How to Win at Chess – Like a Pro!

Quick Summary:

  • There is no surefire way to win at chess, but there are some fast checkmates that can give you a win in a few moves.
  • The best bet to win at chess is to play principled fundamentals.
  • Strategy and tactics are important. We will look at what these terms mean and how they can even vary depending on the time control you’re playing at.
  • This article assumes that you know the rules of chess, if not, check out our Ultimate Guide on How to Play Chess.
  • Chess moves are described herein using algebraic notation. If you’re unsure what that is, check out Chessable’s Chess Notation for Beginners.

Many chess beginners often start by wondering how they can deliver a quick checkmate to their opponent. Many people start out playing casually against their family members and are looking for that first win. Maybe your grandfather has an undefeated record against you every holiday. Maybe you want to defeat your sister, who is captain of the chess club at school, or maybe you have a heated rivalry with your best friend who always wins.

I hate to break it to you, but there is no “easy way to win at chess”; at least not most of the time. If there were, then this game would not have endured for so many centuries.

That said, there are a few traps and quick checkmates that beginners are susceptible to. But if you want to learn to play like the pros, you’re going to need to up your game a bit more. Read ahead to find out your best chances.

Can I win in one move?

Well, the short answer (and long answer for that matter) is no, you cannot win in one move. If you could, that would make the game pretty boring, wouldn’t it? The only way to win in one move is if your opponent resigns immediately (a rather hard to imagine scenario), or you’re playing a tournament, and your opponent fails to show up.

If you’re a casual online player, you should consider participating in an in-person chess tournament. It is a highly enriching experience.

How Chess Tournaments Work

Can I win in two moves?

Yes! You actually can checkmate your opponent with only two moves when you are Black! It is the fewest number of moves required to deliver checkmate. It is highly uncommon and results only after a serious blunder by the White pieces. The mate is called the Fool’s Mate and arises if White pushes their f-pawn one or two squares on the first move (ever hear Ben Finegold say “never play f3”?), Black plays 1…e6 or 1…e5 (freeing the diagonal for their queen) 2.g4 Qh4#.

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1.f3 (or f4)

e6(or e5)

2.g4 Qh4#

Note that the move order of the f and g–pawns can be reversed.

The same mate pattern can happen for White, but because an extra move is necessary, it is a three move checkmate, e.g. 1.e4 g5 2.d3 f6 3.Qh5#.

The Scholar’s Mate/Four Move Checkmate

A two move or three move checkmate is going to be hard to deliver because it relies on your opponent gifting you the game by playing the worst moves possible. If you’re up against a casual player or beginner, you might be able to trick them into falling for the Scholar’s Mate, however.

The Scholar’s Mate is a four move checkmate that arises after the following moves (or similar).

1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6?? 4.Qxf7#

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And it’s checkmate!! Black did make a blunder here with, 3…Nf6, but unlike in the two move checkmate, this is a natural-looking move. To thwart this sort of attack, Black should have played 3…g6 to counterattack the queen and stop it from hitting the vulnerable f7 square.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Scholar’s Mate, how to deliver it and how to defend against it, check out our article on it.

These are a couple examples of checkmates you should know. Two or three move mates and the Scholar’s Mate are never seen at the top level or even beyond the basic beginner level. Attempts to use them actually violate the opening principles of chess (we’ll talk about that now). So if you’re up against someone beyond a beginner level, you’re going to need to know how to develop your game to play like a pro.

Opening principles

It is important to get off on the right foot and not put yourself in a bad position from the get-go. Let’s talk about what you should be doing the first few moves in a chess game to give yourself more winning chances.

Control the center

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These are the four squares you should be trying to control on your first move.

In chess, the battle begins in the center of the board. The middle four squares (as shown above) are what you should be aiming to control upon your first move. The reason for these squares being so important is that from them pieces have a great range of motion; they serve as a sort of launching pad to where the attack will happen. Also, you have more control over both sides of the board. You can see d4 and d5 are on the central left side of the board, while e4 and e5 are on the central right.

For that reason, the top two options on move one are 1.e4 (the King’s Pawn Opening) and 1.d4 (the Queen’s Pawn Opening). 1.e4 is slightly more popular, and is said to teach the fundamentals of tactics better, while 1.d4 is said to be more “positional” in nature. For that reason, it is recommended that absolute beginners start out playing 1.e4.

If you’re playing the black pieces, then 1…e5 or 1…d5 should be your response (depending if your opponent plays 1.e4 or 1.d5, you should respond with the symmetrical move). The reason is the same as for playing 1.e4, you are fighting for direct control of the center.

If you’ve looked at the most common openings, or perhaps games by the pros, you’ve probably noticed that 1…c5 (the Sicilian Defense) is popular amongst top players.

While this is true, complete beginners are usually advised to stick with 1…e5 against 1.e4. This is because it teaches you the fundamentals of opening play and controlling the center better than 1…c5. You’ll notice that 1…c5 does not control or occupy as many of the central squares as 1…e5. 1…e5 allows players freer development, and its ideas are easier to understand. As your game progresses, you’ll learn that there are exceptions to the rule, but in the beginning you should stick to the basics.

The ideas behind 1…c5 are more abstract than they are for 1…e5 and are harder for a beginner to grasp. It is very important to know why you are making a move. The more justifications you can give for making your move, the better the move is likely to be. Don’t play a move just because the pros play it or because it looks cool, play it because you think it will give you the best chances to win!

1.c4 1.Nf3 are also popular first moves, but what we just said about the Sicilian applies here; they are best reserved for later in your chess progression. Again, there is nothing wrong with them, but you’ll learn winning strategies easier with 1.e4 or 1.d4.

Develop your pieces

Now that you’ve made your first move, you need to get your pieces into the action. This is called development. When you’re doing this, it is a good idea to do it with as many purposes as possible. If you can, develop with an attack, do so. This will give you a time advantage, i.e. making your opponent respond to a threat that cannot be ignored (without suffering material loss or checkmate, thus spending a tempo or time).

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3

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Here White brings a piece into the action. In doing so, they attack Black’s e-pawn. Black cannot ignore this threat without suffering material loss. Thus, White achieved their goals while imposing upon Black their own agenda!

Black now has to defend the attacked e-pawn. The most common way to do this is 2…Nc6. Why? Well it serves multiple purposes: it develops a piece, putting the queenside knight into action, which has the knock-on effect of controlling the center, and it defends the e5 pawn.

It’s not the only move to develop a piece and defend the e-pawn at the same time (2…d6 does this too, by freeing up the queenside bishop diagonal), but it is probably the most sound way to do so. Don’t think this is just beginner’s advice either, these two moves are still extremely popular at all levels, even the super-GM level, so you’re imitating the pros by playing like this!

Continue with development

You should continue developing your minor pieces. Minor pieces mean your knights and bishops. This is in contrast to the major pieces, i.e. the queen and the rooks.

Remember when I said that attempting to use the scholar’s mate violated opening principles? Well this is because the queen was developed too soon. The queen should not be developed so soon because it can become an easy target and even get trapped. Also, the major pieces are developed last because they are more effective in the later stage of the game when pieces have been exchanged and there is not much blocking their way.

How and where you choose to develop is a matter of taste and picking an opening. That said, you should choose an opening that develops towards the center to active squares. Conventional wisdom says that knights should be developed before bishops, but this is hardly a steadfast rule.

Get ready to play like the pros by picking an opening from our list of 10 Chess Openings for Beginners.

Another key piece in development is to protect your king, and the absolute best way to do this is to castle. Castling is often, though by no means always, the last stage in development, before we head into the middlegame and start thinking of a plan.

After castling, we should now connect our rooks, which means having no pieces in between them on the last rank.

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What ideal development would look like. Two pawns in the center, bishops actively targeting vulnerable squares, such as the f7 square), knights with maximum range of movement, and the major pieces staring down the middle where things are likely to open up.

If you do the above, you’re likely to go very far and win many games. You don’t need to study lines of theory either.

You have probably noticed that top players often bend or outright break these rules, e.g., they don’t castle. You should still follow these principles until you know when you should break them. Know that every top chess player ever started off following them. And if you’re going to break the rules or play hard-to-play openings, just make sure you understand the why behind the move, and how your opponent may respond.

What grandmasters ask themselves before making a move

The following is a sort of mental checklist you should make before making a move. Grandmasters do this automatically, without even thinking, and with enough practice so will you.

  • Are there any forcing moves?

