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The best ways to study chess online

We never had so many resources and options to study and train chess as we do today. Here are some guidelines how to make the best of it.

This article contains excerpts from the author’s book How to Study Chess on Your Own.
This article contains excerpts from the author’s book How to Study Chess on Your Own.

Have you ever thought how much stronger Capablanca, Tal or Fischer would have been if they had the online study and training resources that an average chess player has today? Or would they?

Even in today’s digital age, some people are skeptical about the value of studying chess online and instead prefer the good old board and pieces study approach. While the traditional way of chess study, practiced by the chess greats mentioned above and then some, has many benefits, thinking that it is the only right way to study chess seems a bit dogmatic in this day and age. The chess purists will hate to admit it, but online resources do provide a number of advantages that can facilitate and enrich our chess training, including (but not limited to):

  • Ease of access – Many excellent chess resources are virtually one click away, which can save time and speed up our learning.
  • Video media – As great as chess books are, one cannot deny positive aspects of using online video resources in our chess training. Whether we talk about video courses, online workshops and lectures, chess streams, or youtube chess videos, audiovisual presentation of chess content allows for a richer learning experience. If we take a more general perspective, video media has helped popularize chess among a much broader audience and rebrand it from a scholarly, even “geeky” activity into a cool hobby that develops our brains.
  • Real-time action – You can live at the South Pole, in Alaska, or Timbuktu, but a good internet connection is all you need to follow live tournament broadcasts, listen to top-player commentaries and interviews, or play hours of online blitz. Compare that to the old times when one had to wait for months to get their chess magazine in the mail in order to obtain the newest chess information.
  • Learning technologies – Many chess websites offer learning technologies, such as tactics trainers, move trainers, or drill practices, that can improve one’s learning efficiency. Why not take advantage of them?
  • Remote training – The internet allows us to set up sparring, coaching or analysis sessions with other chess players on various online chess platforms. This is particularly convenient in the current times of restricted movement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, what are some of the best ways to study chess online? In my recent book How to Study Chess on Your Own, I have provided a more specific overview of online study/training features on popular chess websites, as well as some recommendations as to how to use these resources. These can be seen in the tables below.

Table 1: Overview of some useful online study resources

Website Multiple study areas Openings Tactics Endgames Middlegames General improvement
chess.com Chess videos, Lessons, Drills Opening Book Puzzles Endgame Drills Strategy Lessons Live Chess, Titled Tuesday, Articles, Tournament broadcast, Analysis, Master Games
lichess.org Study Opening explorer Playing arena, Analysis
chess24.com Video Series, eBooks Opening videos Tournament broadcast, Banter blitz
chessbase.com Videos, DVDs Opening DVDs Endgame videos Power Play Show
chessable.com Move Trainer, interactive e-courses Opening courses, Opening book Endgame courses
chesstempo.com Tactics Training Endgame Training Guess the Move
chessgames.com Game collections
thechessworld.com Middlegame video courses Articles
chessclub.com (ICC) Learning Center, Chess Courses Weekly videos
365chessacademy.com weekly chess classes by top coaches
modern-chess.com Online workshops Opening Databases Learn from the Classics
forwardchess.com E-Books
arves.org endgame studies

Table 2: Recommended study/training methods for online study resources

Study method Online resource Study/Training practice
Playing over Game collections (chessgames.com) play over the games from a game collection with ‘Positional exchange sacrifice’ theme
Watching Instructive videos on favorite YouTube channel watch video ‘Endgames of Anatoly Karpov’ by GM Ben Finegold
Reading Articles (chess.com) read a couple of articles in ‘Middlegame’ category
Light analysis Tournament broadcast (chess24.com) lightly analyze interesting games from a live tournament broadcast, check them with the built-in engine afterward
Deep analysis Learn from the Classics (modern-chess.com) deeply analyze games of Leonid Stein with the help of grandmaster annotations
Computer-assisted analysis Analysis (chess24.com) analyze an interesting recent game with computer’s assistance
Mutual analysis Study (lichess.org) set up a mutual analysis session of an interesting opening variation with a friend
Find the best move Guess the Move (chesstempo.com) do FBM practice of Capablanca’s games
Simulation E-Book (forwardchess.com) do a simulation of chosen games from ‘The New in Chess Book of Chess Improvement’
Reviewing Move Trainer (chessable.com) review your repertoire with Black against 1.b3 using Move Trainer
Solving Puzzles (chess.com) set up a 45-minutes solving session of tactical puzzles
Playing – sparring Playing arena (lichess.org) set up a sparring match with 2 games on 30-min time control with a sparring partner
Playing – speed chess Titled Tuesday (chess.com) play Titled Tuesday tournament every week (if you are a FIDE titled player) and analyze all your games thoroughly afterwards
Blindfold Endgame Studies (arves.org) solve 5 miniatures in blindfold mode
Playing against a computer Endgame Drills (chess.com) do ‘Endgame practice’ drills against the computer

