How to Win at Chess: A Beginners’ Guide

If winning a chess game is what you are looking for, you have come to the right article.

To start with…

The goal of a chess game is to reach potential checkmate. That is, when it is absolutely evident, the opponent’s king will be checkmated.

In other words, this is how you win a chess game.

If I were to end this article right here, it would not make much sense, will it? As a beginner, you need to know how to reach that position where checkmating becomes unavoidable for your opponent, thus winning the game. And here, I will try to explain it but before that…

It's very important to understand what matters most to win at chess.

Do you win a chess game with a checkmate only?!

I see this question all too often. And the answer is yes.

You cannot win at chess without a potential checkmate. As long as your opponent’s king is alive and kickin’, the game is not over yet. And this is what happens in certain endgames like the bishop and king vs king endgames. These often end in a draw.

Now, a game either ends with an actual checkmate on the board or with resignation. Resignation means the opponent accepts that his king will be checkmated soon, and there is no point trying to draw that game anymore.

In other words, you do not win a chess game without checking and mating the enemy king.

Some players still try for a stalemate, and that is, essentially, a draw. It’s more of a last desperate attempt of not losing the game. As a chess player, you should not let your opponent steal a stalemate at any cost. You must WIN! (in Conan the Barbarian’s voice)

How to win at chess in XX moves

Oh, not this again. When I was rated around 1200, I had this weird belief that I have to win the chess game within a certain number of moves, say, in 2-4 moves.

Guess what, when my chess skill matured, I figured out that is one of the worst ways to approach playing a chess game. You see, a chess game tests your patience and critical thinking ability above all. You calculate through every option available to you in a position and you go for only the best… and while the goal is to checkmate the enemy king, you never rush towards it. You wait, wait and wait some more until your opponent makes a mistake. That’s when you strike like a cobra.

The game can finish in 7 moves, or it can go on longer than 100 moves. To win at chess, you keep on… forever.

That’s the idea at least. Sounds boring? Not at all.

Top 5 ways to win a chess game

Winning chess tip #1. Study opening theory

Most coaches would suggest you stall studying opening theory until you are well over the 2100 rating mark. They tell you to keep solving puzzles till then.

I don’t agree with this. I believe once you have a grasp of the fundamentals, that is, you are rated around 1400 or above, you should choose one opening and start studying it. Explore a couple of lines, play them in real games, OTB or online, and see how you fare.

If you won the game, great! If you don’t, where did you go wrong? Start analyzing deeper. That is how you study an opening.

Do note that I am not saying to go crazy and buy Chessable courses on every possible opening out there. Only one opening at a time.

Winning chess tip #2. Improve your positional evaluation skills

Most amateurs play “hope” chess. What it means is, they do not know what the outcome will be. They just make a move and then try to find out whether it was good or bad.

The correct way of making a chess move is this:

Step one. You look at the position and evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. So for your opponent too. Take an inventory of where the opportunities lie and which threats need to be tackled.

Step two. After you are done with the positional evaluation part, you start finding the lines that achieve the strategic and tactical objectives. These are usually called candidate moves. I am sure you have heard of this term before, haven’t you?

To win a chess game, you need to control your thought process. Playing chess is more like winning an argument. If you don’t structure the moot points early on, your pitch will always end up incoherent and thus, drive home the point.

Structured, logical thinking skill helps you win at chess.

Winning chess tip #3. Calculate, calculate and calculate!

Once you have decided on the candidate moves, do not choose one based on intuition and play it. Instead, you should visualize the move on the board, the opponent’s reply to it, your reply to your opponent’s reply, and so on… as far as possible.

Nobody is asking you to see 10 moves ahead. But you should get into the habit of visualizing the FUTURE POSITION before you make a move. When you start doing that, you are not playing “hope” chess anymore.

That’s when your winning chances at the game soar.

Winning chess tip #4. Always look for forced moves

Have you ever played an advanced-level chess player before? I have. I can tell you, after the first few moves, it feels like every move is a threat… and I can’t catch a break! Isn’t that exactly how it feels like when playing against a computer?

You see, this is because of a little concept called the initiative. Grabbing the initiative means that you call the shots and your opponent reacts to it. When defending against a barrage of bullets, your opponent automatically misses one and gets hit. Boom! You win the game like a boss.

But how do you grab the initiative? The trick is to always look for attacking opportunities. If you keep on shuffling your pieces and improving their position, you are never going to win. Instead, you must take action when you have a positional advantage. Look out for imbalances in the position. See if any opportunity exists. And once it does, go all in.

To win at chess, you need to have a superior tactical vision.

Winning chess tip #5. Maximize force x time x momentum

This is an advanced concept and you might not be able to apply it right away. Understanding it helps a lot though.

Every move that you make in a chess game should have three characteristics:

1. Increase its force of impact

2. Shorten its time of mobility

3. Maintain the momentum

A move usually takes a piece to a more active square whence it can not only control the maximum number of squares but also the most critical squares of the position. The move also makes it possible for the piece to shift around not to sacrifice the flexibility of the strategy. The move also keeps the momentum in your favor where harmony and coordination is sustained. Each move ties to the next, and your game flows like a river.

Tough to understand; even tougher to execute.

To win at chess, every move should be the best move.

Winning chess tip #6. Ensure king safety at all times

It is often seen that when a player is too occupied with his own plans, he ends up ignoring that of his opponent.

Result? He falls for a nasty tactical idea and ends up losing the game. Especially if the attack is on his king.

That’s why it is especially important to ensure that your king is susceptible to any checks or mating combination. Scour the position for any such threat before you start evaluating the position.

“Nothing else matters.” – Metallica

One more thing, when it comes to king safety, it not only means your king but also your opponent’s king. When you make sure that your king is safe, check out if your opponent’s king has any “holes” in front of it or not. If it does, you act right then.

To win at chess, your king must never fall.

Winning chess tip #7. Preserve a healthy pawn structure

As a beginner, this might not be that important. But, it is crucial to keep this one in mind as you gain higher rating over time.

Pawn structures make sure your pieces are utilized to their fullest potential. For example, don’t let your bishop get locked within the pawn chain. That’s a bad idea.

Pawn structures also tell you where the breakthroughs might come from. Look closely and bring your forces to strengthen that square. Or, if you are looking for an exchange, ask yourself how it is going to serve your interest while thwarting your opponent’s.

Also, do note that the remaining pawn structure, after your pieces are exchanged, is what determines your advantage or disadvantage in the endgame. Doubled pawns, hanging pawns, isolated pawns, pawn islands… everything should be given a careful look.

Pawns are the soul of chess. Once the body of flesh and blood is shed, you have got the soul and nothing else. Pay attention to it.

To win at chess, maintain healthy pawn formations.

Winning chess tip #8. Don’t obsess about winning at chess

If you are a beginner, don’t worry about winning or losing at chess. Instead, just have fun playing the game.

I have seen many beginners get so serious that they forget it is just a game. Unless you are fighting for your IM title or your sponsorship depends on your tournament performance, why worry? Don’t spend 5 hours a day solving puzzles. Don’t mug up chess literature. Instead, take a position and challenge your friends on who can solve it. Play a few untimed games with them every now and then. Get online and play Chess960. (Highly recommended!)

The more obsessed you get about your rating or your performance, the worse it will get. Often happens with beginners.

And what’s even more frustrating? You can’t rectify it in a day or two. You get depressed, and start playing even worse. A downward spiral that you must avoid.

Enjoy chess first. Winning comes later.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *