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This page is a training program aimed at the club/tournament player. It is a program based on a series of developmental phases designed to help one improve the quality of their play and their rating strength.

If you are new to the game of chess click on the following link: For Beginners This page tells how one can go from a raw beginner to average tournament strength --in a short time-- based on a development plan similar to the one I used.

Prior to starting this training program my results have been very inconsistent. I've always had a flair for certain types of tactics, and have won with some crushing attacks, but also lost some pretty awful games as well. Here is a nice win from a weekend swiss from a game typical of my style HERE

Before deciding on what kind of training program I would begin I did my first study on different ideas on how to improve ones play.

Here are some links to some very good online articles about this perplexing dilemna: (note- you will need an adobe acrobat reader to view the first 3)

  • 400 Points in 400 Days Pt.1
  • 400 Points in 400 Days Pt.2
  • An Improvement Plan
  • The Path to Improvement
  • Lifemaster AJ's Training Program
  • How to Become a Chessmaster Part 1 by Ignacio Marin
  • How to Become a Chessmaster Part 2 by Ignacio Marin

  • Here is my breakdown of the above advice:

    1. The fastest way to gain rating points is by studying tactics.
    2. One should study books that are appropriate for their level of play e.g the Dvoretsky series of books are aimed at players over 2000.
    3. Complete one book on a particular subject before moving on to the next.
    4. Use a chessboard and seriously study the book and themes being taught (except for puzzles of course as these should be done in your head).
    5. Develop a long term training program.

    Not all masters agree on how one should advance. For example in Dvoretsky and Yusopov's "Training for the Tournament Player" they recommend studying the classical masters since their opposition was weaker one could follow their plan in its pure form to its conclusion, while the games of modern GM's go from plan to counterplan to small advantage to new plan to new counterplan and are much more difficult to follow. On the other hand consider this contradicting opinion by GM Yermolinsky from his book "The Road to Chess Improvement" as reviewed by IM John Watson:

    Yermo criticizes the classic books as 'misleading,' telling his students: "Take Yermo's word for it, set those books aside and start working on your own." As for books since WWII, he says "guess what, a lot of them just repeat each other. Same boring lists of positional elements, same 'tactics serve strategy' and 'attack only when prepared' hollow advice, same carefully selected games which are nothing but one-way beatings delivered by chess heavyweights to the tomato cans of amateur ranks." By contrast, Yermo offers complex, double-edged examples, and when one side makes an original exchange to get positional concessions, he says, refreshingly, that in the resulting position, "there was simply no way to tell who would prevail by simply referring to one dominant positional factor, such as with most 'positional games' shown in classical books...the outcome of the game was not decided by Black's brilliant recognition of a positional pattern. On the contrary, it strictly depended upon the accuracy of his calculation of the 'post-positional' tactics." A neat turn of phrase!.... Another gem: "The good old self-comforting thought, 'I did everything right positionally, so the tactics favor me' doesn't always ring true. Believe me, I know. I used to say this every time...but not any more...we should learn to accept the fact that the combinational style has the same right to exist as the positional approach." A simple and eloquent statement that cuts right through our ongoing obsession with "tactics serving strategy."

    Journal Part 2: Long Term Plan for Improvement

    I played in a USCF Club for about 2 years. The club no longer exists as a USCF affiliate. I've also played in some coffee house clubs around central Illinois from time to time. I also play onlines chess.

    Books I seriously studied in the past include; (mostly older books) "Logical Chess: Move by Move" by I. Chernev, "Chess Traps, Pitfalls, and Swindles" by Horowitz. "How to Win in the Chess Endings" by Horowitz, "Pandolfini's Endgame Course", "1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate" by Reinfeld, "From Beginner to Expert in 40 Lessons" by A. Kostyev (out of print), "Modern Chess Strategy" by Ludek Pachman, "Chess Fundamentals" by Capablanca, "Bobby Fischer's Outrageous Chess Moves" by Pandolfini, "Attacking Chess" by Josh Waitzkin and "40 Lessons for the Club Player" by A. Kostyev. I also read (but I wouldnt say seriously studied) "Morphy's Games of Chess" by Sergeant, and "My 60 Memorable Games" by Bobby Fischer and a few others though its been awhile since I read any of these books.

    I started off well then I became overly interested in opening theory. I'm one of those adult players that just loved to study openings. Opening theory was always very fascinating to me. However this is not the way to increase playing strength and will actually stagnate ones progress. Consider the statement of FM Pelts and GM Lev Alburt in Comprehensive Chess Course (Vol II): "We beg students who are addicted to opening manuals to remember that most players who spend their time studying theory never reach A-level."

