As promised, here are the last valuable lessons from 2700+ players!
25 – Nakamura on recovering from a loss
HN: The most important key to being a great chess player is the ability to kind of forget, or to compartmentalize a very bad game or a very bad loss, and to come back the next day and just play as though nothing happened.
Winning is always easier than losing. Overcoming your loss is a process in itself. I wrote about the subject so that next time you suffer from a negative spiral, this advice should be helpful.
24 – Mark Dvoretsky on the importance of endings
MD: “In modern chess, for 99% of the players, the endgame is undoubtedly the most important phase of the game.”
Well, endings are indeed increasingly important, as some opening preparation can rapidly lead to endgames situations. So you get it, endings are much more important than we think at first, but first we must know how to improve this specific skill…
23 – Mark Dvoretsky on improving endgame skills
Interviewer: You are a huge expert on the endgame, one of the best in the world. How do you think one can become stronger at endgames?
MD: First of all, you should clearly understand that the endgame is made up of two parts: endgame theory and endgame practice (Practical play). Theoretical endgame positions which a student should know are not many. It’s not too difficult to attain that knowledge. This is what I tried to do with my Endgame Manual. It’s absolutely natural to separate the things that you need to study deeply, to understand and to remember, from things that are not so important. I tried to do this with the help of big diagrams and big fonts. In English these diagrams and fonts are given in blue and are not so impressive. In all other languages it is in black. I would say that to remember the material given in my Endgame Manual is not so difficult.
Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual is one of the best books ever written on endgames
Interviewer: But, Mark, I have met many strong grandmasters who say that they are simply unable to remember all the theoretical positions from your Endgame Manual.
MD: It depends on how they study it. If they just read it, they will surely forget it! [Laughs] The best way to remember is to develop skills in order to keep this material in your memory. This can be done by solving positions from the book, or from your own praxis. To repeat the material when a similar endgame happens in a tournament game is also a good idea. It is not necessary to spend loads of hours on one position, but you must make sure that you check all the details related to it correctly.
Interviewer: For example, Rook + 3 pawns vs Rook + 3 pawns and an extra queenside pawn is an ending which I must have studied at least five times from your book, very seriously. But after a few months I tend to forget.
MD: Well, it is one of the most difficult endgames to master. It’s almost impossible to remember the entire theory related to that endgame. However, the main conclusions are definitely possible to be kept in mind. You shouldn’t worry about the fact that you cannot play such positions 100% accurately, because you will still need to calculate lines when you get them over the board. If you study the main positions from my book, you will be able to play them quite accurately. It’s like queen and pawn endgames. It is impossible to remember everything, but I formulated a few simple rules which are easy to understand and increase your chances.
In the second edition of my Endgame Manual in English, there are nice positions on the rook endings. Basically, it is the Vancura position. The idea is elementary. It will take you around 10 to 15 minutes to get acquainted with the theory. But then I give six exercises related to the topic and they are not at all easy to solve, even if they are directly related to the theory that you have studied. What I would like to stress is that in a practical game there are always some factors which are different from theory. Hence, theoretical knowledge can definitely help you and guide your thinking, but it doesn’t guarantee your success.
… You should have enough information to start improving your endings now. Waiting for my article to be released soon, where I will tell you how to do it the most efficient way!
22 – Fabiano Caruana on preparing a game
Interviewer: How do you prepare for each game?
I look at my opponent, look at his past games, with the emphasis on his most recent ones, and try to see where I have ideas to use against him. Usually a lot of it is just deciding what to do and not actually doing preparation, because lots of the opening work is already done and you just have to try to find the weak point in your opponent’s repertoire.
Preparing a game can sometimes be really helpful. Don’t look only at the games, but also at the tendencies in your opponent’s game. You will find more on this topic right here!
21 – Levon Aronian and Viswanathan Anand on physical preparation
LA: For myself, the best way to manage the stress is to be in good physical shape. At this moment I have lots of chess knowledge and therefore apart from chess I need to have physical strength, and in fact I have already been training physically on a daily basis since February and am very satisfied.
Levon Aronian’s Interview by Mark Grigoryan, Executive Director of Public Radio of Armenia, transcribed in English by chessbase.com (https://en.chessbase.com/post/levon-aronian-s-armenian-interview)
VA: How do you preserve stamina? Basically it is exercise. During tournaments, you don’t exercise very much because you will be very fit, but also very sleepy. He pays attention to his physical training outside of tournaments and when he plays, he opts for long walks.
