As a beginner chess player, playing game after game will only get you so far. Progress tapers off and playing more comes with diminishing returns. In fact, it’s not uncommon to start playing worse than you did last month.
I’ve played thousands of games on chess.com and got to 1200. At this point, I realized playing more games without doing anything else, isn’t going to get me to the next level. Taking a step away from pushing pawns on the board and seeking specific information on how to get better at chess helped a lot.
As you study the game of chess, practice, and improve, it’s common for most players to tell themselves, “I need to get better at calculating these middle game positions”, or “I wish I was better at memorizing the board and seeing the position in my head (or on the ceiling like Beth Harmon did in The Queen’s Gambit)”.
Primary Skills of Chess
Indeed there is a specific skill set to the game of chess. These skills become more and more apparent as your Elo gets higher and it becomes obvious that grandmasters have mastered every one of these. In this article, we list the best chess skills that will have the most impact on your performance over the board.
The better you get at developing these skills, the higher the Elo you will have. You’ll also learn what to do in order to get better at each skill.
Visualization in chess is the ability to visualize in your mind the possible variations and outcomes of the particular position on the board so that you can then play the next best move that you found.
Improving your ability to visualize different lines of the position will have a significant impact on your overall skill level.
Evaluation, or analysis, is the ability to look at the position on the board and determine which side has the advantage or disadvantage (or if the position is equal), in addition to how much of it the players have. In chess notation, the + and – symbols are used to indicate the evaluation of the position which changes after every piece is moved.
If white has an advantage, there will be a + symbol before the number. If black has the advantage over white, there will be a – symbol.
Evaluation can also be used to determine what elo rating bracket a player is in. Evaluating positions is one of the more difficult skills to excel at. This is proven frequently, especially if you watch any chess YouTube channels like Levy Rozman (GothamChess).
Gotham does a show on a regularly basis called “Guess The Elo”, where his viewers send him games of theirs beforehand, and Levy picks a few to watch. He then evaluates the moves and then guesses what the elo is of the players in the game. Levy is an International Master, and even he is wrong most of the time.
Calculating chess moves in advance is one of the most difficult skills to improve and excel at. Calculation is one of the more crucial abilities that separates the Grandmasters from a 1100 elo player and a 1950 elo player.
Calculation is the ability to determine possible outcomes of the given position beforehand that will be reached if specific lines are played. Players are constantly calculating the position after each and every piece is moved. If you calculate a line a little better than your opponent, you will likely achieve the more advantageous position at the end.
Calculation is the reason why chess is not a solved game and will never be solved, not even by the most powerful chess engines like Stockfish. There are simply too many possible variations that could occur after just a few moves.
Calculating possible lines, if I play x, then my opponent could play x, y, or z. Then there are forced lines that are calculated. You often hear of Grandmasters “spotting” a mate in 11, meaning the current position on the board is a forced checkmate in 11 moves if the precise moves are played. The player didn’t exactly “spot” the forced mate in 11, the player calculated the line all the way through the 11 moves.
How To Practice Calculation
To improve your calculating ability, start by focusing on calculating just the forced variations that could occur in the position. So all of the checks, captures, and most attacks. Since the moves are forced, it is easier to practice calculation since there wouldn’t be any other possible moves that could be played except for the one forced move.
Tactics in chess are the meat and potatoes of gaining an advantage over your opponent. A tactic is a one move, or a series of moves, are made to achieve some kind of objective. Whether it’s to win a single pawn, to create a passed pawn that you’ll use to pressure your opponent later in the game with, or simply to achieve a slight positional advantage. Identifying opportunities to use tactics is an important skill to practice.
How To Train Chess Tactics
There are a few different activities you can can do to become a tactical master.
- Study Motifs. Motifs are tactical patterns, specific moves that the tactician makes in order to achieve the objective. Some of the most commonly used motifs are double attacks, discovered attack, pins, and forks. But there are many more that you may have not even heard of. A good place to reference is the list of over 41 chess tactics. The more motifs you learn about, the larger your arsenal will be to implement against your opponents.
- Focus on increasing tactical awareness in all of your games.
- Expand your tactics repertoire.
- Solve puzzles.
Learning how to solve chess puzzles is important, but I put solve puzzles last on the list for a reason. Solving puzzles definitely helps your overall tactical skills, especially your tactical awareness due to just being exposed to new tactical positions over and over. However, solving puzzles shouldn’t be the primary method in hopes of training tactics.
What are you going to do against your opponent that plays the London System. What if he goes for the Queen’s Gambit? What are you going to do in the middlegame? How do you plan on arriving in the endgame with enough of an advantage to secure the win? What’s the plan? Strategy is the oven that cooks all the ingredients you put together. It’s what holds everything together. Without it, failure is bound to arrive.
The single most important goal of the entire strategy throughout the game, is to achieve an advantage over your opponent. Of course, this can mean many different things. Advantages can come in dozens of different forms, but your strategy must be superior to that of your opponent. Otherwise it will be them that achieves the advantage over you.
GothamChess frequently tells us that if you don’t know what to do next in a position, just make a move that improves your position, even if it’s a mild improvement. The entire goal of The Chess Journal is to help you be able to come up with a better overall strategy in your games.
That concludes this guide on the skills in chess. Bookmark this page. Read it, come back later and read it again. Get to know them, very well. They are your new best friends. Give them attention, time, and effort, then they will serve you well.