    My plan now is a total training program centered around tactics training. While I believe studying tactics alone would bring the quickest results I really want to have a well rounded knowledge and "fill in the gaps" in my thinking.

    Continue to study tactics. Try to work at least 5 puzzles a day when not concentrating on tactics, e.g. when studying positional concepts, or endgames. In this way one retaina a tactical base even when working on other phases of the game. This type of plan for improvement can be summed up thusly:

    "Tactics Centered Training."

    I recommend taking a start from scratch approach. Cover everything starting with beginners material before entering into phase one. Start with the basics as recommended in the beginners section, and then move to intermediate tactics.

    During your training program play alot of chess. There are some good online servers. The one I play at is linked at the bottom of the page. It's very good server check it out!~ This will give you a chance to play against players of all strengths and styles and approximate a correspondence chess rating. There is plenty of time to move as games can be less than one day to 20 days a move, depending on the type of game you are wanitng to play. There are thematic opening tournaments, knockouts, and many other types of tournaments one can enter.

    One master wrote that it is better to really study 10-12 good and appropriate books than to randomly read 50 chess books. By working on all phases of the game while concentrating on tactics one should be able to achieve a realistic goal of a Strong A player or a USCF expert rating.

    Phase One: Tactics Test

    The point behind phase one is to see where one stands in their grasp of basic and advanced tactics and combination play.

    I chose the book. "Winning Chess Tactics" by GM Yasser Seirawan and IM Jeremy Silman for testing for Phase One.

    The first part of the book covers all of the basic tactical themes; double attack, pins, forks, skewers, deflections, batteries, decoys, clearance sacrifices, x-rays and windmills. Each Tactic is explained with examples, and then you are given tests with "hints" at the end of each chapter to reinforce learning. These tests however DO NOT give you points, they merely are there to test your grasp of each tactical theme. I attempted every puzzle in the book and wrote down my answers and did not look up any answers until I completed the final test.

    The final part of the book, is a series of tests with no hints of any kind as to what tactic(s) may be present. This final test is graded and is divided into 3 sections: a) Basic Tactics b) Advanced Combinations c) Professional Combinations. Many of the solutions are quite difficult.

    Here is Yasser's Scoring Table:

    0-15 This is not good. Read the book again
    16-21 Solid. You have a grasp on basic tactics
    22-42You have mastered basic tactics
    43-60 You are a master tactician
    61-90 Impressive! The average master lives in awe of you
    91-100 You can tactically hold your own with some of the best players in the world.
    101 up Warn me if we play, I'll make a point of keeping the game simple and boring

    I scored a 56. Pretty good! Ha! I am a master tactician!! Maybe I should abandon my training program?? LOL! Seriously though I am reminded of what NM Dan Heisman said, "Just because you can solve a tactical problem does not necessarily mean that you will spot this tactic in a game."

    The next phase of tactical study will involve recognizing and creating tactical opportunties. But first an overall evaluation of ones game is needed.

    Phase Two: Evaluating Ones Game/Identifying Weaknesses

    "Know Thyself"

    Not everyone has the same style of play. I like space and central control, development, open lines, and clear strategic planning. For example, I still play the Gruenfeld Defense because it has a clear strategic plan of fighting against the enemy center, and also offers plenty of tactical opportunities. On the downside White can avoid it. I have had a couple of nasty losses where the white center just became too strong, not my cup of tea. I am not completely satisfied with any defense versus 1. d4, and I play a variety of them in online games.


    The following position shows one of my strengths, tactical creativity. I have showed this position to quite a few people and even experts and masters have missed what I played here! I have the Black pieces with Black to move:

    Try to find blacks best move. Then Click on the above diagram to see what I played.

    This is a position from one of my fondest chess games. The black Queen is "overloaded" trying to defend p/e5, Rd7, and the Nb6. I played 36. Rxb6! and the game concluded 36...Qxb6 37. Qxe5+, Qe6 (If 37...Be7 then 38. Qxe7# due to the pin on the Rd7) 38. Rxd7! and black resigned. If 38...Qxe5 then 39. Re7++# or 38...Rxd7 39. Qb8!# and 38...Bg7 39. Rd1+! Kf8 40. Rxd8+ Qe8 and either 41. Rxe8 or 41. Qxe8 is mate!

    The link below shows how one can analyze their own games to ascertain the good and bad points of their play.

    Analyzing Ones Strengths and Weaknesses as a Chess Player On this page I put some of my more telling games under the microscope. By knowing oneself and understanding ones style of play forming a plan of improvement becomes clear.