If I choose excerpts from Aronian and Anand, no need to tell you all the players mentioned the importance of physical preparation. So don’t forget to work out regularly! And if you think physical training is not for you, this article should help break this mental barrier!
20 – Alexander Morozevich on the killer instinct
Of course the majority of elite players have that “killer instinct”, as otherwise it would be tough to achieve similar heights. During games against him I got the feeling that I was playing with an intelligent opponent. In tricky situations he makes not the best, but intelligent moves – it’s hard to explain. That’s the reason he so invariably plays rapid and blitz well. No other sportsman has such stability. In my opinion there are players more talented than Carlsen: such as Ivanchuk or Nepomniachtchi. But they always lack that desire, that drive. Therefore Carlsen is for now the number one.
In other words, when you sit over the board, it must be with a strong winning desire.
19 – Viswanathan Anand on enjoying the game
I don’t mention a specific excerpt here as Anand insists mostly in the article he won’t stop as soon as he enjoys playing chess.
Magnus Carlsen and other players also point out how important it is to maintain the excitement around the game.
What is the conclusion here? If for any reason you don’t like playing anymore but keep on moving the pieces, your Elo will probably suffer much more than you think. Maybe you need a break from chess before coming back stronger?
18 – Levon Aronian on playing what you like
Interviewer: Yet again going back to your previous interviews I shall read a section from one: “Up until you encounter a conflict either with society’s opinion or with one of the past chess players’ point of view, you will not become a great chess player”. What is your conflict with society?
LA: When I became a grandmaster, I think I was 19 years old, many would tell me that if I didn’t reach the top 100 or 50 before I became 20 years old I would not have another chance. Conflict number 1. I did prove to them that age does not matter! The second conflict was that when I was growing up they would tell me that I should play a very active opening as Black. I would only play open games, it is difficult to explain, but on e4 I would answer e5. That is called an open game.
Interviewer: Yes, I was going to say that the open game is 1. e4 e5.
LA: Yes, a symmetry. And many would tell me that if I continued this way I would not reach any heights, because one should always try to play more aggressively in order to win with Black. And I would always tell them that I was playing to win as Black but first I needed to equalise the position. This is conflict number 2. And I think I do win with Black (laughs)!
Basically, Aronian proved that you can progress at any age if you play what you like and what suits your personality, even if you don’t have an aggressive style.
17 – Kasparov on getting out of the comfort zone
When Der Spiegel asked Kasparov what he thought separated him, the world champion, from other strong chess players he answered “the willingness to take on new challenges”, the same answer he would give today. The willingness to keep trying new things – differents methods, uncomfortables tasks. Focusing on your strengths is required for peak performance, but improving your weaknesses has the potential for the greatest gains. Leaving your comfort zone involves risk, however, and when you are already doing well the temptation to stick with the status quoi can be overwhelming, leading to stagnation.
Kasparov, G. (2017). Deep thinking. London, England. John Murray.
I know I just said it was better to follow what suits you, but at some point in your progression, you will have to take some risks and get out of your comfort zone, for example by playing a new opening totally opposed to your style for instance.
16- Magnus Carlsen on yoga and meditation
Interviewer: How do you keep yourself in peak mental and physical condition? Do you do Yoga? Do you meditate for example?
Magnus answered he did some Yoga mostly for enjoyment and is not passionate about meditation. But he admits he should practice more as the few times he did it before a game, it certainly helped his mind be clearer.
During the interview, Magnus mentions that younger, he was able to maintain his focus for a really long time as long as he was interested. But even if he is naturally gifted in this area, he still recognizes the benefits of meditation. If you haven’t started practicing, here is a quick guide on how to do it. And for Yoga fans, here it is.
15 – Viswanathan Anand and Vidit Gujrathi on getting in the flow
Interviewer: What lessons did you learn from Gibraltar 2016 that you applied here?
VA: I think mainly the difference between Gibraltar and here is that I managed to remain calmer. In Gibraltar and even in World Cup 2017 I was unable to get into a calm state of mind, where you make sensible decisions at the board. In this tournament I managed to do this quite nicely. In fact I got into my groove in the last two games.
Interviewer: You thought a lot before making your first move what were you thinking?
VG: I was not really thinking at that point. I didn’t even know that he had made his move. I was just trying to get myself in the zone before the game.
Anand and Vidit explain how important it is to remain calm over the board, and how good you can play when you enter the flow. (or groove as Anand calls it)
14 – Levon Aronian and Hikaru Nakamura on knowing the opening ideas
LA: I believe that I have great experience in chess, and have played many openings which I can reuse by picking them out again from my store
Interviewer: When you say you know many openings, do you know the openings up to eighteen, twenty or twenty-five moves or perhaps more?
