From ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ to livestreamed Grandmaster games, chess is having a moment — here are the 10 best apps, online classes, and books to learn how to play

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queen's gambit

Chess has experienced a resurgence in popularity over the past few months. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's been the game of choice all over the world for those who want to stay connected, whether playing it at home with family, challenging players online, or streaming the best of the best. And in October, Netflix debuted "The Queen's Gambit," which became an overnight hit. The classic game of critical thinking is truly enjoying a renaissance, and if you've never played before (or haven't since high school chess club), there's no better time to learn than now.

Even if you're not an aspiring chess Grandmaster, there are many benefits to playing including an increase in problem-solving skills, improved concentration, and higher levels of confidence. And while learning chess might seem intimidating, there are several resources available to take you from a pure novice to holding your own against an opponent. 

Here are 10 great apps, online classes, and books to teach you how to play chess:

Apps
ipad chess

Available on Android and iOS; Free with three tiers of membership ranging from $4.99 to $99.99

This might be the most comprehensive app available for learning chess. Along with interactive lessons and tutorials, users have access to more than 65,000 tactics puzzles (sorted by skill level), daily articles from top coaches, and videos from Grandmasters. Players can purchase Gold, Platinum, or Diamond memberships on a monthly or yearly basis, starting at $4.99 for more lessons and an ad free experience to a maximum of $99.99 for unlimited access to all features. 

Available on iOS; First three games are free then $4.99/month

Dr. Wolf assumes the role of a personal coach, guiding players through the basics of chess using a step-by-step process. The AI-powered instructor also highlights strategies and explains the reasoning behind every move. There are 25 lessons total, with each one going further in-depth and building on previously taught concepts. The first three lessons are free, but the subscription option offers unlimited access to the library and new lessons are added monthly. Dr. Wolf is meant for complete beginners, but intermediate players can benefit, too. 

Available on Android and iOS; Free with gold memberships ranging from $7.99 to $27.99

This may be a kids app, but it's perfect for anyone who wants to learn the fundamentals and challenging enough for those who want to sharpen their skills. The app is ad-free and offers plenty of lessons and unlimited chess games. However, the puzzles and videos are only unlimited for Gold members. And if you're getting this for a child, Chess for Kids also takes extra precautions to protect younger users — parents have full control over the account and the kids cannot interact with anyone without explicit consent. 

Online Courses
girl playing online chess

Learn the foundational elements of the game with this 2.5-hour on-demand video course taught by Robert Gumerlock, who has over 50 years of experience playing chess. It includes lectures on the basics of chess; tips on opening moves; tactics to employ in the middle of the game; and the critical checkmate in the endgame. Each lesson ends with a quiz to test your knowledge, and students receive a certificate of completion for finishing the course. As a bonus, all learners are granted lifetime access to the class with their purchase. 

If you know how to set up a board, this free class is your logical next move. This course takes you through each step of playing a full game from beginning to end. Students learn the strategies behind moving and capturing; the difference between check and checkmate; the meaning of terms like "castling" and "en passant"; and how to read and write moves using chess notation. The entire course can be completed in less than 30 minutes and consists of 12 lessons total. 

Books
man moving chess piece

 

Written by chess master Bruce Pandolfini, who also served as a consultant on "The Queen's Gambit," this book is a gentle introduction to the game. According to Pandolfini, it's based on the lessons he's given to thousands of students over the years — some of the concepts were even suggested by some new players. Almost every idea is accompanied by a corresponding diagram and a detailed explanation. The goal is to understand the nuances of chess rather than memorize moves. 

Written by nationally ranked chess player and coach Yelizaveta Orlova, "Chess for Beginners" is designed to provide aspiring players with the fundamentals of chess, from setting up the board to actually winning some games. It's great for staying motivated as you learn, providing you with 10 tactics and 10 strategies to land your first checkmate shortly after you start.

 

This book assumes you have no prior knowledge, which makes it an excellent introduction to chess. Nunn takes a simple but practical approach to teaching as he patiently guides beginners through every step. The material is intentionally limited to ensure that readers have a solid grasp of a few important concepts before graduating to more advanced elements. Most of the games focus on a more contemporary style of chess, with only two examples extracted from before the 1900s. 

Wolff is a U.S. Chess Champion and International Chess Grandmaster. He uses his wealth of knowledge to simplify the complexities of chess and make it much less intimidating to novices. The book contains over 20 pages of detailed answers, more than 400 illustrated chess boards, and clear explanations of the basic principles. 

This is one of the best-selling chess books of all time, and for good reason. It was co-written by Bobby Fischer, who became the youngest Grandmaster in history and was considered one of the greatest chess players the world has ever seen. Fischer and Stuart Margulies employ a programmed learning method in their instruction — a correct answer takes you to the following question, but a wrong one prompts a detailed explanation. One unusual feature of the book is the formatting — the exercises are printed on the right-hand side, with answers on the next page. The left-hand side pages are printed upside down so you can simply turn the book over and work through a new set of exercises until you get to the end. 

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