Phase 4: Consolidation Phase

Rating Range: 1500-1700

Recommended duration: 24 months

At this point you are starting to learn general principles, but you will often get confused as to how they are used. Three books that should help tremendously at this point would be The Amateur’s Mind by Jeremy Silman, Elements of Positional Evaluation by Dan Heisman, and It's Your Move by Chris Ward.

These three books should help straighten out what is important and what is not in the important areas of evaluation and planning.

Game books might include Vishy Anand: My Best Games of Chess and Alekhine’s Best Games of Chess by Alexander Alekhine (two volumes)

After reading these books, at this point your rating should be 1400-1500 if you have also played 200+ slow games at your local clubs and tournaments. You are also might consider hiring a decent instructor, rated 2000 or better, to go over your games with you, make sure you are practicing good time management, that your thinking process is correct.

At this point you are adequate tactically and if you want to improve further, need to be well balanced in the Big Five. If you are not playing enough slow games against strong competition, you will probably never get much better if you do not start doing so regularly. If you are still losing pieces to simple combinations more than you should, then reading more positional and endgame texts will be counterproductive.

If you have not learned a good thinking process, you will similarly be stuck at a low rating. If you don’t pace yourself well in games, then you will never hit your full potential. If you are still not developing your rooks regularly in the opening, you probably won’t get good games against any strong players, etc. So at this point you will either need an instructor or need to go back and review the most basic things you should know and be practicing.

Reading 200 more chess books will only confuse you. This is also the reason why a person with a 1300-1600 rating “jumping in” to this improvement program in the middle may not work – you may think you are “too strong” to learn the
basic good habits that form the solid basis for any real improvement!

In my experience as a full-time instructor, almost all players lose the overwhelming majority of their games not because of things they don’t know, but because of not consistently applying things they do know.

Examples might include failing to:
1.  Look for all their opponent’s possible checks, captures, and threats before they commit to a move, each and every move (“Real Chess”)
2.  Look for a better move if you see a good one,
3.  Develop your rooks as part of the opening,
4.  Use your king in the endgame
5.  Take your time when you have plenty of time, or
6.  When way ahead in material, follow the precepts given in the Novice Nook When You're Winning it's a Whole Different Game

These problems are almost never solved by reading more chess books, so why waste your time doing so? In life we call this penny-wise and pound-foolish. So it is worth repeating: reading new chess books won’t help you if you aren’t doing the important things right that you learned in basic texts. For example, almost all of our students playing under 1700 strength do not do all of the basic things that are advised here, so reading Silman’s How to Reassess Your Chess won’t help you much at all (especially the imbalances of bishop versus knight which are emphasized after the first 52 pages)!

Just as taking 30 minutes on a move often results in more confusion than just taking 10, reading 1000 chess books is rarely better than reading 30-50 good and appropriate ones and actually trying to apply what they say, move after move, game after game.

As we said earlier, but can’t emphasize enough: If you fail to consistently and correctly practice one or more of the Big Five, reinforcing the others or adding new areas to improve will likely not do you much good. Remember this if you get stuck for too long at any one level.

At this level openings start to play a bigger part, so having an opening book specifically addressing each opening you normally play is often essential.

Now suppose you are doing everything correctly and you are ready for the next phase.

Next page: Phase 5: Intermediate Play