How to Study Chess: A Method for Amateurs

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Written by: Eric Kurtz

How should we, as amateurs, go about learning chess? Should we slave away at books of theory day after day? Should we practice, practice, practice, and play game after game on our favorite chess server? How about we hack away at problems on chesstempo.com for a couple hours, and see where that gets us? Or let’s just dive into some endgame manuals — a master told me I should study that the most anyway!

In my experience, there’s no one true way to study chess. You and I should probably learn a bit of theory, practice some tactics, and learn our endgames. All in all, it would make us better players.

But to be honest, cracking open books on theory sounds so dull that I’d almost rather watch another GM Finegold lecture on Youtube and pretend to laugh at the same 3 jokes for the hundredth time.

The best way to study chess isn’t the one that will objectively make you the best player. It’s not the formulaic “learn tactics, study endgames, etc etc” that all the masters tell you in their columns on chess.com.

Learn chess in such a way that you look forward to doing it every day, or every week, or whenever. Because really, it’s not so important that you learn the material so much as you keep coming back.

It seems to me that it’s not the method so much as it is the enjoyment. That’s probably one of the reasons coaches are so effective. It’s FUN to talk to someone about chess, especially someone who is…

A) more knowledgeable than you are

and

B) spending  time to focus specifically on you.

That’s why we go to chess club and have fun, right?  Because we’re talking with other people about a game we like, and that’s fun.

And so that brings us to the topic and structure of this column, or project, or just a 1700 BS-ing about chess for a bit every once in a while on a local chess page. My favorite way to study chess has always been looking over and analyzing master games. There’s just something more exciting about considering the tournament situation of the players, possible intrigue, the mindset. A whole different dimension to the game. And master games are exactly what we’ll be talking about.

Today, I bring you quite possibly my favorite game of all time. The genius behind this game is none other than a young Mikhail Tal. This game was played in 1956, when Tal was only 20, a year older than I am now. This was Tal’s first USSR Championship, and he would win his second a year later.

He played against Abram Khasim, another up-and-coming player at the time. Interestingly, Khasim never really got to the level of Tal and the other extremely strong Soviet players of the era, only gaining the title of International Master in 1964.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. It’s a Tal game. Tal will do something crazy, he’ll sack a ton of pieces and, get the initiative and an attack, and win with spectacular combinations. It’ll be dubious, but it’ll look so goddamn cool no one will care.

Okay, so I’ll admit off the bat this game has some cool tactical moments. Sure. But it certainly isn’t Tal’s most spectacular game, and I like it for very different reasons. I first saw it when I was reading through Tal’s autobiography/game collection, The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal instead of going to class one day. After playing through the game, it struck me as incredibly cool, and fairly instructive.

Let’s find out why.


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