How to Get Better at Chess: General and Specific Tips Based on Your Elo Rating


Chess is an exhilarating, intellectual clash of minds where each side engages in a mental duel, relying on their thinking power, knowledge, and even a touch of psychology. While much thought has been dedicated to devising the finest chess strategies and move sequences, there has been an equal amount of deliberation on the pursuit of chess improvement and the most efficient paths to enhance one’s skills. Within this guide, I have assembled practical and effective ways to get better at chess, drawing from established methods as well as my personal experience, to aid in your journey toward chess mastery.

Why is getting better at chess so important?

Before everything else, this is the most fundamental question one has to ask themselves, because a substantial portion of chess mastery hinges on unwavering dedication and diligent effort. Figuring out your core motivation and your goals in chess will help you stay on track for your long term commitment.

why is getting better at chess so important

Apart from the pleasant dopamine rush and a sense of intellectual pride derived from hard-fought victories in a chess game, the reasons for getting better at chess may extensively vary from person to person. These may be as concrete as envisioning chess as a potential career path. Alternatively, they may be tied to the broader, advantageous facets of chess, such as honing analytical thinking, mastering navigation in complex situations, acquiring emotional regulation skills, enhancing mental fitness, and so forth. These skills not only contribute to personal growth but also bear fruit across various domains of life.

General tips to improve your chess game

Here is a comprehensive breakdown of a list consisting of concrete actions you can take for a journey from zero to hero:

1. Learn Chess Rules

It might be stating the obvious, but without properly knowing the rules of chess, it is not possible to play the game at all, as an illegal move can mean a loss of the game. The good news is that the rules of chess, such as how the pieces move, their value, special movements such as en passant or castling, conditions such as checkmate, stalemate, draw by 50-move rules, etc., are quite simple and can be learned over an afternoon.

chess rules - pieces movement

2. Study essential Chess Openings

Starting a game in the right way is an essential step in the path towards victory. In this stage, each side places their army in the most ideal formation, ready for close combat in the middlegame stage. Therefore, decisions in the opening set the ultimate battleground and dictate the character of the game.

study essential chess openings

The most common mistake done by inexperienced players is to dwell too much on the study of the opening theory of chess, while in reality, below certain levels (I could argue below master level), most games are decided mainly in a tactical battle. Rather than using all your available study time for memorizing long lines, part of your chess study dedicated to openings should be aimed at acquiring a profound understanding of opening principles such as initiative, how to develop minor pieces harmoniously, the importance of king safety, and healthy pawn structure.

Additionally, picking up 5-6 openings to have a minimal opening repertoire and learning them move by move by understanding the purpose of each move would be sufficient at this stage. For starters, I’d recommend playing King’s Pawn Opening with white and choosing either Ruy Lopez or Italian Game as a reply to 1…e5, because these openings are simple yet so rich that they are still played at the top level. They will help you develop a good sense of piece development and general principles that will apply to all openings.

3. Master Middlegame

The middlegame is where the real action happens as the armies of both sides come into close contact for combat, which is generally after the first 10-15 moves. In this phase, the role of tactics and strategy becomes paramount. Tactics, in short, are a short sequence of moves that bring you a concrete advantage quickly, such as material gain or a checkmate sequence. Tactical vision is mostly about pattern recognition and calculation, which you can improve by solving puzzles with various motifs. While strategy is a relatively long-term consideration, these are your ideas and plans related to pawn structures, weak squares, and exploitation of the opponent’s bad pieces.

Master Middlegame

Middlegame is arguably the most complex stage of the game because there are many pieces still on the board, but they are in action. In such circumstances, the effectiveness of your thinking process becomes paramount in order to assess positions with precision. One of the best ways to acquire an intuition to evaluate positions and navigate complexity would be to read books of masters or former world champions (e.g., Life and Games of Mikhail Tal by Mikhail Tal), which contain a lot of annotations. Pay special attention to their verbal commentary to grasp how their thinking mechanism works.

Moreover, go through the model games played in your opening. If you are a Benoni Defense or English Opening player, analyze the instructive games in that opening, their transitions to the middle game, and note down the ideas.

Play model openings

Above is a position arising from King’s Indian Defense. A typical middlegame idea would be for black to play Nh5, advance their f-pawn to f5 and f4, then bring more pieces to the kingside with Ng6, etc., while white may start a pawn storm on the queenside with b4,c5 (Bayonett Attack) to create weaknesses and targets. These would be examples of ideas that you should strive to collect as many as you can to use in your own games.

4. Improve your tactical vision by solving chess puzzles

For many, solving tactical puzzles is one of the most fun activities you can do besides playing a game. Solving puzzles is, after all, like playing lots of mini games, each lasting a couple of moves. Drills on certain common tactical motifs, such as Pin, Fork or Skewer, will train your tactical awareness so that you can recognize tactical opportunities in your game. Few examples:


Improve your tactical vision by solving chess puzzles - fork


Improve your tactical vision by solving chess puzzles - Pin


Improve your tactical vision by solving chess puzzles - skewer

Tactics in chess are so decisive that the outcome of the majority of the games, especially between two relatively inexperienced players, is actually determined in a tactical battle. A typical scenario is that one side makes a tactical blunder and loses material as a result, which eventually leads to the loss of the game. Therefore, in my honest opinion, at least 33% of your study time should be dedicated to training tactics like solving puzzles online or through books.

