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
Practical play with analysis
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.