After starting up chess again as an adult, the expectation of my skills did not match my reality. Instead of watching my rating climb as I played more games, I found it dropping down to about 700 and then slightly back up to 800. It was frustrating to regularly blunder pieces and lose games I felt I should have won. This was an accurate representation of my skill at the time, but I felt like I needed to do something to start to improve.

I tried reading some books and doing puzzles, because that is what everyone says online, but it was not helping.

Getting a Coach

What I decided I needed was someone to help me get on the right track. I did not want to have regular chess lessons because I did not think I was ready for that. Instead, I was looking for someone that could meet with me once and point me in the right direction. I wanted someone to help me learn how to learn.

I found a chess IM who was not taking new students but was willing to do a single lesson for me. Before our lesson I played 4 30-minute games that we went over together. He was a great help and had some recommendations. I’d highly recommend this approach if you are stuck.

Chess Steps

The first thing “my” coach (that I met with only one time) told me I should do was buy and do all of the Chess Steps Level 1 Books.

Chess Steps is a teaching method with workbooks. It is really geared towards chess coaches teaching children so I was a little skeptical as an adult, but willing to give it a try.

Step 1 of the program is for players up to an 800 rating. This is the level my coach said I should do but I was thinking I was above this. I’m glad I listened and started there.

Here is what I got:

  • Manual: This is a thick book with instructions on how to teach each lesson

  • Workbook: Has the exercises that go along with the manual

  • Workbook Extra: More exercises that repeat the subjects of the basic workbooks

  • Workbook Plus: More exercises and some new subjects at the same level

Process and Results

It took me about six weeks to get through all the workbooks, working on them pretty much every day. The first few sections about how the pieces move I just skipped. I also skipped most of the manual which talked about how to set up lessons and coach children. But I did all the rest of the exercises in all the workbooks, even if they seemed too easy. There was quite a bit of repetition, but that is by design and a good learning/teaching method.

While my main learning was from Chess Steps, I also changed a couple of other things at the same time. I know this is bad from an experimentation stand-point, but I was just focused on improvement. Mainly I only played 30-minute games, and I also started analyzing games more.

After I was done with the books I was up about 200-250 rating points to 1050 in online rapid (30-minute) and continue to climb.

Final Thoughts

One of my biggest problems before I started these books was with board vision. Lots of blundered pieces and lots of missing opportunities. Now I feel much better in these areas. I don’t make as many dumb moves.

If you are below 1000 rated and can’t seem to get ahead, I’d recommend step 1.

I’m not going to move on to Step 2 right away. There are other books about tactics I am going to work on next. But I will likely be working through all of the level 2 in the near future since level 1 had some great results.