What obstructs 95% of chess players?

Comments: 70

There are literally millions of chess books and tutorials that are available to us these days and all chess learners study from this same pool of material.

However, only a very small group of players (less than 5%) will experience any significant progress. The majority of players (95%) will unfortunately experience only slight advancement or, worse, no progress at all.


How to deal with such a sad situation? There are two typical approaches:


1. The players belonging to the first group are a little confused and they ask themselves the question (or send the question to me 🙂 ), Why am I not progressing despite all of my desire and efforts? If you are in this group, please accept my congratulations – you have very good chances for improvement!


2. The second group of players prefers to believe in what they want to believe. They think that they are “experienced,” “advanced,” “experts” or that they “know all the chess basics already,” etc. However, there is a well-known refutation proverb, “If you are so smart, then why are you so poor?” In regards to chess, this proverb basically translates to: “If you know so many things about chess, then why your rating is so low?”

excusesIn reply to this obvious question, this 2nd group of players will start providing various lame excuses such as:


  • “ I’m a good player, but only have problems with tactics (or opening repertoire or anything else)”.
  • “I don’t want to memorise opening lines, because I like creativity.”
  • “I have problems with concentration, and sometimes make blunders.”


Being under the delusion of their “advanced” level, such people produce a lot of lame excuses for their poor practical results. They also start blaming chess books, authors, teachers, etc.  OK, maybe a certain book was bad, but it’s quite unlikely that all of them are bad, right? So maybe the problem is not there?


All in all, if you are a 2000-rated player and honestly believe that you’ve learned all of the main strategic and tactical motifs – you are in this second group. In this case, I wish you good luck, because there’s nothing else that can help you. Yes, I’m not here to say pleasant things, but to tell you the REAL situation.


Now let’s get back to the first group of people, who wonder, “Why am I not progressing despite all of my desire and efforts?


Please think about this question. I’ll give you the answer in the next lesson, but in the meantime your independent thinking is very important. 🙂 Perhaps you’ve learnt A LOT from chess books (or other tutorial materials). Why didn’t it bring you A LOT of a progress?


P.S.  Write your opinion in the comments. After thinking about the above question, you may read the second part here.


Quick Succes in chess

Comments: 70

Comments 68

  1. I don’t know why I’m not progressing, but I know what problem causes me to fail: simple, very, very simple tactical mistakes. Like giving queen up for nothing:(

  2. I have not yet learned to apply all my chess knowledge in actual practice ; over the board experience. That is why my ability in positional / strategical thinking has not yet grown as much as I would like it to ; I am stuck !!

  3. Although I have studied your courses, and have increased my rating 300 points the past 18 monhs, this after 30 years of playing chess. I’m happy with my recent progress, but I want to beat everybody! The issue I believe is I have not fully automated the thinking algorithms.

  4. Quite simply, my game is not improving because I don’t have a systematic structured thought process. So no matter what I learn, I have difficulty applying.

  5. I think the answer “or part from answer” is ( effective system) , As our teacher GM Igor Smirnov always said, effective system in understanding,tactics(calculation) and training…., thanks very much for our teacher GM Igor Smirnov,,,

  6. I think the answer “or part from answer” is ( effective system) , As our teacher GM Igor Smirnov always said, effective system in understanding,tactics(calculation) and training…., thanks very much for our teacher GM Igor Smirnov,,,

  7. I remember a friend rated 1500 saying he always plays the 100% correct move. That is funny because I’ve looked at games where even Kasparov blundered (database games and books like Turning Advantage into Victory in Chess). If it could happen to him it could darn well happen to anyone.

  8. I remember a friend rated 1500 saying he always plays the 100% correct move. That is funny because I’ve looked at games where even Kasparov blundered (database games and books like Turning Advantage into Victory in Chess). If it could happen to him it could darn well happen to anyone.

  9. Hey GM Smirnov

    Well that actually hits me… I’m about an 2000 level player. I’m actually happy with this level, it’s a great level and it took me a long time to reach… it’s fun playing as an 2000, I see a lot of stuff, can explain a lot to other players and get a very rich experience from the game, playing it, etc.

    That said, of course I like to go further as I want to become a FIDE master, and as you observe I have BIG lacunas in a lot of stuff.

    I see tactics pretty well for my level and have brilliant combinations a lot of times, also against strong opposition (meaning my level, not much weaker players) – but I don’t understand strategy very well, know little about pawn structures and plans emanating from them.

    I don’t know a lot about openings and have difficulty understanding strategies based on structure – such as Ruy Lopez for example.

