How to Become a Better Chess Player

Three Parts:Chess HelpBecoming a Better Chess PlayerPracticing Like a Champion

Anyone can try their hand at a chess game, but it takes a bit more effort to become a good chess player. Read on to learn how to develop your chess skills.

Chess Help

Chess Rule Sheet

Chessboard Diagram

Part 1
Becoming a Better Chess Player

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    Learn how to play. You can't get better if you don't know the rules or how to move a piece correctly.
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    Join a local chess club. Be social and free with chess. Don't make yourself feel good by playing people that clearly are worse than you. If you have to make yourself feel better after a loss, a good way is to start planning how to counter your opponent.
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    Learn the values of the pieces. A pawn is worth one point. Knights and Bishops are worth three points each. A Rook is worth five points. A Queen is worth nine points. This is only a guideline, not a winning strategy so if you have a forced win on your turn, you can disregard the piece values.
    • Do not sacrifice material unless you have a clear win. For example do not sacrifice a knight for a king side attack unless you are sure you can win.
    • It is not advantageous to trade a Bishop (worth 3) and a Knight (worth 3) for a rook (worth 5) and a pawn (worth 1) because the Knight and Bishop are more powerful than a Rook and the pawn will not come into play until the very end of the game.
    • These values are relative. In some positions, a bishop or knight is stronger than a rook.
    • An exchange (a knight or bishop for a rook) is NOT worth 2 points despite its apparent value. It is generally worth 1-1 1/2 points. Therefor 1-2 (sometimes 3) pawns is enough compensation for being down an exchange.
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    Always develop bishops and knights. Pawns are overused and overextended, and often the developing pieces don't get developed. Then, your opponent will usually put a bishop through your pawn structure.
    • Moving too many pawns weakens the castled king side and opens you up to attack. Moving too many pawns usually will weaken your endgame pawn structure.
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    Understand how you play. There are two main ways that people play. Some have a strong defense, and aggressive people that use this style can be incredibly deadly. The other type capitalize. They instantly seize hold of any mistake that their opponent makes, developing quickly and leaving with an open position. Neither is the better, although the main population are more sturdy than capitalizing.
    • It is easier to attack than to defend. Some like to play gambits where they sacrifice a pawn to get an attack because they find that they win a higher percentage of games.
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    Enter your first tournament. Go there feeling like you are going to kick butt in this series of games. Forget the rating. Forget the scores. Just get out there and play the best you can, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
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    Get a rival. Find someone that is better than you and "compete" against them. Play them. Go to the tournaments that they do. Slowly get used to their playing style and use it against them and other people. Don't think of this "rival" as someone to do better than. Don't beat yourself up if you lose. Play them again. And again. And again. Do this until you have learned their style and how to counter it.
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    Study your favorite GM (grandmaster). Study, play, study, play. Learn how to use their techniques, and how to counter them.
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    Read one of the top 10 books written about chess. Here are a few good books:
    • "The Mammoth book of Chess"
    • "Logical Chess move by move" by Irving Chernev. It teaches you how to attack the king in the king pawn openings and how to play positional chess with the queen pawn openings.
    • "My System" by Aaron Nimzovitch.
    • "Think Like a Grandmaster" By Alexander Kotov. This book explains how to analyze variations so that you can play the middle game at a much higher level.
    • "Judgement and Planning in Chess" by Max Euwe. A classic book that explains how to judge a position based on space advantage, combinations, endgame advantages, king attack and pawn structures.
    • "Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess" by Bobby Fischer. A classic book that teaches chess tactics for the beginner.
    • "Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur" by Max Euwe and Walter Meiden. This book explains how a master beats an amateur by making the right move based on a positions needs.
    • "Practical Chess Endings" by Irving Chernev. 300 endgames that start simple but end difficult.
    • "1001 Checkmates" by Fred Reinfield. A classic book that will help you to see checkmates and calculate the variations.
    • "Ideas behind the Chess Openings" By Reuben Fine. Explains the strategies behind the openings so that you can remember and play them better.
