A Winning Habit

One thing that confuses younger people asking me for advice is when I tell them to decide first which day of the week is your day off, then do solving 20 minutes a day for the other six days of the week. Get into a regular habit of doing this basic work. Then get back to me in a month or two.

Last night I talked to a friend who was considering getting some chess training. Being in his 40s he immediately understood the value of doing 20 minutes a day and said he would do it. I am not sure it was a great career move, but I think I convinced him he did not need the training first, but needed getting used to thinking first.

If there is one thing I have learned over the years it is that the worst thing you can do for your long term improvement prospects, is to start by taking on more than you can. Burnout is quite common. Actually it is the norm. Certainly there will be stories of those who just keep going and this is the way we all would like to see ourselves. I am not saying that you are not the exception, but if you are like me, you have probably tried this high-performer strategy before with something. I have tried it with fitness and guess what – I am not as fit as I want to be. So this time around, I have started my fitness program with 20 minutes of rowing each morning. It will not give overnight success, but it will work wonders long term. We all know this. My next challenge is to stop eating chocolate. This will definitely be more difficult – so I did not start with this .

If you decide to take on the challenge, then please say what you intend to do below. It can be endgames, tactics, positional play and so on. 20 minutes thinking a day.

What I recommend you focus your training on are a few things:

•    Concentrating
•    Being able to turn on your concentration by demand (we will talk about anchors later on)
•    Focus – know what you are trying to do before you do it and slowly getting better at doing just that
•    Candidate moves, the three questions or a principle of whichever subject you are studying
•    Decision making – please write down your solutions before you check them out. This is alike to making a move in a game. From research and just watching myself, I have come to realise that we need to distrust what we see. Do not write long essays, but write the move you want to play and the 1-2 key points, be they tactical or otherwise. If you are working with the three questions, write down what you think (reasonably quickly – remember it is just for directing your focus).

At this point there are always some people who will ask me to recommend “the best” material. My main point is always the same: that you can take that book from your shelves, collecting dust, and get a lot out of it. You do not need to buy a new book.

But I am also a writer and a publisher and I have opinions on what I think are really good sources of material. For players under 2300, the Yusupov series is brilliant training material. Even 2200s will sweat over some aspects in The Fundamentals triplet, though some of it will be easy sailing. But as you are building a new habit, this is not a bad thing.

For those over 2300, I recommend my Grandmaster Preparation series, as well as Practical Chess Defence and the Quality Chess Puzzle Book.

For endings the best books by far are Müller & Lambrecht’s Pawn Endings and the Dvoretsky Endgame Manual, though I also have a soft spot for some other books. At the moment I am putting Endgame Play together and for those wanting practical experience in the endings; this will be a good book too.

After writing the draft for this (I will try to stay 1-2 weeks ahead of the publication of these blog posts, so I write them when I am best situated to do so and not when I “have to”) I noticed one comment to last week’s blog post that explained by example quite well why you should not start with two hours a day:

We all know that we cannot start a physical training program with full on two training a day. Maybe we can go on for a few weeks, but we will eventually burn out. Even if we managed to go on and on, it is only for the professional that spending this much time would be desirable. It just sounds hard.

But as with physical exercise, those who try to do this in chess also run out of steam, which is what I think is the main problem with this post. I do not think that the problem is that he does not love chess enough; I think the problem is that he thinks he should love it unconditionally. (Barry, please comment on this if you feel like it. I would love to have a dialogue about this, especially here on the blog where it might be useful for others as well).

It is all about setting moderately challenging targets for long term change. I will return to this in about a month in a blog post about why we should try to train at 110% of our ability.
Until then, please set a moderately challenging target for your training, such as doing some, consistently. My suggestion is 20 minutes six times a week, but maybe you need to start with four times a week.
Next week we will talk about “the problem with failure”.

72 thoughts on “A Winning Habit”

  1. As you all know, I am not going to improve my chess, nor do I wish to (I care much more about improving my ability to train others in chess).

    However, I want to imrove my healt. I weigh about 15 kg. too much (33 lbs) and as I am approaching 40, this is starting to be felt in my daily life.

    My first step has been to row for 20 minutes four days a week. Friday off and Wednesday & Saturday I take my daughter to dance class, in the gym! So I get 45 minutes of exercise there as well.

    I did maybe four weeks and then about 10 days ago I was just so tired. Things were happening at work, at Anne’s work and there was a charity event as well.

    I just stopped. I felt tired. I needed a break.

    I knew that starting again a week later would be tougher than just continuing. But rightly or wrongly, I took those 10 days off. Today I was back in the gym, doing my 20 minutes on the rowing machine. I have not lost any fitness, but I have of course lost a bit of momentum that I have to regain.

    (and here comes the point)

    1. I have not failed. I took a break, I did not give up. I listened to my body and took a break when I decided needed it. (yes, maybe continuing would have worked better, but it was not how it happened :-)).

