How to Improve Your Skills If You Are Terrible at Chess

Maryjane E. Cason

Have you ever wanted to improve at chess and tried and found it hard and given up? Don’t worry, many people have done this and for many who enjoy chess, they spend their whole life trying to improve at it!

In theory, improving at chess is simply a case of learning to find the best move to play in each position for each player. The player who finds the least good moves usually loses.

However, even this model is flawed. In chess you need to think and look ahead. In many positions the best move in that position will not be the best after at least 2 or 3 more moves from the opponent. This means, that for every position, once you decide the probable best move for that position, you must consider at least 2 or 3 moves ahead with best play from your opponent. This is where calculation gets harder.

Also, to start with, you must be able to assess and evaluate each position for strengths and weakness and rate which side stands better or if there is equality. If this evaluation is not correct then subsequent move calculations and considerations will not be correct either! To make a sound evaluation you need to understand the nature of chess, which includes chess principles, tactical, positional and strategical chess play factors.

All these areas that make up the game of chess can be learnt from playing and with advice from other chess players and from books videos and chess courses.
Once a player learns the basics of these areas and plays regularly, then the importance of the 3 distinct chess game phases, the opening, the middle game and the end game, become apparent. All the chess factors described above, apply in each of the game phases. Each game phase though, has special considerations.

In the opening, the aim is to develop all pieces with attention to king safety with castling and also with attention to control of the centre of the board.

In the middle game, players improve the position of their pawns and pieces and likewise attempt to weaken the opponents’ position (by capturing pawns or pieces and making good piece exchanges and creating damaged pawn structures).

In the end game, king activity becomes important along with achieving pawn promotion and getting passed pawns to promote. Checkmate patterns become important to know and understand. The end game should end with checkmate but beware stalemate if you are winning. If losing, then you may want to play to get stalemate and a draw.

However, it is vital to see a chess game as a whole, consisting ideally of all of the 3 parts. Moves and strategy and tactics made in the opening, greatly influence the middle and end game and it is important to plan ahead, to account for this. Short term gains, can be overturned by longer term strategy (for example, exchanging a bishop for the capture of a knight, maybe a poor decision depending on the type of game, open, semi open or closed, that results) bringing more advantages.

A great way to improve, is to study well-known and famous chess games and try to learn the tactical and strategic and positional elements they use. There are so many to choose from, but try to find some that use your favourite opening or defence. The “Night at the opera” game by Paul Morphy is a very famous game, that shows how good understanding from one player can overcome average moves by the other player.

Also, studying any games from chess world champions will help improve your game. Bobby Fischer is thought by some to have been the best player ever and he liked to play 1.e4 as White. Studying his games, will improve your chess. Likewise, Garry Kasparov is thought by many to have been the best chess world champion of the modern era and he liked playing 1.d4 as White.World champion Mikhail Botvinnik played 1.c4 with much success.

Good chess players, understand basic chess principles really well and are comfortable playing any opening or position, because they have a good understanding of all factors involved in making good chess moves. Less strong players, usually do not have that basic chess understanding and so often make more mistakes, especially in unfamiliar openings and positions.

Finally, in chess, you must always consider your opponent! It is a basic and easy mistake to concentrate only on your own plans and moves and not to give enough thought to what the opponent may play. If you ignore the moves of your opponent, then you can get into trouble quickly. So, chess move calculation depends on finding your best move and the best move your opponent can make and deciding your move (strategically, positionally and tactically) from there!

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