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Becoming a Strong Chess Tournament Player (Part 1)

The objective of this improvement plan is to take you from the novice level (rating: 1000-1200) up to tournament caliber player (rating: 1600+). If you're just starting out, we'd recommend that you work through one of our more basic plans first: Chess for New Beginners or Becoming a Competent Chess Novice. In fact, it's probably worth it to check out these articles regardless of your level. This will help you to brush up on the basics and fill in any knowledge-gaps before beginning this more advanced course.

First things first: Bookmark this page! We present a lot of links to various articles on this website - and elsewhere on the web as well. You'll want to have a quick way of returning to this page as you progress through the plan.

There are seven components to the plan:

We'll close out the plan with a training schedule that will get you started on down the right path.

Tactical Exercises

For novices, studying tactics is the single best thing you can do to improve. In almost all games up to the master level (and even beyond), each player will make one or more critical tactical errors during the game. A huge part of becoming a strong tournament player is learning to eliminate the majority of these errors from your own play - and capitalize on those of your opponent. This is called becoming tactically sound.

If you're consistently making tactical errors (ie losing pieces to combinations, missing forced mating sequences, etc.), it doesn't matter how advanced your knowledge is of openings/strategy/endgames.

As a starting point - if you haven't done so already - make sure you work through our course on Beginning Chess Tactics.

Next, you should start working on tactical exercises every day. This forms the foundation for your chess studies. Try to spend at least 30 minutes every day on tactics.

Take a look at our page on The Best Chess Books for Beginners and Novices for our current tactical book recommendations.

You must go through the problem sets multiple times (we recommend going over a problem set 5-8 times). It usually works best to go through the entire problem set (ie the entire book) once, and then start again from the beginning. The first few times you go through the problems, they will still be fairly new. This will let you work on your calculation and visualization skills. With each repetition, you should find the solutions coming easier and faster. In the end, the goal is to be able to quickly (say, within 10 seconds) recognize the solution.

This reason for this repetition is to lock the pattern into your mind. This way, you'll be able to quickly recognize tactical ideas and patterns over the board during actual games. There are few things in chess more satisfying than smashing your opponent with a tactical shot that you recognize from your hard work studying tactics.

Back - Next
Chess Improvement - Table of Contents
Beginner Level
Novice Level - Board Vision - Part 2
Tournament Level - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Thought Process
Best Books for Novices - Part 2 - Part 3