Chess Improvement

It’s all in the mindset

By: Peter Wells , Barry Hymer


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Products specifications
Attribute name Attribute value
Size: 234 x 156mm
Pages : 352
ISBN : 9781785835025
Format: Paperback
Published: October 2020

Written by Barry Hymer and Peter Wells, Chess Improvement: It’s all in the mindset is an engaging and instructive guide that sets out how the application of growth mindset principles can accelerate chess improvement.

With Tim Kett and insights from Michael Adams, David Howell, Harriet Hunt, Gawain Jones, Luke McShane, Matthew Sadler and Nigel Short.

Foreword by Henrik Carlsen, father of world champion Magnus Carlsen.

Twenty-first-century knowledge about skills development and expertise requires us to keep such mystical notions as fixed ‘talent’ in perspective, and to emphasise instead the dynamic and malleable nature of these concepts.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in chess, where many gifted players fall prey to plausible but self-defeating beliefs and practices – and thereby fail to achieve the levels their ‘natural’ abilities predicted. Happily, however, the reverse can be true too; through learned dispositions such as grit, risk-taking, strategic thinking and a capacity for sheer hard work, players of apparently modest abilities can achieve impressive results.

Blending theory, practice and the distinct but complementary skills of two authors – one an academic (and amateur chess player) and the other a highly regarded England Chess Olympiad coach (and grandmaster) – Chess Improvement is an invaluable resource for any aspirational chess player or coach/parent of a chess player.

Barry and Peter draw on interviews conducted with members of England’s medal-winning elite squad of players and provide a template for chess improvement rooted in the practical wisdom of experienced chess players and coaches.

They also include practical illustrative descriptions from the games and chess careers of both developing and leading players, and pull together themes and suggestions in a way which encourages readers to create their own trajectories for chess improvement.

Suitable for any chess player, or coach or parent of a chess player.

Picture for author Peter Wells

Peter Wells

Grandmaster Peter Wells has over 30 years’ professional experience in the chess world and has authored or co-authored nine well-received chess books. He has extensive coaching experience, having worked with the England Open and women’s teams at a total of 16 major events, and now works with the leading English juniors through the Chess Trust’s Accelerator Programme. As a player Peter has won three British Rapidplay titles and is part of a small group of English players to have progressed beyond the zonal stage of the World Championship cycle.

Picture for author Barry Hymer

Barry Hymer

Barry Hymer is Emeritus Professor of Psychology in Education at the University of Cumbria and Chief of Science for the leading online chess learning platform, Chessable. Barry has written 11 books and numerous papers on the subject of teaching and learning and he is one of the UK's foremost authorities on the educational applications of mindset theory.

Click here to read Barry Hymer's blog.


  1. Most chess books try to deliver what the author believes to be the target audience’s expectation. In the process, few compromises are likely to be made, especially when the author believes that certain aspects of what they feel necessary to be conveyed may not be palatable for their readers. But Chess Improvement stands apart in this aspect as it takes an intense, personal, self-critical look into various aspects of self-improvement in chess. The authors relay their experiences in their chess careers in combination with the recent perspective obtained from Carol Dweck’s Mindset.

    The first thought that came into my mind while reading Chess Improvement was that it is an honest book. The authors have aimed to relate their thinking processes to the concept of mindset and come up with theories that can explain why chess players do what they do. I was especially impressed by Peter Wells’ self-introspection on the issue of time-trouble, tracing its origins to a combination of perfectionism, fear of making mistakes, and lack of self-belief. Most readers who have played chess under chronic time-trouble habits will easily relate to this explanation.

    For most players, learning in chess is not an automatic outcome of their effort in preparation, and many can struggle with transferring their acquired chess skills into strong moves during an over-the-board game in a tournament. The ability to handle our fluctuating emotions, pressures during a tournament, swinging confidence as per the results of individual games, worrying about the rating – these are just a few of the challenges faced by most upcoming players. Knowing oneself under the prism of mindset can give a better understanding of the reasons for our behaviour and possible solutions to handling ourselves effectively.

    I would strongly recommend Chess Improvement for anyone who wants to understand himself or herself better and embark on their chess journey with clarity in their mind.

  2. A couple of years ago, I read Carol Dweck's Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and it made me think a lot about how my mindset has affected my success and failure as a chess player. As a result, I made a lot of changes in my approach to my training and gameplay - as well as what I do with myself and how I process the game and the outcome afterwards. I remember thinking that somebody should write a book about this kind of thing in relation to chess, and this has now happened thanks to Barry Hymer and Peter Wells. 

    Chess Improvement is very different from most chess books in that it is not packed with actual examples from chess games. There are some chess examples, but these are there to contextualise the theories and examples discussed. In addition to the discussion by the authors, there are insights offered from several of the best players in England from the last couple of decades, including: Adams, Short, Howell, Jones, McShane, Sadler, and Hunt. An impressive line-up - and their insights from their successes and failures definitely help to underline the validity of the authors' analysis and hypothesis. 

    This book should be a must-read for all ambitious players, as well as their coaches and parents (if we are talking about a young player). It is eye-opening in many aspects of psychology and in the approach to playing and supporting a player. Through the reading of this book, I have had reason to finetune many of the things I do for myself, as well as for the students I work with. Without giving in to hyperbole, I think Chess Improvement is one of the most important books pertaining to chess that have been written in the last few years, and possibly extending beyond that.
  3. Chess Improvement is the sort of book that every reader can take their own nuggets of wisdom from. It is especially useful for those who have a growth rather than a fixed mindset - that is to say, those people who use the -˜now' as a stepping stone towards where they want to be.

    The book features a huge amount of thought-provoking, well-researched information and advice, and I fail to see how the aspiring chess player could not improve their game and their mindset should they take
    away just some of the ideas and suggestions contained within it.

    The authors have given us the tools for the job, so it is up to us to take up the challenge. Our biggest mistake as chess players might be to not own a copy of this especially important work.
  4. This book is so refreshing and I know that it will be of great value to the aspiring chess player - and there is no reason at all why the themes and ideas cannot be immediately transferred into everyday life. I wish Chess Improvement had been given to me when I first learned chess as a 12-year-old. It would have influenced my chess thinking a great deal and served as my guide, my coach and my friend. It's been a long time coming in the chess world, but I think it is marvellous.
  5. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, “Chess Improvement” is eminently suitable for any chess player from novice to professional, as well as the reading lists of chess coaches or the parent of a chess player. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Chess instructional reference collections, it should be noted for personal studies that “Chess Improvement” is also readily available in a digital book format.
  6. I read Chess Improvement cover to cover in a few evenings and feel I have learned so much about how we learn and improve at anything, including chess. It has also made me consider studying the game a little more, so that I might one day join the local club!

    Here are a few of my key summary learnings:

    1. The fixed vs growth mindset tables are a helpful, immersive demonstration that losing a game hands you a learning opportunity - and that chess should be played, not just won.

    2. Active reflection turns experience into learning. So often a child may want to hide their losses from the coach and just examine their wins, thereby diminishing potential learning opportunities.

    3. The optimistic advice about sitting down with 100% effort applied, just in case the opponent does not bring the same level of focus, brought a smile.

    4. How I wish I had been informed earlier, and so clearly, about the counter-effectiveness of certain types of praise. Beyond the obvious failings of reward systems, I had not seen the damage to intrinsic pleasure in playing, and therefore a brain less open to thinking and learning.

    5. To concentrate on good moves, not great plans - and to see the game as a series of steps. There might always be some promising positions even against stronger players.
  7. This book is excellent, and is especially great at guiding parents on how to support their children through their chess journey. 

    Playing chess is no easy ride, whether you're Magnus Carlsen or a beginner, so we all need guidance on how to navigate through the difficult journey. I love the way the book emphasises a growth mindset and how to deal with the difficult situations we all experience at some point whilst playing chess. The content is broken down into small easy-to-read parts, in which the authors both share their invaluable experience.

    It also displays very instructive chess games which readers can play through or skip over if they are non-chess-playing parents. So many scenarios described in the book resonate with me, so it will certainly be accompanying me to chess tournaments - and I would highly recommend it to anyone close to the game of chess.
  8. Barry Hymer and Peter Wells' thoughtful book should be a useful resource for chess players of all strengths who are seriously trying to upgrade their results and ratings, for promising juniors, and for their parents and coaches. It can also prove a spark for players whose results are static and who seek a more positive and systematic approach, a different mindset.
  9. My son, Thomas, is passionate about chess and we have found Chess Improvement a really useful book. The concept of a growth mindset is so important in the development of children, particularly now as they grow up in an uncertain and competitive world. It is therefore really interesting to see the concept specifically applied to chess, an area which has not always focused on the emotional and psychological side of things. The examples in this book are practical and easy to follow, even for a non-chess-playing parent - particularly those around rankings, dealing with losses, and helping children who are perfectionists.
  10. Hymer and Wells bring the science of learning to the teaching of chess and create the best moves to excite, inform, and develop deeper understanding.
  11. Well written and rigorously researched, Chess Improvement shares valuable insights and is often very funny. By interviewing England's leading chess players, Barry Hymer and Peter Wells help readers to understand what it takes to become a top chess player: how they studied, the steps in their chess development, and most of all their mindset. In doing so, both authors - one an amateur and the other a professional player - make sense of their enduring fascination with the game and learn how, even after many decades of involvement in the chess world, they can continue to learn and improve. 

