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The Beginner to 2000+ Blueprint

Learn how to get from any rating level to a rating over 2000, using GM Max's step-by-step method!

Also discover how to fix any weaknesses and improve the key skills for getting to the next level FAST!

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Here is a sample from the 'Improving At The 1750-1950 Level' section:

Starting Out: Chess Analysis

By chess analysis, I refer to the beginnings of not just ‘seeing’ moves on the board and going with whatever looks good, but actually working through the variations and looking for alternatives beyond what comes to you on a first glance. I will go through analytical techniques that you may find useful in your own games (and which you can train individually by going through selected, appropriate positions from your trainer) before finishing with a detailed guide of how you can get the maximum learning from a game you have played, or a game someone else has played.

Analysis Techniques

I’ll list them as follows (taken from Aagaard’s GM Preparation: Calculation):

  • Candidate moves
  • Combinational Vision
  • Prophylaxis
  • Comparison
  • Elimination
  • Intermediate Moves
  • Imagination
  • Traps

When I mention Candidate Moves, some of you might think of Alexander Kotov’s book where he suggests making a mental list of candidate moves, setting up all the branches with your evaluations of the positions that arise with best play for both sides, then selecting the move with the best final outcome. This is naturally too cumbersome for anything outside of correspondence play, but the idea of looking for other moves beyond what you see straight away is very sensible. In general, it is better to see widely a move or two ahead than to be able to calculate one long variation. I train this into my less experienced students by telling them to look for other options beyond what they’ve seen, where appropriate. In my case, I’m more of an intuitive player, so I find using these calculation techniques to extreme lengths tend to get in the way of my ‘feel’ for the position, but most of you will have a more concrete approach, and in this case, looking for extra options in critical positions will help you greatly. Looking for candidate moves doesn’t have to be limited to the position in front of you either; you may find that there are several options for one side after a certain forcing sequence.

I’ve already covered Combinational Vision in depth, and like in the previous sections, I recommend taking a couple hundred or more positions with a particular theme or combination of themes, and repeating them several times until you get nearly all of them right on a sitting, to ‘drill’ your tactics. You will improve your visualisation skills a lot as well if you solve them without moving the pieces on the board or screen.

I mentioned prophylaxis all the way back in the 1250-1450 section, and it refers to considering what the opponent is doing or wants to do. By this stage you understand that the opponent’s ideas are equally important to consider as yours – although that does not mean you always have to stop their ideas! More on that in ‘traps’. To go into this further, we’d need specific examples – but suffice to say, you can find prophylaxis in every serious game of chess, and we can incorporate it automatically into our thinking by asking, after our opponent makes his or her move, ‘What was the purpose of that move? What can they do to me that they couldn’t do before?’. You could just as easily reverse this with ‘What squares did that move weaken?’, but I have to admit that I disagree somewhat with Aagaard in that I view prophylaxis as a more positional concept than a calculation one. But in truth it doesn’t matter, as long as you apply it in your own games.

The Comparison method is very simple – you compare the positions arising from two different variations and determine whether the differences favour you or the opponent. In this way you can often save yourself a lot of time otherwise calculating long variations. I find this technique most useful when I’m first out of theory (to compare the position on the board to other ones I recall) and in the endgame (to determine what positions I should be aiming for), but it can just as easily be used to determine the best way to continue an attack, set up a defence, or execute/prevent a positional plan. You’ve probably noticed by now that there will be a bit of overlap between some of the themes, but that will also serve to reinforce the most applicable ones.

The Elimination method is basically ‘ruling out the options until you’re left with the one good one’. This is most useful in defending, where we may have only one move that doesn’t lose, and for this reason I’ll go through this technique in a bit more detail there (while understanding it can be useful in other situations too).

Intermediate Moves are something I actually introduced in the first section, in the form of avoiding assumptions – basically it’s the same thing. In a sense this could come under combinational vision as intermediate moves are a combinational/tactical device, but it’s just to remind us that we should check the position when we find ourselves saying ‘well that’s obviously forced’, provided we have the time on the clock.

The upper limit of one’s imagination is innate, but it can be improved with exposure to creative ideas, and solving puzzles where we are forced to be creative. This reminds me of the discussion about how smart you need to be to become a top player. I’ve concluded that, if you have the ideal chess education, you don’t need to be that smart, but without a proper chess education, only a genius (or chess savant) could become even a Grandmaster, and for that they would need to work even harder than the non-genius who had the correct, ideal chess education. You’ll probably ask me whether I had a proper chess education and the answer would be: it depends on your definition! Anyway, I’ve gone a bit off-topic, but I wanted to stress that hard work at chess is more important than your level of talent (although talent, hard work and opportunity are all needed to reach the very top).

Finally, the art of setting traps doesn’t mean making bad moves in the hope that the opponent falls for a cheap trick, but in guessing what the opponent will play next move, and playing in a way that if they execute their move, we will play a surprising sequence to make our position better than it was before. A few of you might have already heard this called ‘Predict-A-Move’ by Gary Lane. One of the leading expert in setting traps and swindling in general is Indian GM Babu Lalith, who has saved more losing positions in his career thus far than most people will in their lifetime.

Naturally, if you try to consciously apply all these techniques on every move, you will lose on time, so you should try and pick the one that you think will be most useful for that position, or even better, make them an automatic part of your decision-making process with lots of training of these skills in your own study.

Over the board, it is very useful to quickly sense how critical the position is, and spend your time according to how important the decision is. In a quiet position with a lot of decent continuations, you could play quite quickly, but in a position where your attack will either win or you will be down a rook, it could be worth spending a lot of time to find the win or, if there is no win, the very best chance, taking into account all the opponent’s defensive resources.

Anyway, time management is a quite important subject that probably deserves its own section, but this is something your coach should already be working on with you, and as all of you will have different issues with your time management (or, if you’re really lucky, a lack of them), it would be impractical to cover all the different issues relating to time management. However, I would highly recommend writing the clock times (both yours and the opponent’s) after each move in your games, so you can go through them with your coach. Most players and coaches focus on the amount of time used over the whole game, but this is not half as useful as looking at the time spent on each move, and determining where time was wasted and where more time should have been spent. As a final tip before moving on, I recommend starting with the most forcing continuation when you have your set of moves you want to explore further, as if you have a strong tactical sequence in the position, it will normally be a forcing sequence, and in such a case you’ll save time looking at less critical continuations.