Many chess improvers spend a lot of time thinking about the ‘ideal’ chess study plan. “Should I train openings, tactics, or endgames? And how much of each is appropriate?” you might frequently ask yourself.
In this article, I want to present a very simple method to guide you through these questions. I call it “the One-Third rule”.
The One-Third rule says that you should split your time training chess in three sections (thirds):
- One-Third: Improving Tactical Vision & calculation
- One-Third: Playing & analyzing your games
- One-Third: Openings, Endgames, or Positional Chess, depending on your strengths & weaknesses
As fellow chess improvement, author Nate Solon put it nicely, the rule gets rid of FOMO and is extremely simple to apply.
But first, let me convince you why you need to apply this rule yourself.
The Power of The One-Third-Rule
Chess Training can seem like an endlessly complex maze, where you never take the right turn. If it feels that way for you, you will probably spend more time guessing what & how you should train than getting some good training in.
To avoid that you need to keep your training plan as simple as possible. An easy-to-remember rule like the One-Third-Rule helps tremendously. You will be able to easily track your training and see if you are doing things right. Once you get off track, make sure to plan your next week according to the One-Third-Rule.
Having a clear plan helps you avoid the fear of missing out. There are much more courses, books, articles & videos than you could ever study. If you are unclear about what you should train, everything new will look enticing. You will end up studying a little bit of everything, but nothing really well. This mostly leads to plateaus and procrastination.
Thanks to the simplicity of the rule, you can quickly create a simple training plan and get going. Once you know you will solve 1 hour of tactics in this specific book on Mondays, you won’t end up watching 10 different YouTube videos hoping you find “the perfect one”.
Study What Matters Most Thanks To The One-Third-Rule
Improvement comes when you spend time on things that really matter. This applies to both tactical training & playing training games and analyzing them.
Richard Teichmann once said, “Chess is 99% tactics”. It might be a bit overly simplified, but he is not far away from the truth. Most games are decided by Tactics. According to the Woodpecker Method, a great book on Tactics Training, 42% of Grandmaster games are decided by Tactics. The lower the level, the higher this number rises. For players between 1800-2000 FIDE, already 72% of the games are decided by tactical mistakes.
Once we go to the beginner level, we might arrive at the famous 99% Richard Teichmann proclaimed.
So tactics are extremely crucial. Why play games & analyze them then?
Well, if you want to improve your results, you want to be able to show your skills during a game. Solving an exercise is not the same as finding this tactic during a game. By playing + analyzing you prepare for the occasion when it really counts.
As you will see later on, this process also covers all aspects of chess, not only tactics. You will improve your openings, find new positional ideas and test your endgame skills. This all-in-one training makes training games so effective. But only if you really analyze them!
Restrict your Opening Work
Most chess improvers spend way too much time on openings. This is only partly your fault. The marketing of several chess sites tries to convince you that “if you just play the same opening as XYZ you will finally break through your plateau.”.
As you might have painfully found out yourself, chess improvement is sadly (or luckily!) not so easy. Thanks to the One-Third-Rule you will spend maximally 33% of your valuable time on opening study. This will be more than enough and as you will see, sometimes you actually don’t need to do any opening work at all to improve drastically.
Now that I convinced you that the One-Third-Rule will positively change your chess training, let me show you how you can apply it best.
You can split tactics Training into two parts:
- Learning tactical Motifs
- Solving Tactical Exercises
Step one is best done with a good book or a video course. I recommend Chessmood’s Tactic Ninja & Mating Matador courses. Once you got the basics it really is about testing yourself in training and improving your skills step-by-step.
Whenever you solve tactical exercises, make sure to follow some simple rules:
- Always write down your solution before executing a move or checking the solution of the book
- Force yourself to take a decision, even if you do not “solve” the puzzle after 10 Minutes
- Take time to compare your solution with the ‘real’ solution and see what went wrong
This training might be a little repetitive at times, but it really works. If you are ready to do this constantly with high intensity over a long period of time you will outgrow your peers who aren’t ready to put in the work.
Chess improvement is not complex. It is just sometimes hard and not super fun. That is why only a few will break through their plateaus and the mass is frustrated without much progress.
For more on tactics training, read my article titled ‘the best chess tactics training’.
If you are 1800+ rated you can slowly add some calculation training into the mix. The positions get harder and you can spend up to 15 Minutes for each position.
Playing + Analyzing
Please read the following paragraph very carefully. If you do this wrong you are likely wasting your time. But if done right, you have fun and a very effective training session.
Whenever we play we need to ensure that we avoid tilt. Tilt is the worst possible outcome of every training session. It does not only cost you rating points, but also self-esteem and motivation.
Here are some tips on how you can avoid tilt:
- Play only when you are fresh
- Define the number of games that you play before you start
- Take a break after a big blunder or losing on time
If you want to know more, go check out my article on avoiding tilt.
Now we can get to the more deep stuff.
What time control should I play?
The time control depends on your focus on chess improvement and your current level. Do you want to excel in Classical games (mostly OTB), Rapid, or Blitz games?
