17 Best Ways to Win at Chess (Tips, Tricks, and Strategies)

Mastering chess is a lengthy endeavor that requires years of practice and hard work. The basics of chess are not too difficult, but to really excel at the game is truly challenging.

Thankfully, plenty of people have gone before you and learned a few lessons the hard way, and we’re here to pass them on to you. Here are a few tips, tricks, and strategies to help in your goals


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Learn the Basics

You can’t play chess unless you know the rules. That means you really understand the goals of the game, how the pieces move, and some of the intricacies of some of the special rules. We will briefly touch on each of those here.

The Goal of the Game: The goal of the game is to checkmate your opponent’s king. This means that you trap your opponent’s king in a square in which he is currently in check (under attack from one of your pieces) and from which all his possible moves will only lead him to other squares in which he will be in check. 

Additionally, in order for your checkmate to hold, your opponent cannot block your attack on his king or attack and take your piece that is attacking his king.

How the Pieces Move: There are six different types of pieces in a chess game: pawns, knights, bishops, rooks, queens, and kings.

  • Pawns: Can only move forward. On their first move, they can move two spaces if they choose. Every following move, they can only move one space. Pawns attack only diagonally (one space).
  • Knights: Move in a L pattern—two spaces forward followed by one to the right or left. One space forward followed by two to the right or left, etc… Also, this piece “jumps.” It can move over pieces that would be blocking it.
  • Bishops: Move diagonally, always staying on the same color square throughout the game. They can move as many squares in one direction as the board allows.
  • Rooks: Move forward/backward and sideways. They, too, can move as many squares as the board allows in one direction.
  • Queens: Can move either diagonally like the bishop, or forward/backward or sideways like the rook. They, too, can move as many squares in one direction as the board allows.
  • King: Can move in any direction (diagonally, forward/backward, or sideways) like the queen, but only one square at a time

Special Rules: There are a couple special rules in chess, but to keep these tips at the beginner level we will only mention one: castling.

  • Castling: Castling is a special move that allows you to move two pieces at once, both your king and one of your rooks. The precondition is that neither your king nor the rook involved can have made any moves prior to castling in the game. In order to castle, the king moves two squares toward the rook in question, who moves through the king and is placed on the adjacent square on the king’s opposite side.

Those are some of the basic rules. For a complete description, you should probably reference an actual chess game—either a physical one or a computer version.

Make Good Moves to Start

In chess, the game really does begin with the first move. A bad first move can ruin your whole game. It really can. A common tactic is to advance one of the pawns in front of either your queen or king two spaces. This allows you to occupy one of the center squares in the game while being in position to attack a second such center piece.

This makes for a strong first move. Not only does it give you strength in the center of the board, but it opens up a diagonal channel for one of your bishops and either your queen or your king. This gives you powerful options on your next move.

Other tactics involve bringing your knights into play in the first couple moves. The knight is the only other piece besides the pawn that actually has the ability to make the first move (that is not necessarily a recommendation). If moved toward the center, the knight will be in a position to attack two center squares after just one move.

One of the critical goals of your first series of moves is to develop your major pieces (not the queen—it is usually wiser to keep the queen back and save her for use later in the game) like the knight and the bishop. You do this by opening channels for the bishop and spaces for the knight. And then utilizing those channels and spaces to take critical positions on the board.

Develop Knights Before Bishops.

As a general rule, you should bring your knights into the game before your bishops. And the bishops before rooks and your queen. There may be times where you will violate this maxim, but generally, most of the time, you should send your knights in first among your major pieces. The focus of their attack should be the center of the board.

Keep Your Eyes Open

Chess requires full focus on the board. It is an entirely a game of strategy in which the influence of chance has been entirely eliminated. When you lose a game it is entirely your fault. There is no one else to blame. There are no dice. There are no cards. It’s one person against another in a game of strategy.

With that in mind, keep a little flexibility in your own plans and tried to figure out what your opponent is up to. Try to look at all the possibilities. Is your opponent laying traps? Is he developing an offense? Or is he playing defensively?

Look at the options you have for capturing your opponent’s pieces. Will taking such moves expose you? Or are they a gift from your opponent’s carelessness?

And last, but not least, make sure you take your time and double-check everything.

Make Every Move Count

You shouldn’t spend all your beginning moves just moving pawns about the board. That will provide your opponent ample opportunity to cut through your defenses and tear your army apart.

You may have to take risks, and you may have to sacrifice pieces, but you should always try to move the game forward to keep the pressure on your opponent. If you don’t have the advantage, work to get it. If you do the advantage, work to take your opponent down.

Don’t dawdle.

Make Use of the Castle Option Early On

The castle option is a great way to move your king away from the center of the board toward one of the corners where he can be defended more easily. The catch, though, is that it requires a move. A move that may interrupt your attack plan, if you wait too long before you use it. So, castle early in the game, when you can.

Used correctly, castling provides a great way of getting your king into a relatively safe position quickly. Not only does it allow your king to move two squares at once, it places a rook (a very powerful piece) on one side of the king to make a formidable wall of protection.

Additionally, when you castle, there is a strong likelihood that you’ll be able to place the king behind a wall of nearby pawns to further fortify his defense. In fact, this is the recommended way to castle properly for beginners.

Go on the Offensive in the “Middlegame”

The middlegame starts after you’ve developed your knights and bishops and castled when appropriate. At this point, your goal is to weaken your opponent’s army so that you can capture his king. To that end, you should be on the lookout for unprotected pieces. If the piece is available, do an analysis, and take it if it seems wise to do so.

Don’t take a piece if it will leave a hole in your defenses or if it will lead to a continuous series of trades in which you will come out the loser. For example, if you have to sacrifice a knight, a bishop, and a rook to get your opponent’s pawn, knight, and bishop, you lost the exchange. Don’t go for that.

But if you can do an exchange where you come out the winner, that is the way many chess games are won.

Lose Pieces with Care

We mentioned the trading of pieces above. As a general rule, you should try to keep as many of your major pieces as you can. However, you may find yourself in situations where you have no choice but to lose a piece, and you must choose between two of your major pieces. 

All things being equal, next to the king, the queen is the most powerful piece, followed by the rook, followed by both the bishop and the knight, followed by the lowly pawn. Going by that, you should be willing to sacrifice a pawn before a knight or bishop, and so on.

In chess, though, all things are not always equal. Sometimes, you might be able to sacrifice a queen over a pawn—if that exchange brings you the victory. But for beginning players, such situations are rare.

Protect Your Pieces Carefully

What do we mean by the term “protect your pieces?” Basically, place another of your pieces in a position that “attacks” the square your first piece occupies. For example, if you have a knight on a square, it can be “protected” by a pawn placed on a square behind and to the left (or right) of it. That way, the pawn is positioned so he can immediately “attack” any piece that takes your knight.

Sometimes, you should even double-up, triple-up, or more when protecting a piece. This builds strength in your fortification, if you will. Because if a long series of exchanges comes about, you want to be on the winning end.

Note, pawns are great to use for protection, because they are of such low value, you lose very little, if they are taken in turn. 

Don’t Hurry

If you rush through your moves in chess, you are likely to make more mistakes. Even one mistake can cost you the game. So, don’t rush! If a good move presents itself to you, take a little bit of time and examine the board to see if you can find something even better. Patience is critical in chess.

Move Your Pieces One at a Time

Unless you are seizing a sudden opportunity, or are being forced to act defensively, you shouldn’t move the same piece twice in a row. Instead, develop your formation slowly moving its constituent pieces one at a time. That way, if your plan is interrupted by a clever move of your opponent, you might be able to react with a simple adjustment instead of a quick retreat.

 

Position Your Pieces Wisely

Chess is a game that is won and lost with the positioning of the pieces. To get your opponent’s king, you have to maneuver your pieces across the board, through your opponent’s army, and overcome his or her defenses. The key is to position your pieces with care, maximizing your options.

Pawns are good for probing and for protecting other pieces. Knights are more effective and versatile when they are near the center of the board. Bishops work best when they are placed on long diagonals. Rooks work well in the center and on long open files. The queen is the most versatile and powerful piece on the board.

Plan Ahead

The key to chess strategy is to plan ahead. Make your first move with your next three, four, or even five in mind. And keep going at that level throughout the rest of the game, thinking five moves ahead if you can.

The best way to learn how to plan ahead is through practice. Play a lot of chess, against many opponents. These days you can play against a computer. In fact, computers dominate in chess now. That can be good or bad, depending upon how you look at it.

It’s always a good idea to play against someone a little better than you, so that you can stretch your abilities and learn. So, if you do play against a computer, set the difficulty just a little higher than your skill level. This will force you to learn and develop new skills.

Another thing you can try is to research and practice some common chess openings. For example, you can explore The English Opening, The Ruy Lopez, The Queen’s Gambit, The King’s Gambit and others. Examine the strategies of and defenses against each opening and learn from them. This will get you thinking ahead.

Control the Center

A critical strategy of chess is to control the center of the board. This is usually defined as the four squares that make up the center. If you can control these squares, you can attack anywhere else on the board with relative ease. This gives you control of the pace of the game, the direction of the game, and its overall flow.

Major pieces are also more versatile and, therefore, more powerful when placed in the center as opposed to around the edges or in the corners. The knight, for example, has a choice between eight possible moves in the center, but only two in the corner. 

Dominate the Endgame

After you’ve exchanged a few pieces with your opponent and one or the other of you has gained the upper hand, the endgame begins. Pawns are more significant at this point in the game because they can be exchanged for queens--if they are advanced to the opposite side of the board.

Remember, though, the goal is to trap the king so that he has nowhere to move, and then check him where he stands. If your opponent cannot move his king out of check, take the piece that has place his king in check, or block the check, he is in checkmate. A checkmate marks the end of the game. If you checkmate your opponent’s king, you are the winner.

Note, a knight has a special advantage when trying to check or checkmate a king. Since the knight can jump other pieces, it cannot be blocked. So, if your knight checks a king, your opponent must either take your knight—if he can—or move his king. He has no other option.

Keep an Eye on Your Own King

Don’t get so focused on attacking your opponent that you lose sight of your own defenses. Remember to keep your king well-defended and safe from checkmate. A good way to keep your king to do this, at least in the beginning of the game, is to hide your king behind a line of protective pawns.

Learn Good Sportsmanship

The most critical point of any game is to realize it is just a game. So, whether or not you win or lose, you should treat your opponent well. Congratulate your opponent if he wins, and thank him for a good game if he loses. Even the best of players still lose on occasion.

So, always be a good sport and be gracious to your opponent.

 

Conclusion

Well, there are our 17 tips and strategies to help you win at chess. None of them are too difficult, so we hope you can learn them and successfully incorporate them into your strategies and improve your game. Good luck!


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