“How to play chess well” is a question that runs through the mind of any chess enthusiast. After all, it’s a game that requires strategy, skill, focus, and a great deal of dedication and practice.
If you’re looking to up your gameplay, read on and find out some of the best practices to develop and improve your chess skills.
Understanding the Basics and Rules
How can you expect to get better if you don’t know the basics and the rules of chess? Keeping yourself updated with this vital information is the start of becoming a better chess player.
Here is a refresher of the basic rules of chess:
- Chess is a two-player strategy game played on a board with 64 squares, alternating in color between light and dark.
- Each player starts with 16 pieces: one king, one queen, two rooks, two knights, two bishops, and eight pawns.
- The goal of the game is to checkmate the opponent’s king, meaning to put it in a position where it is under attack (in “check”) and there is no legal move to escape capture.
- Each piece has its own unique way of moving across the board. For example, the pawn moves forward one or two squares on its first move, and then one square forward on subsequent moves.
- Players take turns moving their pieces, with the white player going first. When a player moves a piece onto a square occupied by an opponent’s piece, the opponent’s piece is captured and removed from the board.
- The king is a crucial piece, and if it is attacked, the player must respond by moving the king out of danger, blocking the attack, or capturing the attacking piece.
- There are a few special moves in chess, such as castling (moving the king and one rook at the same time) and en passant (a pawn capturing an opposing pawn that has moved two squares on its first move).
- The game can end in several ways, such as checkmate, resignation, or a draw (e.g., stalemate, threefold repetition, or insufficient material to win).
These are just the basic rules of chess, and there are many more nuances and strategies to explore as you develop your skills.
Determine Your Playing Style
There are many styles of playing chess. Explore the different playing styles listed below to determine what best suits you:
- Aggressive – Taking risks and making bold moves to overwhelm the opponent. It’s common for aggressive players to sacrifice pieces for an advantage.
- Defensive – A playing style that avoids taking risky moves and would rather wait for their opponents to make mistakes that they can exploit. They would wait for the right moment to attack.
- Creative – Mixing different strategies to confuse the opponent. The goal of creative players is to make it hard for their opponents to anticipate their moves.
- Passive – Focuses on creating a solid defensive position and would hesitate to attack even if there is an opportunity. Players who are not keen on winning but are content to draw the game employ this style.
- Artistic – Seeks to create visually pleasing patterns on the board and would even sacrifice pieces just to achieve this goal.
- Prophylactic – Focuses on neutralizing the opponent’s threats rather than gaining an advantage. Prophylactic players often play for a draw.
- Solid – Another playing style that focuses on avoiding mistakes. Solid players combine passive and defensive styles. They build a hard-to-penetrate defense, but will also attack once there is an opportunity.
- Positional – Positional players will accept less exciting positions while building their advantage. Less experienced players often fall to this trap by rushing to finish the game, but find themselves in an almost unbreakable position.
- Calculative – Analyzes different positions on the board, and anticipates and calculates every possible move and the corresponding consequences. Calculative players are careful planners.
Ultimately, determining your playing style will help you develop the right strategy you can use in your future games.
Developing a Strategy
Once you determine your playing style, you may start focusing on familiarizing yourself with different strategies. There are several strategies for chess and I’ve listed several that you may wanna explore.
The opening phase is critical in setting the stage for the rest of the game.
There are many effective opening strategies, and the best one for you will depend on your playing style and personal preferences. However, here are some of the most popular and well-regarded openings:
- The Italian Game (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4): This is a popular and aggressive opening that aims to control the center of the board and put pressure on the opponent’s position.
- The Sicilian Defense (1.e4 c5): This is a counter-attacking opening that begins with a move by Black. It is a highly tactical opening that can create a dynamic and unpredictable game.
- The French Defense (1.e4 e6): This is a solid and defensive opening that aims to control the center of the board with pawns and limit the opponent’s attacking options.
- The Spanish (or Ruy Lopez) Opening (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5): This is a classic opening that is popular among grandmasters. It aims to control the center of the board and develop the pieces quickly.
- The Queen’s Gambit (1.d4 d5 2.c4): This is a popular opening that aims to control the center of the board with pawns and create opportunities for a powerful attack.
- The King’s Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7): This is a dynamic and aggressive opening that aims to control the center of the board with pieces rather than pawns.
These are just a few examples of effective chess openings, and there are many more to explore. Ultimately, the most effective opening for you will depend on your personal style of play and the particular situation on the board.
Control the Center
The most important part of the game is the center of the board, and controlling it gives you an advantage. As early as possible, try to occupy the center of the board with your pawns and other pieces.
Yes, controlling the center of the board is generally considered a good opening strategy in chess. This is because the center of the board offers more mobility and space for your pieces, allowing you to develop your pieces more efficiently and effectively.
By controlling the center, you can also limit your opponent’s options and potential mobility, making it harder for them to develop their pieces and launch an effective attack.
There are several common opening moves that are aimed at controlling the center, such as 1.e4 or 1.d4. Additionally, many opening systems, such as the Sicilian Defense or the French Defense, aim to challenge and control the center from different angles.
However, it’s worth noting that controlling the center is not the only opening strategy, and there are many successful opening systems that do not focus as heavily on central control. Ultimately, the best opening strategy will depend on your personal style of play and the particular situation on the board.
