Tag Archives: Beginners

Learn Chess in 40 Hours

Great for adult novices

Things are tough for the older player who has taken an interest in chess: most books are either written for children or for experienced tournament competitors.

Learn Chess in 40 HoursGM Rudolf Teschner (1922-2006) gave this forgotten crowd much help with his well-structured course Learn Chess in 40 Hours: A Self-tutor for Beginners and Advanced Players. It was originally published in 1993, but re-issued in 2004 by Edition Olms.

As I’ve said before, Edition Olms produces beautiful, high-quality chess books. I have such confidence in them that I would be willing to buy their volumes sight unseen.

Learn Chess in 40 Hours is broken into blocks of 1-hour chess lessons:

  • Hours 1-6 on the basic mates and the most basic endgames. A good treatment overall.
  • Hours 7-21 cover the most important openings, giving just the most important information and insights. This is beautifully done! He also includes a table of openings for reference.
  • Hours 22-30 cover tactical ideas very nicely. Go elsewhere for puzzle practice.
  • Hours 31-40 focus on strategy, with lots of good explanations.

I definitely recommend this title ahead of, for example, Chess Fundamentals. Teschner doesn’t hold your hand, but he guides the reader very efficiently. There is plenty of prose, and all the important variations are there — though the novice will need to stretch themselves a bit to make all of it stick.

No need to rush. Instead of 40 hours, don’t fret about taking 60 or 80. It wll be worth it.

I believe a motivated novice who seriously works through Learn Chess in 40 Hours two or three times could reach at least 1600 — maybe 1800 if they have a bit of talent and lack bad habits.

Highly recommended.

Chess Study vs. Chess Practice

Study and practice are both important, but…

One side of the equation will likely have a bigger impact on your overall chess progress.

Many people are experiential. They learn best “by doing.” Such chess players are able to learn from their mistakes, and don’t repeat their errors so much. When coaching, I can recognize such players very quickly.

Other players, like me, are more thick-headed. We can make the same types of mistakes — maybe the same exact mistakes — more than once. Perhaps several times … before hopefully learning from them.

“Ok, everyone learns at a different pace, understood. But they do learn! So the improver should simply play a lot, then?”

Not so fast, parents and coaches…


Competitive Makeup

Some players love competing, others only like winning … and plenty more are borderline nauseated by the whole tournament experience!

We need to be honest about this. It’s common to say “wins and losses don’t matter,” or similar things about “the process” of improving.

But results do matter. Not in the sense of “Ha ha, I beat you!,” but rather in dealing with losses.

Losing is much tougher on some players than others. I’m definitely part of this crowd.

Not everyone has the same competitive psychology. I advise you to not force your child or student to have the same psychology you have, or that you think they should have. 

Some players are quiet, timid, or lack confidence. They can achieve success in chess, but not if you try to “toughen them up” from the get-go. That’s how you get a kid to quit.

As a parent or coach, your first responsibility is the well-being of the child. And please: don’t judge a player for “being too sensitive.” Kids can feel annoyance and condescension. Support them, genuinely care about them, and build them up gradually.

So how do you “build them up?”


A “Four-Letter Word” in Chess: PREPARATION!

Many players and fans groan when discussing chess study or home preparation. They almost seem to view it as some kind of low-key cheating.

“Just wing it and see what happens!” 

“Let the best player win!”

Fans often accuse top players of “hiding behind their prep.”

I believe this is jealousy: lots of people want to increase their rating fast, but don’t want to put in the hard work for it. They would rather bash the player who gives all to “get good.”

The best way to build confidence in a player who lacks it? Great coaching and prep work!

If a nervous player knows they have been putting in a lot of work on openings and endgames, working properly on tactics, improving their grasp of strategy…they will feel a lot more optimistic about their chances in tournaments.

This work will lead to more victories, bigger trophies, a higher rating…

And then they’re on their way!

One last thing: over-preparing is not an issue in chess. Don’t use it as an excuse to be lazy. Just don’t leave your prep to the night before an event, to the point where it stops you from getting proper rest.

Thoughts on Lichess and Others

A pleasant surprise

Lichess logo

Lichess seems to be taking over, and deservedly so.

Nearly a year ago, I said that I still preferred to play on the paid Internet Chess Club (ICC) because of the consistent good level of professional competition. I knew that GMs, IMs, and other strong players used Lichess, but I wondered if the site was merely had some really strong players, and a bunch of weak opponents for players like me in the 2000-2200 range.

