Chess Strategies for Beginners to Start on the Right Path

Updated August 12, 2021
Young woman playing ches

Like learning to speak a second language or play an instrument, it feels like it's easiest to learn chess when you're still a child. However, it's never too late to try your hand at this centuries-old game. It may take a bit more practice and time than if you were six or seven, but using a few key chess strategies made for beginners can put you on the road to becoming a Grandmaster in no time at all.

The Importance of Strategy in Chess

Fundamentally, chess is a strategic game created to mimic historic understandings of the ever-changing political and militaristic movements being made at the time. In fact, modern chess pieces' iconography resembles the very central figures of this medieval era: knights, kings, queens, and so on. As time has progressed, and the severe boundaries between social strata have broken down while affordances such as basic education and leisure time have become more widely available, more people have begun playing chess and have benefited from an osmotic understanding of strategy. Thus, every beginner chess player has to study up on a few basic strategic theories in order to get the best possible grasp of the game.

Strategic Theory for Beginners

Chessboard and chess pieces

While professional players can develop incredibly granular understandings of chess theory, beginners don't have to be too concerned with memorizing every possible move in the book. Rather, if you're just starting out, you should focus on understanding a few different areas of the game to boost your chances of holding your own.

Familiarize Yourself With Opening Strategy

In chess, the player holding the white pieces opens the game. Because this opening decision is so important for how the game progresses, there's an entire category of chess theory associated with the many possibilities of different openers. You don't need to know all the thousands of opening move combinations, but you should learn a few that will help you confidently launch your attack and defense, whether you're playing white or black.

Generally, the opening move takes place between the king or queen pawns, moving them to either e4 or d4, respectively. From these starting points, you can begin to exchange pieces, establish a good pawn structure, and dictate whether you're going to have an open or closed game. Essentially, opening moves lay the groundwork for where your game is heading, and you can take early control of the game using opening moves such as:

  • King's Gambit
  • Queen's Gambit
  • Spanish Opening
  • Center-Counter Defense
  • Sicilian Defense

Develop Your Pieces Early

Novice chess players might feel most comfortable focusing on one piece on the board and getting used to understanding how they can move that piece around to achieve different goals. However, chess is similar to playing the keyboard in that you shouldn't only focus on one note to play the entire arrangement. Thus, it's important for beginner players to develop their pieces early in a game.

Developing pieces in chess refers to moving the pieces out of their starting points to advantageous positions on the board. The quicker you can get ahead in developing your pieces, the quicker you'll be ready to attack your opponent. In this way, you're building a solid offense and defense at the same time. One quick tip to help beginners with development: try to lay a hand on every single one of your pieces as early as possible. Focusing on touching each piece will help train your brain into memorizing this routine of getting your pieces into position around the board.

Try To Control the Center

The center of a chess game refers to the literal center of a chess board and the moves and exchanges being made in that space. Taking control of the center means that you often have more of your pieces on the center squares than your opponent does, and that you're in a strongly defended position, pushing your opponent into reacting to your moves rather than asserting dominance of the board with their own. Simply put, chess pieces have the most opportunity to move around the board -- and attack more squares -- when they're centrally located. This means that whichever player holds control of the center can put all of their pieces to their fullest potential.

So, controlling the center is a great exercise for beginners to focus on as it gives you a higher probability of performing well in a game or match. However, as with anything in this world, too much of something is never a good thing, and only focusing on the center of the board can leave you vulnerable to well-placed moves.

Castle Your King if You Can

Castling refers to a unique move in chess that goes against the conventional rules of movement that most people are familiar with. Specifically, castling occurs when a player is allowed to move the king two squares towards the kingside or queenside rook. The rook then replaces the king in the square it just evacuated in a kingside castle -- or short castle -- or it moves to occupy d1 in a queenside castle -- also known as the long castle. Thus, two pieces move -- and pass through squares occupied by the other piece -- in a single turn.

There are a few caveats to castling that beginners should be aware of:

  • The king cannot castle if it is in check, though a rook can be used in a castle even if it's under attack.
  • The king cannot castle if it's already moved or the rook being used to castle has moved.
  • The king cannot castle if it passes through a square that is under attack.
  • The king cannot castle if there are any other pieces between it and the rook being used in the move.

Choosing to castle is an advantageous choice as it pushes the king into a position near the corner, which is more defensible from diagonal attacks. Moving your king away from the center can help by reducing the amount of the board that you have to be focused on at once. Accomplishing a well-placed castling can also make any beginner feel like they're completing an advanced move, which is great for building morale and confidence in their abilities.

Play Around and Don't Get Overwhelmed

It's all too easy to get overwhelmed with the details of advanced chess. Unfortunately, the glamor of these sweeping moves that grandmasters make to win international matches are the things that usually draw people to start playing chess. However, even the most successful grandmaster once had to learn the basics, and you can too. Take care to have fun and if you get stuck while trying to perfect one aspect of chess strategy, jump to another. The more fun you have, the quicker you'll be able to perfect the beginner strategies and move into the intermediate and advanced material.

Chess Strategies for Beginners to Start on the Right Path