20/40/40 Rule in Chess: An efficient approach

Getting good at chess requires a lot of skill and hard work; getting results is a combination of strategic study and patience. But let’s talk about the study part, how will you do it actually?

There’s so may things to study that you don’t really know what to focus on. I agree, it is really hard to decide what to study even if you wish to do so. Thankfully there is the 20/20/40 rule to easily maximize your studying efficiency.

First, what is the 20/40/40 rule? It is really simple:

The 20/40/40 rule is an organizational plan designed to indicate priorities beginners should follow to learn chess as time-efficiently as possible.

The rule states that only 20% of studying time should be spent on the opening, 40% on the middlegame, and 40% on the endgame; this only applies to players under 2000 rating.

This rule is important in making sure that you are studying the right things. This rule mostly applies to beginners that don’t have much knowledge yet. I will explain everything with this guide.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Why the rule?

The first thing that comes to mind is why even follow a rule? Chess is divided into three phases: the opening (start of the game), middlegame, and endgame (late phase).

Since there are three of them, it’s reasonable to assume that investing equally should bring the greatest result. That is not the case however for someone just starting!

Let’s see how following the rule should help a beginner:

a.) Focus

The opening is the least important aspect of all the phases in chess since it is the very early stage in the game. A bad position from the opening can be compensated by a decent middlegame and endgame mastery, most of the time.

“After a bad opening, there is hope for the middle game. After a bad middle game, there is hope for the endgame. But once you are in the endgame, the moment of truth has arrived.”

Edmar Mednis

Of course, there will be a moment in the player’s learning curve where studying the opening becomes necessary, but that should come later.

The lack of focus is the reason why chess masters warn people about playing too much. Chess players might not have the time to self reflect and improve themselves.

Following the 20/40/40 rule ensure that the beginner will prioritize on most important aspects that would bring the most outcome.

b.) Consistency

Now we want to focus, but not too focused that it makes us ignore every other thing or together. Learning in anything could easily make anyone susceptible to prioritizing one aspect too much that it wouldn’t amount to something significant.

Following the 20/40/40 plan serves as a good reminder that the study should be targeted, but not laser-focused.

This diversity of knowing something of everything (even though just a little bit), is optimal in a game of three stages, since well, you got to play all of them. So yeah, consistency.

c.) Time-effective

Lastly, most people don’t have every single period of the day to invest in chess learning, every ticking second is key.

Our efforts should have a proportionate amount to the actual progress, following the plan that will most likely deliver the intended results in the shortest time.

You can try to learn chess all day and not improve at all, well, you can improve maybe a little bit, but not enough! Having a good learning strategy makes us scale our most precious resource, time.

Next, we’ve got to talk about the 20%.

20% on the opening

Now, you might wonder why do we only have 20% in the opening? This is an important heads up since most people actually do the opposite, and focus entirely on the opening instead. Let’s dig a little deeper into why the opening is less prioritized:

a.) Early in the game

The opening is played in the very first phase of the game, and although it’s important, it’s not that important. As I’ve said earlier, a bad opening can be neutralized by a good middle game, and even better by a great endgame!

The fact that it is so early in the game, means that there are a lot of opportunities to make up for the mistakes unlike if you mess up in the endgame.

Messing in the endgame is the worst since the game will end without giving the player a chance to fight back.

b.) Memorization

Memorization is a big deal in chess insight and strategy making. And as you can see, the opening is pure memorization in nature! not actually learning and making sense of the moves.

Now you can spot top games where preparedness beats creativity, but that is all it is top games! As a beginner, you should learn the meat behind every move, not the move itself.

c.) Easy phase

The opening is the stage where players of varying levels could stand equally, unlike the middlegame and endgame. Once you have a good understanding of the two later phases, finding decent moves in the opening is really simple.

As long as you avoid traps (which you can still play if you have a good middlegame) then it should be just fine. Plus, it is generally accepted that good middle and endgame players beat a good opening player.

Advantages of the 20/40/40 Rule

Following this mix in terms of the efforts give the following benefits:

a.) Efficiency

This model makes full use of what the three phases can actually give to the player at the beginning of the process, learning just enough for each.

It prevents again, focusing on the singular aspect too much, or doing everything that doesn’t have any depth to it.

Once a player gets to an advanced level, then it should make sense to make other combinations. But as a beginner, this studying plan should give everything all the phases can offer.

If you are a total beginner struggling where to start, I can share how will I do it if I am a beginner again.

b.) Less memorization

We’ve already talked about how memorization can be learning that lacks any weight to move a player forward. Following this plan ensures that you don’t have any room to only memorize the lines, but the comprehension of ideas behind those lines.

c.) Cost

You see, learning chess principles can cost, a lot, especially the openings! Find any info product you can see online, and it’s most likely the opening.

Things like “how to crush with Sicilian Dragon” which is enormously exclusive information for players that already know basic openings. While endgame principles are basically free online! You can learn efficiently while not spending anything at all.

d.) Criticality

The opening is important, but not that important. The endgame is actually the most crucial phase of the game, blunders on this one would easily throw a good opening preparation.

Opening knowledge can only go so far, learning the middle game and endgame is far more crucial for the outcome in general. That is only for the advantages, what about the disadvantages?

Disadvantages of the 20/40/40 Rule

Here are the flaws of actually following the plan:

a.) Imbalance

This mix is pretty advantageous when someone is just starting to learn, but not when the player gets pretty advanced. The time to work on the openings will come, and if you keep improving on the middle and endgame, then it’ll likely hold you back.

That is why it is recommended to drop the mix entirely after nailing the basics since the needs will be different then.

b.) Less opening repertoire

Although mastery of the middlegame and endgame is more beneficial, opening still matters. Giving ideal replies to an avid opening student is significantly harder, but not impossible!

I still believe that this is worth the cost of being able to learn the middle and endgame instead. But it is still a disadvantage nonetheless.

c.) Slightly worse opening /Traps

Do you know what’s worse than having no replies at all? having bad replies! It’s likely that you would be playing in a slightly worse position after every opening since that is not the thing that you’re focused on.

Another is the traps! If you miss them enough then you could actually lose the game in a pitiful amount of moves. Now, traps are usually easy to spot after you’ve got the basics, but some of them can really get stealthy.

Overcoming the weakness

These are all pretty huge disadvantages which are pretty situational, but I can attest that you can become a better player if you follow the plan, 20% only in the opening to be specific.

Openings after all, can be learned pretty easily, if you fall for a trap once then you’ll likely avoid it next game.

But making a draw by the opposition in an endgame for example is more challenging since you’ve got to wait until almost the end of the game (before you get to the position) unlike in the opening where you’ll get to it right away! (therefore you can practice).

Final thoughts

Studying chess is like any other pursuit of interest that requires some strategy. You have to make the best use of your time focusing on things that actually bring results.

And this 20/40/40 rule is one of them! follow it so you can get better. Hope I delivered the value you are looking for, sleep well and play chess.