I was also concerned about opponents on free sites not always … shall we say … playing fairly.

Well, I have now regularly used Lichess for the past few months, and must admit to being converted. In fact, I rarely log into ICC any longer.

There are many features I have not felt a need to try yet, but I can recommend playing and solving puzzles on the site. I haven’t yet had the thought that my opponents are dishonest, and the puzzles are typically quite good.

I also recommend it as a platform for (virtual) classroom tournaments. In my opinion it is far superior to ChessKid.


Internet Chess Club

Official tournaments: a new lease on life for ICC?

I’m ready to proclaim something I never thought I would: after all these years, I don’t think I will renew my Internet Chess Club membership when it next runs out, and I’ll stick to Lichess.

One thing ICC does still have going for it: official online tournaments. They do them very well! There’s a reason the recent NYS Girls was held on iCC, the City Champs will be held there, and the Continental Chess Association has been holding online events there for several months.

ChessKid is a wonderful concept, but needs a lot of improvement before it reaches the level of ICC, Lichess, or even its parent chess.com. Their issues for me are mainly about ease of use for children in getting a game, and flexibility for coaches in setting up and adjusting tournaments.

I hope its developers continues to work, because it has promise. The more good chess sites, the better for the long-term growth and health of chess.

An Important Bishop Endgame Concept

Bishop Endgame Theory

In particular, we’re going to discuss the same-color bishop endgame. The attacking side has one pawn, and the defender has none.

If the defender can sacrifice their bishop for the last pawn the game is drawn, so the attacker must proceed carefully.

What the Defender Wants in this Ending

The position is completely drawn if the defending king can reach a square in front of the pawn opposite the color of the bishops. The king stays put and the defender moves their bishop around forever … or until they can call over the Arbiter or TD and claim a draw. Here’s an example:

Things get much more complicated if the defending king is behind the advancing pawn. In that case, the bishop desperately tries to control a square the pawn needs to cross in order to prevent it from queening. The attacking king and bishop look to attack the defending bishop, forcing it to move and give up control of the pawn’s path.

This is why you nearly always want your king to blockade passed pawns in the endgame: he can control all of the squares around him, and it’s harder to push him away than a rook, bishop, or knight!

A Worst Case Scenario

Anyway, a plausible scenario is the following:

This is a famous endgame study by Genovese composer Luigi Centurini (1820-1900) published in 1856. You’ll find it in every endgame encyclopedia, for example Basic Chess EndingsDvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, and Magnus Carlsen’s favorite Fundamental Chess Endings … but for years I didn’t quite understand it.

The Black bishop can stop the pawn on either the long b8-h2 or mini a7-b8 diagonal. If White can gain control of both diagonals, the Black cleric will be unable to stop the pawn.

Chase the Bishop!


More Room to Operate

Notice that Black lost because of the short a7-b8 diagonal. To draw, Centurini taught us that the defender usually needs both diagonals to be at least four squares in length. Then, there will always be at least one square on one of the diagonals that the attacker cannot control.

Here’s a famous example of successful defense:


Hopefully you now understand this classic bishop endgame if you previously struggled with it!

Positional Chess Handbook: Strategy for All Levels

495 Chess Lessons in Your Pocket

Positional Chess Handbook

Positional Chess Handbook by Israel Gelfer

Positional Chess Handbook can be considered a strategy cousin to 1001 Chess Sacrifices and Combinations, the iconic puzzle book by Fred Reinfeld. Both are pocket-sized and ideal for studying on-the-go — but PCH is definitely the superior book.

I recommend Positional Chess Handbook to players (and coaches!) of all levels. Players rated from zero to at least 2200 will benefit. The book will give beginners ideas about strategy; it has much to teach club players; and it is a good refresher for the 2000+ crowd.

Originally published in 1991, it is filled with instructive game fragments from famous and not-so-famous players and composers. You’ll find examples from Morphy and Steinitz, as well as from Fischer, Karpov, and Kasparov. In all, there are 495 diagrams over 208 pages (plus index). I’m sure author Israel Gelfer (FIDE Master and FIDE Senior Trainer) spent many years compiling the examples that helped his students the most.

So what does it cover?

