Chess Players: When & How Did You Learn To Play?

I learned in the basement of the orphanage where I lived. I finished a math test early, so the teacher sent me downstairs to pound erasers, and I got to know the friendly janitor, who was obsessed with chess.

Joking aside, the summer before 6th grade, Mom sent me to this two-week summer enrichment program a local college was offering. We had various electives, such as calligraphy (which I signed up for) and chess (which I also signed up for).

I learned pretty quickly that the chess elective was designed for kids who already knew how to play, as Professor von Drake (or whatever his name was) seemed pretty taken aback at the 4-5 us who sat at the tables looking stupid and asked to be taught how to play. Nevertheless, teach us he did.

I picked up some bad habits that summer, habits that stuck with me for the next 40 years, as I was never exposed to formal chess training or tournaments or whatever. Everything I learned I just kind of figured out organically; I figured out how to utilize pins, forks, and skewers, for example, before I ever read a book that mentioned them specifically. I only ever played casually.

Here, at 50, I’m a mediocre chess player. My rating fluctuates between 1000-1100. Once the pandemic is over, I’ll probably join USCF and start playing over-the-board tournaments and maybe I’ll improve a bit.

My elementary school had an afterschool game club where chess was one of the featured board games. Chess drew me in more than the other games (it’s been a long time ago, so I forgot exactly why), and I spent many afternoons playing chess against the other school kids, starting around when I was ~10 years old.

This inspired me to buy my own chess board, and I taught my dad the rules as well, so that we could play together during breaks in long road trips with the family. As I began taking chess more seriously, I frequently borrowed chess books from the library, which was my first source of serious chess strategy. Also, this was around the time that the Chessmaster computer game series was in vogue, so I bought one of those versions and played against the various AI profiles.

After I moved on to middle school, I joined a chess club at my library where I could continue to play against other local kids. And when I got to high school, I joined the school chess club, where I competed in regional and state tournaments.

For all my playing and training, I never became that good at the game, and I never received an official rating, but if I did I would estimate myself topping out at 1500 Elo. After high school, chess fell by the wayside as video games and physical activities became more appealing to me, and nowadays I practically never play anymore, online or offline, but if someone were to bring a chess board and challenge me to a match, I wouldn’t turn them down.

I’ve also stopped following human chess news after high school because I felt top-level chess became too drawish, but I still check in on computer chess developments from time to time. In particular, the emergence of Rybka in 2005, and later AlphaZero in late 2017, were a couple of the few things I’ve encountered in my life that truly blew my mind, as they shattered what people perceived as a plateau in computer chess development at those respective years.

I had some Sixties or Seventies chess set specifically for teaching kids. The board and plastic pieces came in a box roughly the size of what LIFE used and the inside of the lid detailed how each piece moves.

I’m no good at the game, though; I suspect it’s because I’m on the Autism spectrum and cannot anticipate moves. I did mange to get my brother in check once and surprised the hell out of him.

At age 11 my uncle (my late aunt’s husband really) taught me the rules while I was staying with them for the summer. He was a good player, so it must have been torture playing with me for all those hours. I haven’t played all that much in the last 40+ years.

I’m rated around 1100 on I started playing again during the height of the pandemic when everything was shut down. My 15 year old daughter who rarely plays can usually beat me. She’s had a lot more instruction and has been playing since age 6.

I learned at home as a small boy. It’s literally the only game that I remember how to play and that I’ve had any significant chance to engage in, intermittently over the years. I’m not much for games.

Same here. I have a travel-size set that used to be my brother’s but cannot remember the last time it was used.

I learned the chess rules as a young boy in the mid sixties, and played once in a while at home against my father and grandfather, but nothing even remotely serious. In the late seventies, my father (a strong chess player) bought one of the first chess computers (Challenger), and that piqued my interest in the game for the first time. I was allowed to have a go against the machine at a regular basis, analysed games with my father, and gradually beat the higher levels. I started to look a bit at opening theory, combination, tactics, and end games - mainly over the board with my father.

In 1980 I moved to Delft to start working on a Ph.D. in chemistry. Opportunities to play with my father had of course decreased to the occasional weekends, and I was looking to play chess more regularly. I joined the strongest local chess club (DSC), started to play in the internal competition, and saw my strength increase. At my peak (around 1985) I played in the first team, in the second Dutch national division, with reasonable scores, and an Elo rating of around 1900. I also played a number of games in simultaneous exhibitions against masters and grandmasters, and defeated three of them.

And then I quit playing chess to pursue other interests. In the nineties I tried correspondence chess for a while (encouraged by my father who had taken it up and later became Dutch national champion in it), but I did not like it.

The pandemic of 2020/2021 meant more time at home, and I searched for a site to play on-line chess. I found it in I registered November 20th 2020, and first played lots of games against the various free computer programmes on the site. It confronted me quickly how much I had forgotten about the game, making rookie mistakes all the time, but slowly I picked up. It also became clear that these programmes at the levels I tried (1600-2000 Elo) were very good in tactics, but not in strategies, let alone end games. I decided that I could not further improve (aiming for my old level) this way, and that I needed actual human opponents.

I picked the “rapid” (30 minutes per person per game, around 14 million active players) mode as a good compromise to play chess on-line - long enough to think about the moves, short enough to be able to set aside an hour purely for a game. The site had to assign me an Elo rating to pair me with players of similar strength - based on my own assessment of intermediate strength (given my background but also the frequent howlers against the chess programmes), I started at a 1200 rating. The rest of the year I played 52 games against human opposition in this format, some nice wins, some awful losses (including a defeat in 7 moves by blundering a piece in the opening). I did get the feeling that gradually some of my skills of the eighties were coming back. My rating increased and is around 1750 now. This month I started to focus on 5 minutes games, so far so good.

I always loved board games, so when I ran across chess in the encyclopedia, I taught myself from that article and then pestered my parents until they bought a cheap chess set. Then I taught my friends at elementary school and played against them. In high school, I found other players and we played at lunch time and free periods in the library (where we would often get kicked out for being too rowdy).

It wasn’t until I got to college and joined a real chess club (right about the start of the Fischer craze at that) that I realized how terrible I and my high school friends were at the game. My first USCF rating was around 1100. I ended up making it to about 2050 by grad school, and by that point realized that while I had legitimate hopes of achieving a Master rating, it would take a lot of work and studying.

When I hit the work force, I didn’t even have the time to upgrade and maintain my skills to the 2100 level, so I stopped playing except an occasional untimed recreational game. I’m a Life Member of the USCF, though, so I still have a (somewhat theoretical at this point) rating (around 2020).

Haven’t played in years, but I learned on the Chessmaster 2100 on DOS.

My dad taught me when I was no more than 8. He used to spot me a queen! Sadly, I haven’t gotten much better in the intervening 60 years.

My dad taught me one night when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. A year or so later, I started playing during a weekly activity period at middle school for a few years. Since then, I only played very sporadically until sometime last summer, when I joined I play a game or two almost every day, but I’m still pretty terrible. My Elo rating hovers in the low 1100s for rapid games. I’ve tried going through all the tutorials on the website, but I can’t seem to grasp any of the more difficult puzzles (e.g., checkmate the opponent in 5 moves).

I think chess is often a game where players are “born again”.

In the West it is very common to learn the rules of the game, and play casually with one’s peers by high school at the latest.

Then, at another time of life that might be quite far removed (if it happens at all), a person may take an active interest in chess, and actually study tactics and strategy, and improve considerably.


In my case, I learned chess around the age of 9, and though I continued playing in secondary school, I routinely got my ass handed to me, and I shudder to think of how badly I must have played back then.

I was approaching 30 when I worked in an office with a number of keen chess players, and I was “reborn” at that time. This time I found good resources for studying, and I quickly became the best player in that office. It took some years, but the new plateau is trying to beat the masters at my local chess club :slight_smile:
I love the game now; watching analyses of chess games is one of my favorite ways to unwind.

My Dad and my grandparents taught me to play; I honestly do not know who gave me the first lesson.

It was my Dad whom I played probably 100, 200 times before I finally beat him; he never, ever let me win. I can still reconstruct the winning move from my first victory. He was as happy as I was.

I was about five years old when I saw some chess on a children’s TV programme ("Blue Peter’.) I thought it looked interesting.
So my parents (who didn’t play chess) got me a chess set and a book from the library (Bott and Morrison ‘Chess for Children’) and I taught myself.

I practised for years alone at home* by making a move, then rotating the board and replying to myself.
When I was twelve, my parents asked a chess-playing friend to give me some lessons.
He soon recommended I join a local chess club.

Within 6 years I was rated 2200 Elo - and I’ve had a long and happy time playing and teaching chess since. :smiley:

*I have Asperger’s syndrome, which undoubtedly explains why chess appeals to me so much (and also why I didn’t have friends to play with.)

This has definitely been my experience. Learned at age 12, played casually and sporadically for 40 years, then chess got big thanks to the pandemic and The Queen’s Gambit, and now I’ve decided to try to git gud, as they say.

This is definitely how things went for me. When I was a boy, I played often against my grandfather, and sometimes against my uncle, who was a serious player. I played in a couple kids’ tournaments at school, and never did anything more serious than that. Then in my 20s I took up the game more seriously, playing a ton of online games, and in some local tournaments.

I sometimes wish I’d taken more of an interest as a kid - my uncle would have been an excellent teacher. On the other hand, I’ve gotten a great deal of enjoyment out of chess as it is, so it’s worked out pretty well.

I can assist with solving chess problems, if you like.

Here’s one composed by a student of mine.
It’s White to play and mate in two moves.

White: King b5; Rook d1; Knights d5,g7; pawns e2,c3
Black: King e4; pawns d6,e5

“Mate in N moves” puzzles are fun, but generally aren’t that useful for improving your competitive play.
In games you don’t get any bonus for using fewer moves, so it’s enough to look for a win, not a win in X.
(yes, hypothetically a quicker mate might make the difference for whether your time runs out, but in practice the fancy, sacrificial mates that you see in chess puzzles would take minutes to double-check and wouldn’t actually save any time, not for amateurs anyway).

The fastest way to get to 1500-1600 IME is just to look up the main tactical motifs: fork, pin, remove the defender, discovery etc and then use a “tactics trainer” app that tests how quickly you can spot these opportunities. You might also want to study the opening principles a little (not specific openings, just the concepts and goals), and the main endgames (e.g. force mate with king and rook). This will be more than enough to comfortably add a few hundred points to your current rating.

I learned the rules in college. Bought a few beginner books and Sargon 4 for my pc.

I never developed the concentration needed for chess. I found it tiring to strategize my moves and try to anticipate my opponent. It wasn’t enjoyable.

I lost interest years ago.

My parents got me a chess set when I was eight or nine. Dad showed me how the pieces move and played with me a bit and that was it. There was some sort of after school chess thing in elementary school but that was give us a few chess sets in the library and leave us to our own devices. I was not well served and it’s a shame because I find he idea of the game to be fascinating but I have no concept of even the most basic of strategy aside when I have read here in threads over the last year.