    2. I know it is all about inertia. It is Newton!: An object in motion tends to stay in motion, an object standing still tends to stand still. I will have a few tough days, maybe a week, where it will be a bit sour going, where changing will take 20 minutes and so on. But if I put mild pressure on myself and do not allow my brain to push me away from doing this limited and important work, I will be in motion. And from there on I will need to push less and less, until a few months down the road (77 days is the scientific guesstimate) I will need no mental energy to follow this basic training program.

  2. I am going to work on Yusupov’s series for 20 minutes each day, during the evening after my daughter has gone to bed and other chores have been dealt with. I don’t take a fixed day off, but I’ll ignore chess on the days that I have something else to do during the evening (like friends coming over) and on the days that I have chess matches.

    Besides committing to a minimum of 20 minutes, I’ll also commit to never spending more than 40 minutes per evening on this. I feel that’s necessary to avoid burn out.

  3. Hi

    I agree on your observations on burnout. One tip: I have noticed that building a new habit is easier if you can somehow link it with an existing one. I have issues with my back and must do 5 min of exercises to strengthen it every morning (Sundays off;-). There is no cheating possible because I had a herniated disc and if I don’t I almost instantly get pains and cannot get out of bed in the morning. I have linked this training with other physical exercises like push-ups and my morning workout is extended to 15 – 20 mins and this have worked wonders on my overall fitness. Once in a while I burn out on all the “extra stuff” and are back to just training the back. But having this “minimum core” that I am forced to do enables me to build again easily. Maybe this principle could be transferred to chess training – define some minimum basic training (less than 20 mins. very low ambition I think – maybe just 3 tactics on 5 mins at chesstempo or something like that, but make sure this is done focused).

    But Jacob: Do you think one should “help” kids get into the habit of structured training as well?

  4. Hi Jacob,

    This series seems to be exactly what I needed, thanks!

    I’ve been putting off chess training (and a few other things) because of an all-or-nothing attitude towards improvement in general: if you don’t put in 2 hours of study every day than you’ll never improve. So in front of this rather daunting task I prefered to procrastinate…

    Hearing from you that doing 20 minutes daily is enough at the beginning is a real relief. It’s actually the little help I needed to start working on my chess again!

    My commitment is the following: study your Calculation book for 20 minutes on a daily basis from Monday to Saturday (Sunday will be a rest day for practical reasons).


  5. Javier Castellote

    Hi Aagaard.

    I received your book Strategic Play.

    One question: in this book, there aren´t almost explanations in the chapters: why? For example, in dynamics, there aren´t advices. There many exercises but no many explanations.

  6. Well,

    “My (Aagaard) suggestion is 20 minutes six times a week, but maybe you need to start with four times a week.”

    OK, I’ll will try this with Yusupov’s oranges.
    But I have almost 1h30 of transport to go to work (2 times a day) and I’m not sure I can do it seriously in the train nor I can’t do this after work : too tired.

    So I have do to it before leaving and I have also my Sport-running-yoga-gym to do.

    That’s a challenge. Let’s take up it for a while ….

    Good luck to all (and myself).

  7. I already do a regular 30 minutes a day or so of chess training, which I bet is one reason I’ve improved a lot over the last two years.

    1) Ten tactics problems at the website Chess Tempo every morning.
    2) Daily review of chess “flashcards” that I have put into a spaced repetition system to maintain in my memory. This includes a couple of thousand opening positions as well as all the exercises I do, such as the ones in the Yusupov books or Rosen’s Chess Endgame Training.

    That is what I do every day no matter what. The extra time I spend on chess study is currently mostly spent with the Yusupov course (which of course feeds into #2 above).

  8. I appreciate the need to have a shorter ‘quality’ vs ‘quantity’ approach to training, but as I am relatively inexperienced it takes me a bit longer than most to work out problems.

    I think my extra time is worth it as long as I am actually concentrating and not fiddling with the pieces and dreaming of wild sacrifices; if I actually ‘get there in the end’ it’s worth spending 30 mins on a set of problems instead of 20.

    My problem, like FREDPHIL, is in finding 30 quality minutes when I don’t feel tired, old or stupid!

    1. I really mean 20 minutes to be a good starting point. The challenge needs to be doing it six times a week (or four if you have lots of kids, let’s say) and then doing it repeatedly. The continuaty is the challenge.

      If the problems you are studying takes you more than 20 minutes for 1-2 problems – then they are too hard! You need to find something where you get a approx. 50% score in 10 minutes. You need to learn to take decisions. You need to put a bit of pressure on yourself. Thinking with no time limit can be pleasant, but it puts no pressure on yourself and is not very useful if you want to become a stronger practical player.

      And if you don’t care about being a stronger practical player, probably nothing I say on this subject is applicable :-).

  9. One of my weak areas is tactics, so I recently started to work 30 minutes a day on chesstempo.com. My day off is on Sunday.

    “At this point there are always some people who will ask me to recommend “the best” material. My main point is always the same: that you can take that book from your shelves, collecting dust, and get a lot out of it. You do not need to buy a new book.”

