There’s something romantic about learning chess. No other game is so suggestive of intelligence and strategy.
Read any movie or book and if the game of chess shows up, the author is trying to tell you just how smart the character is. In 2001 a Space Odyssey, chess is used to contrast human and artificial intelligence. In X-Men, the game is used as a proxy for the intellectual battle between Magneto and Xavier. In the classic The Count of Monte Cristo, the phrase “king’s to you, Fernand” is the culmination of a lifetime spent plotting sophisticated and strategic revenge:
Chess has taken on a certain mythical aura. It’s become a cliché of a smart person, but it is a game that can be learned like any other game. In this post, I’ll show you how to learn chess online with a review of a site called Chesscademy.
Chess: the Smart Game?
As someone trained in game design, and who has built many games over the years, I have a mixed relationship with chess. On the one hand, it’s a very strategic and sophisticated game with a lot of cultural history. On the other hand, its reputation as a “smart game” comes largely from this cultural history and not from it being “better than” any other game.
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Does playing chess really make you smart… and do only smart people play chess?
Yes… kind of. Chess is very similar to Scrabble, in some ways. We like to think that both games are about “strategy” or “vocabulary.” The truth, though, is that chess and Scrabble champions actually win mostly by memorizing situations. Scrabble players don’t necessarily have a better vocabulary, but they have memorized the best words to maximize their score in the game based upon the Scrabble point system. Likewise, top chess players aren’t necessarily going to be the best strategic thinkers in the world if all they’ve done is to memorize a bunch of board configurations.
Scientists have shown that being an expert chess player is really about “chunking” these board positions. As you get good at chess, what you’re really doing is learning to identify patterns faster. This is how expertise works. Chess has become a sort of de-facto test for scientists, and some studies have even suggested that it can help stave off Alzheimers disease and other forms of cognitive decline. However, these beneficial effects are not unique to chess. Any skill or hobby that involves learning and pushing your brain will have the same effect, to some degree or another.
If you decide to pick up chess, just know that there’s nothing implicit that makes it a particularly better game than any other game you might choose. Many people are drawn to the game because of the popularity and stigma of it being a smart game, which is a perfectly good reason to pick it up. If you’re determined to learn chess, though, where should you start?
Perhaps you venture to Central Park, Searching for Bobby Fischer style, and play with the people there. Or perhaps you find yourself a teacher. These approaches are fun and effective, but not available to everybody. Recently I stumbled on a product called Chesscademy which promises to digitize learning chess…
Learn Chess Online
If you venture over to Chesscademy’s website, you can get started taking lessons on chess for free immediately. You’ll notice that this is not your standard textbook. Each lesson is a well-crafted video which teaches new concepts, but also includes mini-games and other interactive media.
Chesscademy also breaks down the lessons into different “paths.” These are really just convenient ways to group the material, like sections in a book. Ultimately any skilled chess player should aim to master all of the paths (unlike in some games, where “paths” are mutually exclusive and you need to choose your focus). Since the “Getting Started” lesson is free, you can check out the product and see if the teaching technique works for you.
Training with Chesscademy
Any video series or book can teach you about the rules and theory of chess. If this was all that Chesscademy did, it would be pretty unimpressive. The thing that makes Chesscademy really shine is the training section.
In the training section, you are presented with a chess board and need to make the single best move. Each “tactic” is tagged with chess concepts (like Hanging Piece, in the screenshot below). Performing the best move (solving the tactic) results in an increase in your rating, leading to harder and harder tactics.
There are a few things that make this training technique effective:
- Concept-Driven: to be able to use deliberate practice in order to improve learning, you first need to be able to focus on the concepts that you struggle with (like the hanging piece, above). The fact that Chesscademy focuses on concepts means that you can practice what you need to, when you need to, and be aware of where you’re struggling.
- Quantitative: being able to track overall progress over time is essential to setting goals and staying motivated. While a single numerical rating can be overly simplistic, having a quantitative way to measure your progress is paramount.
- Interactive: this one almost goes without saying, but the training mode is highly interactive. It’s an excellent counter-point to the drudgery of reading and watching training materials. “Learning by doing” is extremely effective (but only if you don’t skip over those resources!)
Learn Chess Even Faster
By using some of the effective learning strategies on this blog, you can accelerate your chess learning even more. Here are some ideas:
- Use pretesting to try out tactics first before studying them
- Use the perfect practice plan to maximize your effectiveness
- Use memorization hacks with trouble spots
- Of course, stay motivated!
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