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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Studying Chess

      What and how should I study? This is an oft-asked question by just about everybody below master. Apparently masters have already found the answer to the question…at least they discovered what worked for them. Internet forums abound with advice, but sometimes it isn’t even working for the poster.

      Several years ago there was a young player posting his advice on what people should be studying on one of the forums and most of it was just plain bad advice. How do I know it was bad advice? It didn’t work. He was an advocate of playing weird, unsound, sometimes just plain bad openings and spent hours memorizing them. He’d beat a few low rated players using his openings and get his rating up but then start losing to better players. His solution was to go back and revamp his opening repertoire; usually with starting from scratch with another bad opening. And tactics! The guy was a maniac for studying tactics. Funny thing is, by his own admission he was still missing them in his own games. The solution? Back to the tactical servers.
      He got from about 1400 to around 1700 but then he was no longer eligible for the lower rated sections and had to start playing others with similar ratings. The result was he dropped back to the 1500s which was apparently where he really belonged. His answer was to change openings (yet again) and study more tactics. He repeated the cycle a couple times then in frustration quit chess.
      Some good advice came from Mark Buckley, a USCF Senior Master, who wrote that his goal was to become an all around player and he determined to study everything he disliked or didn’t understand. One of those areas for him was endings, so he studied endings. Basically he was hitting the books in the areas where he was the weakest.
      Some like a regular time to study (probably a good idea) and determine to do so many tactical puzzles a day or work on a particular opening line or, perhaps, a particular ending, allotting themselves a set amount of time for the task.  One thing most do not do is critical and that’s just playing over master games…lots of them!
      In any case, one piece of advice I got was that instead of just, say, setting a limit on doing so many tactical puzzles, a better idea is that when you see one that is especially intriguing…STOP! Tear that one apart and see what makes it work. When you are playing over a game and come to an interesting situation, be it a combination, a strategic point or an endgame position that catches your attention…STOP!! Study whatever it was that grabbed your attention until you understand it. If that means doing one puzzle, working through one R and P ending or playing over one game for three days, then that’s what you should do.
      The point is if you get bored after an hour but have determined to study for two hours, you’re wasting time if you continue beyond the point where you lose interest and your study will be non-productive.
      For me personally I no longer “study” but just play (whether my correspondence games, at the club, or playing over games or browsing a book) for about an hour because after that, I’m “chessed out” and don’t want to play anymore but there are those who can go on for hours without losing interest. You have to do what works for you but whatever you are doing, if it isn’t working, you have to try something else. Like the young man mentioned, you can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

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