How to Study Chess on Your Own: Creating a Plan that Works… and Sticking to it!
Kuljasevic (Davorin)
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  1. This book must be popular as it took until 13th July 2021 for it to turn up, despite my pre-ordering it before publication.
  2. I eventually started reading it in earnest on 25th July 2021, but then took a year off until October 2022.
  3. The book has a lot of exercises you’re supposed to go through diligently. Indeed, each Chapter has a page of key positions at the beginning that you’re supposed to think through before starting the Chapter. I intend to skip all this on a first reading, else I won’t get what he’s on about before the season starts (or the next season, come to that). But it’ll be important to read the book through again focusing on these exercises.
  4. I intend to add notes here of anything particularly striking, though the Chapter summaries – which I’ll add after I’ve read each Chapter – probably say all I need to.
  5. That said:-
    • Chapter 1: The message of this Chapter is basically “no pain no gain”. In a sense, this is unsurprising, and disappointing as I don’t have much time to spare on chess. What I need – and which will hopefully be supplied by later Chapters – is how best to spend the limited time available. But the suggestion that Skill Level = Talent x Effort was encouraging. I also liked the distinction between being taught and learning. Chess intuition is also crucial, rather than exhaustive calculation.
    • Chapter 2: The difference between ‘solving’ and ‘analysis’ is that in the former case there is a ‘right answer’, whereas in the latter there’s no ‘killer blow’ within a specified number of moves. Approaching chess always in ‘solver mode’ leads to exhaustion and futility. Good advice about the limitations of engines: they will evaluate positions far beyond human capabilities, so their evaluation – maybe based on some counter-intuitive line far in the future – may not be practically helpful. I’ve always found reading chess magazines difficult without use of the board: what the author refers to as ‘blindfold’.
    • Chapter 3: There would seem to be a tension between the need for focus and the risk of compartmentalisation. The suggestion that ‘intermediate’ payers like myself should focus on endgames and tactics didn’t seem helpful. You rarely get to an endgame in club matches, and tactics is just calculation rather than positional intuition. The suggestion that you should analyse your games – and initially without an engine – is helpful. The reference to ‘mistakes’ is important, as is the idea of listing and categorising them.
    • Chapter 4:
    • Chapter 5:

Back Cover Blurb
  1. Every chess player wants to improve, but many, if not most, lack the tools or the discipline to study in a structured and effective way. With so much material on offer, the eternal question is: 'How can I study chess without wasting my time and energy?'
  2. Davorin Kuljasevic provides the full and ultimate answer, as he presents a structured study approach that has long-term improvement value. He explains how to study and what to study, offers specific advice for the various stages of the game and points out how to integrate all elements in an actionable study plan.
    → How do you optimize your learning process?
    → How do you develop good study habits and get rid of useless ones?
    → What study resources are appropriate for players of different levels?
  3. Many self-improvement guides are essentially little more than a collection of exercises. Davorin Kuljasevic reflects on learning techniques and priorities in a fundamental way. And although this is not an exercise book, it is full of instructive examples looked at from unusual angles.
  4. To provide a solid self-study framework, Kuljasevic categorizes lots of important aspects of chess study in a guide that is rich in illustrative tables, figures and bullet points. Anyone, from casual player to chess professional, will take away a multitude of original learning methods and valuable practical improvement ideas.

    Explanation of symbols – 6
    Preface – 7
  1. Do you study with the right mindset? – 13
  2. Fifteen study methods – 59
  3. Identify your study priorities – 121
  4. Choose the right resources for your study plan – 156
  5. Study your openings deeply – 186
  6. ‘Dynamize’ your tactical training – 233
    Tactics Test – 248
  7. Make your endgame study more enjoyable – 253
  8. Systemize your middlegame knowledge – 291
    Positional mini test: piece exchanges – 324
  9. Get organized – create a study plan – 326
  10. Solutions to exercises – 349
    Index of names – 375

