I'm currently making my first serious attempt to read a chess book. While I can generally follow and evaluate variations mentally if I can at least see the starting position in some diagram, I struggle after the variations continue beyond the page and I can no longer see a diagram from which the variation departed.

I can copy the diagram on a board or simply on my computer (and do not move the pieces), but I wonder whether I should. On the one hand, being forced to remember and visualize the diagram trains my visualization skill. On the other hand, I catch myself flipping the page quite a few times and I wonder if this distraction is worth the trouble. I certainly don't intend to play blindfold, so I will always have some chess position in front of me when I need it, at least.

Now that I think about it, I'm not even sure whether it is good that I do not play the variations out on a board or computer diagram: I might miss things that the book doesn't want to spend time on, or spend too much effort on skills I should not be training. I have no clue, really.

How can I determine what would work for me here? Are there any texts out there that cover this issue? The book itself doesn't give much suggestions on how to read the variations beyond thinking on your own before reading the suggestions in the book, which I do.

This question is related, but I'm not really looking for what is common, I am looking how I can determine what is good for me, or what chess teachers believe is a didactically effective approach. (based on reasoning or experience)

  • You know yourself. Why not just try a couple of things and see which is best for you? Personally, I do both. I don't use a board when I want to focus on the main ideas in a book. I do use a board when I want to look at in more depth (including looking at side variations which the book doesn't discuss). Aug 12, 2020 at 11:35
  • @JohnColeman Yes I know, and I'm doing that. But it is hard to evaluate self-study, and there are many things that can be tried out where there are nevertheless good practices that can inform these decisions. For example, I don't think people usually advise beginning chess players to try whether studying nothing but openings works for them. Aug 12, 2020 at 11:38
  • For opening books in particular I find that it helps to do both. First do with a board. Then at a later time reread a chapter without a board. I have found that this is a good way to cement the knowledge of a variation since reading it without a board forces you to exercise your memory more. Aug 12, 2020 at 11:44
  • @JohnColeman Perhaps I should have clarified I'm not reading an opening book. I'm reading a book about middlegame strategy, but I'm also interested in thoughts for other types of books. Aug 12, 2020 at 12:03

2 Answers 2


I can copy the diagram on a board or simply on my computer (and do not move the pieces), but I wonder whether I should.

It is very much worth while setting up a board and following the game on the board. But you should go beyond just passively playing out the moves on the board. You should stop after each move and actively consider what you would play next for each side. That will benefit you much more.

There is also the aspect of involving more of your 5 senses as I say in this answer to a different question.


Nimzovich recommended using two sets: One follows the actual game text, while you use the other for following the analysis -- this way you never lose the game position during analysis. In my youth I did this with a regular set for the main text, and a magnetic one for analysis. These days, if you're comfortable with computer boards, you can do with either multiple computer windows, or a PGN reader that allows direct entry of moves. Or any combination of electronic and physical boards.

Try several different approaches, see what feels comfortable to you. Even these days I prefer to have at least one set that resembles the sets I play tournament games on, but that's just me.

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