Novices and Experts

Education author and blogger David Didau has a lot to say about the difference between novices and experts on his website.

This article is a good place to start.

So when do chess novices become experts.

Let’s say, as a very general rule, that novices have a rating under 1000, and experts have a rating above 2000, with intermediate players being between 1000 and 2000.

Yes, I know there’s a big difference between FIDE ratings, ECF ratings, ratings and lichess ratings. There’s also a big difference between standard, rapid and blitz ratings. But let’s leave it there for now.

In the heyday of Richmond Junior Club in the 1990s our morning group was very specifically up to 1000, while our afternoon group catered for children between 1000 and 2000 strength. Perhaps I was lucky, as some have claimed. Perhaps I had an intuitive knowledge of what children needed.

If you disagreed and told me that an expert was really 2200+, or even 2500+, I’d also be happy with that.

Here’s Didau quoting Anders Ericsson:

For Anders Ericsson, an expert is someone who has achieved true mastery of their subject and has probably spent at least 10 years engaged in deliberate practice.

A true mastery of chess sounds to me like at least 2200 and quite possibly 2500. What do you think?

Of course chess is a complex subject. You may well be an expert at the king and queen checkmate (you can execute it without thinking because it’s become second nature) but a novice at the bishop and knight checkmate. Or perhaps you have intermediate knowledge: you could probably do it with some thought, but you’d struggle playing on an increment.

Or you might be an expert at the French Defence but a novice at the Sicilian Defence. Or an expert at the Sicilian Dragon but a novice at the Sicilian Najdorf.

I’m about 2000 strength myself, but I wouldn’t consider myself an expert at most aspects of playing chess well.

Didau also quotes John Sweller regarding different strategies for teaching novices, intermediates and experts.

  • Novice level – “detailed, direct instructional support…preferably in integrated or dual-modality formats”
  • Intermediate level – “a mix of direct instruction and problem-solving practice with reduced support”
  • Advanced level – “minimally guided problem-solving tasks…provide cognitively optimal instructional methods”

So a tactics question for a novice might be ‘find a fork’, and, for an intermediate player, ‘find the best move’. The novice receives direct instructional support while the intermediate player receives reduced support.

For experts, though, a tactics question should represent, as closely as possible, the experience of playing a game. Thomas Engqvist, in his introduction to 300 Most Important Chess Exercises, quotes Botvinnik as advocating that the training environment should be as similar as possible to a tournament situation. Well, yes, if you’re an expert, but not if you’re a novice.

For similar reasons, I’ve always believed that it’s counterproductive to put young children rated under 1000 into adult-style tournaments with clocks, arbiters, touch and move, total silence.

Instead, as novices, they need detailed direct instructional support: worksheets with simple puzzles, practice in simple endings, informal games with feedback from a teacher experienced in working at lower levels. Assuming, of course, that they want to graduate from ‘novice’ to ‘intermediate’ and then, perhaps, to ‘expert’. If they’re happy remaining a novice that’s fine, but they don’t need a chess teacher.

So the idea of the Chess Heroes books is to provide coaching materials to take someone up to about 1500 strength – a long way short of being an expert, but good enough to join an adult chess club and take part in adult competitive chess.

The books start with detailed direct instructional support, with the support gradually being reduced and the questions getting harder, until they reach the point where they can access exercises in which the training environment (is) as similar as possible to a tournament situation.

The four books covering checkmates, tactics, openings and endings will be available on Amazon shortly in physical format. I’ll describe them in more detail once they’re published.

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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