7 Common Mistakes of New Chess Players

Bryce Gallo   ·   June 6, 2021   ·   8 min read

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Avoid making these seven beginner chess mistakes, and your level of play will jump hundreds of ELO points!

As I have gotten better at chess over my years of playing and studying this game, I have noticed many mistakes that beginners make without even realizing that they are making them! For this reason, I have made this list of the 7 most common mistakes to help you avoid them and become a stronger chess player.

If you have any other questions or a new topic that you would like me to cover, please leave a comment at the end of this blog post and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Mistake #1: Starting the Game with an H or A Pawn

One extremely common mistake among players who are new to chess is to move an H or A pawn forward two squares at the beginning of a chess game. When playing with the White pieces, 1. h4 and 1. a4 are both common, but bad moves. The reason these moves are bad is that they do not offer any resistance in the center, giving our opponent a strong hold in the center of the board which will more difficult than is necessary to dismantle.

In the diagram above we can see that White played 1. h4 and 1. a4, which allowed Black to put two pawns in the center. This central control will be very beneficial to Black as we progress through the game, and gives them an early advantage.

Generally, the reasoning behind playing a move with the H or A pawn is to allow our Rooks to become activated with 2. Ra3 or 2. Rh3. I'll explain more about why developing our Rooks early on in the game is a mistake later on in this post.

If you need a refresher on how chess notation works, check out my article here that will explain everything quickly and easily!

Mistake #2: Not Fighting for Central Control at the Start of the Game

The second mistake on this list is not fighting for control of the center four squares at the start of the game. In the image to the left, I have highlighted the center four squares. These squares are what you should immediately fight for at the start of every one of your chess games. Controlling 

the center is important because it is the center four squares that are the easiest to launch an attack from. When your pieces are in the center of the board they have their maximum range in all directions, making your army a lethal force!

The best and easiest way to fight for the center in your chess games is to play your Kingpawn and Queenpawn forward two squares as soon as possible, followed by developing your Knights to the f3 and c3 squares early. Do this and you will be playing just like the world's best chess players!

Mistake #3: Resigning Early

Mistake number three is very common, particularly among players up to the rating of about 800. Whether they just made a mistake, played an opening they don't like, feel like they are losing the game, or for other minor reasons, new chess players frequently resign too early.

This mistake is probably the simplest on this list to fix ... just never resign your game. You would be surprised to know how many players with a completely lost position actually end up winning the game because their opponent made a huge mistake late in the match. Even if you are not able to win a game, the possibility of being stalemated is also very high, especially when you have only your King left on the board. (I will write an article explaining stalemate and a variety of other possible draws in chess soon, but for now, all you need to know is that stalemate occurs when you have no legal moves when it is your turn to move.)

Aside from holding onto the chances of winning or drawing a game that you are otherwise losing, not resigning also has other benefits. By not resigning your games, you get more playing experience, have the chance to see and practice a variety of endgames, and become a tough opponent to beat. Not resigning games even in lost positions also starts a psychological war with your opponent and shows them that you are not backing down until either checkmate is declared or until the clocks stop running. This can be quite intimidating and can even increase the likelihood of a mistake by your opponent!

Mistake #4: Developing Knights to the Sides of the Board

The fourth mistake is developing your Knights to the rims (or sides) of the board during a game of chess. In the example above, White moved both of their Knights to the side of the board. The reason that this is not a good move is that you don't fight for central control of the board. On top of this, when you move the Knight to the side of the board, your piece isn't able to defend very many squares.

When placed on the sides of the board a Knight has two squares that it is defending, but when moved towards the center of the board, it defends four squares. This difference in range makes a big difference as the game progresses, so make sure to always develop your Knights to the center of the board and you will be off to a great start!

Mistake #5: "When in Doubt, Move a Pawn"

Mistake number five is something that I have heard, seen, and even done myself! When a new chess player is not sure what to do on their turn, they frequently will move a Pawn. Now, this is a mistake for several reasons, but the biggest of which is that just moving a Pawn does nothing productive for you, and basically gives your opponent a free turn to build up an attack against you without any resistance.

Moving a Pawn when you are not sure what else to do also creates weaknesses in your position that your opponent can target and attack. This is pronounced with the fact that Pawns cannot move backward, which means that every Pawn move is permanent. You should be especially careful when committing to a Pawn move since there is no going back. As another tip I would say that a Pawn's power comes through careful positioning and cooperation with other Pawns, so don't move a Pawn when you are in doubt of what to do next!

This mistake is one that I have been guilty of countless times, but what I eventually found to work much better than moving a Pawn when I don't know what to play is to make a move that does something to help me. If you don't know what to do, play a move that can: 

  1.  Build up a potential attack
  2.  Strengthen your position by defending weaknesses
  3.  Develop your minor pieces, get your King castled to safety or centralizes your Rooks
  4.  Gain control of the center

I hope these tips help!

Mistake #6: Developing the Queen too Early

While the Queen is the most powerful piece in chess, it is generally not a good idea to bring her into the game too soon. As seen in the example above, when you bring your Queen into the game too early she can become a target for attack. Many beginning chess players actually end up losing their Queen because they bring her out too soon, and others get desperately far behind in the development of the rest of their pieces. Both scenarios are pretty bad, and to avoid this, don't bring out your Queen unless absolutely necessary in the beginning of your games. 

To know exactly when it is time to move your Queen, follow these steps and you will do just fine:

  1.  Control the center with Pawns
  2.  Develop your Knights
  3.  Develop your Bishops
  4.  Castle your King
  5.  Bring out your Queen

If you follow these steps you will be well on your way towards a very high-level game of chess!

Mistake #7: Developing Rooks Before Minor Pieces

The seventh and final common beginner's mistake on this list is developing your Rooks before your minor pieces.

I should add that just because you have developed your minor pieces (Knights and Bishops) doesn't mean that you should move your Rooks. Your Rooks are meant to be saved until the middlegame or endgame phase of your game. Rooks are long-range pieces, and early in the game, there are simply too many pieces on the board for the Rooks to work effectively. For this reason, it is best to keep your Rooks on the back rank of your side of the board until things start to clear up as you enter into the middlegame.

In the diagram above, we see a worst-case example of one of my students who developed both Rooks before any of their other pieces. It is not only dangerous to develop the Rooks early, but as the board starts to fill up with other pieces being developed, the Rooks can easily become trapped among their own color pieces and be captured.

To avoid this mistake be sure to save your Rooks on the back rank of your side of the board until the board starts to clear up. 


Hopefully, with the help of his list, you are able to steer clear of some of the frequent mistakes found in chess. If you have any further questions about this list or have questions about other topics, please leave a comment below this post letting me know and I'll do my best to answer each comment. Thank you for reading and I'll see you in my next post!

Posted June 6, 2021, by Bryce Gallo

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