Saturday, October 1, 2016

Four Ways to Improve Your Chess That Require No Talent

Talent is Overrated

I have over the years run into chess players who talk about how they don't have enough "talent" to reach certain skill levels. Although this may be true, as I am not disregarding that we all may have natural limitations to our chess ability, I think that it can be something of an excuse as well.

When we think of our limits instead of our potential, we don't work as hard as we might. If you thought that the best you could achieve is an A Class (1800-2000) rating, then would you put the extra effort trying to break through to the Expert level?

The truth is that even master strength coaches do not always have a true grasp of what an individual player's potential may be. I think chess is too complicated of a game with too many individual factors to be able to measure the potential of a player (in the long run).

With all of this being said, I think you should strive as high as your aspirations (and resources) allow you to strive. To help you along the way, here is a list of things you can do to improve your chess that have absolutely nothing to do with your chess "talent."

Play Tough Competition

As I wrote in Who You Should Play to Improve Your Chess? the level of competition you face is very important to improving. You want on average to face players who are slightly stronger than you. 

It is good to occasionally play opponents who are weaker than you, so you can exploit their mistakes and demonstrate your winning technique. However, more often it is essential to play people who will exploit your mistakes and expose your weaknesses so you can go about improving them.

This is the reason many chess coaches suggest playing a rating class above your rating so you will face tough competition. 

This is also easy to do online such as on ICC or You can just set your rating window to only face opponents with ratings between -25 and +200 (for example). Play stronger players, and soon you will get stronger.

Focus Your Attention

In over-the-board tournaments, how often do you see players away from their board during their opponent's turn? Now, I'm not saying the occasional stroll around the tournament hall to catch a breather or see what the top boards are playing is a bad thing. However, all too often, I think players underutilize their time.

I remember once during a tournament my opponent itching to get out of his seat to take a stroll but I kept playing my move before he could. I had to be careful, because I almost starting moving faster just to frustrate his efforts to leave his seat.

The same is true for online play. How often do you click away from your game to check Facebook or to play a video on Youtube? 

Your time during your opponent's turn can be used to do many things, including:
  • Studying the imbalances of the position from a general point of view.
  • Considering the time control and planning out how much time you should use on your subsequent moves.
  • Reassessing your game plan.
  • Taking a breather to calm your emotions in a tense position.
Learn to increase your attention to the game and use your time more effectively. Here's a few ideas.
  • Increase the "on-task" time of your study sessions. For example, if you study tactics on a chess server like Chess Tempo, increase the times of sessions incrementally.
  • Take up a practice like breath awareness meditation, where you learn to bring your attention back to your breath. One site I use is
  • Keep physically fit. Better health increases attention.
  • Make sure you are sleeping enough. Fatigue limits your attention.

Keep a Positive Attitude

Sometimes, we get disappointed about our chess results or our progress. Keeping a positive attitude about our play and our potential is essential to keep consistent with our training. Although this advice may seem a little esoteric, it is a technique that professional athletes of all kinds utilize to maximize their performance. 

Being positive is not the same is having an unrealistic fantasy of our chess potential. In fact, having a positive attitude allows you to actually see the reality of your chess situation.

For example, instead of thinking "I stink at chess endings" you might adopt the belief of "I can improve at the endgame which will improve my overall results." The attitude is positive and focused on the action required to solve the problem.

To improve your attitude, I recommend looking up my friend Greg Liberto who works with professional golfers. He has a lot of free information on the topic. I also enjoy the books of sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella. 

Being Consistent

I think one of the reasons I have not progressed as much as I would like in my own chess journey is a lack of consistency. I'm guessing some of you may be in a similar situation.

It is true that work, children, and other responsibilities often predominate our lives. However, I think it is possible to develop a consistent routine with some organization and accountability.

Think of chess improvement this way. For every hour you study or practice chess, you receive 5 units of chess strength. You can study for three hours once every three days, earning 15 units of chess strength. However, let's say you lose a point of chess strength for every day you do not study or train. You can equate this to forgetting or getting "rusty." So if you only train every third day, you gain 15 units of chess strength, but you lose two points on the two days you don't train.

Compare this to doing a single hour every day. You gain 5 points of strength, and you don't lose any points, giving you 15 points of strength increase. Perhaps not an accurate model of how this works, but I think you get the point.

