Transformative Chess Practices

Transformative Chess Practices

For those really serious about improving

Want to improve at chess, but have no idea what to do? Here are 8 ideas to give your chess game a shot in the arm:

  1. Thematic chess: Play the same topical opening position (known as tabiya) over and over again from both sides against a training partner. It is best to do this on a web site that will allow you to instantaneously have a record of the games (, or are ideal). Review the games afterwards (preferably with a computer and a theoretical manual) and play the exact same variation again within a few days. Keep doing this for a couple of weeks (or until satisfied) before switching to another variation. Feel free to consult a coach’s advice on the choice of tabiya and quality of games.
  2. Study an opening from the point of view of the pawn structure. Note the kind of changes that happen in GM games (play over 20 to 30 top games in a line). Remember: the pawns are the soul of chess. The pawn breaks that happen in an opening are everything.
  3. Do a minimum 1 hour of combinations a day for two weeks before taking a break for one week and then doing it again. This is super hard work, but it will turn you into a monster tactician. Use Ct-Art 4.0 (You might be able to get it cheaper elsewhere, but it’s worth the price.)
  4. Study only one basic ending a day. Practice it against a computer until comfortable. It’s important to make the job manageable. I personally like 100 Endgames You Must Know by Jesus de la Villa.
  5. Deeply annotate one of the games you’ve lost recently. Include oodles of notes and the thoughts you had during the game. At this point, do not use a computer program. When finished, pass on the annotations to a friend for their honest critique. Then use the friend’s observations to refine the analysis. Now analyze the game with ChessBase and a computer program (such as Houdini) to refine further. Finally, pass it on to a much stronger player to get a worded opinion. Of all the ideas on this list, this is the one most people will not do. Ironically, it may the best one of them all.
  6. Play solitaire chess. Have a trusted person pick out a good game, and then try to guess the moves of one side. This can easily be done with ChessBase, or with a printout of the game where you cover one side. Make sure it’s a game of reasonable length (40 moves is fairly ideal). Spend no more than two minutes per guess, then spend no more than two minutes trying to understand the move actually played in the game (if you were in error). At the end of the exercise, tally up your score and try to see the points you missed.
  7. Find an innovation in an opening. Take a line and intentionally look for moves and plans that are not in any book you own. Use a computer to help if you like. The point is not to find an earth-shattering novelty. These days, any modestly researched move that is not in a database will give a huge competitive edge, even if it’s not that special. It’s all about creating some discomfort in the opponent’s mind.
  8. Exercise! Do lots of cardio work to build stamina for those long chess games. You’ve got to be fit if you want to be a hunter!


  1. […] of African Americans in chess, check out this informative post by GM Maurice Ashley: Transformative Chess Practices. He has eight steps to help you improve in chess. I notice that a lot of his advice has to do with […]

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