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8 Tips from Garry Kasparov’s Winning Chess Routine
Whether you’re training for a tournament or just beginning your study of the game, here are eight tips from Kasparov for developing a winning routine.
- Study tactics to build pattern recognition. According to Kasparov, “You cannot develop intuitive pattern recognition just by studying a few key examples. You need practice and repetition. Solving dozens, even hundreds, of tactical positions is a most effective way to build up your memory bank of tactical themes and patterns.” Aside from game collections and instruction books, Kasparov recommends books that have very little text all, just diagram after diagram of positions to solve. Going through dozens, even hundreds, of tactical positions on a regular basis is a great way to build pattern recognition. They might also include endgame studies and composed checkmate puzzles that will help you sharpen your game.
- Practice against the clock. In the early days of the game, chess could be a game of physical endurance with some players making their moves quickly while others pondered for hours. Chess clocks became part of the game in the 19th century, although primarily used in tournament chess, to ease the strain on players and bring tournaments to an exciting close. For a real test of your wits, and your hand speed, try blitz chess. In blitz, or speed chess, the players start with as little as five minutes on the clock for the entire game. Bullet Chess is even quicker at just 1 minute per game.
- Practice over a physical board. Kasparov recommends preparing regularly with a physical chessboard if you’re going to be playing in tournaments, even if you do most of your study and practice on a computer. Otherwise, your ability to visualize “OTB” (over the board) can be negatively affected.
- Play in person or join a club. Home study, playing against your computer, and especially playing online are great, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face, over-the-board chess both for fun and for learning. Your heart races, your concentration fully engages, and the moves and patterns engrave more deeply. Club and tournament play also bring you into a wonderful global community of chess players. You’ll also get a rating to mark your progress. Nearly every national chess federation’s website maintains calendars of tournaments and club directories. For example, the U.S. Chess Federation’s site lists prominent clubs, upcoming national tournaments, and has subdirectories for state events.
- Explore the literature. If you prefer paper to pixels, chess has one of the broadest and deepest literatures of any sport or pastime. Your local bookstore and library will have a selection you can browse, and of course online booksellers and chess shops will have thousands of new and old books. These include training manuals on every phase of the game, tactics and endgame puzzles, and game collections of the greatest players, tournaments, and matches of the past and present. Kasparov has written three acclaimed series of books that combine biography and history with very deep game analysis, including his own greatest games. The My Great Predecessors series is an in-depth examination of every world champion and other greats of the game. The Modern Chess series includes all of Kasparov’s world championship matches and other games against Anatoly Karpov. The Kasparov on Kasparov series deeply annotates many dozens of Kasparov’s best and most instructive games.
- Begin with the endgame. Kasparov has said, “Many Soviet chess trainers emphasized endgame study very early on because it teaches the power of the pieces. It makes sense because how do you know where you are going if you don’t understand your destination?” In Kasparov’s experience, the endgame doesn’t have to mean the end of the excitement. There’s room for creativity and drama in the endgame—and important techniques like shouldering and zugzwang. The best way you can sharpen your endgame is to study and practice. Pick up a book on endgame tactics and grab your chess board. There are plenty of study resources online as well, but remember to set up the positions on a board when possible to improve visualization and retention. Find a worthy opponent and play.
- Develop your mental toughness. Kasparov credits his 20 years as the world’s top-rated player to his ability to endure and thrive under intense psychological pressure for prolonged periods. He believes that everyone can unlock his/her untapped cognitive potential with the right keys. He first learned how to release his full potential from his mother, who taught him that playing chess wasn’t about winning, but about making a difference, creating new ideas, and challenging his own excellence. Kasparov galvanized his mental toughness by devoting himself to coming up with new ideas and striving to stay ahead of the curve. A loss will shake your confidence, but it is essential that you recover your strength for the next game. You can improve your mental endurance through physical exercise, nutrition, and a willingness to learn from your mistakes while also putting them behind you.
- Remember that chess is a game of psychology as much as tactics. A key component to Kasparov’s mastery of chess is the way he views each game as an exercise in psychology. Kasparov has developed a keen sense of observation to assess his strengths, and design a game that best benefits his instincts while exploiting his opponent’s psychological deficiencies. Don’t forget that chess is a two-player game. Your strategy may be undone by your opponent if you don’t disguise your true intentions and create multiple threats. Even if your opponent reacts to your main threat, it may give you the opportunity to make progress elsewhere.
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