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

My elementary school had one of the best chess programs for kids in the nation. I joined when I was in the 2nd grade. In the 8th grade, my team set a record for highest score in the national championship that, I believe, still stands to this day.

I was easily the worst player on the team. My chess ranking usually hovered between 800 and 850. The area I lived in happened to be a hotspot for really good chess programs, so the local competition was fierce. When I went to the nationals, I ended up playing against a lot of kids from areas where there wasn’t much competition, so they’d end up playing the same pairings over and over again, which would end up skewing their ratings. You’d have one kids who’s marginally better at chess than the other seven kids in the regionals, and he’s have around a 1600 rating, because he’s just beating the same few players over and over.

Which is how I ended up going to Salt Lake City and winning a match against an opponent who’s chess ranking was nearly double mine. After spending six years watching my teammates regularly come home with trophies taller than they were, while I was empty handed, that win was amazing.

Must have been fucking devastating to the other kid, though.

I think my father first taught me the moves when I was about 5 years old. I remember enjoying games against him and, occasionally, my grandfather. The former was a slightly stronger player, as I was able to beat my grandfather fairly quickly. Then at about 8 years old I joined the chess club at school, and got some better instruction. Shortly after that I remember playing my dad and him blundering a rook in a really obvious way (as I now know, and he would be the first to admit, he isn’t a good player - for example, he taught me to get my rooks out by advancing the rook’s pawn and then moving the rook to the third rank). For some reason I was really upset about this, to the point of tears - I guess maybe it was my first realisation that dad isn’t some kind of superhuman who can’t be bested at anything. Which is odd in itself since he is not the competitive type at all. It was particularly striking because I’m rarely emotional. I don’t think we played again after that, but I continued to play at school and university, just about well enough to play in local league matches. After university I hardly played for years, but recently I’ve taken it up again on, where I pretty much only play 3-day games against a friend (I like being able to think about my move at a convenient time, rather than having to sit down for 1 hour+ at a time to have a decent game). My rating on there is around 1500 - MarcusEvans42 is the handle if anyone wants a game sometime. I’m happy to play anyone of any rating.

My family moved into a new house when I was three, and the previous owners had left a metal tin combo game with checkers, Chinese checkers, and chess. Somebody taught us how the pieces move, and my brother and I played. What we didn’t learn until later was how the game actually works, such as the goal of capturing the king.

Eventually I did learn, but not very formally. In high school I got scarred by a poor game at my first tournament*. I stopped playing until junior college, where I played mainly bughouse, with a bit of blitz.

*: My opponent’s father was standing behind me. I didn’t know that wasn’t allowed, but it sure was intimidating.

My father was a decent club player. I think he had a man-crush on Bobby Fischer (a Jewish New Yorker like himself, about the same age) and had hopes for me as a potential prodigy. He shared his copy of Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess when I was five or six and tried to engage me in games all the time.

Turns out I was no prodigy, although I did beat him maybe 10% of the time. I played a little in junior high but then dropped it until The Queen’s Gambit captivated me and my wife.

I finally got a chance to give this some thought, and I got the answer in a couple of minutes after realizing I made a couple mistakes earlier:

Re1 Kxd5

That should be helpful as well. For openings, a couple sources that I read give a list of openings, but don’t give much information on why some are better than others. (I am aware of certain basic principles, such as developing all your pieces, aiming to control the center, and not moving your queen too early.)

Well that’s about all you need to know about openings at (and above) your current level.

If you frequently find yourself losing material in the opening though, there are a couple of principles you can keep in mind to avoid getting caught in an opening trap:

  1. If there seems to be a hanging pawn (or even whole piece), double-check your opponent’s queen’s moves (e.g. is there a check that also forks a piece)?

  2. The f2 square is difficult to defend in the opening (f7 on black’s side). If your opponent points a bishop at that square, there’s a good chance a knight is going to also target that square. Don’t allow that.

  3. Careful leaving pieces two sideways squares apart. Pawn forks are common in the opening (actually, most players eventually develop an “alarm bell” for leaving pieces two sideways squares apart in any position, because pawn fork threats can manifest in lots of ways)

I have a similar story, with a different ending: The first time I legitimately beat my dad (at around the age of 12 or 13), he was shocked and angry and that was the last time we ever played. I would ask, and he would make an excuse, or outright refuse.

It taught me a lot about my dad’s (awful) character, and unfortunately negatively impacted my relationship with the game for years after.

Here’s another one composed by my student.
It’s White to play and mate in two moves.

White: King b3; Queen f1; Knights a4; pawn b6
Black: King a5; pawn b7

My father taught me the basic moves, but it was the early 70s, and every kid was playing chess, and so all my game play came at school. I became a little fixated on chess all the way through high school, owning dozens of books, playing over games in the newspaper, and eventually becoming high school champion of a Large Texas City*.

And then when I went to college and didn’t play for more than a decade. Eventually I moved to New England where a friend talked me into playing in a few tournaments (I took third in an open, which was a surprise to everyone involved including me), and then I stopped again.

At this point, I can tell my playing skills have declined a lot, and so I mainly solve problems on, which is fun because all positions are taken from actual games. Will I play competitively again? It’s always possible…I do miss that feeling of setting up the board across a table from someone.

  • but I feel compelled to add that there was one kid WAY better than everyone else, he ended up a Senior Master, and I took second place at every tournament until he moved to a different city :slight_smile:

My mom got re-married and with that came two step-brothers. I was 11 and our first Christmas together my step-brothers got me a pile of books (fiction) and a chess set. At the time I thought it was the most lame Christmas ever. I wanted none of that crap.

Turns out it was the best Christmas ever. They taught me to play chess and gave me the gift of loving to read.

I’m not a good chess player at all but I love playing it.

I’m not good enough to do this in my head, so I made it on apronus, here is the link in case anyone wants it: Chess Board Editor -

A good place to start with these is often to look at how the mating net might be constructed. This quickly leads to the realisation that Black is currently stalemated. So we can immediately discount moves that don’t relieve the stalemate, i.e. any king move, most rook moves except 1. Rd4+, and 1. c4. Next, we can discount moves that allow the black king too much freedom, such as 1. e3. At this stage I looked at 1. Rd4+ just to see if that might lead to mate, but after 1…exd4 white only has one move that gives check (2. Nf6+) and that isn’t mate.

So, the solution seems to be a knight move. But moving either knight allows the black king to escape to either f5 or f4, and then there is no mate. That’s what led me to re-examine the rook moves and change a word in the previous paragraph - if we move the rook off the d-file, the stalemate is lifted as the black king can take the d5 knight. This looks promising as it also leaves the black king with only 1 escape square, the one where it came from (e4). Can we move the rook so that it covers e4? Not as such, but if we play 1. Re1 (protecting e4), then after 1…Kxd5 then 2. e4 is mate. I hope! So I think that’s the solution.

I wonder if what is usually more true is that people either do or don’t love paying GAMES. I love games. Card games, board games, silly games like Cranium, I love all the games.

Yeah…I love games overall.

With Covid I miss playing board games.

Here is a link to this one: Chess Board Editor -

Again black is currently stalemate. The obvious try 1. Qf5+ fails as after 1…Ka6 there is no mate. Is there a Queen move that can relieve the stalemate and then checkmate the black king after it moves to a6? Not that I can see. What if we relieve the stalemate by allowing black to take our knight? 1. Kc4 looks promising - if 1…Kxa4, then 2. Qa1 is mate. And if 1…Ka6 (the only other move) then 2. Kb4 is a nice discovered check and mate.

Enjoyed these, thanks glee and glee’s student!

I’m not a very good chess player (or a very frequent one; I think I’ve played a grand total of three games this century, and one of them was using a medieval ruleset that is quite a bit different from modern chess), but my dad taught me how to play when I was a kid.

It works! Nice solve.

I learned casually as a kid but never played at all competitively or anything.

My son starting playing around age 4 and I’ve been learning the game as he does. Now he’s a reasonably strong 9-year-old (USCF 750 or so) so I can play games with him that are competitive enough if I limit my think time.

Now I’m in that dreaded zone where to get any better I have to really study endgame technique, which I find tedious as hell, and at 40 I don’t really have the memory skills for it anymore. Similar with openings - I can keep the first handful of mainline moves in mind for most common openings, but once things go off-book (or deep into the theory) I get stuck. My tactical awareness is pretty good though, so I can often get a swindle out of a bad opening just by finding a nice tactic in the middle-game.

Chess doesn’t require much memorization at the amateur level.

My rating is around 1900 and I basically only know one opening: my main opening as white.
That’s why I was able to confidently say upthread that knowing opening principles was all that was required to get to 1500-1600.

Now, it’s probably the case that at my level I need to start studying openings – I recently got spanked in a tournament game and my opponent told me I need to learn defense against the London system – but it’s not something you need early on.

And more so for the ending. There is not much “memory skill” required, mostly it’s principles like king activity, the opposition and wasting a move. Possibly there’s a bit of memorization in knowing which pawn endings are a draw versus a win (so you know whether to trade into an endgame). But, if you were to forget, it’s possible to work it out. So the only thing you really need to remember is an awareness that some K vs K+P endings are technical draws.

That’s interesting. What do you consider “knowing” an opening? I’m probably right around 1500 (hard to know since I only play online at this point), but I feel like there a few things I had to learn outside my mainline Italian game white opening.

For example, as an e4 player I have to know a few things about the Sicilian. So I know that an Open Sicilian is at least playable. About move 6 I’m generally in the “general principles” + “look for tactics” mode - no longer “in book”. I have to know a few things about the Scandinavian, since some folks like that - at least it’s not super tricky as long as you keep an eye on the queen.

Another example, recently a popular Youtuber made a whole series of videos about the Stafford gambit and I started seeing it all the time on lichess around my rating level. There were tons of videos showing how to “crush” people with it, but none of them showed how to defend. Once I sat down with the computer and played out a few lines I figured out how to survive. I wouldn’t say I “know” the Stafford, but I certainly had to study it a little bit.

On endings you’re certainly right. It’s just that nothing is more frustrating, to me at least, than having what I’m pretty sure is a “won” ending and not being able to convert it. It should be automatic, but even simple things like having the opposition when your pawn gets to the sixth rank I tend to forget in the heat of the moment. And that’s just simple K+P stuff.

I think a lot of it is that I play faster games than my skill would warrant. So I’m always low on time by the endgame or I blitz out an opening line and get tricked.

But yeah, I could probably get to 1800 or so (which I would consider a huge accomplishment) just by improving basic principles and tactical awareness.

That’s a good question. In a sense, I know a lot of openings, in that if you showed me the first 4 or 5 moves I can identify them as “The Four Knights”, “Fried Liver” etc. So in that sense I do know some book moves, but the critical thing is, I would be playing just out of chess principles to even arrive at those positions, let alone afterwards.
If you were to ask me “What moves comes next after The Four Knights has been played?” – I don’t know. If you were to ask me “What’s the main idea of this opening?” – I don’t know.

All I know is, I’ve got to get my pieces out, fight for control of the center, get my king safe and watch out for cheap shots like a timely queen check. That’s it.

It might be because my board visualization skill is still very low. Like, if you tell me a bunch of moves, and I don’t have a board handy to play it out, you may as well be telling me about a dream you once had – I have no idea what that looks like.

Anyway, it sounds like you know more than me about openings so maybe we can do some kind of advice exchange :slight_smile: