How to Escape the Sub-1000 Ratings in Chess
If you’re stuck at a low rating, you are probably spreading your attention too thin.
Many new chess players find themselves stuck at a low rating because they try to learn too much at once. It’s all too common for beginners to try memorizing long lines of opening theory, or practicing advanced tactics that they’re never going to use in their actual games.
I found myself doing this when I recently came back to chess after years away. I was spending time reading all kinds of strategy articles, but meanwhile, I was hanging pieces left and right in my actual games.
Advanced techniques and strategies simply aren’t necessary for beginners. Even worse, they can be a deadly distraction. In timed games, low-ranked players often spread their attention too thin and end make huge blunders.
The vast majority of low-rated games don’t come down to who has the stronger pawn structure or a novel opening line. They’re really decided by just one thing: which player makes the fewest blunders.
Protecting Your Pieces
To win low-rated games, your goal needs to be eliminating blunders. To do that, you need to pour all of your focus into making sure your pieces are protected.
Every piece on your board, including the pawns, should have at least as many defenders as it does attackers. For example, if your opponent can take your piece with a knight and a bishop, you need to have at least two pieces which can recapture the square.
You can even overprotect your pieces by having more defenders than necessary. This technique is used even at higher levels of chess, but it is especially helpful for beginners because it reduces the chances that you’ll hang a piece.
While protecting your pieces, you should also keep an eye out for any of your opponent’s pieces which are unprotected. In low-rated games, it’s almost guaranteed that one of the players will eventually leave a piece hanging. As soon as that happens, jump on the opportunity.
Every time that your opponent moves, check whether they’ve threatened any of your pieces or left any of their pieces undefended. In a timed game, you only have so much time to think. You need to devote the bulk of this to checking for hanging pieces and making sure your own pieces are protected.
After you’ve captured one of your opponent’s hanging pieces, you’re very likely to win the game, as long as you don’t blunder a piece back. In general, your strategy should be to simplify by trading off the remaining pieces with your opponent. This will widen your lead, and make a checkmate easier.
Reviewing Your Games
Many beginners don’t even realize how often they and their opponents are blundering pieces. If you leave a piece hanging and your opponent doesn’t see it, neither of you may ever know. It’s like a tree falling in the forest with nobody around to hear it.
This is why it’s important to review all of your games afterward. If you’re playing online, most websites have built in analysis software. You can walk through your game step by step, and the software will show you exactly when you and your opponent blundered.
When you review your games, it’s worth replaying the moves in which you blundered. This will train you to spot hanging pieces and teach you to protect the pieces instead. If you’ve never tried analyzing your games before, you’ll likely be shocked by how many mistakes you’ve made.
How Far Will This Strategy Take You?
For beginners, protecting pieces should be your primary concern in every game. I’ve been focused on protecting my pieces as I slowly re-climb the ratings on chess.com. I was able to blaze past 1000, and the strategy is still working strong as I approach 1200.
Almost every game I win is because my opponent hung a piece, and almost every game I lose is because I did.
My rating is obviously still low when compared with serious chess players, but it puts me in the top third of active players on chess.com. This isn’t bad for such a simple strategy. I’ve also read of other players making it into the 1400s and higher on chess.com with the same technique.
On lichess.org, which has a higher average user rating, this strategy should take you well past 1500.
Generally, over the board ratings are lower than online ratings, but beginners can still expect to see massive improvement by focusing on protecting pieces.
Eventually, you will have to learn more advanced strategy if you want to continue progressing, but learning it too soon is mostly just a distraction. For now, I’ll continue to devote my focus to protecting my pieces, and only branch out when my rating begins to stall.