How to Get Better at Chess (While Still Playing Blitz)

To get better at chess, you need to focus on tactics, openings, positional play, and endgames.samisch queen bishop

In this article, I will break down simple ideas you can do to get better at chess by playing and studying every day.

Even better, all of these things may be worked on at the same time.

This means you don’t need to just focus one of them at a time.

How to Improve Chess Calculation & Visualization

Improving your chess calculation starts with playing more games.  

The more games you play, the better you will be at pattern recognition.  You won’t need to study openings that often because it will all be about what patterns you see over and over.

Studying openings and tactics can help in certain situations, but you won’t be able to calculate as fast unless you see the same positions again and again.

When to Play Blitz Chess Games to Improve

I like to play blitz games (5+3) to improve my chess sight over the board.  

Be aware that games won’t get as complex games as in classical time controls.  I find a lot of complex positions need more thought so most players tend to avoid them to save on calculation time.

However, you are able to experiment and see a lot of various openings much quicker than if you played these classically timed games.

You can still learn a lot from blitz games, if you play correctly.  This doesn’t mean getting the right move every time, but it means playing your best moves as often as you can.  If you find you’re making a lot of blunders, try to focus on other fundamentals before playing too much speed chess.

The fact that you don’t have a lot of time on the clock means you need to see patterns quicker and you can definitely improve your games over time.

Always remember not to stress over blitz games because you will make a lot of mistakes along the way as you learn.

Ignore the Chess Engine When You Play Blitz

The most important part of playing a quick game to improve your chess calculation is to study the opening without a chess engine.

I like to watch great players like Jerry from Chess Network who talks about his thoughts in the game and analyzes without an engine first.

I’ve tried my hand at this as well here.  It allows me to see what I’m thinking about and if I’m looking at the right things in my games.

If you run to the engine right away, you end up wasting time playing blitz instead of learning from your chess games.It’s important to look at the game you just played immediately afterwards with the engine off

By doing this, you can start to pick out what you think are critical moments in the game.  Ask yourself what you think you should have done when you lost and what went wrong.

After you’ve spent 10 minutes analyzing the game, turn on the engine and see what you did wrong.

how to use lichess engine
Make sure the engine is on to analyze each move. It will take a few minutes for the engine to fully analyze your game.

The chess engine is really good at identifying quick tactics and “obvious” mates that you may have missed.  Sometimes you win a game, but the engine shows you how you could have done it quicker.

The problem with a chess engine is you don’t see the why behind the moves.  Just looking at lines the engine analyzed isn’t enough to understand.  That’s why it is critical to look yourself first.

Sometimes you just won’t see it what you could have done, and the engine will give you the answer.  This is fine because it’s all about learning.

The fact that you took the time to learn before turning on the engine will help you to start to identify patterns more quickly.

Improve chess openings

Most Grand Masters will agree that if your rating is under 2,000, you should spend the least amount of your time on openings.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in memorizing openings and opening traps, but it doesn’t improve your overall game below a 2,000 ELO.

That doesn’t mean you should ignore openings though.  It’s important to look at your own games (see number one on this list) and diagnose what you’re doing wrong.

If you find you’re losing a lot in the openings, or getting tough middle games, you will know you need to focus on basic openings.  You’ll start to recognize more patterns and be less likely to fall for these opening traps over time if you identify which opening you are in.

This still doesn’t mean memorizing openings.  Following the essential opening principles may be enough of an advantage you need in order to get to even middle games and endgames.

Simplify your chess opening selection

The easiest way to improve at chess is to pick an opening for white and black and stick with it.

This is hard to do because there are so many variations in chess openings, but if you pick openings that don’t depend on moves your opponent makes, you will be able to play this opening more often to practice it.

My Basic Chess Opening For White

kings indian attackFor me, I have chosen the king’s indian attack for white, which was played often by Bobby Fischer.  The first few moves are the same in almost any game. It can be played against c5 (sicilian) e6 (french) and plenty of similar openings.  

If my opponent plays the Scandinavian or Caro-Kann, I make things simpler by exchanging.  This leads to less calculations and sidelines.

I used to play a different line against the French (burn variation, advanced, etc) but by playing the King’s Indian Attack, I have simplified my opening knowledge.  When you do this, you don’t need to memorize ideas behind different chess opening variations anymore.

