I started playing chess when I was pretty young. My dad taught me, and I used to play with him a lot, along with my friend Patrick. I stopped playing so much around high school age, but about a year and a half ago I picked it back up. I’ve been really enjoying studying and improving. My Chess.com Rapid rating is around 1400 currently, and I’m doing a lot of study to try to improve that rating (along with my CFC ratings). I’ve gradually picked up various methods and software tools for my system of studying chess, and in this post I want to outline some aspects of this system.
I’ve divided it into sections for the various aspects of my study. Feel free to read through from start to finish, or use the links below to jump to specific sections.
- Spaced Repetition (Anki, ChessTempo Openings)
- Puzzles (Chess.com Puzzle Rush, ChessTempo Tactics)
- Game Analysis (Lichess studies, Chess.com Game Review)
- Openings (ChessTempo)
- Other resources (Youtube, books, online lessons, etc)
Underpinning much of my studying system is the concept of Spaced Repetition (SR). For anyone familiar with Chessable, this shouldn’t be a new concept. The basic idea is that you learn or memorize something, and then you “quiz” yourself on it periodically to “refresh” your knowledge. If you get it right, you wait longer before quizzing yourself again. If you get it wrong, you quiz yourself sooner next time.
The theory is that this helps to store things in memory longer term because you review and refresh the information at just the right times. This idea is used a lot in chess study. Memorizing opening lines, for example, is a great application for spaced repetition training. I also use it for other things that I’ve learned, such as key moves in positions, interesting tactical puzzles, and more.
I use two separate software programs for SR. The first one is Anki. It’s not a chess-specific piece of software, it’s actually meant for flash cards. It has all of the SR functionality built in, such as calculating how long to quiz you on a card and presenting you with the ones that are currently “due”.
Most commonly, I use it for game analysis. If, for example, I made a mistake during a game, or didn’t find a really good move, or missed a mating sequence, I’ll simply take a screenshot of the position and add it to a card in Anki, along with some prompt such as “Find the checkmate sequence”. Then, on the back of the card, I’ll list the moves. That’s my “flash card” for SR training.
Aside from game analysis, I use SR for various other things including tactics puzzles, endgame practice, and other learnings from books and videos. I aspire to go through all of my “due” cards daily, but in reality it’s every 2-3 days. This isn’t as good as doing it daily, but it’s still very effective.
The other software I use for SR is ChessTempo’s Openings Trainer. Anki is great for a lot of things, but it’s not very good for openings. The number of lines and moves to remember quickly overwhelms the concept of flash cards. ChessTempo’s trainer uses the SR concept beautifully for opening repertoires (it’s pretty similar to Chessable). I’ll go more into depth on this in the Openings section.
I’ve been trying to do a lot more puzzles lately. I generally start my morning with a round or two of Puzzle Rush on Chess.com (I can usually get 16 or more, my current record is 21). I find this to be a good “warmup” for my brain.
I also aim to do at least 3-4 tactics puzzles per day. I primarily use ChessTempo for this, although there are lots of other great platforms for puzzles. I generally set myself a “limit” of 10 minutes for each puzzle. If I can’t figure out the main idea in 10 minutes, then I’m probably not going to be able to figure it out. Plus, it feels more realistic to a typical classical game. You may spend longer than 10 minutes on a move in a tournament, but generally it seems like a reasonable period of time.
I also put puzzles into SR. If there’s a particular puzzle that I found interesting, or that I struggled with, I’ll add a flash card that just contains a link to that puzzle, and I’ll use SR to make sure I remember how to get it right. Technically what I’m doing is memorizing the particular puzzle, but this means that I’m also memorizing the key ideas behind the puzzle, which is helpful in real games.
Puzzles are great, but analyzing my own games is one of the most important things that I do to study.
That said, I don’t analyze every game in depth. The hierarchy is, roughly, as follows:
- For any tournament games, I generally will spend a good bit of time analyzing them. Especially classical tournament games.
- Any other “slow” games that I play (at club or online) are also generally pretty important to me. Especially if I made subtle mistakes, or my opponent was strong and it’s not immediately clear how they won.
- Chess.com Rapid games are important to me, because it’s my current rating number that I’m mostly focused on (along with my CFC ratings). I don’t spend quite as much time on these games, but I do try to add at least one key idea from each to SR.
- I don’t do much analysis on Blitz and Bullet games. These games are generally just for fun. On Chess.com, though, I usually do run through a quick Game Review, just to see if there is anything interesting.
For games that I’m studying more seriously, I’ll create a Lichess Study and dig in using both the engine and the Lichess openings database (more on that in the Openings section). If I feel like I didn’t get a good position out of the opening, I’ll spend some time there to try to understand the line better, see what I could have done better, and add what I’ve learned into my repertoire.
Usually I’ll run through the game without an engine and add my own notes first. What was I thinking? What were my plans? Lichess studies are great for this, as it’s easy to add notes to any move you want.
Then I’ll do a full server-side analysis of the full game and see what moves were flagged as “Blunders” or “Mistakes” by the engine. I’ll work on understanding the ideas behind the best moves in those positions. Sometimes it’s pretty clear, sometimes I need to mess around with different moves using the engine to try to determine the ideas. Anything interesting that I find, I’ll add to SR.
Even for games that I’m less serious about, I will usually do a Chess.com Game Review. And even for games that I’ve already analyzed deeply, I’ll usually do a Game Review afterward, just to make sure there’s nothing I missed. If the Game Review points out any ideas that I find instructional, I’ll work on understanding it and add it to SR.
Openings are fun, but can also be a time sink. I’m at the stage in my play where opening prep is starting to become important, but it’s still not quite as important as my middle game and endgame play. I know a couple of openings quite well (because I use them all the time), and for now that’s enough.
However, I still like to learn new openings for fun, and I work a lot on refining my knowledge of the (few) openings that I use.
As mentioned above, my repertoire is in the ChessTempo openings trainer. As with my general SR in Anki, I try to work through my “due” lines every day (or every 2-3 days). This keeps the openings fresh. If I fall behind on my lines that are due, I at least try to catch up on my main ones before any tournament play.
Mostly, I add some moves to an opening after playing a game. I’ll usually just add a couple moves to a line based on how the opening went in that game, what the database says, etc. Whenever I add a move, I add a private comment to that move as well, so when I’m looking back on it later, I understand why that move is in the repertoire.
I mostly use the Lichess database for this, because I can filter it by rating level and time control to see the types of games that I want. I also cross-reference with Lichess’s Master Games database, as well as the master-level databases on Chess.com and ChessTempo. I’ll also look up some videos or articles about the opening to try to better understand the ideas and decide on which moves I want to add.
I watch quite a lot of Youtube videos about chess. I follow GothamChess, and I like several other creators as well. Often if I’m struggling with a specific opening line, tactical issue, or some other problem in my game, I’ll go to Youtube first to find some advice. Whenever I find something instructional that I want to remember, it goes into SR.
I don’t have a ton of chess books, but I do have some nice ones I’ve been working through in order to improve my endgames, checkmate patterns, middle game play, and so on. Again, anything instructional goes into SR.
And aside from that, I’ll often use some resources from various websites, such as endgame drills on Chess.com, video lessons, etc.
That’s about it! This is a “living” system, and I’m constantly tweaking how I do it. One thing I may add in the future is a chess coach to help me analyze games and focus on the areas of my play that seem most impactful. I also try to play games fairly often, and usually spend at least an hour or two per day studying. It’s fun to work at this and continue improving, and I’m looking forward to seeing my rating continue to go up!