    I really enjoyed the above comment. One problem I have is I always want to buy new Chess books and still have many good books just sitting on my shelf. I will take this advice to heart and will pick a book off the shelf to read such as ‘My System’, ‘How to Reasses your Chess’, or ‘Chess Strategy for Club Players’. I’m certain if my wife saw the above comment, she would print it out and tape it to the top of my computer where I can see it on a daily basis.

  10. I’m doing Yusupow’s series for 20 minutes aday (6-7 days per week), and I have to say it took some time to get into the habit, but now I couldn’t do without my daily routine! It’s the same with learning to play an instrument. I agree with Jacob that – to keep you motivated – the material should be only a little above your level.

  11. Yet another interesting post Jacob, a simple concept yet something I should have done many years ago! Being a mature reader (in my late 40s) with grown up children, working normal office hours and fortunate to live within minutes travel time of work one thing I do have is time to study. However with all the best intentions in the world I have wasted so much time. I would seat down only to find the evening fretted away sidetracked.

    I came to chess fairly late not playing my fist competitive game until my early 20s. By just reading a few books as a guide I soon reached 150 ECF (1850 FIDE) playing strength and then within a few years of experience I reached the 175 (2050) mark. After that I thought I was studying the game and further progress would come with time. Alas I was sadly mistaken and plateaued at such a level before my hiatus from the game caused by work and family commitments. My idea of study at the the time was seating down and reviewing my scoresheets and finding the obvious blunders and convincing myself for the reasons why it happened and would not happen again.

    I returned to competitive chess nearly ten years ago now and soon reached my previous strength. It did not bother me too much I never advanced my grade I still enjoyed the game made new friends and soon started captaining teams in the local leagues. Last summer I decided it was now or never if I were to ever improve at the game. I resigned my captaincy to concentrate on playing more and to study. The first part as been a success playing more games against stronger opposition as helped my game but the second part of study as been a frustration. A few good nights of excellent study offset by,,, well nothing.

    I will certainly be trying the 20 minutes a day. I plan to start with Dvoretsky Endgame Manual because I believe it is the area of the game where I will produce the biggest results. Not that I believe I am particularity weak at endgames but it is the area most amateurs could improve. I will then will move onto the Grandmaster Preparation series I have just purchased. You see Jacob it was worth reading all this waffle you made a sale!

  12. Thank you Jacob for responding to my post. I really appreciate it. I was thinking about this, and perhaps it’s not correct to discuss the “unconditional love for chess” in the abstract. I’m sure that there were/are some players with the all consuming love for chess – Fischer and Alekhine come to mind; but they weren’t normal and well adjusted individuals. When Kasparov was asked why he loved chess, he said that (along with beauty, art, est.) chess gave him an opportunity to see the world, earn respect and prestige, prove that he’s better/smarter than other people (something to that effect). In other words, while he loved chess, I think he saw it also as the means to achieving some other things.

    I remember as a kid I had friends who couldn’t wait to get home to analyze some opening variations. I was a bit jealous of their drive to study chess because I had no desire to do the same. But perhaps it’s not that they loved chess all that much more than I did – maybe they just had more drive, discipline, will power to do things that you don’t feel like doing, dedication, and competitiveness than I did. It’s not a pleasant thing to admit, but if it walks and quacks like a duck…. Perhaps when we talk about “love for chess”, it should be understood that it encompasses all those things if one wants true achievements.

    Jacob, I understand what you mean when you talk about “chess burnout”, yet I think that studying 20 minutes per day doesn’t really work for me (Although it’s a great idea for a lot of people, and I’ve been doing precisely that all of the last week because I had to work really long hours). I enjoy solving puzzles, and if I’m actually solving them, I keep going for a while. If I can’t solve them, it annoys me; and I keep going until I solve at least a few. Either way, the process usually takes well over an hour. I hate looking up solutions if I feel I can’t solve the puzzle. It’s not completely uncommon for me to stare at a study for 2 hours if I can’t solve it (it’s a concentration issue more than anything else). Of course, my thoughts would be on anything else but the position in front of me after the first 30 minutes; but the longer I take, the less likely I am to look up the solution. If I have to, I’ll leave the position till later.

    What I’ve described in the previous paragraph is time consuming yet still enjoyable process (believe it or not). The following is what really upsets and discourages me:

    I only play in 1 day quick tournaments nowadays, and I do it very rarely. I play some offbeat openings that I used to play 20 years ago. I started to get sick of them even back then. Now, in virtually every game, I look at my position and I literally loathe it. It’s not that the opening position I’m looking at is better or worse; I just don’t want to see the garbage I used to play in front of me yet again. I try to study mainline theory because, apart from everything else, it’s useful to look at the games of the top players who play these lines – something I’ve never done before. Yet this process is extremely slow and unproductive because of its sheer volume. I never accomplish enough to play this in my games. Maybe it’s all in my head, but it became a vicious circle. I’m not eager to play in tournaments because I don’t want to play my old openings; and I’m not making any headway in learning new ones.

