Every chess player is constantly looking to improve their game, and there's plenty of debate on the best way to get better. Some players try to play as many games as possible, others solve countless tactical puzzles, and many study theory until they know their favorite openings inside and out.
Of course, there's no one improvement method that's best for everyone. However, the five activities in this article are ones that players, coaches and trainers have found to be effective methods for most players, and they should make up the core of any training you do to improve your chess.
1. Play More Chess
This one may seem obvious, but many players forget that experience is an important and necessary part of chess improvement. Playing is what allows you to put the knowledge gained during study into practice, and work on solving practical problems during games without the aid of the prompts given in puzzle books.
Some games are more valuable for improving your chess than others. Long games -- games where each player has an hour or more of thinking time -- allow time for seriously analyzing positions and practicing time management. Blitz games are useful for quickly learning openings or improving your chess intuition. For training purposes, long games are best, but keep in mind that blitz games can be learning experiences too.
2. Study Annotated Master Games
Playing over the games of masters is a great way to improve your chess. These games show how strong players use their pieces, formulate plans, and execute endgames.
There are numerous game collections out there with annotated games you can play through. You might pick a collection of games played (and perhaps even annotated) by one of your favorite players. Alternately, there are tournament books that analyze all of the games from a given event, such as New York 1924 or St. Petersburg 1909. For beginners, something with more complete annotations, such as Irving Chernev's Logical Chess Move By Move: Every Move Explained might be best.
3. Review Your Own Games
While learning from the games of others is helpful, nothing beats learning from your own mistakes. Reviewing your own games is a crucial step in chess improvement, as it allows you to critically examine your strengths and weaknesses and figure out where your biggest mistakes occur. Make it a habit to record the moves whenever you play so that you can review the game later.
It is best to have a stronger player analyze your games with you. A stronger player will inevitably see things you missed, and can provide helpful feedback on where you need improvement. Computer chess programs can also analyze your games, and are great for pointing out tactical mistakes, but can't give the "human" feedback that a stronger player can.
4. Tactics, Tactics, Tactics
Tactics decide the result of most chess games, especially for beginning and improving players. Firming up these skills will allow you to pick off inadequately defended pieces or find surprising checkmates against unsuspecting opponents -- and more importantly, learning these patterns will help you defend against tactical threats during games.
There are many books that have collections of tactical problems. Even better, interactive software programs such as Chess Tactics Art allow you to play through problems and get instant feedback without having to set up positions on a board. One free option is the Chess Tactics Server, an online tactics trainer that can guide you towards problems of an appropriate difficulty level.
5. Private Chess Lessons
Having your own personal chess trainer can be a rewarding experience. Someone who works with you over a period of time will get a good feel for your game, and can craft lessons tailored to your needs. To find a suitable teacher, you may want to ask other local players, particularly those who play in clubs and tournaments, if they can recommend a good teacher.
Keep in mind that the strongest players tend to give the most expensive lessons, but you may benefit just as much from a somewhat weaker (but still strong) player without paying a premium rate. Also, online lessons are often available on chess servers for much lower rates. It's not quite the same as meeting with a teacher in person, but confers many of the same benefits.