Expert Study Plan
For expert players we recommend spending at least 6 hours per week with a goal of gaining 50+ points per year. Keep a steady balance of both playing and studying. A common mistake players at the expert level make is to spend almost all of their time on one or the other. The stats to the right are based on all chessgoals survey responders.
|Annual Rating Gain|
Play Games (~55% of chess time)
Blitz Games (~30%) – Top gainers at the expert level play about 50% of their games at blitz time controls.
Blitz games build intuition and are an opportunity to learn from a large variety of positions.
Retry mistakes after each game and think concretely about the critical moment(s).
Rapid/Slow Games (~25%) – The other half of your time should be on games that are 10 minutes or slower.
Use these rapid games for your game analysis (next section).
Daily Games – Daily games don’t give the same focused effort as having a clock, but they can be beneficial for some players in addition to rapid/slow games.
Bullet Games – I recommend bullet and daily games for recreational purposes only. Bullet games can potentially create bad habits.
Game Analysis (~15%)
Own Games (10-15%) – This is going to be where a majority of your game analysis time should be spent.
To really take it seriously, create a database of your rapid/slow games and store notes about your mistakes.
Master Games (0-5%) – Finding a good master game collection book is probably the best option. You can also find good YouTube channels, magazines, and databases with games to analyze.
Working with a coach – Working with a coach is beneficial at the expert level. The average annual rating gain for expert players with a coach was 94 points (5 players) compared to 59 points (17 players) for those without a coach.
Intuitive Tactics – Spend at least half of your tactics time working on quick tactics.
The strongest chess players can instantly recognize patterns, and that’s a skill you’ll keep building as you approach chess mastery.
The Woodpecker Method, developed by GMs Axel Smith and Hans Tikkanen comes highly recommended.
The idea behind The Woodpecker Method is to keep solving the same set of puzzles, aiming to solve them faster and more accurately with each pass.
Openings start to become more important at the expert level. Not just memorizing moves, but truly understanding the reasons behind the moves. Building your own repertoire should be thought of as a creative process and not just blindly following resources.
Database Software – As an expert level player aspiring to reach national master, it’s a good time to invest some time in working with chess databases and engines. The primary database software for chess professionals is Chessbase 15 and the software comes with a large database of games. SCID is a decent free alternative chess database program. Stockfish, Fritz, Leela, and Komodo are all popular chess engines you can install within Chessbase.
Within Chessbase, create files for your opening repertoire, store your games/notes, and analyze games of other players that match your repertoire.
Opening Content – There is no correct way to learn openings. The Grandmaster Repertoire series from Quality Chess is highly recommended for serious players, and there are many good opening books on the market. Chessable is good for an interactive opening tool, and you can also play through opening explorer on chess.com and lichess.org.
Strategy Books – Even in today’s digital era, published chess books are the best way to train strategic play. Paperbacks or digital versions of the books are both great options. Artur Yusupov’s award-winning training course is a good option to reach 2200, starting with the mastery level.
If you are looking for a challenge, multiple top players have recommended Jacob Aagaard’s Positional Play book from the Grandmaster Preparation series.
Master Games – The strategy category can overlap with the analyzing games category here. Reviewing annotated games of strong players is another great way to work on strategy.
Books on world champions, YouTube videos, and games from databases are all good sources to find master games.
Similar to strategy, published endgame books are still the best resource for improving endgame play.
Theory – Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual is the best resource for players near master level. The book is about 400 pages and contains all of the opening theory you could ever want to get your hands on. There is a list of positions highlighted in blue that are the most important to learn. 100 Endgames You Must Know is another good choice, but doesn’t go as in-depth for the aspiring master. The 3 Best Chess Endgame Books goes into more details on the top endgame books.
Practice – Make sure to play slow/rapid games with an increment. This is the #1 way to get in some endgame practice. Find interesting opening positions to test ideas against an engine or a training partner.