From Beginner to Chess Expert in 12 Steps

A chess improvement plan for all class players.

by John Coffey (john2001plus@gmail.com)
  1. Introduction
  2. Step 1
  3. Step 2
  4. Step 3
  5. Step 4
  1. Step 5
  2. Step 6
  3. Step 7
  4. Step 8
  5. Step 9
  1. Step 10
  2. Step 11
  3. Step 12
  4. And more...

Introduction

If you know nothing at all about the game of chess other than the rules, there still things that you can do right away to help you win more games. You won't be beating tournament players, but you can rise above your current level by studying the right things. The same principle applies to all levels of players. There are things that you can do immediately to win more games. The key to chess improvement is pattern recognition. Whether you realize it or not, to improve at chess you must reprogram your brain to see things that you did not see before. You can do this by studying at least 30 minutes of tactics per day. I provide 1,500 simple tactics problems for you to study, plus I also recommend some of the best tactics books. I also provide instruction in other areas of the game, and recommend a system for memorizing openings and other things when that becomes necessary. All the lessons here build upon the lessons that come before them. If you want to start at one of the higher levels, first review the simpler lessons. Getting better at chess is not easy. To improve you should expect to work at it every day. Because the human brain is inherently forgetful, I recommend going through all the material on this page repeatedly until it becomes second nature.

Step 1

Learn the Rules Although this web site does not specifically cover the rules, here are a few web sites where you can learn them: U.S. Chess Federation Logical Chess Internet Chess Club Magic Theater Chess Central Chess Corner

Take the Rules Quiz!

King Queen Rook Bishop Knight Pawn

	Recognize Checkmate.
		
		To this end you should get the book Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess and go
		through this book enough times that every bit of it seems easy.

		The Internet Chess Club has a good page explaining check and checkmate.

		Likewise so does http://www.chesscorner.com/tutorial/basic/check/check.htm

Take the Check and Checkmate Quiz!

Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4

		The first 112 diagrams at 1w.htm are positions where white can make a move
		that immediately checkmates.  Although this may seem a little hard at first,
		it would be good to go through all of these and try to find the checkmating 
		move.  Like everything else on this page, you should do these 112 problems
		enough times that they become easy.

	Learn Chess Notation.

		Although you don't need to write chess notation until you play in 
		tournaments, you need to be able to read it to follow the lessons on this web 
		page.  Here are a few web pages that explain how to read chess notation .....

		http://www.logicalchess.com/info/reference/notation/
		http://www.chesshouse.com/how_to_read_and_write_chess_notation_a/166.htm
		http://www.avlerchess.com/learn-notation.html
		http://hubpages.com/hub/Learn-Chess-Algebraic-Notation
		http://chess.about.com/od/tipsforbeginners/qt/ReadNotation.htm
		http://www.logicalchess.com/hcc/scholastics/tutorials/notation.html

	The simplest possible opening.

		The simplest possible opening is one where you deploy your
		pieces like so.......

			
			
			
			
			
			
			
			

		The idea is to place only 2 pawns in the center, unless your 
		opponent can capture them, move the rest of your army into
		play and then castle either kingside or queenside.

		Sometimes these are not safe squares for the bishops, so they
		have to go to other squares like the following....

			
			
			
			
			
			
			
			

		As a general rule, you want to move the knights out before the
		bishops.  The reason for this is that it is easier to know first 
		where the knights should go.  Where the bishops go depends upon
		where your opponent has placed his pawns and other pieces.

		Your first move should be a pawn move into the center of the board.
		You really have the option of moving 2 to 3 pawns in the opening,
		and it could be any of these 4....

			
			
			
			
			
			
			
			

		Again, you don't want to move pawns out to squares where they 
		would be immediately captured, although like all rules in chess
		there are exceptions to this rule, so in some cases you would
		only move a pawn up one square to prevent it from being captured.
		If you do move a queen pawn or king pawn up one square, it is 
		preferable that it does not block the path of one of your 
		bishops, so in some cases you would move the bishop out before 
		moving the pawn.

		As a rule, moving 4 pawns in the opening is probably over-doing
		it.  You don't want to move so many pawns that you slow down the
		deployment of you other pieces.  Moving too many pawns could also
		create "holes" (weaknesses) in your position that your opponent 
		could exploit.

		Read more about openings here:  http://www.dwheeler.com/chess-openings/.
		Don't expect to learn all these immediately as the subject of chess 
		openings is vast and thousands of books have been written about chess
		openings.  This web page will cover more about openings further down.

	Learn the value of the chess pieces. 

		See Chess Corner and About.com

Take the Capture Quiz!

Level 1 Level 2

Step 2

Learn what tactics are. One of the goals in chess is to capture more of your opponents pieces than he captures of yours. The reason for this is having extra material makes your army stronger than your opponent's army. The simplest possible chess tactic is one where you or your opponent inadvertently moves a piece to or leaves a piece on a square where it can be captured. If the person losing the piece doesn't have a good counter move then this is called "hanging a piece." At the lower levels of chess skill this is fairly common, and it even happens more rarely at the higher levels. However, you can't count on your opponent to just make an obvious blunder. Winning pieces usually requires you to threaten two or more things at once in such a way that your opponent will not be able to defend both threats. Look for the words "Forks", "Pins", and "Skewers" on this page. Begin your daily chess tactics study. Start doing at least 30 minutes of chess tactics study per day. Some people I know have shown tremendous chess improvement by doing 60 to 90 minutes of tactics study per day for about year, but most people wouldn't find the time to do that consistently. If for some reason you can't find the time to do 30 minutes or more of tactics per day, then try to do 15 or 20 minutes. Doing them consistently every day is more important than the exact amount of time. On alternate days do the white or black problems listed below. White to move chess problems or Black to move chess problems. Each day, start with the first problem and see how far you can get in 30 minutes. I recommend keeping a record of how far you get each day. If you are new to chess then you might not get very far on your first couple of days, but that is O.K. With each subsequent attempt you will get further. Later on I am going to recommend other good tactics problems that you can study, but for the moment these problems above will form the bedrock of your chess tactics understanding. These problems will help you get to at least an 1800 tactics skill level. A player rated between 1800 and 2000 with practice should be able to do all the 1 move, 2 move and a majority of the 3 move problems within a 30 minute time frame. An 1800 to 1900 level player should be able to do all the 1 move problems in less than 10 minutes. More advanced players shouldn't assume that it is futile to study simple chess problems. Being able to see simple tactics almost instantly is the mark of a Class A player, and studying simple problems helps avoid time pressure blunders. I personally think that there is some benefit to studying tactics before bedtime, as research has shown that we forget things while we sleep. Learn how to checkmate with the King and Queen. About.com gives a pretty simple explanation, but I don't necessarily think that this is the fastest way to do it. A similar description can be found on Chess Corner. A slightly more complex explanation can be found here, although his examples deliberately ignore a couple of mate in 1's just to illustrate his method. The second half of this video shows the fastest way to mate with a king an queen by using the king and queen together to limit the squares of the enemy king. If you ever play sudden death time controls then I agree with the author of the video who says that you should practice with a friend and a chess clock, which I occasionally do, to see if you can do the mate in 10 seconds or less. For some people that would take a great deal of practice. If you are a novice player, feel good if you can do the mate within 30 seconds. Learn how to checkmate with the King and Rook. This video show a simplistic method, which is how I first learned how to do it. I don't like this method very much because it takes many more moves than necessary, but it could be useful for someone wanting to learn the simplest possible method. The second half of this video shows the faster way to do it. Like the king and queen mate, I feel that it is useful to practice it with a chess clock to see if you can do it within 10 seconds. Learn more about chess openings. Study Plan for Beginners has a wealth of material that you might want to look at. Play chess on a regular basis. I assume that you want to become a better chess player because you like to play chess. You also need to play chess to become a better player. Getting better at chess is mentally like learning a new language. You have to live it everyday. Just sticking your nose in a book isn't enough. It is all about learning the "language" of the chess board. Back when I was in public schools, I played chess almost every day which helped me to improve. Practice this exercise on a chess board! The purpose of this exercise is to practice seeing more quickly where the knight can move. The black pawns never move in this exercise. The goal is to make legal knight moves to take the knight from the square a1 to the square b1, however with the limitation that the knight can never land on the black pawns or where the pawns can capture. (For example, the pawn on c3 can capture on b2 and d2, making all three squares off limits to the knight.) The knight can get to b1 in three moves by moving Nc2, Na3 and then Nb1. The next goal is to get the knight from square b1 to square c1 following the same rules. One of many ways to do that is to play Na3, and then Nc2, Nd4, Nb3 and then finally Nc1. After that the goals are to get to d1, e1, f1, g1, h1, h2, f2, c2, a2, a3, b3, d3 etc. until the entire board is reached in this fashion. A good class A player with practice should be able to do the entire board in less than 3 minutes. For lower ranked players this might take much longer, even with practice. Doing this exercise will actually help you win more games by making you better with your knights.

Step 3

Study instructive chess games. Like all instructive chess games on this web page, you should go through the games enough times that you can remember the vast majority of moves for the winning side. Once you learn them, you should review these games occasionally to make sure you haven't forgotten them. The games will be much easier to remember if you understand the reasons as to why the moves are played. Attacking the king #1 Winning with tactics #1 Attacking the king #2 Attacking the king #3 Attacking the king #4 Attacking the king #5 Attacking Weaknesses #1 Tactical positions #1 Tactical positions #2 Tactical positions #3 Learn more about chess endings. King and pawn ending #1 King and pawn ending #2 King and pawn ending #3 King and pawn ending #4

Step 4

Study instructive chess games. Winning with tactics #2 Winning with tactics #3 Attacking the king #6 Attacking the king #7 Attacking the king #8 Attacking the king #9 Attacking the king #10 Tactical positions #4 Tactical positions #5 Tactical positions #6 Learn more about chess endings. King and pawn ending #5 King and pawn ending #6 King and pawn ending #7 King and pawn ending #8 Learn how to checkmate with the King and two bishops. This endgame happens so rarely that I haven't bothered to practice it much, but it is important to know it because it can help you develop better bishop pattern recognition. This video gives a good summary.

Step 5

Study instructive chess games. Attacking the king #11 Attacking the king #12 Attacking the king #13 Attacking the king #14 Attacking the king #15 Attacking the king #16 (as black) Attacking the king #17 Tactical positions #7 Tactical positions #8 Tactical positions #9 Learn more about chess endings. King and pawn ending #9 King and pawn ending #10 King and pawn ending #11 King and pawn ending #12 King and pawn ending #13 King and pawn ending #14 Learn more about Tactical ideas Tactical Motifs Defined.

Step 6

Study instructive chess games. Attacking the king #18 Attacking the king #19 (as black) Attacking the king #20 Attacking the king #21 Attacking the king #22 Attacking the king #23 Attacking the king #24 (as black) Tactical positions #10 Tactical positions #11 Tactical positions #12 Ruy Lopez #1 Learn more about chess endings. King and pawn ending #15 King and pawn ending #16 King and pawn ending #17

Step 7

Study instructive chess games. Attacking the king #25 Attacking the king #26 Attacking the king #27 Attacking the king #28 Attacking the king #29 Attacking the king #30 Attacking the king #31 Tactical positions #13 Tactical positions #14 Tactical positions #15 From's Gambit #1 Learn more about chess endings. King and pawn ending #18 King and pawn ending #19 King and pawn ending #20 King and pawn ending #21 Play in tournaments and review your games. A very important part of becoming a better player is competing in tournaments and trying to learn from the experience. Every chess game is a potential lesson. Take the games that you recorded in tournaments and analyze them with a computer program like Fritz or Houdini. Rather than analyze every move in great detail which could take a long time, find 2 to 3 positions per game where you could have made better moves. This can include the opening. Find a way to be able to go back and review these positions, either by keeping them in some sort of database or print diagrams of these positions (using your chess program) and keep the printed diagrams in a folder so that you can go back and review the positions later.

Step 8

Study instructive chess games. Attacking the king #32 Attacking Weaknesses #2 Attacking the king #33 Attacking the king #34 Attacking the king #35 Attacking the king #36 Attacking the king #37 Tactical positions #16 Tactical positions #17 Tactical positions #18 Learn more about chess endings. King and pawn ending #22 King and pawn ending #23 King and queen versus pawn #1 King and queen versus pawn #2 Learn more about chess tactics. To raise my rating from 1800 to 1900, Sharpen Your Tactics was immensely helpful. I focussed on just the first 550 problems and did them so many times that I could go through them very quickly. Start a Memorization List On this web page I give you a great deal of information to learn. It could be difficult to retain all this information unless you have a systematic way of reviewing the items so that those things you know well get reviewed less often than the things that you are still learning. To this end I recommend keeping a Memorization List.

Step 9

Study instructive chess games. Attacking the king #38 Winning with tactics #4 Winning with tactics #5 Winning with tactics #6 Winning with tactics #7 Winning with tactics #8 Winning with Tactics #9 Tactical positions #19 Tactical positions #20 Tactical positions #21 Learn more about chess endings. King and queen versus pawn #3 King and queen versus pawn #4 King, Rook and pawn ending #1 King, Rook and pawn ending #2 Learn more about chess tactics/strategy. Chess Training Pocket Book, 300 Most Important Positions and Ideas is a strategy book disguised as a tactics book. It presents 300 positions, some of which are tactical but most are positional in nature. I studied this book for around 10 minutes per day without fail for a year. Shortly after this, I had some great tournament results.

Step 10

Study instructive chess games. Winning with tactics #10 Winning with Tactics #11 Winning with Tactics #12 Winning with Tactics #13 Winning with Tactics #14 Winning with Tactics #15 Winning with Tactics #16 Tactical positions #22 Tactical positions #23 Tactical positions #24 Learn more about chess endings. King, Rook and pawn ending #3 King, Rook and pawn ending #4 Queen versus Knight Mixed endings #1 Learn more about chess tactics. Shredder Chess on iOS has 1,000 tactics problems that really helped me go from 1900 to 2000 rating, although I have gone through all 1,000 problems maybe as many as 18 times. If you don't have an iOS device, then consider The Complete Chess Workout. If you don't mind a hefty tome, this might be the only tactics book you will ever need with 1200 moderately difficult problems.

Step 11

Study instructive chess games. Winning with Tactics #17 Winning with Tactics #18 Winning with Tactics #19 Winning with Tactics #20 Winning with Tactics #21 Tactical positions #25 Tactical positions #26 Tactical positions #27 Learn more about chess endings. Mixed endings #2 Mixed endings #3 Mixed endings #4 Mixed endings #5 Learn more about chess tactics/strategy. Practical Chess Exercises is a very instructive book. The catch is that the majority of the problems are positional in nature. So like in a real game, you don't know if you are trying to achieve a tactical gain or a positional gain. You have to figure it out. This is like a more advanced version of Chess Training Pocket Book in the sense that it covers a wide range of ideas, but it has twice as many problems for about the same price. This is by no means an easy book. I don't recommend it for players rated under 1700. This book is ideal for strong A players who want to become an Expert or Master. The problems are difficult enough that you will have to go over them many times. It has taken me at least a couple hundred hours to get the full benefit from the book. Chess Tactics Trainer and Chess Tactics Free Strategy Trainer are similar iOS tactics training apps that are useful. The free app is fun because the problems are user created, but that also makes the quality a little uneven.

Step 12

Study instructive chess games. Attacking Weaknesses #3 Attacking Weaknesses #4 I am particularly proud of this win from the 2012 Utah Quick chess championship.... Winning Positionally #1 Winning Positionally #2 Winning Positionally #3 Winning Positionally #4 See Secrets of Strong Players for an explanation. Also look at The most common mistake and Win Easily - Part 1 by GM Igor Smirnov. Tactical positions #28 Tactical positions #29 Tactical positions #30 (Under construction. May change.) Learn more about strategy If you are already at least 1800, then chances are you are a pretty good tactical player, but you might need more refinement strategically. If you haven't already, buy Silman's book The Amateur's Mind and go through it. One caveat to be aware of is that although the book is a pretty fun read, it can take months to learn to apply the ideas to your own game. After reading the book, my initial results were worse, but over the long term I became a much better positional player. Learn more about Tactics. 303 Tricky Chess Checkmates is more fun than instructive, but it is still instructive and I recommend making it part of your chess study. Learn more about chess endings. Related square problems are rare, but the Expert level player should be aware of them. King and pawn ending #24. King and pawn ending #25.

And more ...

Ultimately we would like to get to chess master. To that end, I will over time add additional material here ... Learn more about chess tactics. Chess could also be the only tactics book that you will ever need, because it is a big heavy book with 5,000+ chess problems. I think that the book is a little too big and unwieldy to be portable or to comfortably hold for long periods of time. Still, there is a lot of useful chess instruction here, although I suggest avoiding the composed problems which are the ones with authors listed in the solution guide. These problems are not practical for learning tactics that could occur in real games. Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors is misnamed because it should be called "Chess Tactics for Experts" because the problems are fairly difficult. It is not a big book, but it is good. 303 Tricky Chess Tactics is more fun than instructive, but it is still instructive and I recommend making it part of your chess study. Imagination in Chess is a moderately difficult tactics book. Forcing Chess Moves is full of brilliant chess combinations. This seems like a book that advanced players should study. Here are some sites where you can study tactics: Chess.com Chess Tempo Chess Tactics Server - I like this site, but it expects you to solve most of the chess problems within 10 seconds, which is difficult. Learn more about chess endings. Secrets of Rook Endings and Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual for aspiring chess masters. Learn more about chess openings. My complete opening repertoire can be found here. This is a work in progress and is constantly being updated. Don't expect to study everything on this page, but use it as a reference for looking up opening lines. I plan on making radical changes to it, as I think that there are too many uninteresting lines, and others that I plan on changing.