(This guide originally appeared in the Master Skill Newsletter for September 2, 2022.)
Hi, it’s Aiden.
This may be one of the most helpful issues of the MSN yet.
Generally in my emails I focus on insights.
Insights can reframe the entire game of Chess, or our entire lives. And a powerful (or destructive) frame affects our perception of everything.
It’s through seeking insights that I discovered the power of training visualization.
Today, I offer something immediately practical (along with insights, of course!).
And I hope you find it valuable.
I like to check in on my customers now and then and see how their Chess journeys are going.
Recently, I caught up with one of the customers that has been with me the longest.
He discovered Don’t Move when all I had was about 15 exercises (I now have over 400). Before I put together the current website. Before I had anything that even resembled the Master Skill Series or this newsletter.
His continued support has been wonderful, encouraging, and humbling.
His name is Ricky. And he’s a very interesting guy.
He’s an athlete and searches for peak performance in his sports.
His approach to Chess is much the same, though he attempts to not take it too seriously. It’s a hobby – it’s meant to be fun.
Ricky has achieved fantastic improvement in his Chess in the time I’ve known him.
When he first joined Don’t Move, his goal was to get over 1000 rating in bullet, blitz, and rapid formats on Chess.com.
Now, he’s almost at 1500 in each of them!
I asked him what his Chess routine was to get those results.
And he proposed an informal meeting to run me through it.
I found what Ricky said in that meeting was so interesting and insightful that I asked if I could share it with you.
(Ricky, when you read this, thank you.)
I know that it’s a goal of many of you to reach a rating like 1500.
The vast majority of Chess players in the world have ratings between 800 and 1200. If you are among them, there’ll be something useful in this email for you.
Ricky’s primary goal in Chess is to have fun.
To do that, he needs to feel like he’s improving. But he doesn’t want to spend hours studying or doing anything he doesn’t enjoy (ie. no memorization).
So he built a routine that he does before he starts to play Chess for the day.
He’s been doing some version of it since he first stumbled upon Don’t Move, and he credits his improvement to this routine.
I’ve written that routine out for you below. And I’ve included any comments I have in italics.
This routine worked for Ricky. It may not work for you. But go through it with an open mind, and take out what’s useful.
There’s not only one way to get better.
The only method that matters is the one that works for you.
Ricky doesn’t do this routine every day. In fact, he often takes lengthy breaks from Chess.
But he does complete these steps before every Chess session.
He says it sets him up to be at his best when he plays.
When you get the hang of it, this routine should only take 15-20 minutes.
Here are the steps he takes:
STEP #1: Practice coordinate vision
Use this tool on Chess.com. This is the first warm up for his brain.
He does one round testing “coordinates”. Then one more round testing “coordinates and moves”.
(Aiden note: you can change what you’re testing in the settings for the tool.)
STEP #2: Test square colors, diagonals, and corresponding squares
Use this tool from chessvideos.tv.
Ricky does three tests using this tool.
First, do the test as intended and guess the square colors. Go for as many as you can in the time.
(Aiden note: The best method for guessing square colors is my Odd-CAGE Method, which I explain in Part Two of the Welcome Playlist.)
Second, use the square prompt from the test and name the corresponding square. Then guess the color. Aim for 10 correct answers in the time.
(Aiden note: if you can’t get 10 when you start, that’s ok. Write down how many you did get and try to get more next time. Ditto for point 3.)
Third, name the diagonals that the prompted square rest on (eg. d6 is on the a3-f8 and b8-h2 diagonals). Then guess the square color. Ricky aims for 5.
STEP #3: Chessle + Experiment
Ricky takes a minute or two and does the daily Chessle.
He considers it to be “mainly for fun” rather than “mainly for improvement”.
He also adds a couple minutes here to experiment with whatever new tool or idea he’s found.
Currently, he’s experimenting with AimChess and has found a benefit from the Blunder Improver tool.
(Aiden note: This is one of two steps in Ricky’s routine where he breaks up his training and does something he enjoys for a few minutes. I LOVE this. It keeps his routine light and fun, and lets him enjoy the process.)
STEP #4: Don’t Move visualization exercises
Ricky jumps here into Don’t Move to work on his visualization skills. He spends about 10 minutes on this step.
He goes over and over each exercise he tries until he’s sure he knows the answer. He forces himself to never check the answer until he’s certain he’s right.
He finds the most benefit in the “Game” exercise type. And returns to the same games again and again until he can follow them all the way to the end.
He keeps a collection of bookmarked exercises that he feels are too hard for him. And he works on them regularly to push himself.
STEP #5: Chess.com daily puzzle
This is the second of Ricky’s “mainly for fun” steps.
He enjoys doing the Chess.com daily puzzle, so he works in a couple minutes to do it whenever he goes through this routine.
STEP #6: Lichess themed puzzles
This is Ricky’s “mainly for improvement” puzzle time.
He heads to the Lichess Theme Browser. He picks a theme that he’s working on (avoid “Healthy Mix”), and completes puzzles there until he feels ready to jump into games.
(Aiden note: Ricky says reading my article on Maximizing Puzzle Value was a lightbulb moment for him and he follows the recommendations in there.)
STEP #7: Play!
The routine is over – now Ricky jumps into games. He picks whatever time control he’s currently focused on and gets to it.
In only 15-20 minutes, he’s warmed up, pushed himself, and is now ready to play at his best.
When I first started with Chess, I discovered the “Standard Training Regimen” recommended by books and experts galore.
It looks something like this:
20 mins – Opening study
10 mins – Chess tactics puzzles
10 mins – Endgame study
20 mins – Analyze a classic Chess game
Ricky’s routine could not look more different from that if he tried.
Ricky does no work on openings at all.
Instead, he plays using key opening principles that he learned from Bruce Pandolfini’s “Ultimate Guide to Chess“.
He takes the center, he develops his pieces, he castles, and he waits for his opponent to make a mistake.
He can’t stand memorization and has avoided learning lines altogether.
Yet he is almost 1500 rated in three time controls.
(At his current rating, he says he’s starting to feel the need for a little more openings knowledge. But he’s sailed up to 1500 fine without it.)
He doesn’t study classic games.
He doesn’t spend hours on the endgame. He leans on endgame principles instead.
Instead of training the “normal” things, he works on his board awareness, his visualization, and his recognition of key Chess patterns.
And his results are much better than Chess players who study far longer and more regularly than he does.
Ricky took the time to find a routine that works for him.
Don’t just accept “what you’re meant to do”. Find what works for you.
I learned a lot from Ricky’s training routine.
And I want to learn more about what works for different people.
Now it’s a standard question I ask when I chat with other Chess players.
I’m hoping to write some more MSN entries in this style about players’ routines at all levels of the game.
What do you do when you sit down to work on your Chess?
Is there a particular set of things you do (or try to do) each time?
And was this guide useful to you?
Comment below and let me know.
Here’s to the journey,