Do you learn chess better by playing or watching?

Question: Do you learn chess better by playing or watching?

Answer: Ideally, there needs to be balance between learning by watching examples of strong play and attempting to apply what you have learned through playing chess. Following a study plan will help achieve this balance.

Emmanuel Lasker was the World Chess Champion for twenty-six years straight (1894-1921) and a highly accomplished academic in both Mathematics and Philosophy. In Lasker’s Manual of Chess, Dr. Lasker describes a study plan suitable for a new chess player:

“Let us imagine that a certain master, having a perfect command of his trade, is eager to teach chess to some junior player who is practically ignorant about the game, and wants the young man to join the ranks of those two or three thousand players who play on par with the master. How long will his education take?

To answer this question I offer the following figures:

Chess rules and exercises

5 hours

Elementary endings

5 hours

Some openings

10 hours


20 hours

Positional play

40 hours

Practical play with analysis

120 hours”

At first glance, Lasker’s plan seems to disproportionately favor play time. However, notice that Lasker places the qualifier on play with the words “with analysis.” This is because play offers us the opportunity to practice independent thought while analysis offers us a chance to target our weaknesses in understanding. Playing without analysis is far more common among the lazy minded and oftentimes does more harm than good in the form of practicing bad habits.

So, in conclusion, I recommend creating a study plan similar to that which Emmanuel Lasker suggested. Secondly, always make sure to thoroughly analyze your practice games. The tools for learning have improved greatly since Lasker’s time but the process of improvement he lays out is timeless and effective.

Answer as posted on Quora by Chris Torres: https://www.quora.com/Do-you-learn-chess-better-by-playing-or-watching/answer/Chris-Torres-13?ch=10&share=e73a674b&srid=i4Sz

Published by chessmusings

Chris Torres is a nationally renowned scholastic chess coach working in the San Francisco Bay Area. His classes have attracted players of strengths ranging from rank beginners to world champions. A chess professional since 1998, Chris is widely recognized as one of the main driving forces behind the explosion in popularity and sudden rise in quality of scholastic chess in California. Chris Torres served as the President of the Torres Chess and Music Academy from 2005-2020 and currently is recognized as a correspondence chess master with the United States Chess Federation. Since 1998 Chris Torres has taught 6 individual national champions as well as led multiple school teams to win national championship titles. In addition, Chris Torres has directed and taught at 10 different schools which have been California State Champions at chess. In 2011 and 2012, several former and current students of Chris Torres have been selected to represent the United States at the World Youth Chess Championships. Mr. Torres’ hobbies include playing classical guitar and getting his students to appear on the national top 100 chess rating lists.

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