at the chess board. Training decision making is important because you need this skill over the board.
- Secondly, the solution to a chess study does not lie on the surface. Studies force you to concentrate – a poorly developed skill of many people in today’s times – not only at the chess board.
- Chess studies help you to recognize your opponent’s resources. Well composed studies not only force you to spot the correct idea, but also to discover defensive resources for the other side and to optimize your idea. Hence, solving studies is a brilliant chess training method to develop a sense for your opponent’s counterchances.
- Study-solving helps you to improve your creativity and imagination. On solving studies, you need to find complex tactical motifs. This skill is extremely helpful in real games. Most club players are able to spot easy tactical motifs like pins or forks. However, only few chess players have to combinational vision to spot some subtle complex ideas which do not lie on the surface of the position.
- Study-solving is an excellent method to improve your visualization skills. Many chess studies force you to calculate long variations in order to find the solution. During this process, you always need to visualize the position after several moves in your head.
- Finally, a good thing about solving chess studies is that you can do this on the go – in trains, in busses or in waiting rooms. Due to the fact that solving a study takes you more time than solving a series of easy chess puzzles, you don’t need to carry that many exercises with you. You have the chance to try to remember the position of the study and solve it blind. Training your blindfold abilities strongly helps you to visualize variations in your head and to improve the clarity with which you see a certain position in your head.
On the right, you can find an instructive chess study (composed by Leonid Kubbel) which you can try to solve. You’ll find the solution at the end of this article.
Conclusion – Chess Tips for Club Players
It is always important to keep in mind the words of Jacob Aagaard, one of the world’s best chess coaches:
“Remember, improvement lies beyond your comfort zone. When something is difficult, offering you resistance, it is frustrating and at times even painful. When you feel this way, please use this as a trigger to know that you are improving.”
Many chess players don’t listen to chess tips from experienced masters. They take the easy way and only train the aspects of the game they like. They solve many easy chess exercises, play through nice attacking games and take part in tournaments where they are able to score many points. Still, chess improvement is only possible if you also train things which you’re uncomfortable with. Hence, we presented 3 chess tips which include exactly these training methods many club players stay away from – defense, strong tournament and chess studies.
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Solution to the Chess Study:
White holds the draw with 1.Rc4+! Kf3 2.Rxh4 g2 3.Rh3+! Kf4 (3…Kf2 4.Rh2 and White can eliminate the pawn in the next move. Black’s king can’t enter the second rank.) 4.Rh4+ Kf5 5.Rh5+(Many chess players would stop here and assume that White can simply give checks. However, chess studies teach you to always look for your opponent’s counterchances. After 5…Kf6, the move 6.Rh6+! would be a mistake due to 6…Bg6-+.) 5…Kf6 6.Rh1!! If Black takes the rook, it’s stalemate.