Preliminary Steps: Theory

The other side of improvement is theory. Theory consists of inputting information from external sources to improve your chess knowledge or capabilities. This can be reading books, taking lessons, watching videos, doing problems on software, etc.

At the start, the key to theory is to concentrate on the “Big Five”. We are referring to the five major things a “beginning” chess player needs to learn well in order to play at a strong intermediate (1700-2000) level.

1. Tactics

Not only recognizing quickly basic motifs such as pins, double attacks and removal of the guard, but also knowing basic checkmate methods such as king and queen vs. king, and king and rook vs. king. A great resource for improving your tactics is Chess Tempo.

2.  Activity

Using all the pieces efficiently all the time.

3. Time Management

Learning the correct pacing of not only entire games at different time limits, but also which moves to
take more than average time and which ones not to waste time.

4.  Thought Process

Explained below...

5.  General Principles

For example, “In the opening don’t move the same piece twice unnecessarily” and “In the endgame the
king is a strong piece - use it.”

The member of the Big Five which is most independent of the others is Thought Process. One could argue that if you do the other four well, you are likely a reasonable player no matter how messed up your Thought Process is. You could also reason the other way: that if you do the other four well, your Thought Process must at least be decently organized. Both arguments are valid.

Working on your thought process is an important method for achieving better results and also helping find a more proficient way of doing Tactics, Time Management, etc.

If you can do all five of those decently well, then you are likely already a pretty good player. In fact, here is a big secret: if you don’t do each of these five at least moderately well, you can read 1,000 chess books and never get much better! Too many players make the mistake of glossing over important basic skills as if they now know them and then spend a lifetime reading things that provide diminishing returns and almost no improvement.

Get these five down cold and you will be amazed at how great and confidently you can play, even if your
natural chess skills of memory, deductive logic, and visualization are no more than average.

It is also worth noting that if you are not the naturally careful type, you will have to work extra hard at trying to be careful. The attributes of carefulness, perseverance, confidence, enjoying chess study (and not just play), and willingness to tolerate and learn from losses cannot really be taught. However, all of these traits can be improved with self-discipline and the realization that getting better is usually a lot more than just playing some games and reading some books.

Before starting any improvement programme you must first abandon your fears about losing . Any good improvement program will include enough practice that you will be faced with plenty of losses and the need to endure times when your rating goes down. That’s life; it happens – no one goes straight up. So if multiple setbacks cause discouragement and not determination, it’s going to be one long path…


Next page: Phase 1: Rules and Beginner Tips