    I know absolutely nothing about any indian or nimzo-indian openings – I’m basically at a loss.

    Also, my understanding of the endgame is very limited – the text by Nimzowitsch is great and did get me thus far… but I realize that the road upwards is still long… to get from my level to 100 points more, I believe that I just need to start knowing all of these stuff I’ve been missing…

    that said – what would be the first course, from your materials, that you would recommend to me? I won’t necessarily look at this page, so please send me an email with your answer (you have my email address of course)

  10. I usually develop most of my pieces, I attempt not to move the same piece twice, I have SOME kind of plan, and I try not to blunder, BUT, I feel very constrained by the chess clock and, I have trouble with the moves (mainly certain pawn structures) of the other person interfering with my plan’s progress. (I am certain that this problem is not unique to me). This even happens sometimes when I play against weak players. All said, I cannot seem to progress properly.

  11. How to put this info to use?
    This goes for all of your articles and videos.
    How to make something out of all your work?
    Please email me.

  12. I don’t believe there’s one big secret that is suddenly going to give someone a LOT of progress. If there was one it would simply be solving lots of tactics and playing lots of rated tournament games, but here I think you’re talking about players who have done this already and reached a plateu.

    Lots of different things make up a strong player: Tactics, calculation, strategy, endgames, opening knowledge and understanding etc. but also (and importantly!) non-chess factors like time distribution, physical form, getting enough sleep.

    So HONESTY is important: We have to regularly identify the few (maybe 1, 2 or 3) chess or non-chess factors that are hurting our results most, and work on them seriously for a few weeks, one at a time (as I learned from one of your courses). Doing this regularly should lead to a “self-improvement spiral”.

    We must accept that this work will be hard and not always pleasant, and usually involves solving tough exercises (for the chess-specific factors). And if hard work on an important factor doesn’t lead to progress, maybe seek help from a trainer.

  13. As far as i am concerned i think i have quite a few problems for not progressing in chess:
    a) I change my repertoire again and again.
    b) Afraid of making draws and of losing games.
    c) Afraid of playing open positions
    d) None being objective and playing moves according on what i would like to do and not on what i would have to do.
    e) Focusing of the result on not on the game.
    The funny and at the same time sad thing is that even though i am familiar with some of my weaknessess i don’t have the power to change it!
    And that has made me lose confidence on myself.

  14. I have learn from you when you learn something new , then U need to train it for 3 weeks , like you learn how to avoid blunders then you need to train it for 3 weeks , automatic the new skill first only after that you can go to the (next skill) next topic , and I learn from you:you:need to make you’re training hard playing chess to the computer on the highest level etc 🙂

  15. Because the desire and efforts haven’t been fully redirected into learning more practical skills: lacking purposes in chess pieces, unaware of power fluctuations in various positions, and lacking awareness of opponent’s or self tactical manuvers.

    All of these for me is hard to learn because there’s no such definitive and easy guide to this for all situations, or probably I just didn’t recognize any strategical purposes in my chess gameplay. The only strategy I knew is, make a weakness in my opponent through any measures, then oliberate him if possible from that weakness.

    I remember GM Smirnov’s systems in “Tactical Positioning”, and yet different problem appear: unawareness of pieces purposes in my chess (How a move hinder my opponent strategy, how a piece will bring me to achieve goals, how important piece a in comparison to piece b, etc)
    Another example here, I got and established a good position for a knight and my opponent will always try to trade pieces. Two options after a “contact” happening, 1. Losing tempo for backing up my knight, 2. Breaking my pawn structure for letting him or her trade pieces with me.

    Yeah so overall, I just feel the lack of strategical thinking, as what I believe “exellent” chess players are supposed have learned from playing chess, and yet I just don’t get it.

  16. yes, I understand the point of the article, however I am poor at calculation and oftentimes my opponents outcalculate me and they win. I want to sharpen my skills in calculation or at least know ashortcut to avoid calculation.

  17. I do know that I have the capabilities to play better than my rating, but I am by no means an advanced player. I do make a lot of blunders, which is partly the reason why I’m my rating is lower than my top strength. I do however also try to stop making those blunders, the progress isn’t great though. I also notice a difference in performance depending on my motivation, how determined I am to win that specific game. I’m not playing to have a good rating (although I’d like to have one), so I play some games just as a pass time. That’s probably not a good thing to do though.
    What group does this put me in?