    Jacob, I know that you’re very busy, and this is not exactly the place to ask for a detailed coaching advice, but I’d like to know if you possibly have any thoughts this matter.

  13. I have never been a big theoretical player. I tended to prepare something for an hour before the game and then just go for it. Because I played for surprises I often did well out of the opening.

    Of course there were lots of times when I knew nothing about the theory after 8-9 moves. This was ok with me, it was the price I paid for not studying opening theory obsessively. What I did was to play on as if it was ok. Not being cautious or anything like this.

    A few times it went wrong of course, but even against top grandmasters this strategy did not fail in general.

    So I would recommend you to play serious chess, whether you know the theory or not.

    About solving studies for hours on end. I discourage this for practical players, as written above. You develop a thought-habit that is impractical when at tournaments. The studies are probably a bit too hard if you need more than an hour – or you need to have some easier stuff in there to mix it up a bit. Can I suggest my own book Calculation ;-).

    But again the question is always what you want from chess. As we all know, there is only one Viktor Korchnoi…

  14. When I started playing chess, I studied it for hours each evening. Only after two year of chess studying did I join a club and my playing level at that time was already around 2000 Elo.
    So I guess doing chess “heavy duty” can actually work out well. But presumably you have to be young and enthusiastic. It was never work for me to play through hundreds of games and solve puzzles.
    Nowadays I still like to do chess just for fun and I’ve got the feeling, that this (and some tournament games) is enough to slowly improve, but to actually fulfill my potential I probably would have to do some real work.
    So the real question for me is: Do I want to slowly coast towards the FM-title, just by garnering tournament experience and watching current top level games, or do I step up à la Jonathan Hawkins.

  15. @Phille
    As said, it can work for some. But it really is the exception; especially when you have been at it for years. If you cannot keep up the regiment for a year, you are pushing too hard. With most people, starting at 20 min/ pr day and then later increasing it, should they feel like it, is sensible.

  16. I would like to ask a question. It is more of a personal question so you may not have an answer but I’m guessing that many other people must have this issue.

    I love studying chess and I love playing in tournaments. What I don’t like is traveling and staying in a hotel in another city. It has nothing to do with the city or the hotel. I just find it weird to go to another place for 10 days and change your whole living during that time just to play chess, even if I was a professional. My elo has been between 2100-2200 for years(I’m 31 years old) and it’s enough to share first in 3 local tournaments(there are only 3 or 4 in a year) so if I study more, I have to go to other cities or countries otherwise studying has no point. Does this have a solution, or should I just accept that chess above 2200 is not for me since it requires traveling, or should I force myself to go to tournaments in other cities/countries and hope that I’ll get used to it. The thing is I’m a webmaster who works from home without a company so my schedule is very good for tournaments just like a chess professional. Thanks.

    1. I think a lot of people should comment on this!

      Personally I have always played places I liked to go to more than any other idea. The travelling does not fit greatly with having small children and this is certainly a part of why I have decided to take a break from competitive chess.

  17. What appeals to me is the fact that you develop the habit of doing at least 20 minutes on a daily basis. If at some point you have more time to dedicate to chess then you can increase to 45 minutes or 1 hour. But these 20 minutes are part of your daily routine and it allows you to maintain your level or to slowly improve…

  18. Very promising start of the series. Learning about the fact that there are others out there fighting with the same or similar challenges helps me a lot. When I decided to drop out of competitive chess in January I thought this may be my only option to recover my lost love of the game. Now I already see a glimpse of hope that I may manage to enjoy playing serious competitive games again somewhere in the future after adjusting my misguided attitude.
    Given my fairly modest 2000+ rating I’m really embarrassed how I could manouver myself into such a way too perfectionistic approach towards chess (and chess openings in particular)

    However, Jacob as a publisher of chess opening books you shouldn’t tell us not to care about opening theory 🙂

  19. Thank you for your response. Having gone without real competitive chess for almost 20 years, I guess I’ve developed a few psychological blocks… I’m just frustrated that I simply don’t have the time to do the work that I’d like to do. Simply talking about this and getting this off my chest was actually helpful and gave me some new ideas. I really just need to decide how to quick fix a few issues and just get back to playing chess and take it from there. I’ll figure out something. I always have… 🙂

  20. BTW, I don’t remember if I mentioned it before (I think I did), but I’m working with the “Calculation” book. I love it. I find it funny/infuriating how it takes me longer to see a few more or less basic short variations based on common sense, than to solve a complex study. I’ve been working on it every single day since March 1, and I already feel that my brain is working in a more practical way… I have a long way to go though… 🙂

  21. @wok64
    I know that you will buy books on things you find interesting anyway. I am not going to write anything here I do not believe.

    As a publisher, I think my most important asset is that people trust in our work. And our opening books are certainly great and will help you study the opening. But are they essential? At some level, yes of course. But there are many ways to slice a cake and if you have 10 weaknesses, openings does not have to be the one you fix, just because we have 50+ books on the opening :-). Especially not if you hate studying opening theory.