Chapter Summaries
  1. Do you study with the right mindset?
    1. Mastering a complex game like chess takes
      1. Time (quantity); and
      2. Intelligent study (quality).
    2. There is no substitute for study time.
    3. Talent is only a multiplier of the hours you put into study and not a decisive factor on its own.
    4. The compounding effect of chess study allows those who invest more time into their studies to assimilate new and increasingly more complex things more easily and more quickly.
    5. Learning chess is not a linear process; rather, increasing amounts of chess study tend to accelerate one’s learning curve.
    6. The underlying foundation of quality work is the right study mindset. It is the understanding of why you are doing what you are doing and how it will translate into you becoming a better chess player.
    7. When you are process-oriented and study without the need for immediate gratification of your study efforts in terms of fleeting pleasure, recognition, score, rating, etc., you tend to reap the greatest benefits from your study.
    8. The ‘selfish’ quest for self-improvement should not interfere with a selfless desire to learn the secrets of chess.
    9. When one develops a mindset that places ‘chess’ in the primary role and ‘self’ in the secondary, one can achieve objectivity that is conducive to the deepest and most productive kind of chess learning.
    10. Taking the path of least resistance is one of the biggest enemies of learning.
    11. A study approach that minimizes superficial practices and focuses on systematic and patient efforts to understand chess better brings much more benefit in the long run.
    12. The accumulation of skills and knowledge, as well as their manifestation in the form of tournament results and rating increases, are quite unpredictable. Most chess players rather face periods of stagnation before making observable leaps in playing strength.
    13. Playing and studying go together hand in hand, forming a positive feedback loop.
    14. ‘Chess cannot be taught. Chess can only be learned’
      → Mikhail Botvinnik.
    15. Study methods that stimulate subconscious learning (most notably - analysis) help build chess strength more than any amount of the basic ones.
    16. The more you can rely on your subconscious suggestions in the game, the stronger player you become.
    17. The development of intuition is the deepest learning process in chess. It is basically trusting that your brain will figure out the right solution without you consciously thinking about it.
    18. To get to a new level, sometimes we need to let go of and ‘unlearn’ what we already think that we know to make space in our mind for more advanced knowledge or a new paradigm.
    19. The best way to unlock your learning potential and get out of your study comfort zone is to ‘get comfortable being uncomfortable’.
    20. When something is objectively difficult no matter how hard you try, and you care about it deeply, the solution is to get immersed in it, i.e., study it twice or more than you normally would.
    21. When it comes to learning in chess, it matters much less where you are right now in terms of chess knowledge and skill, than where you are going, i.e., what your study mindset and habits are.
  2. Fifteen study methods
    1. Not every chess-related activity should count as chess study. While chess activities that chess players do for fun, entertainment, or to satisfy their intellectual curiosity can sometimes be useful, doing them frequently and for extended periods of time is not an effective way to study chess.
    2. The greatest strength of watching is that it is the most interactive way to study chess content. However, one should make sure not to get distracted by non-chess content to get the maximum benefit from this kind of study.
    3. Reading engages your brain in a way that stimulates important cognitive processes such as comprehension, abstract thinking, and imagination to a greater degree than watching.
    4. The greatest strength of reading as a study method is that it gives you access to condensed chess knowledge in a way that allows for natural processing and reflection on the content.
    5. Chess books are not novels! To get the maximum benefit from them, you should study them carefully and with comprehension.
    6. Analysis should be a cornerstone of every good study plan.
    7. Light analysis is the kind of analysis in which you are using about 50% or less of your analytical abilities to save time or energy.
    8. ‘Process of thinking during the game is the same process of analyzing, just without moving the pieces. And the essence of chess training is improvement of analyzing abilities’
      → Garry Kasparov.
    9. Analysis is the process of working out logical possibilities in a certain position. When we analyze, we create hypotheses about a certain move, idea, or variation, test them through the exploration of logical possibilities for both sides, and form final evaluations and conclusions.
    10. A chess analyst should be powered by curiosity, asking questions such as:
      → What if...?,
      → Why...?,
      → How...?,
      → What is the difference between...? etc.
      Such questions and their answers guide the analysis.
    11. Solving mode is a kind of thinking, typical for solving chess puzzles, when your focus narrows down as you are trying to find the one solution. Even though people tend to be drawn to solving more than analysis when studying chess, the analysis mode helps us think more broadly about positions, evaluate them more accurately, and find the best course of action more often than the solving mode.
    12. In positions where there is no forcing play, the old adage: ‘Long variation, wrong variation applies often – it is usually best to analyze the position 2-4 moves ahead.
    13. A chess engine is ‘a good servant, but a bad master’.
    14. It is important to understand that engine evaluations are forward-looking, and, as such, should not always be taken at face value by humans who cannot calculate that deeply and accurately ahead.
    15. The greatest strengths of mutual analysis are the exchange of ideas and competitiveness.
    16. ‘Find the best move’ and ‘Simulation’ are very practically useful methods, especially when done with competitive elements such as time constraint or imitation of real-game conditions.
    17. It is a good idea to make a list of your simulation mistakes to identify typical thinking mistakes that could translate into your over-the-board play.
    18. Your goal when reviewing chess material should be to develop a method of ‘encoding’ the information in such a way that it becomes something that you understand deeply in terms of ideas, rather than something that you need to remember consciously.
    19. Some tips for solving are: solve puzzles whenever you can, get out of your comfort zone by solving challenging puzzles as often as possible, record your solutions, and set a time constraint.
    20. Playing sparring games is perhaps the most practically relevant study method since it is the best preparation for what awaits you in tournament games in terms of calculation, decision making, and time management.
