I want to spend between 1-2 hours/week practicing chess. I know that my skill will be severely limited by the time constraint. However, within this time constraint, where would my time be best spent? I obviously won't expect to challenge serious players and win (or even provide much of a challenge), so you can assume that all of my opponents are casual players as well.

For example, would my time be best spent playing AI's (so I don't have to wait for my opponent to make a move)? I'm not expecting an exact breakdown of what I should be doing, just some general advice.

6 Answers 6


Depends a bit on your level.

Assuming you are rather a beginner player, the best way to improve is by studying tactics/solving tactics puzzles. You can do this on many websites, which is quicker than doing it from a book and also most websites will present you puzzles suited to your level.

For a beginner I find chesstempo.com quite useful because after you solve a puzzle (or after you fail to solve), it will tell you the name of the tactical motif. Take note of these motifs, understand them and try to look for them when solving puzzles. Once you have stored a number of motifs in your brain, solving tactics puzzles will be much easier since you will not have to calculate move by move, but can think in patterns. Also chesstempo have a list of tactical motifs which you might want to consult.

As a second major topic you should learn general principals of play (e.g. develop pieces to active squares, occupy the center, king safety...) and perhaps a bit later positional motifs.

Opening theory is not very relevant for beginners, because in general it can only gives a small positional edge and most beginner games are decided by blundering a piece somewhere. Also for making use of openings you need to play opponents who also play theory, which is usually not the case with beginners. So don't waste your time with openings at this point in time.

And of course you should keep on playing games. Personally I'd rather play humans (online or over the board) than computers, but whatever suits you. Play games with longer time controls (10 min or more) in order to reduce the chance for blunders and to give you the opportunity to think about the position. For me lichess works best and has lots of features, but there are other options for playing online.

How to split time between studying and playing is up to you. After all you want to enjoy playing chess.


I would focus on tactics, and playing games. For example, do 15 minutes of some form of tactics trainer and then spend the rest of your time playing against other humans online. Every time you do an interesting tactic, make sure to take note of it so that you can do the same thing in similar positions later on. The emphasis is on tactics. Tactics lead to material advantages, which are much more static and concrete than positional play, which only gives a small edge and it is easy to lose the edge at your level. For information about tactical motifs, I refer you the chesstempo's site. Do not play against a computer. You should not be waiting for your opponent to move anyways, you should be thinking about the position.Play against other people on common online servers such as chess.com, lichess, chess24.

  • There is a problem with this approach in that if you get to an endgame, you are basically giving away points if you cannot press home the win because you lack the technical skill. you really need to include endgames.
    – Priyome
    Mar 8, 2017 at 16:54
  • yeah, I guess you're right. Knowing some basic endgames is useful. Mar 8, 2017 at 19:30

I would read "How to Beat Your Dad at Chess" first.

Step 2 would be able to verify that you know the following endings by heart:

  • Q versus lone King
  • R versus lone King
  • K+P versus K
  • K+2P versus K
  • BB versus K
  • The Lucena Position
  • The Philidor Position

Then practice tactics. I recommend the book "The Manual of Chess Combinations" by Sergey Ivaschenko, volumes 1a and 1b.


Capablanca says: “In order to improve your game, you must study the endgame before everything else, for whereas the endings can be studied and mastered by themselves, the middle game and the opening must be studied in relation to the endgame”

This is because to be able to judge a middlegame position, you need to know when it is advantageous to transition into an endgame.

"The Big Three"

1: Endgames 2: Tactics 3: Rudimentary openings

When you play, record your games, and review them with a stronger player. Fix your openings. Investigate strategic concepts as they come up in your middlegames (there will be many you are unfamiliar with). Play ideas, and don't get hung up on losing games. It happens, a lot.

You should forge ahead, then.


First look at a chess manual to learn the basics about strategy, openings and endings. It has been said that chess is 99% tactics (forks, pins, discovered attacks, etc.), so if you're only going to spend a limited amount of time studying, it would best be directed to those. This has to be combined with some play as well as subsequent analysis of your games to learn from your mistakes. This limited plan should more than suffice to make you competitive in a casual play environment.


Do you mean 1-2 hours/week in addition to playing, or including playing?

If including playing, I would suggest using most/all of your time playing. That's the most important thing, and you have so little time you can't afford to devote much of it to anything else.

Unfortunately, like you said, it will be tough to make much progress. Learning chess is a lot like learning a language. Imagine trying to learn a new language from scratch on 1 hour a week.

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