I’ve been playing chess regularly since 2014 and have made (in my opinion) minimal progress. Well, I guess you could say that I haven’t made the progress that I expected after devoting so much time to reading, studying, and playing. That’s one reason that I’m always on the lookout for new materials and new ideas to help me improve my game. That’s why I was very excited to read GM Davorin Kuljasevic’s new book How to Study Chess on Your Own. This is the honest review of a < 1200 ELO player. So, let’s begin…
I learned about this book from the Perpetual Chess podcast. Which, if you’ve never listened, you’re missing out! The title alone drew me to it because I tend to be an isolated chess player. I play correspondence games regularly, read and follow games in books/magazines, and play a lot against my DGT Centaur chess computer. I wanted something that might help me understand why my improvement was so stagnant. So, I put away all the other chess books and projects I was working on and focused solely on How to Study exclusively for the next few weeks.
The Study Advice
For the purposes of this review, I am going to divide the book into two sections: The Study Advice and The Games. The study advice offered by GM Kuljasevic throughout the book is interlaced with a variety of Grandmaster and student games that are used to illustrate the various principles explained in each chapter. The study options presented are very down-to-earth and application-driven. There’s very little “theory” involved in the advice he gives. Instead, he digs down and shows how the variety of tools at a chess player’s disposal these days can be used for a multitude of improvement opportunities.
Of particular interest to me was his advice for creating a study plan. This is a step that countless chess students (including myself) tend to ignore. I study and play chess a lot, but I realized that I didn’t have a solid plan of what I wanted to achieve and what steps I was going to take to achieve it. Not in the sense of “I want to be an IM in 5 years”. Instead, the advice is more practical and nuanced such as “I have 4 hours to study chess today, so 2 hours for openings, 1 hour for endgame, and 1 hour on tactics”.
Overall, I’d say that the advice in this book is a welcome addition to the growing library of chess improvement materials out there. It’s practical, sensible, and is flexible enough to where anyone from a lower-rated D-class player up to a Grandmaster could use it.
There are 71 annotated games and fragments scattered across How to Study Chess on Your Own. At first, I was following each of the games with my travel chess set at home and then using my iPad on my breaks at work. But I soon realized that despite the excellent study advice in the book, much of the game analysis was way over my head. There were principles explained that I understood but the application in many of these instances were still in the Grandmaster range. I felt like I wasn’t ready in my chess ability to get the most out of this analysis.
So, after playing through Game 15, I stopped reading/playing the games and focused on the meat of the book and its study recommendations. This is not to say that the analysis in the book isn’t excellent, because it is! There’s so much knowledge shared in these games that it was overwhelming for someone of my level. I know that I can’t speak for everyone, but I would assume that many lower rated players would have similar problems understanding the application of some of the more advanced concepts. I guess you can consider it a word of caution before digging into the variations and ideas that the games themselves present.
A New Library of Games
As I read through the book, I took note of the Grandmaster games and decided to put them together into a Chess.com library. I also played through the student games and fragments in the book for this collection. That library is free for access and download here and will eventually be added to the downloads section here on Campfire Chess.
It’s impossible to truly unpack the depth of knowledge and expertise presented in How to Study Chess on Your Own. GM Davorin Kuljasevic obviously produced this as a labor of love. You can sense the passion he has for chess and the drive to help others improve their game. Of the chess books I’ve read recently, it’s most definitely one of my favorites. I only hope that over time I can improve in my game enough to go back through many of the annotated games and unlock their secrets!