  18. I think that the best way for progress is to analyse your games with a computer and to see the mistakes. You can analyse your games with a better player than you. OK the computer don’t know the strategy very well but you watch if you misses tactics. The goal of the analysis is to find your weaknesses and the problem of your games and then work them. When you analyse your looses games you learn a lot of things. And I think that the analysis of GM games don’t bring you a real progress because you don’t understand their moves. It is better to analyse your mistakes instead to analyse the mistakes of GM games. You will be able to analyse GM when you will reach a good level in chess.

  19. well, knowing a thing is one thing and doing it right is different. Keep doing the thing that we think we know right and thus gaining credentials for the same is yet quite another.Practicing is really what makes the right thing getting in to the system, I believe.

  20. And even, I am a chess player.

    I have a FIDE of about 1700. I think the best way to improve is —

    1) Analyzing our own games by ourself.
    2) Make a seperate note on analysis.
    3) Finding out our mistakes.
    4) Finding other alternative good moves in critcial positions.
    5) Calculating more variations.
    6) And finally after making these above things in a note, we have to compare it with Engines like Fritz, Rybka etc..
    7) We have to check whether our analysis and engine’s analysis are same or similar.

    I think we can keep doing this for 3 to 5 tournaments.

    Anyway, I cannot wait to see our GM’s next article!

    Thank you!

  21. What obstucts 95% of players? My answer is themself, chess is 2 battles the one over the board and the one that goes on in ones own mind, the opponent is trying to force his will on you and you are doing the same to them,the times i have sat to look up and see my opponent looking at me, as to say why dont you resign? and then nearly fall out there chair when i play my move and then resign themself.
    I refuse to give up, i refuse to bend to there will, i refuse to react to there plans unless i really have to.
    In short mental toughness, i could go on for ever about this subject,and imo not enough coaches go into it, there are a few and a couple that go into it in great detail..
    Remember guys this is just my thoughts, as it is one of the things that made my game alot stronger.
    i would also like to thank Igor for all his great work as this is the 1st time i have had the chance to do so, as it is my first post this guy will put you on the correct path guys for sure but at the end of the day it,s down to you.
    good luck to you all

  22. Well in my humble opinion chess is like walking on a hanging rope, u lose concentration,seriousness,will to play best and u are lost. you must be on guard till the flags downs.

  23. I have learned from your course GM secrets that the main thing is to improve our method of thinking. It doesn’t matter how much chess knowledge we have if we cannot apply it quickly and correctly during the game.

    I have begun to make real progress for the first time in years by focusing not on learning many new things but instead focusing on how to use what I know in practice.

  24. i love this game from all my heart , and i like to improve but , i have a lot of things that prevent me from this . first : personal stuff : my family all hate it , ( and am living with them ) so no body supports me from my family ( on the contrary ) they always try to shout on me when am studying chess.
    second : in syria ( where i live ) there is no tournement , or clubs to train. or i must move to another city and this is not easy thing to to.
    i started to have depression , and i think i will not improve at all , on the contrary… i think i will stop or go back.
    🙁 🙁
    thx for your articles and free mails ur sending me , ur v. nice person.

  25. Knowing all the tactics and all the opening doesn’t make one a good player. Problem is, people think they know chess very well by just knowing all the tactical weapons but yet some don’t perform as per their expectation. Reason? “Mechanical Thinking” is what I think is one of the problem.

    Those who know all the theory of chess and yet do not progress is due to lack of proper thinking process, some are lazy enough to think many variations and some do not even bother to think why the opponent played the move…

    I would love to know the answer to your question Igor sir !! Waiting for it…

    Thanks and regards,
    Nayan from India

  26. I think the main issue is that there is a difference between “Chess Knowledge” and “Chess Ability”. So reading lots of books does not necessarily make you a better chess player. Unless you can apply the knowledge, it is basically useless.

    Same with the analogy – if you are so smart, why are you so poor. Being smart does not equate to making money. Having marketable skills that employers are willing to pay for is one way to make money. You might use all of your genius on something that no one cares about, and have no practical skills, and therefore no money.

    Same with chess, you might spend all your time and energy on skills that are not as useful – such as learning theoretical novelties that you never get to play, and ignoring more useful skills such as tactics.

    The point you mention about players thinking they are advanced holds them back also. They lose their “beginner’s mind”, and think that they are above the “basics” like the study of 1-2 move tactics problems, but in reality this is exactly what they should be studying.

    Tim Brennan

  27. What’s the surety that I sent money through Bank & get the course as U assured ? Is there any of Ur agent in India whom I can pay hand to hand ?

  28. it is quite difficult to automate the correct thinking process. Our brain is not like a computer program, in order to chance the thinking process we need to put huge efforts on it. It is necessary to combine study and practice (on the real board, with classic chess), and off coarse it takes a lot of time. So, I don´t believe in fast results, there is no magic.

  29. At my country one of the biggest problem face the chess player is the
    rareness of chess tournaments which affect on chess player career

  30. dear Igor Smirnov
    thank you very much for your advice. I am still learn the theories that you have give to me and the result is not bad. In Bali there are many chess players in my level ( non master ) I always lost against them. but after I got and study your lesson and the practical part, now not only loose also win even against master. in Bali ( in Denpasar city ) everyday people play chess with money. when I have time I go there and try to practice your lesson. this week I lost 27 times and won 23 times and I wish you give that you give some more advice or practical tactic how to beat them

  31. I am an expert/master at one time/. In my exprience, something that has help me a lot is when making your move, first try to make your move mentally first and make sure it does not lose material, then look for second best moves. Talk to yourself while analysis the position. Well then, how do I find a plan? Your plan is based on what your opponents last move was. When your opponent makes a move try to ask yourself what is my opponent up to. Remember Lasker’s Maximum, “If you see a good move wait there might be a better one”, will lower your blundering ratio big time. Not all of your moves have to have a plan for example: there are waiting moves, you can set up pitfalls for your opponents to fall in to, and finally just enjoy maneuvering your pieces. Chess is supposed to be fun and a creative game, like painting. And when playing in a tournament facing an opponent, just picture yourself playing you best friend in the park and you will create less stress and perform better.

  32. Hi Igor
    My name is Jozef I am rated middle of 1700, I love the game but I would like to improve. I would like to order one of your videos, however reading the video highlights they all appear the one I need. Do you have any recommendations on which video I should start with. My goal was to gate the end game videos, however the other ones sounds as appealing. Could you please give me some advise as to which one you would recommend.
    Thank you.

  33. Hellow to everybody. I would like to share with u an amazing experience that i had (and have) while i was (and i am :O) preparing my opening repertoire!
    I actually was doing what our teacher says on how to built an opening repertoire. I first made and opening review, then i learned the main theory, then i draw some conclusions and then i played the training games. And this is where i want u to pay your attention: in most of the training games, Rybka (this is the engine i use) played not according to the established theory but according to his own decisions! And most of the time his choice was even better than what theory says! I mean i learned a mass of new ideas on my opening preference while playing against it! And all these novelties where following our general thinking system! They were very logical, attacking most of the time or at least they were putting some pressure on my position.
    It makes u think about the correctness of the books and the theory in general…
    And one last thing: King’s Indian is a very, very difficult opening…and maybe it is a bad opening. I had a really tough time against the machine with white’s space and c5 break. But at the same time it is attacking, classical and practical. Confused? So am i! :O)

  34. dear Igor Smirnov
    in the book of calculate till mate I studied the Task 22. the game was between Smirin – Grischuk A Parnomo 84 ( 286 ) 2001. the 15 th move of black is g5 what is the idea of this move and what happen if white takes the pawn g5 using B c1 ? pls help me I really do not understand this move.

  35. 1 Simple many not have Igor Smirnov courses.

    2 For who have his courses not study seriously.!!!
    4 He have 8 courses and explain everything
    5 people not follow his advice !
    6 I study seriously his courses and get real progress

    🙂 smile

  36. For me the difference can be explained this way:
    Reading is more like memorizing the first 15 moves of an opening….
    Learning is more like understanding concepts an principals
    of how to play good chess…
    Nice question Igor !!

  37. this is pathetic, if some1 is coming to learn about how to improve and you just write “think about it..” lol man, kinda discouraged me

    1. “Bato bato sa langit, ang matamaan huwag magagalit”
      ooopppss… someone is guilty here.. someone refuses “CHANGE” which is the biggest fear of all.. haha.. this is a grandmaster and a psychology teacher who is teaching.. how about you?? next time post your life achievements.. alright?? ^_^

    2. Hello,
      The reason for the post “What obstructs 95% of players part 1 is to make students think independently.
      Because this independent thinking will also help you find your Chess weakness.
      Thats why the post is left open-ended.
      In fact, Igor Smirnov has provided the answer for the question in his next post What obstructs 95% of players part 2.
      For your convenience here is the link for that post below

      Prasaadh / Student Support Officer

  38. Everyone knows the answer why they are not improving in chess. The answer is….

    We haven’t bought all of ‘International’ (lol, a new title?) GM’s courses! I think that is pretty much the answer Igor is building up to, because basically all of these blog posts are marketing in one form or another.

