I've been playing chess for quite a while now, but I still consider myself a beginner. I play with friends most of the time. Now I want to get better so I bougth a tactics book (Yusupov: Build up your chess - The fundamentals). But I'm wondering how to study the book efficiently.

In the book itself, Yusupov recommends to set up every position and play them through on a chessboard. I imagine I could also use a software for that. Is there any software, that is particularly suitable? That let's me set up the position (maybe even save it) and then play through all the variations given?

And generally speaking: what is your approach, to studying a chess tactics book? How do you work with a book like "Yusupov - Build up your chess"?

Any help is appreciated :)

  • Don't hurry with study, tactical books are hard to study, a book for year studied good, is more more better than 12 books on year studied with computer. – Ghita Tomoiaga May 26 '15 at 13:29

If you can solve straight from the diagram then do that. Otherwise it's more effective for over the board play to set up the positions on a real chess board. By moving the pieces you train your unconscious mind to recognise the patterns. Of course if you play online only then using software to do it will be better. And play through the variations too, sometimes the most important ideas will be in the variations.

Well for starters I advise you to try out Daniel King's Power Play series, it helped me take my chess to the next level at the time.

Also, rule number 1 when learning anything about chess. Never do it on a PC or something that's not physical... Always, always, always have a real chess board when practicing tactics and end game... Openings are more about memorizing so it can be done without a real chess board, but even then I still prefer a real board.

There's of course a reason for this... Having physical contact with the pieces has a bigger impact on your mind, it helps learn and even memorize certain aspects of the tactic. This is of course also scientific, having an actual physical contact with things has a much bigger impact than something that isn't. If you ever download the Daniel King series (he's an english GM) he will also advise the same thing :)


However, it would obviously be a waste if you didn't learn something from the book you have! So first off, don't expect this to end fast, this will take time... unlike learning from a teacher or someone who speaks... Learning chess from a book takes time.

First off you will need to take your time and understand every single move, one of the hardest things to learn from chess books are tactics... Those have a lot of annotations and many variations (especially if you look at some rook lifting tactics, f4 pawn push, h4 push etc...). After you are done with the first chapter in the book, if you completely understand what's going on, you will most likely handle the rest fine if you take it at a good pace. Rushing things won't get you anywhere so take your time.

If you have any further questions feel free to ask, I'll answer to the best of my abilities.

A good endgame book to learn from is Domination in 2,545 Endgame Studies By Kasparyan... I bought the book and I can tell you, it's a piece of gold.

  • For a beginner, setting everything up on a board is fine. But as you get better, this starts to be a waste of time. It is not unusual for top players to not even own a board, they do all their chess work on a computer. – BlindKungFuMaster Mar 4 '15 at 15:02
  • That's IM to GM level... The moment you hit, obviously settings things up everytime on a board is a waste of time. But since he's not on that level yet it is best to do it like this. But yea, IM to GM levels don't bother... I am Master level and beaten 2 masters and played against GM and I still use a real board. So from experience IM+ only to use no real board, that is my opinion. – Chessbrain Mar 4 '15 at 15:05

First, I would like to say that the book you got is actually not really a tactics book. It is much more than that. It has chapters on opening play, on positional topics, on endgames and, yes, also many on tactics. I really like the book and I feel that working through it has helped me a lot.

Essentially, Yusupov gives you all the advice you're asking for:

1) play through all the variations on a board and try to understand all the ideas in them.

The book is very well structured so in many cases there are really not too many things going on simultaneously, at least in the earlier chapters. It is certainly a good idea to try and see whether you can even solve the examples that are used to explain the concepts. At least spending a couple of minutes on each before looking at the proposed solution and the variations may help you to pick up the main points more quickly. On the other hand, if you are not at all familiar with the concepts that are taught in a chapter, this may not make too much sense.

2) solve the exercises without moving the pieces and write down all necessary variations, only then check and compare with the solutions. If you cannot make progress without moving pieces, then try with moving pieces for a couple more minutes.

I feel that this writing-down process has really helped me to find more defensive option of my opponent. Also, whenever I got really stuck on one of the exercises, it was because I had either missed an important idea or I had stopped calculation of a variation too early without being able to assess it properly. Both give you a more or less direct push into a direction for improvement.

