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How to Practice with Your Training/Sparring Partner (Part 3)

Article by GM Avetik Grigoryan
How to Practice with Your Training/Sparring Partner (Part 3)

In the last two articles, we talked about the importance of having a training/sparring partner, and how to find the right one.  In this final part, I’m going to share some practical tips, ideas, positions, and techniques, which you can use to work effectively with your training partners. 

 

All of the training methods you’re about to learn are not random experiments. They come from my many years of working with training partners and from coaching students who have them.

 

Let’s start with how to practice your openings. 

 

Openings

 

In my article about memorizing variations, I talked about how important it is to understand the ideas behind the openings and the positions they lead to, instead of trying to just memorize the moves.

 

 

One of the best ways to do it, is after watching a course or reading an opening book to organize a friendly match against your training partner where you only play the new opening. 

 

In my article about time controls, I shared my thoughts on why I believe 5+3 is a good time format for learning, but you can choose a longer time control too if you want. Likewise, I advise playing 6 games, but you can play 10 games or organize multiple matches instead – it’s all up to you.

 

The idea is that it will help you with:

 

1. Memorizing variations: 

 

It’s a very different process for our brain, when we just repeat the variation, and when we know that we have to play that opening soon in our own game.
In the 2nd case, our brain becomes much more attentive and as a result, we remember much more. 

 

When you practice an opening for the first time, it’s okay if you make mistakes. But if at the end of the match, you don’t go back to your PGN file and find out where you went wrong, that’s not okay smiley

 

By the way, If you’re serious about your chess improvement, committed to your goal to raise your rating, and you’ve already invested in yourself by acquiring a chess course and finding a training partner, then it would be a sin, to skip the important step of fixing your mistakes after you finish your games.

 

2. Feeling it

 

In many openings, it’s going to be much more important to feel the positions instead of memorizing the variations and the moves. 

 

I remember when I was analyzing the Modern Benoni with GM Akopian.

 

Modern Benoni

My love against 1.d4 - The Modern Benoni

 

He didn’t have any PGN files on his computer.
But regardless of the variation we were analyzing, he was able to offer suggestions, which later we found out were either the main moves or strong novelties. 

 

He knew lots of variations of course. But not in his computer, but in his head. But the most important thing was, that he was not trying to memorize anything. He was just feeling the positions, the pawn structure, when to exchange the Knights, when to start pushing the pawns on the queenside, and when to start the attack on the kingside. 

 

As a result, after analyzing the Modern Benoni with him for a few months, I remember that opening much better than what I had for lunch yesterday, despite the fact, that I was working with GM Akopian around 10 years ago.

 

It’s all about feeling…  

 

Though, it’s also important to know that there are some openings and crazy variations where remembering is going to be more important than feeling.

 

Like the crazy variation in the Najdorf, if Black takes on b2. 

 

Sicilian, Najdorf, Qb2 variation

 

In such crazy variations, it will be less about feeling the opening and more about feeling the dynamics of the game. If you do one wrong move in positions like the one above, the game will be over, so it’s much more effective to practice less concrete openings with your training partner.

 

For example, let’s look at the Benko Gambit.

 

Benko Gambit

 Benko Gambit 

 

It would be a great experience for you to play these positions and start feeling the team play between your pieces, the power of the g7 Bishop, how you’re going to put pressure on the Queenside with the “a” and “b” half-open lines, when the f6 Knight should go from g4 to e5, or when it should go through e8 and c7 to b5.

 

Benko Gambit

 

Alternatively, let’s say you watched our course and learned how to play against the Caro-Kann

 

To feel the power of the d3 Bishop, it would be a very good idea to practice some of the dangerous variations such as 3.exd5.

 

Caro Kann exchange variation

 

In the future, when you’re going to start the attack with f4 and Rf3, and when we’ll play Rae1 and Ne5 first, it’s going to be important to practice the ideas shown in the course of how to stop Black’s pawn majority attack (b5-b4 plan).

 

 

I could show endless examples like these, but the point is to try to practice openings, variations, and positions, where there are not concrete solutions so that you can start to feel them.

 

If you try to blindly memorize variations, firstly you’ll forget most of them in the next 48 hours, and secondly, if you don’t understand the positions, you may try to use an idea that you learned but in a wrong position. 

 

To summarize:

 

Don’t try to blindly memorize. Feel and understand the positions. 

 

And after you’ve watched a course, or learned a new opening from a book, there are 3 great ways to start feeling the positions. 

 

1. Study model games that feature that particular opening.

2. Practice them.

3. Fix the mistakes of your games.

 

Used wisely, your training partner is going to be a treasure for you in this process.

 

 

Should you practice both sides?

 

Let’s say that you’ve learned to play the Scotch against 1.e4 e5. But normally against 1.e4 you play 1...c5, the Sicilian.

 

Even though you may never normally play Black against the Scotch you should still switch sides. Why? Because you’ll be in the shoes of your future opponents, and you’ll see the positions from their perspective. As a result, when you come back to play for White, you will feel the positions better.  