    The real-life stories of the players and the authors are examined through the lens of educational and psychological theories, in particular the growth mindset. As a player and coach, I share many of the experiences considered in the book and I can relate to much of the material. The interviewed players reveal different paths to improvement (even if they all, to some extent, share the growth mindset). These differing paths are dissected and discussed thoughtfully and carefully with caveats and consideration.  
  12. When I co-founded Chessable, I spent a year studying the scientific literature on chess improvement and learning. Chess Improvement condenses the science into an engaging, highly enjoyable and instructive text that you can read in under a week.-¯This-¯distillation of the key lessons that learning science has for us has the potential to have a greater impact on chess than AlphaZero. A seminal work. 
  13. Chess Improvement is a brilliant mix of research and practical advice on what it takes to improve at chess (along with great takeaways for other pursuits, too).-¯There's a great blend of theoretical works, such as from Carol Dweck, combined with practical insights from the top chess players and coaches. The focus is not on memorising strategies, but on setting up the proper environment and mindset for success.-¯There's also a nice summary at the end of each chapter with specific advice for parents and coaches. The case is made for a growth mindset, that effort matters, that process matters, that every challenge is a learning opportunity, and that how we structure rewards and even the words we use with ourselves (often inadvertently) and our students can really impact progress. It sounds simple in theory, but the book does a great job in giving specific examples of the top players and coaches who are exemplary in how they approach chess improvement, as well as unfortunate examples of the less experienced who tend to get stuck in their progress.

    Coaches working with young students will benefit immensely from watching how they word their praise or feedback, or even how they structure their lessons in general. I also really enjoyed grandmaster Peter Wells' insights and anecdotes which described chess culture both from how the top players really think and approach tournament and training life as well as the culture at the junior tournaments that may be helpful for those who are ready to enter this magical world of chess. 

    Chess Improvement is a must for all chess educators, as well as for aspiring players (and their parents) of all levels of ability. 
  14. Since the pioneering work of Djakow, Petrovskij and Rudek in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, Adriaan de Groot in the Netherlands in the 1940s, and Chase and Simon in the United States in the 1970s, psychologists have studied chess - and chess players - in great detail. However, most psychological studies of chess have focused on the nature of expertise in chess, rather than how the expertise is developed. There have, of course, been literally thousands of books published on how to improve one's chess playing, but these have in general been written by chess experts, rather than by those with expertise in learning. Now, for the first time, we have a book that brings these two themes together - blending the latest research on motivation and learning with insight from great chess players. If you have any interest in chess or in learning, you will find this book worthwhile. If you have an interest in both, you will be enthralled.
  15. Find your thing and sweat blood to get brilliant at it' is good advice for a fulfilled life. If chess is your thing, this book is right on the money. If it isn't, just substitute your thing, and read it anyway. It will strengthen the oomph you need in order to succeed.
  16. Chess Improvement is one of those chess books that contains so many rich and uncomfortable truths that as a player you are dimly aware of, but may have avoided facing up to. It forces you to look starkly at your whole relationship with and attitude to studying and playing chess. It is a wonderfully creative collaboration between educational psychologist Barry Hymer and Peter Wells, one of the most thoughtful and eloquent English chess writers, and draws on contributions from top English players with whom Peter has worked extensively over the last few decades. The sometimes haphazard personal trajectories of these players, who forged to the top of English and international chess despite the absence of any specific or helpful guide to their development, leap from the page.  
  17. The joy and horror of chess is that once in battle, whether as a young beginner or the world champion, you alone are totally responsible for yourself - and, in order to withstand the pressure, you need both psychological clothing and technical weaponry. In this very interesting book, Barry and Peter draw on their skill sets to help chess players enhance their game in both of these key areas.  
  18. I must confess to a long-standing personal fascination with the topics at the centre of Chess Improvement, having done quite a bit of work and reflection in similar directions. The novel ingredient that this book brings to the task is Barry Hymer's academic credentials, as well as the book's division of topics into scholarly theory and chess practice.

    Chess Improvement is a welcome addition to a very niche segment of chess training manuals; a book that makes the effort to combine mainstream work on psychology and education and apply it to the game. The authors make no effort to sugar-coat what is clearly a serious tome - the book demands time and effort, and doesn't tempt with quick fixes. What it does do, however, is scrutinise aspects of (chess) teaching, thinking and learning in a way that should fascinate and galvanise trainers and parents. It also provides valuable and scarce food for thought for players wondering about their personal obstacles to improvement. Working your way through this book will surely bring rewards - not just because that is the bonus of making a targeted effort towards improvement, but because Chess Improvement offers a very different type of material, including insights into the thoughts of elite English players.

    Chess Improvement will take its spot on a sparsely populated shelf alongside volumes such as Chess for Zebras, books which navigate the fascinating waters of chess psychology and contemplation.
  19. In Chess Improvement Barry Hymer and Peter Wells make a compelling case that a growth mindset is valuable to a chess player. Equally importantly, they confront just how tough it is to cultivate and maintain an optimal approach to the game in the face of inevitable adversity. The wide experiences of many players, illustrated throughout the book, attest to that. Whilst reading, I was fascinated by the diverse ways in which colleagues in the chess world have grappled with these issues.

    Peter has been a chess trainer to me, and a trusted adviser, on countless significant occasions. I recognise that same psychological insight in these pages, and revere the imagination which conjured, amongst other highlights, two(!) sparkling piece sacrifices on the f4 square. Look out for those as well!
  20. This absorbing and thought-provoking book takes an unusually well-structured approach to chess improvement, allying mindset theory to the practice and experience of some of Great Britain's best players. The result is a series of actionable recommendations for self-improvement as well as a revealing insight into the personal journeys of world-class international masters and grandmasters.

    Chess Improvement offers something for all chess players, both young and old - and even for established players who might be curious to learn for the first time what their colleagues and competitors really think about the game.
  21. Chess Improvement is a hugely informative and highly readable account of how you can improve your chess by adopting a growth mindset. It is so reassuring to know that traits like intelligence are not fixed, but can develop with time and effort. Barry and Peter weave together theory and practice so that both strands inform each other in a beautifully judged dialogue. They also helpfully draw out practical learning points for parents and coaches, relevant to children's progress both in chess and education more broadly.

    For the average club player, there is much to enjoy. I identified, as many will, with Barry's early promise, and his buoyant struggles on returning to the board in later life. But I also loved Peter Wells' perceptive insights from the world of top players, and his tenacious attempts to move beyond his own self-criticism.

    There's some great chess in there too. Take a look at the account on pages 34-36 of Peter's win in the 2017 Blackpool Open. I find it hard to imagine I could ever play a game like that, but, having read this book, I guess I'll keep trying!
  22. With its thought-provoking and fresh approach, Chess Improvement successfully splices the worlds of chess and academia to offer the reader a challenge - with a strong emphasis on personal growth. And instead of attempting to fine-tune the pure chess element of a player's operating system, Barry Hymer and Peter Wells prefer to address the inner struggle, digging down very deeply into highly significant and important subjects which are more often than not completely absent from chess literature. The authors continually challenge our established beliefs across a whole range of subjects, going beyond simply scratching the surface. For example, when discussing the impact of failure, they are keen to investigate -˜Why it's needed and how to deal with it' rather than ignore the recurring factor altogether.

    One especially noteworthy aspect is the inclusion of quotes and advice from a whole host of British chess greats - namely, Tim Kett, Michael Adams, David Howell, Harriet Hunt, Gawain Jones, Luke McShane, Matthew Sadler and Nigel Short. We don't hear enough from these chess players, yet their combined experience of playing at a very high level (in the case of both Short and Adams, all the way to the final of the world championship) and the amount of work they had to put into the game on the way up all makes for very instructive reading.

    The experts referred to within the book are not confined to the world of chess either. Most notable amongst those from a step beyond the 64 squares is Professor Carol Dweck, a psychologist and leading world expert in the field of mindset theory. The book presents a plethora of information and analysis on the contrast between fixed and growth mindset, and it is extremely interesting to see examples of the two applied to specific aspects of chess - such as the impact of praise and criticism, choice of openings and the age-old -˜problem' of playing against up-and-coming juniors.

    Chess Improvement will no doubt be a significant addition to chess literature, offering full accessibility to players, tutors and parents.
  23. A quirkily delightful book, at turns wise, insightful and funny. Every coach and every parent who wants to support their chess-playing child should buy a copy.  

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