Learn to play chess for beginners (and a game showing how to)

Active king in the endgame

In this article I will be showing you how to get to next step, beyond the absolute beginner level to just the beginner level. I covered all the basics in a previous post, and now it’s time to take the next step.

Let’s learn to play chess for beginners!

The opening

The game is about to start, and you have all this about “opening theory” and that sort of carry-on. Well, no need to worry if you feel like the lack of opening knowledge will ruin the game for you:

Your opponent probably doesn’t know too much on the topic either! 

(and if you’re facing a much better player, you’re probably not standing a chance either way, so the opening won’t be the reason you might fail to score…)

My point is that in whether it’s a live tournament or a game online, you are likely to be playing someone with somewhat the same rating as you. If you’re a complete beginner and don’t know much or anything when it comes to known opening theory, it’s quite likely that goes for your opponent as well.

You don’t need to know a lot of opening theory to play chess. In fact, you don’t need to know anything to play for fun! Or even to have a chance to win games! Personally, I’ve played a ton of games without knowing anything about the opening. But if you know something about how to play the opening, you will be able to get playable positions where you can win by outplaying your opponents.

So, let’s focus on a few general tips.


General tips in the opening

  • Get out of the blocks! –> Get one or two of your central pawns out (d or e), and get your minor pieces out.
  • Castle –> For king safety and connecting your rooks.
  • Be careful with where you put your queen –> The queen is your most valuable piece apart from the king. If you move it around a lot in the opening, it will cost you time that could be better spent on moving other pieces.
  • Don’t hang your pieces –> I mean…duh! Obviously you won’t try to do this, but watch where your opponent is going and what they are threatening to do.

The middlegame

Now that you have (hopefully) reached a fully playable and probably somewhat equal position, it’s time for some middlegame tips.

  • Pawn structure 
    • You want to make sure your pawns are for the most part connected.
    • Get them to squares where they occupy valuable territory, often the center. From here they can support your other pieces when attacking.
    • As a general rule of thumb, avoid doubling your pawns.   Sound pawn structureUnsound pawn structure
  • Minor pieces
    • These guys are usually not too big of a threat by themselves, so they need to work together with either each other or with the major pieces.
    • During the early stages of the game, your minor pieces will often be further up the board compared to your major pieces.
    • Try to have your bishops controlling long diagonals. This will make them a big threat to your opponent, as they will often threaten more valuable pieces than themselves.
  • Rook connection
    • This will often recquire castling to either side.
    • This is usually a powerful weapon, either in form of the rooks being able to control two files, or doubling your rooks on a certain file and applying a lot of pressure to your opponent’s position.
  • Queen cooperation
    • Usually you will have moved a lot of other pieces before getting your queen into the game, but eventually this will happen – and it needs to happen!
    • Especially in the early middle game, your queen will make threats from a far, just like the bishops and rooks.
    • The queen makes for the most valuable piece when it can cooperate with your other pieces, especially because of it’s ability to launch checkmating attacks. Queen threats

Problem: What is white’s best move in the position in the diagram?

Hint: Try to make multiple threats in one move.

Leave your answer in the comments section!

  • King safety
    • In a sound beginner’s opening, you will more often than not find the king on g1. This is the square it lands on after developing your king-side knight and bishop followed by castling.
    • The pawns should in this case guard the king by staying on f2, g2 and h2. Sometimes you will want to move one of these, but usually not more than one.
    • At some point, you might also want to make luft. This means moving one of these pawns (usually the h-pawn) one square. The move h2-h3 is common to see at some point. The “luft” term is derived from German, and simply means creating a space for the king in case of a check along the the first rank (by a rook or a queen), escaping the back-rank checkmate.

The endgame

First we have to define when the endgame starts, and quite frankly it is quite hard to put this into precise terms. The endgame usually starts after a series of captures, as the material on the board is substantially lower than in the middlegame.

Another way to see it, is when there is more maneuvering on the board, with less tactial possibilities. The middlegame can – and often will – contain strategic maneuvering as well, but with more pieces on the board, the chances of tactical blows will also be higher compared to the endgame.

What is important in the endgame?

Quite often one thing is more important in the endgame compared to the middle game:

An active king!

You will more often than not need your king to both attack and defend in the endgame. This is not the case in the earlier stage of the game, as your main goal with king is protection. Now he’s an asset!

Just think of a pawn endgame: How would you win a position like the one diagrammed without using your king? Well, you wouldn’t… But if you do use your king, the position is easily won! King activity in the endgame

White’s plan would simply be to march up the board towards the h7-pawn, capture it, and then promote their own h-pawn. If the black king leaves white’s a-pawn to defend their own h-pawn, white will simply promote the a-pawn instead.

The point is that you need an active king in the endgame!

A game showing these principles in action

Apply these principles

If you want to learn to play chess for beginners, go ahead and apply these principles. I’m sure this will do a lot to your game! Obviously you won’t just win every game, but this will lead to your game being sounder, and you will hopefully have fewer “pulling your hair out”-moments… :p

Let me know if these tips led to any good games, wins, interesting positions, or anything you would like to discuss!

Also, remember to leave the answer for the problem above… 😉


Until next time,


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2 thoughts on “Learn to play chess for beginners (and a game showing how to)”

  1. Very good instruction for beginners. My son wants to learn to play but I know nothing of proper strategies. I will have a look at this page with him.

    1. Good to hear, Christian!

      I hope your son get’s something out of it then, and maybe it will spark something in you as well… 😉

      Good luck to your son,

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