One of my own favorite ways to study chess online is to tune into a live transmission of a strong tournament such as a super-GM rapid/blitz event or a strong open tournament with many titled players. I turn off the engine, chat and live expert commentary and try to figure out on my own what is going on in the games. I go from game to game and analyze them, not necessarily with any predetermined structure – in some games I just want to find the best move, in others I might check only the opening; perhaps there was also some interesting endgame from the previous round that I missed, or a complicated position worth calculating more closely…and before I know it, an hour or two have passed as I have gotten immersed in this kind of analysis. I particularly enjoy trying to find the best move when players are in time pressure because it is a good simulation of a high-tension situation that can happen in a real game of mine – a test of my calculation, decision making skills, and the ability to focus. Upon completing this training session, I usually check my calculations and evaluations with an engine or rewind the GM video commentary to compare my analysis to their thoughts. It’s a fun and rewarding exercise, and particularly useful as a pre-tournament preparation.

All that being said, one should keep in mind several caveats when it comes to online chess training:

  • Firstly, there is often a thin line between educational vs entertainment value of online resources. You should know how to walk it, otherwise you might be wasting your precious study time. If your plan was to watch a couple of instructive middlegame videos on chess.com, but you ended up following a popular Twitch channel or chatting about chess celebrities and politics, you are probably not doing yourself a favor in terms of your chess training. Not to mention that the bullet playing arena is also one click away!
  • A related issue is the lure of multitasking – when you are online, you can be much more easily distracted by other content (chess or non-chess alike) than if you study on a chess set. This can lead to unproductive chess study, while it is very easy to fool yourself that you are doing something useful for your chess.
  • Finally, by using online resources in a wrong way, chess players can develop superficial approaches to chess study that can hurt their results. I will provide two examples of common phenomena that I have observed in recent years:

One of the most popular ways to study openings (and not only) these days is by using Chessable’s MoveTrainer technology, which is based on the space repetition method of learning and memorizing. This is an excellent learning technique when it comes to pure memorization of opening moves and variations, typical combinations, or theoretical endgames. However, some users have fallen into a trap of thinking that drilling chess variations this way is the best way to learn. While memorization is essential in chess, our royal game is, fortunately, not a game of memory. Deep understanding, intuition, and creativity play large roles in our learning processes and practical strength. What superficial (for a lack of better word) Chessable users are doing is mistaking a tool for knowledge. MoveTrainer is a great tool for certain aspects of chess learning but using it will not in itself make you an opening or endgame expert – you need to do other types of chess training to develop a deeper understanding, which will ultimately give you better practical results.

Tactics trainers and Puzzle Rush/Puzzle Storm types of exercises are good and fun ways to practice your tactical skill online. However, there is a real risk that overuse and overreliance on these training tools can do more harm than good for your play in long time controls. I have noticed that many people think by default that solving puzzles this way is the only type of calculation/tactics training. However, in tournament games they sometimes still display serious weaknesses in tactical and calculation skill! So, what gives?

Davorin Kuljašević is a Croatian grandmaster, coach and author, based in Bulgaria. His book Beyond Material: Ignore the Face Value of Your Pieces (New in Chess 2020) was shortlisted by FIDE for a book of the year award.
Davorin Kuljašević is a Croatian grandmaster, coach and author, based in Bulgaria. His book Beyond Material: Ignore the Face Value of Your Pieces (New in Chess 2020) was shortlisted by FIDE for a book of the year award. (photo: private)

The reason behind it is that many positions that you get in a chess game, even tactical ones, require analytical and divergent thinking for which the reactive ‘White to move and win’ approach is usually not helpful. It is, therefore, important to train our tactical and calculation skills more broadly, studying model games from the chess books, analyzing complicated positions on the board, etc., in addition to the basic tactical puzzle training.

Self-discipline is the key to benefit from online study

For most people, studying chess online is an enjoyable and useful experience due to a variety of options and easy access to helpful resources. And while it is true that using these resources and online technologies can streamline and enrich many aspects of our chess training, we should keep in mind that these are only tools and not solutions in themselves – how we use them is far more important. Studying chess online also requires a greater degree of self-discipline compared to studying it traditional way since various distractions and low-hanging fruit that can make our studies less effective are a mouse-click away. Keep this in mind next time you log into your favorite chess website!

Davorin Kuljašević: How to Study Chess on Your Own. Creating a Plan that Works… and Sticking to it! New in Chess 2021, 368 pages, €19,95