    • "100 selected games" by Botvinnik.
    • "Basic Chess Endings" by Reuben Fine. A thick book that is a classic and explains all types of endings.
    • "Point Count Chess" by I. A. Horowitz. A Classic book that rates 32 positional features and teaches how to convert these 32 advantages into a win.
    • "How to win in the chess endings" by I.A. Horowitz. This book explains endgame strategies without complex variations.
    • "Chess Fundamentals" by Jose Raul Capablanca. This book teaches the opening, middle and endgame strategies.
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    Learn the basic endgame rules. End game Strategy, "If ahead in material, exchange pieces not pawns. If behind in material, exchange pawns and you can force a draw.”
    • Without pawns you must be at least a rook up to force mate, the only exception to this is that two knights and a king cannot force mate against a lone king.
    • The king is a powerful piece, use it to block and attack pawns.
    • Bishops of opposite colors draw most of the time because neither side can advance pawns without losing them. A rook pawn and bishop only draw against a black king if the bishop is the opposite color as the queening square.
    • Bishops are worth more than knights in all but locked pawn positions.
    • Pawns, Rooks, and Bishops become more valuable as the game proceeds so play to keep them.
    • Many games with all the pawns on one side of the board end in a draw. 90% of master games end in a draw where all the pawns are on one side of the board because the master with the less pawns will exchange pawns and then sacrifice a knight or bishop for the last of the pawns. If you are left with just a Bishop or Knight you cannot force mate.
    • Rook and Knight or Rook and Bishop many times can only draw against a Rook.
    • In Queen endings, he who moves the Queen to the center first dominates play.
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    Powerful Pawn Structures are:
    • An "Outside Pawn" lures the opponent’s king to other side, enabling you to gobble the rest of his pawns or advance your pawns on the other side of the board.
    • A "Passed Pawn" is not obstructed by another pawn and should be pushed. Nimzovitch said, "Passed Pawns must be pushed".
    • A "Protected Passed Pawn" is a passed pawn that is protected by another pawn. A Protected Passed Pawn forces the opponent to constantly defend against an advance.
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    Weak Pawn Structures are:
    • Doubled pawns cannot defend each other and are subject to attack.
    • Isolated pawns are weak and must be defended by a piece.
    • Backward pawns on open files are extremely weak and subject to attack by rooks.
    • A King with the opposition can draw against a King with a Pawn.
    • A Rook on the seventh rank is worth sacrificing a pawn.
    • Zugzwang is where if your opponent moves his position becomes weaker (he would rather give up his turn), and is common in Chess.
    • Rook and Pawn endings are the most complicated so avoid them.
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    Download blindfold chess. That will train you not to keep forgetting and relearning which pieces are attacking which squares until you look and see. Since your brain will be forced to memorize so much information about the state of the board anyway, it won't be that much harder for it to learn to organize the information it learns about the board into a different set of pieces of information than ones that describe which piece is on which square, and you will instead get slowly trained to see the whole picture, notice very complex statements about the state of the board, and notice patterns of which complex statements about the state of the board should be figured out to decide which move to make. In fact, you will eventually even become better at blindfold chess than you would have been at non-blindfold chess if you had done the same amount of training using non-blindfold chess, though you won't be better at the current game done blind than you would be if you played that current game non-blindfold and the purpose of continuing to play it blindfold is to train for future chess games.
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    Notice patterns in what moves tend to make you win the game. Don't follow step 3 all the time with no exceptions, but rather judge the arrangement of pieces and decide whether it's really worth making a trade. It's good to trade pieces more easily if you're ahead as shown in the following sentence. If you would have a forced win if you promoted a pawn to a rook that would require losing the rook later, then you will still have a forced win if you promote it to a queen and don't do what ever you can to stop it from being traded for a rook and bishop because the queen can make any move a rook can make and so could use the winning strategy that the rook would have used. Use your trained ability to notice patterns to try to make a move that you predict will cause your opponent to make a mistake enabling you to win. The strategy can include knowledge of which person you're playing against, noticing which mistakes your opponent was making earlier in the game, or noticing patterns of the general type of mistake people tend to make.

