Everybody has a study plan aimed at improving their chess. Unfortunately, most don’t work. I suspect there are three reasons for this. 1) Haphazard approach 2) Motivation to continue is lacking and 3) Studying the wrong material.
Most players don’t have the benefit of a chess coach so possibly that is another disadvantage, but I don’t think they are really required. In my day few had coaches and many players still managed to reach ratings all the way up to master, so it can be done on your own.
Unfortunately there are a myriad of so called coaches and authors out there who take the easy approach and advise certain openings, usually inferior and studying nothing but tactics, tactics and more tactics. Obviously this approach only offers minimal improvement. I see players going from 1200 to 1400 and MAYBE 1600 with this approach. More often than not, they spend years getting to 1600, and most never even get that high. It makes me think something is wrong with their approach. I believe anybody to at least a 1600 rating fairly quickly. It should NOT take years of brain-busting study to get a player to be an ‘average’ player or ‘above average.’ To reach that level, you only have to know a little more than your opponents. Now, reaching master is a lot more difficult, but that goal comes much later.
Your improvement plan should include an incremental building up of layers of knowledge and practice. In the long run it is better to take the time to understand the reason behind opening moves, basic strategy, tactical motifs (what it is that makes a tactic work), and basic endgames. Finally, pattern recognition skills have to be honed.
Here’s what you need:
Opening books: Choose one standard, mainline opening for White and a Black defense against 1.d4 and 1.e4. Get either a general opening book, or specialized books covering those openings. Make sure you get books that have complete games as examples, not just columns of moves. The book should explain the general strategy involved.
Middlegame books: One on strategy and one on tactics. Note: your book on tactics should NOT be one of the popular puzzle books! It should be a book that categorizes tactics by motif. Your goal is to learn to recognize the motif that suggest a tactic may be present in a position. If your book only tells you “mate in three” you usually just start trying out moves hoping to stumble onto the solution. On the other hand if you see a position where the classic B sacrifice is likely to work, you have a starting point of what to look for.
Ending books: A good general work and concentrate in the beginning on K&P and R&P endings. Even if you rarely reach endings in your games, learning the relationship between the pieces and P’s, the importance of ranks, files and diagonals, etc. will improve your overall understanding.
Pattern recognition: Get a book of your favorite player’s games and start playing them over. Don’t worry too much about spending lots of time analyzing the games. Play over enough of them for enjoyment and you’ll find yourself beginning to recognize recurring patterns in your own games. They may be rather vague at first but with time, you’ll get better at recognizing themes and patterns.
My advice is to choose one of the older masters. The reason is, as I explained in previous posts, their thinking was often more limited and dogmatic than today’s players. The advantage to that is that it makes understanding the basics easier.
There you go! I would say you should be able to go from 1200 to 1600 in a year using this advice.