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I've decided to become a better chess player. I play every day online and sometimes with my friends offline as well. I've also started to study openings.

It is very difficult to get the right direction of study. What way should I move to progress in my play? What is the "path" of learning chess?

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The Path is dependent on how strong you already are as well. –  xaisoft Feb 14 '13 at 20:59
    
Not strong at all. I don't even quite understand how do you measure strength. –  Roman Feb 14 '13 at 21:47
    
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@BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft - That question is partially related. It specifically geared towards openings, but I did notice some of the answers are not just about openings, so I would say it is not highly related, but partially. This question is more broad than the one you cited. –  xaisoft Feb 15 '13 at 6:57
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5 Answers

up vote 27 down vote accepted

Avoid the trap of studying openings, they don't improve your game. Say, at most 10% of your training time before you start making IM norms. They can be addictive and maybe even improve your results in the short term, but in the long term they just don't improve your chess playing.

The basis of improvement: playing serious, slow games (say at least half an hour on the clock) against decent opponents, afterwards if possible exchange thoughts about the game with your opponent (go through the game again). Then, before you forget them, write down as much as you remember about your thoughts during the game. Why did you play moves, but also why didn't you play others. Which moves of him surprised you. Then, go over the game again and check your thoughts. Was the line you were afraid of when you didn't play that move really so dangerous? That attack looked good, wasn't there a way to win? And so on. Find your mistakes, and don't make them again.

Play through well-annotated grandmaster games.

Learn how to win endings where you're material up, or draw them even when you're material down.

Train tactics on Chesstempo.com.

Play real tournaments over the board.

Once you're of sufficient strength (1600-1700ish over the board), start working through Yusupov's orange books. They have hard exercises covering a wide range of subjects you need to get good at. But that's probably for later.

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Great advice as always. –  xaisoft Feb 14 '13 at 20:58
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Now if only I could learn to take my own advice... –  RemcoGerlich Feb 14 '13 at 21:06
    
What do you mean by "10% of your training time before you start making IM norms"? –  detly Feb 14 '13 at 23:28
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He means don't waste time studying openings until you're practically an IM –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Feb 14 '13 at 23:32
    
"IM" is "International master" iirc. –  Seth Feb 15 '13 at 4:42
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There are many aspects to becoming a strong player.

One of the very best books to read is called "Think like a grandmaster" . You can find it at Amazon. It helps you how to think. Chess is about analysis, and this analysis is done in the mind. Hence if you know how to organize this thought process, you'll become more efficient and actually can analyze more positions in the same amount of time.

Another thing to do, is to get good book with good analysis. Like Fischer's my best 60 chess games, or Alekhine my best games, I mean a book that is annotated by the same strong player, and this way, you can see the thought they had when making moves.

And most importantly, play with players who are stronger than you. Losing teaches you a lot. Make sure you go over each game you played afterwords and try to learn why you lost, or even if you won, see if you might have missed better moves.

Getting good at chess is not easy (I mean to go over 2400 level or so), it is just hard work. Need to study a lot, read a lot, and practice a lot, and have some natural talent for the game. But make sure you are having fun doing it, else it is not worth it.

Update

Just noticed that an important information is missing in this question. What is the level of the player here?

Advice to someone at 1500 wanting to improve to 1800 will be different from someone 1800 wanting to improve to 2200 level, and that will be different from someone at 2200 wanting to improve to 2400 and so on. For example, someone at 2200 level who wants to get to 2400 level, they have to spend more time on studying openings, more end game positions, play more games in stronger level international tournaments but may be spend less time on tactics since this is something they should have good handle on at this level. While someone still at 1500 level, the situation is different.

So hard to give one generic advice without knowing what level the player is at now.

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I am a beginner just like you, so I will give advice from my perspective on some of the things that have helped me.

  1. Don't get too carried away with learning openings. Focus more on learning opening principles/fundamentals such as controlling the center, developing your pieces, castling early, etc
  2. Practice tactics at chesstempo.com. I don't do this as often as I should as I don't have time, but if you do, it will help.
  3. Don't get frustrated if you lose. Go back and look at where you made the mistake(s) and try not to repeat them. You most likely will repeat them, but over time, your mistakes will lessen.
  4. Take your time with each move. A lot of things I notice beginners do is they move really fast even if they have plenty of time left on their clock. I am guilty of this. I noticed that this is the biggest cause of blunders for me which usually result in me losing. So take your time to look at the whole board and think twice before your decide to make your move.
  5. There are many great books out there, I won't go into which ones are the best, I will just mention one that I found very useful even though it goes over some of the basics at first and that book was Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess.
  6. Subscribe to some great chess channels, especially found on YouTube. I find the user MatoJelic especially makes great videos and annotates them very well.
  7. Check out the Novice Nook columns by Dan Heisman. If you happen to have a subscription to ICC, you can watch his Improve Your Chess videos.
  8. Last but not least, PLAY PLAY and PLAY. You mentioned in your post and keep playing. Remember to keep have fun doing it, don't get frustrated and try to learn from every game.
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+1 for #5. Read it when very young, continue to re-read every couple of years. Just about everyone can stand to review fundamentals. –  Justin C Feb 15 '13 at 19:35
    
@JustinC - Yes, I have found myself re-reading it as well. It is a very nice read. –  xaisoft Feb 15 '13 at 20:00
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Go to your local USCF club. Join and play. This will get you a rating and introduce you to other players. Once your strength is known perhaps you can get a instructor. Your instructor will be able to spot your weaknesses and help you overcome them far quicker than you can do this yourself.

edit - As per the comment below, $40 to join the USCF, less if you ask them for options. Beginner's gear is $50 (example, ymmv, no affiliation, etc etc) and will likely be completely adequate for years. Then there are state memberships, etc. It's a racket to be sure but in the scheme of things... chess is a cheap hobby.

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Joining can be rather expensive, but this is certainly good advice. –  Seth Feb 15 '13 at 4:43
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An adult membership is $40/year to join but less if you don't get the magazine. Hardly a show-stopper for someone determined to get better at the game. Decent (enough) equipment will soak up another $50, but that's a one-time expense. But isn't the point of hobbies is to get rid of excess cash. ;-) –  Tony Ennis Feb 16 '13 at 15:41
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Studying should be combined with over the board competitions. Compete over the board on a regular basis, at least one tournament with normal time controls (90 min / 40 moves + 30 min / rest of the game with 30 seconds increment per move) every three months. Compete and evaluate your games after the tournament is completed. Begin by studying endgames (king vs king, king+knight vs king+knight, king+rook vs king+rook, king+queen vs king+queen). Practice combinations, e.g. typical mating combinations like Bxh7 followed by Ng5 and Qh5. Read books on positional play (e.g. My System by Nimzowitsch). When studying openings, try to learn one system at the time, and mimic a grandmaster that you admire. Accumulate ideas in that particular opening system and apply them in your games. Yet, studying has to go hand in hand with regular competitions over the board. Learn and apply, that is the rule of thumb.

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