    After completing the above study (check out the link above) continue analyzing ones game by reading IM Jeremy Silman's The Amateur's Mind: Turning Chess Misconceptions into Chess Mastery 2nd Edition. This is the book I have chosen for Phase 2.

    Im noticing allot of gaps in my thinking from Silman's work after just one chapter. I definately need to work on this area of analyzing my weaknesses as a player. This definately fits in with this phase of a training program. One need to identify weaknesses.

    One statement really impressed me pg 49 "Your never going to go anywhere if you cant blend positional and tactical considerations together"

    Silman's "Amateur Mind" is full of instructive thinking tidbits. Here is another good tip:

    "When you accept laziness into your mental processes, it becomes a habit that's hard to break. Work hard from the very first moves!" --pg. 82

    Continuing in my Study of "Amateur's Mind." Here is meaningful tip to mediatate on:

    "Any class player will make great strides if he realizes that the control of individual squares is as important as any other strategy in the game." --pg. 193

    Another good way to train is using a program like Fritz to spar with.

    Sparring with Fritz reveals weaknesses. Sparring is the level where Fritz plays a reasonable game but makes a tatical miscue at some point in the game that you must spot and punish him for. In 2002 I did just that winning a decisive material advantage. But only managed a draw! Further I made no glaring tactical errors! I simply allowed black too much counterplay. To see how it happened click HERE

    Here is another tidbit from "Amateur's Mind" that was meaningful to me:

    "If you have a long range win, but dont have an immediate knockout, Stop ALL Enemy Counterplay" --Silman pg. 273.

    "Listen! If serious chess means you need 30 minutes to find a solution to a problem, then that is time well spent. If you can't solve the position, at least you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you tried as hard as you could" --Silman pg. 284.

    After finishing the text "Amateur's Mind" by IM Jeremy Silman review your notes and pay special attention to areas you need to work on. I highly recommend this book. In fact before beginning any kind of tactical training program this is a good book to study as it helps one to evaluate positions and think strategically which can only help you as your tactical strength increases.

    >>>>>>>>For a complete look at the process I went through studying "Amateur's Mind" and for more great tips click HERE<<<<<<<<

    Here is an excellent link on a page I created, based in part from my study in Amateur's Mind, on analyzing positions and creating a plan. I also used references from several other books and it is a great place to begin a study on this important chess theme:

    HOW TO FORMULATE A PLAN         Check out this Great Link!

    Phase 3: Positional Concepts:

    For someone who has named their study program "Tactics Centered Training" I sure am spending most of my time thus far studying positional play. In my view studying strategic thinking, planning, and positional concepts will only help as one's tactical strength increases.

    Phase 3 is broken into 2 phases:

    1. Positional Concepts
    2. Game Collection of Strategic themes

    Positional Concepts: Part 1

    I have chosen one of the classic books, "My System: 21st Century Edition" by GM Aron Nimzovich. This book is recommended by nearly every Master at some point. It is divided into 2 main sections; the first section is aimed at the advanced beginner and the second section is for the expert trying to achieve mastery. Players from all levels can benefit from this book. All of the positonal concepts a class player needs better understanding on are thoroughly covered.

    "My System" Nimzovich discusses the concepts in a chapter then has examples from master play at the end of the book to enhance learning (50 Master games total, all pre-1930 so the concepts are easier to follow than many modern GM games).

    POSITIONAL CONCEPTS: The links below are games from master play with scattered notes taken from both "My System" and modern sources that highlight many important positional concepts. I recommend printing the pages below and getting out a chessboard to review the games and concepts. Some games are more deeply annotated than others but the notes concentrate on ideas rather than variations.

    The following links are a great place to begin a study on these important strategic themes:


    Positional Concepts: Part 2

    The most important part of Phase Part 2 is studying Master/GM games that are arranged by positional/strategic theme. There are not many books like this unfortunately.

    A chess friend who introduced me to club chess, was always the anti-thesis of my style. He liked cramped positions and strategic play (though he could attack well), and he enjoyed defense and maneuvering whereas I liked space and lively piece play. He always seemed to get the best of me in our club games. A long time ago he recommended a book to me, "The Art of Positional Play" by GM Samuel Reshevsky. The book has 61 GM games arranged by positonal theme. It is much better than a book like "The 62 Most Instructive Games ever Played" as those games jump from one idea to the next. Games that are arranged by theme help to strengthen learning in the strategic concepts that are being taught. Other books with games arranged by theme are "Taimanov's Selected Games" and "Thinkers Chess" by Correspondence Master Stephan Gerzadowicz.