  22. @Javier Castellote
    It is explained in the introduction. Because of the nature of the theme (strategy) you end in a situation where each position is so complex that it is a world of its own with its own principles. The book is not without explanations, but being much more difficult than Positional Play and Calculation, it does not contain the same type of clear explanations of how to solve the positions. Even the five sections are a bit of a compromise and could have been more or less, while in the other books the sections are carved up the only way that makes sense.

  23. My main problem is that i cannot focus on training, less so spending the necessary time per day.
    I like loking at opeings way to much, so every day I do somw work, unortunatly also not productive.
    Instead on looking on an opening for example with the help of one ofmy QC-books i mainly look briefly throug Informator, NIC-Yearbook , ant other well know sources entering interisting lines in my Reertoire-Databases. The consequence is that I have quite some material on many openings, but cannot remember anything….
    I know it does not help my ches, but it ist difficult not to conitnue updating it.
    In the last 3-4years I finally managed to do some training work and I have the impression it works.
    I will try to reduce this opening stuff und promise I do 20 minutes a day 🙂

  24. I’d like to comment on FREDPHIL’s remark that “…I have almost 1h30 of transport to go to work (2 times a day) and I’m not sure I can do it seriously in the train.” I also have a pretty long commute on the subway, about 45 minutes each way. I undestand your point about doing “serious” work so I use that time to try and improve my pattern recognition by solving fairly easy problems, sometimes books that I have been through a couple times already so I get the patterns ingrained. I also find that the noise and distractions of the train are good training for concentration and focus.

  25. @Jay
    I agree with the utility of training (heh!) through background noise. I’ve done some studying, especially of endgames, at a bookstore café over the past several months, and it’s helped me shake off distraction from small random noises that happen at tournaments. I’m a considerably calmer player at the board as a result of this.

  26. Shurlock Ventriloquist

    jacob, your sincere and and bountiful intellectual generosity humbles me and forces me to accept the the gauntlet you’ve laid down here

    ~ 5 days per week/ 20 mins on finishing the yusupov series
    ~ 1 day per week/ 1 hour going over my own games

    in addition i offer continuing faith that nessie is close to being landed and brought on deck the Quality Chess mothership

  27. @Jay
    I do not think there is any problem doing it on the train. When people can pray for 20 minutes in the train on their way to work, basically anything else is possible.

  28. Remaining is 3…h6 and 3…d6 among a few others. And those two are almost entirely transposition to 3…g5 4.Nc3.

  29. Reading this thread is very interesting but I cannot stop comparing the suggested training method with training schedules for (marathon) running.

    1. One size doesn’t fit all. The time you want to dedicate to chess on an everyday basis should be individual.
    2. Set yourself a goal. It will make the training more interesting. I believe that it will be difficult to be enthusiastic with rowing in the long run if you don’t have a goal. Marathon schedules are typically based on time goals. Chess training can be based on rating goals or goals to better understand chess.
    3. Vary your training. If you want to run a lot, you cannot run fast every day but you also have to run slow recovery runs. When I’m not injured I run a little more than 1 hour a day in average (givng advice doesn’t necessarily mean that you follow it in an intelligent way yourself). So if you want to train a lot of chess, maybe you should vary it on a daily basis. One day you use time on openings, another day you use time on combinations, a third day you use time on the endgame and so on.

    Thanks for a fantastic blog. Btw, dark chocolate in small quantities is very good for you 🙂

    1. Hi Paul,

      You misunderstood the point if you felt that 20 minutes a day would be the standard for the next 30 years. The point is to build up the habit of thinking for 20 minutes every day. Not that you will not look at more chess, inevitably you will. But once you have done this for three months, it will be a habit and you can play with it.

      But the point of it being “thinking time” is quite central. Opening studies does not fit in.

      About rowing, I naturally mix it up. With chess solving it becomes a bit easier. You want to get more right, you want to finish the book and so on. Goals prop up. But the first goal is to get the habit established. I think other goals early on can lead to a traffic jam in your head.

  30. @boki
    I had the same problem. For me it helps to look at openings only to prepare for team league and/or tournament games. It cuts down on your study time because you can see on the internet which openings your opponents play. Over the course of a season, in this way you study most of the openings in your reportoire. As for adding new lines to my reportoire databases: I only do this directly after having bought a new book on my openings or e.g. if there is a relevant article on ChessPublishing.com. Also, I only do this in weekends, so it doens’t interfere with my daily routine of solving puzzles from the Yusupov series. The hardest for me is to resist the temptation to continuously change my reportoire – that takes the most time. Just sticking to your reportoire and updating it once in a while shouldn’t take too much time in my experience.

  31. @Jacob Aagaard

    Jacob, thanks for your fast reply. Just like with running and rowing, 20 minutes sounds like a sensible starting point and when your condition improves, you can use more time on it. To me, studying openings is a big brain actvity too, especially when trying to look at them witout a chess set! Do you recommend including chess software in the training? When I was active, they weren’t used for very much chess (the addiction has returned and I’m starting in a club again). Btw, I find the GP calculation book much tougher than the one on positional play!

