I currently play at around a 1600 level, and have stagnated in terms of rating improvements for quite some time.

I have always played chess recreationally, occasionally doing tactics puzzles here and there, but I've never done any professional studying.

I was wondering what the most effective way of improving my rating to 2000+ would be. If there are links to scientific research on the topic, I would appreciate it. Book recommendations would also be great. I'm mostly looking for a discussion about what exercises maximize your return on rating-- opening, tactics, positional understanding, end games, analyzing grand-master games, analyzing your own games, etc.

  • 2
    there is a curve for all of us, very hard to get out of it once reached, if you already reached it, don't expect to get very far from it. It is the sad truth, however I am happy with my level, as I am able to admire and understand most of the awesome moves played by GMs. Also, while trying to get better at chess is good, the important thing is to enjoy playing it (and you don't need to be 400+ points to enjoy it more)
    – ajax333221
    Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 4:42
  • 3
    That's such a fatalistic view-- the reason people plateau has everything to do with the fact that they're no longer pushing themselves. There's a good section on this in "Incognito: Secret Life of the Mind." People practice typing everyday, for example, but few improve their WPM even after years of typing. The reason is because they never change the way they practice-- they never force themselves to go beyond their level, and therefore remain in the plateau. It's nonsense to think half-assed attempts at playing chess recreationally has allowed you or I to reach our genetic pleateau. Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 17:11
  • 1
    In my comment I recognized you can indeed improve, but I said don't expect much improvement (e.g if you already played 2-3 years and you are an average player, no matter if you spend the rest of your life, you can't expect to get near grandmaster level). EDIT: but 400 points seems reasonable, maybe not in one year but still is a possible goal
    – ajax333221
    Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 18:34
  • 6
    @Parseltongue: It's one and a half years later, how much progress did you manage? Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 14:36
  • 9
    @Andrew I had completely forgot about this question! I have not yet competed in an official tournament, but I play club tournaments in Buenos Aires, where I currently live, and I have a 2050 provisional rating after several tournaments. So: to all the haters who said it was impossible, it's definitely not. And there was no "serious study" in between that period either. Just tactics, and memorizing some openings. Commented Mar 29, 2015 at 23:17

13 Answers 13


Gaining 400 points in a single year is not a reasonable goal for an adult playing at 1600. To do this, you will need to be +25 against your peers, where a peer is someone with the rating you have at the time the game is played.

That being said, if you're going to try it, the first step is to get an instructor. Your instructor will be able to identify the weakest parts of your game and help you shore those up. Since you want to end up at 2000, I'd recommend an instructor rated no less than 2200.

The maximum return will likely be on tactics. You'll need to be decent at two openings as white and two as black. Know the philosophy behind the openings - don't just memorize the moves.

  • 6
    What do you mean +25 against your peers? Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 17:09
  • 6
    I mean you must have 25 more wins than losses against your peers, where a peer is someone with the same rating. One acquires 16 rating points for such a win. 16*25 = 400.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 22:36
  • 10
    You definitely don't need two openings. I played 1.e4 as white and the french against e4 and the slav against 1 d4 for a long time before learning new openings. I didn't learn any other openings until I was already a master.
    – WorruB
    Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 13:36
  • 12
    @WorruB: French and Slav are two openings already for black. And after 1. e4, besides the French, which you then already know, it is likely that you end up with a Ruy Lopez or a Sicilian. To me it seems that counting 1. e4 as one opening is a bit of an underestimation.
    – Jester
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 8:56
  • 1
    A win against a "peer" awards 10 points though
    – David
    Commented Jun 9, 2021 at 9:33

I think you best shot is to play 200 rated games of G/60 or longer this year and seriously analyzed each game (like imagine if you analyzed each game for 1 hour plus, tried to find similar high level games, tried to find as many different plans in the position, etc) in addition to doing regular tactical exercises on chess.com trainer or some other good site (making sure to have figured out the "twists" before you get to them).

For most people playing / analyzing (not all one, not all the other) is the only practical way to improve. If you don't analyze you cannot really learn, but if you never play you get into a mode where you misjudge how hard positions are to really play.

