Training Plan

This is the plan I use to teach my kids, but I think this would work well for players of any age and I'm following the plan myself. I try to limit training sessions to 30 minutes and play a game every day, with varying time controls. Remember that it's much better to do 30 minutes a day for 6 days than to do no chess for 5 days followed by 3 hours on one day. In addition to keeping it fun, there are important cognitive benefits to the more-frequent-short-session approach.

This plan follows the topical sequence laid out by the Comprehensive Chess Course, with two important changes. First, I include much more study of tactics before moving on to attack and defense (volume 4 in the CCC). There is a huge jump in difficulty between volumes 3 (tactics) and 4 (attack/defense) of CCC, and even between volume 3 and Vukovic's Art of Attack, which is somewhat more basic than CCC volume 4. Attack and defense simply requires good tactical ability, and attempting to learn attack and defense before you can find 3 and 4 move combinations regularly will result in frustration. The second change I've made is that I include the study of instructionally-annotated games, such as Chernev's classic Logical Chess, Move by Move. Studying instructionally-annotated full games puts all the tactics in context and provides some basic instruction in strategy. Note that by "instructinally-annotated" I mean books that comment on every move and are intended for teaching amateur players.

We haven't completed the plan yet. The parts we haven't done yet are shaded.


Stage 1: Basic Training

Once they know the basic rules and how the pieces move, we start playing practice games. In these games I give a lot of hints and instructions on what they should be thinking about and how they should be choosing their moves. Once they finish the first six chapters of the Susan Polgar book and the first chapter of Silman's endgame book, they're ready to start entering tournaments.

A World Champion's Guide to Chess : Step-by-step instructions for winning chess the Polgar way

by Susan Polgar, Paul Truong

We call this "The Susan Polgar Book." The first part of the book teaches all the rules, how the pieces move, and how to read and write chess moves. The second part, the meat of the book, is chapter after chapter of puzzles, which start very basic and cover every aspect of play. The beauty of the puzzle approach is that each puzzle is a micro-simulation of a game. You have a position in which you find a move, just like in a game; but each puzzle is designed to teach a specific pattern that you need to know to be a successful chess player. Here's how we use this book: I assign one chapter per day. We discuss the instructional content at the start of the chapter and do the first one or two puzzles together to make sure they understand it, and then they do the rest of the puzzles for that chapter on their own, checking their answers in the back of the chapter. They should spend no more than 5 minutes on each puzzle. Remember: it's training, not testing; the idea is to get these patterns into your head. If you can't find the answer to a puzzle in 3 minutes, look up the answer and make sure you understand it. After they finish doing the chapter on their own, I quiz them on a few of the puzzles to make sure they got it. Skip the section on endgames; it's not very good. Use the Silman book for endgames.

Silman's Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner to Master

by Jeremy Silman

The quality of the writing and instruction is excellent, but the best feature of this book is that it lays out exactly what you need to know at each skill level. SO there's a chapter for players rated under 1000, a chapter for players rated 1000 - 1200, and so on. The idea is that you study only the chapter that matches your skill level, and then put the book away until you approach the next skill level. Do the first chapter of this book after you've finished the first six chapters of the Susan Polgar book above. Then you'll have all the knowledge you need to win games by obtaining a material advantage and trading down to an "overkill" endgame.

Checkmate Ideas for Students

by John Bain

You can knock this out in less than two weeks. This book will reinforce basic tactical themes and checkmate patterns.


Stage 2: Laying a Solid Foundation

At this point they've played in about a half-dozen tournaments and should be rated around 500. Now your practice games change character. Instead of giving hints during the game, I make one critical mistake that allows them to play a winning combination - if they can find it. For the rest of the game I play as strongly as I can. In the beginning of this stage I'll say "I've made a mistake here. Find the winning combination." As they get stronger, I stop giving any hints. After the game I analyze it with them and give them no more than three lessons from the game based on mistakes they made.

Comprehensive Chess Course: From Beginner to Tournament Player in 12 Lessons (Comprehensive Chess Course)

by Roman Pelts, Lev Alburt

This book will give you a foundation with no holes. You'll learn all the rules, board visualization, planning, basic tactical calculation, opening principles, endgames, basic tactical themes, and checkmates. You'll also study several instructive games that illustrate each of the teaching points. I don't consider this a good book for self-study - the writing and annotations are too terse. You'll need to present this material to your students. The value of the book is the incredible wealth of material it provides and the way it builds playing strength from the ground up. It will take about 50 sessions to get through the whole book, plus homework time between sessions. To make this book less onerous, we do the homework during training sessions, which adds about 30 training sessions (each of the 11 instructional chapters has homework, and the final chapter, chapter 12, contains 20 short tests; we do homeworks in one or two sessions each, and each test from chapter 12 is covered in one training session).

Chess Tactics for Students

by John A. Bain

This is a good first book in tactics, filling the gap between knowing the basic tactical themes and being able to handle a 2-3 move combinations puzzle book. It's arranged as a workbook with generous blanks for even young student to write answers. Each problem has hints, which become more sparse as the student advances. This format builds the student's ability and confidence gradually.

Chess Tactics for the Tournament Player

by Sam Palatnik and Lev Alburt

This book builds on the tactical foundation laid so far to get the student thinking about tactical, or combinational play, i.e., how to make and use threats in your games. There's a great deal of instructional material for each tactical theme, and typically 12 puzzles at the end of each chapter to practice those tactics. There's also an excellent chapter on calculation and psychological errors at the end. An older student, say 10 or older, should be able to read this book on their own and review it with you, but you may have to present some of the material in lesson form, especially to younger students.