Forcing moves require your opponent to respond, lest they allow a loss of material or checkmate. These are checks, captures, and threats.

Checks are forced moves, captures often are (but not always), as are threats. Identify any you have against your opponent, and any your opponent may have against you. You need to take special care in ensuring any threats against your king are benign.

  • Ask yourself if everything is defended.

You should ask yourself what squares/pieces are left undefended after you make a move. Can your opponent exploit this? Are you making a threat but hanging a piece of your own?

It is crucial to ask what squares are left undefended when moving pawns. Pieces can retreat, pawns cannot. A pawn move cannot be taken back and thus can create permanent weaknesses in your position.

  • Ask yourself what your opponent’s threat is.

Based on what you calculate, this will help you determine whether the move you are considering is a good move or not. If you fail to take this into consideration, you will get caught by surprise, and it won’t be pleasant.

This list might seem long, but the more you consider this checklist before making a move, the more second-nature it will become for you, and the closer you will become to playing like the pros!

Coordination

Once you have all your pieces developed, you should try to make sure that they are coordinated. Coordination in chess basically means that the pieces complement each other and how well they work together. For example, when connecting your rooks when you are developing, you are coordinating your rooks.

Another example is a queen/bishop battery.

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When the queen and bishop are coordinated along the same diagonal this is called a battery. It is particularly dangerous when the queen is in front of the bishop.

If you coordinate well, run through the checklist mentioned above and develop with intent, tactics are bound to arise, which will let you win with ease.

Tactics

Part of your scan for checks, captures and threats involves looking for tactics. Tactics are a sequence of moves that result in a tangible gain, which can be material or positional. Training tactics is a vital part of training, and tactics training alone will let you reach a pretty high level in chess. Most games up to the intermediate level are decided by tactics alone.

You can start learning tactics basics with Everyone’s First Chess Workbook by FM Peter Giannatos. And if you aren’t sure if you’d like to purchase it, you can try a free lesson from it here.

Pins

A pin in chess is when a piece is attacked, and if it moves, it exposes an attack on a piece of greater value. In the case of an absolute pin, the piece cannot legally move because if it does, the king would be in check.

Any piece may be pinned (except the king).

Below is an example of a tactic that employs a pin. See if you can solve it. Black to move and gain material.

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Was it tricky? If you got it, congratulations, this is how you solve tactics puzzles. If not that’s okay, there is no immediate pin on the board, so it might be hard to see. Black must goad White into a pin with 1…Qh2+, forcing 2.Kf2, followed by 2…Rf5 and White’s Queen is pinned to their king! It can’t move as it would leave White’s king in check, which is illegal. Thus, Black wins the queen, for only a rook.

Forks

Forks are another type of tactic. Like a pin, a fork is an attack on two pieces. Forks can be delivered by any piece (except for pawns on outside files). A fork is used to gain material or threaten checkmate.

The most famous (and fun) type of fork is a royal fork. A royal fork is a fork in which both the king and queen are attacked.

Let’s look at a tactic involving a fork.

The following position is actually from a real game. The game was played in 1950 between Mikhail Tal (who was only 13 years old!) and a player known as “Pliss”.

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Can you find the next move which caused black to resign?

1.g4+! A royal fork delivered by a pawn of all pieces! Black cannot save their queen!

Skewers

Skewers, sometimes called a reverse pin, are tactics in which two pieces are attacked on the same line (like a pin), but the more valuable piece is in front. The more valuable piece must move in order to be saved, revealing an attack on a piece of lesser value.

Absolute skewers occur when the king is in front of a piece and must move because it is in check, thus revealing an attack on another piece. Like pins, only bishops, rooks, and queens may skewer pieces.

Check out this example from a 1982 game between John Nunn and Tigran Petrosian.

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Black resigned here, as if they move their knight, 2.Bb5 skewers the queen and rook. Notice how the rook on b1 defends the bishop if it moves to b5. That is an example of coordination!

Discovered attack

A discovered attack is when one piece moves out of the way of another, thereby revealing an attack.

When this happens with check, it is called a discovered check.

Look at this amusing example from this thrilling miniature in which Black’s king was chased all over the board.

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A discovered mate in one! 1.Kd2 is checkmate!

Removing the defender

Also known as undermining, removing the defender consists in capturing a piece that was defending another, leading the defended piece to be, well, undefended!

See if you can find what defender needs to be removed in the following position from this 1997 match between Loek Van Wely and Judit Polgar. It is a mate in three, with white to move.

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Did you find it? If not, consider what piece is stopping the knight and queen from ganging up on g3 (coordination!).

1..Rxf2+. The pawn! White resigned here, and rightfully so. If the game had continued it would have gone 2.Rxf2 Qxg3+ 3.Kf1 Qxf2#.

These aren’t the only tactical concepts you’ll need to know to play like the pros, but if you are practicing these regularly, you’ll be sure to win some games very fast.

Strategy

If you’ve been faithfully following the above advice, you’ve probably already been winning lots of games with ease. Taking the foregoing as far as you can will get you to great lengths in your chess career. You are probably well out of the beginner stage and need to take your game a step further.

There comes moments when you just do not know what to do when looking at a position. You’ve developed your pieces to good squares; your pieces are coordinated; you’ve gone through your mental checklist and evaluated threats; and you’ve done a scan for tactics, but there just is no obvious move.

What do you do?

This is where strategy comes into play. There won’t always be a tactic on the board. The higher rated you get the less likely it is your opponent will blunder their pieces.

Strategy is a long-term plan. It often focuses on finding your opponents weaknesses and trying to target them. You also need to take into consideration what your opponent’s strategy might be, and from there you can develop your defensive strategy.

Given that volumes of tomes have been written on chess strategy, we won’t go into exactly how to develop a strategy. Our partner company iChess.net can help beginners with some strategy tips. And Chessable has some strategy courses for all levels!

In the words of the great Frank Marshall, “a bad plan is better than none at all”.

How can I win at bullet chess?

Playing bullet or blitz chess (faster time controls) involves different skills than playing at longer or classical time controls. Generally, a sharp tactical eye will help you when playing bullet or blitz.

Good opening preparation and long-term planning are likely to win you more games than risky play in classical time controls. While low-rated games are often decided by tactics alone, once you’re at an intermediate level strategy is key to winning.

You can certainly play risky gambits and traps at long time controls, but your opponent may be prepared for these or will have enough time to calculate them, so risky play is often punished.

This is less true when playing bullet chess.

Bullet is played on instinct. See a tactic and execute it! It’s thrilling, and traps and gambits that would be considered unsound in classical chess can often pay off in fast time controls such as bullet. There simply is not enough time to calculate everything.

Let’s look at a trap that can win you lots of games very fast in bullet time controls.

It is called the fishing pole trap, and it arises from the Ruy Lopez opening after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6. 4.0-0.

Black plays 4…Ng4 hoping to goad white into 5.h3. Black plays 5…h5 sacrificing the knight on g4 and opens the h-file where a deadly attack will ensue if white does not know the trap.

5.h3 h5 6.hxg4 hxg4 7.Ne1. The knight retreats. It is now mate in four, can you solve the tactic?

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7…Qh4 threatening mate on h2. If 8.f4 or f3, 8…g3 and the king’s flight square is taken away! Any other moves here by white are just delaying the inevitable and the queen will deliver mate on the h-file.

This is just one example of a trap you can try in your bullet games (or your classical games, if you’re so daring). There are many more you can use to trick your opponent so you can win games fast!

In short, there is no one quick way to win at chess. Traps do exist, but strong players are unlikely to fall for them. The best way to win games quickly is by studying the fundamentals of the game.

Hopefully with this advice you’ll be able to finally beat your friends and family, and maybe you’ll consider joining an official tournament?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the trick to winning chess?

There is no one trick to winning in chess. Studying the fundamentals of the opening, tactics and developing a strategy are all a good starting point to playing winning chess.

Can you win chess in 2 moves?

You can win a game of chess in two moves with the Fool’s Mate. It arises after 1.f3 e5 2.g4 Qh5# (or a similar move order).

Can you win chess in 1 move?

The only way to win a game of chess in one move is for your opponent to resign after you play your first move or if your opponent shows up late to an official match.

What is the best first move in chess?

1.e4 is the most popular first move in chess from the beginning level to super-GMs and could be considered the best first move in chess.

How do you checkmate in 1 move?

It is not possible to deliver checkmate in one move.

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