I am a beginner, I have been playing from time to time with friends since I was a child, but I never studied seriously. A couple of months ago I decided I want to become better, to play more seriously, understanding in a deeper way the game of chess. I have bought some books, I usually look videos on youtube and, of course, I play also online.

My question is:

How can one study chess? I am looking for suggestions about method. When reading a book, of course I set everything on the chessboard and I try to guess the right moves. But the point is that if I try the same puzzle a couple of days later I already forgot the solution. And I totally forget also the puzzle, meaning that I do not remember how to put the pieces in the initial position.

This it seems to me that I am wasting time, as I do not remember anything. I am really used to studying and learning (I do it for my job, as I am a mathematician working at university). I am really looking for method of learning.

At work, the best I can do is usually to write down stuff (theorems, proofs etc): the process of writing helps me in fixing stuff in my brain. Should I also write in chess? I am not totally used to notation (I know how to read it but I am slow and it takes me quite a lot). Could drawing diagrams be an idea? But how, is there any kind of software that could help me? I want to explicitly remark that I do not care about time, I mean it is not important to me to become a better chess player "in two weeks" (I have read tons of post on this website asking for that), I am just looking for an efficient way of learning.


6 Answers 6


There are a number of ways to study, the most efficient route isn't always the one most people can commit to though. It's best to do something you can sustain consistently for a long time.

Generally chess study can be broken up into sub categories.

You can solve puzzles. Generally tactics puzzles are best since they have an easy to understand answer, gaining material or checkmate for example. 303 chess tactics and 303 tricky checkmates both worked very well for me when I was weaker. There are also some sites with free tactics like chesstempo online. Repeatedly going through the books can be valuable but after 4-5 times it'll start having less efficiency in improving your game.

It's necessary to know some basic endgames and how to checkmate with only your king and a rook or a queen as a beginner, and deeper understanding of endgames will only improve your play. Silman's Complete Endgame Course is really all you'll need for endgame until a very high level and it's quite readable. There are probably some YouTube videos you could find for more advise about endgames if you wanted.

For openings there are lots of books, but they are way too high level and hard to understand for a beginner. It's better to search something like general opening principles on youtube. Once you've learned the general principles you can maybe look up a couple youtube videos on an opening your interested in. However I'll warn you opening study is the biggest trap in chess, efficiency wise. It's fun, you get positive feedback by playing games and recognizing what's going on the first few moves, but at max it will only get you a slightly better position than using general principles, and any particular variation doesn't have a high chance of coming up in your game. Even if you get the slightly better position you still have to play a strong middle game and endgame to win. Also other players will deviate from "theory" and then you can't use what you learned.

Middle game study, this can be broken down a bit into tactics and strategy, but the puzzles take care of the tactics. Fir strategy there are numerous books, but the one that worked the best for me was the Amateurs Mind by Jeremy Silman. It's not a perfect book but covers important concepts like maximizing your pieces, restricting your opponents, timing and gets a little bit into pawn structures. His thinking method isn't necessary but it can help until you nail down the knowledge into your subconcious. The best way to learn middle games is to study annotated master and grandmaster games. It's challenging though because they are hard to understand until you are a strong player. Still even if you don't understand seeing various piece maneuvers and the flow of the game will improve you. Also I'm sure there's a lot on YouTube about this.

Now as far as playing is concerned, I'd suggest one 10+ minute game a day. Probably lichess, chesstempo, or chess dot com would be the place to play, I'd recommend lichess. After your game look it over and think about where you went wrong and what you could have done better.

To get the very fastest improvement it's best to hire a coach, but that can be pricey.


Don't worry too much about forgetting the concrete positions of the puzzles. Most of the club players I know (myself included) cannot even correctly replay their own rated games just from memory on the next day (only with a lot of "wait, did he play this or this first? Hm, and this piece lands on that square at some point now...how did that happen again?"). This is after working for hours on these moves.

What matters is learning the underlying patterns behind the puzzles (either tactical motives or strategical plans). Unfortunately, learning them only comes from experience, read: A lot of repetition. You are at the start of that process, so it is natural that you still have trouble. Your method is the commonly recommended one though (besides playing a lot of practice games and analysing them afterwards, nothing can replace that!), so keep it up and after a while you will begin to see the fruits of your work. My former Logic professor used to tell us that (formal) logic is a lot like chess: The basic rules are deceptivly simple, but combining them efficiently requires a lot of experience. You have to train your "eye" over years of study.

If you are a "writer" learning type, it will definitely help to write things down (you will get used to the notation). Many patterns are deeply linked with specific moves or squares. If I merely write "Bxh7+", any advanced player reading it will immediately have an image popping up in his mind (almost like a Pavlovian dog - we can't suppress it). This specific move is linked to a classical sacrifice. The interesting thing is that this sacrifice is possible in various concrete positions, as long as certain conditions are met (obviously, the white bishop has to be able to take on h7, there has to be no black knight on f6 who defends h7, White's pieces, most importantly the queen, can quickly join the attack, Black's pieces can't interfere). Some similarities to mathematical proofs there.

Another thing that is very helpful is trying to join a local chess club (maybe your university has one?). Not only does that offer an opportunity for practice, but also, invaluably, a lot of instant feedback (I guess you know from you background how beneficial learning with a tutor can be).


What works for one person might not work for another, but still a few thoughts....

A beginner should focus on:

  1. not blundering pieces in one move
  2. not falling for simple tactics
  3. have a basic idea about general principles
  4. some simple mates such as king + rook vs king

Regarding "1", you should always stay alert on what pieces are attacked. In order not having to check the whole board after every move, you can go with an iterative approach, i.e. to note what changes the last move created to the situation of attacked pieces. Most of the time a move will only affect a tiny portion of the board. The moved piece will attack new squares from the destination square (but also stop attacking squares which it did from the original square). Also the move can open or close rows/columns/diagonals for other pieces. To give you an example, the first white move pawn from e2 to e4 will open diagonals for the white queen and bishop and also the pawn from e4 will attack squares on d5 and f5.

With a board full of pieces it might help you to visualize the attacked squares as some kind of "danger zones" or "fences" or something like that, particularly for rooks and bishops which create horizontal/vertical and diagonal "fences" respectively. This method is not only useful for quickly seeing attacked pieces but also when it comes to mating in order to see how to take away squares from the enemy king.

Regarding "2". Just about any chess site has tactics puzzles and some of the better ones (e.g. lichess) also do "spaced repetition" (showing you the same puzzle again after a while). When solving tactics puzzles it is very important to realize and undersand the tactical motif (or motives) that is (are) involved. For a beginner, I find the tactics section on chesstempo.com particularly useful, because after you solve (or fail to solve) a puzzle it will show you the tactical motives for this puzzle as "tags". You can then try to find them back in the solution. Also, it can be useful if you remove all the unnecessary pieces from the problem, so that you are left with the essence of the tactic, which is easier to remember, because you know what to look out for.

Regarding "3": Occupy the center, develop pieces, don't waste time moving pieces twice (unless you have to), castle, improve piece activity... This is more about self-discipline than learning things (at least at the beginner level).

Regarding "4": This you should be able to find in books. As with the tactics, you should not learn the actual moves by heart, but rather the pattern. For instance for the King+Rook vs King endgame you should remember that the idea is that the rook creates some kind of "fence" horizontally and vertically which the enemy king cannot cross. With the help of your own king you can make the area that the opponent king has available smaller and smaller. see this

And the best would be to have a stronger player look at your games and point out things that should be improved.


There are some thoughts that are well expressed by Annatar that I would like to expand on a little.

Chess players use the term "sight of the board" as in "he/she has a quick sight of the board" to describe someone who can take in at a single glance which pieces are attacked, what pawns are blocked, what forks and skewers are looming. Acquiring a quick sight of the board may be the most valuable advance that a beginner can make.

It is widely held that the route to this is the art of "Chunking", a term used by psychologists for increasing memory or processing by organising the available information into "chunks" of related stuff. That Knight seems to protect my Pawn but it is pinned by his Bishop. The Knight,Pawn and Bishop and whatever the Knight is pinned against form a chunk, and instead of remembering where they each stand, you remember their relationship. I think this is something that you could practice, while playing as well as when studying. It is a separate game of "Spot the chunks". Eventually the chunks should get bigger, but never too big.

P.S.An empty square can be part of a chunk!


The number one best way to study chess is to play chess. This is particularly true for beginners.

Join a club if you haven't already done so and go down there regularly and just play games, friendly or otherwise, against other human beings.


You can only learn better chess from a teacher. The better the teacher, the faster you will learn. Nowadays, the strongest(and freely available at that) chess tutor is Stockfish, so just install some chess software, install Stockfish, and start playing/analysing games with it, while looking at its output. This will allow you to understand which moves are good and bad, and why some moves are to be avoided. Take as many moves back as you wish, check different lines, this will only be of use.

Second good thing to do is to browse master games, browse as many as possible. Of course, don't study the games of weaker players, they will only teach you bad/imperfect moves.

But before all, you should learn chess notation, no way around this.

There is no way to magically master the game in a few weeks, but you can significantly shorten the learning time by referring to stronger/more experienced tutors.

  • "The strongest chess tutor is Stockfish", "Don't study the games of weaker players, they will only teach you bad moves" -- I wish I could give a -10 for these 2 sentences. But unfortunately, i need more reputation to downvote. Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 10:26

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