    1. Hello,
      Please, note that RCA is a place for friendly communication. Any impolite comments will be removed.

      Prasaadh / Student Support Officer

  39. My opinion is..(my online rating is 1450-1500)

    When I analyze the games I lost (using an engine), I noticed in almost all the games at some point I had a winning advantage but ruined it somehow mostly in middle game and sometimes in endgame.
    1) Why in middle game?
    ans: I just do not know what to do after developing all the pieces. so I make some random moves which do not hang my pieces but some how they get trapped or pinned or skewered or i will loose pawns and I loose the game.
    2) Why in Endgame?
    ans: When I reach endgame I get the feeling the game is simple now, I calculate 3-4 moves deep once I find it is winning I get excited and play those moves with lightning speed without paying much attention to opponents moves and I loose the game.

    I think this is why I am not progressing in chess. Many of you might think my reasons are silly(as my rating suggests) but that is what happens in my games(most of the times).

    Hope RCA will give me some effective advice for both the above cases(middle game and endgame).

    1. It’s great you analyze your games seriously and try to understand the reason of your wins/losses.

      It seems like in both cases you’ve specified, you overlook opponent’s powerful moves. Actually, a lot of players suffer from this problem. You may watch the lesson “How to Eliminate Blunders” (it’s free):
      PART-1: https://chess-teacher.com/how-to-eliminate-blunders/
      PART-2: https://chess-teacher.com/how-to-eliminate-blunders-part-2/

      As for planning, this a huge topic, and I can’t answer it right here. At the same time, you can find clear guidelines both for middlegame and endgame stage in the course “The Grandmaster’s Secrets”: https://chess-teacher.com/product/the-grandmasters-secrets/

      Good luck in your chess battles! And don’t forget to share your future successes with us! 🙂

      1. gm smirnov.. i know that you know the thing i will ask you this
        time because you are a master in phsychology.. hehe..
        what can you say about “super concious mind capability” sir?? is this really true??
        one of the interviews of magnus carlsen he said “i dont know, i just woke up one day understanding all of the trainings i had.”
        did magnus carlsen experienced same thing??
        whats your opinion sir?

        1. Hello,
          Igor Smirnov has a busy schedule but I will help you as much I can.
          I am personally not sure about super conscious mind capability.
          But Igor Smirnov has posted in our blog about training and their physiological aspects in the post How to Succeed in Chess.
          Please follow the link below for the post


          Prasaadh / Student support officer

  40. i can not convert my aknwledgment of chess over the board even against weak players , and wait intill they do the obvious lost mistake..and cant too analyze my own games.

    1. Hello,
      Igor Smirnov has a busy schedule but I will help as much as I can.
      To know a chess idea is not sufficient you have to practice and train it to make it a skill. I have provided a link to blog post by Igor where he talks about how to improve in Chess.

      You can also study Igor’s Grandmaster Secrets and do the practical tasks. To boost your rating rapidly.

      Prasaadh / Student Support Officer

  41. I think a big problem for many people that know alot of theory but cant progress is lack of mastery of tactics.

  42. sorry but you say nothing in the article, and you pretend that people who don’t know the problem comment what they think. You belong to group of writers who say, just nothing. Sorry but it’s my opinion

    1. Hello Dieogo,
      The reason for the post “What obstructs 95% of players part 1 is to make students think independently.

      Thats why the post is left open-ended.

      In fact, Igor Smirnov has provided the answer for the question in his next post What obstructs 95% of players part 2.

      For your convenience here is the link for that post below


      Please, note that RCA is a place for friendly communication. Any impolite comments will be removed.

      Prasaadh / Student Support Officer

      1. i haven’t read yet, now i will. Although it wasn’t my intention made an unfriendly comment. Just all the blogs and sites start an article saying stuff like this post and after that… nothing.

  43. I think I have more than 50 books which are both interesting and helping readers to improve. The problem is even when you understand the point of a chapter, soon or later you won’t remember something. About tactic, I would say, my prep. before tournament was 1 month of tactics (1h-2h of training each day) and it doesn’t help me to obtain result. Strategy and way of thinking are the most important to improve

  44. I studied chess constantly and was complaining why i am not progressing but after 3 months i found out that i have become a greater player. i remembered Kasparov’s quote once: you will not see progress unless you keep studying and resist against being disappointed And now i am a greater player then before so it’s “”progress”””.

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