I know how all the pieces move and I've learned about castling and en passant. But all I do is play online against other people and get wrecked because I don't know how to "play."

I make moves like Knight to h3 on my first move because I have no idea what I'm doing (I only learned this move is bad because a nice person pointed it out to me while I was playing against them).

I also manage to mess up situations where the opponent only has like two pieces left and I have like five but I still lose or draw the game. Sometimes I make bad decisions or miss checkmates in one move.

But most of the time, I have the majority of my peices taken from me so the opponent has an overwhelming number of pieces more than me (this happens like 80% of the time unless I get lucky). I have been playing on and off leisurely for a few years now, but I still don't know how to "play" properly.

What am I supposed to do at this point if playing more games does not improve my gameplay?

  • 11
    You lack the very basics of the game. The easiest way for you to get the information you need, as quickly as possible, is to find the appropriate book. The book will go over openings, basic tactics, and basic checkmates. Unfortunately, I am drawing a blank on what the book would be. I recommend you update your question to ask this question.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 16:22
  • 7
    "Logical Chess: Move By Move", by Irving Chernev, is a good starting book.
    – Cleveland
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 17:55
  • 4
    Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess is another good one. The entire book is just a series of (extremely) basic puzzles, with commentary intended for beginners. Bobby Fischer had nothing to do with it, oddly enough. Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 23:00
  • 2
    Or the Step 1 workbook of the Steps Method. The first exercises are about putting pieces on safe squares (where they can't be captured). That's where it starts. Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 12:42
  • 2
    I learned a lot by watching Mato Jelic's awesome game analyses onYouTube: youtube.com/user/MatoJelic Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 15:56

16 Answers 16


Very simple.

Join a chess club and play people face-to-face. You'll improve rapidly after that.

  • 19
    There's no better way to start than this. People will bend over backwards to help if you just ask.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 16:23
  • 3
    Yes. Emotional involvement is even more important than cerebral involvement (the two Bishop checkmate, knowing an opening, whatever). If you meet people and start to see chess through their eyes as well as your own, your skill will multiply. Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 1:33

The first thing to learn once you know how the pieces move is basic tactics and general strategy.

Tactics: In certain positions it is possible to gain an advantage doing a certain move or sequence of moves. This is referred to as tactical motif/pattern and for a list of all kinds of motifs take a look here. You don't need to start learning all of them at once, but eventually you will. The idea is that you recognize the pattern (not a particular position) that enable these tactics and burn the pattern into your brain so that you immediately recognize it when playing chess. As a beginner I'd start with the following motifs:

  • hanging piece (make sure that you always check which of your pieces are attacked and which of the opponent's pieces you attack) and related to this the motif of counting (if there is a sequence of captures); knowing about the value of pieces is essential here
  • simple mating patterns (back rank mate, Scholar's mate and similar mates,..., king and queen vs. lone king, etc)
  • double attack; particularly pawn and knight forks

You can practice your tactics by solving puzzles on many websites like chesstempo, lichess, chess.com... Usually (if it is a good website) the problem you are given to solve is adapted to your level.

Strategy: This refers to general rules on how you should play in order to gain an advantage in the long term. Most important for a beginner I'd consider the following opening principles:

  • develop pieces (knight, bishop) quickly in the opening; don't move a piece twice unless forced to do so
  • occupy the center (typically you rather want to move the central pawns (on c-d-e-f files) two steps (or more) than the outside pawns (a-b, g-h files).
  • put pieces on meaningful squares, usually so that they attack something or cover many squares
  • king safety (usually this means castling and hiding behind your own pawns)

Your move 1. Nh3 does not do anything to occupy the center (1. Nf3 would be more suited for that) and also knights on the border of the chess board are somewhat limited (as they say: "a night on the rim is dim").

As with tactics, there are also positional/strategic motifs. However these are a bit more difficult to understand than tactics. The best way to appreciate them IMO is to read/listen/watch commentated games of masters or even better to have your own games analyzed.

You should still keep on playing games, but avoid blitz or other short timed games. And analyzing your games afterwards to see where you went wrong (or where you made a great move) is also a good way to improve. On lichess (and perhaps other websites) you have a very useful feature that let's you have your games analyzed by a computer which will point out inaccuracies/mistakes/blunders.

And yes, if you can join a chess club that would be more efficient and fun than trying to learn everything on your own.


I recognize that attitude.

Remember, first, that chess is HARD. That's why it took so long to get computers to be able to play it well. The rules are simple enough but understanding how those rules fit together to build strategy when the opponent is also building their own strategy, is very difficult. It's not even quite like backgammon, where I like to tell new players that the point of the game is to manufacture more luck than your opponent (and thankfully chess does not have a doubling cube, too!). Because there is no "luck" per se in chess.

You will start where you were a few years ago: you know the rules of movement but you are giving up pieces because "oh, I didn't see you were threatening me there." Then you will graduate to where you are now: you are not giving up pieces pointlessly, but you do not really understand all of your possible moves and have a way to evaluate them.

Probably the next good things for you to learn are a little opening theory about trying to get this wall of pawns usefully out of your way so that your stronger pieces are doing more useful work in the game, and forks and pins.

Opening theory is just something that you should watch YouTube videos on. It seems like a lot of "oh memorize this opening and its variations" but I want to tell you that if you are stuck in that rut you are doing it wrong, learn the principles that make openings good or bad, about "I want to get these knights out and have my bishops threatening more than just the backsides of my pawns" and "ok, I will let you take my pawn so that you can have doubled pawns and my rook can take this open file," and "well if I'm moving that pawn anyway I might as well fianchetto my bishop up there and simultaneously get my bishop doing something useful as well as get one step closer to castling." Those sorts of ideas are just as important as "there is this variation where you give up this pawn to take control of the right-hand side of the board, putting pressure on the opponent's king." Eventually you'll see enough of these videos that some game you will say, "oh, we castled on opposite sides, in this one YouTube video they suggested that those games turn into pawn-storms, let me start pushing my pawns forward and see if I can't get the drop on him first with that" and it'll at least lead to a really interesting game, even if there's no win in it for you.

A fork is when you move a piece to threaten two other pieces at once. "I am either taking your queen or your knight, pick one." Look for these and begin to understand when you're vulnerable, for example in these endgames that you have been losing, start thinking "oh, if she's still got her white-square bishop then I shouldn't line my pieces up on white diagonals." A good fork has no defense, but you should be aware that there are two common defenses: either "I take your forking piece, let's trade" (sort of seizing the initiative so that you don't give up a piece for nothing) and counter-threats: "You can have my queen, because I move my knight to __ threatening YOUR queen if you take mine." In the best counter-threat you check the king so that it's not even your opponent's choice, so the sequence is

Alice: Knight to C4 (forking Queen on D6 and Bishop on E5)
Bob: Queen to C5, check. 
Alice: King to H1.
Bob: Queen takes C4 (if undefended), or Bishop to F6 or D4.

Similarly I would learn about pins. A pin is a threat to a big piece (queen or king, sometimes rooks in the late game) which is blocked by another piece. For example you might pin a bishop to the queen, or you might pin the queen to the king: the bishop and queen respectively are standing in the way of a threat to the queen and king respectively. That other piece is then "pinned", it cannot move freely. Either it cannot move freely at all (when pinned to the king; can't move into check) or it cannot move freely without giving away the big piece for cheap. So you can basically make the piece somewhat useless. Similarly you get out of a pin either by moving the Big Piece, or by putting a second piece like a pawn also in the way of the pin, or (if you're not pinned to the king) by making an equivalent counter-threat.

Finally I'd recommend that you learn some of how one checkmates others. Keeping someone in check so that they are forced to react, rather than act, is a good start. Understand the threat of back-row checkmate, where pieces start to get into the way of the king's escape from a simple threat from the Rooks or Queen. Both defend yourself against it and use it in your games.

If you learn these things your brain will have the "seeds" of thinking strategically, but it will still take years to nurture those seeds into strong trees.

  • 6
    Don't scare him off! From my Chess Teacher: Chess is NOT hard. Chess is complex. There is a difference. It is this complexity that makes it beautiful. Thinking that "chess is hard" is a reason for stagnation. You have to think positively. Look at the beauty of this game, at the pleasure it brings. Appreciate that we have a great game that helps our brain, and is a nice social game, a game where we use our ideas against other humans' ideas. And do not forget: the more you understand it, the more enjoyable it is.
    – Priyome
    Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 14:01
  • 4
    Thank you for the constructive criticism. I am of two inconsistent opinions regarding the "Chess is hard" thing that I wrote; on the one hand I wish to validate the student's frustration and make them aware that they're not alone; on the other hand I agree that lots of students are scared if they hear more-experienced players admit that the game is hard. I think I will stick with what I wrote on a technical distinction, which is that there is a difference between easy/hard (how "within reach" something is) and simple/complex (how "tangled up" something is).
    – CR Drost
    Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 23:26

My suggestion would be to begin with endgame study. This seems counter-intuitive -- "Surely the place to begin learning chess is by studying the beginning of the game, the openings." This seems quite logical. But someone said/wrote "Until you can learn to manage a few pieces effectively in the endgame how can you hope to manage all 16 pieces you begin the game with against your opponents 16 pieces?"

So I'd suggest going to a local bookstore (or public library) with a good selection of chess books. Or shop online. Look for a book that begins with basic chess endings -- e.g. King vs King and Rook; King and pawn vs King; King vs King and two bishops...and so on.

These basic endings are the place to start. You'll learn how to make just one or two pieces operate effectively with your King and begin to gain some ability to size up quickly at least some endgame positions. Some can be quite complicated as you work your way through endgame studies.

But once you begin to gain some understanding of the endgame you can begin to work on your middle game using insights learned from endgame theory.

You may say, "I'm already losing before I even get to the end game so what good will studying endgames do me?" That's true of almost all players at the start. But persevere in endgame study and when you do get to the endgame with equal or better chances than your opponent you'll have some insight into how to move to win efficiently and effectively.

I don't mean that you should pay no attention to openings or the middle-game as you study the endgame. But rather than playing through many lines of particular openings where you don't really understand the reasons for many of the moves, find a book with a discussion of opening principles and begin to evaluate moves in the opening on those general principles.

For example, some general principles of opening chess play are:

1) Fight to gain control of the center squares of the board or at least maintain equality.

2) Don't move a piece twice during the opening.

3) Develop knights before bishops.

4) Don't move your queen in the opening moves.

There are more opening principles so look for a book (or read online sources) to not only learn these principles but also to understand the reasons for them.

You will also have to learn when there is good reason to ignore an opening principle. For example, if you opponent has left a piece hanging and you can take it without incurring an equal or greater loss, well then you'll probably find it worth it to move a piece twice, or bring out a bishop earlier than you might have otherwise, to capture the hanging piece. But only after studying the board and making certain there's not a trap or serious positional disadvantage you'll be stuck with if you make the capture.

So that's my advice. Begin with the study of basic chess endgames and learn how to use just a few pieces effectively. You'll feel you've really learned something not just by rote, but with comprehension. And that can lay the foundation for further and deeper chess study.

In reality almost anyone who wants to better their game can gain useful chess skills by studying the endgame. With more pieces on the board in the endgame the positions can be quite perplexing. And there are complex endgames to learn with only a few pieces. Without studying it first, put a black king on one side of the board and on the other side put the white king and a bishop and a knight.

White king, bishop, and knight vs lone black king. Should be an easy checkmate, right? Give it a try playing both white and black yourself. How many moves did it take (assuming when you played the black king you really tried to keep from being mated) to force the checkmate? Or were you able to do it at all? Basic endgame study will teach you what you need to understand to force checkmate in with king, knight and bishop against a lone opposing king.

What if you tried white king with his two knights vs a lone black king? How many moves would that take to force checkmate with the pieces set up on opposite sides of the board? I won't make you torture yourself with that one, as it's impossible to force mate with king and two knights vs lone king. Note the word "force". I'm not saying that a poor black player couldn't get mated if the white player has his king and two knights, only that against a reasonably skillful black player white cannot force checkmate. This is another example of basic endgame knowledge.

Off the top of my head I can't suggest an endgame study book. But start with one that covers basic checkmates in the endgame. Most important, choose a writer who makes sense to you. An impressive chess background doesn't necessarily mean a given master or international master is necessarily a good beginners teacher.

Chess, as one other respondent noted, is a very complex game and you can begin to appreciate the depth of the complexity in studying the tremendous variety of endgame positions.

I suspect you can find an old Fred Reinfeld book about both basic chess endings and chess opening principles though there are probably newer and better books available.

I hope this is some help and good luck. ;-)


As said above, if you have a local club, then go there. If not, and you have a few bucks, get this book:

Complete Chess Course

It is a step-by-step course that covers a broad spectrum of issues that beginners struggle with, and gives good advice on how to deal with such problems along with clear reasoning. Based on the original post and my 44 years of playing and teaching chess to beginners, that book works well as it gives it to you in digestible amounts.

If you do not have any money, then go to your local library. They probably have similar books for beginners.

Keep playing, record your games, and look over your losses with a stronger player, or come back here and post your game and ask for a review.

  • Asking for help on the internet is always provided "from some random guy". To your question about the book, it is a step-by-step course that covers a broad spectrum of issues that beginners struggle with, and gives good advice on how to deal with such problems along with clear reasoning. Based on the original post and my 44 years of playing and teaching chess to beginners, that book works well as it gives it to you in digestible amounts.
    – Priyome
    Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 14:40
  • Of course internet advice is always from some random guy (or gal). The point is that we know nothing about you, so we have no way of evaluating whether "Buy this book!" is good advice. Whereas, when you tell us "Buy this because X, Y, Z" the reader can think about whether X, Y and Z seem like good reasons to buy the book and it gives them information about why the book might be useful to them. Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 15:01
  • When someone recommends a book, it is up to the reader to determine for themselves if the book fits his needs by a google search or an Amazon inquiry. Common sense, really. Handholding is unnecessary.
    – Priyome
    Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 17:58
  • If I may give a counteropinion, I do not really like the book linked. Seirawan's books are easier to read and more effective.
    – thb
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 0:30

Play long time control games. With this it is possible to avoid any sort of blunder like hanging pieces, overlooking a basic threat etc.,

  • 5
    What do you mean by "long"? Beginners tend not to have any idea how to use a lot of time because they can't calculate well and they don't know anything about strategy. And it feels like a lot of time wasted when they inevitably still hang a piece 45 minutes into the game because they lost concentration and/or didn't know what to think about. Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 10:52
  • By long I mean getting at least a minute think time per move. Are you saying that the probability of hanging a piece in a long time control game is equal to that when playing blitz for beginners? and hence it is alright for beginners to play blitz?
    – Keshav
    Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 11:19
  • 1
    OK, thinking for a minute or so per move seems fine. It was unclear whether by "long" you meant, say, half an hour per game, or two hours per game. But I'm saying that beginners spending too long on their moves is just going to be tiring and boring because they don't know what to do in that time. Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 11:23
  • True, it can get boring by not knowing what to do!
    – Keshav
    Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 11:41

To complement the other answers, I would like like to recommend a beginners' book that was wonderful to me: Journey to the Chess Kingdom, by Yuri Averbakh and Mikhail Beilin. The book is written in a very entertaining way, and covers from the very basics to openings, strategy, and end game.

  • 2
    Could you expand a bit more about how the book helped you out? Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 2:51

Recognizing that you're lacking somewhere is the first step to improvement. There are two areas you could be lacking in chess - 1. knowledge and 2. application of the knowledge which comes through practice.

My suggestions:

  1. Online Tutorials: Both chess.com and lichess.org [the only two sites I am familiar with for chess] have tutorials for starters. It's a good practice to go through them. Signing up for their courses would be an overkill.

  2. Tactics Trainers: Once you've gone through the tutorials, I also suggest you download both chess.com and lichess apps for mobile. They have various tactics puzzles which you should try solving. These will expose you to common mistakes which shouldn't be made and common opportunities which shouldn't be missed. Also, I've found apps from this publisher on Google Playstore to be very helpful. Even after solving a tactics puzzle, you might want to spend time on it to figure out why other moves are not as good as the ones the puzzle expected.

  3. Analyse your matches: simple example, if you play on lichess.org, after every game, you can request a computer analysis of the game. If you're using the desktop site for this analysis, it not only tells you your blunders, mistakes and incorrect moves, but also prompts you to think what the best move could have been. Again like in tactics trainers, spend time on thinking why other moves are bad.

  4. Books: After the basic tutorials mentioned in point 1, you can also start reading books if interested. Two of my recommendations (though I haven't finished them myself) are: My System by Aron Nimzowitsch (who is probably the best known chess writer while he was like the third-best chess player of his time) and Art of Attack by Vladimir Vukovic. Having a chessboard around while reading these is definitely helpful. Also, I would advice against the Kindle versions, at least of Art of Attack, reading around figures can be tedious at times. As mentioned in comments below, this can wait, like Part II of the My Systems book is totally not for beginners.

  5. Lastly, you can read the Chess 101 that I wrote. It's meant for people like us :), has been written in story-sort of fashion and in case you do not find it helpful, your feedback on how to make it more helpful is welcome.

Hope you and many others find these suggestions helpful.

  • 3
    Honestly, I'm sceptical of beginners writing "chess for beginners" guides. I admit that I didn't read yours, especially as it starts with several paragraphs of history that I didn't much want to go through. But beginners generally lack the perspective required to write a good guide. A good guide is a distillation of knowledge, understanding and experience; beginners don't have much of any of those things. Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 10:42
  • 1
    Also, "My System" is far too advanced for the asker. Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 10:43
  • @DavidRicherby As the post subtitle says, "It’s been a year since I started playing chess and this is a post for anyone who knows what piece moves how, hasn’t ever played and would like to." It's just an attempt at trying to share the delta I think I learnt in my first year.
    – AA_PV
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 10:47
  • @DavidRicherby I myself haven't gone very far into either "My System" or "Art of Attack", so maybe you are right about the Part 2 on positional play. Part 1 otherwise should not be too difficult, with a chessboard and some patience, IMO. I might be lacking perspective though, I haven't taught or such.
    – AA_PV
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 10:53

Chess is not hard, despite what people tell you, but there is a trick and you won't learn it unless you play people willing to share. The 'trick' to chess is that it is not the pieces that are important, it is the spaces and what makes one piece more powerful then another is how many spaces it can control. When you control a square, you can move another of your pieces into it, but your opponent can't and this is how you force your opponent to do what you want them to.


First learn basic openings by referring to books and using the internet. A good chess website is Chess.com; it has lessons and tactics which will improve your understanding on Chess.

Then play regularly with some good chess players face to face. Even if you lose every game you will learn something from it. Review the games afterwards and try to identify where you have erred, and then try to avoid that mistake in future games.

Also, review games of high rated players, preferably games of grandmasters. Try to work out the basic ideas of the moves and then to apply the ideas in your next game.

  • 4
    Welcome to Chess SE! Your post is hard to read, could you replace the SMS-talk with normal English, please?
    – Glorfindel
    Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 13:07

slow down... all novice players move too fast...suggest you look at the Whole board 1st with a + pattern then with a x pattern..then look away from the board 2 seconds..repeat patterns..then make your move. How can you eat 500 gallons of ice cream ? Answer..1 bite at a time." Below 1600 don't worry about openings " Susan Polgar. Basic opening theory each move should 1 develop power 2 gain board control 3 help get your K safe [ castle ]..dont move the same peice twice without a good reason..get your whole team active..thats all you need for now. Have Fun knowing you are building a better brain..Yes ..playing chess helps make you smarter.


The old maxim about developing your minor pieces toward the center and castling within a dozen moves or so still applies. That's why 1. Nh3 isn't a good move. It doesn't contribute to center control. Castling not only helps safeguard your king but also connects the rooks. Any basic chess manual will point all this out. Control of the center is valuable to give you a base from which to maneuver your pieces and is also essential for a king-side attack. The manual will also cover the ending and basic checkmates, so you have a goal to strive toward. Practicing tactics will also contribute to your improvement, since that's how you win material. Regular play and analysis of your games to find your mistakes will also benefit you along with study of annotated master games. But play alone will not be enough without some study and understanding of the general principles which a manual will provide. As an old-timer, I'm not conversant with current chess literature, but in my youth I read beginner books by Al Horowitz and Fred Reinfeld which provided this information and which can be found on e-bay at nominal cost.


I hope you have learnt playing good chess in the past 3 years and 5 months since you asked this question but for anyone seeking an answer I would just like to state my experience and hope it helps. For an absolute beginner, I would advise to them to learn like a baby and avoid all "books and tutorials". Just install an app, set the level to minimum and start playing. Avoid worrying about tactics and positions at this stage. Just attack and defend. Is my piece being attacked, how can I defend it, how can I defend twice , or thrice. That's all there's to worry at this stage. I myself learned like this and through this simple raw learning I got to about 1400 rating (on lichess) then I started to study chess(like openings and endgames,popular variations, etc).I still haven't improved much after that, just to 1600 and oscillating there, but the point is I know for sure anyone can and should improve after playing regularly and seriously.

If you can get help from someone then it is very good otherwise it is not that hard to get to an okay level. I had a friend who was ordinary at studies but played good chess just by being careful and not giving away pieces. He had absolutely no formal knowledge of chess. I contacted him and we discussed about chess and that people "study" chess and all, well he was baffled. So the thing is just enjoy while playing , developing an interest is the quickest way to learn something. Chess is a game with simple rules and many possibilities, it is hard only at the higher levels( which any game is).

One more thing I would like to add that depending on the person the growth trajectory will not be linear in any case, meaning you might lose a lot of games in a stretch then start a winning streak. I lost 150 points playing whole day with about 46% wins and then other morning I gained like 200 points, it depends on your physical as well as mental conditions how well you perform on a given day. Here is my profile if you want to have a look.


Something that I usually do is set a goal what you want to get, like a certain piece you want to take, and then find out a way how to get it, without losing your piece or making the loss worth it.

Try to manipulate the chess board to your liking. meaning plan out your moves and sometimes plan another move if something doesn't go the way you like it, also always check before making a move,will your piece be in danger or will they be able to take it. And of course playing in real life and reading books works too, sometimes even playing games where you have to use strategy helps.


I am sure this has been said before but I'd like to point it out once again. Before you start studying tactics and openings, just make one thing sure: All of your pieces are defended! It seems so trivial but in my opinion most 'bad' players would play a lot better if they would keep this in mind.


Also, search this site. This question has been asked in one form or another many times and there are a lot of excellent answers with book recommendations, studying tips, etc.-you name it.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.