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How to Improve your Chess Game

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How to improve your chess

Chess is considered by many to be one of the ultimate tests of intelligence and skill. It takes clever planning and a large amount of strategy to do well in this game. One not only needs to have a thorough understanding of the pieces and how they work, but they have to be familiar and comfortable enough in the game to relax enough to think through all of their potential moves. Understanding the opponent is another huge factor into how a chess game will run. Knowing your opponent’s skill level as well as the types of moves they favor and are likely to make will go a long way in playing a strong chess game. No doubt, it is a game of superior intelligence. The alertness of the mind, capacity to contemplate on and select the right future is some basic requirements of this brainy game. Of course, you cannot cultivate talent only with the help of your labor but if you have a little of it you can surely bone it. Do not forget the age-old maxim that genius is five percents inspiration and ninety-nine percents perspiration. Moreover, hardly any human being is totally devoid of the element of talent. Only when we fail to perspire for making it develop that we lag behind the others who do. This is what we purpose to do with this article.

There are times when in the absence of the right kind of guidance our talents wither. Since they don’t know how to properly irrigate and fertilize this plant of talent, this gets withered away. Remember that like any other discipline, chess also needs your unrelinquish devotion. The young boys normally don’t know how to utilize their free time, especially those who have the potentials. Follow the guidelines given ahead and become a good chess player.

1. Read Chess-books and Magazines

After playing some games, read the book carefully. Play more games and the read the book. Each time you absorb some points that seemed previously obscure or did not grip you.

The way you improve most is not by playing opponents, but by playing over well-annotated games. Cover one side’s move usually the winner’s) and think out of each move before looking.

If you are eager to improve your play rapidly, write down the moves of all your games, not only the competitive one (in which recording is compulsory). It is best to write them in chess scorebooks, as loose score-sheets are easily lost. Afterwards, play each game and jot down critical comments. This how the grandmaster developed his skill in chess and became proficient in a short time without any coaching. It is surprising how much the game became clearer when you see every position a second time, in the light of what happened first time. You become your own tutor. If, after writing your comments you submit some of your games and your comments to a competent coach or top player for assessment for a suitable fee will improve more rapidly still.

Reading chess books by standard authors will also help. Try to follow the notations in a particular style. In case you get hold of those old books in which the notations are not in algebraic form, try to convert it in that form. Even this conversion exercise would give you a good peep inside the intricacies of the game. Write them down in a separate exercise book and the same way you do to develop you ability, say in Mathematics. This is very enlightening exercise. Just keep a small chess board with pieces alongside and convert descriptive notations into Algebraic notations. It is necessary because the algebraic notation was devised only a couple years ago while the earlier chess-books where only written in descriptive style. Remember that it is not a time consuming and boring exercise but a very rewarding one.

Besides doing this read some good magazines or newspapers having chess columns. Nowadays there is hardly any good journal or newspaper not having chess columns. Read those problems and solve them. Your intention while solving them should be to prove the given solution to be wrong! The idea is that you should independently try to attack the problem. In the process if you happen to hit some different solution deem it that you are on the right path of progress in your chess studies. You may join a club having the facility of chess. You might develop you chess skill in the company of the other learners.

Of course, you can enjoy chess without worrying about improvements. However, this is a natural tendency of an awakened mind to improve one’s performance in any sphere. By following the methods recommended here, almost anybody can become a strong player in a fraction of time normally taken.

Doctor Emanuel Lasker (World Champion 1897-1921) considered that given a logical approach, a person of average talent would not need to give chess more than 200 hours to reach a stage where a master player who conceded him or her handicap would surely lose.

Lasker’s 200 hours was an underestimate, no doubt, but certain it is that most players could reach in months a standard that usually takes them years to attain.

Some newspapers publish regular chess columns in which composed chess problems are a feature. In a problem, an artificial position is setup and a solver is required to find a way to check mate in a specified number of moves, usually 2 or 3, no matter what replies the defender makes. In these, for the sake of uniformity, White always makes the first (key) move. In 2-move problems, only the key move is required. In 3-move problems, the second moves are required for correct solutions. As the composer’s purpose is to make the task difficult, the key move is usually on that would be unlikely to occur to a player in an actual game, and is never capture (except of a Pawn) and never a check.