LA: No, this depends more on yourself, when you know yourself you understand which positions and style you like, it is not necessary to have studied them a lot, not necessary…
Interviewer: To remember all the moves in detail…?
Levon Yes, yes, yes.
Interviewer: Then it is more important to know the ideas.
Levon: Yes, and that depends a lot on a chess player’s erudition. When you are in love with chess, and as nature intended that all the strong chess players are, you tend to read chess books every day. You always open a chess book, you might open it at page fifty and read it. Perhaps poetry lovers are like that (laughs) when they always try to find something new in their favourite poetry books.
Hikaru Nakamura on his approach to the game
HN: There are two general approaches towards the game. In the opening phase, for example, there are a lot of people who try and look at it from more a mathematical formula of precision.They’re going to prepare something. They’re going to keep it very limited in terms of what someone will do against them. They’ll try and be very precise, not allow any holes or any of that. From like move one to 15, someone will know exactly what they’re going to be doing and they’ll know everything. They’ll have it all memorized, and that’s just how they approach it.
And then there are players like me, where I’m not going to be as much of this mathematical precision. I just want to get to a certain point in the game, and then whoever plays better wins.
So that’s where the creativity aspect, I think, very much comes into play, where we try and get this position where both players are going to have a general idea of what’s going on, but you think that you’re either going to know it better or you’re going to calculate a little bit better, or understand the position and all the intricacies of it better.
What you can conclude from these 2 comments is to stop learning detailed lines by heart, but insist more on comprehending the ideas behind the moves. It is a fact, that the opening has its importance simply because it is the beginning of the game. So create a basic repertoire with let’s say 5 moves or so and then try to understand the opening principles you intend to play.
13 – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on time management
MVL explains in his book you cannot stay blocked by your indecision for a too long time. One of his strengths is exactly time management.
Vachier-Lagrave, M. (2017). Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, joueur d’échecs, Il faut parfois savoir faire un petit sacrifice pour prendre l’avantage. Paris, France. Fayard.
Basically, you must play sometimes even if you are not sure about your intuition or what you calculated, because putting yourself in time trouble later on will anyway increase your chances of losing. As seen, the tendency to reduce again and again time control, I think this advice is much more important than it looks like. Here are some tips to help you manage the clock better in case.
12– Etienne Bacrot on the value of middlegame
Interviewer: What do you think was behind your success for this tournament? Good opening preparation?
EB: Actually, not much at all – I was quite chilled out before most games. I think that opening preparation is not as important and it is all about the play in the middlegame. A lot more work in the opening is required in Maxime’s section. Although, I say that, but I was caught out in a lot of games in the opening here! Then, somehow I was lucky with how the games turned around and I think the fact I maintained my energy before the game helped.
Being now in the second tier level, Etienne Bacrot plays more opens and faces thus more regularly amateurs. He reveals that under those conditions (compared to Maxime’s section as he mentions) the middlegame is certainly the most important part of the game to work on.
11 – Magnus Carlsen on the value of old books
Do old books have value?
MC: Old books definitely still have value. You can learn a lot from old games because they are instructive. In modern games it’s harder to play these kind of instructive games because people realize what you are going to do and so it’s not really a case of you follow a plan and then win. In the old days often you could see games even at the highest level when people lay out a good plan and they win. It’s still important to learn these plans and these ideas and for that old books are very good. For me I enjoyed very much reading about old games, both about players and strategy and so on – and I still do. I think it’s very good for your general chess education.
Let’s enter the top 10 by revisiting the past! Old books, and especially annotated games of previous champions, are regularly advised as being the perfect tool to understand elements of strategy, in what manner to build a plan and thus learn how to navigate the middlegame.
10 – Magnus Carlsen on getting good sleep consistently
Magnus Carlsen created a quick video presenting 13 tips to progress in chess. Sleeping well is by far the most important one as a bad night’s sleep can affect your brain possibilities. Even if it can boost your creativity during one game or two, sacrificing your sleep too regularly won’t pay off in the long run.
For more information on the subject of sleeping, don’t hesitate to check out my article.
9 – Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Ding Liren on analyzing chess games
Interviewer: What is your chess training routine?
SM: Watching games and analyzing those games. Watching more games will definitely improve you.
Seeing other chess games to broaden your chess knowledge is good, analyzing them is even better!