Look for Opportunities
Anticipate your opponent’s moves and spot weaknesses in his position and use them to your advantage. Recognizing these opportunities will make you a better player.
There are several opportunities that you should look for in order to gain an advantage over your opponent. Here are a few examples:
- Material Advantage: Try to capture your opponent’s pieces while protecting your own. If you can capture more of your opponent’s pieces than they capture of yours, you will gain a material advantage. This can put you in a strong position to win the game.
- Positional Advantage: Aim to control the center of the board and to develop your pieces quickly and efficiently. This can help you to gain a positional advantage, allowing you to restrict your opponent’s options and create opportunities for attack.
- Tactical Opportunities: Look for tactical opportunities, such as forcing moves, forks, and pins. These can help you to gain a sudden advantage by forcing your opponent to make a particular move.
- Weaknesses in your opponent’s position: Look for weaknesses in your opponent’s position, such as isolated pawns, weak squares, or open lines. If you can exploit these weaknesses, you may be able to launch a successful attack or gain a material advantage.
- Endgame Opportunities: In the endgame, aim to create a passed pawn or to promote a pawn to a queen or other powerful piece. These can be key opportunities to win the game or force your opponent to make a mistake.
These are just a few examples of the opportunities you should look for in chess. By staying aware of these opportunities and taking advantage of them when they arise, you can improve your chances of winning the game.
The endgame is the final stage of the game. In this phase, the number of pieces on board is reduced, and the players are focused on creating mating positions or win material.
Familiarize yourself with the concepts of:
- Pawn Promotion – Replacing a pawn with a queen, a bishop, a knight, or a rook when it reaches the farthest rank from its original square.
- Zugzwang: A German term that means “compulsion to move.” The concept is forcing your opponent into a situation where moving a piece will be to their disadvantage.
- Triangulation: A tactic where one king can move into three adjacent squares in a triangle shape, forcing the opponent into zugzwang.
Playing the endgame well in chess is essential to winning the game. Here are some tips for playing the endgame effectively:
- King safety: In the endgame, the king becomes a valuable piece that can often be used aggressively. However, it’s important to keep your king safe and avoid exposing it to unnecessary risks. Keep your king protected by keeping it behind your own pawns and use it to help defend and attack.
- Pawn structure: In the endgame, pawns become even more important. Try to create passed pawns, or pawns that have a clear path to the promotion square, and use them to create threats and win material.
- Piece coordination: In the endgame, each piece becomes more valuable. Coordinate your pieces to work together to create threats and defend your position. Keep your pieces active and avoid passive play.
- Calculation: Endgames often involve fewer pieces on the board, which can make calculation easier. However, it’s still important to calculate accurately and see ahead to anticipate your opponent’s moves and threats.
- Opposition: The concept of opposition is important in the endgame. This means that you should try to keep your king directly opposite your opponent’s king, which can limit their options and help you to advance your pawns.
Practice, Practice, Practice
There’s no better teacher than experience. Just like with any skill, practice makes you better. Practicing your playing style and strategy will help you gain experience, win or lose. Here are some ways to practice playing chess:
Join a Chess Club
Chess clubs allow you to connect with other players and enjoy friendly tournaments. Joining tournaments allows you to observe other players with unique playing styles.
Play Chess Online
If there’s no local chess club in your immediate area, there are several online platforms where you can play chess against players from other countries.
Play Against a Computer
Stockfish, Komodo, and Xiphos are some of the world’s best chess engines that can go toe-to-toe against legendary chess grandmasters.
If you’re still far from being a GM and would just like to test and improve your skills, try this free online chess game against a computer.
Read a Book About Chess
From strategies to a grandmaster’s approach, there are so many books about chess that you can study.
Some highly recommended reads are “My System” by Aaron Nimzovitch, “Think Like a Grandmaster” by Alexander Kotov, and “Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess” by none other than Bobby Fischer.
Learn From Your Favorite Grandmaster
Grandmaster, the coveted highest title and recognition, apart from “world champion,” that any chess player could achieve. I’m sure that as a chess player, there’s one grandmaster you look up to.
Studying your favorite grandmaster’s playing style, technique, approach, and attitude toward chess will help you play chess well and develop the skills needed to become a stronger player.
Learning from chess grandmasters can be incredibly beneficial for improving your chess skills. Grandmasters have dedicated years to studying and playing chess, and they have a deep understanding of the game’s strategies and tactics.
By studying games played by grandmasters, you can gain insights into their decision-making process, their thought patterns, and the reasoning behind their moves. This can help you develop your own analytical and strategic skills, and improve your overall understanding of the game.
Additionally, some grandmasters offer coaching or training services, which can provide personalized guidance and feedback on your gameplay. This can be especially helpful for identifying areas of weakness and working to improve your performance.
Overall, learning from chess grandmasters can be an excellent way to accelerate your progress and reach higher levels of play.
The complexity of chess makes it somewhat impossible to master completely. But it’s one of the reasons why it attracts thousands, if not millions, of enthusiasts. It’s a game that will challenge your mind; and with proper coaching and continuous practice, one can undoubtedly improve.
It’s important to remember that before aiming to become the next grandmaster, don’t despise learning the basics of the game. Don’t get frustrated if you lose in your first few tournaments.
I won’t dare say that these steps will make you the best chess player in the world, but they will surely make a positive difference in your overall chess-playing skills.