I am not sure it really has to be a real board. When I am traveling, I often use an ipad for this as it is simply more flexible. I feel that I have not too much trouble moving back and forth between this and a real board. In particular, if you use functionality for saving and replaying variations you need to be careful to really look at each move and understand its purpose. It can be rather tempting to simply play the animation and look at the fireworks on the board without understanding what happens. While this will consume valuable chess training time, it will likely not lead to a substantial chess improvement.

A final, suggestion from myself would be not to rush it. Take your time really working through the book. I actually went over it a couple of times, redoing the exercises. Since there are 12 per chapter I have not fully memorized them, so in many cases I still have to find the solutions. Sometimes it then happens that I remember that the move I just found is actually correct. I then force myself to really check all different variations as I would have to in a real game.

Yusupov's book (series) while excellent, is not a tactics book (series). When I hear "Tactics Book" I think of books like Maxim Blokh's utterly fantastic "The Art Of Combination" or any of the series from Russian Chess House "Manual Of Chess Combinations," where you have a position and a side to move and an expected result (Black to play and draw, for example).

In the case of Yusupov, yes. Set up a board and play over all the moves. An old book of Nimzovich's taught me to use 2 boards, in fact. Use one tournament-sized board for the actual continuation, and a smaller magnetic pocket set for the variations. That way if I get distracted by something I see I can follow it out on the pocket set without losing my place in the actual continuation on the "main" board.

(And I'd recommend a real board, at least for the main one, unless you only play on a computer screen in online games. Using a tournament quality board helps accustom your eyes to finding lines like you're studying over the board during a game. Of course if your eyes are already good at spotting them on a real board, feel free to just use a computer screen. But if that's the case, I doubt you'd be asking this question.)

In the case of the tactical books like I was talking about, the whole idea there is to solve the problem in your head, just as you would have to do in a game. For that, working from the diagram alone is acceptable, though if you're just starting to do this, you might want to set up the position on a board so it "feels" to you like you're playing a "real" game. In any case, even if you set up the position on a real board, don't touch a piece until you have either solved the problem, or run past your imposed time limit (ten minutes is usually a good limit to set).

Okay, I've been a chess teacher for over 10 years. Mostly juniors but some adult students as well. Repetition is the key to learning tactics at your level. I have some of Yusupov's books. He wrote a number of them in this series. They are quite good and cover a wide range of subjects. I'm not sure I would recommend them for tactics though. 1001 Chess Combinations and Sacrifices would be good. The books by Chandler, "How to beat your Dad at Chess" in particular, it has examples of every type of mating combination. Good to know. Perhaps Winning Chess Tactics by Seirawan and Silman. Repeat the problems over and over to learn to recognize the pattern. Good luck!

PS-I forgot to mention, Chessable is a great site that encourages repetition learning.

  • 1
    The question is how to study a tactics book, not which books to study. – Herb Wolfe Apr 12 at 21:22

It somewhat depends on what your end goal is. If your desire is to play over the board, then setting up the pieces like Yusupov recommends is a good idea at least initially. If you only play online, then it might be better to solve them directly from the book, or in a program.

For software you can use a chess database program to enter a position and look at it:

  • Chessbase (commercial product) is the gold standard but very expensive
  • Scid (free. Scid vs. PC is a fork of this that seems nice) http://scidvspc.sourceforge.net/

During chess book examples and exercises, try to find all the variations and find out the best ones. Try to memorize the useful variations. Find a book with lots of exercises. Set them up on a board and go through them. You will eventually get familiar with all the common situations and be able to punish your opponent for their blunders. Also, don't rush through all the chapters if you have not completely understood them. Re-read them again and again until you get the idea.

Two ways I do it.

  1. I use an Android app called Chessify for studying purposes only. It is a chess ocr(optical character recognition) app. It is a great study tool. There are other ones out there. I just prefer Chessify. Take a picture of the board and either save to the device or send the FEN file to your device for study. Works great on books and electronic screens(useful for ebooks, youtube videos that have images of the board).

  2. I also have a small board specifically for study. I at times need a break from electronics. Currently I am reading, "The Amateur's Mind" by IM Jeremy Silman and the small board I have is perfect for study. Sit with the book and go through the games over the board.

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