Chess – Creating a Firm Foundation


My aim with this article is to save you some time when learning to play chess, or if you have been playing a while and you are losing way more often than is fun, to change that .

The ideas presented here work. I have proved them for myself. You just need to be willing to make them a habit in all your games.

The different chess masters repeat this sort of advice to allot players fairly often. The moment you stop employing these foundational principles your game play starts to fall apart. These principles are not to be dropped as you learn more advanced ideas. They are the foundation to build more interesting and advanced ideas on top of.

I was playing chess for years. It was not until I saw the consistent often repeated advice and then read The 3 Illnesses of Chess that I took note. I stopped trying to be fancy. Focused on these key principles and saw an immediate improvement in fun, ability and success. This sounds obvious advice but it’s not. Most players do start off by making mistakes because they didn’t use these foundational ideas. There is a tendency to make a move by reacting in excitement, rather than think it through first.

Problem with Learning Chess in the Beginning

The problem when starting to play chess is that there are so many ideas, and so much information. A foundation of basic understanding needs to be laid. Without this you might know some clever stuff but you will hit problems and possibly won’t even know why.

Out of all the articles I have read on, the one which helped me most was; The 3 Illnesses of Chess. After reading numerous articles, watching videos and all that sort of thing, I still wasn’t doing that great. My confidence and enjoyment of chess grew the moment I focused on not hanging my pieces, and paying more attention to my opponents responses than my own exciting ideas. The planning ahead element is something that is a work in progress for me.

Of course you also need to learn other aspects of chess. Just ensure your always building and improving these key ideas.

Firm Foundation – Key Points

Assuming you know the main objective is to check mate your opponents king, here are the basics elements you need in order to build your firm foundation from. You can then enjoy playing chess that much more.

1. Learn how the pieces move (okay obvious one I know)

2. Understand some basic principles about openings (first moves in a game)

3. Do not hang your material (chess pieces)

4. Think about the moves you can make, AND, the moves that can be made in response.

5. Have fun

Learning new things beyond all this is part of the fun and to be encouraged. Try and do so in a way where priority is given to these key points first. 

How To Move Pieces

This doesn’t need much from me. Please read this article: or watch this youtube video.

It is also important to understand the notation used to describe games and the moves in the games. So please read: Notation

Read also: En Passant – this is something that may not come up much but you should be aware of it.

Understanding Opening Principles and Ideas

The main idea is to get your pieces onto good squares in preparation for the dance of chess. This is known as developing your pieces. The aim in development is to castle (The Importance of Castling) and then connect the rooks, which is when two rooks have no other pieces between them.

Read: Principles of The Opening and Basic Principles of The Opening Part 1

Read: The Center of The Board and Fight for the Center of the Board

Read: The Importance of Development

During the opening period you need to resist the temptation to attack the opponent unless you know what your doing and are using attacking moves in your development. You may be playing a gambit or trying to play strongly during your opening sequence. Avoid these in the beginning until you have your firm foundation.

There are a number of articles about opening at however you may want to read the previously mentioned articles first.

Not Hanging Material

Hanging material is when a piece is undefended by another piece. This can happen when you move it to a new square, or you move the piece which was defending it to another square, thereby abandoning a piece which was once defended. By coordinating your pieces you will avoid hanging pieces. 

Read: Train Yourself to Avoid Hanging Pieces

Sometimes hanging material is an appropriate thing to do. You need to be careful if you do. Only do so when you know when/why its okay to do so. When in doubt do not hang material. Normally it’s only a temporary measure to gain an advantage, and during the time it is hanging you can see no risk.

Sometimes sacrifices are made to gain an advance or to help achieve check mate. Please make sure you know when to do this and don’t accidently sacrifice a piece in error.

Possible Moves and Your Opponents Response

When new to chess it’s easy to fall into the trap to reactively make a move. That’s fine, in fact do it, have some fun. Once you realise how easily you can lose a game you will want a new approach.

The idea is to check the move your going to make against the possible, or likely moves your opponent will make.

I find it best to come up with 5 candidate moves you can make. Then work out what sort of moves your opponent could make in response. This usually weeds out the worst moves and tends to avoid hanging stuff. Whilst doing this I sometimes see some follow up moves and note these as well.

Let me illustrate this with a real game that I am currently playing. At present it looks (to me) as if I should be able to win. The game in question is on, click here. At the time of writing move 20 was complete, and I was waiting for whites next move.

A few moves before 18 I had calculated a number of moves ahead (whilst considering possible responses of course). Initially my plan on move 18 if the Pawn moved to attack the queen, was, to move my queen between the knight and the Pawn (Qb5 in chess notation). However whilst trying to find a 4th candidate move on turn 20, I stumbled across the idea to move the queen back down and right onto square a7 (Qa7). When I looked at possible responses this turned out the best move for me. I don’t know if a grand master would say the same though!

