Studying chess never came easily to me. The bulk of what I have learnt has come from practice, practice and more practice, rather than study. Having said that, there have been occasional times, particularly when I first started to get into chess, when I could easily spend hours reading chess books. I did a lot of learning on those occasions, without realising it.
Independent study skills – the kind that are cultivated at degree level – are very useful if you want to improve at chess. Perhaps we should all consider how we can improve our studying skills per se, if we are to maximise our chances of improving at chess.
Thinking about a creating a ‘study plan’ for chess can fill amateur players with dread and horror. It sounds terribly serious and onerous. But of course it should be the precise opposite, if it is going to work. Studying should something that is enjoyable and enlightening. If you can’t have fun while learning, then you’re in danger of losing motivation to improve.
Whatever you do, you need to find a sustainable way studying. It’s all too easy to buy dozens of chess books thinking that you’re somehow going to absorb the information from them without actually doing any work. Instead of buying the next bestseller in the chess book chart, you’re better off sitting down and working out what your weaknesses are as a player. Once you’ve done that, that will narrow down what resources you require.
If tactics are a weakness – find the most enjoyable way of getting yourself to work on that. For many it is using program on your mobile to work on tactical puzzles everyday.
If you know you are struggling in the middlegame of a particular opening that you play – find instructive games and discover the middlegame plans that make sense to you and use those in your own games. Regularly look at these game files as a refresher.
If you are having trouble with king and pawn endings or rook endings, or minor piece endings, there are plenty of resources to help you. There are endgame reference books, DVDs, and training software to help you practice. Find what works for you. Many find endgame books impenetrable, so try the DVDs and training software to see if you like that better.
In summary, identify what your weakest areas are, target those for study and find the study methods that you most enjoy. If you do those things you have the makings of successful study and improvement.
If you would like to read more about studying chess I recommend Studying Chess Made Easy by Andrew Soltis (Batsford, 2010).