My chess-learning diary, part 1

Late November, early December 2020

A couple of weeks ago I got the chess bug and composed my first chess post which explains how my little chess bug became a slightly bigger chess bug in the first few days as I worked through the basic checkmate puzzles (like how to force a checkmate with only a rook).

Here are some of the things I got up to in this very early period. Note that I did not play any games at all!

Watching some videos

My learning and analysis (and all the internet searching that this involved) of the bishop+knight checkmate exercise exposed me to a few things that have kept my enthusiasm going:

  • I got in important insight from this short YouTube video by Hikaru Nakamura on the bishop+knight checkmate: to hear a Master say that even these amazing players need to learn this checkmate was really powerful for me. Immediately the mystery of what makes a great player changed a little and I felt like I knew a little bit more of the reality of what those chess people are doing when they read those analysis books.
  • Daniel Rensch’s YouTube tutorial on the bishop+knight was mentioned by Nakamura and I really enjoyed how he has simplified the problem into a mnemonic: “knight leads the way, king saves the day, bishop delivers the goods”.
  • I spent a lot of time working over (and enjoying) the bishop+knight checkmate, to the point that I began to see the pattern of how the two can coordinate to create a wall. And when you bring in the king it works even better.

At this point I had definitely improved my understanding of how a few pieces — a king, rooks, bishops, a knight+bishop — can work together to create blocks that you can use to force the opponent’s king to the area you need to.

Trying out

Naturally I looked for chess apps for my phone and did try out a small few. But pretty soon I settled on since I had quickly found out that I could do those checkmate exercises there.

Once I had done the bishop+knight exercise I started to browse the site more carefully to see what they had available for a beginner like me. I signed up for the free trial so that I could more easily dip into their site and get a sense of what was there for me. I was expecting to work through a few of their Lessons sections.

Listening to the Chess Study podcast

At the same time I came across The Chess Study podcast which I could listen to in the car on the way back from dropping off my daughters at their schools. There are only 5 episodes but it was really useful to hear Andrew Larson talking about how he improved his game and to hear his suggestions.


Importantly, he mentioned and pretty quickly this became my chess site of choice. Indeed, I cancelled the subscription before my 7-day trial was even over.

Doing one-or-two-move puzzles

The puzzles section on lichess became my thing and this is where I am at now. I have not done a single checkmate exercise for a week-or-so, I just go through their puzzles.

These puzzles are a one or two move thing and it is really helping me get comfortable with a board that has got many more pieces on it.

The Stockfish feature is an important part of this. I do not need to sit for ages trying to work something out. If I feel like I just don’t get it then I choose to have the solution revealed and kind-of do my little analysis on it.

Also, it is very easy to revisit your previous puzzle attempts, making it easy to go back to analyse and really digest what was going on in each puzzle. There is a bar at the bottom of the board which shows your scores on each of the recent puzzles:

Occasionally I am in the mood to randomly revisit a puzzle, to see if now I can do better. This score ribbon at the bottom of the board makes it easy.

Starting out with visualizations

In The Chess Study podcast Andrew spends a good part of the third episode talking about how to improve your visualization of the board. The first exercise he mentions is just about learning to visualize the colours of the squares. a1? Dark. d4? Dark, etc.

I am not obsessing about this but it has opened my eyes to the interesting challenge of trying to understand the board a bit more. Looking with a curious eye at the board lead to a few elementary but satisfying realizations:

  • Only 4 ranks separating the two colours at the start.
  • a1 is dark and so is the whole diagonal up to h8. A blindingly obvious fact but it simply hadn’t sunk in previously.
  • The centre is d4, d5, e4, e5. Again, completely trivial but yeah.

These elementary observations have made the board smaller in my mind, somehow. So I feel like Andrew’s suggestions are having an effect.


In the menu, after “Puzzles” comes “Practice” and the sections here are like to be something I will move onto when I have had my fill of puzzles. As you can see from the screenshot below, I had already done some of them (must have been before I got into their puzzles section).

A snippet of the Practice page.

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