The Step Chess Method is one of the most famous step-by-step methods for teaching and learning chess. In this article, I will explain what the Step Method is, tell you if it is worth it, and how you can get the most out of it.
From Beginner To GM Thanks To Chess Step Method
The Step Method books had a big impact on my Chess career. I probably solved around 5’000 exercises in Chess Steps books on different Levels. As a little boy, every Friday I brought my own Chess Steps booklet to the local Chess club and started solving exercises. Whenever I found a solution I had to hold up my hand and the teacher came to check if I got it right.
I then proudly check-marked the solved puzzle and moved on. This was an extremely convenient way for our club as we had a lot of interested kids but very few (good) Coaches. It was also good Cardio for the Coaches, as they walked from one kid to another (around 20 max.) trying to refute their answers.
As my career turned out not that bad, it is only logical that I recommend studying with the Steps-Method.
Yes, there are countless ‘cooler’ and maybe more fun ways to study chess. But I still stick to the step-Method because it does exactly what one would hope for: improve your chess!
The Chess Step-Method Explained
“Chess-Steps has been developed in 1987 by Rob Brunia and Cor van Wijgerden in order to teach children to play chess.”Quote from the official Chess-Steps Website.
Chess-Steps is a series of Chess Books aiming to get you from Beginner all the way up to a rating of 2100 Elo.
Step 1 starts with the rules, some easy checkmates, and the chess notation. Step 6 mainly contains difficult puzzles without clear hints about the tactics or mating motif that needs to be applied.
Here are the official Rating recommendations for each step (they don’t specify if over-the-board or online rating, but as they were founded in 1987 I strongly suspect those are over-the-board ratings).
You can add roughly 200 points to that number to get a chess.com or lichess rating.
- Step 1: Rating up to 800
- Step 2: Rating up to 1400
- Step 3: Rating up to 1600
- Step 4: Rating up to 1750
- Step 5: Rating up to 1900
- Step 6: Rating up to 2100
You can see that the rating intervals get smaller. This makes sense, as it is easier to go from 800 to 900 rating than from 1500 to 1600.
What makes the Chess-Steps Method so interesting is that they offer both a Manual (intended for Coaches) and a Workbook (intended for students). This allows even rather inexperienced players to teach Chess to someone else, as each lesson will be structured in the Manual.
Every Step Level has different books:
- Workbook Plus
- Workbook Extra
- Workbook Mix
As explained before, the manual is mainly aimed at teachers. At our Chess club, we basically never used the manuals. As the Coaches were quite a bit stronger than the students, they structured the lessons themselves.
If you are teaching chess for the first time and want something to help you, these Manuals are fantastic!
For Chess improvers aiming to improve with self-study, I think there are better resources to get the knowledge. Such as the Tactic Ninja course by Chessmood or “Everyone’s First Chess Workbook” on Chessable.
What you really need to get are the Workbook!
Initially, the Chess-Steps Method was based on the Manual and Workbook only. The Workbook is a very simple book (A4 size) with a lot of exercises corresponding to the Lessons explained in the Manual.
It is a great way to test your chess knowledge with proven exercises. What is special is that you won’t find the solutions to the puzzles anywhere in the book! You need to download the PDF online
This is a little inconvenient, but has a big advantage: you aren’t tempted to ‘shortly check the solution’ whenever you are stuck.
Solve a full page, write down the solution to every single position, and then check your solutions with the PDF. This way you also avoid seeing the solution of the upcoming puzzle on accident.
As the name says, this is for everyone that wants some more exercises to solve. It works exactly the same way as the Workbook, just with new exercises.
If you solve around 70% of the exercises in the Workbook right, I recommend skipping the Workbook extra. Instead, go to the next step.
On the other hand, if you struggle with the exercises and feel you need a little more training, these extra Workbooks provide just that.
Again, the same system with a little twist: you don’t get any hints here! While in other Workbooks you might know what Checkmate pattern to apply, here you just need to make the best possible move.
This provides training that is closer to the actual game. The exercises are still within what is taught in the corresponding Manual, but just not ordered.
If you solve puzzles easily but can’t find tactics in a real game, these exercises are perfect for you.
So, should you use the Chess Steps-Method books?
As a matter of fact, I recommend the Chess-Steps Method in my course Next Level Training for players below 2000 rating.
The Chess-Steps Method is not shiny, nor available digitally. But it is a proven and very well-structured method.
And that’s what you need if you want to improve at chess:
A simple and proven way!
