INTRODUCTION

Many times I run across kids and parents that are wondering how to improve at chess but have no idea what options are available, or even what types of resources to look for. I decided to write this article to help people who are searching to improve their chess playing ability.

Chess is work and study, but it is fun and rewarding. It is important to have a goal in mind, decide what you"re trying to accomplish and then choose the options and tools that best suit your needs. For example if you"re a young player looking to be the next chess master in town then you"ll need to devote an amount of time and have a study schedule, if you just want to learn a few new tricks to try out at the club or local tournament then a small tactics book would be all you need!

-Chris Felix

AREAS OF CHESS STUDY

Chess can be broken down into four main areas of study. Each of these areas provides important skills to a well-rounded chess player.

Tactics and Calculation

The most important ability of a chess player is to be able to see ahead a certain number of moves. This is called calculation in chess. The more we train calculation the further ahead a player can see, with greater accuracy and at a faster speed.

Tactics are common motifs in chess that can generally win pieces of the game. Some examples of tactics are "forks", "skewers" and "pinned pieces". The more a player studies these types of patterns and puzzles the easier it is for them to pick-up on these "quick winning" techniques during a real game and also set traps for an opponent.

Solving tactics puzzles is the fastest way to improve as an aspiring chess player and is a core skill to master.

Tactics and calculation requires concentration, focus and pattern recognition.

Strategy

So now with calculation abilities we can see a number of possible future positions, but which one should we choose? This is where strategy comes into play!

Strategy is the understanding of different aspects on the chessboard to guide a player in formulating a plan of action. For example one of the earliest forms of strategy a beginning chess player learns is that "when we have a material advantage we should trade down pieces".

Strategy requires forward thinking, analysis and planning.

Endgames

Endgames are the study of basic, yet potentially complicated, positions consisting of very few pieces. Examples of endgame studies could be "King and Rook vs King" or "Bishop and a few pawns vs knight and a few pawns".

Studying endgames will give students an appreciation of each individual piece and learn some useful winning strategies that are applicable in almost EVERY chess game. The study of endgames can also greatly help calculation; with so few pieces on the board it"s easier to foresee many moves ahead.

I am going to give three alarming statements to demonstrate the importance of this area of study:

  • Most students choose to overlook endgame study or don"t know to study it
  • Most chess coaches put heavy focus on endgame study
  • It is one of the easiest ways to greatly improve as a chess player

I hope that shows how important I feel endgame study is (as a chess coach!!!) to an aspiring chess player. Players who study the endgame tend to blow players away who do not study the endgame, even in positions that should be lost of drawn just because of a little understanding.

Endgames require understanding and enjoyment of the unknown.

Openings

Studying of individual openings and move orders are generally not that effective for an aspiring chess player. This is more of a tool once a player is already extremely strong.

However the study of opening principles (move pieces towards the center, move each piece only once, etc.) and different options/plans a player has is the most beneficial here.

Openings require strong memory, attention to detail and general understanding.