By Ian King
Whenever someone queries me on how to improve their chess, I am usually reminded ofAndrew Carnegie’s timeless quote: In all I do, I must push inordinately. So are you pushing inordinately? That is, are you boundlessly seeking growth on a personal level? Or are you constantly gauging yourself against your peers and finding comfort or
discontent based on your performance against them?
If it is the latter, you have to realize it is disastrously flawed for two main reasons. One: you may end up believing yourself less talented or weaker than certain people if you repeatedly lose to them, rather than realize what
information gaps those losses represent.
Second, if you are successful against your peers, you may be tempted to think it is you that is smarter or better than your opponents rather than the moves that you made that are sensible or not countered well. One must always be careful not to play on the strength of their ego; it is a terrible weakness.
Just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you’ll always make smart moves. Conversely, just because you’re playing a ‘weaker’ opponent doesn’t mean he or she will always make ‘bad’ moves. You always need to be playing by the principles of good chess.
So how does one improve then? And how does one guard themselves against flawed thinking detrimental to improvement? I propose constantly remembering that chess is ultimately a game of strategy; that is, a game of action and consequence. And realize that whoever you are, whatever your IQ, practice and learning of theory are just as necessary for improvement in chess, as it is for any other art.
It is therefore imperative that you learn the necessary theory like a child, and practice like an athlete; push ever towards new levels of expertise. Don’ wait for a tournament or playoff to be around the corner to brush up on the King’s Indian or certain endgame nuances.
Create a plan you aim to follow to increase your Elo. Don’t just play aimlessly on chess sites each passing day. Set up a practice schedule. Follow through. Stick with it even on those days you don’t feel like it. Have a book or something in which you record summaries of your studies, as well as ideas and insights based on your practice and research.
Make sure that such a log is systematic so that notes on openings and endgames aren’t intermixed. Solve a couple of
puzzles each day. Watch YouTube videos on themes you’ve studied and focus on anything your study or practice missed. Go through grandmaster games on your researched material and know a couple of games by heart, especially those highlighting tricky themes.
Practice each studied item till you can’t get it wrong then move on to the next and always analyze your games, first by their ideas, then general tactics, then theory. Only use the engine to augment your analysis. The engine is not to be your sole analysis tool; otherwise, you may never understand some of its suggestions and be forced to memorize long
lines that validate the given computer moves.
Aside from the technicalities, though, remember to always give your very best try in every game and not for external motivations like praise, fame or money. Play to be better at the game and consistently stay humble as
your knowledge increases so that your ego doesn’t encumber your progress.
Do this day by day, and the power of compounding shall see your knowledge of chess, and your playing strength
too, increase steadily and fortuitously. This will ultimately lead to better results which is definitely what you desired in the first place, but with the big difference that your enhanced understanding is more ingrained and permanent rather than the shaky improvements of rushed study that quickly putter away with time.
Also, always endeavor to have fun in your chess and practice; it is rather hard to improve in something you wouldn’t rather do. All the great chess players have always been passionate about the intricacies and mysteries of chess and used that joyous curiosity to grow.
Try sticking to instructors, books and videos that make the learning process fun wherever possible. And when you play, always do your best. It is only when you do so, stretching yourself to your limits, that you grow. Sure, your
best may not be Harold’s best, but be sure to always give it your all. Stretch your senses and your vision, depth and accuracy will be forced to sharpen.
Also, exercise; recall the ancient truth of healthy body, healthy mind.