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Some things in life you learn by simply doing, not just doing it, but doing it a lot. Practice makes perfection. I don't believe no-one is born a GM. Even Kasparov had to practice a lot.

So has anyone have experience with just playing many, many games to practice? Did it help you improve or it just cannot work that way?

  • Can I become a GM by playing 100 games per day without studying books, strategy, etc? No. So has anyone have experience with just playing many, many games to practice? Did it help you improve or it just cannot work that way? It will definitely help you improve certain skills, but you will not become a master this way. You just have to read books because some things you can not learn from playing... – AlwaysLearningNewStuff Mar 21 '15 at 16:46
  • No. No you can't. – Tony Ennis Mar 21 '15 at 17:21
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    No, because to play 100 games a day, most of that 100 have to be blitz. There are some things that cannot be learned by playing blitz, for example, how to play classical time controls well. – CognisMantis Mar 23 '15 at 4:22
  • Can you rediscover the theory of relativity from scratch by spending your entire life at a physics lab, no books, no teachers? Just curious.... what things can you master just by doing it? – user3671618 Mar 23 '15 at 16:24
  • Frankly, no. You can find any number of people on the internet chess sites who have played tens of thousands of games without ever breaking 1500. You could blitz your way through thousands of endgames without ever working out opposition, for example. – BarrySW19 Mar 25 '15 at 0:08
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Let me play devil's advocate here (since everyone seems to take the negative position) and say yes, you absolutely can.

But, and this is a big but (no pun intended) the games you play have to be "good" games, and it will not be enough to simply play them, but rigorous analysis must also be done on each game that is played.

The absolute truth of the matter is that any student, with enough motivation, a cheap computer with a decent processor, some (free) chess software and either a lot of talent or a lot of time, can become an IM or even GM. This is something not many players will admit, because it seems to subvert all the chess-related purchases they might have made.

In the past, it was necessary to hire a tutor, or read books and other chess literature, to keep up-to-date on opening theory and to learn chess. Today, with the advent of powerful chess engines and game databases, much of this is obsolete. Furthermore, I would argue that chess books are not only outdated, but outright inefficient when compared to the alternatives. These are bold claims, so let me try and support them with a plan of action which is bereft of any chess literature and focuses only on games.

The Plan

  1. Don't play 100 short games a day, this is a waste of time. Play 1 long game (90 minutes or more) against a moderately strong computer engine and spend the rest of the time doing analysis
  2. You will lose pretty much every game you play (if the computer is set to its highest level) but you must not get discouraged or change your style of play to beat the computer (i.e don't play closed positions solely for the reason that computers are bad with them). This is where motivation and discipline will determine whether you really benefit from this method.
  3. In every game, focus on a single thing and try to improve it. Initially the biggest problem might be gross blunders, hence you should do a blunder check on every move you play to prevent such blunders from occurring.
  4. You should try to create a thinking algorithm, a step-by-step process or checklist which helps you to make decisions over-the-board and then use this algorithm for every move (until it becomes habitual and automatic). Steps might include things like the blunder-check above, or deciding whether the position is tactical (requires intensive calculation) or positional (requires sound planning and positional understanding). This is the only thing where it might be faster (not necessarily better) to read up on, instead of building it yourself, since efficient thinking systems already exist that were created by very successful players (Capablanca, Nimzovitch, Tal etc.).
  5. Analysis of your games should be done to figure out weaknesses or lapses in understanding. The easiest way to do this is to look at positions where you spent the most amount of time. A computer must be used to keep yourself objective and grounded in the concrete, but is used only to check your analysis, not to replace it. (Most computer engines have the option to analyze your annotations and almost all give a point score for every move, take advantage of these options).
  6. Play in tournaments and OTB games, record them, and analyze them the same as your other games. These games are more valuable, because you can actually win them once in a while and because they are games outside of a controlled environment (i.e not in the comfort of your home).
  7. You will undoubtedly improve the most by focusing on your own games, but for a change of pace you might want to analyze a collection of games by a strong GM or favorite player. You should do this by playing guess-the-move from the winning side, making annotations for moves you guess (correctly or incorrectly). Then check the game with a computer engine (you'd be surprised with how many mistakes you find, both in your own analysis and in the moves of the GM's). You can also use these games to figure out the thinking algorithms of the masters.

If you actually stick to the above recommendations, I really think you'd make significant progress. Much more so than if you spend an equivalent amount of time reading a book. The reason is because passively reading something is very inefficient, compared to actively learning through difficult training games. Why is reading/chess literature still popular? Mostly because it gives a false sense of accomplishment and because its enjoyable. Ask yourself if the last chess book you read gave you a significant boost to your rating or chess understanding. Ask yourself how much you actually remember from the book, whether the concepts or games or annotations, and how much of it has actually influenced your OTB play.

The method above is not merely my own conjecture but is inspired by the training system developed by Botvinnik (there is a portion I left out, concerning physical exercise, but I think that's self-evident), who emphasized long-time-control training games and thorough analysis for chess improvement. The emphasis on thinking algorithims comes from the research done by de Groot.

Ultimately the final verdict, is yes, you can improve in chess through just games. But few have the dedication, discipline and motivation to do so.

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    Playing against a computer every day will change your style, whether you consciously chose it or not. To become a GM you have to play successfully against humans. You will only learn how to do this if you actually do it. Computers just play too differently and apart from that, playing against somebody you cannot beat is less then ideal in any case. – BlindKungFuMaster Mar 22 '15 at 21:45
  • Hence why I also recommend playing OTB games, furthermore, playing against someone you cannot beat is actually the ideal situation, since it means they are much stronger than you are and you learn more from playing against stronger players than you do against weaker ones. – Dider Mar 22 '15 at 21:48
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    To my mind, the ideal situation is playing against a human opponent, who is 100-200 points better than you. You don't learn much from being crushed, except maybe to grovel to a slightly less speedy loss next time. Unfortunately that is not the same as actually playing better. – BlindKungFuMaster Mar 23 '15 at 8:32
  • I disagree, I think it comes down to a matter of attitude, but I respect your point of view. In any case, most computer engines have a "rating option" where you can adjust the strength of the engine to whatever rating you like, some of the fancier ones have "sparring" where the engine adjusts itself automatically as the player improves. The point is, the computer is always there and always ready to play whereas a human opponent might not be. – Dider Mar 23 '15 at 17:07
  • The availability is of course a very valid point. But even playing against an only slightly stronger computer leaves big holes in your chess understanding. I know, because this is exactly what I did for two years, when I started to play chess. Anyway, I think your answer contains a lot of useful information. I just wanted to point out that there are pitfalls in using computers as (only) sparring partner, especially early in your chess development. – BlindKungFuMaster Mar 23 '15 at 17:35
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You can, but you probably won‘t.

First of all, becoming a master or getting even a 2000+ (ELO-) rating, is a very hard task and most chess players never achieve that – and some of them play and study a lot, so at least playing a lot of games cannot be a recipe to become a GM. Well, but maybe you are kind of a genius and are able to master lots of skills to become a master only by playing.

There are most certainly better methods of getting better, at the very least you should analyse your games and find your mistakes – if able do that with a better player, not with a machine. I would also recommend playing less games which a larger time control. Doing lots of tactics, studying pawn formations and attacking schemes, typical positions arising from the openings you play, endgame positions etc. could also pay off.

Furthermore, by only playing I doubt you will master opening and endgame skills very well. The theory there is totally complicated and it should be vary hard to learn it just by playing (without even analysing the games!). (While tactics and typical play in "your openings" can be – to some extent – learnt by "just playing").

  • getting 2000 Elo is not really hard, it only takes time, achieving IM and GM is the hard part. Not to mention that endgame is actually not based on theory rather, calculations, which means the more he plays the better he will get at it, but opening are a "must" learn, can't "figure out" those obviously – Chessbrain Mar 21 '15 at 15:03
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    @Chessbrain: There are a lot of players who have played chess for a very long time – and still are way under 2000. But obviously, a title is a lot harder to earn than a 2000+ rating. I disagree that endgame theory is not important. I do not refer to K+Q vs. K+R or K+N+B vs. K or something like that. But knowing when K+P vs. K or K+R+P vs. K+R (Lucena, Philidor etc.) is winning has a huge inpact on practical play – or ideas in rook endgames in general: "How to convert the extra pawn on the queenside?" is not really "theory", but knowing the motifs pays off. – Keba Mar 21 '15 at 15:09
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    @Chessbrain, I am not at all suggesting that you're lying. I'm saying you're using the phrase "achieving master level" in a nonstandard way. In the same sense that winning 2 games against GMs wouldn't make one a GM, winning 2 games against masters isn't the generally accepted standard for being a master. Rather, it is sustaining such a level of play over an extended period of time, to the point that one achieves the rating of a master. So, as regards the OP's question about "becoming a GM," the sense in which you have "become a master" is not analogous, and that's an important point. Cheers. – ETD Mar 21 '15 at 16:10
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    I disagree with the idea that getting to 2000 ELO is "really not hard". The percentage of players that don't make it speak another story. – Tony Ennis Mar 21 '15 at 19:31
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    FWIW, when I was high 1900 a 2400 player told me I was playing about 2100 strength. It took me 3 more years to actually get to master. – Cleveland Mar 23 '15 at 0:05
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Of course you will improve from just playing, however getting to GM level without studying 1 book is almost unheard of, maybe some world geniuses but otherwise not possible. There are things in chess you can not learn or realize they exist without getting taught about them.

However... You can get to Master level with a lot of playing, I played chess for 2 years straight and all I did was play it 8 hours a day... Achieved master level with minimum learning from books (mainly openings only and some tactics explained by Daniel King). However, I had to research a lot more to achieve a higher (which I haven't yet, got college :( )

Overall, you can get to Master level, anything like IM and GM level require some legit learning.

  • Did you never study endgames? – Keba Mar 21 '15 at 15:04
  • Actual study, no... Engames is based on calculations... If you know the basic principles, like rooks belong behind pawns and the rest of the basics only playing a lot will help. Unlike middle game tactics with sacrifices, it's harder to actually "learn" end game, cause you can't memorize a position then thanks to that you know you'll win like in some cases in middle games. End games rely on practice more than theory – Chessbrain Mar 21 '15 at 15:06
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    Does this include Philidor or Lucena posistion? I thought all masters knew these … – Keba Mar 21 '15 at 15:10
  • Uhmm explain to me where is the "theory" part is in those positions? There is none, literally pure calculations and anticipation of moves?! – Chessbrain Mar 21 '15 at 15:16
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    "Lucena looks like this and is winning" is helpful. Then, from a posistions a few moves back, you only have to calculate till you reach the Lucena, not till you promote your pawn. – Keba Mar 21 '15 at 15:54

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