5. Enhance your positional play

Once you have honed your tactical vision and can confidently avoid blundering a free piece, etc., it is time for more advanced and deeper skills, such as mastery of positional aspects of the game. Positional play is perhaps the most decisive factor in a game between two masters or top players, because usually both of them will be tactically on par. A deeper understanding of positional imbalances in a given position will give you the upper hand in such situations.

The simplest yet effective thing you can do for such a purpose is to talk to your pieces! This means asking yourself questions regarding the placement of your and your opponent’s pieces. After all, positional play is all about how well your pieces are positioned. A list of useful questions for an effective internal dialogue:

1) Are all my pieces placed on their ideal squares? If not, how can I improve them? E.g., on which square would my knight be most effectively placed?
2) What are the weak squares, or squares that are not under control of any pawn and can be occupied with a piece? How can I exploit them?
3) What is my opponent’s long-term plan and their intention?
4) What is the idea behind my opponent’s last move? What threats do they make?
5) What pieces should I exchange, and which one should I keep on the board?

6. Master Endgame

This is the stage of converting your advantage or finishing off your opponent. In this stage, you literally end the game. And if you are familiar with what endgame scenarios are beneficial to you and which endgame positions are theoretically won or lost, this will already effect your decisions in the middlegame. You can make better decisions about piece exchanges and know when to simplify the position to transition into the endgame phase, e.g., when you are material up.

Imagine that after 60 moves of hard-fought play, you have reached the following position with white pieces and a pawn up:

Master endgame

Now it would be such a pity if you hastily pushed your pawn forward, because all your previous efforts would go wasted and the game would end in a draw. If you know the fundamentals of endgame strategies like King Opposition, Triangulation with King, and Pawn Promotion, you would play 1.Kc6 in a split second to take the opposition, and the opponent king has to move out of the way of your pawn and let it promote to a queen.

7. Analyze every single game you have played

This is the magic pill for getting better at chess that almost everyone has heard of at some point, yet only very few actually apply. If you review every single game without exception, won or lost, and note down your mistakes, thoughts, and areas for improvement, it is inevitable that you will gain a solid understanding of chess and become a master of the game at some point. Making a mental note of where things went wrong lets you avoid making the same mistakes next time. If you can, build your own catalog of mistakes so that it will give you feedback on the types of mistakes you make most. Prefer playing games with longer time controls so the game quality is higher and worth your study time. Playing bullet games is unlikely to give you meaningful material to study in-depth, because most mistakes will be caused by a lack of time.

Specific strategies for your chess improvement based on your Elo rating

How to improve at chess at 1000 Elo?

In addition to familiarizing yourself with the rules of the game, learn about the importance of piece values. Pay special attention to where each piece can go and if any piece of yours or your opponent can be captured for free in the next move.

How to improve at chess at 1200-1400 Elo?

Focus on king safety and try to develop your pieces into active squares and towards the center, in accordance with the opening principles. Learn as many tactical motifs as you can and give more weight to tactical training.

How to improve at chess at 1400-1600 Elo?

Add strategic considerations to your thought process on top of your tactical skills. These may include thinking about bad and good pieces, piece activity, weak squares, pawn breaks, and controlling open files.

How to improve at chess at 1600-1900 Elo?

Deepen your opening repertoire. Solve as many puzzles as you can to sharpen your tactical vision further. Start diving deeper into the world of endgame theory, such as rook and pawn endings.

Final Thoughts and Tips

Just like any endeavor to acquire a new skill, the more time you invest, the greater your improvement will be. To make the most efficient use of your time, it’s crucial to adhere to a well-established path of study. While there have been numerous approaches to chess improvement throughout history, focusing on solving tactical puzzles, enhancing tactical vision, and analyzing every game you play is likely to remain at the forefront of effective methods. By analyzing your own games, you’ll gain valuable feedback on areas to work on, such as the sections listed in this article (middlegame, endgame, positional play), which you can target more specifically to train. The constant loop of play-analysis-study will work wonders and bring you closer to realizing your dreams in chess.

Written by
Deniz Tasdelen, National Master
National Master with over 20 years of experience. He has participated in many prestigious tournaments, including the European and World Youth Chess Championships.
Ask Question


What is the fastest way to improve at chess?

Consistently analyze your games, practice tactics daily, and study classic games. Seek feedback from stronger players.

Does getting better at chess increase IQ?

Chess improves problem-solving and pattern recognition, but there’s no conclusive evidence it directly increases IQ. However, it can foster cognitive growth in various areas. - Your One Stop Chess Resource
error: Content is protected !!