Learning to Play Chess

This page isn’t intended to teach you how to play chess, but to point you to some useful resources and to help you navigate the early stages of your chess journey.

There are many ways to go about learning chess. I recall as a youngster teaching myself from books specially written with children in mind. While the books I read are long out of print, there are now many such books available, as a quick search on Amazon will reveal. Other ways to learn chess include from a friend or family member or from an online course or app. And such resources aren’t just for the beginning of your chess career. Once you’ve learned the rules and the basics of how to play, there will still be plenty more chess wisdom to absorb, and books, friends, family, websites and apps can all play their part there too. Of course actually playing chess is what it’s about, and should also be an important part of your learning. So get online and play, or join a club such as ours. If you’d like more advice, or perhaps some coaching, please get in touch or visit us at the club sometime.

Books with “Everything”

Online Resources

Things To Learn
Some of the topics you’ll want to make sure your learning covers include the list below.

  • The names of the pieces
  • How to set up the board
  • How the pieces move and capture enemy pieces
  • The relative value of the pieces
  • Check and getting out of check
  • Special Moves: Promotion, Castling and En-Passant
  • Checkmate
  • Statemate and Other Draws
  • Chess Notation

Basic Checkmates
As checkmate ends the game, it’s important to know how to bring this about. Not only will this help you win more games, it will also help you prevent getting checkmated yourself. There are many basic mating patterns worth learning early in your chess journey.

Basic Tactics
Tactics are single moves, or a possibly a short series of moves which achieve a goal, frequently allowing a player to win material. Basic tactics include forks, skewers and pins.

Basic Openings
The first few moves of a game of chess are known as the Opening. White has 20 options of what to do with their first move, and black has 20 options in response to each. So after just one move each, there are 400 possible positions. How should you go about deciding what moves to make at this early stage of the game?

There is a lot of conflicting advice available, and much depends on your style of play and your capacity for memorising sequences of moves. Some openings are more aggresive and tactical, while others lead to more strategical play. Some require memorisation of particular moves in particular positions, while others are more about ideas and themes.

If you buy books to learn openings (not the only option by any means), I’d strongly recommend buying books that include a decent amount of text and not just the moves they are recommending. It’s important where possible to learn the ideas behind the moves or, put another way, why those moves are being recommended. You’ll find that many books are frustrating in that they don’t tell you what to do against every possible move, only against the ones the author considers likely … and when the opponent deviates from the text, you need to have some idea how to carry on, which is what the text should provide.