Setting up your training plan (English)

To become a better chess player you need to work on your game in four different ways. First, you have to solve difficult exercises. Second, it is very important to analyze your own games. Third, you learn a lot from playing through annotated games of strong players. Finally, it is important to know what to do in the opening. Many players limit their training to only studying openings, but that is not proper chess training. After all, it is more important to be able to win better positions or to succesfully defend a slightly worse position. In my previous article I wrote about analyzing games. Now I will how to set up a training plan after you have annotated your games.

Step 1: Collect information from your game analyses

In the month of August I played two tournaments, about which I have also written extensively here. In total I played 18 games and my score was slightly below what I had hoped . To get more insight in what went wrong, I needed to carefully analyze my games from the summer. The last step in analyzing a game is write down which lessons you have learned from the game. This led to the table below:


Color Opponent Rating Result Opening Area of concern Area of concern
B Roels 1940 1 Closed Catalan
W Stevens 2049 1 KI Saemisch Post- opening phase Seeing counterplay
B Pham 2128 0,5 Slav with g3 Opening Accepting draw offer?
W Vallet 2181 1 KI Gligoric Time management
B Voege 2321 0,5 Queen’s Gambit Janowski Missing opponent’s plan Calculation
W Tomov 2343 1 Catalan Opening preparation: time management
B Kambrath 2378 0,5 Semi-Slav Opening Endgame evaluation
W Hamblok 2221 1 Queen’s Gambit 5.Bf4 Opening Seeing counterplay
B Ivanov 2195 0 Caro-Kann Bad pawn sacrifice Playing opening outside repertoire
B Perez Estevez 1716 1 Sicilian Taimanov Technique Seeing counterplay
W Silva 2120 0 QG Chigorin Calculation Seeing counterplay
B Bastos Gonzalex 1795 1 Catalan
W Soubirou 2078 1 KI Saemisch Calculation: risky lines
B Jimenez Martinez 2271 1 KI Saemisch
W Lucas 2330 1 KI Gligoric Opening play
B Grigoryan 2658 0 London Going for complications instead of solid play Calculation
W Domingo Nunez 2345 0,5 Catalan Benoni Opening
B Krause 2348 0,5 Semi-Slav Plans in opening Seeing counterplay

The table shows my most important findings. With some games I was just satisfied. My black game against Jimenez Martinez, for example, was good and I couldn’t find any clear areas of concern that deserve attention right now. Now that we’ve created this table, it’s time to analyze the information and see what stands out.

Step 2: What are the areas of concern?

The table contains important information. There were three elements I see in a number games: 1) openings, 2) seeing the opponent’s counterplay and 3) calculation.

It was a small surprise that my opening play was disappointing. During the pandemic I spent quite a bit of time studying (new) openings and I felt like I knew them quite well. That turned out not to be the case. Although I knew quite a bit of theory, I didn’t understand the positions well enough and often I didn’t react well to small changes in the move order.

It didn’t surprise me that I didn’t estimate the opponent’s counterplay well. Throughout my life, I’ve always been way too positive about my own chances during games, which means that I sometimes underestimate or miss my opponent’s plans.

Calculation is a third area of concern. Probably everyone who is analyzing his own games, will come to the conclusion that their calculation is not impeccable. It is just a very difficult skill. Calculation is in many games a deciding factor and although many, many players will struggle to calculate long variations correctly, it is worth spending a lot of time practicing.

Step 3: How to proceed from here?

I will have to work on things that don’t go well.. The question now is, of course, how to do so. How can I improve my openings, how can I be more attentive to the opponent’s plans and how can I improve calculation?

Working on openings seems easy. There are many books, video series and courses on Chessable, for example. I already studied a lot of material, but still my preparation fell short. The explanation I could give is that my repertoire was not organized well enough. I studied some Chessable courses, I still had my repertoire in Chessbase and I also had some material in other places. This meant that I did not have a clear picture of which choices I could make during the preparation of a game, or it meant that I spent too long looking for lines that I had already studied. For the coming period it is clear what I have to do. My repertoire has to be as complete as possible in Chessbase and everything I look at and analyze I have to include in my opening files I already have. My goal is to spend half an hour a day updating and organizing my repertoire. I would have preferred more time to sort this out quickly, but for me it is important to set realistic and achievable goals.

Estimating counterplay and correctly evaluating positions has been a weak point in my game for a long time. I have worked on this regularly in the past, but it remains difficult for me. Nevertheless, it is good to once again to be aware of your weak points. To improve this element, I will use Mark Dvoretsky’s book ‘Recognizing your opponent’s resources’. I have already worked through parts of the book before and it consists of very difficult exercises. My goal is to work from this book two hours a week.

I’m already working on calculation by working through this book of Dvoretsky, but I’m still making some more time for it. Hence, I will work through Jacob Aagaard’s books that contain difficult, challenging exercises. I have worked through this series for the most part already too, but there are still parts that I have not done properly or there might be exercises that I solved so long ago that I have already forgotten them. My goal is to spend two hours a week on calculation as well.

That means I will spend a total of 7×0.5 + 2 + 2 = 7.5 hours per week studying chess. This is a modest but realistic goal for now. I will keep track of my progress in an Excel file to evaluate and adjust later.