Doctor SpinCreativityPersonal ProjectsThe Chess Project: 12 Months With the Most Beautiful Game

The Chess Project: 12 Months With the Most Beautiful Game

My goal is to learn how to play a decent game of chess.

I’ve started to learn chess.

After having watched The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix in 2020, chess caught my interest. Since I had just finished my Sudoku Project, I was open to a new challenge.

The Queen's Gambit - The Chess Project - Doctor Spin

The popular tv show coincided with the proliferation of streaming genres beyond gaming. Turns out that streaming and chess are a match made in heaven.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one who discovered chess after The Queen’s Gambit — just as I wasn’t the only one who discovered Sudoku after finding the YouTube channel Cracking the Cryptic.

Still, I decided to teach myself more about chess.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Table of Contents

    The Three Parts of Chess

    There are three parts to a game of chess. The opening, the middle game, and the end game. I didn’t know this. The saying goes that you should play the opening like a book, the middle game like a magician, and the end game like a machine. I didn’t know any of that, either.

    Still, I found these three parts to be good starting points. 1I had the same approach when learning photography as I started my journey by focusing (pun intended!) on aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

    Why play the opening like a book?

    Computers have calculated all possible chess openings. So, you can play a particular opening to give yourself a favourable position on the board. If white plays a specific opening perfectly, you must counter it perfectly to minimise white’s advantage.

    You could play an opening without knowing any openings by finding good moves. However, your opponent will likely gain a substantial advantage from knowing their opening theory by heart. There are too many variations for a human brain to calculate over the board.

    So, if you want to play a decent chess game, you must study openings. Simple as that.

    Why play the middle game like a magician?

    Both sides will soon run out of prepared moves with all possible variations. It typically happens when most pieces are developed. So, when you enter the middle game, you’re left with only your strategic brilliance, your creative ideas, and your ability to do calculations. And so is your opponent.

    And in the middle game, lots of pieces are still left on the board. And lots of pieces on the board mean — complexity.

    Is there a way to invoke magic? Well, having played thousands and thousands of chess games will help. Being a bonafide genius doesn’t hurt, either. If you haven’t had time to play that many games and weren’t blessed with mental superpowers at birth, a solid understanding of chess principles will go a long way.

    Why play the end game like a machine?

    Most end games have already been solved. So, if you’ve managed to survive until most pieces are off the board and you’ve got the advantage in terms of material or position, the game is yours to lose. It’s like an equation waiting to be solved. You need to enter the correct answer — and the win is yours.

    Mess it up, and you’re handing a draw or a loss over to your opponent on a silver platter.

    You either convert a winning position into a win or defend ideally to increase the odds of having your opponent make a mistake. Alas, it would help if you practised how to solve end games. Preferably under time pressure.

    Highly detailed visual art of a machine playing chess - The Chess Project
    AI art. Prompt: “Highly detailed visual art of a machine playing chess.”

    Chess and Time

    Here’s another critical aspect of the game I had never considered before watching The Queens Gambit:

    Chess is a timed game.

    I had seen chess clocks in movies before, of course. But it had never occurred to me that time was such a huge factor to consider in how to play the game.

    In classical chess, players typically get lots of time to think. Players do run out of time. For some reason, I thought that all chess matches ended with either a checkmate or a draw.

    Instead, I discovered the fantastic world of bullet, rapid, and blitz games.

    And I learned that lots of games are decided by the clock. You could have a winning position, but that doesn’t matter if your clock runs out.

    So, how did I go about improving my game?

    Chess Openings

    I’m passionate about learning new things, but my motivation has its limits. To put it mildly, studying chess openings en masse isn’t my idea of a good time.

    So, I learned about openings involving moving the pawn in front of my white king first. I’ve only just scratched the surface here. But I prefer to know more about one specific type of opening than too little about too many openings.

    As for openings with black? I’ve picked up a few famous lines, but only a small number of turns deep. Work in progress.

    Still, a little knowledge about openings goes a long way, especially if you’re playing against people who haven’t the slightest idea about openings.

    General Chess Knowledge

    But the most significant improvement for my chess game was learning a few basic chess principles. Such principles won’t apply to every possible scenario, but they’re still good to know.

    Here’s a quick rundown of some basic chess principles that have served me well during my first twelve months of play:

    • Make sure your king is safe.
    • Don’t get sucker-punched by unpleasant pins and forks.
    • Minimise your blunders by making it a habit to scan the board properly before every move.
    • If you’re up on material, trade pieces to simplify.
    • You might also want to trade pieces if it gives you a clear positional advantage.
    • Early on, fight a little extra to gain control of those four centre squares.
    • Getting a checkmate by your opponent in three moves is nothing to fear — not if you can checkmate your opponent in two.
    • Bishops are more potent in positions with long open lines, and horses are more valuable in closed-off positions.
    • One of your bishops is typically much better than the other. And the same can be said about your opponent’s bishops. It all depends on the rest of your pieces; do they form a more robust dark or light square complex? You might be able to make an intelligent trade here!
    • Having more pieces left on the board is often less favourable than having your pieces be more active.
    • Never underestimate the importance of your pawn structure.
    • There are other ways to defend a piece under attack than moving the piece out of harm’s way.
    • Giving your rook an open file is often a good idea if there’s no obvious better move.
    • Chess experts find certain moves to be ugly. It’s not a bad idea to think twice before making such moves.
    • Some moves are considered slow because some moves are preparing for possible ideas without posing any immediate threats. Slow play can be wise, but you could end up in trouble if your opponent is playing more aggressive moves.

    Watching Chess Streamers

    I should also mention that I’ve learned most of what I know from watching chess streamers play and analyse games. It’s not just about the knowledge they share, but to hear them think out loud throughout games has helped me develop an inner chess voice that speaks to me during play.

    Weird, I know. 2My inner chess voice sounds like Levy “GothamChess” Rozman!
    But it helps me find better moves and blunder less.

    And it’s great entertainment!

    How My Chess Game Is Doing

    I don’t know what my chess rating is yet. I can comfortably beat the 1300-1500 chess bots on Chess.com. Twelve months ago, I lost three times in a row against a bot ranked at 700. That’s progress, indeed.

    My idea for the next 12 months is to begin playing online against people I don’t know — and get a rating. At this point, I should mention that I’m not sure how the chess ranking system works.

    Still, my overall goal for this project is to be able to play a decent game of chess. If I could get a rating of 1000+ in the next twelve months, I’d consider this whole effort a success.

    Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Prints/Instagram)

    FOOTNOTES
    FOOTNOTES
    1 I had the same approach when learning photography as I started my journey by focusing (pun intended!) on aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
    2 My inner chess voice sounds like Levy “GothamChess” Rozman!

    .

    Jerry Silfwer
    Jerry Silfwerhttps://www.doctorspin.net/
    Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
    Buy PR Merch

    Grab a free subscription before you go.

    Get notified of new blog posts & new PR courses

    🔒 Please read my integrity- and cookie policy.

    In 1996, Nick Cave submitted a petition to the MTV Video Music Awards demanding the video for his duet with Kylie Minogue be removed.
    Most popular