Skill Levels of Beginners

Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan has said, in his book Winning Chess Strategies, “Hundreds of thousands of books have been written about chess.” I own a few dozens of those publications myself. Who were all those books written for? A small portion of them were written for novice players, yet we actually have more than one skill level for those who could be called beginners.

JLR – Just Learning the Rules

Last year, at an informal chess activity at church, I noticed a few teenagers around a chess set. Two of them were playing something like chess, at least they were moving pieces around the board, but it was obvious to me they knew very little. I’m sure they knew some of the rules, yet not close to all of them.

The JLR player needs to read something in a book or online and concentrate on the rules. Without a complete knowledge of the rules, any attempt to play a game with a real chess player could get quite embarrassing. Some books are written for the JLR player.

What about those who don’t know any of the rules of the royal game? Those persons are not beginners, for they’ve not yet even begun. Such a person can watch others play real games of chess and then imitate some of the moves, getting into the JLR stage.

KRO – Knowing the Rules Only

For these persons I wrote my new book Beat That Kid in Chess. Basic tactics and careful avoidance of throwing away pieces—those are essential to improving from this skill level to the next one. A KRO beginner might play a game against an experienced player, but the result is almost surely a loss for the novice.

HMH – Half-Move Hunting

Have you ever watched a game between beginners who concentrated only on capturing as much material as they could? They grab all the pieces and pawns they can capture. I call that “half-move hunting.” In chess notation, a recorded move-number has White’s move followed by Black’s move. When a beginner looks at a move he or she can make, without considering what the opponent can do in response, the foresight is only half a move, in that sense. Many experienced players would think of that as a lack of foresight, a far cry from what experts and masters do all the time: looking several moves ahead.

OMA – One Move Ahead

When a beginner starts to look at potential moves and then looks at what the opponent can do in response, that’s when he or she has reached the OMA level of skill. That competitor has almost graduated from the beginner stage.


So when exactly does a player graduate from the beginner level, having passed through JLR, KRO, HMH, and OMA? That’ a good question . . . for another time.

By nonfiction author Jonathan Whitcomb



New chess book reviews

This new chess book may be the best gift possible for some readers, be they teenagers, older children, or adults.

Best Chess Book for Beginners

Beat That Kid in Chess covers the simplest concepts in the easiest way, preparing the beginner to begin winning against other novices of the game.


This entry was posted in Beginner and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.