    Many masters insist that one of the best ways to learn is to play through Master games The games in "Art of Positonal Play" are classified by theme to help reinforce the principles demonstrated.

    Did the first 2 games in "Art of Positional Play" algebraic edition. Had to correct errors in the given games for example Game 1 gives 21...Bh4 this is not possible since black has no bishop on this diagnol and white has a bishop on this square. I had to change it to the correct 21...Ba4. Game 2 had the wrong king moves in the ending. There are a number of such errors in translation to algebraic from the original edition. If one is easily frustrated it may be wise to pick an alternate book such as the ones mentioned previuosly. However playing through GM games that are arranged by concept is a good way to learn. One can always learn new ideas in this manner, pick up a particular pattern, or learn an interesting technique.

    Here is a good way to reinforce learning. Take one of the games from a book on strategic themes and set up a key position on Fritz for sparring. Do this for each chapter.

    Computers offer a lot of ways to train that just were not available in the old days. The book "Art of Positional Play" is divided into the following sections: 1) Weak Pawns 2) Passed Pawns 3) King Position 4) Space 5) Open Lines 6) Tactics 7) Pieces Good and Bad. In order to make the instruction more interesting spar Fritz on a key position from a game in each section to augment learning.

    I give the first 2 examples then give a link to my page on "Art of Positional Play" for the remainder of the study.

    When studying the first section on "weak pawns" in the game Tal-Najdorf, Blegrade 1970 (Game 3) I noticed that the move 13...dxc5 is the type of move a club player "might" entertain. Reshevsky notes that it doesnt really win a pawn, but white doesnt get it back immediately and Reshevsky doesnt explain further. In the actual game Najdorf continued 13...0-0 though he eventually lost against Tal's play against his weak pawns. I set the game up after the alternative 13...dxc5 (diagram below)

    I took the white pieces with the clear strategic idea of play against the weakened c-pawns of black. I sparred with Fritz on its hardest level and achieved a nice victory, I had a clear plan, saw all the tactics and suppressed my opponents play. This is probably the most instructive game I've had sparring thus far and also my all around best performance in training --finishing off with a nice Queen sac! Im very pleased with this game and I highly recommend it for instructive purposes. You can see the complete game auto-fritzed with notes and diagrams HERE

    Reshevsky played here the sacrifice 27. Nxb6, axb6 27. Rxb6 obtaining some strong passed pawns for a piece. Since technique has been a weakness for me I took up the challenge in a sparring session with Fritz. See that HERE

    NM Dan Heisman in his Novice Nook Dec 18 2002 article on Chess Cafe said the following that seems to support my ideas on studying GM games:

    Roadblock: Not reading enough game collections

    "These are a primary source of general principles, but players would rather buy another opening or “How to” book. Very few readers have played out Spassky’s Best Games or Larsen’s Best Games. Also, without reviewing hundreds of master games, one often makes mistakes that they would never see in a strong player’s game, like making empty threats, moving pieces multiple times in the opening, premature attacks, etc."

    "What you can do about it: After repeatedly observing patterns of correct play, you begin to do it, too...Don’t spend a week reading each game – follow it the best you can, learn what you can, and then proceed to the next game. You don’t always have to play out every side variation. If you finish the book in a reasonable amount of time, you can augment your learning by reading more collections!" --NM Dan Heisman.

    Since completing "Amateur's Mind" I am definately seeing more ideas in my games.

    As your fundamental chess knowledge increaces your are going to make the biggest leaps in actual over the board playing strength through Chess Vision Drills. I have done the Knight tour drill (placing a knight on a1 and touching all the squares it can move to and then b1 and c1 and so on for all 64 squares). I also have started doing the "Knight Flight" drill where one places a knight on a1 and then figures out the shortest path to every square on the chessboard. The drills definately seem to help, squares stand out from the board now when I look at potential piece placements.

    Understanding Where the Pieces Go

    One of the most under-rated aspects of chess is an understanding of where one should place ones pieces. This is what separates masters from experts, and grandmasters from mere masters, and the super GM’s from the mere grandmasters, the strongest players have a better understanding of where the pieces belong in a given position.

    I highly recommend reading the chapter "Real Chess Players" in the superb book Excelling at Chess by IM Jacob Aagard before leaving this area of positional study.

