Tuesday, March 31

Learning Chess from the Best

Two World Champions: Hou Yifan and Magnus Carlsen. Credit: Alina L' Ami

Editor's Note:  I first published this article about two years ago.  The thoughts remain vivid and relevant today.  If you are rated 1800 or higher and struggling to move to the next level, please take the following advice to heart.  Good luck! 

One of the best ways to improve in chess is to study master games.  I strongly encourage any student rated 1800+ to regularly review the games of recent elite Grandmaster tournaments.  Watch some of the world elite or pick your own favorites.  Bay Area fans might follow American top players Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So, or perhaps local prodigies Sam Shankland and Daniel Naroditsky.  Chinese families, for example, may cheer for Ding Liren, Yu Yangyi or 15-year old talent Wei Yi, currently the youngest player over 2700.  Those with ties to India may prefer former world champion Vishy Anand.

What should you pick from these games?  A typical A player can learn from the positional strategies and tactical creativity of the super Grandmasters.  As you improve, you should attempt to mimic the strengths of your superiors.  Experienced experts and masters know to focus on their favorite openings, picking up new variations based on the latest trends.  You will find out that the strongest players pick mainstream openings simply because they offer the best chances to win.

In some sense, growth of the internet has diminished the importance of studying collections of games by the champions of yesteryear.  Nonetheless, any true disciple of Caissa should read some of the classics, e.g. Alekhine's Best Games of Chess, Life and Games of Mikhail Tal and My Sixty Memorable Games by Bobby Fischer.  You should also take advantage of the expanding wealth of information online to supplement the foundation presented in these books.  The modern chess student benefits from the many resources at his fingertips.
My favorite website to watch tournaments is, of course, the Internet Chess Club (ICC).  You can find quality event coverage, analysis, photos and videos elsewhere too, including Chess Life Online, Chessbase, Chess.com, Chess24, Chessdom, and TWIC.  The MonRoi and CCA websites broadcast the top boards at many major American tournaments.  The CCSCSL in Saint Louis offers a wealth of content, from live coverage of the US Championship to dozens of YouTube lectures.

Upcoming Major Events
  • US Championship in Saint Louis, April 1-12
  • Gashimov Memorial in Azerbaijan, April 16-25
  • World Team Championship in Armenia, April 19-28
  • FIDE Grand Prix in Russia, May 13-27
  • Norway Chess, June 15-27
  • Dortmund Chess Classic, June 27 - July 5
  • Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis, August 23 - September 4
  • World Cup in Azerbaijan, starts on September 10

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