Ask a Silly Question

It’s been amusing (or disturbing, depending on your perspective) to see the effect of the current chess mini-boom on both social media and book sales.

I belong to various Facebook groups for chess teachers and learners, where members, often newbies, ask questions, and receive, in most cases, unhelpful, or even dangerous, advice from the Dunnings and Krugers of the chess world.

Some typical examples:

“My rating on lichess is 800: what should I do to improve?” What happens is that you get a lot of people with dubious chess credentials hoping to make a quick buck by offering their services as chess teachers. You also get a lot of people recommending their favourite chess book, which they probably read half a century or so ago. The only really good answer to the question is “show me some of your games and I’ll give you some specific advice”. The second best answer, which nobody ever gives, is “if your rating’s under 1000 you’re hanging pieces regularly: stop hanging pieces and your rating will improve”.

If the question is instead “My rating is 1200: what should I do to improve?” the second best answer is “if your rating’s under 1500 you’re missing simple tactics: stop missing simple tactics and your rating will improve”.

The third best answer in each case would probably be “read my Chess Heroes books which are aimed at players of your strength” – but I’m awaiting further news from potential publishers.

The other good answer would be “put your pieces on good squares: you’ll be less likely to hang your pieces and simple tactics will be more likely to work in your favour”.

In essence chess is simple: put your pieces on good squares and calculate all forcing moves. But knowing the difference between good and bad squares involves, in part, understanding pawn structures.

It’s the chess book recommendations, though, that really gets me. There are a number of chess books which, although in some cases they are excellent in their own way, are recommended and bought far too often. I’m planning a series featuring some of these books (including at least one of mine).

My views:

Most readers of chess books would be much better advised to read simpler books rather than more difficult books and learn to do simple things well.

Most chess book publishers promote books as being suitable for lower rated players when they’re actually much more suited to higher rated players. They also – well, they would, wouldn’t they? – promote their books as being suitable for too wide a range of readers.

Which is why, in my book reviews, I always make a point of suggesting the rating range for which I consider the books to be most suitable.

Richard James

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Richard James

Author: Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy ( or and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966. Richard is a published author and his books can be found at Amazon. Richard is currently promoting minichess (games and puzzles using subsets of chess) for younger children through his website, and writing coaching materials for children (and adults) who want to start playing serious competitive chess, through View all posts by Richard James

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