  32. @Paul Brondal
    Calculation is at a higher level initially, but most will find this area easier to master.

    Another point with the 20 minutes is of course to help all those people who think they have to spend hours; for them it is a relief that a recognised author says that 20 minutes is a great start. It is not meant to be a limiting advice, but a freeing advice.

    Regarding chess software I am a great realist. One the one hand I want to point out that if the engine is thinking, probably you are not. All the players in London reached grandmaster level before they worked with engines. Their brains are wired in a different way than, say, Nakamura and Karjakin, who worked with these tools from early on. I think it is an advantage. There is a reason why we have the oldest World Champion since Botvinnik.

    Having said that, obviously they all work with engines heavily now! But I believe that you need to lay your foundation first before you work with such heavy tools. You might reach a higher level quickly in some cases, but you lack a strong foundation.

    Regarding databases, then I have no reservations.

    It is really a complicated area and the most important from my perspective is that you should never think you are training if you are watching the computer thinking. When you watch games online, do so without engines. Try to understand what is going on. Think like a human, don’t rely on machines.

  33. Jay :
    I’d like to comment on FREDPHIL’s remark that “…I have almost 1h30 of transport to go to work (2 times a day) and I’m not sure I can do it seriously in the train.” I also have a pretty long commute on the subway, about 45 minutes each way. I undestand your point about doing “serious” work so I use that time to try and improve my pattern recognition by solving fairly easy problems, sometimes books that I have been through a couple times already so I get the patterns ingrained. I also find that the noise and distractions of the train are good training for concentration and focus.

    Good advice: I shall continue Yusupov’s oranges at home and shall do tactics directly on the books in the train.
    thanks to you
    At this rhythm, i shall work more than the 20mn a day 😉

  34. Hi Jacob,

    First of all, let me say what is due to say – these posts (and comments!) are a mine of gold! Very valuable, and freeing advice (which was your point, right?).

    Regarding the 20 minutes/day start – I think I started doing just that some time ago… In a way. For the record, my fide rating is 2082 at the moment, at it has been at 2100 for too long now (9 years… actually since I first got it. I’m 27 now, btw).

    One question though – I’m going through tactics units of chessimo software as a warm-up, and then set up a position from your GM Calculation book on my board, set the clock to 30 minutes and try to solve it.
    This routine takes me cca 45 minutes in total. On some days I don’t have the time to do a position from the GM Calc book, but I do 1 Chessimo unit per day as a minimum.

    I don’t know how that routine fits with this post – on one hand, I have about 90-150 easy positions that I solve in 10-15 minutes in 1 chessimo unit:
    the method is 30 new positions, not so hard – mostly basic mates and tactics until now, then 30-60 positions from previous units with less time to solve them – these I actually don’t solve per se, but rather remember; and last 30 positions are a repetition of the first 30, with less time to get them right again. The point of this method is to repeat each unique position 6 times in total over a number of units, to ingrain it in long-term memory and thus build up a base of patterns that you can recall almost instantly.

    The next thing I do is quite the opposite – 1 hard position in 30 minutes 🙂 I’ve not done a whole lot yet, just 7, of which I got 1 wrong and in the rest I was able to work out the point and the right move.
    In one of the comments you said, that during this 20 minutes we should try to solve a number of positions, and not to get too used to thinking over 1 move for too long – to put pressure on ourselves and to build correct habits for tournament time limits (and I applaud that, being a terrible time-trouble addict myself… I should probably add “-chuck” to my surname 😀 )
    The thing I’m wondering about is, as I’m trying to bring “order” to my calculation, shouldn’t I try first to get used to a little more orderly thinking (as in identifying threats, what’s going on in a position, candidate moves, and calculate them together with evaluations at the end) – which as I found out takes me some time spent over a position…?
    My idea would be to first build up correct thinking habits, and then speed them up by giving myself less time on a position… I find that when I try to solve a position in 5-10 minutes (I mean hard ones, not easy tactics), my “autopilot” turns on and I solve them (or not) with messy thinking that usually makes my tournament results and rating suffer and gets me to time troubles in the first place – e.g. starting calculating first move that comes to mind, not trying to see all/more possibilities first, and not trying to see what’s even happening at the board, jumping and repeating calculated lines without sense, deciding on a move without calculation, sometimes… you know, the usual anti-Kotov stuff 🙂

    So yeah, if I may I’d like to hear your (and others, of course!) thoughts on whether this 30 minutes/position can actually hurt me in what I’m trying to do… btw, not sure if I’m doing it right, even – in the book, you wrote to spend “up to 30 minutes” per position, so I set the clock to that every time… sometimes I work the solution out faster, maybe half the time, but as I said – when I try to calculate “correctly”, it usually takes me about 20-25 minutes per position.
    And of course I’m wondering if what I’m trying to do with my calculation is something completely different as the point of this post – and also how the chessimo stuff (loads of easy positions, you could compare it to chesstempo site I guess) fits with this thinking habit, too.

