A draft of the Chess Atlas

Published on 18 Jan 2020

You can hear chess players saying they’ve got the chess bug. And if you’re into chess, there’s a high chance you think you got the same bug. The passion for the game is hard to explain in words, there are too many aspects. The fascination of its logical thinking, its strategic insights, not to mention the beauty of a perfect information game.

Soon after you get the hang of the game you start loosing matches and have no idea why. It can become quite frustrating, I imagine most people just lose interest. But what if you don’t? What if you want to get better and find your limits? Where do you start?

In this blog post, I’m sharing how I’m approaching the study of the game as an adult with a busy life. Let me start clarifying my goals:

  • I want to have fun
  • I want to feel I’m getting better

I think it’s worth underlining that I don’t have a specific rating in mind. I’m probably too old already to ever become titled, so I don’t think about rating as goal that much. I imagine around 2000 at blitz/rapid/classical chess on lichess is somewhat my upper limit. Having started so late (I’m 37 at the time of writing), it feels already pretty high to me (I’m around 1600 now).

At this point though, it’s helpful to share some contextual information about me as a chess player so that you can find relatable points for your chess journey.

I grew up in a small town north of Napoli. One of my uncles, a club level chess player, taught me the game when I was twelve or so and then brought me to some local tournaments. I remember loving the atmosphere of the tournaments, all those chessboard lined up on long tables, the ticking of the clocks, the intensity of thoughts flowing around. I was into it for a while and then I moved on to other things. I don’t actually remember losing interest in the game. It just happened like many things in my teens. Then, just a few months ago, I started thinking I needed some quite hobby. I was about to get a kid and my usual stress relief is a little too loud (I play all kind of guitars, none of which can be described as a quite hobby). I remembered enjoying chess and gave it a try again. The passion for the game hit me very hard. I quickly discovered a whole new world: elite tournaments being streamed on youtube, great websites like lichess.org, and extremely enjoyable content like agadmator’s chess Channel. I started playing a lot, mostly blitz and rapid. And, just a couple of months after this happened, I realized I knew nearly nothing about the game. I wanted to know more, I needed to know more. I got the chess bug.

So, again, where do you start start? As I will probably say many more times, chess is too vast, so vast in fact it’s very easy to get lost. To answer the question, I did what I always do when I have to learn something difficult: I broke the problem down. The first breakdown is obviously about stages. The game has an opening, a middle-game, and endgame. Can I study those three stages in parallel? The answer to me is of the worst kind: yes and no. Yes, because of course all phases of the game are important. Equally important I’d say. No, because most experienced players would tell you to start from the endgame. It felt very counterintuitive to me for quite a while. Then one morning I was walking to the office and connected dots via a pretty unrelated route. I’m into cooking a lot, and my favorite cooking book (if you want to get better at cooking anything, look no further) introduced me to a beautiful process. If you want to reach a specific goal with a dish, walk it backward. Picture the final result and apply what you know about cooking to get there. I believe the concepts apply to chess as well, actually to anything else. The endgame you play is a consequence of middle-game, and the middle-game you play is a consequence of the opening you chose. So while it seems logical to start studying the game from the opening, it’s probably not the best strategy. For this reason, I decided to ignore books or videos about opening (some exceptions here. I’ll get back to this in a different blog post) and middle-game so that I can focus on the fundamentals of the endgame.

Now that I’ve established the main focus of my studies, it’s time to get into the details. It’s obviously a personal decision, but I retain information best when:

  • I read a book
  • I write about what I read

Which will result in me publishing a review of the chess books I read. I have a specific format in mind for those review. Reading is mostly a pleasure for me, so when I review a book I express my opinion in the form of “I like this, I don’t like that”. The chess books I’m reading are different as I read them with a goal in mind. Because of this, I plan to always provide the context that lead me to read a book, and the review will be a description of how close to the expectations I had for the specific book. I hope that this format will help you pick the best books. As always, feedback is more than welcome!

I hope I clarified a little where I’m at and how I intend to proceed. My intention is to enrich this website every time I learn something new. As I am just getting started, the most natural first step is a draft of the Atlas. At the time of writing, it looks like this:

There are a few things to say:

  • This is more or less all I know to some degree. It’s not much. But that’s the point.

  • Yes, it looks pretty ugly, i agree. But I know the Atlas will inevitably change as I study so what’s the point of trying to make it look great now that I know so little about where this website will go?

  • Middle-game and strategy are one section. I started with two sections only to realize I don’t really understand the difference between the two. I feel there’s not much difference, but my knowledge is very limited to have a clear-cut opinion. Once again, I prefer to show things as they are right now instead of trying to come up with the perfect map.

  • It’s just a list of lists. There’s no content yet and the idea is to provide it as I go while I study things. I will probably write a blog post for each section as they are now. And then expand each section from there. But maybe also this plan will change. Everything on the chess atlas is a work in progress :)

    Hope you enjoyed it and see you soon!