    Here is an example: 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. Nbd2 Nbd7 6. Bd3 c5 7. b3 cxd4 8. exd4 b6 9. Bb2 Bb7 10. O-O Bd6 11. Qe2 O-O 12. Ne5 Qe7 13. Rad1Rac8 14. Bb1 Rfd8 15. Ndf3 Ne4 16. Nxd7 Rxd7 17. cxd5 exd5 18. Ne5 Rdc7 19. f3 Nc3 20. Bxc3 Rxc3

    In the diagramed position black already has the advantage. Black controls the open file and his two bishops give him a lasting advantage in the ending, and as we are about to see, it is not too difficult to convert to a win. “I am certain,” writes Aagaard, “that Rivas Pastor was fully aware of this but, somehow he did not demonstrate the same ability as his opponent to maneuver pieces, and thus found himself in an unpleasant situation.”

    21. Rfe1 f6 22. Nd3 Qxe2 23. Rxe2 Kf7 24. Ree1 h5 25. g3 a5 26. Rc1 Ba6 27. Rxc3 Rxc3 28. Rd1 g5 29. Kf2 h4 30. Kg2 Bb5 31. g4 Ba6 32. h3 a4 33. bxa4 Ra3 34. Nc1 Bf4 35. Bc2 Bc4 36. Bb3 Bxb3 37. Nxb3 Rxa2+ 38. Kf1 Rb2 39. Rd3 Ra2 40. Rc3 Rxa4 Rivas 0-1 Pastor-Akopian, Leon 1995

    This game was between white a GM rated 2515 and black a GM rated 2650 at the time of this game. It is noteworthy that black did Not out calculate his opponent or beat him with a tactical surprise. Nor had he foreseen all of whites moves, rather he was searching for the optimum squares for his pieces.

    Look at the diagramed position after 20…Rxc3 once again. What has black done to have engineered such a strong position? Not much. He simply posted his pieces on obvious squares. What really happened was that white weakened his c-file (17. cxd5), allowed the enemy knight to come to e4 and c3 and compounded the problem by misplacing his pieces. Whites rooks should have been on c1 and e1 instead of d1 and f1. The bishop retreat to b1 was pointless as it was better posted on d3 and it took white 4 moves with his knights to achieve what black did with one move and that is obtain a central outpost. The game was decided on blacks greater understanding of positional factors which allowed him to place his pieces on superior squares.

    There are more excellent discussions like this in Aagaard’s book. I would love to see a whole book devoted to this thought provoking subject!!

    For More work on Positional Play and Strategic Understanding I recommend GM Yasser Seirawan's "Pro Chess: Video Chess Mentor" on DVD. He guarantees it will improve your chess and it will! It provides 4 hours of seminar like chess intruction.

    PHASE 4 Recognizing and Creating Tactical Opportunities

    Just about any book on tactics is good. However for this phase of my study I really wanted a tactics book that was more than just a puzzle book, I really wanted to find a book that challenges one to search for tactics and to play creatively. I believe the book that I have chosen fits that description. For Phase 4 I have chosen a newer book, "How To Become A Deadly Chess Tactician" by David Lemoir. The book is divided into 3 sections, "Motivation," "Imagination" and "Calculation." Lemoir's point seems to be that most class players are so materialistic they are afraid to look for and play sacrifices. This book is an attempt to change that type of attitude. It fits perfectly with this phase of study on recognizing and creating tactical opportunities.

    Try to solve theseTACTICS from Lemoir's book by clicking on the link.

    Tactics must be studied consistently if one is going to improve at chess. Here are some links to some online tactics studies:

  • Chess Corner Tactics
  • Logicalchess Tactics
  • Juniata Chess Club Tactics
  • Homestead Chess Tactics Page
  • Famous Checkmates Gallery

  • PHASE 5: Tactics Training Program

    After completing LeMoir's book if you are struggling to make tactical progress I suggest going back and re-reading "Chess Tactics" by Seirawan and Silman which covers all types of basic tactics. You might supplment this by reading a good book on tactics and calculation such as GM Andrew Soltis "The Inner Game of Chess: How to Calculate and Win."

    You can improve your chess if you work at it. Continue to study tactical concepts. I recommend the book "Mastering Tactical Ideas" by IM Nikolay Minev.

    Another good book for Advanced Tactics is "Secrets of Chess Tactics" by Mark Dvoretsky.

    One of the best way to study tactics is with a training program like Chess Art Tactics 3.0 by Correspondence Grandmaster Mamxim Blokh, which I highly recommend. The problems range from 1600 to 2400 ELO rating strength. There are practice sessions on a large variety of tactical themes and tests. Studying a program like this on a regualar basis (I recommend solving one test 3-4 times a week) will increase your tactical prowess and make you a better chessplayer.

    In 2004 I am regularly scoring between 2200 to 2400 on my tactics tests. My correspondence rating ranges between 2000 and 2100 ELO.

    Good Luck with your Chess training!~

    Don't forget to play lots of games!

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