12

I’m struggling with chess after about six weeks of proper learning, i.e. strategy other than how the pieces move. I get this is a short time.

I’m working hard to try and learn, and joined a chess club about a month ago. So far I’ve won zero games. The OTB ratings range is 1,300-2,100. These things are often over in about 10-15 minutes, and I don’t feel like I’m learning anything other than being bad. It’s not competitive for the other players either, and they are being patient with me. I’m known as the one who gives up his pieces, and I’m clearly the worst player at the club.

The leader of the club (1,700-1,800) also plays constant daily games with me, where I’m shown stuff about openings, little bits of strategy, etc. This isn’t exactly what I think I need to improve right now, but it’s exposure to chess so I’m grateful for the knowledge.

My main issue is undefended and hanging pieces, and making the wrong move. It’s constant and frustrating – especially when I’m working and taking the time to assess my options. I always seem to miss the exact move that stitches up my entire game – even similar rated players turn into Grandmasters when I blunder or miss something. It feels like I’m getting battered for no benefit. Everything is reinforcing that I’m a bad player, calculating suboptimal moves, then playing the bad ones.

I’ve asked how I can improve hanging and losing pieces, but I’m told you can’t teach it. This sounds like a, “You either have it or you don’t” answer, which doesn't seem correct.

As such, I’m trying to do work on my own to cure this, but it’s not working, and I’m still making the same errors. Here’s what I’m doing to get better:

  1. I’ve watched the IM John Bartholomew video on undefended pieces and try to implement the advice.
  2. I’ve also enjoyed WFM Anna Cramling’s video on the subject too.
  3. I do Aimchess tasks every day, especially the Blunder Preventer.
  4. I was doing puzzles, but I do less per day now as I want to focus on not losing pieces before I look for opportunities. I'm more refined with how many puzzles I do, rather than skip them entirely.
  5. IM Jeremy Silman’s popular post on chess.com is a good touchpoint for what I should focus on at my level.
  6. I study much more than I play, because I find games aren’t helpful for me given that I chuck all my pieces away.
  7. I’ve just bought the book, Am I Safe? (I think) by NM Dan Heismann, but decided that I needed more fundamental help before I tackle the book’s content.
  8. I use the Loose-Piece-O-Tron to try and drill myself on spotting loose pieces.
  9. I’m using the forcing moves method for every turn, but this often shows up my poor decision making rather than provides clarity.
  10. I do analyse my rated games, but at this stage, the OTB and Daily games I play involve constant discussion and analysis.
  11. Probably some other stuff I’ve forgot about 😅😅😅

Here are my questions:

  1. Is chess club right: Can you teach this, and if not, does it mean I won’t be able to become a good chess player?
  2. Also, what else can I do to improve on this area that I'm not already doing, as it’s a massive bottleneck?

I want to start learning properly about tactics rather than have working knowledge, and I have books to help (such as Chess Tactics for Students). However, the advice I read is to solve the issue of undefended pieces before I move on.

I understand almost all of the other chess concepts I look at, so getting rid of this issue is getting me down and making chess not fun. I’m not enjoying getting blitzed every time without benefit.

Edit: Here’s an example of my play. This is the position with black (me) to play. I’m learning a little about the French Defence:

I feel like a knight move is appropriate here. You have a king-bishop threat, a potential queen pin along the diagonal down the kingside, and an undefended pawn.

Nf6 is wrong to me. Ne7 doesn’t do too much. Nd7 blocks the potential bishop attack but attacks a pawn. Nc6 seems better as it forks two pawns, offers greater development, and blocks the king-bishop diagonal.

From there, 7. Qg4:

I can play Ne7 or g6 here. I chose g6 because otherwise I’m down a Rook and pawn. However, apparently Ne7 is better, and I don’t understand why.

My logic seems okay for both moves, but after white’s Bg5 follow-up, I’m scrabbling to reposition a queen.

I said in the chat that although it’s not the case, I feel hoodwinked in a way.

Also, I don’t want a solution here, or move suggestions as this is an active game – thanks!

