So, I am returning to chess after not playing for about 10 years. I learned the basic rules when I was in elementary school and then didn't play for a while. I am starting to get back into chess and am wondering where I should start.

Just for reference here is what I know:

  • How to set up the board

  • How the pieces move

  • How Castling works

  • How Check/Checkmate works

  • Other basic rules needed to play at a beginner level


I've been a "life-long beginner" - my USCF rating hovered around 900 for years and years, and just playing OTB chess wasn't helping to improve my ability because I was losing almost every game, for years (though usually against players rated much higher than me, so it didn't affect my rating much). It was a long time before I made even a minimal plan to actually improve - so my situation is/was not totally different from yours. I can't tell you what's best for you. What I can tell you is what worked for me:

  • Watching chess classes on YouTube. The Saint Louis Chess Club has some amazing classes on YouTube. There was a series of classes called "Beginner Breakdown" that was incredibly helpful for me. It mainly consists of looking at novice level games - games that have situations that you or I could conceivably get into - and seeing what mistakes were made (and what should have been done instead). GM Ben Finegold also did a series of kids' classes while he was a GM In Residence at the Club, I found those extremely helpful as well, for the same reasons. And both of these series are actually entertaining as well as informative, so they kept me engaged very effectively. Don't feel funny about consuming instructional materials aimed at kids. It's about level of chess ability, not age (and I know many of the kids that were in these classes when they were recorded were probably rated higher I was). I can also tell you that the chess instructional videos on YouTube that are the least effective for me are the ones where the "video" is just a screencast of playing through games using Chessbase or something, with an unseen narrator describing the game.
  • Tactics, tactics, tactics... Find novice to intermediate level tactics problems and work them. A lot of them. On a daily basis. I worked through all of the problems in the "Tactics Time" books by Tim Brennan and Anthea Carson. These books were great because they are tactics studies from novice to intermediate level games. They are not studies from grandmaster games where you have to calculate ahead 6 or 8 moves to see the solution, they're problems from games played by people at "our level", and situations like what we might face - and they're solvable by people at our level of ability. Going through these books is even easier and more convenient if you get the Kindle versions, and you can work through a couple of problems at a time while waiting in line at the store, riding on the train, or whatever. Also, the Lichess site / app is a fabulous never-ending source of tactics studies, and I also find that they're easily consumable by novice to intermediate level players, and with the app on a mobile phone you can do a couple of studies at a time, anywhere you happen to be.

This was (and still is) really my whole study plan. Just doing these two things (and playing OTB chess in tournaments when I have the chance), I (finally!) was able to pull my USCF rating up by about 200 points in the space of a year or so, and my "Training" rating on Lichess is now over 1700 (though how that might correspond to actual play - if it even corresponds at all - is difficult to say).

  • 1
    But please beware of what YouTube content you see! Some of it is very helpful, but other will do more harm than good for your game – David Nov 7 '19 at 8:13

First, you need to get some experience. Go to a chess club if you can and if not, go play some games on the Internet. For your first games, I'd suggest you to play only with what you know right now.

After every game, review it and think about what you could have done better (by yourself, not with engine assistance) Later on, it won't be necessary to review every single game, as you'll be able to identify which ones are the most interesting.

You'll soon realize that you will be losing a lot of games because of tactical blunders (missing a mate combination, hanging a piece...) You can work on that by training tactics. 15 minutes a day solving tactical puzzles will have a big impact a few months down the line. Tthere are plenty of books and sites you can use as a source for those. Tactics will also give you a good grasp on what role piece activity plays in chess (you'll only have favourable tactics in your games if you place your pieces in active squares)

Once you can play a good amount of games without losing/missing a winning chance very time because of a blunder, it will be worth it to start thinking about more "advanced" topics like opening theory, endgames, pawn structures...

And of course if you can afford a professional coach, that always helps!


Just for reference here is what I know:

  • How to set up the board

  • How the pieces move

  • How Castling works

  • How Check/Checkmate works

  • Other basic rules needed to play at a beginner level

That's a good start. The next thing you need to know is how to win a won game. That starts with learning the basic checkmates. So you need to learn how to checkmate with

  • King+2 Rooks v King
  • King+Rook v King
  • King+Queen v King
  • King+2 Bishops v King

KQ v K can be tricky because of stalemate possibilities. Make sure you bear this in mind. Practice these until you can do them almost without thinking. It's nice to know that if you reach one of these positions in a blitz game with just 5 seconds on the clock that the point is in the bag.

Next up in learning how to win won games is playing king and pawn endgames. You will need to learn about the opposition and how to force a pawn through to queening. Start with just king+1 pawn v king. Sometimes it is a win, sometimes it is a draw. Find out when it is a draw and learn how to win the positions when it is a win.

The big advantage in learning in this order is that earlier in the game when when it is more complicated you know what you are aiming for and you know that if you can get there then you can win.


You don't mention whether you prefer studying chess with books or at the computer, so I'll toss a couple of ideas at you for both.

Books Russia Chess House has some good beginning tactics books (Chess School 1a and 1b) with a thousand or so basic positions, showing some elementary checkmates and basic tactics. They make a pretty good starting out resource, if you can find them. Then there's C.J.S. Purdy's Guide To Good Chess which can help fill in the instruction gaps (the Chess School books have no text, just positions to solve).

Computer I haven't seen CT-Art For Beginners, but everything I've seen about CT-Art tells me it's probably good. There's a couple of other basic tactic trainers out there to work with as well, for example Chess Tactics For Beginners. I like that series (Originally from Convekta, most of the time these days I see them coming from Chess King) because they run in several modes (a Learning mode that is typically divided into "Theory" and "Practice" and a "Testing" mode where they give you pretty much nothing except the position and who is to move) so you can work through the app on different levels of detail; as your strength improves, you can move up, or drop back down if you need some extra help in certain areas. On iOS, at least, the app itself is free, and it has 10%-20% of the positions in it unlocked. Once you decide this works for you, you can unlock the entire app for typically $5-10.

Play against other players, and try to play against folks a little better than you. (Most humans don't have the patience to play a lot and never win, so it helps if they're just a little better than you, not grandmaster level.

As your skill progresses you can move up to harder tactical puzzle books or to CT-Art (the main app can find hard enough puzzles to make a master sweat). Keep track of how you're losing games. Do you overlook opponent's tactical chances? Work a little more on tactics. Are you confused about what to do in certain positions? Look in online databases for other games in those positions and see what others have played.

One bit of advice I got a long time ago was to pick two players, one from the past and one playing today, and simply play through a few games of theirs every day. When you start out, don't spend a lot of time analysing them. Just play through them like a watching a movie. Eventually you'll notice you are thinking a little about the positions. What you're doing there is essentially loading your brain with chess patterns played by those grandmasters; creating "landmarks" in unfamiliar territory that your brain will start to use to find its way through it.

Revisit those games as you improve, and this time you'll be thinking a little more about the positions, because your brain has already started to connect the patterns together. Each time you revisit them, dig a little deeper into them, as you improve you'll be better able to spot the why's of a move. That approach helps keep you from being discouraged. Back when I was a novice, I didn't know how to begin analysing a GM game; had no idea what was going on. But as I played over more and more games, I started to connect the ideas, and I could start reasoning. First it was "this is a typical move in this position" and then it became "this move keeps white from occupying an outpost" and so on. By not demanding too much at the start, it was easier for me to stay interested.

Certain ideas and positions will catch your fancy; don't be afraid to depart from your planned study and follow them. They're indicators of the kind of chess you like to play, the beginning shape of your own style. Just as no one plays like Nakamura except Nakamura, no one will play like you, except you. Follow and see where it leads you.

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