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I've recently taken up a bit of an interest at Chess, but I feel that my playing it quite poor. Mostly I play against computers in Chessmaster: Grandmaster Edition where I can beat the 900-1050 rated opponents by barely thinking at all, but I get beaten by the 1050+ opponents towards the middle game (it's like a huge jump between the 1006 opponent and the 1068) and get slaughtered by anyone beyond 1300. As far as human players are concerned, I can easily beat the more casual players, but anyone who takes the game even remotely seriously is quite intimidating.
Anyway, enough back story, my question: What is the best approach to improving my game? I figured finding a good website with lots of chess problems and just doing them often would be a good start, but at what stage should I consider getting some books or something along those lines? I guess I'm aiming to get to about a 1500 against Chessmaster: Grandmaster Edition computers and good enough to be able to play more confidently against 'ok' online players. Right now they are a bit intimidating.
Also, if anyone is willing to play with me and give me some advice that would be good, but I am still very new.
Seems like you know the opening basics (development, center & castle). And you know basic tactics (pins, forks, and stuff). So that's good. Continuing to play human players is great practice. Aim for at least a 50/50 win loss ratio though (70% loss to 30% win isn't bad either if you're trying to improve, but more than that can be counter productive).
Solving tactical puzzles is good. You can also consider getting a starting out book on strategy. Silman's Amateur's Mind and Seriwan's Winning Chess Strategy often get high praise.
Other than that I feel like giving some general mind-set advice for playing.
Immediately look to see what your opponent's last move changed... mostly what it threatens. It's important to understand each move what is threatened. This sounds obvious but two times this is often forgotten or ignored:
1). When in the middle of trades... lets say you capture a pawn and they re-capture, you capture again and fail to notice not only did their move re-capture but it had an additional threat. Try to treat each individual move as a new position and look for the threats. What's a bit tedious at first becomes a good 2nd nature habit :)
2). When there is no real threat, sometimes beginners don't feel free to play any move, and in one way or another react to the non-threatening move.
Example, opponent threatens a center pawn defended 3 times, and you go ahead and make a move in that area (maybe even defend it again). At these times it's often best to find your worst placed piece (least active) and try to get it into the game. Starting an attack before your whole army is brought into the game (off the back rank) can be risky. If everyone is ready (castled, rooks connected and such) then ignore his threat if you can, and start your own action somewhere else.
I'll say that again because it's important IMO :) If you're developed and he has no threat, then start your own action somewhere else. (Best to play on the side of the board you have more pieces or space).
This may be easy against easier opponents, but try to also play this way against stronger opposition.
2nd piece of advice follows along these lines. When you find a candidate move you like, imagine you played it and look for your opponent's most annoying response. The move that'd bug you if he played it. Maybe this means he immediately attacks the piece you moved (or undefended). But many times this can also mean he completely ignores your move.
The newer a player is, generally the harder it is to avoid calculating moves you'd like to see your opponent play... but the reality is they'll be looking for the most punishing move, not the move that will make your move shine.
Example, you decide a knight sacrifice (knight takes pawn) is good because when black re-captures you can win his queen. But black won't play the best move for you, it's much more likely he'll just give up the pawn and ignore the knight.
You can even try imagining your move and ask "do I like that piece there"? That may be impossible to answer but it also tries to move away from the idea "well if my opponent plays what I want, then it will be a good move"
The most important thing for a beginner to know is:If he gives up material and you can't find a checkmating combination(I don't care if he gets the initiative or pressure along the d-file or yadayadayada), take it.
Even if taking a pawn allows him to attack down an open file, if he's playing at anything below 1400 he most likely won't be able to exploit it effectively. Next step is to exchange off everything and get into a winning endgame.
Wow, much more detailed responses than I was expecting. I'm looking at those books recommended and I'll keep the advice in mind.
What are some good tactics trainers that don't require me to pay? I'll have a Google around but I figured someone here might know of a good resource.
I think you can get quite a lot out of the learning section of CM-GMEdition itself. The Josh Waitzkin tutorials are good imo.
^^Cool avatar, That Name.