Five Tips for Beginners

When you're new to chess, the whole game can seem a bit overwhelming. Don't worry - even strong players feel this way! Luckily, for the beginning player, there are only a few key concepts that are necessary in order to plant the seeds for quick improvement. The following are five of the most important chess ideas that new players should seek to incorporate into their play if they wish to move their game up to the next level.

1. Develop Your Pieces

New players often fall in love with certain pieces. They might like the power of the queen, think moving their rooks in from the sides is sneaky, or love the jumping and forking powers of the knights. But whatever the case, there's something that all strong players know: you have to get all of your pieces into the game if you want to play good chess.

Here's a quick tip that can help improve your development skills. At the beginning of the game, try not to move any pieces twice (unless there is a tactical reason for doing so) until every piece has been moved at least once. This will ensure that all of your pieces are into the game before you get too adventurous.

2. Consider Your Opponent’s Moves

Every time you get ready to make a move, it's critical that you first realize what your opponent's intentions were with their move. It's very tempting to new players to have a plan and follow it through no matter what the opponent is doing, but that's the easiest way to suddenly find yourself the victim of a checkmate that you never saw coming. Instead, try to figure out what your opponent's move did (or didn't) accomplish every time it's your turn to play. This will often result in you spotting a threat that wasn't immediately apparent, or letting you realize when an opponent has blundered.

3. Take Your Time

This is somewhat related to the previous idea, but is more general in nature. Whatever you do in a timed chess game (or an untimed one, for that matter), don't rush! Your goal should be to use almost all of the time allotted to you during a game, not to finish as fast as possible. Many young players wonder why their tournament results suffer despite learning more about chess; the answer is often that they are rushing through their games, not giving themselves a chance to use the knowledge they've obtained.

The easiest way to begin fixing this problem is simple: train yourself never to touch a piece until you know where you've going to put it. In severe time trouble, this won't always be possible, but for 99% of your moves, you should calmly assess the situation and be certain about your move before you ever touch a piece.

4. Safety First

Nothing else in a chess game matters more than the safety of your pieces (and those of your opponent). In games between beginners, the player who wins more material through tactical errors will usually win the game, so simply keeping your pieces safe – and noticing when your opponent’s pieces are in danger – is usually a sure way to win the game.

Of course, king safety is most important of all, and this is especially true when you are far ahead in a game. If you find yourself with a big lead, the most important thing you can do is take away anything resembling a threat to your king. Exchange pieces, secure your defenses, and/or give your king an escape from the bank ranked – just don’t let yourself be mated by surprise, and you’ll win!

5. Learn Basic Endgames

If you don’t know how to checkmate your opponent’s king with a king and queen, or you’re not instantly certain whether you’re winning, losing, or drawn in a king and single pawn vs. king situation, it’s time to study some basic endgames. There is nothing worse than getting into the final stages of games with the knowledge that you should be winning or drawing…only to lose because you lacked some critical knowledge about a basic endgame position.

This doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of time studying the endgame – that can come later. But you should have a pretty good handle on basic endgame concepts and the most basic positions that come up frequently. I once knew a chess teacher who said that until a young player understood how to checkmate a king using their king and queen, they weren’t ready to play in a chess tournament – and that’s probably a good rule of thumb for adult beginners, too.

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© Steven Oberlander 2014