Becoming good at chess without studying is certainly possible, there are chess hustlers that became good without doing any formal study. It is important to note however that learning chess without formally studying is the slow way to improvement, studying is faster.
Many of us want to be good at chess quickly, however, there are complications that we need to overcome that require hundreds of hours of studying in order to fully master.
You know they say that there are no shortcuts to being truly good at something, but is this true when it comes to chess?
There are many out there who have become good at this game by continuously playing (even without formally studying), however, these are people who have a lot of competitive experience.
Studying chess is important, but also not as important as you think. As someone who have rarely studied for years (but have also been playing chess a lot), I can provide a lot of insight to this.
With all of that in mind, let’s get started.
A player can become good at chess without a lot of formal study
Studying chess formally allows an individual to take the experience of others without having to experience them on their own, it is essentially having a tutor to show you the way.
Does this mean that you cannot acquire that information on your own? Of course you can, however, it will take a long time when compared to having read it in a chess book or something.
You need a lot of playing experience and self-reflection in order to figure things out on your own.
Some can obviously be good at chess without doing any formal study, however, one cannot unlock their full potential by only playing.
One cannot possibly get all the learning that they need by only playing, people after all only have a limited time to play some chess games.
Chess is that complicated, even with centuries of theory (from people of the past) we still have not figured out how to completely solve this game.
At some point people need the perspective of others who have experience on their own, learning like this is much quicker.
But let’s not pretend that one cannot be good at chess without formally studying, there are many who are way better than your mid-tier tournament players just from having too much experience.
You can see many chess hustlers become very good even without formally studying the game, they are proof that one can become competent without any formal study.
These are people (chess hustlers) who play everyday even without the presence of chess materials that can help them improve.
Yet even with this deficiency, some can even beat 1800-2000 rated players from having played hundreds of games where money is at stake.
They are living proof that one can become very good at chess without actually studying it.
Talented chess players only need to analyze in order to become strong
I am a believer that chess is for everyone, that anybody can become strong if they put in the work behind the scenes. However I cannot deny the existence of talent in chess, some people just learn quicker because they have a natural affinity for the game.
For most folks that are only starting to get into chess, it is better to supplement materials in order for them to get better, however there are those that can become good even without studying.
And sometimes you don’t even need to be too talented, chess is complicated and many people can become decent even if they only play on their own.
This approach is also known as “learning along the way”, where a learner just picks up the information as they execute.
Only playing chess games can get you somewhere but is likely not very far, however, if we are talking about playing while analyzing then it is a different story.
As long as you analyze every one of your matches (which is not necessarily studying), I think you can get pretty far if you have the natural talent for this game.
Playing continuously without even giving time to self-reflect is just pointless, you will never be strong if you only play and never evaluate.
However you can become pretty decent as long as you take the time to analyze all the games that you have completed, this allows you to learn some things that you can improve.
This is a slow approach but it is an approach that works with time, one can become good at chess (even without studying) as long as they analyze their own games.
Strong titled chess players did a formal study at some point
Now you might get the vibe that studying chess is not that important just from reading this article so far, however, I do not want you to have this impression.
You will never be the best version of yourself if you never formally study, you can see this in the best chess players in the world.
Every titled player that has become strong did a formal study at some point, there is a reason why almost everyone that competes in tournaments has done an official study.
Though some can become strong even without studying, there is only a minority in the population that have managed to do so.
Competitors play against people who have put in the hours and need to get as many advantages as they can, which is why studying is important.
Due to the fact that chess players in general are getting stronger, playing competitively without studying is not an option.
The best chess player that you can be will never see the world if you never study, you can only go so far with your limited experience.
Formally studying is like having a walkthrough while playing a video game, of course you can complete the game on your own but it will likely be difficult to you (and also it will take a long time).
Now imagine having a video game with endless levels and you have to continually push forward. I think a lot of us would enjoy having a walkthrough in order to make things easier (and faster).
You can complete the chess “levels” without actually studying it, however, you will likely be beaten by someone who has a walkthrough and can sweep through the game.
Personal experience on formal chess study and its effectiveness
Now I want to relate this in my own experience, do I study a lot and how does it go in my personal day-to-day experience?
If I’m going to be honest with you, I didn’t study much chess since it is boring for me (plus I don’t really intend to be serious in competitions). Sure, I can never be the best version of myself but I am not really intending to become a titled chess player.
There was a time where I did a serious chess study effort since I was participating in my first tournaments (I want good results), but after that spree I haven’t even watched a youtube video in order to be educated.
Now does that mean I have become a weaker player? I don’t know, I somehow managed to achieve a rating of 2000 on lichess and 1600 on chess.com around this year, I think that is pretty decent for someone who doesn’t study all that much.
So what I mean is that you can become decent even without studying chess all that much, it really depends on what you are aiming for.
If you are playing for the sake of competition then you really have to study formally, if you are playing to be entertained then it is okay to not study. In my case I only want to be entertained so I study minimally (while still analyzing my own games).
People who have never studied chess can become very good as long as they analyze their own games, many chess hustlers are competitive just from playing hundreds of games.
However there will be a time where a formal study needs to be taken in order to be better, this is where studying is important.
It really depends on what you will consider as a strong player, because what might be decent to me might already be strong to you.
I think that people can reach the levels of 1900 (over the board elo) maximum if they never study, going beyond 2000 requires a formal study in my opinion.
Hopefully that answers all your questions, thank you for reading.