For the beginners

by ChessBase
6/28/2009 – It's been quite a while since our ChessBase Workshop columnist had a look at Fritz features geared toward the beginning chess player. Novices take heart – a new ChessBase Workshop series for this group of novices and amateurs starts now with a column devoted to general advice. Learn more in the latest Workshop.

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Synchronicity plays at least a "fair to middlin'" role in the selection of subject matter for ChessBase Workshop, an idea which I've mentioned before. I'll be thinking about a possible topic for a column and someone will mention it (without any prompting by yours truly) in a conversation or e-mail. In my world, if one person mentions something I'm thinking about, it's a coincidence; if it happens twice, that's synchronicity.

I've recently had occasion to think a lot about beginning chessplayers (in relation to a project I'm working on) and, during this time, a couple of other people have made mention of the fact that I really haven't written much for beginning chessplayers lately. (And, as a side note, it's interesting to observe that when one writes regularly for a general audience, as I do, one never "hits" 100% of that audience with every column. I've often had the same column generate an e-mail complaining that it was "too basic" while another reader writes of the same column that it was "too complicated". That's the hazard of writing for a broad readership; the only solution is to just "shotgun" stuff out there and hope you can please as many people as you can.) I'm guilty as charged when it comes to not writing for beginners as of late, so this (and the subsequent few ChessBase Workshops) will be written with the beginning chessplayer in mind.

The Fritz "family" of playing programs in particular sport features which are useful for players who are just starting out on the road to learning the Royal Game. We're going to examine some of these features over the next few columns. But first I'd like to toss a few general tips out there which I hope will help beginning players. A fair bit of this advice is based on beginner questions I see posted on various chess message boards I read (and one which I moderate).

The first piece of advice I'll give you is to just relax. Nobody becomes a grandmaster overnight. That sounds really basic and obvious, but I very often see Interrant posts like "What's the fastest way to be a better chessplayer?" or "What's the fastest way to become a master/grandmaster?" Perhaps it's a symptom of the "microwave society" we're living in that people don't want things to just happen fast, they want them to happen right now. I'm here to tell you that there are still many things in life which don't just require the passage of time, they demand it: great barbecue, smooth whiskey, and becoming a good chessplayer all are items on that list.

Try to relax. You won't become "world championship material" overnight. Bobby Fischer was arguably the greatest prodigy the chess world has ever known, and it took him years to earn titled status and still more years past that to become world champion. Few people are prodigies and, truth be known, not very many people become grandmasters anyway. So relax and remember this -- if you learn something new about chess today, you're a better player than you were yesterday. If you do this every day, you just naturally become a better player without "forcing" it (or even realizing it).

Beginners often ask what kind of chess materials they should study. If you ask a group of people that question, you're likely to get a number of different answers. In my opinion (which is shared by a fair number of others, so I'm not just talking through my hat here), there are two things a novice player should study when just starting out. The first area is that of the endgame. Beginners will often reply, "But what good will that do? I always get crushed before I ever reach an endgame!" Fair enough. But studying endgames will do a couple of important things for you. You'll learn mating patterns, which will possibly help you avoid them, plus help you win games when you do start getting to the endgame regularly. More importantly, though, you'll learn about the interaction of the pieces, and about how they work mechanically (i.e. the range of squares that they influence, the reason why centralizing your pieces is important, etc.); the endgame is the best place to do this precisely because there are so few pieces on the board.

The other area of chess study should be historical games, and the older the better. The reason is because older games are easier for beginners to understand. The state of chess knowledge hadn't advanced to the state it's in today, so it's far easier to understand the games of Morphy and Anderssen than those of Anand and Kramnik. As a beginner, you shouldn't be worrying about the "current state of chess theory" so much as you should be learning the fundamentals of the game, and for that purpose there's no better games than those played in the 1800's.

Don't be afraid to ask for advice! When I was a kid, there weren't many people around to go to for chess advice (at least not in the place where I grew up). Today you have the Internet and there are loads of chess message boards available; most are very good about answering beginner's questions. If you're playing a game against a better player, don't be afraid to ask if he or she will review the game with you after it's over. And when you're playing chess against your computer, there are numerous ways to get help from the software during a game (which we'll be examining over the next several ChessBase Workshop columns).

Which leads right into the last piece of advice I have for you: play as much chess as you can! There's no substitute for hands-on experience; sure, you'll take some lumps when playing against stronger players, but you'll also learn an awful lot about chess along the way.

Next time around we'll start looking at Fritz features which can really help beginning players; until then, have fun!

You can e-mail me with your comments on ChessBase Workshop. All responses will be read, and sending an e-mail to this address grants us permission to use it in a future column. No tech support questions, please.

© 2009, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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