    21. Playing speed chess can have many benefits in terms of chess study (openings, calculation, practical value, new study material), but it should be played with moderate frequency.
    22. Blindfold is a study method with great potential to make you a stronger player, but it requires determination and high tolerance to frustration when starting out. Once this technique is mastered, a lot of things in chess become clearer.
  3. Identify your study priorities
    1. ‘Which areas should I focus on and how should I distribute my study-time between them?’ is a burning question of virtually every chess player. A significant portion of this chapter is dedicated to providing an answer to this question, which is based on general guidelines for players of various levels and specific needs of a chess player.
    2. If you determine which two or three specific study areas you want to focus on in the upcoming period, you will be able to optimize your study time and resources.
    3. When people study chess, they sometimes make the mistake of compartmentalizing study areas, i.e., focusing too much on a particular area they are studying and mentally-disconnecting it from other areas, which could lead to mistakes over the board.
    4. It is suggested to complement study methods that focus on specific areas, such as solving positions on diagrams or studying thematic game fragments, with whole game analysis whenever possible.
    5. The primary focus of intermediate players (1500-1800 Elo) should be on increasing tactical and endgame skills.
    6. Endgames should comprise a large portion of a club player’s staple study diet.
    7. Players of all levels would do well to solve endgame studies on a regular basis.
    8. Improving young players and their coaches should pay attention to more ‘abstract’ aspects of chess improvement, such as positional play and strategy, endgame technique, acquiring good role models in chess, etc.
    9. Generally speaking, Master-level players (2100-2400 Elo) have a good overall chess knowledge, but should work on improving dynamic play and strategic depth in all phases of the game.
    10. Generally speaking, International Masters should work mostly on openings, technical, and psychological aspects of the game to get to the grandmaster level.
    11. ‘The difference in chess strength is determined by the frequency of mistakes in one’s games’
      → Efstratios Grivas.
    12. Analysis of your own games is a time-tested approach for rooting out weaknesses and strengthening other areas of the game.
    13. It is very tempting to analyze the game with an engine right after it has finished, but my suggestion is to analyze the game deeply on your own after the tournament instead.
    14. Unless you are a seasoned chess analyst with plenty of experience working with chess engines, I would advise strongly against running the engine while you analyze your games for the first time.
    15. Once the game has been fully analyzed, make a list of mistakes that you have made.
    16. When it comes to your well-fought and content-rich games, it is absolutely necessary that you analyze them thoroughly.
    17. Once you compile a good number of analyzed games, you can create an aggregate list of all your mistakes where you have an overview of mistakes by frequency and type.
    18. Psychological and emotional factors can often go under the radar as we attribute our mistakes to some technical deficiency in our play, while there is actually a ‘human’ factor at the root of a mistake.
    19. Just being aware of the problem and trying harder next time is hardly the solution in itself. We are creatures of habit and unless we do something proactive to change the faulty habit, it is likely that we will repeat the mistake.
    20. There are many more things to analyze in the game than just critical moments. As Boris Gelfand said, ‘... to ponder about such things retrospectively makes sense, as it helps us to improve our understanding of the game and sharpen our intuition.’
  4. Choose the right resources for your study plan
    1. The abundance and variety of instructive chess material can be overwhelming and downright confusing at times, leading to the ‘paradox of choice’.
    2. An ambitious player with limited time and budget should carefully select appropriate study resources from five categories:
      → online resources,
      → chess books,
      → database software,
      → chess coach, and
      → chess periodicals.
    3. Having the appropriate study resources is only one part of the study equation; the other one is using the right study methods.
    4. Sometimes it is not easy to draw the line between the educational and entertainment value of certain online resources, so one should pick the right ones for study purposes.
    5. There are many YouTube channels with good educational content available to an eager chess student.
    6. While new online technologies can facilitate and streamline many aspects of our chess training, we should keep in mind that these are only tools and not solutions in themselves - how effectively you use them is far more important.
    7. ‘Reading the autobiographical games collections of great past players is like taking lessons with some of the greatest players in history’
      → Efstratios Grivas.
    8. ChessBase software contains many useful tools for independent study, research, and analysis, such as ‘Similar Structures/Endgames’, ‘Replay training’ etc.
    9. When you analyze quality games with thematic variations, you get a broad understanding of the typical methods, subtleties, and exceptions in a particular structure or type of position. This kind of study also allows you to recognize how the middlegame relates to opening and endgame through pawn structure transformations.
    10. A chess coach can provide valuable help in your chess improvement by:
      → guiding you with experience-based advice about what to do and what not to do in chess study;
      → analyzing your games to identify your strengths and weaknesses more objectively than yourself;
      → preparing study material for your specific chess needs; and
      → mutual analysis, which allows you to subconsciously absorb the way a strong player thinks;
    11. If you want to make the most of your study time with a coach, be proactive and pick their brains about any topic that interests you.
    12. While completely optional, chess periodicals are highly recommended, since they can be a valuable source of information and study material for a chess player of any level.
    13. It is really not that important whether you have the best possible resource on a certain subject; even a good one will serve you well if you study it carefully.
  5. Study your openings deeply
  6. ‘Dynamize’ your tactical training
  7. Make your endgame study more enjoyable
  8. Systemize your middlegame knowledge
  9. Get organized – create a study plan

Book Comment

New in Chess (17 May 2021)

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2023
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