How to get better at chess: The 3-step formula and the secret sauce
Want to speed up your growth and have more fun? GM Avetik shares his 3-step chess improvement formula and the secret sauce.
Want to speed up your growth and have more fun? GM Avetik shares his 3-step chess improvement formula and the secret sauce.
My investor asked me:
“You have about 100 articles on the blog. Why have you never written about chess improvement directly? All your articles are around it, covering a specific topic. But why don’t you have the main article - How to get better at chess?
That was a good question!
And I was shy to answer.
The truth was that I had already been writing that article for 3 months!
And I couldn’t finish it. I was lazy and was procrastinating…
And it was me who put myself in that situation.
When I googled other articles about chess improvement, I saw a sad picture with the following problems:
1. Most articles with headlines about how to get better at chess are actually about how/what to study. But as you’ll see soon, chess improvement isn’t about just studying.
2. Most of their advice can’t be applicable to different levels at the same time.
3. And the saddest part. Clearly, many of the articles were written by marketers/content writers and not by chess experts.
With the intention of writing the perfect article, I separated it into different categories based on the level of the chess improver, the time they can spend on chess, and their goals.
And starting with that idea, I wrote 141 pages!
And I still wasn’t finished. That wasn’t an article anymore!
And I didn’t know what to do with it. Should I make it a book? Or should I simplify the sections?
Every Tuesday morning (we work on weekends and take a rest on Mondays, so Tuesday is the first working day), I would open the article/book with a commitment to finish it that week. But…
So, I just told my investor straight.
“Because I was lazy. And I can’t overcome my procrastination.”
After a pause, he started to laugh and said:
“I have never heard such words from you. Also.. you wrote 100+ pages, and you call yourself lazy? 😊 You shouldn’t touch that article until you come up with a clear solution. Take a bit of rest from it.”
I wish I could… But my brain couldn’t stop thinking about the article.
I was thinking about it when driving, eating, and I would even see it in my dreams.
The next week, I had a call with one of our most positive ChessMood students, who had become my good friend very fast.
He asked a very similar question.
“Avetik, why don’t you provide study plans to us?” 😁😁😁
I took a deep sigh, and laughing showed him another 120-page document, which I separated into the same 9 categories!
He looked at it carefully and then told me something that changed everything!
“Don't let perfect be the enemy of good!”
After letting me digest it, he continued:
“Generally, an ‘ok’ idea well-executed is much better than an ‘amazing’ idea – ok executed. Ideas are great, but the execution is king.”
That next Tuesday morning, I knew what I needed to do.
I opened my article/book and tried to find what was similar for improvement in every category.
Also, I looked at my different careers: How I improved my chess. How I did it with poker. How I got good at Kung-fu. How I became a better coach. How I learned different business skills.
Everywhere I looked, the same 4 things were there!
I had the formula in my hands!
Which I’ll share with you now.
You can use this in chess and every area of your life.
It’s quite simple.
Study -> Practice -> Fix -> (Repeat)
You learn something first.
You practice it; otherwise, you’ll forget it.
You fix the mistakes you make.
Then you learn new things, and the cycle continues.
Anything to add?
Yes! The sauce.
Everything you can do — studying, practicing, and fixing you can multiply the results with the secret sauce — the right mindset!
Let’s go through this formula separately, and then I’ll tell you how I used it for learning my openings.
My friend who was reviewing the article argued with me that the cycle should be practice 1st, and then 2. Study, and 3. Fix
I asked, “Did you start playing chess and then learn the rules?”
After laughing, the topic was closed.
So the 1st step is clearly “Study.”
The mistake many experience is either never coming back to studying or not coming back frequently enough.
I’ll tell you something astonishing.
If you’re 1,500 on chess com, you’re better than 94% of all other chess players on the platform!
A screenshot from my friend's friend's profile
Many start grinding after learning the rules, but never return to learning opening principles, or basic tactics like forks and pins.
They never learn how to use weak squares, attacking and defensive techniques, the general principles of winning won positions, or basic endgames.
Not surprisingly, they never get better at chess, or if they do, it is only slightly.
On the contrary, many make the opposite mistake.
They decide to study everything and then play.
This is also wrong because you really really learn when you do.
If you keep learning things one after another but never practice them, all your knowledge will be vague, and you’ll easily forget to use it during the game.
And while there are chess players who have some balance between studying and practicing (soon we’ll speak about what should be the correct balance), most of them fail in the 3rd step.
They never check their games to fix their mistakes. As a result, they keep repeating the wrong things they do in the openings, middlegame and endgame.
All those steps to get better at chess can be done better and more effectively when you do them correctly and with the right mindset.
It’s not about just studying x hours a day. It’s about the quality of your study time. It’s about which source you learn from. What’s your study plan? Who gave it to you? How do you study? Who do you study with?
Imagine how fast you will grow if you do those things right.
And It’s not about just playing chess x hours a day.
What time control do you choose? Do you play bullet or rapid games? Who do you play with? Against an engine, a stronger opponent, or a weaker one?
Do you play 50 games in a row in 1 day, or do you go with 9-game sessions?
All this will matter!
And how do you fix your mistakes?
Do you do it with online platform engines and let them convince you that you’re the worst player ever? Or do you do it with a coach?
Do you take your mistakes personally or do you fix them and focus on growth?