8 – Mark Dvoretsky on diagnosis your play
SS: How do you start working with a student who comes to you? What is the initial step?
MD: Different approaches for different players. It is important to see what his strengths and weaknesses are, and what is it that we would like to work on. A typical way to begin is with the diagnosis. Sometimes he sends me games beforehand, or sometimes we discuss his games, or we just analyze something. While doing this work I am trying to figure out his weaknesses and get to know things about his personality. And then when I spot a recurring problem our work usually begins from this point onwards. Also, it happens quite rarely that a completely new guy comes to me. I usually work with players whom I have seen before or analyzed a few of their games, so I already know a thing or two about them.
I plan to write soon about how to carry out a good diagnosis of our play. It is clear we need to know ourselves better in order to improve! If you don’t know where to start your progression journey, analyzing your strengths and weaknesses is the key!
7 – Magnus Carlsen on the importance of practice games
How did he prepare for the world championship tournament? Well the months before, he tried with his team to find new ideas but then when the tournament got closer, he mostly played many practice games, probably a thousand or so!
The best way to master a skill is? To practice of course. So make games (ideally long ones) part of your regular chess training.
6 – Garry Kasparov on learning from your mistakes
In his first match for the World Chess Championship, Kasparov was down 5 games to 0. If he lost one more game the match would be over. He studied all his failures. What was he doing wrong? And then he began the meta-game. Instead of playing for a win, he played for a draw in each game. After 40+ draws, his opponent, Karpov, started to collapse under the pressure. Eventually the match was cancelled and re-started, giving Kasparov more of a chance to study where he had gone wrong. He won the rematch and became world champion.
This famous world championship and the final win of Garry Kasparov is probably the best example of why it is important to study with attention your failures to be sure not to repeat them. As Nelson Mandela said one day, “I never lose, I either win or learn”.
5 – Hikaru Nakamura on the importance of tactics
Hikaru mentions in the video he thinks that before 2400, let’s say IM level, tactics are 90 or 95% of the game. Beyond that, it is more or less 50% (I presume the other 50% are strategy)
Practicing your tactics must be the number one priority to start getting better! It can be done independently from all other areas of improvement and with today’s technology it is actually quite easy and fun to do! Besides, solving tactics is probably the only kind of chess training along with regular play where you won’t feel like you actually work on improving your chess! (And thus you will face much less resistance making it a habit!)
4 – Mark Dvoretsky on tactical training
Interviewer: What would you recommend to a student who would like to become better at tactics?
MD: Tactical skills = Practical skills. Hence, you need to solve exercises. Tactics are made up of lot of features: imagination and combinational vision is one thing, calculation is another. Calculation in its turn consists of many devices like Candidate moves, elimination, comparison, attention to opponent’s counter-chances, etc. So you choose the area that you would like to develop, and then solve exercises based on it. This is sure to help you become better at tactics.
When Yusupov tried to become stronger tactically, apart from the above mentioned work he tried to play aggressively in tournaments. He risked a lot and was not successful initially. But he kept at it and this helped him to become tactically stronger. He sacrificed a few tournaments, but later was able to win much more important events with the skills that he had developed.
Interviewer: Coming back to our discussion on tactics. Which books would you recommend for solving tactical exercises?
MD: For training of combinational vision, there are a lot of good books. For strong players, books written by Nunn, Aagaard and my own books should be good enough. It depends on your level, of course. But sometimes more than the level a lot revolves around your approach to chess. I believe my books are ideal for students who are ambitious and looking to improve quickly at the game. You do not have to solve everything given in the book. I am all the time trying to describe how chess players think in a given position, and I use normal words and variations. Hence, it is possible for a student of any level to improve with these books. Some analyses and some examples are difficult for the average player. But it is not important at all. He can ignore it and concentrate on what is understandable for him.
Nakamura points out the big importance of tactics and Dvoretsky delivers his secrets on how to get the most out of them! I also invite you to check out my latest article on practicing your tactics smartly!
3 – Players on constant learning approach
Interviewer: What would you say it’s the single biggest factor in your improvement as a player?
Magnus Carlsen: It is all about my attitude. When I was 16, I wasn’t used to winning at all. It was all about the process of getting better, learning more.
Interviewer: What qualities are a must-have for anyone who wants to play in your league?
Magnus answered globally he was able to concentrate for a long time as soon as he was interested, and since his younger age. His interest never wasted and he just kept on learning, not necessarily fast but consistently.
Interviewer: What is your aim in chess?
