There is a lot of talk about what you need to do in order to improve in chess. But what is even more important, but less talked about, is what you need to AVOID in order to improve your chess.
Let me explain.
We live in a time with basically unlimited study resources. Thousands of new courses & books are flooding the chess market every year. Additionally, you can read blogs, follow Twitter advice & watch unlimited YouTube Videos.
To find the needle in the haystack is really tough and might feel overwhelming. That is why I like to approach the problem from a different side.
Anyway, you won’t be able to study 95%+ of the chess content out there. So you need to be very methodical in choosing what to spend your time on. And in order to have time for the good things, you need to say no to the biggest time-wasters.
So here is my list of 5 things I see chess improvers do that you should avoid doing at all costs.
- Playing mindlessly without analyzing the games
- Changing your training plan every week
- Spending more than 20% of your study time on openings
- Training without focus
- Procrastinating by searching for the perfect course/book/advice
1. Avoid Playing Mindlessly Without Analyzing The Games
Playing blitz and occasional bullet games is really fun. But if you play without analyzing, you should be happy if you don’t get worse.
Because unlearning is so much harder than learning! And by playing many games without analyzing your errors, you will internalize wrong motifs, opening moves & ideas. Studies show that whatever looks familiar to you also looks correct at the same time.
That means that after making the same mistake 5 times, you will think that this is a good move just because you already played the same move 5 times!
My Dad And His Amazing Openings…
I saw this with my own eyes. My father always accompanied me to my tournaments and started to play chess as well. I tried to teach him some basic opening theory: 1.e4 for white with the idea to play the Scotch against 1…e5. And 1…e5 for black, aiming for the Petrov because it is quite easy.
One day at a tournament my dad comes to me after his game and tells me: “Why are you teaching me an opening that does not work? I tried to play the Scotch but my opponent played 2…Nc6 and I could not play d4.”
I couldn’t understand what he meant until he showed me his game:
1.e4 e5 2.Nc3(?!) Nc6 and now d4 really just loses a pawn…
I told him that he was supposed to play 2.Nf3. He looked at me in disbelief and told me: “No, you told me to play 2.Nc3!”. After a little discussion, we went to check his online games: he exclusively played 2.Nc3.
By doing the same mistake over and over again, he was convinced I was a horrible teacher and told him to play an opening that does not work.
The same happened in the Petrov. All his games went:
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nxe4?
This move is a mistake because black gets in trouble after 4.Qe2. Again, he first insisted I told him to play this line. He just forgot that he was supposed to first play 3…d6 4.Nf3 and then take Nxe4.
Decide If you Want To Learn Or Purely Have Fun (and get worse…)
So the next time you sit down to play some games, ask yourself:
am I trying to learn something or do I just want to play to have fun?
If you want to improve, make sure to focus, play your openings & analyze every single game you play.
Just wanting to have fun? Then just be aware that:
- You should not have any expectations for results.
- This time does not count as chess training.
- You might actually get worse in the process (or at least improving will be harder!).
2. Avoid Changing Your Training Plan Every Week
You might have heard of the saying “too many cooks spoil the broth”. This also applies to chess improvement. There are enough people giving chess advice on the internet that you could follow a different advice per day until the end of your life.
I would say that 80% of this advice on the internet is straight-out bad. If you want to know how to filter advice, read this article. Once you boil it down to the last 20%, you still face a problem: the advice only works if you follow it consistently over a period of time.
If you try to change your chess training every time you have a bad day, you will never give any advice enough time to really get better. So choose 1-3 people you really trust and give their advice a shot. Train accordingly and give yourself at LEAST 1 month time to decide if this worked or not for you.
If you expect to see huge differences in your chess after a couple of days, I’m afraid you are still searching for a non-existent magical pill to improve in chess.
Those that claim they found that “quick & easy way to improve” most likely proceed to sell you their shitty course (which works for 2 weeks and then makes you stagnate or get worse later).
3. Avoid Spending More Than 20% Of Your Study Time On Openings
This is the most common problem I see. With all the FOMO created by chess marketers around new opening courses, it is also understandable that most of you struggle with this.
Let me tell you one more time: the problem is NOT your openings. This applies to 95% of readers. If you don’t trust me, just analyze your 10 last losses. Focus on the last mistake that made you lose the game. I would bet a lot of money that at least 8 out of 10 mistakes will fall into the category of…
Especially for players below 2200 FIDE (2400 online), improving Tactics is the single most important & effective training method. If you want to learn how you should approach tactics training & your occasional opening training, read my respective articles.
The most important thing here is: you need to spend most of your training time on things that actually make a difference during the game. Getting +1 out of the opening does not help if you blunder a piece 5 moves later. Tactics appear in every single game and decide most of the games, even at the top level.
PS: If you just love opening study, feel free to buy another course. But just as with mindless blitz & bullet games, don’t expect to get better at chess & don’t count it as “chess study” if it takes more than 20% of your study time.
4. Avoid Training Without Focus
I hope you understood by now that chess improvement is not easy. There is no magical pill. And there is no easy way to get better. You need to use your head, solve exercises & be focused in order to improve.
So try to arrange your chess training in moments where you are able to focus properly. Training without good focus not only makes it harder to focus during real games.
It is also extremely frustrating. Because you will feel that you actually spend a lot of time studying chess when in reality you don’t really learn anything because your head is elsewhere. Instead of training after a long day at work, consider waking up earlier and studying chess for 15-30 minutes in the morning.
Or put your chess training on weekends, when your mind is still fresh & ready to absorb new things. It is better to study for 1 hour very focused every week than forcing in 5 hours of unfocused chess study in the same time period.
If you want to improve your QUALITY, then make sure to check out this article.
5. Avoid Procrastinating By Searching for The Perfect Resource
It is vital that you put in some research time before you trust someone to guide you in your chess training. Don’t just follow the advice of the first guy on Twitter you find.
But searching for the perfect resource can also become procrastination quite quickly. As my favorite author, Derek Sivers said:
“If more information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.”Derek Sivers
Once you get rid of the 80% of shitty advice, it is really about following someone you trust. There might always be a little bit better advice, but the time you waste searching for it is not worth the tiny improvement.
Let me give you a very simple, yet effective training plan to avoid future procrastination: Whenever you feel unsure about your chess training, just do these 2 things:
- Make it a habit to solve chess tactics (best chess tactics training)
- Play games & learn from your mistakes (how to analyze online games)
If you do this properly, I’m sure you’re training more effectively than 80% of chess improvers. True, you are not training “perfectly”. But you are doing something that really improves your game. Now while doing this, you can find a chess content creator you trust & apply some of their advice to make the training even better.
But never stop doing this with the excuse that “you don’t know what to do”. Now if I am the lucky content creator you trust, make sure to subscribe to my email Newsletter. It is free and you’ll get some exclusive chess advice every Friday.