What does it take to get good at chess? Use this workflow for constant, certain improvement.

Here we are now. Entertain us.

A recent Lichess blog on “How Long Does It Take to Get Good?” finished with the lines

So what does make you a better chess player? ...Perhaps by practicing tactics, studying chess strategy, or studying your games.

I’ve spent the last eight years of dedicated chess study trying to answer that question.

What’s resulted is a personalized training process that will ensure constant improvement and concrete results to anyone who follows it.

The process entails analysis of games in Obsidian.md followed by continual review of missed concepts and tactics in Anki. The resulting workflow can appear elaborate at first glance, and I don’t want readers to see the size of it all and be intimidated.

Instead, let’s break this down into the way it organically developed for me.

Pick the level of commitment you want to begin with, and as you get comfortable and as your need grows, you’ll naturally seek to develop your workflow and chess improvement.

It’s important to note that this is a tech-based solution to an everyday problem. I can’t make you into the kind of person who answers problems with tech-based solutions, but I can show you what I’ve done and perhaps you can adapt it.

Level 1: Sweat the Small Stuff

Level 1 of this process is to simply use a computer analysis of your game and input any missed tactics into Anki on back-front cards.

What is Anki? In its most basic form, Anki is an interface for spaced-repetition flash cards. Digital flash cards that you review and remember are reviewed less frequently in longer lapses of time, while those that you don’t remember are reviewed more frequently with shorter lapses of time.

Basic Anki set-up for language learning can be found here. For chess, take a screenshot of the missed tactic or blunder without the solution. Then input the winning line or lines on the back. You can copy-paste lines from Lichess by highlighting the analysis.

A note about what to put on the card itself: your own blunders, your own missed tactics, but also opponents’ tactics that you missed or opponents’ blunders that you did not exploit.

A missed tactic from one of my recent games. The position is on the front, and my own analysis and lines are on the back. I used to include the whole algebraic line, but I found that it took toomuch work and that quick verbalized lines were (for me) the way to go.

Pro-tip: Anki is absolute pants at resizing images to a reasonable size, so I recommend fixing your images to a size that works best for whatever device you do your reviews on. For me that’s my iPad. For others it’s their mobile phone.

Level 2: Start a Diary and Peel Your Scabs

Level 2 adds on the use of Obsidian. We’ll be using Obsidian to create what I like to call a monument to scab-peeling.

The essential idea is this: we immortalize our losses so we don’t repeat them.

Set up Obsidian as a second brain, then include notes on your games either in daily notes or in a dedicated folder. Personally I have a daily folder and one note for each week. That note then links to other sources of inspiration, ideas, and even players whose openings I frequently struggle against at the café where I play.

Example Post-Mortem

Your post-mortem can take whatever form you like. Personally I use a business meeting technique called “plus delta” and add on a summary at the beginning. I abbreviate it to ∑+∆. The “+” stands for the question “What am I doing well?” The “∆” means “What could I do differently next time?”

Sometimes if I really feel like beating myself up, I change the ∆ into two questions: “What could I have done better? How will I implement that in the future?”

Usually these two questions are asked at the end of a meeting, but I find it just as useful to use them to direct myself toward positive change in repeated tasks.

Level 3: The Same, but Better

Level 3 involves installing an Obsidian plugin called Obsidian_to_Anki. This will combine Level 1 and Level 2 into a single workflow so that all material creation is being done in Obsidian and Anki is simply being used as a visual interface and scheduler.

There are video tutorials for setting up Obsidian_to_Anki as well as a GitHub page detailing the process. If you’d like to save yourself a bit of time, follow these steps.

- Open Anki
- Tools -> Addons -> New
— When prompted, input number 2055492159 to install Anki Connect

- Open Obsidian
- Setting -> Plugins -> Community Plugins -> Safe Mode Off
- Find Community Plugins -> Search Anki -> Install Obsidian_to_Anki
— Find Obsidian_to_Anki under plugins, turn it on.

- Restart both Obsidian and Anki.

You should now be able to make flash cards simply by typing #flashcard. This will speed up your Ankifying of information by quite a lot. You’ll save time that previously you’d lost on moving your cursor or implementing any of the many Anki keyboard shortcuts. You also won’t be task switching, which saves mental energy and helps keep you from distractions.

Paste the image and type #flashcard on the same line (no enter). Then start a new line (enter) and write what you want on the back of the note. I used to put in the full line by copy-pasting from Lichess analysis, but I’ve left that behind.

Where do we go now?

This is where I’m at now in my workflow. There might very well be higher echelons to reach, but I think I’ve reached a great balance of effort of input and return on investment. Not included here is my work on Chessable and AimChess.

Now it’s for you to decide which part of the workflow you want to aim for, and how much you’re willing to put into it at the beginning.

The most important thing is to make post-mortems and Anki a habit.

If your post-mortems are getting too burdensome, keep them to a single bullet point. If your Anki reviews are getting too numerous, limit the reviews you do each day. If you just can’t be bothered to do the + in +∆ and you just want to get to the scab-peeling goodness of what you did wrong, go for it.

What matters most is always keeping one fact at the forefront of your mind: the most effective habit is the one you maintain.

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N.G. Rees

N.G. Rees

Teacher trainer and ESL instructor based out of Morocco. Head of Training and Development, Resilient Communities NGO. hmu @rees_is_