"Every chess master was once a beginner"
I will leave here the more important things, which from my point of view will facilitate
the initiation of new-interested players. In this text, I suppose that you know
the rules and you have played chess in a totally amateur manner, I won’t explain
how to castle or the pawn en passant, and although this is written for the ones
making their first steps in this crucial path, I think it could help some intermediate
players to organize their chess studies.
Please, be sure to take these ideas as general and not dogmatic rules, because they
can change in different contexts (some of the beauty in this science-art-game is
when you break one of this statements and, for example, sacrifice a queen for a
pawn, giving a check mate).
Virtual points for the pieces
"Capture of the adverse King is the ultimate but not the first object of the game"
In the basis of their movement possibilities on the board, the chess pieces are
usually assigned certain point values that help determine how valuable a piece is
strategically, and calculations of this kind provides an objective but only a rough
idea of the state of play. For example, the queen is more valuable than the pawn,
because it can move in different ways and long distances.
Queen = 9, Rook = 5, Bishop = 3,5, Knight = 3, Pawn = 1
Of course, these values must be taken as an idea, because in some positions a pawn
giving a mate in a move has more power than any other piece on the board.
Other situations give the pieces different strength. In a close game, the knights
will be better than the bishops, because they can jump between pawns, but in an
open position, the bishops will go from one side to the other in only one move,
and for the knights it will take more time.
Note that the king has no value, because without it you can’t go on playing.
Phases of the game
The chess games are divided into three stages: opening, middle-game and end-game.
Each stage must be identified because the strategy and plans depends on it. Note
also that the game can finish at any of these stages.
"Chess is a terrible game. If you have no center, your opponent has a freer position.
If you do have a center, then you really have something to worry about!"
A chess opening is the group of initial moves of a game. Recognized sequences of
opening moves are referred to as openings and have been given names such as the
Ruy Lopez or Sicilian Defense. They are catalogued in reference works such as the
"Encyclopedia of Chess Openings".
There are dozens of different openings, varying widely in character from quiet positional
play (e.g. the Réti Opening) to very aggressive (e.g. the Latvian Gambit). In some
opening lines, the exact sequence considered best for both sides has been worked
out to 30-35 moves or more. Professional players spend years studying openings,
and continue doing so throughout their careers, as opening theory continues to evolve.
Uncovering one novelty in opening theory can be the key for success in a high level
tournament. Here in SchemingMind, you can read in the Game Explorer the great annotations
for each different opening done by Hansjürgen Baum.
There are three basic line guides for the opening: development (to place the pieces
on useful squares where they will have an impact on the game.), control of the center
(this allows pieces to be moved to any part of the board relatively easily and can
also have a cramping effect on the opponent) and king safety (which is often enhanced
"Even a poor plan is better than no plan at all"
After the procession of moves that make up the opening, when the pieces are out
of their initial squares, the middle-game begins. Typical plans or strategical themes
(for example the minority attack, which is the attack of queenside pawns against
an opponent who has more pawns on the queenside) are often appropriate just for
some pawn structures, resulting from a specific group of openings. The study of
openings should therefore be connected with the preparation of plans typical for
There are a number of elementary tactics that help with taking your opponent's pieces.
Examples include forking, skewering, pinning, and discovered attacks, though there
are more and more. Another important strategical point in the middle-game is whether
and how to reduce material and transform into an endgame. For instance, minor material
advantages can generally be transformed into victory only in an end-game, and therefore
the stronger side must choose an appropriate way to achieve an ending. Not every
reduction of material is good for this purpose, for example, if one side keeps a
light-squared bishop and the opponent has a dark-squared one, the transformation
into a bishops and pawns ending is usually advantageous for the weaker side only,
because an endgame with bishops on opposite colors is likely to be a draw, even
with an advantage of one or two pawns.
"Openings teach you openings. Endgames teach you chess!"
The end-game is the stage of the game when there are few pieces left on the board,
two or three at most. There are three main strategic differences between earlier
stages of the game and endgame:
- During the end-game, pawns become more important; endgames often revolve around
attempting to promote a pawn by advancing it to the eighth rank.
- The king, which has to be protected in the middle-game owing to the threat of checkmate,
becomes a strong piece in the endgame and it is often advisable to bring it to the
center of the board where it can protect its own pawns and attack the pawns of opposite
- Zugzwang, a disadvantage because the player has to make a move, is often a factor
in endgames and rarely in other stages of the game.
Endgames can be classified according to the type of pieces that remain on board.
Basic checkmates must be studied (positions in which one side has only a king and
the other side has one or two pieces). Other more complicated endings are classified
according to the pieces on board other than kings, e.g. "rook and pawn versus rook",
"heavy artillery (rook and queen)", "bishop versus rook", etc. Every different kind
of endgame has to be checked in detail for years and years to understand the possible
difficulties behind them.
Where to put the pieces
"Bobby Fischer just drops the pieces and they fall on the right squares"
I will leave here some "obvious" tips, which may not be frequently so obvious. It’s
often said that the pieces are better positioned in the middle, but why?
The answer is very simple, if you have a knight in a1, it only can move to c2 or
b3, but if you put it on e4, it has f2, g3, g5, f6, d6, c5, c3 and d2. That’s why
the knights are usually developed to f3 and c3 instead of h3 or a3 with whites,
and f6 or c6 instead of h6 or a6 with blacks.
Another good tip apply to the rooks: "Move the rooks to the open, semi-open or to-open
columns". The aim of this is that the rook have more possibilities and space to
run and dance in an open line (without pawns), in a semi-open one (with only one
pawn) or in a column that will be opened soon. By the way, it’s not a good idea
to take a walk with the queen or the king at the beginning, it’s very dangerous.
Note that the pawns are the better army to gain space and the center, but it’s not
recommendable to move them too much because they don’t have reverse march to fill
the holes left.
As a last typical amateur move, I’ll say that, as always in general, is not a good
idea to put the bishop in d3, (or d6 for the black side) because then you can’t
move the d pawn, letting the other bishop to be free.
Tactics vs. Strategies
"The tactician knows what to do when there is something to do, whereas the strategian
knows what to do when there is nothing to do"
Chess strategy consists of setting and achieving long-term goals during the game
while tactics concentrate on immediate maneuvers. These two sides of chess thinking
cannot be completely separated, because strategic goals are mostly achieved by the
means of tactics, while the tactical opportunities are based on the previous sound
strategy of play.
It’s very important the evaluation of chess positions for future play, and during
this evaluation, a player must take into account the value of pieces on the board,
pawn structure, king safety, positioning, and control of key squares and groups
of squares (e.g. diagonals, open-files, dark or light squares, etc.).
Having great significance there’s the factor of the pawn structure (sometimes known
as the pawn skeleton), that is the configuration of pawns on the chessboard. Since
pawns are the most immobile of the chess pieces, the pawn structure is relatively
static and largely determines the strategic nature of the position. There are weaknesses
in the pawn structure, such as isolated, doubled or backward pawns and holes once
created are usually permanent. Care must therefore be taken to avoid them unless
they are compensated by another valuable asset (for instance by the possibility
to develop an attack to the king).
Tactics refers to a short sequence of moves which limits the opponent's options
and results in tangible gain. Tactics are usually contrasted to strategy, in which
advantages take longer to be realized, and the opponent is less constrained in responding.
The fundamental classes includes forks, skewers, discovered attacks, undermining,
overloading, and interference. A pin is therefore sometimes more strategic than
tactical. Every one of these categories must be studied separately.
Often tactics of several types are joined in a combination. A combination, while
still constraining the opponent's responses, takes several moves to obtain advantage,
and thus is considered deeper and more spectacular than the basic tactics listed
Doing the homework
"Life is too short for chess"
After this global view of the different kind of basic studies I will advice you
in how to organize them, listed below in the five most important topics:
- Solve a lot of problems every week, it will give you the tactic strength (here
in SchemingMind you have the puzzle forum or you can search for the middle-game
encyclopedia with thousands of problems in order).
- Read books with different kinds of plans for the middle-game, it will give you the
strength in strategy.
- Look for commented finals and study them in order, there is also a gorgeous encyclopedia
of end-games ordered.
- Choose one or two openings and defenses and study them as deep as you can, search
in databases for games played by grandmasters and check the famous encyclopedia
- 5. It’s very important to analyze your games once there are finished. Use a computer
software to help you at that point and make annotations for future games.
"You may learn much more from a game you lose than from a game you win, and you
will have to lose hundreds of games before becoming a good player."
I can go on digging in this infinite universe, but I think it's a good moment to
end at this point what I intended to make, the very first contact with a more serious
I hope you get not only some new ideas from this article, but more interest and
energy to enjoy this wonderful game we have.
Any suggestions to add, criticism or whatever you want to tell me would be appreciate.
The door now is open, it’s on you to trespass it.
Many thanks for your contribution. I remember when I was new to the online search for a chess home. I would have been quite pleased to get some quick pointers from this article. The key to advice, which you used, is to keep it useable and digestible. I appreciate the offering.
thanks for writing this article. When you hear about the long hours of study the great players have done you dont feel so bad about losing a million games and it gives hope maybe I really can improve
Very good article Johann, very interesting, is of much help for which just we began in this like I. Thanks!
Thanks for the brief overlook. Assigning different values to pieces at different times was a new idea for me.
"Read books with different kinds of plans for the middle-game, it will give you the strength in strategy."
Which books would you suggest?