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How to Improve at Chess
In my opinion (John Loughran), the best ways to improve in chess are, in order:
Play lots of games. the more games you play the better you get. If you play against stronger players and lose, you can often use the tricks they used against you when you play someone else.
Analyse your games afterwards
Write down your moves and those of your opponent. Then after the game play through the moves with them and learn from your mistakes, from theirs and from their ideas during the game. Sometimes spectators may notice something you both missed. According to strong players this is the best and easiest way to improve. One proof of this is that you will often see strong players analysing their games afterwards with their opponents.
Read chess books
It is said that there are more books on chess than on all other sports combined. Whether or not this is true, it is certain that you can learn a lot from these books. Chess books can be divided up into beginners` manuals which cover everything, openings books, middlegame books on strategy, tactics books, endings books, games collections and biographies. Of these the best are beginners` manuals, tactics books and endgame books.
Beginners` manuals usually cover the rules, chess notation, basic tactics, how to open a game, basic endings and mates.
Endgame manuals show how to get checkmate when you have extra material and how to proceed when there are just a few pieces left. This is one of the easier parts of the game to study and can be great fun.
Tactics books will show you how to win material using techniques such as forks, pins, skewers, double attacks, discovered attacks, dicovered check, mating threats and many more. They can be puzzle books with solutions at the end. You will find many web sites that allow you to do tactics problems for free. Just Google "Chess tactics". Try puzzles in newspapers when you see them. See Links above too, especially chess.com.
A friend of mine says that the three things you need to practice to improve in chess are: tactics, tactics and tactics!
Apart from learning how to mate with a rook etc., studying endings teaches you how to use the pieces to their full potential, when the position is less complex than in the middle game. It is very useful to know when an extra pawn can be a win or a draw with best play. Even if you are material down sometimes you can simplify to a drawn position, if you know which positions are drawn.
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Learn a few openings and opening principles
While studying openings is down at the bottom of my list, the better you get, the more important it becomes. Learn a few openings as white and how to reply to 1e4 and 1d4 as black. Some study is worthwhile. Of major importance are the basics of opening play which I summarise in the next few paragraphs.
1. Develop your minor pieces: Bring knights and bishops out to squares where they attack some square in your opponent`s camp. Examples of good opening moves after 1e4 are Nf3, Bc4, Bb5, Be2.
2. Control the centre: Either put a pawn or two in the centre with 1e4 or 1d4 and 2c4 for example, or control it from the wings with g3 and Bg2 or b3 and Bb2 at early stages of the game. Control of the centre allows you to put your pieces there later and create problems for the enemy pieces.
3. Castle early: Get your king safe and your rook active in one easy move.
4. Bring rooks to the centre files: To attack the enemy king who has not castled or the enemy queen.
5. Develop your queen last when everything has been prepared for her majesty.
6. Push pawns: Push your pawns forward in the centre or on the side where you have not castled. This gains space for your pieces while restraining the enemy pieces, making life difficult for them. If you are better developed then swap pawns off to open the position up to your advantage.
7. Keep your king safe. Avoid moving pawns in front of your king in general as this weakens his defence and allows your opponent a target to attack. If you have castled kingside then keep a knight on f3 handy for defence.
8. Avoid weakening moves. Try to avoid moves like h4 or a4 to get your rooks out to h3 or a3. In general these are bad moves as the rook (worth about 5 pawns) can often be taken by a bishop (worth about 3 pawns). Do not play your knights to h3 or a3 if you have a choice either as they have only 2 squares to go to. A knight on the rim is dim! Better moves are Nf3 or Nc3. Do not play your bishops to d3 or e3 if they block pawns behind them as this blocks the development of the other bishop.
The Golden rule in chess is "There are no golden rules". In other words depending on what your opponent plays and the situation, you may have to break one of the guidelines above to survive. Above all, think for yourself! If you study one or two openings you will quickly see most of the "rules" above usually obeyed and only broken when the position calls for it.
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Analyse on computer
If you have time you can analyse your game afterwards using a computer program such as Fritz, Houdini or other software (see Links). Often the program will find things you and your opponent missed. You can also use these programs to practice your openings interactively or try out ideas you did not try out during the game.
