Becoming a Competent Chess Novice
The goal of this improvement plan is to take you to the competent novice level (Rating: 1000-1200). If you're still uncomfortable with the rules or how the pieces move, we recommend checking out Chess for New Beginners first. Otherwise, let's begin!
First things first: Bookmark this page! We present a lot of links to various pages on this website - and elsewhere on the web as well. You'll want to have a quick way of returning to this page as you progress through the plan.
The plan is divided into two components: Study and Practice. Let's look at each component individually.
To improve at chess, you need to study. This means reading articles, reading books, solving problems, following computer based courses, etc. We've put together the short list of everything you need to study to become a competent novice.
1. Chess Notation
Before you'll be able to effectively study chess materials, you need to understand chess notation. We've put together a 2-part guide that will walk you through all the details.
If you haven't done so already, read our article on Chess Notation.
2. Board Vision Exercises
Board vision is the ability to see how the pieces move and interact on the chess board. For example, place a Rook on the board. The squares that the Rook can move to should "pop out" in your mind's eye. Rook vision is relatively easy because the Rook moves in a straight line.
Now place a Knight on the board. Can you quickly see the squares that the Knight can move to? Do they pop out at you? Knight vision is more difficult, because the Knight moves in a tricky way.
Read and follow the plan in our article on Developing Chess Board Vision. This is essential material before moving onto tactics and strategy!
3. Beginning Tactics
Studying and practicing tactics is the best thing that a beginner or novice player can do to improve their game. As the great German player Richard Teichmann put it: "Chess is 99% tactics."
So what exactly are tactics? A tactic is a short sequence of moves, usually involving an attack or capture, that attempts to make an immediate tangible gain.
Read and follow the plan in our series on Beginning Chess Tactics. You will be introduced to piece safety, counting, checkmates, and basic tactical motifs.
4. Beginning Strategy
Strategy is a long term plan or idea. It is usually based on positional considerations, rather than attacks and captures. To become a competent novice, you'll need to gain an understanding of basic strategic principles.
Read or series on Chess Strategy. You will learn about developing pieces, controlling the centre, which moves to make in the opening, how to coordinate pieces in the middle game, and how to effectively play the end-game.
5. Instructive Games
Playing through master level games brings all your studies together. You'll see tactics and strategy in action together, and begin to appreciate the beauty behind the game.
We recommend picking up a book of instructional games. One of the best game collections for beginners and novices is the classic: "Logical Chess: Move by Move" by Irving Chernev. Chernev guides the reader through a series of exciting games, while explaining each and every move by both players. There isn't a more basic and instructional approach than this.
You can get the book for cheap on Amazon here: Logical Chess: Move By Move
Chess practice is all about playing games! Feel free to play a mix of games: online, against friends, and against the computer. When you have the chance, try to play some longer games (at least 30 minutes per side). Longer games force you to analyze more deeply, and practice what you've learned in your studies. Shorter blitz games will still help you improve, but longer games will help you improve faster!
If you're interested in playing online, check out our article on the Places to Play Chess Online.
If you're interested in playing against a computer, check out our article on The Best Computer Chess Software.
If you feel ready to make the jump to club chess, check out our article on Getting Into Over the Board Chess.
Bringing it all Together
Study and practice must go hand in hand! Move through the study material at your own pace - and as you learn, play as many games as you can to put your new skills into action.
If you work through the study material diligently, and continue to practice, you will see your skills improve to the competent novice level. Good luck!
When you're ready to take the next step, and become a strong tournament player, we've got an improvement plan waiting for you. Check out our Tournament Level Plan: Becoming a Strong Chess Tournament Player.