During an actual over the board game, I can be very concentrated. It's almost as if I feel things like the danger an uncastled king is in, and it matters that I find the very best move.

But when I try to improve my chess at home alone with the board and the pieces, and do some exercise positions from a book, the feeling just isn't there. I look very superficially, my mind wanders, I have tunnel vision, and taking more time doesn't lead to more ideas.

What's a good way to improve my concentration level during training?

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    Are you asking about 'you'? How can any of us know what works for you and what doesn't? Might I recommend you modify your question to ask how people in general improve their ability to concentrate? – user34445 Jan 1 '17 at 1:58
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    I think it has a lot to do with our whole day activity. When I was working whole day on a garden, I had no problem enjoying chess training for hours then. But when I code computer program for many hours, I just don't enjoy giving my mind another difficult task and I am distracted immediately. I'm not sure it is bad that your body says no to whole day mind work. This is my case. – hoacin Jan 1 '17 at 12:37

The first thing I would try is to simulate game conditions when doing your training exercises.

Set up a real board with a real clock and simulate playing conditions - quiet, no TV, no music, maybe some low ambient noise at most. Give yourself an arbitrary amount of time on the clock to complete the exercise - say, 3 minutes for easy exercises, 10 minutes for difficult ones, whatever - and have at it.

The fact that you train means you do not have a motivation problem. Your problem is in execution, so change the way you execute your training and experiment on that end.

Good Luck.


If you have a demanding job, studying in the evenings can be difficult. You can even have the feeling that your brain simply says, "No".

Personal Productivity Stack Exchange has many questions related to concentration, and many of the answers there should be relevant to chess training:

  • Using the pomodoro technique: divide tasks or study session into sequences of intervals of roughly 25 minutes. Take a break after each 25-minute interval. This is one "pomodoro". Take a longer break after four pomodoros. (I'm just covering the basics of the technique here, obviously. One of the questions that mentions the pomodoro technique is My thoughts distract me, how do I keep my focus?.)
  • If your mind still keeps wandering in spite of this technique, there are two things you can consider:
    • Meditation. (I haven't tried it myself, but it is often mentioned on Personal Productivity SE.)
    • Some vigorous exercise before a study session or during a longer break. (See also How to quickly restore concentration?, which is actually about restoring concentration after an interruption, but the answers are more generally applicable.)
  • Make sure that you get enough sleep. In addition, you can also take a nap before a study session.
  • Some people find it helpful to visualize goals to maintain motivation. Alexander Heyne (on YouTube) proposes a different approach to goals; see his videos on goal setting & outcome goals versus habit tracking (and process goals): Why goal setting DOESN'T WORK (and what does) and Stop Setting Goals - Stack Your Habits. He does not talk about chess study, but his ideas should also work for this.
  • If concentration is still difficult in spite of all of the above, don't keep "banging your head against the wall". If you repeatedly force yourself to keep on studying in spite of being tired, you can create negative associations with studying chess.

One can see more over the board than in the quiet of one's study.

Source: Attributed to Nikolai Krogius in The wisest things ever said about chess, by Andrew Soltis.

We can see that this is a common problem. We need to find what motivates you to study and find a solution to helping you achieve that.

I personally am motivated by:

  • Material that is fun for me. My favourite openings, games by favourite players, endgame play etc.
  • Studying a topic when I've been beaten in a game by having that weakness exploited. For example, Bobby Fischer swallowed a book on pawn endgames after blundering in one
  • If I am able to combine both, then that is even better

I accomplish these by making my own videos on the areas that I would like to study. If my concentration drops whilst making a video, then I have to go back and remake the video.


It sounds very much like your problem is the same one students have a couple of months before their exams. Googling it seems that their study drug of choice is something called Modafinil with somewhere between 20% and 25% of students at some British universities supposedly using it to help them study in the weeks leading up to their exams.

There is some published research which suggests it might help.

RESULTS: Improvements under modafinil were seen on spatial working memory, planning and decision making at the most difficult levels, as well as visual pattern recognition memory following delay. Subjective ratings of enjoyment of task performance were significantly greater under modafinil compared with placebo, but mood ratings overall were not affected. The effects of modafinil on creativity were inconsistent and did not reach statistical significance.

CONCLUSIONS: Modafinil reliably enhanced task enjoyment and performance on several cognitive tests of planning and working memory, but did not improve paired associates learning. The findings confirm that modafinil can enhance aspects of highly demanding cognitive performance in non-sleep deprived individuals. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled 'Cognitive Enhancers'.

But you should note that Modafinil is on the list of FIDE banned substances along with amphetamines (including ADHD drugs like Ritalin and Adderall), ephedrine (common in over the counter nasal decongestants - a few years ago a Scottish skier lost his Olympic bronze medal due to use of a nasal spray he bought in a pharmacy), caffeine and codeine.

Personally I'm a bit skeptical. If you woke up in the morning and took one of these and immediately opened your book of rook and pawn endgames then it might work. But if you logged on to an online chess site and started playing blitz you might be stuck there for 8 hours! Oh, wait, that second scenario happens all the time (or at least until it's time for lunch).

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