Learning Chess
April 22, 2004 6:47 AM   Subscribe

I just finished reading "The Queen's Gambit" by Walter Tevis (great novel!). It made me want to learn chess. I already understand how all the pieces move, but I'm lost when it come to chess strategy. What's a good beginner's guide that will help me learn to think like a chess player?
posted by grumblebee to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Chess for Dummies. It's actually a really good introduction to chess.
posted by ursus_comiter at 6:51 AM on April 22, 2004

I'd recommend you check out the archives of Dan Heisman's column at The Chess Cafe. Very fine instructional material. Chess For Dummies has a good reputation, and should get you up to speed on notation, etc. which you will need to know. It's easy, little kids learn it. I see that Heseiman is also contributing to Jeremy Silman's chess site. All of Silman's books are excellent - he emphasizes a thought process for evaluating positions and planning in a logical way.

I could go on, but I need to get to work. - I'll try to add more later.
posted by crunchburger at 7:03 AM on April 22, 2004 [1 favorite]

Although I haven't read it myself, Everyone's Second Chess Book (by the aforementioned Heisman) is well-regarded.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:19 AM on April 22, 2004

My favorite (chess) book of late is 'Modern Chess Strategy' by Edward Lasker. It's pretty damned good, and starts at the absolute beginning, with how the pieces move, and has a much better breakdown of certain topics than I've typically seen in 'beginner' type books.
posted by kaibutsu at 7:30 AM on April 22, 2004 [1 favorite]

As a kid I taught myself how to play (after reading Through the Looking Glass and not knowing why the hell Alice wanted to get to the eighth rank, etc.) with one of Bruce Pandolfini's books.
posted by mookieproof at 7:39 AM on April 22, 2004

I recommend Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess - it's full of instruction and strategy along with puzzles that get you thinking about how to use the strategy.
posted by TuxHeDoh at 8:12 AM on April 22, 2004 [1 favorite]

I just want to say WORD UP! to The Queens Gambit. It seems so clear what an awesome movie that would make.
posted by darkpony at 8:14 AM on April 22, 2004 [1 favorite]

Ten Tips To Winning Chess should be your first read, since it's pretty basic and available on-line.

I've been slowly working my way through Logical Chess, Move By Move, which I like because he explains the reason for EVERY move in the included games. Most chess books lose me because they make several moves and assume you know the reasons behind them.

Not everyone will agree with me, but avoid playing against computers and random people on Yahoo or itsyourturn.com. Computers play differently than real people. Although games like Chessmaster and Fritz can be used as good training tools if you know how to use them, I find they just frustrate me more than anything. Playing strangers on-line is hit or miss since people can cheat pretty easily by using a strong chess engine to help them select their moves.

If you must play on-line, find some like-minded people who are in interested in discussing the games and playing more than 1. e4 e5 2. Qh5!! all the time.

If there's a club near you, join it. I play every Tuesday night at a local club and I love it. Plus, playing on a "real" board beats looking at a screen any day. Sure, I often get my ass kicked by 12 year-old kids, but every now and then it's nice to win a well-played game. We usually review the games afterwards and it's amazing what you learn when you go over a game.

Speaking of which, get into the habit of writing down your moves. A program like Winboard (or Xboard) is great for reviewing games.

The main thing is time. I've been playing for about six months and it amazes me how little I know.

Oh, and go rent Searching for Bobby Fischer for some inspiration and proof that chess isn't the slow-paced boring game it's made out to be.

If you want to play on-line with someone who is also learning, my itsyourturn.com username is "jmerullo".
posted by bondcliff at 8:27 AM on April 22, 2004 [1 favorite]

1.) Get a Winboard or GNUchess (or whatever) program that can load and play PGN files of pre-played games so that you can study them at your leisure. Keep asking yourself why a particular player made a particular move. How would you have responded?

2.) Get a good book on Paul Morphy. Then play and study the games (you can find all of'em online in PGN format). Other earlier favorites are Capablanca and Alekhine. Caveat: Don't even expect to pull off Morphy's brilliancies on other good modern players. You won't. They're familiar with him too and have had decades to analyze, avoid and neutralize his free-wheeling gambiteer style of play. The value in studying Morphy is that there are few players who illustrate all the key principles of good chess strategy as succinctly and eloquently as Morphy does. These principles (rapid mobilization, discovered atacks, exploiting weak pawn structures, etc, etc.) are still valid today and will provide a solid foundation as you go on to more contemporary players.

3.) Best piece of overall advice I ever got: Concentrate on the ENDGAME. What's the straegy for cornering a King if you only have a rook? Can you mate if you only have a knight and a bishop? Better find out. A strong endgame player has a distinct advantage over someone obsessed with mastering every nuance of every arcane opening in the book (and that describes alot of players). If you force such a player to trade down to a couple of pieces apiece, there's a good chance you'll throw a monkey wrench into his carefully laid plans and eat his lunch. This is the approach used by a legion of chess hustlers you see in the parks, but you can only pull it off if you know what you're capable of with just a few pieces.

4.) Find one of those chess puzzled books that shows you a position and challenges you to find mate in one, two or three moves. These will sharpen your eye faster than most any other method I can think of.

5.) Don't get obsessed with openings, but it's not a bad idea to pick a couple you like and study the heck out of them. I tend to prefer non-commital openings (especially for Black) that give me the widest latitude. I'll do a Pirc-Robatsch (or a Colle opening, if I'm White) to fortify my position, content to sit back and hope that my opponent will get over anxious and overextend himself early on. Equalize and make them come after you. Chess almost always boils down to who steps on their dick first.

6.) I personally loved Irving Chernev's book "One Thousand Best Short Games of Chess". Each game was a gem that sharply illustrated some single important concept in chess.
posted by RavinDave at 8:35 AM on April 22, 2004 [3 favorites]

I don't play chess that frequently, so take my recommendation with a grain of salt. When I was, oh, 11 years old I went to a summer camp with this kid who always beat me at chess. Like you, I knew the moves and not much else. Then he lent me this book, and two weeks later I could hold my own against him.

So check out 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate by Fred Reinfeld. One spotlit Amazon review called it "Important and indispensable." Warning: the answers are in "antiquated descriptive notation."

On preview: this book would work for step 4 of RavinDave's directions.
posted by jbrjake at 8:54 AM on April 22, 2004 [1 favorite]

If you can (or want to) get only one book, get the Mammoth Book of Chess, which has a bit of everything: sound strategy, helpful exercises, challenging puzzles, history, "great games," etc. At $10-$15, it's easily the most bang for your buck, so to speak.
posted by arco at 8:59 AM on April 22, 2004 [1 favorite]

99% of chess is tactics, they say. You'll get the biggest bang for your buck by first learning about all of the tactical patterns: pins, skewers, forks, etc. There are any number of books which will teach you this. I learned from some really old British book with the old descriptive notation. You can then learn the general ideas behind the openings (and I mean general, like "control the center, develop your pieces, and castle") and some basic mating patterns. Later, you can work on endgame and middlegame. If you choose to study openings, study some that fit your natural talents and interests rather than the latest flavor.

I also recommend The Free Internet Chess Server with winboard for practicing if you don't have any real-life opponents handy. You can play slow or fast there and get a rating. Most people will warn you off very fast chess, btw, but I found it a handy way to complement the slow chess since it's fun and you get to see a lot of patterns. I also used to play fast against chessmaster to work on my openings -- it's pretty easy to realize what you're doing wrong when you get creamed in the same way in the opening every time.

Make sure you're having fun, or why bother?
posted by callmejay at 9:24 AM on April 22, 2004

the Bobby Fischer book is the best, really.

it'd also be cool if you could find somebody who's better than you to play against -- just write down the moves and after the game ask him/her to explain how did he/she kick your ass and where your fatal mistake was
posted by matteo at 11:30 AM on April 22, 2004

Has anybody read the new Bobby Fischer book about his matches vs. Spassky at the height of the Cold War? I'd like to hear a review if anyone has - it looks like a great read.
posted by vito90 at 1:10 PM on April 22, 2004

I really like the books written by Lev Alburt. Since you already know the moves, I'd recommend volume 2 of his Comprehensive Chess Course which will give you a solid basic foundation.
posted by gyc at 2:42 PM on April 22, 2004

vito90: There's a review in the New Yorker here.
posted by kenko at 3:56 PM on April 24, 2004

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