Source: I improved my rating from 1600 to 2000 between October 2003 and January 2005 while being a full-time college student at a top 10 (the year I joined #1) university.

Caveat: I had never stagnated up until that point and didn't begin playing tournaments until I was already 18 years old. Doing a quick count I played "only" ~150 rated games in that period of time. I did start taking lessons from a strong IM (soon got his GM title) around when I broke 1850. I also had a club at school with a few masters I could regularly look at my games with.


OK, you can try with the best chess trainer, and the best chess trainer's name is Rybka. This is a software engine, of course, although other engine will be OK as well, their Elo in a normal computer is much more than 3000 points so any of them will be OK. But Rybka is the best one.

The method is as follows:

You have to use this as an arcade game, not only for solving questions, I'll try to explain it. When you are in a position, a chess engine can give you a quantitative information about all best possible movements, a very good method is trying to identify every of them, (or at least the best one) before passing to next step. When a person plays a normal game makes a lot of mistakes and doesn't learn about them.

An example... maybe you are in a position and the engine say to you the seven best moves

+4.5  .....
+1.2  .....
+1.1  .....
+0.9  .....
+0.8  ....
-0.2  ..
-1.7  .

That's important that you have to find the +4.5 without more help of engine, it gives you the information that you have a move to win +4.5 but your work is to find it. Maybe you try and find +0.9, ok, you go back and try again, like a video game, when you solve a level you can pass to the next one. (Well, after two hours working the position if the movement is impossible to find you're allowed to pass.) ;)

A much more nice method is mixing this one with a real game in live and working the position in real time with Rybka's help.

  • 2
    Interesting. I don't understand how you technically do it, can you please elaborate. So, let's say I start local game with computer(rybka) and go thru mainline opening. Then I start to look for the best moves on the board. Once I have a candidate move, I consult with the program, but I will automatically peek at the list of remaining best moves and they become known to me. Is there special mode or software that you could recommend ? Sorry for dummy question, but I really like to implement this idea in practice. Any help is appreciated.
    – kiruwka
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 11:59
  • Is this any different from doing 2400+ lichess tactics or using ChessTempo's (positional?) tactics or "guess the GM's move"? Commented Jun 9, 2021 at 8:19


Here is a guy, an adult in his 30's, with a full time job, who gained 700 rating points in 1 year, and will very likely go from a rating of 1000 to 2000 within 18 months. He is not anyone exceptionally talented, and he is not doing anything that anyone else cannot do at home with a few books and cheap computer software. He outlines his training methods in more than enough detail for you to replicate his success. Start with his old blog posts and read them in order if you are interested in replicating his method.

Pawn to Rook 4 Blog:


Here is another guy, a chess master, who outlines the training plan he used to become a master, in 12 videos for free. He says that anyone can do what he did, and after watching his videos, I agree.


Hiring a good coach can accelerate your success if you use him the right way. If your goal is rapid improvement, use the coach in ways that accelerate your training plan. For instance, have the coach analyze your games and provide feedback and recommendations of tasks that will directly result in you eliminating mistakes from your game. If the coach is interested in imposing his own study plan, it's probably too slow for your goal. Find the people who have done this and repeat what they did. Use a coach to accelerate your success, but do not rely on a coach. You have to do the work. You will need to be highly motivated and disciplined. There will be many days when you do not feel like studying or do not have time. Do it anyway.

And don't forget The Plan:

  • Decide what it is you want
  • Write that down
  • Make a plan
  • And...
  • Work on it.
  • Every.
  • Single.
  • Day.

You can do it.

  • 2
    To be clear: the player improved from a rating of 1000 to a rating of 1700 in a year, and was planning to use the last eigh months to push his rating to ~2000. From the way this response is written, it almost looks like it says that he went from 300 to 1000 in a year, which isn't really very impressive.
    – Scounged
    Commented Jun 26, 2016 at 1:05

I've never had a coach. A loose record of my progress over 6 years can be found on my chess.com link below.