Part 2
Practicing Like a Champion

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    Memorize the first 12 moves of the 20 top Grandmaster games. You can find these games online easily at sites like You should memorize the first ten moves of black and white to get a sense of how true masters begin their chess games. This will help you get a sense of not just how to succeed, but how to truly excel. Also, memorizing these moves will make you more disciplined because you'll have to train your mind to absorb these moves as well as to understand what makes them so great.
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    Solve 10,000 puzzles on your favorite puzzle website. You can use websites like Chesstempo, Chessity, or Puzzle Books. As Malcom Gladwell once hypothesized, working on anything for 10,000 hours will make you an expert, so imagine what a pro you'll be after solving 10,000 puzzles! Of course, this can take a very long time to achieve, but if you aim to do at least one a day, you will go far. You can also start by setting a more realistic goal for yourself, such as 1,000 puzzles, and see where you go from there.
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    Use Chess apps on your phone. You can also use the world champs chess app or other apps that are geared toward chess players. Though practicing to be a chess master takes complete concentration, having an app on your phone that relates to chess can help you train when you find yourself with some unexpected free time.
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    Play in local tournaments. Sign up for as many as you can and make sure you play at least once a week, no matter how tired or frustrated you may be. Local tournaments are the way to help you practicing playing against real players and to improve your technique and strategy.
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    Review your games with a chess engine or chess coach. Having a chess coach may cost a pretty penny, but he can definitely help you improve at the game and to develop the discipline to be able to think outside the box. You can also find a chess engine online that can help you review your moves and have a sense of what you did wrong and what you did right. Recognizing your flaws and your strong suits is the best way to succeed in chess.
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    Play at least 10,000 games of chess. Remember what we said about becoming a true professional after you've done anything for 10,000 hours? Though doing all of the above practice methods will certainly help, in the end, it's all about playing as many games as you can. If you're truly committed to being a better chess player, this is the path you should follow.
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    Talk to a good chess player. One of the best things you can do to get better at anything is to talk to someone who knows the game and is good at it. It can be a relative, a grandmaster, or even someone who beat you.


