By Ian King
Let’s face it. If you’re going to play good chess, nothing makes more sense than effectively training towards that goal. Now, notice that the key word here is ‘effective’.
If it must be reiterated, let it be spelt out explicitly: Not all training is effective.
Unfortunately, not many chess players remember this and quickly get sucked in by the seductiveness of theory, traps, or endgame motifs – or some other chess aspect – and forget to maintain a holistic approach to their training. As a result, their chess muscle tone waxes uneven and can lead to disastrous results. Let me elaborate.
Say you fixate on theory, which is rightly tempting because the more you know, the more you can employ in a real game. However, theory is only the foundation on which you should play. Not the entire recipe for masterful play. If someone matches your theory, and experience, are you to hope for nothing more than a draw because that’s all you know, and the zenith of your ‘skill’?
Let’s recall Carlsen’s wizardry, or rather any other good player’s ability to weasel wins from roughly equal position; and recall that there’s more to chess than just theory. You need to practice your visualization just as arduously, and improve your combinative insight. You need to master a decent repertoire of mating nets and patterns so you can easily spot them when opportunities occur on the board.
I say this because I’ve, sometimes, painfully watched players miss easy wins because they’re too focused on following strategic themes when they should have instead scanned for familiar mating attacks and base their play on that and win effortlessly.
Also, when studying theory, try to look for nuances and somewhat offbeat lines that suit your style of play. For instance, if you’re an attacking player, you might want to try out the triple pawn sac line of the King’s Gambit where the King castles and ends up hiding behind the naughty black pawn gobbling up material.
Mix up your theory a bit. See if you can add a flavor of the Sicilian to your French as Black, or if you can add some Grand Prix flavor to your Reti as White. If you just make passive study, what advantage do you get over the next guy doing the same?
Above all, remember to maintain a holistic approach to your training in all aspects of play; from theoretical knowledge and creativity, to visualization and defensive mechanisms. Don’t be like Ron!?
And, if you don’t have an opening repertoire yet, what are you waiting for? Also, try reading ‘Train Like A Grandmaster, by Alexander Kotov while you’re at it. And play some Fischer Random or Crazyhouse Chess to liberate your brain a little from theoretical dogma. You’ll find your skills improving a lot better.