When I was young, I was always fascinated by the game of chess. I would often see people playing the game and pondering the board of pieces deeply, and like any naturally curious child, I wanted to know more. Unfortunately for me, no one in my family knew the game, so I filed it away on my list of "things to learn some day."
When I grew older, into my late teenage years, the father of a friend showed me the basic rules of the game one afternoon in 1997. I knew how the pieces moved before then, but he more or less opened my eyes to the beauty and majesty of the game, and at once I was hooked. I decided to invest some time in teaching myself the game, and over the next year I developed into what I would describe as a quite good player considering I was virtually entirely self educated.
After a year, I returned to this friend's house and utterly trounced him, a rather avid but casual player. Having observed that I was utterly inept at the game just a year earlier, he asked me how I did it. I never really was able to answer that question.
But in the last few days, I've been reading through my old journal entries, and I realized that during that year, I have a great deal of detailed notes on my gradual growth in playing the game. Of most interest is what exactly I did to teach myself the game.
As a result, what follows is a detailed description of how I taught myself to be a decent chess player in roughly a year. It didn't take much time each day, really; some days I would burn an afternoon at the game, but most days I would spend an hour or less. Given my improvement in playing the game, I can honestly say that this technique works.
So, without further ado...
Teach Yourself The Basics of Chess in a Year
This guide assumes that you already know the basic rules of chess. If you do not, visit this node and bone up on the rules. You'll have to buy a few things, but that is covered in the guide to come.
Why Would I Want To Do This?
Chess, aside from its simple beauty and elegance, is a fantastic example of strategic thought at work. It provides a thoroughly enjoyable pastime that allows you to sink your teeth in as deep as you wish, spending as little or as much as you want.
But one's appreciation of the game of kings grows that much stronger with at least a decent understanding of the strategy behind the game. It is truly enjoyable to be able to understand the nuances of the game, and to be able to relate these nuances to others. Chess is so elegant in its almost-deceptive simplicity to the newcomer; the true beauty is hidden in just a bit deeper.
Aside from the pure enjoyment of learning this beautiful game, you also gain a talent that can be demonstrated to others. It might also result in you joining a chess club, possibly gaining new acquaintances and friends. Perhaps even better, any activity that encourages you to think in any sort of abstract sense, as chess does, helps to strengthen one's thought processes.
In short, learning the game of chess on a level at least a bit deeper than perfunctory is well worth the investment of a bit of time.
What Do I Need?
For this, you only need three things. Essentially, these three things are all I used during the year that I learned the game.
A notebook with an ample supply of pencils. You'll need to take some notes in some fashion. I prefer the old fashioned way with paper and pencil, but you may prefer a more technologically conscious solution. The real core of it is a simple way to take notes.
A chess set and ample room to set it up regularly. I wound up using a pocket chess set for this, because I didn't have a whole lot of room. You may find that a spare table and space for a larger board may suit you better. Just have regular access to a chess set.
A copy of Chessmaster 6000 and a machine to run it on. This is the very program that I used to teach the game. On those two CDs is all the information and assistance that you'll need. In my first year, I never purchased a book of any sort. Given that the program is a couple of years old, you can often find a copy in the bargain bin at your local software store.
These three things, and on average an hour a day to invest in the game are all you need to teach yourself a bit more chess. I assume that you spend an hour each day at it; if you want to spend more, go for it. It will only make you a better player.
The First Day
Get Chessmaster, the notebook, and the chess set. Install Chessmaster on your computer and actually figure out how to run it. Of particular interest are two options, the Game Details option under the Game menu and Auto Annotate/Analyze Move List... under the Mentor menu. In learning the game at first, these two choices are absolutely essential.
The First Month
The first thing you should do is access the Game Details option and change your opponent to the weakest one that you have, the one at the bottom of the list with the lowest chess rating. This will be your opponent at first.
Spend an hour each evening playing this opponent, using assistance from the Coach panel that Chessmaster provides for you. After each game, use the Auto Annotate option to annotate the game and make a note of every point in the game that the annotation tells you was crucial or was a turning point in the game. Going through the game you just finished move by move and reading or listening to the annotation is essential.
As soon as you are good enough to beat the beginning player twice in a row (you should reach this point in a few days, if not sooner), do it without the help of the Coach panel; just remove it by clicking the x in the upper left of it. There will be plenty of time to learn about opening moves later. Play the player again until you can win two in a row without the coach, then use the Game Details to pick the next opponent up the ladder, and try to beat the player. Don't use the Coach again; at this point, the annotation should be your only guide to the games you play.
Eventually, by sheer repetition, you will begin to pick up the basics of chess notation. During the first month, much of my notebook was filled with pictures of the board, but as the month wore on, I grew to draw one position followed by annotation of future moves. You will, too; it will be ingrained in you by sheer repetition.
The Second Month
Spend the first half of your hour continuing to climb the ladder as before. No expectations and no coach, just try to win games and climb up the ladder. Review the annotations after each game.
For the other half hour each day, move the user back down to the easiest one; you are going to learn some openings. When you start a new game as white, simply choose Practice Openings from the Mentor menu. Pick one of them; this will be the opening move you will study for the month. I truly recommend the king's pawn opening, but feel free to choose any one you like.
Now, all you have to do is simply play games with this opening as you were before. Start climbing up the ladder again using this opening every single game. The same move, every time. Why? As you play, you'll come to understand this one particular opening quite greatly. Of course, the opponents you play, especially early on, will respond atrociously; that's all right.
Having described this method to some people, many were shocked at my complete refusal to use the coach tool provided with the game. My argument is this, and it proved itself to be valid for me: if you use the coach when you first start to learn, it becomes a crutch and you don't really learn a thing. It should only be a tool for more experienced players who can play without it; it is good for providing quick research into particular board settings against the game database.
The Third Month
Spend the first half of your hour climbing the ladder as you were the first two months. You can use the opening you've learned if you like; whatever it takes to keep winning games. The reason for this is to simply practice purely, without any rules or influences.
Now, for the other half of the hour, play games where you open the game as the black player rather than the white. You can do this just by selecting Game Details under the Game menu and choosing to rotate the board; thereafter, every game will have you playing as black until you flip back.
Now, practice the same opening you did before. The opponent will automatically make the first move; now you will learn to defend against that opening. For the first time, fire up the Coach and click on the Advice tab. A list of responses will come forth, all likely with names. Pick one and double-click on it and watch the move you make. If you chose the king's pawn opening, I strongly recommend the Sicilian defense, but again, it's your choice.
Now, every game you play this month in practicing defense will use this exact opening and response. Once you know the immediate response to white's opening, you play it every single time. Without the coach, start climbing the ladder again, using practice opening to force the opponent to open as you wish, then responding with the defense you chose.
Essentially, the goal here is to show the player how to respond to this particular opening move.
The Fourth Through Eleventh Month
Spend half the time climbing the ladder as before. Spend the other half with a month studying an opening, then the next month studying a defense against that opening. Choose different openings each time so that you can get a wider flavor of play. By this point, you should be annihilating the early players, so you don't have to start off at the bottom of the ladder; feel free to move up a few rungs.
The Twelfth Month
I assume that you've tinkered with the board you have in the past; now, here's a time to possibly use it. The last month should be spent playing nothing but blindfold chess against the computer, using the board at the start to help with some visualization.
Start a new game with yourself as white on Chessmaster and by clicking on the rules tab and making the white player play blindfold; also, uncheck the allowed touching rule. Also set up the board in front of you. Now, the goal for the first week is to learn how exactly the blindfold method is played against the computer. I recommend playing the game on the chessboard in front of you for the first day, then moving onscreen and making the opponent's move on your board. This way, you can learn to use the notation to directly visualize the moves.
On the eighth day, toss out the board and make a go of it without any visual cues, relying only on your mind. It will be quite hard, I assure you; expect to lose because you don't know where anything is at. Don't worry; you have some natural ability now.
After the first week, you'll learn to trust your instincts and use notation to visualize the games quite well. The rest of the month is pure practice at this, an hour a day.
Now, why would one do this? The reason is visualization; blindfold chess in this style absolutely forces you to use your mind to picture the board. As a result, you'll begin to think more abstractly about the game; when you see the listings of moves in a game, you can read them and actually visualize the game in your mind. It is a huge power and one that you'll find will increase your ability to play the game at a whole new level.
Once you've spent the last month playing nothing but blindfold chess, play a regular game and notice the raw improvement in your ability to think ahead. Now that you have the board in front of you, it is very easy to picture the next move in your mind, and that is the great secret of chess.
The next thing to do is find players. Visit your local chess club or find some interested friends and play some games. Now that you have skill at the game, you'll find that you already have a lot in common with a large number of avid chess players already out there.
But more than anything, have fun. That's what chess is really all about.