  35. …. and the above is my entry for the “longest comment to a post” competition 🙂 thanks for even reading it, in advance!

  36. Regarding Naka and Karyakin being wired differently due to computers … I think that’s probably pretty debatable. 😉
    But I’ve met so many strong players, whose playing strength stagnates, while their opening repertoires get stronger and stronger …
    It’s obvious that this is a huge trap if you want to improve. Up to GM strength it might be sound advice to keep your repertoire to a minimum, i.e. to what fits into your head. That doesn’t rule out specific preparation for specific games, but it might prevent you from turning “working on your chess” slowly into “working on you repertoire”.

  37. I’ve started, first bout was just before, and instead of, writing this blog post, jumping around for 30seconds – 1 minuet. Plan to do this several times per day.

    It’s short enough and sporadic enough that I can’t fixate or dread it and it’s over quicker than s e x. Will trick myself into doing the workouts by requiring them before I do something I enjoy (drink coffee, play online chess, eat lunch, take a bath, write, program) I first must do the jumping around. Requires zero overhead. No chess board. No machines. Just me and gravity.

  38. @Dominik
    I personally think that this De La Maza idea of repeating the positions 6-7 times is virtually bonkers. Why not look at new positions? Obviously it does not hurt, but I seriously doubt that it will do you much good either :-).

    If you spend 30 minutes per position from Calculation, you probably should also do something just a bit easier, like Quality Chess Puzzle Book or the Yusupov books. 30 min every day on just one position does not train a pace that is useable for tournament play.

  39. Wonderful blog, compliments.

    Just as a few good friends, i got to a level around 2200 fide rating, but could not get it higher.
    In the years of progression most benefit I got from working with game selections from Karpov, Kasparov and Tal. In these years i played my best chess.

    It got problematic when most of the time got spend on opening study. There the years of stagnation, or even worser started. And also my knowledge of the game got worse, i lost contact with the basics.
    Another bad habit came in, time trouble.
    And i lost fun in playing chess, and stopped playing for a while.

    In August 2012 serious restart. No opening books, but just middlegame, endgame and books about good players.
    In december i got in contact with the books of Grandmaster preparation. It was to early for me, but really good was the instructive comments in Positional chess, the first chapters. Jacob explains that the problem for players is not always knowledge, but not knowing how to make decisions. With the three questions my level is starting to raise again, i am playing quicker and better.
    And then the best tip for me was on this blog was to take a look at the books of Yusopov. Really good books for my level, and much fun to work on.

    No opening study for me, and in practical chess, on my level, i didn’t get problems with it.

  40. I like the 20 min x 6 day routine – it sounds quite achievable, especially since it’s not a larger commitment than my current chess allotment, merely more regular.

    I like a bit of variety, so here’s my commitment:

    * 4 days/wk x 20 min calculation and tactics. My copy of GM Prep: Calculation is in the post & should arrive soon — until then I have a few other good exercise books (non-Quality Chess, so I’ll be polite and leave them unnamed 🙂

    * 1 day/wk analyzing and annotating my weekly club game. I try really hard to finish this before the next round, and usually complete it the day after the round. Takes 1-5 hours, but I can’t think of a better training technique, and the game’s already pretty familiar (hopefully!).

    * 1 day/wk analyzing a good GM game in an opening line that I’m preparing. I add my own annotations and only later compare with Informant/NIC/etc. I tend to focus on the opening and early middlegame. This usually takes about an hour. I always enjoy this kind of training.

    That gives me about 2-4 hrs committed per week, and a day off. Of course, I’ve just done the most important step in this program — I’ve added it to my electronic calendar for the next 30 days. I’ve found if a task’s there, I’ll do it! 🙂

    Thanks, Jacob, for providing the kickstart, and good luck with the physical training!

    Long aside: I’m a big fan of what I call “willful stupidity” when it comes to self-motivation.

    About 7 years ago I found myself in my mid 40’s and about 30kg overweight(?!). I also wanted an iPod so I could listen to daily excerpts from the Wall St. Journal and the NY Times. I decided to bribe myself — I could get the iPod & subscriptions, but the catch: I could only listen to them while I was hiking.

    This worked wonderfully — I built up to about 60 km/week of strenuous hiking and lost 25kg over the next 3 years. (I’ve gained some of it back and only hike about 20 km/wk now, but am in *much* better condition).

    The keys to this success were a bit mysterious, but I’m convinced there were at least three critical factors:
    1) A desire to lose weight and improve my fitness. This is the easy factor – many people can agree on similar goals.
    2) A magpie-like attraction to a new shiny object, in this case an iPod with audios. Again, not so hard — who doesn’t want the latest id-applicance from Apple? (idPod?, idMac? idPhone? I should trademark this 🙂
    3) A willingness to build an artificial, easily-testable barrier between me and my object of attraction that could only be breached by getting out for a hike. Of course this barrier was a bit like a brick wall in the middle of a walking path: easily circumvented. But that’s were the “willful stupidity” comes in…. I found it quite possible to not listen to my iPod until I was toiling up the hill, and my desire to listen to the news eventually won out every time.