See Links for lots of good websites to learn from. Many offer a fun and easy way to do tactics problems. I reccommend two in particular: chess.com and chesskid.com (even for adults). There are lots of resources available even to free members of these sites. On chess.com look at the Puzzles menu, Learn menu and Puzzles > Drills menu which provides a great way to practice your endgame skills once you have learned them. In the Learn > Lessons search bar if you search for "Play like Beth Harmon" you will find a great lesson asking you to predict moves she made in the series. Fun, instructive and interactive.
Any other ideas?
If anyone else would like to contribute to this page please do. Send me an e-mail with what works for you, how you improved, or any tips you have especially for beginners. Thanks.
My Favorite Books
"Winning Chess" by Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld - Tactics grouped by theme taught in a very entertaining style with funny catch phrases. Hard to get.
"Logical Chess: Move by Move" by Irving Chernev - Explains the moves in the opening and middlegame clearly. Hard to get.
"Simple Checkmates", "Simple Tactics" etc. by A. J. Gillam. Again hard to get. As it says on the tin. Great for juniors.
The "Steps" series. John Alfred of chessz.net used to sell these. Good value, lacking in explanations. Graded exercises for beginners up.
Any tactics books that a player enjoys doing the problems in, such that they can solve about 75% of them easily.
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Mark Allidine produced a video on YouTube for juniors and adults. It's got a bit of something for everyone in it. He covered a Carlsen game from 2004 and focused on the idea of controlling the central squares.
01 Hatim Al-Hadarani - Magnus Carlsen, 2004
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In September 2016, the club launched a new initiative to provide a more comprehensive framework for a coaching strategy, in particular for the junior players.
The adults set a curriculum covering chess skills and knowledge for players from complete beginner to advanced levels. Each member of the club is assigned a skills card where his skills and knowledge level are tracked.
When coaches provide lessons, they are asked to track in this file the skills and the knowledge the player has acquired during the lesson, and the time spent for the coaching.
The next step would be to digitalize the files to get an overview of the club’s progress in the curriculum.
This should allow the club to better understand the level of the members, and monitor possible common areas where most members – in particular the junior players – show a lack of knowledge. This should allow for better planning of coaching and indicate areas of weakness in which specific interventions may benefit members.
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(For instructions on using Chess.com see Members > General > Using chess.com.)
Chesskid.com offers a safe environment where kids can solve puzzles whose difficulty increases in line with the growing tactical skills of the kid. They can also receive interactive lessons, watch fun educational videos and even play games online. Coaches can give assignments, view reports cards to track students’ progress, promote tournaments and competitions and review the kids` games. The safer aspect of chesskid.com lies in the fact that kids can only send messages to other kids and adult coaches in the same club and not to strangers. A summary of the safety features of chesskid.com can be found here: Safety features of chesskid.com
In March 2020 when the club was closed to minimize risks due to the Coronavirus, we created usernames for all junior members, to allow them to continue learning and improving from home. They are all now members of Skerries Kids Training Club on chesskid.com.
How parents (as well as coaches) can become guardians
We encourage any parent who wishes to to become a guardian of their child so they too can monitor their child's activity, who they send messages to etc., like the coaches can. All you need do is login as a free member yourself and send us an email asking us to add you as an additional guardian of the child, quoting the email address you gave when joining chesskid.com.
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How to login to chesskid.com
Go to chesskid.com. Login using the username and password you were given by email (on 17/3/20 or later) or email John if you have forgotten them.
How to change your password
Click on Home, then on the settings icon (like a gear cog) beside your avatar (picture) above your username, then click on the tick/pencil in a box beside Password to edit it. To change your username just email as above with the request. The new username should start with your first name and first letter of your surname anyway.
How to play games with other club members on Tuesdays or other days
Login as above. Click on Play. Choose the third tab (head and shoulders icon) in the dialog on the right to see if any friends/clubmates are online and have clicked on play themselves. Click on a name to challenge them. Choose 15 mins each to learn most. If you are waiting for other members stay on that page, otherwise your name will not be visible to them, as if you were not on the website. Remember to click on the head and shoulders icon before choosing 15 mins or you will end up playing a game with a stranger, even with people from other countries but you cannot message them.
See How to play a clubmate in the FAQs at the bottom of the webpage. See also:
How do I add my friends? (kid)
How can I reset my kid's password? (parent/coach)
Other questions - click on FAQ hidden in small print at the bottom of each page.
General Internet Safety and Good Practice
In my personal opinion children should only be allowed on a device (phone, tablet, laptop etc.) that can access the internet except under parental supervision, in a family room in a position where a parent can see the screen and can check with a glance that they have not gone to an unapproved website, or are communicating with strangers. In addition screen time should be limited to what you feel is appropriate for your child. In general I try to limit my kids to about 40 mins per day, though I do make exceptions at times if it is educational and interactive e.g. chesskid, typingtutor, minecraft. I also try to balance it with physical and outdoor activity and exercise as well as indoor jobs and creative play. Kids also need to be taught good practice like not clicking on ads, not communicating with strangers, not opening the Smith's catalogue! :-)
This will dramatically reduce the workload in collating results to send to the ratings officer. Only results of games played at a reasonable time control should be rated e.g. 15m + 1s on chesskid.com or 30 min or more on other sites. Players should really submit no more than three results per night as skittles games should not be rated.
Gold membership, subsidised by the club
Free members are able to do lots of things on the ChessKid site, e.g. they can do 3 puzzles per day, can do puzzle battles and can watch the beginner level videos. They can play against their clubmates and others, as well as taking interactive lessons up to the level of Quuen 9. This is plenty to begin with. However if a child wants to continue beyond Queen 9 to do levels King 1 - 99 then they need Gold Membership. Currently (March-April 2020) new members are being offered annual Gold membership for $29 (cut from the usual $49). This is about €26 currently. The club will also further subsidise this with €10 off next season's club membership to any kid who is a Gold member of ChessKid in September. So if you are a new Gold member you will effectively pay €13 provide you rejoin SCC next season. (The alternative, to purchase bulk Gold memberships for the club turns out to be more expensive, although if some kids wish to renew their Gold memberships in March 2021 this might be a viable option.) Personally I would not purchase Gold for a kid unless they have reached level Quuen 9 in lessons or are using the site a lot and are mad keen to do more puzzles than Puzzles and Puzzle Duel allow them to do as a free member. That's a good incentive for them to reach Queen 9 also.
On chesskid.com to purchase Gold membership click on the banner on any page to "Upgrade to Gold". Then ask for €10 off the Skerries Chess CLub membership fee next season. Be aware that the membership autorenews next year unless you send them an email via Contact on the site.
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The club coaches may give assignments to the members of the Skerries Kids Training Club on chesskid.com. Once they login, kids will be able to read the message from the coach with the clickable link for the assignments. Assignments can be specific puzzles, games, lessons or videos to watch etc. They should be easy and quick.
Puzzles Contest 2017
The Club launched the first contest for the Skerries Kids Training Club on chesskid.com in November 2017. The first 3 kids with the most number of puzzles passed (with a minimum 30% pass rate) within 2 weeks from Tuesday 29th Nov won a prize. To take puzzles, they simply have to login, click on Learn, and then on Puzzles. The level of the puzzles is customized: kids who are still learning will get easier puzzles, kids who are advanced will get more difficult puzzles, so the contest is very fair. Kids can even check the leaderboard of the club and see how they are doing. Free members can take up to 3 puzzles per day and while Gold members can take unlimited puzzles per day and will compete in separate contests. If you can encourage your kid at home to use chesskid.com they will become better players and get more enjoyment from playing and learning.
How we started using ChessKid.com in 2017
In April 2017 Marco Mancosu wrote: "The club decided to sponsor gold membership of chesskid.com as a teaching tool for coaches and as a learning platform for a number of members of the club. As chesskid.com is a premium platform, after a trial period the club should decide whether chesskid.com will be supported in the next academic year 2017-2018. We are currently running a trial. Our next step would be to evaluate the possibility of involving some of the coaches of the club (who could assist specific kids in their activities on chesskid.com) and expand the trial to a few more kids. Ultimately, we should assess the interest of the kids in the trial, their commitment, and the usefulness of the platform for the club’s coaching strategy. I am of the opinion that some of the kids in the trial who used chesskid.com in the last few weeks have shown great interest and have progressed considerably in the chesskid.com curriculum, in learning tactics and the fundamentals of play which in the medium to long term should reflect in a significant improvement in their club ratings." [Marco Mancosu - May 2107]
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