Chess for Beginners – How to Get Started

Welcome to my guide for beginners to get started in chess. If you have not learned the rules yet, I suggest you take a look at the fairly detailed Wikipedia article on it. Alternatively, if your English is not so great, try the Simple English Wikipedia article.

Some Lesser Known Chess Rules

Here is an overview of some subtle rules of chess that can be easy to miss:

  • En passant’ rule

  • A pawn in its initial position can move either one or two squares.

  • If a king has moved and then moved back to its original square, it can no longer castle.

  • A king cannot castle when in check.

  • A king cannot castle kingside if there is an enemy piece controlling the f1 or g1 squares. Note that is doesn’t matter if an enemy piece is attacking the rook on h1.

  • A king cannot castle queenside if there is an enemy piece controlling the d1 or c1 squares. An enemy piece controlling b1 or attacking the rook on a1 doesn’t matter.

Using an Adequate Chessboard

If you are short on money, you can also use a chessboard on your computer. I hardly ever use a physical chessboard at home any more simply because a computer provides all the facilities you need. If you have a version of Fritz, your can use that, otherwise you can download the free ChessBase Light, which has a great high equality chessboard. Alternatively, the free program SCID is also feature-packed. I suggest you turn on the board coordinates; it will help with the recognition of squares and hence you can read chess books easier. Once you play enough games, you will instinctively know them by heart and it will be a lot easier to communicate chess moves with others.

Serious chess players will invariably need a tangible board. I recommend a tournament chessboard; a standard chessboard is a plastic black-and-white chessboard (preferably foldable instead of rollable) with coordinates a-h along the back rank and numbers 1-8 going up.

Study the Endgame!

Let’s get on to business. “In order to improve your game, you must study the endgame before everything else, for whereas the the endings can be studied and mastered by themselves, the middle game and the opening must be studied in relation to the endgame.” – José Raúl Capablanca, World Champion 1921-1927

Whilst a basic knowledge of opening principles is necessary and helpful, players too often focus too heavily on the opening phase of the game. Instead, the most principled way of studying chess is to begin with the endgame. Chess is split into three phases – opening, middlegame and endgame. Sometimes games finish in the middlegame or even the opening without reaching the endgame. My suggestion may sound a little strange to you, as the endgame is the last part of the game. Why should you begin studying there?

The purpose is so that chess players can study single pieces in isolation. You can study the pieces with their full motion (as many of them are hindered in the opening). By studying the chess pieces in isolation, chess players get a feel for their potential. There are a couple of differences in the endgame compared to other parts of the game – pawns become more crucial as they have the ability to become queens and the king, normally tucked away safely behind pawns in other phases of the game, suddenly finds it can unleash all sorts of mayhem.

Let K=king, Q=queen, R=rook, B=bishop, N=knight and P=pawn. I suggest players begin by studying basic checkmates, first with KQ vs K, KR vs K, KBB vs K; keener players should also consider learning the dreaded KBN vs K and how to counter some KRP vs KR endgames. A player can find a guide to the endgame in many places, for example in Silman’s Complete Endgame Course by Jeremy Silman andUnderstanding Chess Endgames by John Nunn.

The Opening

What about the opening? Rather than stale memorisation, an appreciation for basic opening principles will take a starting player a long way. It is my opinion that beginners learn best by experimenting with the double e-pawn openings. Examples:

White1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 (The Italian Game)

Black1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5/Nf6 or 3.Nc3 Nf6

These lines tend to develop an understanding of strategy and tactics better than other lines.

Here are some general opening rules to follow:

1. Play 1.d4 or 1.e4 on the first move. Other moves are perfectly adequate for better players, but it is generally accepted that these moves provide the widest variety of strategically and tactically complex positions.

2. Develop knights before bishops.

3. Do not move a piece twice in an opening.

4. Do not move your queen out early.

5. Castle early.

6. Move forward queen to ‘connect’ your rooks.

7. Remember to control the centre.

8. The ideal setup for White from the opening is pawns on d4 and e4, knights on c3 and f3, bishops on f4 and c4, queen on d2, a castled king on g1, and rooks on e1 and d1.

Remember that this is only a general guide and specific circumstances obviously overwrite some of these rules. However, as with many things in life, you must learn the principles first before you decide when it is appropriate to break them.

Once you are ready to move on to more advanced opening theory, see the following links. Click here for advice on how to construct an opening repertoire. Click here for specific opening repertoire suggestions. My Chess Openings YouTube Series provides introductions to certain openings.

Beginner’s strategy

In beginner’s chess, it is adequate simply to wait for your opponent’s mistakes. Protect all your pieces and try to avoid losing any as even a pawn could be decisive. Trading pieces is obviously fine. Keep an eye out and capture all pieces the other side leaves “en prise” or unprotected. Just as a note, even though knights and bishops are technically worth the same, generally, knights are more useful (and hence worth more) when the position is closed, whilst bishops are more powerful when the position is open. Two bishops are favoured over two knights in most situations.

Where to Play – Start Playing Chess Online

Where should you go to continue developing your chess? I suggest playing online at the Internet Chess Club. There, you can test your ability against other players before moving on to a real-world chess club or to the realm of correspondence chess. New players can try a free 7-day trial. Membership to this chess club requires payment so it may not be to everyone’s preference. A good alternative then is FICS, the Free Internet Chess Server. FICS is better over a server like Yahoo! Chess because it has fairly advanced features allowing you to enhance your chess experience. Both of these internet chess clubs have comfortable interfaces where you can play chess without being pestered by advertisements. You will find useful chess on the Internet Chess Club. They can by found under the ChessFM archive or simply under the ‘events tab’.

Opening Manuals

When a player starts reaching a level when openings start to become important, they can pick up openings manuals. These are books, written by high-level players, which detail certain openings using concentrate variations and more importantly, with words (e.g. a book on the Sicilian Dragon). Perhaps an ‘opening repertoire’ book (e.g. Starting Out: 1 e4 by Neil McDonald) would be the most useful for improving players, as these detail complete systems which often complement each other and can be played against any White or Black opening.

Chess Etiquette

If you decide to move onto a real-world chess club, there are some basic chess etiquette concepts you will need to learn.

  • Typically, playing halls are silent – you should not talk at the board.

  • This is not really etiquette, but coming late to a tournament game now results in an automatic forfeit at certain chess tournaments, particularly international ones.

  • Mobile phones are not to be turned on during a game. If yours is accidentally turned on and it rings, you forfeit the game automatically.

  • The correct way to offer a draw is to make your move first, verbally offer the draw and only then press your clock.

It is notable that in real-world tournaments, there are the touch-move and touch-take rules. Any piece of yours that you touch must be moved. Any piece of your opponent’s that you touch that can be captured by one of your pieces must be captured. Normally there is no penalty if a piece is touched or knocked over by accident. If a particular piece is ‘ambiguously placed’ (e.g. overlapping on more than one square), players normally say ‘adjust’ or ‘j’adoube’ before touching the piece.

Chess Politics

I recommend you stay away from this! Since many chess players like to think they are highly intellectual in an argumentative way.

A chess website dedicated to writing free chess articles on a range of topics to help the average player improve.