As they now have many different books, many of my course students got confused. Where do I need to start? What book makes sense for my level?
Let me help you find the right starting point.
Which Chess Step-Method Book Is For Me?
The first question you need to answer to find the optimal book is: am I the teacher or the student?
If you are the teacher, then the Manuals are for you. Inform yourself about the rating of the student(s) and get the corresponding books.
A good way to work might be a weekly lesson using your manual and then homework from the Workbook for your students. This makes sure that the students not only listen and learn new motifs and ideas, but immediately apply them themselves.
If you want to improve your own chess, then I recommend skipping the Manuals and focusing on the Workbooks.
But before that, let me ask you: did you ever learn the tactic fundamentals? This needs to be done before trying to solve such puzzles. Because you won’t be able to solve a position with a fork if you don’t even know what a fork is (I hope you’ve encountered it in real live, but maybe not on the chess board :)).
In case you do not have those fundamentals, make sure to check out the free Lichess guide or get the amazing ‘Tactic Ninja’ course by Chessmood. By using my affiliate link for Chessmood you will get 20% off your first monthly membership. Get your fundamentals right and then start solving.
Here is how (you can improve in chess by using the Workbooks):
- Check out the rating recommendation from above and get the Workbook that is closest to your current rating. Do not forget to add the 200 points to the recommendations in case you only play online.
- Then put yourself to the test and start solving these exercises. I like to do them in blocks of 30-60 Minutes. Write down the answers to each exercise you manage to solve and only check the answers after you finished solving for the day.
There are three possibilities:
Exercises Are Too Easy
If you speed through all exercises and get literally 100% correct, then the book is too easy for you. Solving everything is fun and good for a confidence boost, but won’t really improve your skills. So summon your courage and go to the next step.
Exercises Are Too Hard
This can happen to everyone. If you can’t get at least 60% right solutions in a reasonable time, then the book is too hard (at the moment!). This can lead to a loss of confidence and frustration, and that’s not what you want!
Now there are two possible reasons: Either you lack the fundamentals or the exercises are just too hard.
Check out the resources for learning the fundamentals if you feel you lack them. And swallow your pride and go one step down if the exercises are simply too hard.
With a little patience and hard work, you will be able to get back to this step well prepared soon enough!
Exercises Are Optimal
The sweet spot for exercises is when you really need to focus 110% and get somewhere between 60-80% correct solutions in a reasonable time. This is where you keep your confidence intact, but strain yourself enough to really make improvements.
With the many different choices among all the Step-Chess books, I’m sure you will be able to find that sweet spot.
What To Do After Finishing A Book?
Solving all exercises in a book is a great feeling. Be proud of yourself! But don’t rest for too long, because the competition is not sleeping. So your question might be: what’s next? Well, it might not be the fanciest answer, but the solution is more of the same. Keep testing yourself with another Step-Method Workbook. Aim to hit that 60-80% threshold also with your next book.
So if you are still in the low 60% when finishing, it might be smartest to continue on the same level with another Workbook (either extra or Mix).
If things go smoother and you are closing in on 100%, then step one level up and leave the Extra & Mix Workbooks out. Remember: the goal is not to solve as many puzzles as possible.
The goal is to improve as much as you can in a limited period of time!
The Chess Steps-Method is a great way to improve your chess. This series alone can have a huge impact on your chess results, potentially going from total beginner to a 2100 FIDE rating!
It is not fancy, but it works!
Here is how in a nutshell:
- Find the fitting Level for your current rating
- Solve the Workbook of this Level
- Move on if you thrive, do some extra reps if you still struggle
- Show your newly gained skills in your games and see your rating improve
Want to get your own Chess Steps-Method books? Check out the official page. (I’m not affiliated with them in any shape. I just love their product). By the way, the Workbooks cost only $4.95 each, so they are extremely affordable!
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What I like about the Step Method exercises is, that each one is hand-picked for its educative value. Even in lower-rated exercises, there are quite often two “obvious” solutions, but only one works, because in the other one has a hidden resource for the losing side.
I have a question about the “extra” and “plus” work-books:
At the moment, I am finishing the Step 5 workbook. Usually, I get ~80-90% correct (except for the pawn vs. rook endgames, no chance to get them right…). Will I miss any important topics if I go straight to step 6 instead of doing the extra and plus workbooks, or would you recommend doing them first? My Swiss rating is ~2050
Yusuparov book is also great to reach 2100 rating right?
I do like Yusupov’s books as well, yes.