 

 

Now, let’s start the journey of developing your middlegame and endgame skills smiley

 

Middlegame Mastery   

 

While many players think that the middlegame is all about tactics (I wrote an entire article to dispel that myth), there are many important skills you need to develop, such as:

 

  • Using the power of having two Bishops
  • How to play in positions when you have a space advantage or space disadvantage
  • Knowing when a Bishop is stronger than a Knight and when a Knight is stronger than a Bishop
  • Playing in imbalanced positions, such as:
    • When you’re an exchange up or down
    • When you have two pieces against your opponent’s Rook 
    • When you have a Queen against three pieces or vice versa
  • How to attack and defend precisely
  • How to save lost positions and win winning ones
  • And much more...
     

While it’s great to learn these topics from books and courses, you can apply them with your training partners. 

 

I’m going to show you a set of positions that you can practice with your partner, but by the end, you should also have a good understanding of how you can go further and use different positions to practice and improve your middlegame skills.

 

Let’s start with the “two Bishop advantage”. 

 

Two Bishop advantage

 

Here’s the first position that I recommend you to practice with your partner:

 

Two Bishop advantage

 

Where are the other pieces? Well...I removed them smiley

 

Play this position with your partner 6-10 times, and by the end, I guarantee you’ll start to feel the advantage of having two Bishops. 

 

What will this teach you? Hopefully, in your games, you’ll start to think twice before giving up your two Bishop advantage to your opponent (which is a very common mistake for below 2,000 rated players). 

 

By the way, as in the openings, I recommend playing both sides so that you learn to apply pressure and defend too.  

 

Did you play some games and start to feel the power of the two Bishops? Good!

 

Let’s go to the next training position where I’ve also removed the b2 and g7 pawns.

 

 Two Bishop advantage

 

If you already have a basic understanding of using the power of two Bishops, you’ll notice that White’s position became even more advantageous as White now has a pawn majority on the kingside while Black has a pawn majority on the Queenside. 

 

The two Bishops love waging war on both sides of the board – this is where they’re in their element. 

 

If you didn’t know this, you’ll feel it when you practice this position with your partner. And if you knew it theoretically, practice will deepen your understanding. 

 

Such training will help you to take advantage in the future when you get two Bishops in your games.  

 

A real example

 

Recently, one of my students had this position in their game. 

 

Two Bishop advantage

 

He had a choice, to take on h6 and give up the b2 pawn, or to keep both of the pawns. He took on h6 without thinking. 

 

Later, when I asked him, why he played Bxh6 in one second, he said:

 

“With David (my other student’s name) we’ve played 30 blitz games practicing your method, and I knew, that I needed to create an imbalanced pawn structure when I have two Bishops.” 

 

***


Going back to the topic of “Two Bishops” , you can try many different experiments. You can put the b2 and g7 pawns back, and remove other pawns. For example c2 and e7.

 

Or you could add Rooks on the board, and feel what’s changed. 

 

Two Bishop advantage

 

Is it better for White or for Black?
What if, instead of Rooks we added Queens on the board?

 

Try it, experiment with it, and your fantasy is your friend. In the end, you’ll improve your understanding of the power of two Bishops. 

 

Do you have problems with imbalanced positions? Let’s go there. 

 

Rook vs Pieces 

 

 Rook vs Pieces

 

Who’s better? White or Black? The engine thinks it’s around equal…
Who’s better practically? Which side is easier to play?
You’ll find out when you practice smiley 

 

Why did I put the pawns this way? It was my fantasy, and the mouse was in my hands smiley  You can try a different position smiley
What if we add Bishops for each side? 

 

Rook vs Pieces

 

Now, White is clearly better. 
Why? This you’ll learn in our courses, but at the same time when practicing, you’ll feel that Black’s Rook is more limited as more squares are under White’s control and White has a two Bishop advantage now as well.

 

Again, later, you can change the positions of the pawns, or add other pieces. 
Set up different positions and play them. 

 

Queen vs Pieces

 

 

Who’s better? (As you see again the mouse was in my hands laugh)
The engine thinks it’s equal smiley
Is it easier to play for White or Black? 
You’ll know that after you practice. 

 

Again, you can change the placement of the pawns, add more pieces… Your fantasy and your partner are your friends.

 

And like this, you can play very different types of positions, with different material on the board, with different imbalances. I’ve tried this training myself, as have my students, and the results are fantastic!

 

SLP and WWP 

 

If you’re a ChessMood student, you already know that SLP and WWP are some of our favorite acronyms smiley

 

SLP stands for “saving lost positions”, while WWP stands for “winning winning positions”. 

 

While we’re currently recording two big courses about these topics, I’ve shown the basics during our streams and webinars. And I recommend you to try the following training. 

 

You play 1.e4 (or e3) and then pre-move 2.Ba6!! smiley

 

SLP and WWP

 

Playing positions like these will help you to learn how to complicate your opponent’s plans, search for practical chances, and ultimately save lost positions. 