Logical Chess, Move by Move

by Irving Chernev

Study 3 or 4 games from the Chernev book each week. Studying these games will teach basic strategy and put the tactics you're learning in context. When a move is commented by "can't do this because of ..." or "threatening...", try to figure it out before reading on. This is a great way to build calculation skills and learn basic strategy, which can be anecdotally defined as "how to decide what to play when there's nothing to play." In other words, if there's no tactic to play, then you'll have to use other criteria to select a move. Studying master games, especially using a book like this, will help you learn how to do this.

Improve Your Chess (Better Chess Series)

by A. J. Gillam

It's time to start doing puzzle books. This series is hard to find, but also hard to beat. It's important to train with material that's appropriate for your level. Training with excessively difficult material will frustrate you and help you little. This book is just the right level of difficulty at this stage in training. Later books in this series can be used in later stages. Here's how we use puzzle training books: do 8-12 puzzles each night when you go to bed. Cognitive theory suggests that this will result in greater retention (sleep plays an important role in learning). I also carry books like these (you want a slim, easy to carry puzzle book) with me in the car and in my backpack so I can knock out a few puzzles during down times - in traffic jams, waiting for airplanes, busses, etc. Adopting a puzzle training regimen like this also helps to maintain continuity on days when you don't do a training session. Again, if you can't find the answer to a puzzle after 2-3 minutes of searching, look up the answer, make sure you understand it, and move on. The idea is to get as many patterns in your head as possible.


Stage 3: Progressing Beyond Beginner Class (Reaching 1400)

By this stage they've played in dozens of tournaments and should be rated over 1000. They no longer need any help beating you occasionally in your practice games, and if you don't stay ahead of them in playing strength you'll need to hire a coach. If they don't have strong players to practice with, they will stagnate. I've heard as a rule of thumb that a chess coach should be at least 400 points stronger than their students. Note that coaching can't help but improve your own strangth. My apprach has been to study a little extra on my own and play in tournaments myself to stay ahead of my kids. I have aspirations of becoming a master myself, so this approach should work for a good long time. But when the time comes to decide whether your students need a professional coach, you need to be honest with yourself for the sake of your students.

Chess Tactics for Champions

by Susan Polgar and Paul Troung

This is a nice puzzle-rich tactics book. The instructional content is somewhat terse, but each chapter has 25 - 50 puzzles that progress from 2-move combinations to very complicated ones requiring deep calculation. You may want to set those up on a board and discuss them. Talk about why certain seemingly good moves don't work, how you would select candidate moves, and how you would calculate variations. There are two broad types of tactics training: pattern training, and calculation training. Most of the training thus far, and the type exercised in most puzzle books, is pattern training. In pattern training the object is to recognize the tactical theme, which leads very quickly to the right move. In calculation training, the object is to calculate deeply and correctly in tense, dynamic positions where the right move wins, but it's easy to make a wrong move that is very damaging.

Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking

by Neil McDonald

The Art of PLanning in Chess: Move by Move

by Neil McDonald

Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors

by Lou Hays

The next puzzle book for your ongoing puzzle training. Contains over 500 3-move combinations arranged by tactical theme, in a slim, easy to carry volume. You could also (or in place of this) do the next book in Gillam's Better Chess Series. Many people advocate doing the same book repeatedly to "overtrain" the patterns. This idea is good, but I like the feeling of progress that comes from moving on to a new book. With new books you may not overtrain specific positions, but you'll end up overtraining the patterns, which is what you actually want.


Stage 3: Becoming a Strong Tournament Player (Reaching 1800)

Learn Chess Tactics

by John Nunn

John Nunn is an excellent writer and teacher. This book has a great deal of instructional content and is a good notch or two above Susan Polgar's tactics book in difficulty. Do this before moving on to Vukovic's Art of Attack.

Art of Attack in Chess

by Vladimir Vukovic

The classic book on the art of attack.

Chess Success

by Neil McDonald

How to plan after the opening.

Capablanca's Best Chess Endings

by Irving Chernev

How to make the transition from the middle game to the end game.

Chess Training Pocket Book: 300 Most Important Positions and Ideas, Second Edition

by Lev Alburt

The next book in your puzzle training regimen. This is a "pocket guide" (with a full size price, unfortunately) which succinctly presents 300 carefully chosen positions with concise analysis. Some of these positions are endgames, some are piece-winning or mating combinations employing various tactical themes. Alburt claims that these are the 300 most important positions, i.e. they contain patterns which occur frequently in real games and make a critical difference in the outcome of the game. My favorite part of the book, however, is the introductory chapter which contains a wonderful discussion of chess training, including the Dvoretsky method of puzzle training, how to analyze a position during a game, how to develop chess intuition and balance it with concrete analysis over the board, how to analyze your own games and build a library of positions and ideas important to you, and how to develop a personal theory of chess. Like other puzzle books I recommend, it's a small, slim book that's easily toted around.


Stage 4: On to Expert and Master

Understanding Chess, Move by Move

by John Nunn

Chess Self-Improvement

by Zenon Franco

Excelling at Combinational Play

by Jacob Aagard

Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy

by John Watson

Mastering the Chess Openings, Volumes 1 and 2

by John Watson

John Nunn's Chess Puzzle Book

by John Nunn