Positional Chess Handbook: Contents

Most of the 21 chapters isolate a certain positional feature, making it easy to reinforce understanding of a particular concept without distraction. A few sections are more general, but very instructive nonetheless. Of course, tactics are everywhere in this book, too — strategy cannot exist without them, right?

              1. Instroduction; Strong and Weak Pieces
              2. A Good Bishop versus a Bad Knight
              3. A Good Knight versus a Bad Bishop
              4. Bishops—Same Colour
              5. Bishops—Opposite Colour
              6. Knights
              7. Rooks
              8. Two Bishops
              9. A Rook versus Two Minor Pieces
              10. Choosing an Endgame; Some Aspects of the Endgame
              11. Key Squares—Strong Points
              12. Strategic Advantages
              13. Exchanges
              14. Cramped Positions, Restricted Pieces
              15. Pawn Structures
              16. Pros and Cons
              17. Active King; Central Supremacy
              18. Inducing Weaknesses
              19. A Diagonal
              20. Two Diagonals,
              21. Positional Sacrifices

            Index of Players and Composers

Images from the Book

Positional Chess Handbook, page 103 Positional Chess Handbook, page 81 Positional Chess Handbook, page 49





Positional Chess Handbook is one of the books I reread portions of regularly to keep my positional skills sharp. The others are Simple Chess and Judgment and Planning in Chess. You don’t need much else. Best of all in these tough times, each of these books can be had for under $10!

Have you read PCH? What are your impressions? Comment below!

200 Modern Chess Traps in the Fianchetto Openings

A Book on Chess Traps that is Cheap, Abundant, and Still Useful

200 Modern Chess Traps in the Fianchetto Openings

Howson’s book was issued in hardcover with dust jacket!

200 Modern Chess Traps in the Fianchetto Openings was written by J.B. Howson in 1970. As you might expect, the notation of choice is Descriptive.

The author divides his material into three parts: Queen’s SideKing’s Side, and Miscellaneous.

Looking through the chapters in each part, you realize that “Queen’s Side” refers to closed games: King’s Indian Defense, Grunfeld Defense, Modern and Old Benoni, Queen’s Indian Defense, Nimzo-Indian Defense, and English (1.P—QB4 and 2.N—QB3) and Reti Openings (1.N—KB3 and 2.P—QB4).

In the “King’s Side” section, you’ll find just two systems: Pirc Defense (Including Robatsch) — Robatsch is the traditional name of the Modern Defense — and Sicilian Defense. The Sicilian section mostly features various Dragons and Accelerated Dragons, but also a few Najdorfs and Classical Sozins.

“Miscellaneous” contains the Budapest, Bird (including From Gambit), Catalan, Center Counter (Scandinavian), Dutch, King’s Indian Attack, Alekhine Defense, Orangutan, Spassky’s Defense (!? — this refers to 1.N—KB3 N—KB3 2.P—KN3 P—QN4), Grob, Three Knights, and Chigorin Defense.

The author incudes complete games or game fragments that illustrate the trap in question. Each trap has one or two diagrams.


Order it Now. Here’s Why.

Obviously, this 50-year-old book doesn’t contain the latest hot theory! But I think most players would have greater opportunities to apply the lines here than what might be found in contemporary games.

No matter which openings featured in this book appear in your games — I’m betting several do regularly! — there are important pitfalls that aren’t obvious at all. You might be surprised to see the names of some of the victims!

Almost any player would find this book helpful. It can be had for under ten bucks on Amazon. I’m sure there are at least a handful of points to be harvested using the ideas in Howson’s book … well worth it, I say.

Chess Teacher vs. Chess Coach

Teaching Comes First

Teaching imparts knowledge and skills to the student that they are lacking.

Coaching helps the student use his/her knowledge and skills more effectively.

Over many years working with students in New York City, I primarily referred to myself as a chess teacher.

I have always believed that knowledge is power in chess … and most of my students needed to increase their knowledge in order to improve their results. It wasn’t only a matter of doing things better.

Knowledge must be shared in a way that is both memorable and useful. Don’t assume your student knows more than they actually do!


You Must Be a Teacher

classroom teacher

A good teacher must be well-prepared and engage their students.

Nowadays most players, no matter their age, don’t read chess books. They especially don’t study middlegame and endgame textbooks like I and generations of players before me did. The names Euwe, Fine, Nimzowitsch, Pachman, Romanovsky, Shereshevsky, etc. mean little, if anything, to them.