Here are some guidelines to help you decide on a good time control:
- Beginners should avoid faster games than 5+3. You need time to think through your decisions.
- If you train for Classical games, start out with Rapid games (10+5 and 15+10 are good)
- The quicker the time control you want to excel in, the quicker the training games
- A training game should never be quicker than 3+0. This time control is only suitable for Masters (2400+ online rating)
To go more in-depth, you can check out an amazing article by Grandmaster Avetik Grigoryan.
How Should I analyze my games?
The analyzing part is where you really get the improvement. I’m aware that many chess improvers don’t really analyze their games. If you just start out, you should try to keep it as simple as possible and improve over time.
You first need to build the habit of always analyzing your games before you master the analyzing part.
After you played your set of games (I recommend 2-6, depending on the time control) go through every game and look out for a few critical moments:
- End of Opening theory for you: what was the first move out of theory and how would you play next time in the same position?
- Crucial Mistakes: When did the Engine show huge swings that decided the game? Especially in Blitz, anything below a difference of +2 is not ‘huge’ and negligible at the beginning (if you are FM+ you can be a little bit more strict 🙂)
That is it! By keeping it that simple you really don’t have any excuses anymore. You can learn more in my article on analyzing blitz games, or if you play OTB Classical chess on my game analysis process for those games.
How To Decide The Third Third?
To keep it simple, you want to make sure you only study one of opening/positional chess/endgame at a time.
Remember, a chess training plan only works when you really put in the work consistently.
So how do you decide what is most important at the moment?
First, ask yourself if you have the basics covered on all of them. If there is a huge skill gap, then start working on your biggest weakness! I know, it is more fun to work on things you are already good at. But again, that is what nearly everyone does… And it doesn’t work that well normally. So take the courage and look your biggest weakness straight in the eyes.
Then choose a good resource and start working on that part. Once you finished this resource, you can re-evaluate and go to another section.
Attention opening freaks: Do not neglect both endgame and positional chess completely. You will do the most essential opening work when analyzing your own games. The rest can wait for a while, I promise!
Again, really keep it as simple as possible by only doing one of the three mentioned sections. If you want real improvement in chess you need to learn to say no to many things.
This free’s up the time for things that really make a big difference.
Plan Your Training
To make sure that you really keep on track with your chess training, plan your weekly training. Write down specific days, times, thirds, and resources beforehand. It is just way easier to really stick to your training that way.
As I explain in my article “3 easy steps to your chess training plan” you need to:
- Define the amount of time you are spending on chess each week
- Reserve specific time slots for chess, e.g. “Tuesday 3-4PM” instead of “1 hour on Tuesday”
- Define what exactly you will work on, e.g. “Lichess puzzles 30min solving, 15min solution checking” instead of “45mins tactics”
Now it is time to train and improve!
Apply the One-Third-Rule to your chess training and take your chess to the Next Level!
PS: If you want to learn to train effectively my course ‘Next Level Training‘ is perfect for you. I explain in detail how you can use the One-Third-Rule to create an amazing training plan you can stick to. Make sure to check it out.
Very good article.
May I translate into my language and publish in my blog?
Hi Phami, please do contact me via my email: email@example.com for this inquiry. Hope we’ll find a solution 🙂
Your ideas are often of much greater practical interest than what can be found elsewhere. It is so easy finding what to learn on YT channels. But not how …
I would like to make a few points based on what I have read elsewhere.
– For notions concerning openings, strategy and endgames, it would be intersting to have something close to this 1/3 rule too : 1/3 learning, 1/3 practice (puzzles), and 1/3 revision of recently learned notions or failed puzzles
– long games : 15+10 seems to really be a minimum. Maybe for a beginner, but our friend Jesse Kraai recommends to progressively increase to 90+30
– According to the volume of work that each one is able to give, it is also necessary to think of reading games of great players who have written the history of chess ‘(Steinitz, Tal, Capablanca, and so on). Knowing some of theses games by heart can also have a certain interest. This adds a lot of extra work.
– The virtues of training against (with !) partners is probably also of great value. Working a theme on a strategic position, a finale or an opening.
Your insights on different topics are just amazing! Thanks Noel. I have one question about Openings. I am trying to learn a new opening but I am not able to find my way; I try to learn some variations then I forget them when I learn the other I tried to revise them but I am not able to make a proper plan (when to revise and when to study new). I want to complete it on 2-3 months. Would you pls guide me through this, 1) how to make a study plan when your focus (as it is the current priority) is on openings 2) how to remember them well (revision plans)
Glad you like the insights. Still opt for a maximum of 33% openings. You should not neglect the two other sectors. With openings, try to keep it as simple as possible in the beginning. I like the Chessmood openings as they focus on understanding, not too many concrete lines.
Start to play the openings quickly, like this you will see if you remember the lines you checked before. I would not spend too much time just revising lines, as it is a never-ending process and you might revise lines that will never happen in practice. So keep it practical!