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Kostya’s Blueprint: Knowledge & Skill

Posted: 1 year, 1 month ago

Kostya’s Blueprint: Knowledge & Skill

I’d like to rehash a blog I wrote a few years ago for Chess.com, entitled “Developing Knowledge & Skill”, where I introduced the idea that chess performance can be broken down into two things: ideas that we specifically learn (knowledge) and our ability to solve complex problems within a certain timeframe (skills). To understand better what I mean, let’s break it down a bit more:

Knowledge: This applies to specific chess moves, positions, ideas, etc. that you can study and concretely learn, such as: opening theory, common middlegame motifs, theoretical endgames, and even general principles. Your memory and ability to retain information is most useful here, as knowledge is gained through reading and through experience (lots of playing and analyzing).

Skill: Your ability to actually play chess. This includes anything you do over the board that requires analytical thinking, such as calculation (of course), but also things like defense, time management, and any other form of problem solving we do during a game. 

There are also many aspects of chess that require using a combination of both knowledge and skill. To give a good example, coming up with a middlegame plan requires knowledge (you could also say experience), but successfully putting that plan into action on the board? That takes skill. First in order to come up with a plan, a player would draw upon their experience of similar positions that either they’ve played before or studied and come up with some ideas-- from there they’d have to switch to analytical thinking to account for all kinds of potential tactics in the position before deciding on the best move in the present position. You could also say it’s a balance of strategic thinking and execution.

As I mentioned above, knowledge is gained through dedicated studying: books, articles, videos, lectures, pretty much anything that contains some useful chess info! Skill should (and I would argue can only) be improved through active training. Active as in…actively using your brain (!)… to solve a puzzle, find a best move in the position, and of course play a real game with a clock and an opponent. In my experience improving your chess ‘skill’ is similar to physical exercise: if you practice consistently, you will get stronger, if not, you’ll quickly get out of shape.

So why is this classification useful? Well if you’re struggling to improve, the first step is to figure out exactly what your weakness is. Are you missing lots of tactics, getting outplayed in the opening, messing up in the middlegame, or playing well until the endgame? The first would be an issue with skill, while the second a deficit in knowledge. Middlegame/endgame issues could be a problem with either our knowledge or our skill, and would require further investigation. Whatever issues you may have, there’s nothing  better for your chess than an honest look at your strengths and weaknesses.

Like many others I also strongly believe that one must continually reflect on their own games and learn from their mistakes if they wish to improve at a solid pace, so I hope this breakdown of knowledge and skill will be useful for chess players hoping to better understand their own strengths, and how to take their game to the next level.

As usual, I’d be happy to read your comments, criticisms, and questions on the above.

IM Kostya Kavutskiy is the coach of BAC’s A-Team and member of the San Jose Hackers. To keep up with Kostya, check out his official Website, Facebook, & Twitter. Make sure to also check out BAC’s new online classes taught by Kostya via Chess University!