Do you make wrong conclusions from your mistakes, and think that you should change your opening, while you just lost the game because you didn’t know the basic Philidor endgame?
Or do you learn the right lessons and make adjustments?
Imagine what kind of competitive advantage you’ll have over your peers if you add the right sauce to the 3-step chess improvement formula…
In a minute, I’ll show you how to have a better sauce than Heinz ketchup. But before that, let me share with you something important.
So, how many games should you play, and when should you come back to studying? Or how much should you study before practicing?
Here I have a very nice and practical tip for you, which I use in every area.
I ask the following question: “Do I have anything to digest?”
The analogy is the following.
You gain vitamins not when you eat some food, but when you digest it, right?
And you “eat” information by studying. But it becomes yours, and you “digest” it by practicing!
My advice is simple.
You just finished a course on opening principles? Time to play chess and digest your new knowledge.
You watched a course on tactics, learned about forks, pins, and other 5 tactics today? Go play and digest them.
You learned how to play French or Dutch attacks? Practice them with your training partner.
And if you don’t have anything to “digest,” go back and study, “eat.”
Keep in mind that question, and you’ll see how deeper you learn things.
Ask, “Do I have anything to digest?”
If the answer is yes — time to practice. If not, and you don’t have anything to “digest,” go back and study. Time to “eat.”
During almost all my professional chess career I played 1.d4.
I became a Grandmaster at 19. But it was so clear to me that I could have made it earlier…
I was missing so much in my foundation because I didn’t start my career with 1.e4…
I was so convinced of this that I wanted to create the ChessMood opening repertoire with 1.e4!
Yeah, I could create a 1.d4 repertoire 100 times easier… But you already know about my “stupid” perfectionist personality 😁
So, how did I learn 1.e4 from scratch?
With the 3-step formula and with the secret sauce!
I talked with all my Grandmaster friends who played 1.e4 all their life and asked for advice on which variation to learn against 1…e5, Sicilians, Caro Kann, French and others… (Secret sauce! I could just go to YouTube or open a chess database and never really learn it. However, I used a shortcut!).
After some time, I had a clear idea which were the most aggressive and practical variations for every opening after 1.e4.
The next step? I started to study them, I made PGN files and analyzed them.
Step 2? I started to practice them! I was going online and playing those openings against different levels, from club players to Grandmasters.
Step 3? After each online session, I would download all my games, analyze how the opening unfolded, and then fix my mistakes and update my initial files.
And then — repeat 😊
Yeah, I spent 1 full year learning everything about playing 1.e4!
I had to learn it deeply so that I could create the courses.
I believe that for recording a course, you have to be the course!
(If your intention is to add real value to the chess world and not just make money).
Now in case you are wondering if you need to spend 1 year to learn 1.e4?
All is analyzed and prepared for you in our step-by-step courses.
And all you need to do is to follow the 3 step formula and the secret sauce.
Step 1 — study from the courses
Step 2 — practice
Step 3 — fix the mistakes
And then — repeat
Everyone I’ve met who has complained about not memorizing their openings, be it the ChessMood repertoire or their own, have the same thing in common. After a short talk it was obvious they missed one of those 3 steps or did it with the wrong sauce.
As all of our articles are around chess improvement, and all of them are around the 3-step formula and the secret sauce (the mindset!), this is what I’m preparing for you.
Soon we’ll redesign our Blog as a chess improvement roadmap.
The main “cities” will be study, practice, fix, and mindset.
And each of them will have their own “districts”. Each of those “districts” will have their streets.
And just like you do with Google Map, you’ll be able to Zoom in/Zoom out, go to the street (the article) you’re interested in, click on it and voila. You read that particular article.
For example, if you want to learn more about how to study correctly, you go to that “district” and click on the particular article.
If you want to study about fixing mistakes, you click there…
Gonna be cool, right?
Meanwhile, I’ll leave the list of the articles that are a must-read for improving your chess.
I’ll separate them into 4 categories. And you can choose an article from the block where you struggle the most.
How GM Gabuzyan crossed the plateau and reached 3000 on chess com
How to learn and improve chess tactics
How Grandmasters memorize opening variations
How to improve the quality of your chess training
The importance of having a training/sparring partner (Part 1,2,3)
Chess time controls: Which is best suited to you?
My golden method of playing online chess
5 steps to stop bad results
The importance of cutting losses
How to multiply good results
A secret weapon for handling tough positions and bad moods
Analyzing blitz chess games: why? and how to do it!
Mistakes are not failures
Learn the right lessons from your mistakes
The must-learn skill to skyrocket your growth
Detachment: Focus on growth and not the result
Ostrich syndrome and the tale of 3 Grandmasters
Start with why
The legal doping
The secret of lasting love for chess
If you want to achieve more, you need to deserve more
What’s the “but” thats holding you back?
The power of being awesome
Hopefully, you’ll read them, will get better at chess faster, and have fun on your journey.
Every chess level will have a different set of best books, different recommended time controls and different levels of analyzing the games.
Every level will have a different importance of mindset.
But the 3-step formula and the sauce are universal for every level!
And you can use it for almost any area in life.
Study-> Practice -> Fix
And add the secret sauce — the right mindset.
For your growth,
P. S. You can share your feedback on our forum.
And feel free to share with our community, what are the adjustments you’re going to make for improving your chess faster.
Originally published Dec 12, 2022