Here's my answer: At 1600 you still blunder tactically. What's the use of knowing how to mate with two bishops when you are missing the knight fork 2 moves ahead? chesstempo.com offers free tactics training. It did quite a bit for me. The main difference between a 1600 and an 1800 player is that 1800 players blunder less tactically. Try to hit 1700-1800 tactical ranking at chesstempo.com

By 1700 one should know the opening basic principles and be able to play 6-7 opening moves without getting a bad position. A paid chess.com membership ($7/month) comes with video lectures, many of which go over openings (you can also do this with the chesstempo.com gold membership) I have both, but the chess.com video lectures work much better for me. At this stage you just need to know enough so you don't get killed right out of the opening - so that you get a chance to play chess in the middlegame. Once you get to 1800, repost here, I'll try to offer useful further insight.


2010 - 2012 1100-1400 - that just happened by itself... 1400-1500 - Tactics training, chesstempo.com, chess.com tactics trainer 1500-1600 - Tactics training, chesstempo.com, chess.com tactics trainer 1600-1700 - Tactics training, chesstempo.com, chess.com tactics trainer

2012-2014 1700-1800 - Tactics training, chesstempo.com, chess.com tactics trainer and being more careful

2014-2015 1800-1900 playing better in the opening, paying more attention to positional considerations and some improvement in tactics. 2016 1900-2000 playing even better in the opening - every move counts, paying more attention to positional considerations and some more improvement in tactics.


First, understand what the levels mean. A 1600 level means that a player can "get by" at the club level. A 2000 rating refers to an expert, or what I call a "near master." Those are two different worlds.

Study master games and learn how masters play, and especially how they think. Get an instructor to help you. You want to get out of the "club" rut and leave your current (1600) "peers" behind. So try not to play like them, but like the master players you are "associating" with (vicariously). You will take some beatings, but you will learn a lot.

One thing that separates top players from the merely good is the end game. As people go higher and higher, the differences in skill become less and less, and the endgame is where the small differences show up. A good grasp of the endgame will help your middle games to, because you will learn what kinds of positions to "aim for," instead of blindly trying to master the game move by move, and opponent by opponent, like some of the other posters advocate.

When you have "arrived" at 2000, you will not be a master, because you won't know all the details. But you should be able to do a pretty good simulation of one, that is someone who will overawe the 1900s and lower.


My IM instructor once told me that reading and mastering the single book "Modern Chess Strategy" by Pachmann was enough to raise my level to 2000. I was rated around 1700 and reached 1996 (FIDE) in a year or so. Obviously I needed help with my ending and he used the excellent endgame book by Shereshevsky.

  • I still say that the Pachman three-volume series is what made me a Master. Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 16:15

In spite of the literature that claims anyone can become a Master, I seriously doubt it. There are natural limitations. Not everyone is Capablanca, and no amount of studying/playing will change that. I can attest to that from my own situation. My initial rating in the late 1960's was 1759. I would periodically give up chess from lack of progress but start in again later. In the early 1980's through concerted effort/ study, I did approach 1900 (at 1891) but again stopped due to several life crises (divorce, loss of job and home, death of parents). When my life had stabilized I started in again in the early '90's, but my rating started to slowly sink. Old age and fatigue began to take their toll, and I found I could no longer calculate in depth after several hours of exhausting play, so I gave up the chase in 1995. My final rating - 1759, the same one I started with. Perhaps with expensive training I could have gotten to 2000, but I somehow doubt it. I suppose doubting it would have in and of itself prevented it, since supreme self-confidence is also a requisite, but I'll never know now.


400 Points in a year is pretty tough. I don’t think you should put yourself under unnecessary stress of achieving this goal within one year. Unlike others I don’t think it’s unrealistic to reach a 2000+ rating with a less stringent dead-line. A good coach would of course be great. I don’t know how easy it is to find a suitable coach though. I would recommend studying Nimzovich’s Chess Praxis, and reading some of Silman’s books especially “How to reassess your chess”.

Signing up at chess.com and watching instructional videos combined with using their chessmentor and tactics trainer should also be helpful.

Also aim to play a reasonable number of games and analyze them. Ideally with a stronger player from your club.

