The Road to Chess Mastery
The stages of a chess game are usually divided into the opening, middlegame and endgame. Most chess authors also make a distinction between chess strategy and chess tactics.
Grandmasters suggest that you spend time studying endgames and tactics in order to gain the most benefit in the shortest amount of time. Beginners often make the mistake of focusing too much on openings and the memorization of opening variations and theory. You should know general opening principles (rapid development of all your pieces, castling in order to bring your king to safety, developing your queen so as to connect your rooks, etc.). It is better to study pawn structures and grandmaster games in order to become familiar with typical plans. Opening theory is volatile and ever changing based on the latest games by top grandmasters. Unless you are a professional chess player it is not realistic to expect that you will be able to keep up with the latest twists and turns. No matter how much you prepare, you will always reach a point in the game where your theory runs out or your opponent plays a move which is unfamiliar and will require you to actually look at the position and think and find your own moves. Focus on your thinking method and improving your analysis skills rather than memorization.
One way to learn opening theory is to look up the variations that are played in your game after you have played the game. Play as much as you can (rated games where you record your moves) and look over your games with your opponents and with a stronger player or a number of stronger players. Try to understand why you lost or how you could have improved your play at every stage of the game. Analyze every serious game you play no matter how painful that might be.
Chess is a search for truth. The better you are at discerning the truth in any position, the better you will be as a chess player.
Vlad - February 7th, 2014