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SABOTEUR's avatar

How do you improve your chess skills?

Asked by SABOTEUR (11954 points ) January 2nd, 2010

This has been a minor dilemma to me since I first started playing…or playing at…chess in my teens. The thing is, I hate studying chess. Reading chess notation and memorizing classic bores me to tears. The only chess book I’ve ever really learned anything from was Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess, because it used simple diagrams to demonstrate each particular skill set presented.

I know enough basics to hold my own against average players IE.

* develop your pieces toward the center
* castle
* try to see at least 3 moves ahead
* look for and exploit pins and forks
* make aggressive moves your opponent must respond to
* win the exchange

Basic stuff, but it has allowed me to successfully win the majority of my games. (I learned long ago that a lot of players don’t even bother learning the basics.) But there’s a wall I hit that I can’t seem to overcome. On rated sites I average between 1500–1600, yet I can’t move beyond that range. And what does that rating mean anyway?

Any suggestions offered is greatly appreciated.

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22 Answers

Ivan's avatar

Practice.

timtrueman's avatar

I would also recommend reading books written by the grand masters. I may or may not have done that when I was younger… O:)

Also, practice by playing people better than you.

SABOTEUR's avatar

Thanks @Ivan, but I’ve practiced quite a bit.

There’s a thing about practice, you know. Ever hear the saying,

“Practice makes perfect”?

Well, if you practice something incorrectly, you become perfectly incorrect.

My practice has been “above average”…enough you win against average opponents, but it’s never been good.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@timtrueman: I touched on that in my details. I find studying grand masters to be boring. And I frequently encounter online players who are better than me. That’s ok if the person is willing to point out your errors and help you with correcting them.

Otherwise, you just lose a lot.

phoenyx's avatar

Record your games and play through them on your own to see what you could have done differently, where you might have messed up, etc.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@phoenyx: So you’re tellin’ me to stop being lazy.

You’re right of course.
I imagine that is the only way.
(You’ve earned yourself a “Great Answer”.)

Symbeline's avatar

Keep playing.

SABOTEUR's avatar

I will…thanks.

frdelrosario's avatar

Part 1:

Most of a chessplayer’s skill lies in his ability to see a tactical or strategic pattern, store it in memory, and then when recognizing the same pattern in the future, to be able to recall what type of move worked before and put it to use again.

If pattern recognition is the most critical element of chess skill, then learning as many patterns as possible is the most efficient use of one’s limited chess study time. There are dozens of anthologies of tactical puzzles out there—you got off to a great start with the Fischer book because it stresses checkmating patterns. After Fischer Teaches Chess, I’d suggest Chandler’s oddly-titled How to Beat Your Dad at Chess, which categorizes several different checkmating patterns. If you can read the old-fashioned descriptive notation — chessplayers benefit hugely from being multilingual — then Renaud and Kahn’s The Art of the Checkmate is a classic.

Part 2:

The best way to practice chess is not playing chess. The best way to practice chess is to play through an annotated master game, covering the master’s moves, and guessing them as you go along. Make your move on your board, then uncover his move. If you’re right, yay. If you’re wrong, take your move back, make the move the master actually played, and think about why they differ.

The greatest chess teacher ever, Cecil Purdy, first described this practice in the late ‘20s. His original piece is reproduced here: http://www.tuirgin.com/2009/04/07/playing-with-ghosts/#more-239

Part 3:

I know enough basics to hold my own against average players

The average player in your neighborhood or your family or your workplace is much worse than the average tournament player, who is terrible.

develop your pieces toward the center

No. Develop your pieces with threats.

castle

No. If there is not a threatening developing to be made, then castle.

try to see at least 3 moves ahead

Er, not exactly. If the pieces are in contact, then your job is to see far enough ahead to a static position, then evaluate. If the pieces aren’t in contact — that is, no threats present — then there’s not really a need to look ahead.

look for and exploit pins and forks

This is part of the next.

make aggressive moves your opponent must respond to

It’s really important to get this: To play chess passably well, not only must you see all the threatening moves — all of your threats, and all of his — you must also recognize the unreality of their unreal threats. Yes, you’re looking for threatening moves “he must respond to”, you have to understand that what he’s looking for in reply is some way to ignore you. When you make a move, the first thing your opponent says is “What’s he threatening?” and then “Is that a real threat? What if I ignore it?”. So that’s also what you have to say every time it’s your move — weak player see a threat, and dance like the comic relief character in a Western dances for the bad guy with a six-shooter. Strong players take a stand like Gary Cooper, and don’t budge.

win the exchange

Sort of. Winning material is usually groovy, but since most exchanges are materially equal, it’s vital that you understand this: The side who wins a materially-equal trade is the side whose pieces develop as a result of the swap.

I learned long ago that a lot of players don’t even bother learning the basics.

Most players don’t know ‘em. You think you know ‘em, but you don’t.

On rated sites I average between 1500–1600, yet I can’t move beyond that range. And what does that rating mean anyway?

Doesn’t mean jack. Every chess organization and every web presence that enables one to play chess with others rates games differently, so one’s rating will vary by hundreds of points from place to place. Online ratings, especially, are bogus — they’re deflated because of cheaters, and inflated because players are so often distracted at home, or by a entire web of distraction that is one click away.

talljasperman's avatar

if you get to good a chess none will play with you…chess is supposed to be fun…nobody plays with me anymore.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@frdelrosario: Thank you for the thorough response. I’m going to print your suggestions and read them carefully so that I fully grasp what you’ve explained. I’m just sorry I never thought of asking this question before.

