One of the questions I get asked most frequently is: “How am I to remember theory better?”. Although this is a tricky question, with no simple answer, I usually say something like: “Focus on the ideas and it will be easier to find the right track over the board.” I have heard myself say this so many times, that I think it is a good idea that I define what I mean by “focus on the ideas”. (This article starts at a 1300-1700 level and finishes on a 2000+ level.)
Let’s say that we are studying the Meran Variation of the Semi Slav. First we get our hands on a good book or DVD (preferably recommended by someone we can rely on) on the subject and we read it through. A good book should either have a chapter on general ideas or there should be something in every chapter about general ideas. Read this part/these parts through twice, before doing anything else. Then read it once more. The reason for this is that; knowing the general ideas will improve your understanding and improve your memory.
Here is a very basic example of the basic plans in the Meran:
Knowing what the basic plans are for Black in this position it will be much easier to take the next step: Which are the basic White plans?
These games are on a very basic level indeed, but you must build from the bottom and up. The next step is to take one of the positions that arise and do the same thing again, but with a bigger magnifying glass. When I think “basic”, then I first think primarily about pawn structure and how it can be changed. This not only helps my memory, it is also a stepping stone for creative thinking:
Remember that 8:th move by Black? Make it into a postcard and stick it on your pawn-dynamics wall. I did that and a few years later I was happy to have remembered it: