Levels of Chess Beginners

I divide chess beginners into three levels of ability: raw, mid-level, and advanced. One obvious difference may be seen in how long a game will last. If two raw beginners play each other, the game could go on for hours, with neither one able to checkmate the other one. With two advanced beginners, it’s much more likely that one will checkmate the other, with a quicker resolution to the conflict.

General Decision-Making

  1. Raw beginners have hardly a clue what move to make
  2. Mid-level players look for a way to capture something
  3. Advanced beginners often also look at their opponent’s options

Attack and Defense

  1. The lowest-level players usually see neither attack nor defense
  2. Mid-levels sometimes see attack but rarely defense
  3. The highest-level beginners sometimes see both

Abiding by the Rules of Chess

  1. Raw beginners may often break a rule or may often fail to see that an opponent’s move was illegal
  2. Mid-level players rarely make an illegal move but may fail to see something like an en-passant capture because of lack of experience
  3. The highest level of beginner almost never makes an illegal move and normally will notice when the opponent makes an illegal move

Depth of Imagination

  1. Half a move ahead (not what the opponent might do)
  2. Sometimes a full move ahead (including what the opponent can do)
  3. Often looks a full move ahead but not always deeper

Breadth of Imagination

  1. Notices one piece that can move to one square
  2. Can make a crude comparison between pieces that can be moved
  3. Often compares move possibilities, but not so often all the possibilities

Promoting a Pawn

  1. The lowest-level player may push a pawn forward pointlessly
  2. The mid-level competitor may recognize the above is fruitless
  3. The advanced beginner might recognize a passed pawn

Humor Intended

A game between two raw beginners seems to last forever, with breaks for meals, sleep, funerals. If the funeral is for one of those two beginners, it’s over: You die, you lose.

still image of animation

From the animation short “Geri’s Game” (by Pixar)



Pawn Promotion

In the above position, the pawn can be promoted regardless of whose turn it is. [This is mainly for beginners]

Beat That Kid in Chess

A book to be published around the beginning of September, 2015. This chess book is for the raw beginner, the player who knows the rules but practically nothing else.

Chess in Movies

In the 1942 film Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart plays the part of Rick, an owner of a club in a big city in Morocco, northwest Africa, during World War II. An early scene includes Rick working his way through an opening variation of chess by himself.


About Jonathan D. Whitcomb

Chess instructor
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