2. Play Handicap Chess with Senior Players

The often given advice to play against stronger players has two distinct drawbacks. Firstly, it is discouraging if you invariably lose. Secondly, it is painful boring for the opponent if the different in skill is great. The strong player would be too polite to tell you this, but will find some excuse to stop playing. To fore stat this, ask the opponent to give you a handicap (give you odds in the chess parlance) e.g. to remove a Knight, a Rook, a Rook plus Knight, or even the Queen. Once the right odds found, both players can have exciting game. When removing a Knight or a Rook as a handicap, convention decrees that it shall be the one on the Queen’s wing.

Another kind of handicap is possible with the use of chess clocks. The expert can play with a very short time limit, his opponents at a much greater one. If the difference in skill is not too wide, this sort of handicap is better, as there is no alteration of the starting position. If the difference in skill is very great, it is a good idea to use both systems.

For single games, you cannot use a time handicap unless you have chess clocks. However, in simultaneous exhibitions, a time handicap operates automatically.

Here the expert opposes a large number of players seated in a circle or rectangle, each with a board and pieces in front of him or her. The expert steps from board to board, making a move at each one. Obviously, the expert can take only a fraction of time that opponents take, as the master may have to make 10,20,30,40 or more moves in the time that each opponent has for one move.

Simultaneous exhibitions have provided, from time immemorial, an excellent opportunity for a large number of players to oppose a master under conditions that give the amateurs some chance of bringing off a draw or even a win.

3. Have chess software

Playing chess against a well-programmed computer also helps in your developing chess-skill. It was inevitable in our age of electronics that chess would engage the attention of computer engineers. The real revolution in computer chess was brought about by the introduction of portable, relatively inexpensive microcomputers. These have been steadily improving and the latest models feature up to sixty-four levels of play, programmed openings and games, a voice announcing moves, and sensitized squares to eliminate the need for a keyboard. Most can play a reasonable game, while the more advanced models complete successfully in open tournaments.

As hinted before, microcomputers are most useful to players who have a problem in finding an opponent. Teaching level with programmed opening variations and suggested best moves are provided to help the students. For top players computers provide a convenient way of storing information on openings and end games. Most top players use personal computer for this purpose.

4. General Advice

You should start playing preferably with another beginner, as soon as you have learned the moves. Do not be discouraged if you are slow in remembering the rules. With a little practice, you will get accustomed to the moves of the pieces and will be able to start working things out without trying to remember how each one move and capture.

Chess is competitive and a desire to win is its strongest motivation. This is why you should play with another beginner whom you have a chance to defeating. It is better if you have an instructor who can supervise the game to make you sure that the rules are observed and to point out where you went wrong after the game.

Textbook dealing with all aspects of the game in one volume, vary in scope and price. Some chess manuals are written by champions, others by chess teachers – they all help the beginner to delve deeper into the mysteries of chess. Later the person wishing to improve skills further more can specialize by studying various aspects of the game and here there is a vast choice of aids.

Books dealing with openings range from comprehensive manuals in several large volumes, not recommended for beginners, to books designed to explain the reasons why the openings are played in a certain way.

The Middle game is dealt with by explaining the basic strategic principles and by giving examples of tactical combinations. There are many books dealing with this subject.

The end game is part of the game, which all aspiring players should study. Here again there is a choice of many books. Best for beginners are elementary books, which explain basic principles that are most likely to occur in practical way. For advanced players there are books, which deal with specific ending in depth. Finally, we come to collection of games of great players. We recommend the books with detailed comments, especially those designed for beginners.

The young learners are advice not to rely heavily on chess problems to acquire mastery in this game. These problems are as removed from as crossword puzzles are from literature. Surely, they bone one’s power of visualization of the moves. Play as many actual games as possible and solve chess problem to keep your mind alert in the chess-sense. Remember in chess (the actual game) the object of the game is to defeat the opponent, the means by which this end is achieve or the time is takes, being unimportant. In problems, however, the opponent represents by time. Mate must be effect with in the stipulated number of moves. Since the position given in the problems is frequently quixotic, most of the seasoned chess players dismiss then as situation unworthy of consideration. On the other hand, the polemists maintain that game involves too much laborious and profitless wood shifting, and that the artistry of fifty games can be compound into a single artificial position. Nevertheless, the best courses open for young learners to have the judicious mixture of the two.

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10 steps to raise your game – part 3

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Continuation from 10 steps to raise your game – part 2

8. Practice, practice, practice

Like in any other sports, practice makes perfect in chess also. At least, it will embed in your mind whatever you have learnt in previous steps. But try to play with opponents who are of equal or greater strength compared to you. If you join a chess club which are now available in most towns, you will certainly find opportunities to sit opposite strong players. Try to participate in whatever tournaments come your way as this also gives you valuable practice (and stronger nerves!) plus opportunity to play against some good players. These days, you can play on line with players in different parts of the world. Many sites allow you to play free games with their computers but here you should check the quality of the software running behind the computers. How you fare will give you the idea in this respect. It should also be possible to choose different levels of difficulty and a facility to download the record of the games played by you (remember tip 3?)

If you cannot afford to be on line for long, you can think of getting chess playing software many of which are offered free on the Internet (though I cannot vouch for their quality as I have never used such software – I like to play with someone I can see!). I have seen some software which have selectable difficulty levels and a capability to record the moves also. You have to download and try out. This will help you to practice as long and as often you may want. Playing through the games of masters (tip 7) is also a valuable practice.

9. Build up self-confidence

Confidence in yourself will help you to achieve more wins. You have nothing to be ashamed of when you lose to a better player and even top grandmasters have lost games through silly moves a beginner will not make. If you lack confidence, you will be nervous which will cause you to make mistakes. There are many tournaments which are open to all and not restricted to players of certain levels. Utilize these open tournaments to build up your fighting spirit.

10. A final thought

I have refrained from naming books as there are hundreds, if not thousands, of great books on chess strategy and techniques. But I found one book that takes a completely different approach to teach amateurs. The book contains 25 simulated games played over 25 days between an amateur and a master. Each game takes some different opening variation with an explanation on the underlying theme of that opening, and then continues to show whether the play is consistent with the theme or not. Most moves are annotated with reason for such play, good and bad moves are identified with reasons and tactical situations are analyzed when they arise. The amateur continues to gain in strength though losing the first 22 games. In the last 3 games, the tables are turned and the amateur defeats the master. You will get valuable insight in different aspects of chess and I am sure it will improve your game also. The book is titled “Road to Chess Mastery” and written by grandmaster Max Euwe who was world champion during 1935-37 and regarded as one of the best writers on chess.  As far as I know, the book was published in a paperback edition also under the title “Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur”.

10 steps to raise your game – part 2

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Continued from 10 steps to raise your game – part 1

5. Learn the tactical processes

Strategy is the overall plan of how you want to play out the game. Tactics are like battles within a war to implement your plan in varying situations. In chess, you will find that certain themes recur repeatedly if you know how to identify those and your tactical knowledge will help to make the most in such situations. For example, bishops and knights are considered to be of equal value, but most players will prefer to have two bishops rather than two knights because of the ‘long’ leg of the bishops. But this advantage of bishop pair gets nullified when many rows and files are blocked by pawns and bishops cannot move about. In such closed positions, knights often play better because of their ‘twisted’ moves! If there is only one bishop, half of the squares are out of its reach whereas a single knight do not suffer from such handicap. Tactics is your dominant tool in the middle games, but may continue into the end game phase. For example, if you have king and one pawn against your opponent’s solitary king, it should be a winning game for you if, and it is a big if, you know the tactics for putting the situation to your advantage. If you stray and your opponent knows the tactics, you will have nothing but a draw because of the stalemate situation that can be created by the opponent. These are of course very basic examples and you will find many others like pin, discovered check, double check, zugzwang etc. which you can create towards your advantage if you know how.

There are many books on tactics that explain the situations and the techniques that can be applied. You can also try to solve the chess problems published in sports magazines or in Sunday newspapers where they ask you to find how White (or Black) can win/draw in the given situation in specified/unspecified number of moves. These are all tactical problems and trying to solve these will enhance your tactical skills. Books are also available containing only such tactical problems for you to solve and learn the techniques. Take a peek at the solution given if you cannot find it on your own.

6. Study end games

If the game is not decided by end of the middle part, it enters into the end game phase where only few pieces are still on the board and the game often becomes a slow, grueling affair. The initial strategies (tip 4) we discussed earlier does not have any role now and you have to adapt an appropriate new strategy and the tactics that will go with it. Because of small number of pieces, it is possible to make a deeper analysis for the moves available. But if you are aware of the fairly common endings, it will be easier to formulate your strategy and tactics. There are plenty of books specifically on chess endings and you should try to memorize and recognize the situations. Seasoned players can often salvage their games during this phase.

7. Study the games of masters

Such games can be found on the Internet or you may get books on such collections. The books may be a compendium of games by different players, compiled and annotated by other masters. If you are more interested in modeling your game in line with your favorite champion, you will get books like “My best xxx games” by the players themselves, with explanations on the significant (good or bad) moves of both players. If you play through the moves and the variations that were possible, you will start getting the idea on what constitutes a good or bad move in a particular situation.

continue to 10 steps to raise your game – part 3

10 steps to raise your game – part 1

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Once you start playing, you will find chess a lot of fun but it is serious fun, if such a thing exists. The fun that comes from any battle of wits is there in chess also. Where is the serious part? It is in your will to win. In different fields of sports, there are people who grandiosely claim that result is not important, playing the game is. Well, let them have their say but don’t believe if this comes from a chess player. Any player worth his/her name will always want to win at whatever level in which he/she may be competing. If you accept this truth, your only way to win is to take your game a notch higher than your opponent’s. Sometimes you may get away without raising your game but that is because your opponent played one notch lower than you. This happens because of mistakes, not due to any lack of will to win on the opponent’s part!

Given above, how can you keep improving upon yourself? Everybody is entitled to his opinion, here is mine.

1. Know thyself

People come in all shapes and sizes, not just physically but mentally as well. Find out which styles of play suit your temperament. If you like a slap bang type of game (the dominant style in earlier eras of chess) which certainly creates more spectator interest, you will possibly be looking for more tactical opportunities and select opening/defense techniques adapted to such games. But if you are a patient type who builds up advantages move by move through a lot of maneuvering and likes complex situations, your choice of opening/defense will be quite different. In a very broad way, King’s pawn openings will suit the former types and Queen’s pawn openings will help the latter ones.

2. Know thy opponent (if possible)

You are not playing in a vacuum, there is always one sitting on the other side of table. A preconceived set rule will not work against all opponents, so you must be able to adapt your game. If you are playing against someone you know, you should already have some idea about his style. Of course, if you are against a stranger you do not know much but keeping the first tip in mind, you can see what openings and styles he is following. In a tournament, go through your opponent’s earlier games to get this insight.

3. Keep records

Self-analysis is an essential part of improving yourself. No matter if you are playing with your friend or your club member, keep a record of all the moves played in the game. It may feel a little tedious to start with, but soon it will become a habit. When you lose, go through your moves to find out where you went wrong and why. If you win, do the same regarding your opponent’s moves. You learn both ways.

4. Select your strategy for opening/defense

This follows from the first two tips. But the problem is: which ones to choose from more than thousand openings (including variants) that have been identified, as your memory may not be up to the task of remembering most of them? Even if you want to concentrate only on those suitable to your style, that will also be quite a large number. But remember that your opponent will also have the same problem. So choose a limited number you are comfortable with and explore their more common variations. If you keep playing those regularly, they will soon become a part of your repertoire and you will be able to handle the opening phase satisfactorily. You can follow the same procedure to prepare for defense when playing as Black. What if your opponent goes into a territory uncharted for you? If you know your main themes, then such unknown moves will mostly be inferior and you can look for taking advantage of the situation. The other alternative is to mostly keep to your track and bring everything to familiar ground through ‘transpositions’ which often just involves changing the sequence of your moves.

Important point to remember during opening phase:

White is considered to have a slight advantage because of having the first move. When playing as White, you try to carry that advantage to the middle game. When playing as Black, your aim is to neutralize that advantage and once Black is able to achieve that, Black is said to have equalized.

continue to 10 steps to raise your game – part 2