9
  • 11
    Just to put things in perspective: 1300-rated players will crush basically any novice player with ease in 99% of cases. Chess is a difficult game, and you should probably temper your expectations a bit. Baby steps is the name of the game, don't fret too much if progress seems slow.
    – Scounged
    May 15, 2023 at 2:56
  • 2
    @Scounged yes, the lowest rated player at the club is 1,300 and change. I have so far put up a fight, but my play deteriorates as the match goes on. It feels like the first boss of a game, but I’m the whipping boy first tutorial opponent 😅
    – tomdot
    May 15, 2023 at 8:13
  • 2
    Well known openings have been studied for decades if not centuries and it can be hard to see, why it's a better move, without looking many moves ahead. I suppose there are many tutorials on YouTube that explain this opening and why a move is preferred over another one. Also don't forget, computers only consider moves better if everyone plays perfectly. It can sometimes be better, to play a "worse" but more tricky line against a human player, because they might not find the proper response. May 15, 2023 at 12:09
  • 2
    The Winawer French (which is the opening you've given above as an example) is very tricky. Personally, I would not recommend it to a beginner.
    – Scounged
    May 15, 2023 at 12:26
  • 3
    Mild tangent: I would say that things like "defend your pieces better" can be learned, but can't really be taught. It's a skill that nobody starts with, and everybody picks up as they practice. However, there's not much knowledge that people can actively teach you beyond how the pieces move. When they say "you can’t teach it," I don't think they're saying "you don't have the talent and therefore you will always be bad at chess," they're just saying "there's no way for us to teach it to you, you just need to practice more and think more about your moves." May 15, 2023 at 21:43

5 Answers 5

8

It seems like you're having problems with underdeveloped board vision. This is typical for beginners and it takes some time to improve, especially if you're beginning as an adult. But it can definitely be done, even though it requires patience and effort.

If you're up for it, consider implementing the following check-list (or something similar) in your games:

At every move, you make sure to note every single legal move that you can make. Then you imagine that it's your opponent's move, and note every single legal move that they can make. Finally, after all of this, you can start asking some questions that may help in guiding your decision on what to play, such as

  • Is there a piece that is currently under attack?
  • Can I take that piece, or is it my own piece that is under attack?
  • What happens if the piece is taken, can it be recaptured somehow?
  • Do I want this capture to happen, or do I not want this capture to happen?
  • Are there squares which I should avoid moving my pieces to?
  • Are there any squares that my opponent should avoid moving their pieces to?

The above takes a lot of time in-game, and will not help you win games straight away. Moreover, the questions given are very basic and will not always help you find the correct move in any position. At the same time, the above is what every player in your club is doing (to some extent) subconsciously, and it is why they beat you consistently: they are so used to playing chess that they will be able to see these things really fast without even having to think about it; it's become second-nature to them. This also explains why some people in your club seem to think that either you have it or you don't. They've simply forgotten that there was a time in their lives where they couldn't do it as easily as they are now!

One could also think of the above as a first way to practice tactics. Tactics are simply put concrete variations of an arbitrary length, and this would then be asking you to spot all (primitive) one-move tactics in a given position. The hope is of course that eventually you will be able to do this without having to put in very much mental effort, but as I stated before, progress takes time and effort.

I briefly looked at some of the links that you provided, and although some of them seem helpful there were a few that seemed to place an emphasis on the wrong things in my opinion. For instance, the loose-piece-o-tron was definitely more concerned with whether a piece was undefended rather than actually being attacked by something. While it is generally helpful to see undefended pieces, I'd say it is more important to be able to see whether a piece is attacked or not in your current situation. After all, it doesn't really matter whether my queen is "defended or not" if it's being threatened by an enemy pawn!

EDIT: After seeing the comments, I've started looking into good resources for beginners that can help with board vision. In all honesty, "board vision" and "tactics" are concepts that are very closely related, and you will probably find that many tips for improving your tactics will help with your board vision as well.

After a brief search online I found the following that may be interesting to check out.

  • Chess Strategy Online - Novice Tutorials Here you will find a bit more in-depth discussion of what I mentioned in this post, especially the tutorial about developing a danger sense. Look through the examples and see whether they are similar to the ways in which you tend to lose pieces in your own games.
  • Blog about Chess Tactics Here you will find a discussion on how to improve your tactics, with some interesting examples and advice. Although the tactics in this blog may feel a bit too advanced for you at the moment, I don't think it's harmful to check out what's on the horizon. After all, it's things like this that make chess such a fun game.

