I started playing chess long before the Internet or even computers were tools that could help you learn chess. Trainer GM Arthur Yusupov believes that you should set up every position on a board, and study it that way (he even puts this in the forward of most of his books).

Recently, I have been doing tactics on one of the various sites I belong to, and I found that it is way too easy to just move the pieces and guess at the answer compared to when I read a book, and have to really think about what the answer is.

Which is more a effective way of learning and why?

  • 2
    My experience is I reached a good level online from 18 to 25, but after that I learned more reading "How to reach in chess" from Albert O'Kelly than playing some much games undertimed. Even that, online tactic exercises for me have been esential to maintain my level at my 35 to go to the club and tourneys, something I can't do with a book.
    – user18196
    Nov 30, 2019 at 21:15
  • 3
    It's kind of comparable to taking notes with paper or with a computer in a lecture. Sure the computer is faster, but by virtue of being faster you tend to skip over some details. But some people find a computer works better for them. So I would say online learning / using books comes down to the person. Dec 1, 2019 at 1:33
  • In this video GM Wesley So youtu.be/oe_UtZudAY0?t=907, also suggests to use the board and pieces, and the main reason he gives that: this is how we see it in a tournament; I wonder if Yusupov had the same reasoning.
    – Akavall
    Dec 1, 2019 at 5:03

4 Answers 4


I have found that reading books makes one concentrate more, and the material is usually covered more in-depth. I think that the "in-depth" part of this is what is important. The explanations are usually much better, and geared toward learning something more permanently.

I find that my work on a famous chess site that you buy materials has been much more shallow. I can click, and it does not matter if I get it right since it shows me what I did wrong immediately. Instead, when I read a book, I really have to think hard since a book does not spit out the answer.

I also just found this Quora question, and the level of players answering is astoundingly high, and they all seem to agree that books are still the way to go.

  • 1
    Both as a lecturer at the uni and for myself as a learner I find that books are far more effective for learning. That said sometimes you need alternate ways to really reinforce what was being learned
    – yobamamama
    Dec 27, 2019 at 23:35

There are four major ways people learn-reading books, doing it for practice, hearing it explained, or watching demonstrations. Not everybody learns best with the same approach. The answer is that it depends. People can choose what method works best for them.

  • 3
    Please expound on what the four ways are. Dec 1, 2019 at 23:01
  • reading books , doing for practice, hearing it explained, watching demonstrations
    – edwina
    Dec 2, 2019 at 1:37

I also learned primarily from books. I think much more deeply when setting up a position and working through a book rather than online.


  • I feel that books are best for more positional or strategic learning where taking my time has the most benefit.

  • I use books when there is a specific aspect that I want to learn such as pawn structures or rook endings.


  • I prefer to do tactics online because I feel it is beneficial to do as many as possible rather than think deeply most of the time.
  • I do not learn from videos
  • I find online is a great way to have a chess coach or team as I do not live in a city and there is little chess community here.
  • When I don't know what I want to learn I like to look at online study guides to get ideas. Then sometimes I buy a book.

Additional Thoughts

Often people ask how to improve but to not say what kind of chess they want to improve at. If you are trying to improve at physical board play then it is more beneficial to have a physical board. How to improve at Blitz not the same as improving at Postal. If you only play online then only training online is fine, otherwise include some physical board study

  • 1
    I think the tactics online are not well-organized as they jump from theme to theme. I do believe in doing 50/day, no more than two minutes per problem, so I am partially in agreement with that. As far as an online coach, that is really different. Just because the work takes place via the Internet, it is really almost the same as having a coach in the same room. Dec 27, 2019 at 22:20
  • My point about a coach is specific to the benefit of being able to have a coach when there is no local coach. There was no coaching or team available where I grew up, no chess books at the library. With a chess tempo paid account it is possible to create problem sets by theme and rating. This worked very well for me. But then I decided it wasn't worth paying for. Dec 28, 2019 at 16:12
  • @PhishMaster -- mostly true. But I did find one site that grouped them by theme which makes them much more useful to learn from. Too many sites are just random puzzles which do not reinforce learning the key pattern in a type of tactic.
    – yobamamama
    Dec 28, 2019 at 17:58

Partly it depends upon your learning style, but also I'd note that part of the problem with the tactics site you mentioned isn't the computer. It's you.

Seriously, there's nothing stopping you from sitting and thinking about the position on the screen the same as with the position on a board. Nothing except you, that is. And in an age where more and more chess play will be online, it might be a good idea to use it to train yourself not to do that with positions on a screen.

Yusupov's rule is good; think about the position, figure the whole continuation out before you move, and if it takes you more than 10 minutes, either set it aside to come back to later or look up the solution. Just do that on the tactical site; if your personal style doesn't let you do that then yes, I'd say you shouldn't try using that kind of Internet site for anything other than entertainment. Doesn't mean it's bad; doesn't mean you're bad. Just means you two aren't suited to each other so you'd best agree to date other people (chess sites).

When it comes to learning chess, it's more important what you do than where (or how) you do it. build up a library of positions you understand, learn to recognize when that combination is lying under than thin coverlet waiting to be exposed. Understanding and pattern recognition are what's important, not the road you travelled to meet them.

I'm old school; I learn best when I'm holding the pieces in my hand, developing the muscle memory along with the chess memory. Shirov, OTOH, once said in an interview that he doesn't even own a chess set. I'd be a fool to say my way is better than his. I'm fairly certain I'd learn more from him in a hour without a board than he would from me if we spent all day at one.

For some people it's easier to recognize a pattern when they've trained themselves on it using the same kind of pieces as they would use in the game; they can even get thrown off by slight changes in design or size. Others could use silverware and condiment containers on a checkered tablecloth. Your best way forward is to learn what sort of learner you are, and leverage that. Maybe use some spare cycles here and there to expand your learning approaches, but in the main stick with what works for you. Less wasted energy that way.

  • 1
    And I have to agree that it is mostly me, but nevertheless, computers and smartphones have been proven to lower your concentration. Here is one link: news.utexas.edu/2017/06/26/… . Google this (computers smartphones lower concentration), and read. It may change your mind some about that part of your answer. For the record, I own a computer consulting company, so I am very comfortable using them. Dec 27, 2019 at 22:26
  • And one study said screens make it harder to read and to remember than using books.
    – yobamamama
    Dec 28, 2019 at 17:57
  • @PhishMaster That UT study meshes well with other brain observations (see the book "Brain Rules"). The underlying principle here is that brains do not retain what can be reacquired quickly. Phones being nearby would play into that, because they would have become the brain's first recourse, and constantly having to override that impulse could easily explain the concentration loss, whether the overrding rose to the conscious level or was merely part of the brain's process. Interesting control group for that study would have been non-smartphone users, see if the presence of a phone affected them.
    – Arlen
    Dec 30, 2019 at 15:05

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