Getting consistent can be as simple as developing the habit of doing a certain amount of training at a certain time every day. James Clear illustrates the importance of consistency in The Difference Between Professionals and Amateurs  and I recommend his writing if you want to improve your habits and life in general.


This list can go on and on, but I think these four will give you a great start. Talent for chess exists I'm sure. However, thinking about your chess potential in anything but a positive light can be an unhealthy thing for many amateur players. 

Instead, I think you should focus on things you have control over, including your attitude and your chess habits. Doing so will do more than worrying about what level of chess you can ultimately achieve.


  1. Dear Bryan!

    I love your articles and I always try to think over these great insights.

    I need to know what are the necessary conditions to be fulfilled to share your articles at my blog.

    First I will show you what I mean.

    1. My chess blog is in Polish.
    2. Most people do not read any other chess blogs than Polish ones.
    3. I try to publish, share and write interesting and inspiring ideas at my blog.

    Now to the point. I would like to share your articles at my blog, but not just exact translation and with full content of yours, but with such changes:
    a) to write about your article as my new article (on my chess blog)
    b) to use the necessary fragments (parts) from your article to poinpoint great ideas and the way you see (think of) these
    c) a mix of a+b with additional ideas from another source (books, analysis, experience, etc.)

    Let me know how would you like to see your original articles at my blog and what you can agree to. And of course what conditions have to be met to share/publish your great articles.

    Thank you in advance. I have been thinking about this request for a few weeks, but now is the time to ask you because these articles are so amazing I cannot imgaine of delaying the accesss these from Polish chess amateurs (readers)

    BTW. I wish much more people (especially Poles) could understand/read chess blogs in English, but what can I do is to help others that way I ask you above.

  2. Dear Tomasz,
    Thank you for your kind words. With regard to sharing my material on your blog, I'm not sure I fully understand your intent. Here are a couple thoughts though that perhaps will help.

    If you wish to quote parts of my work, you are welcome to do so provided you note that I am the original author and provide a link back to my website or the original article.

    If you use an idea that I have and put it in your own words, that is fine as well, and you can perhaps mention that I inspired the idea (with a link back to my site). I do this often with writers like James Clear as you see in this article. I will often mention that I got the idea originally from a specific article (with a link to the article).

    Does this align with what you were intending to do? If not, please let me know. You can also write to me privately betterchesstraining(at)

  3. Yes, it is the reply I am satisfied with. Your articles are so great that I am insipired by these. I do not want to copy and paste your articles (at my blog), but rather show others how nice you have presented the material.

    One of the problems is that I write some various things related to chess, but most often I suffer from any other SUPLEMENTAL artices... the same as yours! However I do not have much time or perseverance to write such great articles as you do, but anyway I want to show others how some things may be done.

    In your case you did all the job: you have shown how the progress is made and what are the necessary components to make a success. That's what I am looking for and now I am going to make some mix of two approaches: "If you wish to quote parts of my work" + "If you use an idea that I have and put it in your own words, that is fine as well, and you can perhaps mention that I inspired the idea". And the rest of work is at my back and shoulders ;) :).

    Thank you very much for your answer (and permission to use your great ideas!). I am more than happy and the readers who read my blog will be grateful and thankful to you my friend! Greeting in behalf of these readers! :)

    1. Dear Tomasz,
      Thank you again for your kind words. I wish you the best of luck with your articles and send me a link here when you complete them. I'd love to check them out - even if I can't read them in Polish. :)

    2. Ok. I will do it with pleasure. I must confess that I do not know WHEN I will publish/write them, but I hope it may be before the end of this year. It is because a lot of other commitements and obligations... and the necessity to study books I try to review (some of these are up to 300 pages).

      I do not know what is YOUR definition of chess success, but I have never imagined my blog will have 200K visits (displays/views). This jubilee is very close - just in 2-3 weeks from now.

      BTW. It will be funny if you would be finally able to decrypt my chess articles (in Polish) and make some comments like: "really nice article Tom" ;) :)

  4. BTW. I do not get ANY profits from my blog: it is NOT a commercial ones.

    And I am going to use only the ideas and some parts of your articles, not the full content. In addition to that I am going to extend my articles to the degree your parts will be only the main plot/idea, but all the surroudings (text and interpretation) will be mine. I hope this way your ideas will be spread along other readers without copying the same texts (articles) in different places.

    If you have any questions or explanations just let me know!