  • Don't worry about your rating, focus on getting better. The rating will take care of itself.
  • From experience, I can tell you SOME blitz is good for you; it keeps you sharp tactically, can help you get a 'feel' for an opening relatively quickly, and helps give you basic patterns that are necessary. However, if you're playing more than 3 - 5 blitz games a day, you're probably playing too much blitz. Play SLOW games (at least 15 5) that allow you to think and work on your calculation. If you play too much blitz, you'll find that you won't be able to calculate accurately, you won't be able to apply ideas from your studies, and you'll have trouble taking on strong opponents over the board.
  • Strategically, study McDonald's "art of logical thinking," and Seirawan's "winning chess: strategies." Books like "My System" are indeed classics, but are way over the head of beginner/intermediate players. You'll end up wasting your time; you really must learn to walk before you can run.
  • When you study strategy, write down the ideas and plans that are given to you, and make a point to implement them in your own games. It's easy to have one of those "a-ha!" moments when you're studying, but then immediately go back to your same old thought process over the board. To get better, you have to refine your thought process and implement new ideas, over the board.
  • Understand that like anything, practice makes perfect. Chess is no exception. In fact, it takes years (upon years) to become a strong chess player, but don't become discouraged. Make a consistent and reasonable study plan (and stick to it), and you'll find yourself slowly becoming stronger and stronger.
  • Don't be lured into believing fictitious lies about "eye contact" or "faking people out." Read and focus on the board. Chess isn't poker.
  • It is a good move in the beginning of the game to move your knight. It can threaten enemy pawns and some players move there bishops out. The knight can also capture the enemy bishops and weaken their pawn force that your enemy will need at the end of the game.
  • If you're below 1700 USCF, you will likely benefit most quickly from doing at least 30 minutes worth of tactics (chesstempo,, chess.emerald, etc) a day.
  • is an excellent resource; chessmentor, their database, and their videos (especially IM Rensch's "live session" videos) are all very instructive and useful. has excellent move by move analysis videos of modern grandmaster games. I recommend playing at ICC (if you can pay for the membership), as I've experienced less cheaters on ICC, probably because ICC forces you to cough up $60 for a membership. Chesscube has a cool interface, and has very interesting tournaments (warzone), but there are a LOT of cheaters. If you can't afford ICC, try FICS.
  • If you've got the money, and you're serious about becoming strong, buy a coach. Preferably a 40 seater, but a 35 will do. If you're below 2000 USCF, I'd recommend finding an expert or a master to give you weekly lessons; getting a coach much stronger than that and there may be too much of a disconnect between your skill level.
  • Get some good books on the endgame (Dvoretsky's endgame manual is a classic).
  • Don't worry about studying opening lines; when you start, you'll find that no one plays main lines (because no one knows them), so all that rote memorization will be for nothing. Focus on solid principles (move each piece once before you move any piece twice, centralize your pieces, inhibit your opponents development, develop your pieces so your opponents pawn breaks more difficult to achieve) and you'll at least be equal coming out of the opening (which is all you should be asking for, anyway). DON'T play wild gambits like the Blackmar-Diemer or the Latvian. They don't rely on solid strategic understanding, they can be easily refuted if your opponent has 'booked up' on them (the Ziegler defense literally refutes the BDG flat out), and they will inhibit your learning of traditional chess principles. Some gambits (like the benko gambit, marshall gambit in semi slav, and Milner-Barry gambit) are sound and relatively solid. You may win more games in the short run, but your overall improvement rate will be severely hampered. Play classic Ruy Lopez, Italian, Scotch, Sicilian (probably open Sicilians are best Sicilians for beginners to get them used to opposite side castling, tactics, sacrifices, and open positions), or Queens Gambit positions.


  • The queen is the most valuable piece. If your opponent places their queen on a square where it can be captured, look carefully for traps!
  • Do not try to win with scholars mate (four move checkmate); anyone who knows the slightest bit about chess will use it against you.
  • Do not try to use openings you don't know. You might be able to get away with this if you are under 800 USCF but above that, your opponent will take advantage of this.
  • Unless you are at playing a very weak opponent, try not to use openings such as Sokolsky's (1. b4) or other openings that are harder to play and maintain an advantage.
  • Not every opening will be good for you, if you are aggressive try the Kings gambit, Evans gambit/fried liver attack, Max Lange Attack, Blackmar-Deimer Gambit, Grünfeld and Latvian gambit. If you are a passive or positional player, try the English, fianchetto birds, queens gambit, Nimzowitsch, queens indian, or Petroff Defense.
  • Not every opening is a good one, don't waste your time with these openings, hippo, grob, ware, or Basman defense.
  • As a more advanced player, after you learn developing openings (London System, Colle System, Four Knights) try sharp tactical openings, such as the kings gambit, Scotch, Goering Gambit, and The elephant. These openings require the player to be good at attacking and help train your tactics.
  • Wait untill you get very advanced until you play positional openings. (English, Queens Gambit, Birds, Giuoco Pianissimo, Vienna Game)
  • As a beginner pick an opening or two. For white try the italian game, Stonewall Attack, London system or the Vienna Game. For black, try to learn the double king pawn and modern defence. Once you Improve a bit, try the queens gambit or scotch, and for black, Sicilian dragon, French, or Nimzowitsch defense. Once you get advanced try the Ruy Lopez, Kings gambit, Max Lange, English, or birds, and for black, Pirc, the Modern Benoni, Petroff, Sicilian Najdorf, or Classical Sicilian.

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