This allows you to spend more time on other aspects of your chess play like endgames and positional play.

My Basic Chess Opening For Black

dont play b3 as white against sicilian dragonFor black, I play the Sicilian Dragon and King’s Indian.  This allows me to have the same type of formation (fianchetto on the kingside) no matter what.

In many variations, the same formation can be achieved.  You can even play this against the Reti (nf3) or English (c4) openings in addition to e4 or d4.

When you play the same opening every game, you’ll have more opportunities to see patterns and traps in these openings.  So much that you won’t even need to think anymore about position sacrifices like this:

dragon sicilian capture on e4
The white bishop on g5 is out of position and allows black to win a pawn on e4. Capturing the knight will allow black to capture the knight on d4

To highlight the above example, if white captures the knight on c6, black will capture on c3 with the bishop, pinning the queen.

After a series of exchanges, black will ultimately be better off.

Improve chess positional play

Positional play is an important aspect of playing chess.  While tactics form shortsighted victories, positions require long term understanding of the game.

Often, positional play can be summed up by knowing when to trade, what squares to control, and where to plant your pieces.

Knowing When to Trade Pieces

Knowing when to trade comes down to understanding the fundamental position over the board.  Seeing that you have a lot of pawns on light squares should force you to want to trade your light squared bishop for a knight.

when to trade bishops by color
Black’s dark squared bishop is weak due to the amount of pawns on dark squares.  White’s bishop is weak because of the pawns on light squares.  Trading pawns to open the position would improve either player’s weak bishop.

Controlling Key Squares is Vital

Understanding what squares to control is crucial to to gaining an edge over the board.  Especially in openings and middle games, a lot of games don’t focus on trading pieces, but more often on controlling a key square.

maroczy bind space
The Maroczy Bind allows white to control the d5 square, even though no pieces occupy it. By denying black the square, white gains more space and has an easier game.

Decide Where You Want your Pieces to Go

It’s also important to understand where your pieces should go.  Try to imagine the board where you won’t be bound to how pieces can move, but imagine where you want your pieces to end up.

If you see a strong square for a knight, try to see where the knight should be, then plan out how it can maneuver to that square.

knight outpost
If black can get his knight to d4, he will have a strong knight outpost. The knight cannot be kicked away by pawns since c4 and e4 have already been played. Black’s idea is to get the remaining knight to this square.

Improve chess endgames

Focusing on endgames is always critical to improving your chess play.

Because of the nature of chess, a ton of games can easily turn into draws.  However, in order to convincingly make a draw, you need to know the principles.

Rook endgames are the most common endgame you can encounter.  In fact, 50% of tournament games reach equal rook endgames.

Because of this, you must know the basics of the Philidor and Lucena positions.  You should know them by heart if you are a player under 2000.

philidor rook ending position
The Philidor rook ending is a dead draw if played correctly. Getting to this position should be your goal as black.
lucena rook ending
The Lucena rook ending must be memorized. You should look to “build a bridge” with your rook.

You should know basics of which pieces are better in knight vs bishop endgames.  Having pawns on both sides of the board will

How to get out of a chess slump

To get out of a chess slump, it really helps to surround yourself with strong players.

This doesn’t always mean getting a chess coach.  It could be just going out and playing at a local chess club.

By being around people in person, you can discuss the challenge you’re having.

What doesn’t help in a chess slump is massive amounts of blitz chess.  As referenced above, playing blitz should only be used to see more games, quicker.  You should always analyze these games.

Playing blitz for the sake of blitz not only doesn’t help you out of a chess slump, it actually pushes you into one.

You may become obsessed with winning pointless games.

When you focus on games, take a breather between them, then you’ll notice that you will start to win more games.

If you don’t, focus on the above practices until you reach that new level.

If all else fails take a break.  Even Magnus Carlsen, the current world champion has been known to play football on his off day during the 2018 World Championship against Fabiano Caruana.

Studies have shown that strong chess players keep their bodies fit as well as their mind.

To Summarize How to Get Better at Chess:

  • Play Blitz Chess Games to Improve
  • Ignore the Chess Engine When You Play Blitz
  • Simplify your chess opening selection for white
  • Simplify your chess opening selection for black
  • Focus on endgames studies
  • Study Tactics using chess puzzles