Chess Enjoyment vs. Training: Striking the Right Balance

We all want to have some fun. But I guess you also want to improve your game.

The problem is that the most fun things usually lead to the least improvement. Watching your favorite streamer, banter blitz against your friends, or watching a YouTube video are all fun but don’t necessarily improve your game and results.

The solution is: you need to both train your chess effectively and have some time when you enjoy the royal game.

In this article, I want to help you determine the right enjoyment-to-training ratio, depending on your personal situation.

Definition Of Chess Enjoyment & Chess Training

To ensure we’re on the same page, I want to define what I mean by chess enjoyment shortly. I know the definition might come across as harsh, but it has helped me tremendously in chess improvement and when I try to improve anything else.

“Chess enjoyment is any chess-related activity with enjoyment as the principal motivator.”

If we go back to the above-mentioned activities:

  • Watching your favorite streamer
  • Playing Banter Blitz against Friends
  • Watching a YouTube Video

All of them improve your chess a little. But compared to other training methods, those improvements are minor. This rather strict definition will help you avoid strange situations when you want to chill but still want some improvement. In my case, I usually end up not relaxing because I expect to improve, but also not improving because I’m in the mood to chill.

The definition for chess training is very similar:
“Chess training is any chess-related activity with improvement as the principal motivator.”

Again, your chess training will also be fun (at least sometimes ). But it won’t be why you sit down and solve some tactical exercises or analyze your lost games.

Examples of Chess Enjoyment And Training

It may be confusing initially because the same activity can go into each bracket, depending on how and why you do it. For example, playing chess games can both be enjoyment and chess training. The main difference is if you analyze your games.

Analyzing games, especially games you lost, is not really fun. The engine often yells at you and points out many moves you should have played differently. But learning from your mistakes is essential to improve your chess.

We can come up with a simple rule:
Playing without analyzing is chess enjoyment
Playing + analyzing is chess training

The same might go for other activities like watching an opening course, solving tactical puzzles, or reading a chess book.

If you put in high effort and do things that are also hard and uncomfortable, you are most likely training chess.

If, on the other side, you sit on your sofa with a beer and the television on in the background, you most likely enjoy chess.

Be honest and ask yourself: am I doing this primarily for fun or to improve my game? As a rule of thumb, if your answer is “both,” it is likely chess enjoyment.

The Enjoyment-Training Ratio

Now that you know the definition of chess enjoyment and chess training, let’s determine your personal ratio. It is a fun exercise to see if you have a rough overview of where your chess time is spent. To do so, guess how many hours you spend on Chess Enjoyment every week. Anytime you check some games on your phone, play Bullet, watch videos, or check chess-Twitter should count for this time.

Written down a number? Good, let’s move to the chess training. How many hours are you spending on chess training every single week? Remember: only activities that have the primary focus on chess improvement count. Got a number as well? Great. Now you can easily calculate the ratio.

The ratio means: per 1-hour chess enjoyment activity, how much time are you spending training chess?

Now it is time to find out the truth. To do so, observe your time spent over the next seven days. Note whenever you spend time enjoying or training chess. The easiest way is to open a note on your phone and keep track this way.

You both have your estimate and the true numbers at the end of these seven days. Whenever I do this exercise, I recently did it for my poker activity, I am surprised by how much time I spend on YouTube shorts, watching Twitch streamers, or playing poker without really learning from it.

I’m curious what your reaction is to the numbers. You can share it by tagging me on Twitter.

The Optimal Enjoyment-Training Ratio

Now that you have your numbers, you might ask yourself: “But what should this ratio look like?”
The answer is as so often: it depends.

There is no right or wrong. I’m not trying to tell you you aren’t allowed to enjoy watching your favorite streamer. I’m trying to help you find the ratio fitting for your situation. My aim is that you manage to choose your ratio consciously and stick to what you really want to do.

Chess Enjoyers:

You do more of the enjoyment than the training. That’s ok. Just don’t expect huge results. You are doing what most other chess aficionados do: you enjoy playing and watching chess, and from time to time, you also study.

The key here is that if you decide consciously for this ratio, you should not be frustrated when you hit a plateau. Your actions show that you value short-term fun over long-term improvement. You can still hope for the best (improvement), but you shouldn’t be surprised if your actions lead to a plateau.

Chess Improvers:

You love chess just as much or even more than the chess enjoyers. But you are also aware that you need to train to get better. And because you train more than you enjoy chess, you value chess improvement higher than short-term fun & giggles.

If you do the training correctly, you can expect to get better. Even more so, you should have quicker and more lasting improvement than most chess aficionados.

The Worst Case Scenario

What you want to avoid is that your actions and your hopes/expectations aren’t matching up. Again, there’s nothing wrong with spending more time on chess enjoyment than chess training. But in that case, your expectations should be moderate at best.

If you really want to improve your chess consistently and attain better-than-average results, make sure your actions back up those expectations.

Tricks To Get Yourself To Do More Training

I’m pretty sure that most readers would wish to do some more training but can’t get themselves to do the hard work. I get it. It is much easier to lie on your sofa and watch a YouTube video than solve these annoyingly tricky puzzles. But when playing your next tournament, you will be very happy to have done the hard work.

Most of the mental work in my improvement journey was tricking myself into doing the hard stuff.
Seriously. I never really liked to solve tactical puzzles. Nor do I enjoy going to the gym, running, or studying poker ranges. But I understand that these activities will make my life so much more fun & fulfilling in the future.

So, I need some tricks to get myself to do them. If you want to increase your chess training bracket and decrease your chess enjoyment bracket, use the following steps:

  1. Awareness: Become aware of your Actions.
  2. Tracking: Write down what exactly you do.
  3. Intentions: Get clear on what you would ideally like to do.
  4. Small steps to improvement: start with a short 10-minute tactic session and then build up. You can't do everything at once.

Want To Improve Your Chess?

Here is how I can help you:

- Get my eBook, The Art of Chess Training, for free.
- Check out my course, Next Level Training, and start training like a Grandmaster.

Last but not least, if you enjoyed this article, please leave a like. Until next time,

Keep improving,
GM Noël Studer