Monday, December 18

How To Learn Chess

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How to get better at chess:

It finally happened to you … you were playing a fun game of chess and you lost, and you played again, and you lost again, the third game was also a loss.  Perhaps it was in a school   tournament, perhaps these were casual games in a coffee shop, maybe your friends were watching and you felt humiliated.   The local chess bully kicked intellectual sand in your face, and now you are looking for the mental equivalent of Charles Atlas.  That is the purpose of this article.  At some point … if you are lucky … you’ll realize that you must actually study the game in order to win.  If /When that happens you start the journey from casual player toward serious chess player.  

The first advice you’ll get is something along the lines of “… practice makes perfect”.  It isn’t bad advice, because sure enough once you start playing more games you will improve.  It can’t last though, playing a lot of chess will help, but it is possible (even likely) that you are winning in spite of poor chess ideas.  In effect you are improving some chess skills without improving others.  There are documented cases of chess masters who’ve had flawed tactical skills, but were able to win because of their other superior abilities.  Proper chess study allows the player to “unlearn” bad habits, as well as improve in other areas.

We are so fortunate to be living in the information age!  Learning about chess has always utilized the latest technology.  It has been that way ever sense the 1400’s when the first chess book was published using movable type.  After the Bible one of the first books to be printed was about chess.  The first book to be reprinted in English was a chess book.  In the early part of  the twentieth century World Chess Champion Capablanca used the radio to broadcast his chess lectures.  Now we have computers, and it follows that in the 1960’s mainframe computers were developed to play chess.  Chess and computers go together so well that learning chess using computer technology is now common place – more on that later.  

I am old school … I like to use a book to learn complex, new ideas.  So lets talk about chess books.  I wish I could say “ … the best chess book is (blank)”. Alas such a pronouncement   can’t be done; as mentioned before, the chess books have been being written for the last 600 years.  No one has read all the books and when it comes to best … that obviously is a subjective call.  There are a lot of very good chess books out there, my favorite is called “My System” by Aaron Nimzovitch.  This book is well respected for explaining the basic concepts of chess in an easy to understand and remember manner.

After reading any of these books one should have an understanding of chess notation, that is how chess games can be written in such a way as to reproduce games.  This allows chess games to be studied, not just the great games of the past, but also one’s own games.  A big  part of chess is learning from one’s own mistakes.  The beginning player should understand the three phases of a chess game:  The opening and its unique principles, the middle game, and the end games with their unique principles.  The working knowledge of these aspects of the game, are the fundamental building blocks of understanding chess theory.

Chess is ultimately a human endeavor, that is to say in its purist form it consists of human beings playing against other human beings.  Chess is best taught in a teacher/student relationship.  If you look at chess players, there are prodigies who simply “have the gift” but most players learn from other players.  Observing games, reading books, and often times having a mentor are the preferred ways of learning chess even at the highest levels.

Lastly, the role of computers in chess can be summed up in three ways:

1.  Computers make great sparing partners.  The best chess programs can be set to different levels of play, and even different styles of play.  Believe it or not, in the old days it could be difficult to find an opponent, now excellent chess play is as close as the nearest digital device.
2.  Computers allow us to organize and access vast amounts of chess data.  Consider a list of 500,000 grand master chess games (many with annotations and analysis) that can be a viewed in any order or according to any criteria, this is a powerful aide to study.
3.  Computers can facilitate play over distance.  With the growth of the Internet it is a simple matter to play chess with people in far away places.

End of article, time for review … play more games, get some tips from other players, read a good chess book or two and use your computer to get better.  Given a few weeks of  work and that chess bully had best watch out for you.


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