    I’m not sure how this all fits in to theories of motivation and self-improvement, but it worked for me!

  41. Looks like we now are enough people suffering from the same problem to start the “anonymous chessaholics” movement. My name is Wolfgang, I´m a chessaholic 🙂

  42. My name is Jacob and chess has brought incredible riches into my life. I am dumbstruck by its versility and depth, in awe of its beauty and blessed by the things it has thought me. I recommend everyone to improve in it, mainly because of the side-effects, the increased intelligense and understanding of personal responsibility for your own life.

  43. Markku Siipola

    But how should we use these 20 minutes?

    I have read several suggestion in the thread. Should you try to find your own way of doing the training? But is easy to jump too much between things which interests you.

    And how about what level you are? Experts need to study openings, but what about low class players? Solving tactic puzzles is said to be a good method. Should you do easy or hard puzzles?

    Besides this, you also should play (lot of) games, and analyse these.

    1. Actually I think this was answered clearly enough already, but I am always happy to repeat the most essential points, so thank you for your question.

      Use them thinking. When I say thinking, I mean you have to be actively trying to solve a problem. It can be from the endgame, opening, middlegame, tactics or positional. This is less important. You need to train your concentration and your ability to think. Therefore I recommend puzzle books.

      If you want to read game collections, study openings or try to understand some concept, this is fine too. But it is not concentrated thinking like you will do at a tournament. This is not part of the 20 minutes.


    ### Dvoretsky & Jussupow: School of Future Champions – the series ###

    Being cca 2100 Elo I went through the majority of Dvoretsky’s book. He touches upon themes he likes, so his books are collections of articles, also written by his pupils. But the average player can’t benefit from them cause they are so abstract for us! The only one exception is his Endgame Manual, because it is a manual.

    As stated numerous times, those under 2300 should master in high percentage, let’s say 80% and more, the whole Jussupow’s series of 9 books. Only then go with Dvoretsky.

    Jacob, I hope that in Grandmaster Preparation series you’re following Jussupow style, rather than Dvoretsky’s.

    ### for Nikos 🙂 The Kaufman Repertoire for Black and White ###

    What do you think about Kaufman & Komodo repertoire? I read all your comments on chesspub, but can you make some detailed analysis of what he proposes. I like this book and use it as a supplement to Schandorff’s 1.d4 ones.

    ### suggestion: Grandmaster Guide – Spanish Breyer ###

    Nobody wrote it yet, except by Kaufman as a repertoire coverage. In it you could cover also all White deviations from King’s Gambit to Spanish Worrall! Nikos, we want you as an author!

  45. Sorry for beeing of topic
    Has anyone seen the canditates ? What a drama, fantastic games, fighting spirit, human mistakes and greatness, great presentation this is the best tournament of the decade and a reason we all like (love !) this game !
    Thats why want to play better

    I am following my own style. Both Artur and Mark are my friends and have tought me a lot, but I think like me all the same. But, as I have clearly stated, Calculation is quite influenced by Mark’s ideas. But the other books are all me.


    What do you girls and guys think, which is the optimal number or high quality books, divided in following categories:

    1) Tactics & Attacking Play
    2) Strategy & Positional Play
    3) Game Collections
    4) Endgame
    5) Training

    I have so many books that I’m terrified cause many of them I shall never read. This counts for game collections in which category I have more than 20 books.

    Any suggestions, hints, help? 🙂 thanks

  48. I am finalising the next blog post. Mainly I am frustrated that I will be in a plane or train from the fourth hour of play tonight :-).

  49. I think Andrew Martin presented a similar idea at another website some years ago. His formula was 15 minutes a day and he suggested that most players would improve about 1 ELO point per week at that steady diet.

    I would love to buy that “15(20) minutes of chess training per day” diary/calendar! It would be wonderful to have a tiny dose of chess training material in your (now somewhat larger) calendar.

  50. The “originality” is irrelevant to me. I just want you to start working on the Daily Training Carry around Journal 😉

  51. @farbror
    I don’t care about this either. I am constantly relating to things I have heard from Michael Neill, Boris Gelfand, Sune Berg Hansen, Mark Dvoretsky, Artur Yusupov, Peter Heine Nielsen and John Shaw. Other strong influences are Soren Dalsberg, Henrik Mortensen and my wife. And then I read a lot.

    Original meant “been known as true from the start” or something thereabouts, until around 1750. It was only then it changed meaning to mean “not seen before”. I try to stay true to both interpretations of the word and deliver things I believe to be true.

    (I don’t want to fill in references all the time, but obviously I will refer to things I find especially interesting, like for example the Michael Neill article about the loaded goal).

  52. Thanks for every other informative website. The place else could I am getting that kind of info written in such an ideal way? I have a venture that I am simply now working on, and I have been at the look out for such info.

  53. Pingback: ELO 1800 goal | Coderyder's Weblog

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