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Chess FAQ


If I want to improve in chess, should I only study theory or should I also play in tournaments?

You need a balanced approach, meaning that you should both study chess theory and play practice or tournament chess games.  If you just play chess without studying it, you will have a hard time improving in the game because you will be very inefficient.  General chess knowledge includes well-known tactical and strategic patterns.  It also includes main ideas of most chess openings and main ideas of theoretical chess endgames.  If you don’t acquire this basic knowledge, you will have huge disadvantage while playing against more knowledgeable players.

Studying chess theory without playing chess games is not good for chess development either.  Chess knowledge should be constantly reapplied in chess games.  Otherwise, you will not be able to perform well in tournaments.

For a beginner, it is very important to play chess games regularly along with studying chess tactics and chess strategy.  Also, it is very important to have somebody experienced in chess to go over your games.  An experienced chess coach can identify your weaknesses and help you get better only if the coach can see what you are doing in real chess games.

I recommend to beginner chess students to play with time control not faster than 15 minutes a game.  The slower the time control, the better chance you have to learn from your games.  So, the 30 minute a game time control is better than the 15 minute a game time control.  And, the 45 minute a game time control is better than the 30 minute a game time control.

For intermediate and above chess students, it is fine sometimes to play blitz games, especially when learning a new chess opening.  However, the majority of practice games still should be played with a time control not faster than 15 minutes a game.

In my opinion, one of the most convenient solutions for playing practice chess games is the ICC website.


Is it true that I should spend most of my time studying chess openings?

It depends on your level in chess.  Most chess grandmasters spend a considerable amount of time studying chess openings.  There is a saying that chess is 90% openings, and this saying is true – on a grandmaster’s level.

However, while it makes a lot of sense for chess professionals to concentrate on their opening repertoire, such an approach is harmful for intermediate chess players.  It is also a huge mistake for beginner chess players.  A beginner who spends 90% of his or her time studying chess openings is very unlikely to become a strong chess player.

Most grandmasters have strong knowledge of common tactical and strategic patterns.  They also have strong knowledge of chess endgame patterns.  To consistently perform well on such a high level, they need to have some edge.  They should be able to somehow overplay opponents who have similar level of general chess knowledge.  Deep study of chess openings gives grandmasters a chance to steer a game to familiar positions where they can use home-prepared chess plans.  If one grandmaster is well familiar with a certain chess opening while the other grandmaster has just some basic knowledge of the opening, the grandmaster with more knowledge has a clear advantage.  It is difficult to play unfamiliar position under time pressure when your opponent is on home territory.

Most beginners have no knowledge of common tactics, strategy, and endgames.  Without such knowledge, they have no base.  They will not be able to perform well against experienced and knowledgeable players.  Even if a beginner somehow manages to learn a particular opening and get a better position after the opening, he or she would quickly lose because of simple tactics once the game goes a little bit outside of a familiar territory.

For beginners, it will be a great idea to spend most of the time on improving in chess tactics.  Once chess tactics is mastered, next step is learning common strategy patters and common endgame patterns.  Only when tactics, strategy, and endgames are under control, a player should advance to a more detailed study of chess openings.

In other words, for a beginner, it is enough to know general opening principles (fast development of pieces, control of center, safety of own king, etc.)  Then, it makes sense to add small pieces of openings here and there while still spending most of study time on tactics, strategy, and endgames.

For an intermediate chess player, it is reasonable to spend 30-40% of study time on openings while still spending considerable time learning other areas of chess.


Which chess openings are the best?

Chess openings should be chosen individually based on your style of play and your memory ability.  There is no chess opening that will be good for everyone. 

If you are a sharp tactical player, you should choose openings that lead to open positions with many tactical opportunities.  For example, you might play 1) e4 for white continued with sharp lines of the King’s Gambit and Sicilian and the King’s Indian or Grunfeld and Sicilian for black.

If you are a positional player, you might consider 1) d4 for white continued with positional lines and the Slav and Ruy Lopez for black.

Also, you need to take into account your memory ability.  If you have no problems remembering long opening lines, you might go to variations with great deal of theory.  If you have average memory, you should probably stay away from lines with heavy theory.  Instead, you should steer your games to logical positions where understanding of ideas is more important than exact order of moves.


Can I progress in chess by working with a computer only?

It depends on your level of general chess knowledge.  If you have very strong tactical and strategy skills and understand endgames well, then your progress will be mostly determined by your ability to comprehend opening information.  If you also have good general understanding of openings and are able to do opening research work efficiently, you probably do not need anybody’s help.  You can work with computer databases, such as Chase Base, and use strong chess programs, such as Rybka, to help you analyze critical opening positions.

However, if you have gaps in tactics, strategy, or endgames, or if you don’t know how to work with openings efficiently, you will likely benefit a lot from work with an experienced chess coach.  In other words, computer programs are not likely to help you improve in chess much until you build a general base of chess knowledge.


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