To give you an example of candidate moves here are my notes for move 18. By the way each game has a notes tab only you can see shown next to your chess board. Very handy.

#18 – tricky
c1: Qh5
c2: Qd6
c3: Qc6
c4: Qa7

As you can see its quick and simple technique. On this occasion I didn’t get as far as looking for candidate move 5 because I felt 4 (Qa7) was so good. However this is rare, usually even if I look hard and the moves don’t always look good, I try to come up with 5. Occasionally I get 6,7 or more.

Have Fun and Explore Chess

Having fun is a must so sometimes it’s worth making moves for the curiosity of it. I learnt this from someone on who mentioned it on a forum. This approach is good if your in a tricky situation and confused about what move to play.

Aside from just having fun you do need to broaden your horizons by learning other aspects of chess, which adds to the fun. In time this period of exploration will obviously consume more of your time as the foundational ideas become established as a natural part of your playing style. has helped me allot and has many resources. So although I have no stake in and am not being paid in any way by them. I suggest as a tool to help you learn and play more chess.

Other Articles

During the creation of this article I stumbled across some articles you may find useful.

How to Get Better at Chess

How to Win a Chess Game

The Ten Commandments of Chess

Everything You Need to Know About Chess (Videos)

How to Setup a Chessboard

Chess Tips for Beginners

Avoid Blunders

Improve Your Pieces

What Next after the Rules

Things Not To Do In The Opening

Beginners Should Never Resign

Three Ways to Improve Your Pieces

Sharing the Joy

“If you can develop joy in the wonders of life and where your talents lay,
if you can cultivate attitudes of love and caring towards yoursef and others whilst single,
If you can remain accepting of how things are and work with, rather than against what is.

my friend,
you will know how to foster a loving relationship with another,
and have strong foundations for a happy future together.
“, – Russell Smithers

Credit for Genius

Men give me some credit for genius. All the genius I have lies in this: When I have a subject in hand, I study it profoundly. Day and night it is before me. I explore it in all its bearings. My mind becomes pervaded with it. Then the effort which I make is what the people call the fruit of genius. It is the fruit of labor and thought.

Alexander Hamilton

Dyslexia and Tinnitus

I have decided to start looking into Dyslexia and Tinnitus more because both affect me. Why start now? well the last few years have been pretty hectic and I have moved jobs and geographic locations far to many times to relax into life and have the time to do so. Now is time to look into both subjects and start sharing information. As always with this website, it is more a place for me to keep related information that I can share with friends and family on the web.

The Daily WTF

“The Daily WTF” (TDWTF) website is one that most people I know probably wouldn’t want to read on a daily basis, but I follow it with the help of an RSS feed. However, there are two stories on the TDWTF that I have to share, because you don’t need to be techy or geek to understand them, and they are fab!

The Proven Fix – I like this because it goes to show that actually testing something is 110% better than working through some intelectual process that suggests it might work!

Lacking Knowledge Essentials – Just when you think a company is so bad they will go out of business, they work with another business who makes them look organised! lol fantastic!

Recipe: Veggie Stir Sweet Potato and Nuts

Here is a recipe, I just made it up. Well I kind of have been playing with the idea over a few cooking sessions. I am afraid it’s not the usual recipe, just guidelines, cooking by eye.

Sweat Potato in oven for 45 mins

Parsnip cut into wedge chunks oven for 30 mins

Boil Quinoa for 20 minutes (after washed)

The veg mix: Veg cut up into small bits, not finely chopped but getting close, I used carrots, broccoli and brussel sprouts (whatever you like). Add to this red onion, crushed almonds and whole cashew nuts.

Prepare a big saucepan with virgin olive oil and warm up. Add the veg mix and let it warm but not fry, so the oil stops sticking, but isn’t frying.

The quinoa, parsnip and sweet potato should finish cooking at the same time if you worked out the time offsets 🙂 leaving the veg mix (but not ignoring) and making sure it’s not burning (not too hot, has enough oil and is stirred occasionally). Now throw in the parsnip and quinoa, then being careful not to burn you’re self, cut the parsnip in two, and strip off the skin, then cut into slithers. Throw the sweat potato into the mix and leave for a few minutes, stirring etc.

Then serve and enjoy, of course add salt and pepper and stuff to taste 🙂

Yum yum yum 🙂


Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.” – Oscar Wilde

Having been a dedicated photographer for many years, the same is true of photography. The photograph is the result of a meeting between person, subject and how the photographer was being in that moment. But mostly it is a manifestation of how that person was when they were taking the picture.

Copyright © 2008 by Russell Smithers

"Experience is the only teacher we have" – Swami Vivekananda