A while ago, I received a message from an old friend of mine.
This friend, who’s a high-rated chess player, is particularly well-known for the amount of effort and discipline he puts into his chess training.
The message read, “Bro, I spend about 6-7 hours every day on my chess but I’m not improving as much as I feel I should, can I get your advice on what I should do?”
Sounds strange, right? Shouldn’t someone who spends so many hours on their chess, experience really fast growth?
Since I noticed many players have the same issue, I decided to tell this story and share my opinion on what was going wrong...
First, I wanted to diagnose the problem, so I asked him to provide me with details of his training schedule. I was told that most days he spends around 3-4 hours on openings, around 2 hours on middlegames, and the rest on tactics and endgames. This sounded reasonable.
So I asked about his discipline to train, and the answer sounded reasonable once again. 6 days per week, with one rest day – plus, he’d maintained this schedule for a long time.
Then I asked, “What’s the quality of your training?” and I felt he was a bit confused by the question.
“I think it’s fine,” was his answer.
Hmm… I realized we were close to discovering the issue. And after a bit of further discussion, we finally figured out the problem.
A very common mistake
My friend was too focused on the quantity of his training (i.e. how many hours he worked on his chess), instead of the quality of his training!
I asked him two questions:
1. When you’re preparing for and playing a tournament game are you concentrated?
He told me: "Yes! I forget everything else in the world and just think about my game!"
2. Do you forget everything else in the world when you’re training?
He smiled and probably realized what was going wrong.
Many players’ level of concentration is much lower when they train compared to when they play. If you train with a lower level of performance, why should you expect to perform with a higher one when you are competing?
If an athlete runs at half-speed during their training, can they realistically expect to run twice as fast during a competition? Would it be reasonable to expect much success from a soccer player who never runs during practice?
Chess is a mental game and our brain is the muscle we use. So when we train, we need to have full concentration in order to unleash our maximum power during our games!
Sounds easy? Not at all!
If you struggle to concentrate during a game, you may find it useful to read GM Hovhannisyan’s article with 7 tips.
But for now, let’s go to the next part where I’ll share my opinion on how to improve your concentration and increase the quality of your training.
Usually, as we get older we gain more responsibilities and things to worry about. This is the issue that doesn’t allow us to fully focus and realize our potential in chess.
Distractions can be: the phone ringing, a loud video playing, evening plans with friends, a work project, etc.
If you spend 4 hours with different thoughts swirling in your mind, this concentration will not be enough to perform well.
I would much prefer to train for just two hours, but with maximum focus and concentration. Having said that, it’s not an easy goal and it requires a lot of effort.
First of all, you need to create conditions where nothing else disturbs you!
Think of it like this. If you're going to spend these 2 hours on chess, what’s the value of thinking about anything else? You’re playing chess for 2 hours! So please be so kind as to try to forget everything else.
I think this is so important that I’ll repeat myself one more time. Consider the below as the punchline of the entire article:
Focus on your chess during your training time, there’s no need to think about anything else!
✔️ Turn off your phone, and decide what work you’re going to do. Before you begin I recommend to some of my students to think about their training.
✔️ Lay down or sit somewhere and visualize the training process.
✔️ Focus on the chessboard and begin!
Now let’s talk about how to improve the quality of your chess training.
A system to improve the quality of your training
Very often during training, people don’t worry about blundering so they offer random moves, sometimes guessing, and sometimes having fun. This leads to a very bad habit. Very often they can’t switch to “playing mode” during their games and make silly decisions as a result.
If you’re in “full concentration mode” and do your best during your training, getting stronger is the outcome. Otherwise, what’s the purpose of training at all if you’re just sitting in front of the board and that’s it?
In order to overcome this issue, I have a funny system that I use with my students. If they make a silly mistake during our lessons they get a penalty like 20 squats or a minute of planking.
Besides the fact that I enjoy torturing them, it works
The cost of mistakes
The logic of all of this is as follows.
If you make a mistake during a tournament game, it can cost you:
1. All the time spent traveling
2. Money (accommodation, food, etc)
3. Your tournament position and rating points
4. The loss of a prize which you could have otherwise potentially won
In this context, it can make a lot of sense to set yourself penalties if you find yourself making stupid mistakes.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean you should punish yourself for trying an interesting-looking idea or sacrifice! NO! Training is the best field for experimenting and if you want to check some interesting moves it’s fine. But you need to find a happy medium.
I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but you’ll just feel it. You’ll know when the effort you put in was enough and you didn’t make a mistake because you were just having too much fun.
What penalties should you set for mistakes you make during your training?
There’s a lot of things you can do. My advice would be to use penalties that will really force you to perform at your best. For one person it might be not going to a party, for another person it might be exercising.
Personally, I restrict myself from having a glass of beer (a nightmare, isn’t it?).
In summary, if you want to maximize the value you get out of your training:
• Put yourself in “full concentration mode” during training – avoid distractions and forget everything else going on.
• Treat your training as if it’s a competitive game. Set penalties to incentivize yourself to act responsibly with your time, and focus fully on improving.
I hope this system helps you accelerate your chess growth and improve the results you get from your training!
P.S. If you’re one of our PRO Members, you may already have a personal training plan created by a ChessMood Grandmaster – make sure you follow this advice when working on it!
P.P.S. You can share your own thoughts and experiences about your own chess training in our forum.