Improve Your Chess Game In 5 Steps

If you are like most of us stuck at home during the pandemic, this past fall you tuned in to Netflix’s chess miniseries The Queen’s Gambit and cheered on Beth Harmon. Based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel with the same title, this 7 episode drama was centered around the most popular board game in the world. 

Chess

It is easy to forget that chess is categorized like much more colorful and whimsical games like Settlers of Catan, King of Tokyo, and Sushi Go. However, its more serious tone and aura don’t make it any less fun for those looking for a tactical experience.

Chess is an extremely old, two-player strategy board game played on an 8×8 board between white pieces and black pieces. The pieces range from 8 pawns to a powerful queen and vital king. The object of the game is to checkmate the opposing king or otherwise force the opponent to resign.

Now, if you are part of the masses who were either introduced or reintroduced to chess by the likes of Beth Harmon, these tips are for you. 

Here are 5 tips for the beginning chess player to improve fast! 

Also, if you haven’t already, first check out last week’s Chess Basics for Beginners written by Yoshyaes.

Consult Guides

By reading this article, you are already checking off this box!

Seriously though, take advantage of chess resources. Whether you prefer reading or watching, find a few guides that you can consume. Just like anything in life, it is nice to learn from those that are more experienced than you. 

If you are completely new to the game, find a guide that will break down how to set up the board and how the pieces interact with one another. 

From there, you should focus on finding a guide to break down openings. Openings are incredibly vital to a chess game. To avoid fighting an uphill battle for the rest of the game, you should make moves that give you tactical advantages. Learn 1 or 2 openings for both white and black to give you a decent foundation. 

What does “learning an opening” mean? Essentially, it’s learning the moves you should do while trying to learn different variations of what your opponent might do. If this sounds like a lot to remember, you’re right! As you learn these, try to decipher why certain moves are made. If you can deduct the principles it will make the memorization less taxing.

Play Often

The Queen's Gambit (2020)

As you explore the endless amount of material and guides, remember to actually play games. Completing puzzles and reviewing games will only take you so far. The value from playing the game and allowing yourself to make mistakes (and learn from them!) can not be replaced or replicated.

Play all types of chess games. Play correspondence games that give you a day or more to move. Mix up the length for faster games. Try 30 minutes at first, then move to 20, 15, 10-minute games. For now, don’t worry about anything below 10.
Make sure you play as white and black to experience the game from each side of the chessboard. If possible, play in-person and online. I can’t stress how important these variations will be to your overall growth. Don’t be afraid of losing in chess!

Play Humans

Do you know how some games will force you to level up your character before unlocking the full game’s experience? Don’t self-impose that on yourself in chess! Now, take this advice with a grain of salt. Don’t read a “how to play” chess book and jump straight into a game when you are still mixing up your knights and bishops.

More importantly, don’t put yourself into bot-prison indefinitely either! While there is nothing inherently wrong with playing against AI, playing against another human will often prove to be more fun and rewarding. Think, do you have more fun beating Madden on rookie mode or beating up on your cousin during the holidays?

Once you feel comfortable with your ability to perform an opening and understand what to do mid and endgame, jump on your favorite chess app and start some ranked games! Don’t wait until you feel completely comfortable or that feeling will never come. Chances are, you may lose your first few games (remember, don’t be afraid of losing). So don’t give up! Eventually, though, you will find an accurate rank and be playing against players at your skill level.

If you can find a family member or friend to pick up the game as well, this is a great way to supplement playing complete strangers.

Push Yourself

Honestly, the first 2 or 3 steps done correctly will bring your chess game far. Eventually, you will hit a ceiling and your growth will begin to plateau. For some this may be enough and the game will be enjoyable. Some of you, may want to continue to improve.

When this happens, you need to be a little more creative. Seek out more and better resources to learn from. Expand your openings knowledge further to better equip you for less traditional openings. Review your own games either alone or with the help of analysis software (most of the chess apps do this natively) to find your blunders.

Now is also the time to start playing faster games. At first, you’ll find one of two things will happen. Either you forget how fast you need to move and look up with little time left after only a few moves. Or, you almost literally start moving random pieces. Don’t fret. Repeating this will eventually make you more comfortable at the pace of the game. The value of studying openings and other tactical positions will pay dividends the faster the game. 

If you really want to push yourself, study Grandmaster (GM) chess games. At the end of the day, they are still playing the same game as you. Albeit at a much higher level. If you can find a video where someone helps break down a GM game along with alternate line analysis, you will begin to see patterns that can be implemented in your chess game.

Push your chess game. But don’t overdo it. 

Have Fun

I hate to be cheesy but this is important. If you are feeling overly anxious, stressed, or obsessive about chess, take a breath. Take a break even. Remember that chess is a game and games should be fun. 

I don’t want to spoil anything in The Queen’s Gambit for those that may watch in the future, but I will say Beth went through this same struggle. 

If you are human, you will obviously enjoy winning a chess game more than losing. However, look at losses as learning experiences. This will keep you from ever getting too low following a game that didn’t swing in your favor. 

How is your chess game looking?

For those new to the game, do any of these steps make sense? And for the more experienced players, would you add anything to the guide? Let me know and post your chess rating in the comments below!

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