You also mentioned in the comments that you feel pressured to play quicker at the club. This is a good observation, and especially in 10-15 minute games you will simply not have time to go through the checklist I suggested in this post anyway, as it will simply make you lose every game on time.

But if you have the opportunity to play more instructive games with someone, don't feel too bad for taking your time, especially if everyone involved is on the same page. Another thing that can be good to try is to play a very casual kind of game against a willing player in your club, where both of you "think out loud". Depending on your "opponent"/"partner" this can be very valuable, as they can give you some feedback on the way you approach a given position, as well as give you some insights into what they're thinking about while playing.

In general, I'd say that the main purpose of a chess club is not necessarily just to play chess, but rather building a small community of like-minded individuals who all enjoy chess in some way. So it can include many different aspects of chess, and really depends on the people there. Of course, a club should not neglect the vast majority of its members just to teach one player how to improve, but I think most players in your club are happy to help new players out every now and then.

7
  • Do you have any recommendations such as Chessable courses or books to help improve my vision that might be better than my current go-tos from the list?
    – tomdot
    May 15, 2023 at 8:17
  • I also feel a bit pressured OTB to give people a faster, competitive game. After all, the club is to play chess, not necessarily teach me as a priority. I suspect that’s the wrong way to think, but it still creeps in. I may ask upfront whether anyone would prefer a longer, instructive game to filter out the (albeit small) numbers.
    – tomdot
    May 15, 2023 at 8:20
  • @tomdot Hmm, it's been a while since I was a beginner myself and I have yet to look at more modern teaching resources aimed at beginners. I'll see if I can find something that's worth checking out (probably mainly going to focus on free online resources for now...)
    – Scounged
    May 15, 2023 at 11:17
  • Thanks for the additions. They’re helpful. The club is welcoming, and almost every game – even between the best members – is always talking out loud. It’s a helpful club, but it’s not an academy. They’re not there to teach me. They have league matches to prepare for etc.
    – tomdot
    May 15, 2023 at 13:11
  • 1
    @tomdot I'm not completely sure if I'm following which two moves we are talking about here, but if it's the Winawer game you posted then the reasoning is fine.
    – Scounged
    May 15, 2023 at 13:29
7
  1. Is chess club right: Can you teach this, and if not, does it mean I won’t be able to become a good chess player?

Everyone can improve. Any aspect of chess can be taught.

  1. Also, what else can I do to improve on this area that I'm not already doing, as it’s a massive bottleneck?

Do what you enjoy as this is a key to staying motivated for training.

  • It is no fun to lose every game, try to find folks more at your level to play with, if they are not at your club then try online. It is often easier to see your opponent dropping pieces than your own.
  • I suggest focus on tactics puzzles if you like them.
  • Give it time. I find it takes me about 6 months for study to lead to better game results. Sometimes I get worse at first as I try things I do not understand.
3
  • 1
    Thanks for the answer. Hopefully I get some other viewpoints to consider too! Just to clarify: I do enjoy the things I’ve listed somewhat, but am mindful of doing too much too soon. Tactics is the next logical step though. Also, while there’s nobody at chess club at my level, I do lose online too. My Rapid rating is very low, which is what prompted me to join the club.
    – tomdot
    May 14, 2023 at 16:12
  • 2
    @tomdot Of course you lose online. So does everyone. One of the lovely things about online play is that the audience is much vaster, and the rating systems will, given time, find you peers to play against who are your level. If you are losing more than you are winning, you haven't found your level yet. And once you improve, you'll briefly start winning more than you lose, until the algorithm adjusts and finds you stronger players to equalize your winrate to 50% again. The point is the improvement, not the winrate.
    – amalloy
    May 15, 2023 at 3:42
  • @amalloy My winrate is laughably bad, as is my chess.com rating. There aren’t many more people underneath me, which is why I joined a chess club. I do see improvement, but not in the areas that matter most.
    – tomdot
    May 15, 2023 at 8:15
5

You say you can't spot when you hang a piece. I guess the first obvious question is can you spot when your opponent hangs a piece? If not, then you probably should take up a different game.

However if you do spot your opponent's blunders then you can go a long way to fixing your problem with hanging pieces by making the first significant breakthrough that beginners experience. That is to realise that your opponent is an intelligent human being who is allowed to make good moves. Furthermore, every time you make a move your opponent gets to make a move too.

With that in mind, every time you decide on your move don't actually make it on the board. Instead make it in your mind and mentally flip the board and pretend to be your opponent. Try and work out what you would do in that position. As your opponent, ask yourself did my opponent (i.e. you in real life) just hang a piece? Only when you have made this check should you make the move on the board.

This basic sanity check can save you a lot of mistakes and free you from the first basic mistake beginners make, that of playing "hope chess", which is making a tempting looking move hoping your opponent will blunder. Instead always assume your opponent will find the best move.

1
  • 2
    I can spot opponent’s hanging pieces! One of my issues is that I can spot almost my own too, apart from the one they take full advantage of.
    – tomdot
    May 14, 2023 at 19:02
4

Chess courses can only teach you things but they can not learn things for you. There is no magical solution but the old boring "practice practice practice".

If you don't "want to be a burden" to OTB players, I suggest playing against a chess computer with no time limit. You can take all the time you want and even take back your moves to find better alternatives. There is little value in playing a game and getting destroyed. You need to be able to correct your mistakes and find a move when you blundered. Lichess for example, offers you an analysis after the game, with the option to "correct your mistakes", i.e. finding a better move when you made a mistake or blundered (and it's free).

Stockfish around level 3-5 should be a good starting point. Your goal should not be to win, because that's not how you will learn most. Set a different goal, for example:

  • this game I will not miss an opponent attacking one of my pieces
  • this game I will not oversee that an opponent's piece is covered
  • this game I will not miss an opponent's undefended piece
  • this game I will not miss I'm hanging mate

...

Focus only on one thing at a time. Devote your whole attention to it and if something else happens, don't get made, because that's okay, you were not working on that aspect and it's okay to lose, because even Stockfish on level 3-5 can be hard. (Don't set it too low, because it will just blunder constantly. It might be a nice experience to win against the computer on level 1 or 2, but little to none real world value).

The hard part about chess is then simply "doing all those things at the same time", but alas, even grandmasters keep blundering, so don't try to be holier than the pope.

1
  • Thanks. I’m going in with goals in the way you said. This particular game, I wanted to think through my ideas and incorporate the fine advice from here too. It just seems as though despite the thinking and work, I choose the worst moves that also have the most logic attached. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.
    – tomdot
    May 15, 2023 at 13:14
2

If you are serious about rapid improvement consider hiring a chess coach.

  • A good coach should be able to offer a more personalized approach to learning that would help you past the current flaws in your play.
  • A local coach might have more knowledge on places to play more suited to your skill level.

A more polarizing resource is the How to Lose at Chess series by GothamChess. Gotham does surprisingly deep analysis of lower rated games and the flaws in the way these players approach the game. I say polarizing because these videos are done in an entertainment oriented style and might not be helpful or enjoyable for everyone.

I recommend these videos because I think you might actually be focusing too much on not blundering pieces. For example, even a very basic exploration of beginner openings might help you avoid common traps that you might be misidentifying as a blundered piece. Another example, learning a little about simple tactics like pins and forks might allow you to win back a blundered piece and overcome a mistake.

Playing to win vs. playing not to lose is a common issue. While blundering a piece will certainly hurt your chances of winning, don't forget that you could blunder 14 pieces in a row and still win if you find checkmate with the two you have left.

1
  • I watched GothamChess' playlist, and didn't appreciate the veiled, "This sucks!" commentary throughout. I didn't feel as though it was instructive as it sounded, and came across as sarcastic. I'm ~300 rated on chess.com, and I have solid opening principle fundamentals, for instance. These videos felt more like a, "Why are these people even trying" vibe. It actually made me not want to play chess, which for a GM, might not be the presentation you want to give.
    – tomdot
    May 17, 2023 at 10:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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