One thing that is common in all three phases of a chess game is tactics. They are something you have to be alert for right from move #1. But very often it is seen that an average player will oversee tactics and remain focused on the development and castling, so much that he will foresee the tactical opportunities on-the-board and miss the chance to get a clear advantage in the opening.
Should you Memorize Chess Openings as a Beginner or Intermediate player?
The answer is No. There is a reason why many coaches don’t teach openings to their students at a very beginner level. If they are thought openings, players at the beginner level start giving all their brainpower to the initial setup and miss the opportunities that are presented to them on-the-board.
There is a high chance that your opponent of beginner or intermediate level will either change the move order in the opening or blunder something. And if you are not alert to it and tunnel visioned to create a setup on the board, that whole setup will become vulnerable and chances are that it will collapse very soon. Because although your opponent is not a top player but at least he has a plan and he is using his brain in moving the pieces.
In chess, it is said that a bad plan is better than no plan. And success early on is only in trying, not memorizing. Memorization in chess is for titled players, for all level masters especially the GMs.
For a beginner and intermediate level players, it is more important to first tune up their game. Fix the concepts and only after it start learning openings and memorize positions.
But don’t worry, being a 1700 rated online player, I’m also guilty of many bad chess habits. One of them is playing too much online Blitz.
Now Blitz is not a universally bad format of chess for everyone, they are bad only for players like me. And unlike me, they are very good for players like Hikaru Nakamura, who himself claimed that he hasn’t learned chess from books but from playing lots and lots of Blitz. According to him, he is a human version of chess AI, that learns from playing continuously.
Chess books are boring for him and he will rather enjoy playing games and solve a lot of tactics to become a better player.
Nakamura said all these things while reacting to an interview of his stepfather FM Sunil Weeramantry, who was also his 1st chess coach.
If you think your chess style is similar to Hikaru Nakamura, who is not interested in learning the classics and loves to play chess a lot. Just do 1 thing, solve a lot of tactics alongside.
We have listed the top 10 chess tactics and concepts that beginner and intermediate players struggle with.
Grasp a few or all of them and see what changes it brings to your overall rating.
1. The Endgame Chess Tactics
Alertness in endgames is as important as in the openings. Many beginner and intermediate players look at the board and think their king is not in any kind of danger especially if they are some kind of pawn up or a minor peace up.
The thing is, resilience is a very good thing but sometimes overambition can fall you into tactics that can totally change a winning position e.g. A tricky night forking the king and rook can cause absolute disaster to your winning odds.
Calculate till the end and maybe use some of the tips that GM Daniel Narodetsky has mentioned in the video below.
2. Stop Early Queen Attacks
Early queen attack is an absolutely useless plan even against a 1600 rated chess.com player. Unless you are a titled player and can recover from it very quickly after seeing the signs of retaliation or in chess terms a refute.
Some chess openings are also refuted e.g. Englund Gambit. You can easily counter and win against it with white pieces. Learning refutations like punishing the early queen attacks or bad openings like Englund gambit can make you a better chess player.
Check IM Levy Rozmann aka Gotham Chess’s guide on how to refute an early queen attack.
3. Having no Idea of Chess Principles
Do you know there are around 35 basic chess principles? Some of them are absolute and always true but most of them are conditional. e.g. “rook belongs to the open file” or “put your rook behind pawns both while defending and attacking”. Both these principles are part of a chess strategy. 1st one is more relevant when you are in opening to middle game transition or sometimes even in the opening but the 2nd one is an absolute principle in 99% of cases where you want to promote a pawn to a higher rank like Queen, Rook or a Knight.
In the video below, you will find all these 35 basic chess principles. If you can remember them, they will help you a lot in strategizing during long games. At the end of the day, chess is all logical and principled chess can save and win you a lot of games.
4. Know all the Themes of Chess Tactics by Name
This is not limited only to chess. Knowing the names makes it easier to remember people and things even in real life.
There are 24 different types of tactics in chess. If you go through each one of them at least once every week and solve a few puzzles of them, they will help you a lot in becoming a better chess player.
Games till master level are mostly won by tactics and not a strategy. If you are tactically aware and know the patterns, it will help you a lot in spotting them during the games.
5. Know the Right Method of Analyzing your Chess Games
Analyzing your games, at least the lost ones are very important to become a better chess player.
