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The 18 Most Common Chess Mistakes Among Beginners

Famous Chess Games

Chess, one of the oldest and most popular board games, played by two opponents on a checkered board with specially designed pieces of contrasting colours, commonly white and black. White moves first, after which the players alternate turns in accordance with fixed rules, each player attempting to force the opponent’s principal piece, the King, into checkmate—a position where it is unable to avoid capture.

There is one thing chess players at all levels have in common – they want to play better. From the player who just learned how to move the pieces all the way to grandmasters. And the best thing is that there is always room for improvement. 

In this article, we bring some of the most common chess mistakes made by players during the game of chess.

Phases of the Chess Game

A game of chess is divided into three distinct phases, known as the Opening, the Middlegame, and the Endgame, each of which has its own strategies (although there are many strategies that apply equally to all three). Not every game will feature all three stages – sometimes a game ends in the opening or the middlegame without ever reaching an endgame, and sometimes a game can go straight from the opening to the endgame with scarcely a middlegame at all.

The Opening

The opening in chess covers the first 10 to 15 moves of the game, in which both players are moving their pieces from their starting positions to take up active posts ready to do battle in the middlegame. Because the opening always starts from the same position, a large body of opening theory has built up over the years. Many chess openings have their own names, such as the Queen’s Gambit or Sicilian Defence. You don’t need to know what the openings are called to get started in chess, though.

The Middlegame

It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact transition from opening to middlegame, but as a general rule, it occurs once the pieces have been deployed from their starting squares and the kings have castled to safety. The middle game is often considered the most exciting phase of the chess game. It is in this stage of the game after the opening has finished but while there are still plenty of pieces on the board, that the king is in the most danger and must be carefully defended from attack.

The Endgame

If neither player achieves a knockout blow in the middlegame, the game will eventually reach the endgame. This is the stage of the game when most of the pieces have been captured and only a few remain. As with the opening, it can be difficult to pinpoint the transition between middlegame and endgame.

Some players will call any position without queens an endgame, while for others the endgame is only reached when the players have only one or two pieces other than pawns left on the board. Usually, the players don’t have enough pieces left to easily checkmate the opponent’s king, so strategy in the endgame generally revolves around getting a pawn to the other side of the board to make a queen.

Most Common Chess Mistakes Among Beginners

Following are the most common mistakes in chess made by beginners during the three phases of the game.

The Opening

The first moves of a chess game are termed the “opening” or “opening moves”. A good opening will provide better protection of the King, control over an area of the board (particularly the center), greater mobility for pieces, and possibly opportunities to capture opposing pawns and pieces. These are the 6 most common mistakes that beginners make during the opening:

1. Not Controlling The Centre

Centre control is essential. Imagine the middle of the chessboard like a hill, whoever is the king of the hill has a better view of the board and can easily transfer the pieces from one side of the board without any issues. When you don’t control the center, you lose control of the board.

Again for more advanced players, there are other strategies that forego control over the center for other advantages. For any beginner player, it’s too risky, control of the center is absolutely essential and hence it is regarded as one of the most common chess mistakes.

2. Not Protecting The King

If you’re just thinking about gaining material without seeing the big picture, you will fall trapped to a better player. By the time you see the trap, you’ll have to put your pieces or pawns in a sub-optimal position or maybe even lose a piece. Leaving your king unprotected can be a motif for losing a chess game very quickly.

3. Not Developing Your Pieces

For at least your first 6 moves every piece you’re moving should be developed out of your 1st and 2nd rank and if possible defending other developed pieces and aiming for control of the center. If you don’t have men fighting on the battlefield it is relatively hard to win.

Developing is essential because it gives you mobility, dynamic play, and a possibility to attack, whoever is behind in development is most likely going to suffer later having a hard time finding good squares for their pieces. Save the multi-move setups for your attacks for later on.

4. Copying Opponent’s Move

Copying exactly what your opponent does without any idea of what you are trying to do; gives your opponent the time to have initiative. Sometimes copying your opponent’s move makes sense, but just think about when, where, and why.

5. Moving Your Queen Too Early

The real problem about moving your queen out early in the game is the fact that your opponent can develop pieces while attacking the queen.

If your Queen moves to h5, then black can play Nf6 attacking your queen. Moving your queen will make you fall behind in development, which will cause problems with your position. Again this also plays into the previous mistake on “lack of development.” The time you spend moving your queen around is the time your opponent is spending developing.

6. Moving The Same Piece Twice In The Opening

Every turn in chess is called a tempo, and every tempo is essential, some games of chess are won or lost from a one-move difference, it is essential to not waste tempos at the beginning of the game to maximize your control of the board.

Imagine you move a bishop two moves in a row during the opening, we can agree that we lost one tempo because we could have played the bishop to b5 in the first move while the opponent developed 2 pieces. In the move in which you moved my bishop twice, you could have developed another piece causing you to be behind in development.

The Middlegame

The middlegame is a very important part of the game. It is not only important because that’s where the majority of the games get decided, but also because the understanding of the middlegame is directly proportional to one’s rating. Many chess professionals suggest spending more time on fundamental middlegame understanding, for improving your overall chess. These are the 7 most common mistakes that players make during the middlegame:

1. Committing To Not Optimal Pawn Structure

Choosing an optimal pawn structure after the opening is one of the biggest decisions you have to make in the middlegame. The pawn structure decides how the game will progress. For example, a closed pawn structure would mainly mean a slow, maneuvering type of game.

Open pawn structure will most likely mean a sharp, attacking game, with plenty of tactics and surprises on the board. Most openings have a well-determined plan for both sides. Some are meant to be tactical, while some are very positional. It is not a good idea to make changes to those things.

Based on the opening, an optimal pawn structure should be selected. It is typically a mistake to commit to an “incorrect” pawn structure, which would generally mean you’ll end up in an inferior position.

2. Not Positioning Pieces Correctly

This is another very common mistake that can be seen often on under 2200 levels. Players may not be very familiar with certain opening lines, and due to the lack of experience, they are not completely aware of the plans for both sides.

That, in turn, leads to pieces not being placed on good defensive or attacking squares. When you decide where to place a piece, you should have a clear understanding of why that is the case. Otherwise, with random positioning of the pieces, it is very hard to launch a sound attack or to play solid defence. When you are deciding where to place pieces, always think ahead and have a plan.

3. Exchanging Off Good Pieces

One of the main differences between strong and weak players is that the first category knows well which chess pieces to keep and which to exchange. Unfortunately, the weaker players don’t have a well-developed intuition that helps them to decide on exchanges. As a result, they often exchange their good pieces for the inferior opponent’s pieces. That leads to further weakening of the position, reducing the attacking and defensive potential.

4. Not Anticipating Pawn Breaks

Pawn break is something that can make or break your game. A well-calculated break can cause serious damage to the opponent’s position, leading to a powerful attack on the king. A badly calculated break can have just the opposite effect.

Not only won’t do you any good, but it will also help your opponent to get an upper hand. The trickiness of the pawn break is that it should be perfectly timed. If you don’t prepare and just play it, you are risking losing the pawn with no compensation whatsoever. If you over-prepare, you are losing valuable time and letting your opponent counter the threats.

5. Ending Up With Inferior Minor Pieces

All chess players have to make a decision on what minor piece to keep: a knight or a bishop. Many players know that the knight is a favorable piece in closed positions while a bishop is stronger on the open board. That is however not always accurate.

The position may look closed, but after a pawn break and series of exchanges, it may suddenly become an open field. If you choose to keep the knight beforehand, you’ll end up with an inferior piece and your endgame won’t be a walk in the park. That’s why when choosing what minor piece to keep, you should anticipate how position can change in the near future.

6. Not Playing Prophylactic Moves

How many times we felt bad for not paying attention to the back rank mate or did not having enough time to make an escape square for the king? It happens a lot, and not many players are good at anticipating the upcoming threats and playing prophylactic moves beforehand.

Players typically think that it is fine to keep the back rank undefended, or a piece hanging and spend those moves on something presumably more active and important. Little do they know that these minor things can give rise to a disaster. Instead of winning a queen, you will get checkmated, just because you did not play a simple pawn push 5 moves earlier. Always try to anticipate problems and deal with them before they arise.

7. Neglecting King’s Safety

Neglecting the king’s safety is something closely related to prophylactic moves. It is in a league of its own, because of the level of importance. The point of chess is to checkmate your opponent, keeping your own king safe at the same time.

Chess is not a sprint, but rather a marathon, and that’s why it is a must to make sure that your own king is safe. It is wise to spend an extra move or two to make sure your pawns and pieces are properly set, and your king is safe.

The Endgame

As well as openings and middlegames, having a good understanding of the endgame is essential in order to become a strong chess player. Endgames can prove particularly tricky if you have little experience or haven’t given them too much attention.

For example, experienced chess players usually tend to show their superiority in this phase of the game, even though the rest of it might have been quite level. These are the 5 most common mistakes that players make during the endgame:

1. Staying Passive

A key concept in endgames is the activity of the pieces. Usually, the side that has better-placed pieces and has the initiative is the one who stands better, even if he/she may be down material. We have seen many times the choice of a passive defense for the sake of the material balance.

It is important to remember that in endgames this is a high price to pay. It may be preferable to sacrifice one pawn, but in return gain some activity and be able to create some chances of your own. Anyway, one thing is sure – keeping a passive defence will almost always lead to a loss. The active part usually finds a way to break the defense and finally turn it into a full point.

2. Creating Unnecessary Weaknesses

The pawn structure is another very important element in the endgame. The side with more weaknesses will usually have to suffer and find precise defensive resources in order to hold on to the position. Pawn moves usually leave behind a weakness, so remember this and double-check the next time you want to push an apparently harmless pawn in an endgame.

The side that holds a small advantage will try to provoke you in order to create a second front of the attack and be able to increase the pressure, so stay alert and try to keep your structure as healthy as possible.

3. Rushed Exchanges

Sometimes, when the position is equal, drawish-looking, we tend to accept exchanges easier, thinking that they will ease our path to a draw. This couldn’t be further from the truth; in fact, it may achieve exactly the opposite if we don’t pay attention.

Always assess the position and imagine the ideal one for you; this will help you realize which pieces you should keep and which ones could be exchanged. Exactly like in the middlegame, trades are very important and they should never be made automatically.

4. Relaxing Too Soon

Especially when we have to defend a difficult endgame, we tend to relax the moment we think we have found a fortress or the right defending maneuver. This is usually the moment when most mistakes occur; you have to keep focused at every moment and try to spot your opponent’s idea. Of course, this should be applied in better or winning positions as well; remember – the game is not over until the score sheets have been signed.

5. Agreeing To A Draw Too Soon

Although we are accustomed to seeing draw agreements at the top level when the positions are balanced in endgames, be assured that this is not the case with the rest of us. In fact, it is exactly in these balanced positions where we have to give our best and try to outplay our opponent.

If you want to improve your chess level, you need to have a clear study plan. If you aim for a dramatic improvement at chess you need to work on all of the elements of the game in a systematic way:

  • tactics
  • positional play
  • attacking skills
  • endgame technique
  • classical games analysis
  • psychological preparation

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