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I am a beginner skill level chess player who has been playing primarily against computers.. well on my Samsung, and Google apps for about a year regularly, but have played now and again my whole life (47). I cannot seem to beat the computer programs unless I am on the lowest setting of skill level.

On these lower levels the computer makes ridiculous mistakes and is no real challenge. When I raise the bar, I am able to hold my own through opening moves and am so, so during mid-game, but always get crushed in the endgame. Before I enter chess matches with live people, I would like to be a little more prepared, although my mind tells me I would improve if I played against live people.

I've read several articles and played tactics improvement apps, endgame, studying chess masters on Youtube which I subscribe to MatoJelic etc.. but somehow have reached a plateau. This leads me to your forum. Maybe there is a highly regarded site, video or book that can save me some time in the learning process for improving my mechanics or maybe just re-wire my brain.

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I have edited my answer by providing more books for you to read. These got good reviews on Amazon, and after reading comments about them I believe that they might help you. It is an alternative solution in case you do not find the book I have originally suggested. If you need help-leave a comment and I will respond as fast as I can. Good luck and best regards. –  AlwaysLearningNewStuff Jan 7 at 17:38
    
If you want to play against other live human players, there is a very good chess network on chess.com –  bobobobo Jan 7 at 18:38

11 Answers 11

up vote 11 down vote accepted

EDIT ( edited on January 8th, 2014 ):


Some of the other excellent answers pointed out a flaw in mine-I have failed to mention the importance of analyzing ones own games. This is corrected bellow, for the sake of completeness. I apologize to the OP and others who found my post useful.


First off, let me say Happy New Year and Marry Christmas to you!

Second, you will have to invest quite some work to be really good, but I believe it is doable based on the information about your current skill you have provided.

Based on the information you provided I think that you can help me with this and I hope that we can successfully solve your problem.In order to suggest you resources for your improvement I need to get to know you as a chess player. I need to know what pace of play you like, what type of positions you prefer and so on*, but you did not provide me that information so I will cover both options.

So far I have concluded that you are experienced enough to learn successfully from books and tutorials so I will tend to recommend those resources to help you self improve.

Rule #1 that drastically improves players strength:

Know your openings!

You really have to know your openings well, so you do not: 1. Fall for cheap traps 2. Get horrible position which you will hopelessly defend for 50 moves, only to resign later.

If you like fast paced games with lots of sharp, tactical play I could recommend you Sicilian defense against 1.e4, and King's Indian defense against everything else ( King's Indian defense will reduce your time required to learn the openings, as it is very flexible ).

If you are slow paced, positionally oriented player I recommend you French defense and Queen's gambit.

Just search for Staring Out series on Amazon and read those first.

Rule #2 that drastically improves players strength:

Know how to play the middle game that arises from your openings!

To learn how to play the middle games from those openings here is a masterpiece:

Andrew Soltis-Pawn Structure Chess (1995)

A must have-period! This alone can improve your strength by 50%!

Rule #3 that drastically improves players strength:

You must know how to play endgames!

You need to know basic principles, at least, or else you will squander all the advantage you have built in your middle game.

End games are tough to master, and you will need lots of books. I can not recommend one made for beginners at this moment.

You can try with Mastering Endgame Strategy ( Johan Hellsten ).

Rule #4 that drastically improves players strength:

You must be able to exploit tactics in the game!

We have all "been there": You have a "won" game, yet you lose it because your opponent had "lucky move". Or you just got destroyed from the sacrifice you didn't expect.

There are lots of books on this topic, and I will recommend Starting Out-Chess Tactics and Checkmates.

Rule #5 that drastically improves players strength:

You need to know basics of the "positional play"!

Sometimes you will play openings that require from you to "deaden" the position, or your opponent will do it, and without this knowledge you will end up in a "boring game", you will lose focus and your opponent will easily "pick you off". Also, the problem with these openings is that raw calculation does NOT help you to find a plan.

You can calculate until you die, but you will not find a plan-you will need the knowledge of the positional themes to get you by.

Try with Mastering Chess Strategy ( Johan Hellsten ).

Rule #6 that drastically improves players strength:

Analyze your own games! I can not believe that I have forgotten about this one! This is the most important part.

This is the pattern that I use:

  1. Write down the game you have played;
  2. Compare the opening you played with the moves in the book about that opening ( here Starting Out series come in very handy );
  3. Evaluate the soundness of your middle game plan by consulting the Soltis' book, discover all the tactics that was in the position ( computer is great for that ) and consult computer/stronger player/books to see how you would correct both your mistakes and opponents, and most importantly try to pinpoint the game deciding moment in the game;
  4. Evaluate the endgame that arose-is it won/drawn/lost?
  5. Evaluate the time you spend in correlation with the position's difficulty-do you get overly excited when things get tough/you are winning so you waste too much thinking time? Or are you too impulsive so you make moves without thinking?

As others have pointed out, your main goal is to play and not to get too distracted with the books I have recommended. Those books are easy for reading, and will teach you the general ideas + give you the least amount of concrete variations so you can get by in your game. My apologies for omitting this advice, I have forgotten about it, but without it everything else is really useless.

SUMMARY:

Find books from Starting Out series for openings you wish to play. Get the book on middle games that arise from those openings-the one I have recommended is excellent. Learn chess basics-tactics, positional play, endgames. For that, I can recommend the book I have used, but here is a problem:

The book is not written on English and you will have to find the translated version.

The book was written by Vladimir Vukovic, and is called Uvod u sah or Introduction to chess when translated to English. If you get that consider your problems regarding endgame, tactics and positional play solved. If you fail to find this book, try with the books I have listed above ( I have edited my post to provide you a book for each of the rules stated above ). I haven't read them, but I have a good feeling they can help-based on the critics I have read on Amazon.

I would start with opening books and middle games ( Soltis' book recommended above ), and then improve my tactics, then positional play and only then end games.

This will be a long journey for you, but definitely an enjoyable one.

If you ever need any help, leave a comment and I will respond as soon as possible.

Best of luck, call if help required!

Best regards.

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6  
I don't think an focused attention to openings matters at THIS stage of learning. Instead, dedicate focus to mastering opening principles (different from learning openings), understanding pawn breaks/weaknesses (several books on how to use pawns and their formations) and merely coast on a few simple opening lines to get you to a playable middlegame. The advice on Rule #4 about tactics is actually more important to cross the beginner plateau than any other roadblock. Consider reading NM Heisman's Novice Nook articles online ... they help address thought-process errors that beginners make. –  shivsky Jan 7 at 16:28
    
@shivsky: That is the purpose of the last book ( Vladimir Vukovic )-it explains the opening principles in great detail. Also, Starting Out series focus EXACTLY on what you say in your comment-and I agree 100% with you. The beauty of Starting Out books is that they cover both the opening moves, typical ideas and point out basic opening rules/principles where they can. Best regards. –  AlwaysLearningNewStuff Jan 7 at 16:33
    
@shivsky:Just to clarify-the rules are not ordered by importance level, I wrote them in order I remembered them first ( it has been a long time since I was learning the basics of the game ). I like your suggestion for the articles-I hope that OP will find it useful. Best regards. –  AlwaysLearningNewStuff Jan 7 at 16:45
    
AlwaysLearningNewStuff - Happy New Year thanks for taking the time to write all of this out. I need some time to digest it but I have an initial feeling I am going to significantly improve my game. Currently I feel decent with opening moves and gaining control of the middle, but that is when things tend to get muddled for me and I end up in defense mode and often moving the same piece more than once to get away. Ending game is the most difficult for me, even when I am in a advantage. Too often the games ends in stalemate. Anyhow, I will get to work on your advice.. Thanks again. –  Bryan G Jan 7 at 17:37
    
Shivsky - Appreciate the added tips. I will try to understand the difference between openings and opening principals during my readings and give initial focus to Rule #4. –  Bryan G Jan 7 at 17:39

The fact is, computers are so strong now very few can beat them except on the easiest settings. I stopped playing them long ago - tactically, they'll turn you into a pretzel. Are you aware that free chess software running on a common computer can play at GM strength?

Get thee to your local USCF chess club, join, and play people. You'll find friendly games, comradery, tournaments, and opponents of all skill levels. You'll get to see a lot of equipment so you can select a chess set, board, and clock that suites you. You'll earn a rating which tells you how you rank nationally. Finally, if you really want to improve, there will likely be a player there strong enough to give you lessons.

You'll learn to enjoy getting crushed by 11 year olds :-D

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Thanks Tony, getting crushed by 11 year olds gives me even more motivation, LOL. Appreciate the tips, now just need to find the equivalent to the USCF chess club here in Munich, Germany. –  Bryan G Jan 7 at 17:19

It's difficult to answer the question without knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Thus, my suggestion is: post your games somewhere[1] and let stronger players tell you where you go wrong. It is important to include your own thoughts and comments with the games you post to help others understand your choices better and encourage them to give more extensive and relevant comments. After you know your weaknesses, you know better what to study.

[1] e.g. Chess.com forums; I'm not sure if SE is a good place for game analysis

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Thanks JiK, posting my games is something I hadn't thought about but if there are people out there who will tell me where I need to work on, that's a progressive approach I like. –  Bryan G Jan 7 at 17:21

1) Please go ahead and play live people! They don't bite. If you keep waiting until you're "good enough" you will always be able to find a reason to keep putting it off.

2) The single best resource for beginning chess players is Dan Heisman's Novice Nook columns at chesscafe.com. The best of them have been compiled and reedited into the book A Guide to Chess Improvement: The Best of Novice Nook. I recommend it highly.

3) As far as studying goes, my personal advice is to avoid feeling overwhelmed by everything there is to learn about openings, strategic play, endgames, etc., and for now just concentrate on tactics. At your level studying tactics will be overwhelmingly more useful than any other aspect of chess. John Bain's Chess Tactics for Students is a good workbook, but my recommendation is to go to a free tactics site like chesstempo.com and start doing problems. The site will track your progress and feed you problems suited to your level of ability. This is the single most efficient way to improve at chess until you are a quite experienced player.

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A slightly different approach to others answers..

Chess Master 8000 is a computer program you can get from eBay for 5 Euros. This comes with Avatars which have different strengths and different play styles. For example one player holds onto Queen at any cost and also tactically good in mid game but not so in end game while another is very good in end games and weak in openings and avoids risk taking.. The variations are so much (there are about 30 players across all skill levels).. the randomness of errors is not repeatable and the avatars are good to play if there is no human opponent.

I played against it for a couple of years after getting frustrated with normal chess software and enjoyed.. but lost interest as angry birds started to kill all my free time..(I know .. it's a pity).

My children also play against it while practicing in their school chess clubs.

I will wholeheartedly recommend that no affiliation and the company itself is gone bust I think. You will get only used copies in eBay!)

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A year ago I started taking chess seriously, which for me meant studying books, doing tactics training, and playing regularly against real people. I knew some tactics and understood the basic positional ideas after completing Josh Waitzkin's "Chess Academy" in ChessMaster 11. In March 2013 I scored 3/7 in my first tournament and received a rating of 1100. I haven't played in another rated competition since but would guess, based on my results against engines & people, that I'm around 150-200 ELO stronger now than I was then.

The things that I feel have made the biggest difference to my play are:

  1. Doing regular tactics training. I normally use iChess and IdeaTactics on my phone.
  2. Keeping records of my games, analysing & annotating them with a chess engine, and studying the annotated games with a focus on my mistakes. I use the free Scid vs. PC with Stockfish.
  3. Revisiting positions from my games with Chess Hero to see if I can do better the nth time around.
  4. Learning the basics of just one opening for white, and one defence against e4, and another against d4 for black - and playing them consistently. Personally, I play the London System with white, and the French Defence and Stonewall Dutch with black.

Something that I feel is still missing from my training is regular endgame study & practice.

So there it is. I'm still a weak player, but I definitely have seen real improvement by doing all of the above.

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The biggest mistake you are making is playing against computers, This is simply not the way, playing against such boring, silicon machines will offer you no fruit for chess improvement, you MUST play against humans, this is because there is much more to learn from a humans play, there is a huge psychological aspect involved in chess, and by playing against the computer you will not improve period. There are many chess websites to pick and choose, there is chess.com, which is completely free and chesscube.com, which is also free. If you want some serious internet games, you can pay to play on chessclub.com Also known as the internet chess club and playchess.com, which is run by by the renown German chess company Chessbase.

That is the first stage in a beginners road to improvement, play against lots of humans! If you can find a partner to play with in real life than that's even better!

Do not bother with such things like openings, the general chess training consensus on studying the opening is that it is a big mistake, you should pick an opening of course, but don't play various different ones, just stick with one.

Also some fantastic chess websites for improving your chess:

thechesswebsite.com is absolutely fabulous with videos covering very aspect of chess

chesstempo.com is a must as it is a chess tactics website and will help you to hone your tactical abilities

chessgames.com is also great for viewing Grandmaster games and so forth

chess.com Already mentioned, is not only a great place to play chess but contains a plethora of chess knowledge, with thousands of articles written by strong players, hundreds of videos, a tactics trainer and a very strong chess forum which you should also be asking questions on!

Also, tactics! I cannot stress enough the importance of tactics, learn all the basic checkmate patterns and the tactical basics of chess! (The Skewer, Fork, Discovered Attack, Double Check and so forth)

I would also like to improve upon AlwaysLearningNewStuff's answer by recommending many other great chess prose.

Firstly, Artur Yusupov's award winning chess course is a must have, you should start with the first part (the Fundamentals) http://www.qualitychess.co.uk/docs/14/artur_yusupovs_awardwinning_training_course/

The everymanchess starting out series is also good, but do not buy them exclusively, they concentrate on openings which should not be your main concern at the level you are at (I have never read any of them and am 1883 FIDE Over-the-Board).

Silman's Complete Endgame Course should also be mandatory for every chess player!

If not mentioned already: Learn Chess by John Nunn should be compulsory for every adult trying to improve, the numerous five stars it has got on Amazon should be enough to convince you :), http://www.amazon.com/Learn-Chess-John-Nunn/dp/1901983307

Chess for Dummies Is also excellent

The Amateur's Mind by Jeremy Silman helped me to improve lots and made me shed my beginner skins :)

These books can wait for later ;)

Understanding Chess Move by Move (John Nunn)

Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual (Mark Dvoretsky)

How to Reassess your Chess (Jeremy Silman)

1000 Checkmate Combinations (Viktor Henkin)

Chess Strategy for Club Players (Herman Grooten)

Dvoretsky's Analytical Manual (Mark Dvoretsky)

Art of Attack in Chess (Vladimir Vukovic)

Pump Up Your Rating (Axel Smith)

Understanding Chess Middlegames (John Nunn)

Learn Chess Tactics (John Nunn)

My System (Aron Nimzowitsch)

AlwaysLearningNewStuff has already mentioned Soltis's excellent books :)

There are many other excellent books which I could include here but it would be too long of a post, if you are interested just ask for more :)

Also, I should end this post with a quote from John Watson's excellent book, Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy, "it may be said of any chess rule that the concrete experience of an individual player gives him a more accurate and subtle understanding of its application than any conceivable verbal statement could" Basically, nothing beats playing an actual game.

PS: Make Sure its against a Human!

PSS: And against a stronger player!

PPS: Nothing beats playing in real life! Go to your local chess club maybe!

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Well written post ( upvoted! ). It is truly a good complement to what I posted in my answer... –  AlwaysLearningNewStuff Jun 26 at 18:41

Aside from all the other excellent answers, I will note that I have learned a good deal from analyzing how and why the computer beat me!

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My advice to my students has always been to not spend very much time at all studying the opening, at least not until you get above average in playing strength (USCF rating somewhere in the 1800+). Pick a simple opening, and if you get caught in a trap, then spend the time to learn how to avoid it next time.

You lose far fewer games because of missteps in the opening than you might think. Nearly all the time you get behind coming out of the opening, your opponents will give you the chance to catch up by making serious mistakes themselves. If they don't make those kind of mistakes, the odds are you wouldn't have beaten them anyway.

My usual approach is to spend just enough time on studying known opening variations to "patch over" flaws their opponents have already shown them. The majority of the time I spend with my students is going over tactics -- what to look for, how to calculate, that sort of thing. One of my students challenged that approach once, so we sat down with all the rated tournament games I had played so far that year, and examined my wins. Of the 17 wins in that group of games, played against players of USCF 1400-2000 mainly, I was worse coming out of the opening in 14. But my opponent's mistakes and my own ability to spot and take advantage of those mistakes accounted for the win.

Generally speaking, a player around USCF 1500 will make mistakes amounting to the value of a knight every 30 moves or so; by the time they reach USCF1800 that drops down to a pawn or two. But they make mistakes. The only time you need to spend a serious amount of time in opening study is when you get to the point where your usual opponents don't make those kind of mistakes.

What good is it to play the first 10-15 moves of a game perfectly, if you start making mistakes then and end up losing the game to someone who knows how to spot them? Spend your time learning how to actually play chess, instead of how to recite moves in an opening, and you'll get farther. Leave the concentration on opening to the time when you're already making very few mistakes in the other phases of the game.

Mistakes made in the opening, unless they are suprememly catastrophic, can be fixed in the middle game as your opponent's mistakes allow you to, and mistakes from the opening or middle game can also be fixed in the endgame.

If your opponent doesn't make mistakes, he'd win anyway, so it's not something to worry about.

There's a good set of elementary books entitled the Manual Of Chess Combinations (vols 1-3) from Russia House. In Convekta's Peshka series of instruction software there are several good tactical trainers. The best of them is CT-Art, but that's above the ability of most beginning players. When you solve a tactical problem, look at it again and try to decide what the key idea is that makes it work, then watch for that idea on the board next time you play.

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Chess.com isn't bad, but all the live games require you play much quicker you might expect, even in a social game. So start with the correspondence games, so you have time to think! And check out the free learning materials & tactical problems, they are pretty good. After some time doing this you might want to venture into trying "half hour" or 15:10 in "live chess", the longest time controls for live games. Don't take them too seriously. If you find you lose on time after making "only" twenty moves you are actually playing at the pace Kasparov plays... real chess games take hours to play...

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I'd recommend you join FICS free Internet Chess Server) and play some internet games against people. After every game (wins and losses and draws) analyse the game. Do not play another game until you are confident you can improve on the last one! If you simply play game after game without analysing the games you will not learn fully and you will not progress quickly (and most likely will keep repeating the same mistakes that keep you at a low rating). If you want, try www.chessworld.net correspondence chess. With long time controls you have all the time you need to consider your moves. If you do though, again always analyse your games.

I dislike the advice not to study your opening thoroughly! It is so important to know your opening well as this dictates the type of the mid and end game you are hoping for! So you must think well of the opening but realise it is also a part of your whole game plan.

Of course tactics are important but it is vital you understand the type of tactics you will face in your games and this is shaped by your opening!

Lastly keep studying in books and on the internet to improve your chess knowledge.

Learn from your mistakes but do not keep repeating the same mistakes again and again (the definition of madness/insanity!). It can be tough to improve but if you are determined you will improve!

I hope this advice helps. Goodluck :-)

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