Improving Your Chess Game

True chess improvement, like anything else, involves shunning the quick fix and making small, manageable advances. Here are 5 tips that can improve your game. They won't make you an instant grandmaster, but they'll certainly help you along that long, difficult road. (And in the meantime you'll be able to beat your friends!)

1. Play endgames

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Endgames are woefully neglected by most beginners. They're perceived as difficult and more than a little boring! I admit they're an acquired taste, but with a little understanding they can be as satisfying as any pyrotechnic middle game. The trick is to actually play endgames. Don't just learn which ones are won and which ones are drawn that knowledge alone won't help you when you're up against an opponent who wants you to prove it over the board.

Find a friend and set up an endgame position. Take in turns to play both sides and see who does best. Its only by practicing that you'll really understand how endgames work.

2. Play timed games

Even if you're not a member of a club, playing timed games can really help your play. Blitz is good because it hones your chess intuition. When you've only got a few seconds to move, you often have to rely on gut instinct. But while Blitz is certainly fun, it's not the only time control you should try. Try playing half-hour or hour long games and really make use of all the time. If you don't have a chess clock, there's plenty of software that will simulate the experience. You can even use two kitchen timers! Just pause one and start the other whenever you make a move.

3. Study your own games

Too often beginners will make a mistake but will have no way to learn from it. The game is over, and might as well never have happened. Try to get in the habit of writing down your moves. That way you can look over the games at a later date and really understand where you went wrong. You can also set up complicated positions and try out different strategies to see if you can do any better the second time.

4. Play with other people

While it's fun to play with your friends and family, there's a danger of falling into a rut. People play the same openings, try the same plans, overlook the same strategies. Playing with new opponents can really kickstart your game. The best way is to join a bricks and mortar chess club, but playing over the internet is another good way to find new opposition.

5. Play Chess Variants

There are lots of chess variants out there, from the relatively tame to the completely bizarre, with all new pieces and rules. I don't recommend diving straight into Ultima or Fairy Chess, but some of the more familiar chess variants can really help you out. Suicide Chess is a quick and easy game where the idea is to get rid of all your pieces! If you can take a piece, you have to, and the game revolves around complicated chains of sacrifices.

Fischer Random chess (or Chess 960) is a variant where the opening position is randomized. There are some slightly different castling rules, but basically it's the same as regular chess, only without the bother of hundreds of years of opening theory.

Both variants, used sparingly, can be a welcome change from regular chess. They also teach you lots about the strengths and weaknesses of the individual pieces, knowledge that can be used to devastating effect in your regular game.

There are a bewildering number of chess books available for all levels of player. Every opening has it's own dedicated volume, with hundreds dedicated to popular openings like the Sicilian or Ruy Lopez. Then there are books on tactics, strategies, endgames, middle games, modern Grandmasters, dead Grandmasters, World Champions and more. Its very confusing, and many beginners don't know where to start. While I can't tell you what to buy, I can offer some slightly unusual recommendations that don't fall into the standard categories. And if a book promises to make you a Grandmaster overnight, save your money and look for one of these instead!

Chess for Tigers (Simon Webb, 1978)

A classic of chess psychology, Chess for Tigers is an amusing and informative guide to playing your opponent rather than the board. It contains tips for setting convincing traps, exploiting indecisive players, as well as strategies for eliminating blunders, maintaining form against weaker players and giving yourself a chance against stronger ones. Filled with fun examples and written in an engaging style, Chess for Tigers is almost certain to contain something to improve your game.

Inside the Chess Mind (Jacob Aagaard, 2004)

If you've ever thought that Grandmasters just saw the board differently than you, this is the book to check out. Aagaard invited players of a variety of levels, from relative beginner to expert, to try and find the best plan or move in a series of chess positions. But instead of just writing down their moves, Aagaard got them to think out loud, describing their planning and thought processes. Its not particularly scientific, but it's still a fascinating insight into the chess mind, and a good chance to see whether you're a logical or an intuitive player. The positions the players had to untangle are presented in the front of the book, so there's a chance to try the experiment for yourself. Highly recommended.

40 Lessons for the Club Player (Aleksander Kostyev, 1999)

A more straightforward book, this is simply a 40 lesson course in all aspects of chess theory. What makes it unusual is that most lessons contain a historical section, and over the course of the book you'll learn about the entire history of chess, from it's beginnings as the four-player game chaturanga, all the way up to Kasparovs dominance of the 1990s. Some of the topics are quite advanced, but if you take the time to follow it from beginning to end, you're bound to see a huge improvement in your game. And the focus on providing a rounded chess education makes it less dry than other chess books.

The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes (Raymond Smullyan, 1979)

Finally, another classic from before I was born! This puzzle book isn't a chess guide, per se , or even a collection of standard puzzles, but you're sure to learn something in this fun set of stories about Londons greatest fictional detective. Holmes and Watson solve a variety of puzzling cases that require them to deduce what must have happened earlier in the various chess games they counter. They use their chess skills to find missing pieces, hunt for buried treasure and even go head to headwith Moriarty. This is a good introduction to a whole fascinating range of chess problems known as retrograde analysis , which can really help to improve your chess logic. The sequel, The Chess Mysteries of the Arabian Knights, is also fun, but the writing and storytelling isn't as good as the first book.

Thanks to the internet, it's never been easier to learn to play chess. Unfortunately, some of the barriers to learning remain, and will do no matter how much technology advances. One of these is the number of complicated seeming foreign terms in chess. Many of these French, German and Italian terms stem from the first heyday of chess, back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Unfortunately, there's no option but to learn them, but this simple guide should make everything clear.

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Posted in Fun Post Date 03/01/2018






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