Ding Liren: I just want to work hard and keep improving. I do not like to keep an aim in chess like winning the World Championship. Right now it’s very far. I will try to be happy and have good mood in daily life and then show my chess skill.
Interviewer: Sergey, you’re 27. How far ahead are you planning your chess career?
Sergey Karjakin: I feel as though I still have the energy to fight for the very highest prizes, including the classical World Championship title. I hope for another ten years I’ll play at the very highest level, but if I then realize that my results are dropping there won’t be any point in remaining. I’ll become a coach or take part in some chess-related activity.
As for age, I’ll try to match Vladimir Kramnik. At 42 he’s playing at the very highest level. To do that you need to study a lot and keep yourself in good physical condition. He probably works twice as much as Carlsen, and that’s essentially why Kramnik has kept himself at number 3-4 in the world rankings. I think it’s unlikely Carlsen will be able to maintain such a level at that age. To do that you need to drop everything, turn down a lot of things and work your socks off on chess.
Vassily Ivanchuk : and of course always during all of my life I need to try improve my chess level and I will try to do it.
Judit Polgar: I love chess very much. I love the game, the challenges. I could motivate myself as I was curious about how to improve every game
We enter the top 3 with a piece of advice which is certainly not a surprise, but is worth repeating it. Results don’t come from nowhere. You must be interested in learning consistantly more about the game. Yes, improving your chess requires some efforts here and there (ok maybe at the exception of tactics and regular play as this is only fun if you don’t analyze).
2 – Mark Dvoretsky on developing your skills in an organized and consistent way
Interviewer: What would be your message to all the chess players out there who would like to improve at the game?
MD: This message would make sense only for people who love chess. I think in chess everything can be achieved with normal, effective, rationally organized work, good books, articles, materials and regularly training.
I focused on all the phases of the game for my students and this led to a much more harmonious development.
I feel that many chess trainers think that chess is a game based on information. They try to collect data from various sources, learn them and then teach it to their students. But we mustn’t forget chess is also a sport and to be successful at a sport it is not enough to just have knowledge, you should have skills too. And for the development of skills you need to train. This is absolutely normal for any sport. It is also true for a subject like mathematics. You not only remember a lot of formulae and theorems, but you also solve a lot of problems. Therefore, training was a permanent part of my work with the students. If I gave them some knowledge, we would simultaneously train to understand it much better. There are many skills in the game of chess, like combinational vision, attack, defence, etc. and I always worked on these areas with my students. It’s absolutely natural and common sense, not a deep discovery!
This advice from Dvoretsky, symbolizes how you can make progress whatever your work on: good organization and consistency. All the other pieces of advice mentioned above won’t make any sense if you don’t put an efficient improvement method in place.
If organized and consistent work is the key to success, well I think we should all try it!
1 – Mark Dvoretsky on the reality of fast learning
Interviewer: What was the schedule like? (Talking about his work with Veselin Topalov)
MD: In the mornings we had three-hour session, then lunch and on some days we even went to the beach, where we continued our work. After this I gave him homework and he solved these exercises on his own at night. So it was several hours of work combined with homework. And believe it or not, his results improved tremendously after that. In one year, after our training, he gained 70-80 Elo points and he won a number of strong tournaments. Suffice it to say that endgame was not his weakness anymore!
Topalov’s performance at the Candidates 2016 was lacklustre.
Here he is seen sharing his problems with Dvoretsky as Vladimir Potkin looks on.
Interviewer: But do you think such a big weakness that has been in a player for so many years can be corrected in just ten days?
MD: We did it! [Laughs] Well, it was because I knew how this problem should be solved. Even less than ten days would have been sufficient according to me. When we started to work I saw that he was a tactician, but his calculation was not so great. He couldn’t calculate well and could hardly solve the exercises. Hence, in the first couple days I explained to him the elements of rational technique of calculation. After that we completely switched to endgame, and then he was able to solve practically all the exercises.
With effective work you can make a huge difference, that’s what I believe. Of course, he was a strong player and could understand the material quite well.
When I read this excerpt, I already knew it would be the first piece of advice I would give you as this perfectly sticks to what I aim to achieve with my one-year project. Dvoretsky demonstrated that with well-targeted work, you can make a player progress very rapidly. Gaining 70 or 80 Elo at that level is just huge! It is like 300 or 400 Elo for a 2000 player or so.
So if Dvoretsky helped Topalov to achieve it in just ten days, why wouldn’t you believe it is possible for you too? Why not start by following some recommendations from this top 50?