  • Even the "legend" Michael De La Maza needed more than a year (400 days, to be exact)
    – user3431
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 21:58

Well first off, if you have a lot of money to invest in a GM instructor you can surely go above 1600, but if you don't: don't let rating and score interfere. Starting a game and thinking about victory is not smart at all. Focus on your game-play instead.My friend (IM 2470) always says chess is 50% skill and 50% psychology. I see people here saying tactics, I'm going to tell you right away that is incorrect. For a decent 2000+ player you should work on all of your components:

-Have 2 openings with white and two with black - why? Because when you reach a certain level it's great to have a backup opening because your opponents will obviously prepare against you, and it's quite bad if you don't use the fact that you're white, just because your opponent has prepared for your always-the-same repertoire.

-Tactics-obviously an extremely important component, but, the point of working on your tactics is to remember different motives: you obviously won't have exact copies of the problems in your games, so motives are the ones who can help you greatly. That's why you need to use good tactics books with realistic problems, the ones that actually came from games.

-Work on what you're good at: many people say analyzing your games and looking for mistakes is smart, but, my short timed chess instructor taught me that you have to excel at a point in chess. E.g. if you're a positional player work on that! Make it even stronger!

-Discipline - every.single.day. if you just once say "I will skip today, but tomorrow I'll do double" it's all over, cause you're going to keep saying that again and again.

-Don't be picky with books- essentially any good recommended books will work, don't be like "I don't like this one so I won't do it."

-Work on all points of chess- for openings learn the plans and the moves (you won't figure them out by playing a lot, you have to learn them and then see if you can remember in-game), for endgames get a good books (I'd recommend Reuben Fine) and for middlegame- find a grandmaster who plays similarly to you(same openings, same style of play)- and analyze his/her games, I don't mean as in just go through them, but analyze them, figure out what each and every move is there for. :)


Study as if you were taking a university course.

Choose a lecture series. I recommend Naroditsky's (first) speedrun! 1

Apply various learning techniques while watching the "lecture" videos:

  • Watch one lecture video each day.
  • Pause and guess what move the instructor will play (especially in critical sections), and try to explain your reasons for the move.
  • Rewatch a video after some time interval (e.g. a week) and see if you can predict the moves the instructor will play, and with what reasoning. Bonus points if you apply the principle of spaced repetition and repeat the video after a longer time interval (e.g. a month).
  • Practice the concepts you learn from each video with a few games of your own, either against a human, or a (difficulty adjusted) computer from a particular type of position. Only watch the next video after you have successfully applied a concept.
  • Take notes. Perhaps create a lichess study and create a chapter for each important example/concept that you think would improve your chess.

Don't stop practicing your tactics, reviewing your basic opening repertoire (listudy), analyzing your games (with your own annotations!), and creating your own opening studies on your favorite openings/repertoire.

In total, you should be "studying" chess for an hour or two every day. Try not to "waste" too much time doing what you know doesn't work (e.g. playing a bunch of bullet games with no learning purpose in mind). It's OK to do that if it keeps you motivated and interested, but know that it does not really contribute to your learning.

1 That's how I went 1500->1900 on lichess within a few months. The specific choice of learning material can be different, but I recommend these videos since they are a great format and cover a wide breadth of practical real-time decision making concepts.


1600 to 2000? Although hard, it is possible IMHO. Especially if you're still young.

I am just below 2000; I always performed better after solving a bunch of tactical problems. I think TACTICS is the most important component to get you to your goal! For example, you may solve daily puzzles at chess.com

As you are getting stronger, other things like strategy, opening prep and endgame become more important.

Consistent work is important, do not have very long breaks. Better 30 min every day than 3.5 hours once a week. Although it may take more than 30 min/day to progress this quickly.

Definitely, review your own games and try to find common mistakes. Having someone stronger review your games will help, too. Having a coach of course helps but it better be a good one (if you can afford it).


To get something you really want, which in this case is to be rated over 2000, you need to work harder than everyone else is, or at least work harder than you normally do. Currently, I'm a 1750 player, and I got that rating in only four months since I was a 1600 player

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