What’s the best way to learn chess? Put in the work

What’s the best way to learn chess? Put in the work



For over 45 years I have been teaching chess to kids – to beginners who want to learn the game and experienced players who want to improve.

When I started, we all learned from books. We read about games from the great masters of the past. It was like getting a personal lesson from some of the amazing players in chess history over the past 300 years. They would tell us what they were thinking, about the mistakes they made and of course, how to improve. I have read hundreds of chess books, and they have all contributed toward my chess development, both as a player and now as a coach.

These days, kids are used to carrying devices around and refer to them for quick information on everything, hoping to get better. But can they?

The computer may tell them when they make an error but not why it’s an error. The computer lacks the reasoning the player needs to learn. They make the same errors over and over. They want the computers to tell them the “secret” of good chess playing. They may get upset when they don’t improve and keep losing. And if they are actually using their computers to play chess games, it’s been shown that most players don’t play at a challenging enough level to actually learn much. It’s more fun to win!

Grandmaster Nigel Davies, who has written many good chess books (many of which I have in my own library), summed it up this way:

“Chess books can be immensely helpful if you read them in the right way. Look for inspiring ideas to improve your game, rather than typos or author oversights. The books that are the most highly thought of are not necessarily the most useful. Go with those that you find to be readable; a book will not help you at all if it is just sitting on the shelf. Use a board and pieces rather than trying to skim read. Ideally, the reader should use the book as a springboard for his own analysis. Re-reading can be very useful. With some of the best books there are new lessons to be learned as your appreciation of the authors’ ideas become deeper.”

I have spent many wonderful hours playing over the games of Steinitz, Lasker, Tal, Fischer and many, many other great players and all have helped me improve. But in appreciating the expertise of all the masters, I also realize the key to success in trying to play at their level was simply playing the game (aka putting in the work!

Why learn chess? Simple: It’s a great mental workout that helps children perform well in the classroom. Chess is a logical game where kids have to plan ahead and adjust to new situations. But most of all, it’s fun!


Larry Ball (Coach Larry) teaches students of all ages at the Steinitz Chess Academy in Beaverton. For more information, email Larry at larryball48@yahoo.com.