People get frustrated when they are unable to remember the right moves that they came to know during the game analysis.
And this problem is largely due to trying to analyze the whole games. As a beginner, it is almost impossible to fix a whole game in a single go. You have to bring small improvements in your game and not an abrupt change.
Looking back in past, I was unable to breach the 1500s-1600s rating mark for over a year. And looking back at it now, I think it was due to 2 reasons:
- lack of confidence when the rating goes up
- analyzing full games and trying to memorize games
I worked on both these problems and small improvements took my rating to 1850+ in May 2021 in chess.com Blitz, which now again is down to 1700s. But the good thing is I’m now rarely going below the 1700s mark. It happens for like half a day. But mostly the fluctuation is now in the 1700s and I’m confident that by the end of the year I will achieve a 2000 rating on chess.com. Because I have figured out that I’m not Nakamura and neither am I good at learning from books but with small improvements like analyzing properly and making small improvements is where my chess success lyes.
If you are curious to learn how to analyze your games, check the video below.
6. Having a False Sense of Security
We talked about the fare of the unknown in chess. But chess is a very tricky game. A totally opposite thing can also happen to you. Like having a false sense of security that your position is absolutely fine but in reality, it’s totally the opposite.
You will better understand this concept from a small video below:
7. Know the 3 basics of Chess Endgame
End games are trickier for players lacking a vision of the full board. But there are some principles that don’t require that much brainpower. All you have to know is when to use them. e.g. “centralizing the king is an important endgame chess principle”.
But it’s not a general principle for all endgames, you have to have a sense of when to apply it. e.g. in most endgames that involve a single minor peace e.g. knight and pawns vs knight and pawns or a bishop vs knight sort of games are the perfect setups to centralize your king.
The 2nd important principle is to not give up on your pawns or pawn structures easily in the end games. Chances are that the material is equal but your pawns are better than your opponent’s pawns.
And after a sequence of pawn exchanges, even with an equal amount of pawn exchange can remove your advantage of winning the game.
And the 3rd principle is to make a passer pawn. There can be instances where your passer pawn can be stronger than your opponent’s 6 pawns because you are Queening 1st and since your pawn is a passer, it can’t be stopped from promoting because of the situation of winning the “square rule” against your opponent’s king.
That rule of the square is explained by Magnus Carlsen in a video below:
Also if you want to see the practical example of three important chess endgame principles, watch the video below.
8. When to Look for Chess Tactics
You have already learned that your opponent can offer a tactical advantage at any point in the game. But what if you are playing Blitz or Bullets? Will you look for tactics on every move? It is impossible to win those games in a slow approach.
IM Alex has some knowledge of when exactly you should be looking for tactics. Watch it in the video below.
9. Not creating a Strategic plan in Middlegame Chess
In chess, they say “a bad plan is better than no plan”. You must have a plan before every move.
Especially in the middle game, having a strategy is a must.
If at a certain point your plan fails or a better plan appears on the board. You should be capable to transition towards it.
Because, at the end of the day, it’s an open truth that to become a top-level player, you must always have a plan. Even if there is nothing to do, just start playing back and forth moves for a while like chess engines, let your opponent do something and then plan accordingly.
Start thinking strategically in your games and see how much positive impact it brings in your game.
For more details, watch a video below:
10. Getting Greedy and Falling for Chess Gambits
Gambits are the trickiest to not fall for. Even the world champion Magnus Carlsen, when he played his 1st ever professional chess game. He fell for the Englund Gambit and lost the game.
A good thing about most gambits is that they are refuted. If you know the theory of countering them, you can easily avoid or even punish your opponent.
And I have a piece of advice for you, never Gambit against a very strong player. They can figure out the refute on the board.
11. Bonus Tip: Best Chess Books for Intermediate Players
Reading books is not a fun activity for most chess players nowadays. But to get from Intermediate to top level chess player, you have to go through it. There are way too many concepts that can only be grasped through books and unless you are not naturally gifted like Hikaru Nakamura, you have to find your workaround. And books are the best option.
Check out some of the Grandmaster Tips from Indian Super Grandmaster Vidit Gujrati including his recommended set of Chess books that took him from a 1900 rated player to a top Chess GM in a video below:
That’s all in chess tactics and concepts. For more chess content explore the following articles: