Little Things That Help Your Chess Game
These small things can improve your chess.

Little Things That Help Your Chess Game

| 60 | Other

Most lower-rated players want to improve their game, but many just want to slug it out in blitz and have a great time. I certainly understand that! However, for those that want to be as good as they can be, they'll have to work hard.

Play opponents who are better than you (being able to squash the same opponent again and again is sadistic and doesn’t teach you much). Learn basic endgames. Create a simple opening repertoire (understanding the moves are far more important than memorizing them). Study tactics. And pick up tons of patterns. That’s the drumbeat of success.


I’ve written about all these things (you can find them on, but here we’ll use IM Cyrus Lakdawala’s games (and often comments) to give you a quick start (shhhh…when I visited him I took all his games, so please don’t tell him or anyone else. I will give them back soon).

Here are some of the themes Cyrus and every good player has to deal with:

  • One unfortunate idea is the old, “I know what I want to do, and I don’t want care what my opponent will do.” Good luck!
  • Another way to fail is to ignore the importance of squares.
  • Yet another black hole is not having enough skills to create a serious kingside attack. That’s unfortunate since low-rated players can’t defend very well.

SAMPLES: "The old back and forth" plus "I don’t know my opponent’s plan."

This is about moving a piece and then moving it back again (reminds me of The Hobbit’s “There and back again”). This is BAD!

It seems to happen when you see a killer move, make it (while chortling in your head about how wonderful you are), the opponent easily repels the move, and the killer move (its tail now dragging along the ground), goes all the way back.

This is a very good way to lose many games.

So what’s the cure? Simple: Instead of tossing a piece into the enemy territory, do your best to figure out what your opponent’s plans are.

Here’s a sample of this disease:

  • White’s bishop is aiming at Black’s king. Yum!
  • White’s e5-pawn is under pressure.

Okay, these two things are easy to understand.

  • Black has noticed a possible tactic via ...Bxa3 when taking the bishop would leave White’s knight without protection.

This might be missed by either side.

I see this kind of thing often from beginners to 1800.

Now we will see the same kind of “not knowing the opponent’s plan” in our next example, only it’s fairly subtle:


A simple opening with chances for both sides. Black wants to develop and castle, but where should Black’s dark-squared bishop go? Lakdawala’s answer is short and clear: “I prefer to keep the bishop on e7 in order to meet Ne5 with ...Nxe5.”

Simply put, if the Black bishop is on d6 and White moves his knight to e5, Black taking the knight would lose a piece (fxe5 would fork the f6-knight and d6-bishop). Of course, if Black never intended to take on e5 and just wanted to have the bishop on d6, then okay. But if it was played just because d6 looked prettier than ...Be7, you have no idea what you’re doing.

Do you understand squares?

Very strong players are always thinking about squares. This is a case in point.



Many players get upset if they feel many of my puzzles are too difficult. However, these are not created to make your ego feel good, though if you solve them then you have a right to look in the mirror and say, “I’m so smart, so good looking, so wise. I am a chess god!”

Seriously, the whole point is to teach you something. Try to solve it, fail (or succeed), tweak that little “?” mark, and learn.


The Board Won’t Help You, You Need to Help the Board



Always Know What the Opponent Wants to Do



Kill and Kill Again (or it will melt away)


An Extra Pawn, a Better Pawn Structure, and Active Pieces (mix all that up and see what you’ve got)

The actual puzzle here is all about the correct (and critical!) placement of Black's rooks.


A Benko Gambit. Just six moves have been played but now it’s time for White to place his pieces in the very best squares possible. Also, White wants all his pieces to (if possible) work together.


More from IM Silman
The Downs And Ups Of GM Elmars Zemgalis (Silman's Last Article)

The Downs And Ups Of GM Elmars Zemgalis (Silman's Last Article)

How To Build Winning Chess Positions

How To Build Winning Chess Positions