@talljasperman: That’s not true. The biggest drawback to playing chess used to be finding opponents to play on a regular basis. The internet elimated that by providing chess sites where opponents are willing and able to play 24–7. I favor Gameknot for “move at your own pace chess, and Chesscube for “real time” competition.

cornbird's avatar

I have had that problem with chess as well. How I have improved drastically is by following the basics that you have described. The OPENING FUNDEMENTALS I have found to be very important for winning the game. Also what will make you improve alot is understanding that winning material is as much advantage as winning POSITION. Chess to me is all about positioning your pieces for attack. You can sacrifice your pieces for good positions that would help you in the game. CONCENTRATE AT ALL TIMES. PLAN AHEAD AT ALL TIMES. TRY TO OUTHINK YOUR OPPONENT. It worked for me. I was surprised after learning these things how many opponents I have beaten, even high rated ones.

frdelrosario's avatar

Chessplayers are really lazy, so Purdy boiled it down to two things:

Use inactive force.
Examine all threatening moves.

That takes care of most of the good moves at the board, seriously. To improve with homework, study tactics and endgames (two types of endings: pawn promotions and checkmates). Learn some basic text, like Lasker’s Manual or Capablanca’s Chess Fundamentals.

Do all that, you’re a chess master.

cornbird's avatar

Is anyone interested in a game at Chesscube? I feel to practice.

frdelrosario's avatar

Also, ignore anyone who suggests you work on openings, or care about openings. When games are lost in the opening, it’s not because someone doesn’t know theory or general opening strategy, it’s because someone missed a tactic.

talljasperman's avatar

@SABOTEUR well my family stopped playing with me and I can’t find peolpe in real life to play with me.

frdelrosario's avatar

Can’t trouble yourself to locate the chess club in Edmonton, eh?

SABOTEUR's avatar

Sorry I took so long to respond to you @frdelrosario and @cornbird.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge with me. Hopefully, with enough practice, I’ll improve my game.

@cornbread: I’m SABOTEURw at Chesscube. I’m there at least once or twice a week, but I’m here more, so send me a personal message when you catch me online and you feel like playing.

cornbird's avatar

Im on right now

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

” And I frequently encounter online players who are better than me.” That is what made me get better. I noted the moves down when I could then went back and replayed the game studying what he did to what I did and visa versa; then you can see maybe where you hesitated or lost focus allowing him to pin, fork or disclose check. I was told of you want to improve your chess follow some basic rules A never advance a piece unless you can take a piece, or force a position; B always try to have each of your pieces protected by 2 other pieces; C once you get your opponents king in check go for the jugular don’t let him out of check until mate; D from the time you 1st move your pawn you are thinking of how to check your opponent’s king, not win or exchange pieces. Chess is like warfare and Sun Tzu ‘Hence that general is skilful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skilful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.’. Like battlefield situational awareness you want your opponent to react to you, and not you reacting to him. If you control his potential spaces of attack and keep him playing defense his defeat is quite immanent.

frdelrosario's avatar

A. never advance a piece unless you can take a piece, or force a position

The two positional principles — which govern every position, according to Cecil Purdy, whose literature Fischer carried around — are use inactive force and examine every threatening move. If a move develops unused force while threatening, it probably meets the demands of the position. If by “forcing a position”, HypCent means “threatening”, that’s good advice, but it is relatively rare that a move ‘forces’ or limits the opponent to one reply.

Purdy’s advice about capturing has never been improved upon. He said that in a materially-even swap, the side that gets the better of that is the side whose pieces improve with the recapture. Very generally, it is better to recapture than to capture.

B. always try to have each of your pieces protected by 2 other pieces

Mostly impossible. There is a reason to protect one unit overly — which was given the term overprotection in the book My System by grandmaster Nimzovich. If a unit is attacked once, it is probably safe if it is defended once. If it is attacked twice, then it has to be defended two times, and so on. The idea of overprotection is that if a piece is attacked once, then to defend it twice means that either of the redundant defensive units is free to do something else.

C. once you get your opponents king in check go for the jugular don’t let him out of check until mate

If that’s doable, wonderful. Otherwise, continue to examine all the other threatening moves and use inactive force.

D. from the time you 1st move your pawn you are thinking of how to check your opponent’s king, not win or exchange pieces.

From the time you make your first pawn move, you are playing for control of the center. Then you are aiming for better development, then better king safety. Once you have established that superior position — better center control, better development, better king safety — then it’s time to attack the enemy king by opening a file for the heavy pieces. That very general formula for winning a chess game was demonstrated earliest by the first American champion Paul Morphy during the mid-1800s. Morphy’s games were among the first to exemplify attacking chess as a result of sound positional play — my book A First Book of Morphy used Morphy’s games to illustrate the 30 basic positional principles expressed by grandmaster Fine in Chess the Easy Way and the two instructions by Purdy.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@frdelrosario—And I thought I was one of the only ones to have read Arron Nimzovich’s “My System”. I know one can’t alway protect each piece with two others but to strive for that deters attack on iy. If I have a lead pawn and it is backed by a pawn and a knight then I know my opponent will usually try for a weaker pawn, or piece. From the time you make your first pawn move, you are playing for control of the center. Then you are aiming for better development, then better king safety. Once you have established that superior position — better center control, better development, better king safety — then it’s time to attack the enemy king by opening a file for the heavy pieces. all that is a part of attack mode from the start. “Invincibility lies in the defence; the possibility of victory in the attack.” Sun Tzu To control the avenues you can be attacked from (his best squares) and have him constantly trying to defend makes it easier for you to win.

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