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I am an amateur, 33 years old, never took chess lessons, never played in a tournament. Last year I rediscovered chess and I am trying to improve as much as possible by reading books, watching videos and playing correspondence chess online. There is a small possibility for me to play over the board or join a club at this moment.

So my question is: what's the best time control to play online in order to improve better? I feel that 15-30min is too fast and there are very few players who want to play bigger times online. I like correspondence but sometimes I forget (over night) a bit the feeling of the game, lose the ideas or other stuff..

I am reading a lot of books but I want to practice more... Thanks a lot!

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This question will receive more opinionated answers regarding the time control, I will answer in perspective of an advanced beginner Chess player. Since you have said you are a beginner and never played in a tournament before, I would suggest you to have 1 hour or 45mins + 45sec increment time control. This is because of my previous answer here: Do longer games better your chances of honing chess skills?. Additionally:

  1. When you engage yourself in a 1 hour time control chess game, you are not under any pressure to make moves without calculation and thus avoiding big blunders, this happens almost for everyone who has not played against opponents much.

  2. You are also open to various variations for a move, thus allowing to think at least 3-4 moves ahead of the next move(visualizing).


I like correspondence but sometimes I forget (over night) a bit the feeling of the game, lose the ideas or other stuff.

Yes, Correspondence games will tend you to lose track of your positions, tempo, tactics etc since it may take 1 or more than 1 day to make a move. Almost 20-30% of the time either me or my opponent will lose because of this, even though having an advantageous position. But my guess is Correspondence game is relative to your memory power.

But remember that you also need to concentrate on the skills by reading books, solving puzzles etc. Playing with opponents alone will not improve your game because online games are just application of your skills not development.

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Playing is not how you improve. Playing is how you demonstrate your skill. From a training point of view, playing a lot of games is more a less a waste of time compared to other training and study activities. Playing is fun, but if you want to improve you need to train. You need to decide: do I want to play and have fun, or do I want to work and improve?

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    As a beginner, playing slow, serious chess games is the fastest way to improve tactical vision, practice calculation and planning skills, etc. – limits Nov 17 '15 at 22:06
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    @overtheboard I totally disagree with your statement. I have a lot of experience teaching beginners, both adults and children, in both formal classroom settings and in a club setting. Playing games is the worst possible way to improve and moreover tends to lead to the novice forming bad habits. Any professional trainer will tell you the same thing. – Cecil De Vere Nov 17 '15 at 22:42
  • I agree with @CecilDeVere Playing is where you put your knowledge and skill to test. Train first and then play seems to help a lot even from my experience. – Keshav Nov 18 '15 at 4:55
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    In my experience playing tournament games against stronger opposition is one of the fastest way to improve. (Caveat: I'm not talking about 1200 vs 1400, more like 1600 vs 1800) I know several people who became quite strong, only by playing games, without much training in between. And I know from personal experience that there are things that you can learn by playing, which are very hard to acquire by training. To me it boils down to two points: Experience is important and the intensity of a 5 hour game is very hard to match in a training session. – BlindKungFuMaster Nov 18 '15 at 10:08
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    I simply think that you are dead wrong on this one. Actually playing is essential to improving. Studying is important, but it cannot substitute the practice one gets from playing in difficult games where everything doesn't go according to one's plans. Chess isn't just about what you know beforehand. You cannot possibly know everything, so sometimes, you will get caught by surprise. And not being mentally prepared for that will unavoidably induce mistakes. – Scounged Nov 19 '15 at 18:54
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Well, it seems there's a bit of a controversy going on here.

One group of people seem to think that the experience of playing can actually teach you new ideas, and that's how you can best improve. There's certainly pedagogical research that says a sizeable portion of students learn much better by doing than by observing/listening/reading/viewing. But that's not true for all students.

Another group seems to think that training (presumably regimented instruction) is the way to improve, and that playing undermines that. The aforementioned research states that this is true for a different segment of students, the ones who prefer that style of learning.

There's a Third Way (and probably a Fourth...) of considering the question, though.

Almost every coach with whom I've talked, or whose publications I've read, advocates using play to improve because:

  1. It is the primary diagnostic tool for figuring out what the player is doing wrong or doesn't know, and

  2. It reinforces the concepts already learned in the instruction

You'll notice that they're not saying that you should play games and try to take notes afterwards on the good new stuff you found in them.

It's just that, in their experience, you can't improve very well solely from instruction. You need to practice, and to be tested. Your mistakes are the evidence of areas you need to improve. Playing reinforces newly-learned material, and highlights when it hasn't been properly assimilated.

And incidentally, I've learned plenty of new ideas and maneuvers over the board; it'd be amazing if you never saw any in your games, and surprising if you didn't notice at least some of them. In some cases, during a game I struggled to find an idea, and failing to do so, was inspired to look for the theory and examples afterwards, using some games from a database. That's something I wouldn't have done without having the experience of needing something I couldn't come up with while playing the game. So "play as instruction" has certainly applied to me.

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