Solving tactics (recommended) and trying to learn openings through YouTube (not recommended) has somehow become a substitute for taking out a board and pieces, or at least using ChessBase.

Of the thousands of students I taught over the years, only a handful were interested in reading books, watching DVDs, or using ChessBase. If they won’t do this, we have to fill in the gaps during classes or lessons. Otherwise, the student will have gaps in their chess understanding everywhere.

This is where chess teachers earn their money! I have never *expected* my students to do intensive work between lessons unless they expressed an interest in reaching a certain rating level or aimed to win a particular tournament.

If you want your students to improve, quickly … find their weaknesses and eliminate them through thoughtful lesson planning. This is where being well-versed in classic games really comes in handy. I can turn any student weakness into a strength in 3-8 lessons.


A Shortcut to Coaching Success

World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik believed the surest path towards improvement is in learning from your own games and opening analyses. I can’t disagree with him.

I offered the next best thing: to analyze my students’ games for them (with extensive text comments — not computer analysis!) and send them PDFs of my work for them to study between lessons … at no extra cost.

Few of my NYC students ever took me up on this … but the ones who did so consistently saw massive improvement, and fast. This was the biggest secret to my coaching success! Well, that and diligent lesson preparation in general.

It took me hours to analyze and comment on my students’ games … but I didn’t mind. I was immersed in chess and derived great satisfaction from their quick progress.



If most players are spending the lion’s share of their time on tactics, how do you separate yourself? Sure, you can do the same things your peers do, a little better … but ultimately, you need to create a competitive advantage — to borrow a term from economics.

Coaching, at least good coaching, will help you become more efficient and beat yourself less often. Not having critical knowledge will leave you trying to reinvent the wheel every game … that’s where good teaching comes to the rescue.

The First Master Game I Studied

A Special Birthday

Today is the 65th birthday of the man who taught me how to play chess — my dad.

One Saturday night when I was eight years old, my dad was cleaning out the hallway closet of our family’s apartment. I noticed a folded chess board, similar to this one. I knew it was a chess set — I don’t remember where I was first learned what chess was — and asked my dad to teach me how to play.

That night and the next day, he did. I understood the basic rules plus castling and pawn promotion — later I realized that he didn’t quite understand en passant! We began to play.

Well … I am no Morphy or Capablanca! My attempts to win our early games went nowhere.

My parents, sister and I soon went to the now-defunct Coliseum Books near Columbus Circle. I was looking through the chess books and other things, and my dad saw this cool-looking book that had lots of colored arrows and diagrams! This was apparently not a common thing back then. The book was also written by a Grandmaster! It was …

Better Chess by David Norwood. It combined Advanced Chess and Chess Puzzles into one volume.

My parents bought me the book and I read it over and over and over.

I learned basic strategy and solved my first tactical puzzles.

I learned about a bit about four openings explored in the book: the Spanish Game, King’s Indian Defence (sic), Modern Benoni, and King’s Gambit.

And the cherry on top? Brief, fascinating bios of great players past and present: Paul Morphy, Wilhelm Steinitz, Jose Raul Capablanca, Mir Sultan Khan, Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov, and Judit Polgar. I loved this book so much!

In it, I also found my first master game played by the author which I tried to make some sense of with the help of the annotations.

Today, it’s time for me to annotate this memorable game.

I didn’t become serious about chess until a few years later, but the foundation was set. With my second chess book, I was on my way.

Thanks, Dad.

How to Get Better at Chess: Chess Masters on Their Art

Wide-Ranging Opinions by Chess Pros

How to Get Better At Chess contains answers from Grandmasters and International Masters about their thoughts on chess improvement, motivation, study methods, etc.

I can’t remember how I discovered this book, but I’m glad I did. It was hard to put this book down, and I read it all in a few sittings.

Because the interviews were collected in the late 1970s and 1980s, this book doesn’t talk about analysis engines or databases at all … I find this refreshing! The respondents also don’t give too much advice on openings.

You’ll find answers given by players like Nick DeFirmian, Larry Evans, Bent Larsen, Vladimir Liberzon, Viktor Kortschnoj, Yasser Seirawan, and lots more.

The players often have conflicting opinions, but that shows there isn’t just one recipe to success as a chess player. I find it inspiring that different approaches can be highly successful. Find what works for you.

The authors also includes a selection of games.

If you’re a fan of “thought-provoking” chess literature, I consider this book a must-buy!