 

And when you’re playing with an extra piece, you’ll learn how to win winning positions by not allowing your opponent any counter-chances and slowly converting your advantage. 

 

If you don’t believe that it’s possible to save games when you’re a piece down, think again! As part of the events I host for ChessMood members, I did a streaming series where I got to 2400 on chess.com, playing every game without a piece. Try it! 

 

If you’re an FM, IM, or GM, a whole piece might be too much for you.
Instead, you can remove the a2, b2, or c2 pawns, or remove your a1 Rook, and your opponent’s Bishop. Not only will it be a fun way to train, but it’ll be instructive too! 

 

 SLP and WWP

 

The position above will help you to learn how to play when you’re an exchange down or an exchange up from the other side. It will also help you to feel the power of having two Bishops, even if you’re an exchange down. 

 

HOI 

 

If you’re a ChessMood student, you should also know that the acronym HOI stands for “handling opponent’s initiative”. 

 

I recommend you to give 4 tempos to your opponent and then start playing.

 

HOI

 

You can just setup the above position, or just play 1.Nc3 2.Nb1 3.Nc3 4.Nb1 and then start to defend and try to handle your opponent’s initiative.

 

Playing for Black, you’ll learn how to play with initiative, and crush your opponent without allowing them to develop their pieces. 

 

It’s great training, and we had many fun times during our events. Try it. 

 

Now let’s speak a bit about improving your theoretical endgames. 

 

Endgame Mastery 

 

I often see people learning simple positions, like how to keep opposition.

 

 Endgame Mastery

 

They watched a course, or read a chapter of a book, and they think they know it, so they go forward. But if they’ve never tried it, 99% of the time, they fail to make a draw on their first try. 

 

So, what’s my recommendation? I bet you guessed it. Practice it with your partner with both colors. Try to win and try to defend. 

 

In the same way, if you learned about basic Rook endgames, you may have heard of the Philidor position...

 

Endgame Mastery

 

Setup the position above and see if you can use your knowledge in practice. Can you hold the Philidor position? 

 

Or if you’ve learned how to checkmate with a Bishop and a Knight, set it up too.

 

Endgame Mastery

 

No matter, if your coach taught you it, or you’ve watched videos from Anna Rudolf (who explains it fantastically! ), or you’ve learned the “W” technique or the “Delétang's” one – it doesn’t matter.
Until you practice it on the board, most probably you’ll fail the first few times.

 

By the way, practicing how to checkmate with a Bishop and a Knight, will develop your skill of feeling the team play between your minor pieces.

 

Rook + Bishop vs Rook

 

Are you an advanced player, who is learning how to defend a Rook against Rook+Bishop? 

 

Rook + Bishop vs Rook

 

Did you learn the two most important techniques to defend? That’s great!

 

Even if you’re sure that you can do it in an actual game, and you remember the way of making the draw, believe me, you won’t until you practice it. 

 

So I offer you, whatever new theoretical position you learned, practice it. You need to create a connection between your neurons. 

 

What if we play online?  

 

What if your partner is not your neighbor, and you practice with them online? How can you set up the position? 

 

No worries! 

 

Lichess has a feature that allows you to set up any position – I’ll show you how. 

 

 

After sending a challenge to an opponent, click on the “edit” button and you can set up any position you want smiley

 

 

It’s you, your partner, and your fantasy. Good luck! smiley

 

No way without practicing 

 

When you watch Bruce Lee’s movies, do you become a good fighter? Of course not, right? smiley

 

Luckily, chess is different. If you watch a course, you will become better. However, not as much, as if you practice it as well. 

 

Whatever opening you learned, try to practice it. 
You learned a new theoretical position - practice it, until you can draw the theoretically drawn position or win the winning one. 

 

And with your training partner, you can improve your middlegame as well. 
Much better, if you have basic knowledge about the particular topic, or if you have someone whom you can show the games and ask the advice. But anyway, practicing is going to be key. 

 

Now we’re recording middlegame courses about each topic. And at the end of each course, there will be a set of positions, which we’ll recommend you to play with your training partner. 

 

As the famous general said: 

 

 

Summary  

 

There are many chess players that have invested heavily in books and courses, but don’t have a training partner yet. My message to you is that now is the time to practice what you’ve already been taught! 

 

Throughout this trio of articles, I hope I’ve managed to convince you that having a training partner is one of the best ways to accelerate your chess growth. From improving your understanding of the game, gaining extra motivation to hit your goals, learning about your strengths and weaknesses, and having more fun while you train.

 

Assuming you don’t already have a training partner, I have a challenge for you. Take 5 minutes (right now, not later!) to create a post looking for one in our forum, you won’t regret it. Good luck!

 

P.S.  If you haven’t done already, make sure to read the first part of this article series where we cover why it’s important to have a training partner and the second part where we talk about how to find one.


P.P.S. You can also share your thoughts on this particular article here.

 

Article by GM Avetik Grigoryan