An unexamined life is not worth living.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Getting Things Done – Studying Chess

Personal chess improvement has always been an ongoing project for me, but often without well-defined goals and somewhat obscure objectives. Just like any a complex project, it needs some structure, planning, motivation, and ability to track progress. I believe this applies to both professional chess players and to amateurs, who only have a few hours a week to dedicate to chess improvement. No one can reach perfection in chess, so everyone’s time is limited, making success dependent on how effectively we study the game.

What happens often is that while going over your game, you realize – “oh yeah, I played badly in this rook endgame, I’d better study some related endgame theory”. Another day, during a blitz game online, your opponent throws a rare variation of Scandinavian defence at you, and you realize that you had never even considered this line in your opening preparation. Again, that creates another “TODO” item that may linger in your mind for a while, but most likely won’t materialize into action on your part. I’ve heard chess players often make regretful remarks during post-mortem sessions about what they “should have, could have, would have” studied. Things we want to do to improve our chess are of broad variety, here are some more examples:

  • Studying a particular opening variation
  • Reading a specific book that received good reviews
  • Watching an interesting chess video with player interviews
  • Trying out new training software, such as Peshka
  • Studying games of a particular player – such as Botvinnik
  • Playing practice games in a particular opening
  • Preparing for a particular tournament
  • Preparing against a particular opponent, whom you often face in tournaments
  • Improving your time management
  • Practicing tactics
  • etc

What is a good way to keep track of this kind of lingering thoughts, ideas, and make sure your best intentions for self improvement are fulfilled with some meaningful actions? Turns out chess is not a very different from any other areas that “knowledge workers” are involved in – areas where defining “What To Do?” is almost as important then the action act of “Doing”. I believe that the system known as “Getting Things Done”, advocated by David Allen should apply almost ideally to studying chess.

image  Here are some of the principles of Getting Things Done approach:

  • Have a system to keep track of things you need “To Do”, rather than keeping them in your head and worry about forgetting individual items
  • Do regular weekly reviews of tasks, act upon them depending on your available time and energy
  • Focus on tasks based on the physical contexts you are in – near computer, in transit, etc
  • Manage multiple projects within the same system – chess can be one of your “projects”, and you can have multiple projects dedicated to chess improvement
  • Define short term and long term goals and objectives
    • Life Time – Becoming a GM
    • Long Term – 3-5 years - Becoming an IM
    • Short term – 6 months - Improving your openings for Black

While this system is good for anything we do in life, it is not easy to consistently follow, as I discovered myself. However personal chess study strikes me as something where this “Getting Things Done” approach could be particularly effective.


  1. Hi Roman,

    Thanks for this very interesting blog. I've created a similar one in French at Feel free to have a look!

    I think that a structured approach to studying chess is very important as otherwise one too easily get distracted by short terms "goals" instead of doing the important stuff (building up a good opening repertoire, studying the endgame...).


  2. @mauvaisfou Thanks for the link - unfortunately my French is not very good :)
    I think I keep writing about setting goals in chess and following the plan ... because I am always struggling with those things myself.


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