I’ve always been a little bit intimidated by chess. People assume that I’m good at it and I’m not. I suck. So I downloaded a chess game for my kindle tablet and I’ve been diving in. I figure, if I can’t get over the embarrassment of losing to a computer I’m a total wuss, so get to it. I’ve been getting my ass kicked ever since. At a ridiculously easy setting. I can only hope the experience makes me better.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. (I’m tempted to leave that as cryptic advice.)

    Chess requires study. If you really want to improve, download a book on chess for beginners (or whatever level you’re at), and, when you play against the computer, apply what you’ve learned from it.

    • I was going to recommend the same thing. I have not put the effort into it, but I do get the impression that being taught to play helps in ways that playing without instruction does not.

    • Yeah, this. My game improved dramatically when I read up and learned something as simple as the concepts of the opening, the middlegame, and the endgame and the three mindsets involved for each. It never occurred to me to think about it as three phases with three distinct goals… but the second I did? Wham. I got better.

      Not good, of course… but better.

    • Yep. If you’re going to be competent at it, you have to study and work. Think of it like this, Burt. If you’re the defense attorney in a complex criminal case, you introduce witnesses and evidence in a specific order for specific purposes. If I asked you, “Why introduce that piece of evidence at this point?” you have an answer. It either blocks the prosecutor’s development of her case, or sets up a witness you’ll be bringing in, or something. But it’s done for some reason. Same thing in chess. Fundamentally, if you can’t say why you made a particular move (control the center, blocking the opponent’s development, attacking a particular weakness in the opponent’s position, setting up a next move or a trap, etc), you’re just a piece-pusher. I no longer play because I’m not willing to work hard enough at it to be more than just a piece-pusher.

  2. When I was very young, my Dad started teaching me chess… and I was damned good. I could pretty regularly beat him. Then as the years went on, I could win maybe half the time, maybe. Another year, and it was even harder. Then I played some kids at school and I was completely mediocre. It was around that time that I started to clue in, my Dad had been letting me win!!!

    He of course, sheepishly denied it when confronted.

    Bottom line, I suck.

    • I taught my kids chess by periodically turning the board around and letting them play my positions. Learning to see both sides of the board is the fundamental skill in chess.

  3. I think the only way to get really good at chess is to find someone better than you are (i.e someone who can beat you more than 90% of the time) and play them a lot.
    Computer games help in this regard.
    Don’t be satisfied with merely winning the game.

    And I’m glad you’ve taken the plunge.

  4. Chess sucks. Enjoy learning the pretty pictures, but it’s really a pretty boring game.

  5. Read Jeremy Silman’s How to Reassess Your Chess, or really any of his books if you want to know how to advance past a tactical level of thinking. You’re going to need to learn about positional chess: understanding double bishops, open vs closed games, black or white square control, backward pawns and how to attack these kinds of weak structures.

    If you need a more basic primer, pick up Bruce Pandolfini’s books like Ultimate Guide to Chess or even Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess.

    It’s just a game Burt. Have fun with it. Don’t play computers; go play for free online with humans. Yahoo, ICC, etc.

  6. One thing I found helpful when I was getting started with a couple other abstract strategy games was to play by email (with a several-week time limit per move) — my excessive vanity compelled me to spend a (ridiculously) long time studying each position and playing out many different scenarios, which ended up teaching me a lot of patterns (while significantly slowing my progress towards finishing my dissertation).

  7. You should play human beings, not computers. Humans make similar mistakes to your own.

    I recommend the Free Internet Chess Server. Mail me for my contact information there, and we can play some games.

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