If you enjoy a good game of chess and have started to get involved with playing competitively then youve probably wondered how grandmasters study and whether theres anything that they know about getting stronger at playing chess that you dont already know? I do wonder this myself so I wanted to find out what makes a grandmaster and how they study.
How do chess grandmasters study? Chess grandmasters study by playing games, by working hard on their strategies and lines, by analyzing other peoples games and by gaining as much experience as possible playing different opponents in different settings.
The work grandmasters do to stay at the top of the game looks fairly similar to the work they do to become grandmasters in the first place. So, lets take a look at the details for how grandmasters study.
A grandmaster is anyone who has a chess rating of more than 2,400 as conferred by FIDE (the International Chess Federation which is always referred to by its French initials as it is based in French-speaking Switzerland) and who had obtained their norms.
They are considered to have reached the point where they are among the worlds greatest players but how do you get to become a grandmaster? What do you need to do that most people wont or dont do to reach the top?
There is, perhaps, no substitute in any sport for starting young. Theres something about a young mind that makes it much more malleable than an older mind and they seem to absorb more than an older person does too.
If you teach a 4-year-old another language, theyll find it super easy, take a 21-year-old with no background in that language and its a whole different story. The same is true of chess. The first step to becoming a great chess player is to start young. Thats not to say its impossible to become a grandmaster if you start later in life but it is a whole lot more challenging to do so.
Boring, we know but theres no doubt that the best chess players work very hard at their game to become good. That means they spend a lot of time playing, solving chess problems, reading chess literature, analyzing their games, etc. and many of them, once their talent started to be recognized, would work with a coach to bring out the best of their game.
You will need to put thousands of hours into improving your game to have a hope of reaching the level of a grandmaster. There are only, for context, about 1,500 grandmasters in the world and there are tens of millions of chess players! Its not an easy road.
You cant become a grandmaster by playing chess by yourself or practicing against a computer. Theres only one way to take that title and thats to go out and win ranking points in real life competitions. The earlier that a player starts this process the sooner that they can start getting their FIDE rating points and aiming to improve on it.
Also, it is the experience of competitive play, the pressure of a real person on the other side of the board and the clocks constantly ticking down that tempers the talent of a would-be grandmaster and teaches them how to dominate the board.
This sounds peculiar but even if you get a high FIDE rating you cant be a grandmaster just with the rating. You must also obtain three norms. A norm is a specific type of tournament in which it can be confirmed that at least 3 FIDE grandmasters were present and participated in the tournament, that there were at least 9 rounds to the tournament, that the time control was 2 hours for each player and that an international arbiter oversaw the proceedings.
Then to collect your norm in such a tournament you must maintain an ELO rating of 2,600 or more during that tournament. Yes, ELO rating and not FIDE.
Once you have your norms, you then need that all important FIDE rating and that means you will need a 2,500 FIDE rating and to hold on to it for a certain period of time before FIDE confers the title upon you. Then you can be a certified grandmaster!
So, as you can see to get to be a grandmaster is hard work, you study, you play, and you work and you do a lot of these things before you get to the top. But what do you do once you are there, lets say if you want to go on and challenge for the word championship? Well, more of the same really.
Grandmasters will study games a lot and they will tend to break this study into study of strong openings, study of mid-games where advantages were won and lost and where they might have improved upon either players performance and the endgame itself. Once the advantages were found, how was the game brought to a decisive conclusion?
Many players in their pre-grandmaster days will put too much effort into openings without considering the rest of the game. Grandmasters must gain a truly holistic understanding of chess to rise to the next level.
This means that the grandmaster will look to understand the very deep basis for the game and not just strategy and tactics but the very purpose of each style of move and play. This can be very heavy on the theory but in the long-term they must connect the theory that they learn to their play in a practical manner.
This is a difficult thing to do even at the highest level, most players (such as the author) would struggle to connect everything in a meaningful way without the highest levels of practical ability.
OK, study hard is good advice but it is very important to realize that not every grandmaster is chained to their books/board, etc. for the same amount of time every day.
Some players are famous for spending 9 or more hours a day every day working hard to get better. But Magnus Carlsen, the worlds best chess player, is understood to spend only around 6 hours a day studying some say this is because his study is more efficient but its more likely that Magnus has simply found a rhythm which works for him.
Another key factor in being a grandmaster is to constantly seek learning at the same level as you play at and that means tracking down the games of other grandmasters and then poring over the details. Grandmasters will deconstruct each game and try to determine what went right or wrong and how they might improve upon these games.
Finally, the best form of study in chess is to play and for grandmasters this means playing at the highest competitive level. Theres no substitute for this kind of learning even if you are one of the greatest chess playing talents in the world!
How do chess grandmasters study? Its quite prosaic but chess grandmasters study just like the rest of us by playing games, by working hard, by analyzing other games and from experience. This should come as no real surprise, after all the idea of 10,000 hours has long been floated as a sign of mastery. Malcolm Gladwell said practice anything for 10,000 hours under guidance and you will be great at it.
Yet, even when they reach the rank of grandmaster, the grandmaster doesnt stop their studying or their workload, though they probably have a much better idea than a novice does as to what, exactly, they need to study in order to improve their own game. That study is very much the same study as they undertook to become great in the first place. Chess is a lifetime marathon and not a sprint.
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