Learn How to Play Chess Online: Free Chess Lessons for Beginners, Intermediate Players & Beyond

The most desired Christmas gift of 2020? A chess set. It’s certainly desired, at any rate, by the rapt viewers of The Queen’s Gambit, the acclaimed Netflix miniseries that debuted in October. Created by screenwriter-producers Scott Frank and Allan Scott, its seven episodes tell the story of Beth Harmon, an orphan in 1950s Kentucky who turns out to be a chess prodigy, then goes on to become a world-class player. During the Cold War, the intellectual and geopolitical prospect of American and Soviet masters going head to head stoked public interest in chess; over the past month, the surprise success of The Queen’s Gambit has had a similar effect.

Whether or not you feel a sense of kinship with the series’ unrelentingly chess-obsessed young protagonist, you may well feel an urge to learn, or re-learn, to play the game. If so, all the resources you need are online, and today we’ve rounded them up for you.

To get started, Chess.com has produced “Everything You Need to Know About Chess,” a series of Youtube videos “designed to give every aspiring chess player the ‘one chess lesson of their life’ if they were only to get one.” Watch them, or explore these web-based tutorials. And even if you don’t have a chess set of your own, you can get started playing immediately thereafter: create an account at Chess.com and you can play against the computer or real players around the world matched to your skill level, all for free.

To shore up your knowledge of the game’s fundamentals, watch this five-video series by instructor John Bartholomew on topics like undefended pieces, coordination, and typical mistakes. The Chess Website’s Youtube channel covers even more, and its basics playlist teaches everything from opening principles to the nature of individual pieces, pawn, rook, knight, and beyond.

But nobody with a taste for chess can stop at the basics, and the supply of instruction has grown to meet the demand. The St. Louis Chess Club offers a series of lectures from national masters and grandmasters geared toward beginning, intermediate, and advanced players.

At Chess School, you’ll find videos on”the greatest chess games ever played, the immortal chess games, the best games from the latest tournaments, world champion’s games, instructive chess games, famous players games and much more.” Among serious players you’ll find many fans of Agadmator, whose extensive playlists examine current masters like Magnus Carlsen, past masters like Garry Kasparov, and examples of techniques like the English Opening and the Sicilian Defense, the later of which enjoyed quite a moment in the era of The Queen’s Gambit.  The series has hardly gone unnoticed in the chess world: on channels like Chess Network, you’ll even find videos about the strategies employed by Beth Harmon, whose style has been programmed into chess-playing AI “bots.” They also have a “Beginner to Chess Master” playlist that will continually build your understanding of the game in a step by step manner.

The character’s personality, however, remains a creation of Walter Tevis, author of the eponymous novel The Queen’s Gambit. Tevis’ other works famously brought to the screen include The Hustler and The Man Who Fell to Earth: works of literature concerned, respectively, with mastery of a deceptively complex game and the condition of the social outsider. These themes come together in The Queen’s Gambit, whose author also described it as “a tribute to brainy women.” Perhaps you plan to give such a person in your life a chess set this year. If so, you know which book to wrap up with it — apart, of course, from  Ward Farnsworth’s 700-page Predator at The Chessboard: A Field Guide To Chess Tactics. Or Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess. If you have other favorite resources, please feel free to add them to the list below…

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Great Courses Offers Every Course on Sale for $60 or Less (Until December 1)

Here’s a holiday season deal worth mentioning. For Cyber Monday, The Great Courses (formerly The Teaching Company) is offering every course for $60 in digital format or less. The sale lasts through the end of December 1.

If you’re not familiar with it, the Great Courses provides a very nice service. They travel across the U.S., recording great professors lecturing on great topics that will appeal to any lifelong learner. They then make the courses available to customers in different formats (DVD, CD, Video & Audio Downloads, etc.). The courses are very polished and complete, and they can be quite reasonably priced, especially when they’re on sale, as they are today. Click here to explore the offer.

Note: The Great Courses is a partner with Open Culture. So if you purchase a course, it benefits not just you and Great Courses. It benefits Open Culture too. So consider it win-win-win.

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Watch Digital Dancers Electrify the Streets of Istanbul

Are you open to the idea of otherworldly beings moving amongst us, benign but unseen?

Director Gökalp Gönen seems to be in the above video for jazz innovator Ilhan Ersahin’s “Hurri-Mitanni” (Good News).

Things kick off in a decidedly low key manner—a young woman sets off for a nighttime stroll through the streets of Istanbul, her face deliberately obscured by a snugly tied black and white cloth.

Turning a corner, she passes an anonymous figure, wrapped head to toe in similar stripes.

Does this unexpected sight elicit any discernible reaction?

Our guess is no, but we can’t say for sure, as the camera loses interest in the young woman, opting to linger with the svelte and exuberant mummy, who’s dancing like no one is watching.

Elsewhere, other increasingly colorful beings perform variations on the mummy’s box step, alone or in groups.

As their outfits become more fanciful, Gönen employs CGI and 3D animation to unhitch them from the laws of physics and familiar boundaries of human anatomy.

They pixellate, sprout extra legs, project rays reminiscent of string art, appear more vegetable than animal….

Some grow to Godzilla-like proportions, shedding little humanoid forms and bounding across the Bosporus.

A small spiky version ignores the paws of a curious kitten.

These fantastical, faceless beings are invisible to passerby. Only one, performing on an outdoor stage, seems eager for interaction. None of them seen to mean any harm.

They just wanna boogie…

…or do they?

The director’s statement is not easily parsed in translation:

A group of anonymous wandering the streets. Everywhere is very crowded but identities are very few. Trying to be someone is as difficult as writing your name on the waves left by this fast-moving giant ship. Everyone is everyone and everyone is nobody anymore. This silence could only exist through glowing screens, even if it found itself nooks. On those loud screens, they reminded who actually had the power by entering the places that were said to be inaccessible. But they didn’t even care about this power. The areas where we had passionate conversations about it for days were a “now like this” place for us, but they looked like this to say “no, it was actually like that” but they did not speak much. They had the charm of a cat. When they said, “Look, it was like this,” they became part of everything that made it “like this” and became unnoticeable like paving stones. They just wanted to have a little fun, to be able to live a few years without worry. In five minutes, fifteen seconds at most, they existed and left.

A few creatures who got left on the cutting room floor can be seen dancing on Gönen’s Instagram profile.

via Colossal

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Animated Stan Lee Explains Why the F-Word Is “the Most Useful Word in the English Language” (NSFW)

FYI. The language in this video is not safe for work. And, now, on with the show.

In the last couple years of his life, Stan Lee was ill, his health failing, but he stayed engaged and remained his old wisecracking self. His handpicked successor for editor-in-chief at Marvel, Roy Thomas, tells the story of the last time he saw Lee and showed him his then-new biography of the comics legend, The Stan Lee Story. They talked about the Spider-Man comic strip they’d written together for two decades until a couple years back. Other familiar subjects came and went. Lee “was ready to go” and seemed at peace, Thomas says.

“But he was still talking about doing more cameos. As long as he had the energy for it and didn’t have to travel, Stan was always up to do some more cameos.” Lee’s cameos continue after his death in 2018, as is the way now with deceased icons. He has made three live-action appearances posthumously, in footage shot before his death, one posthumous appearance in an animated superhero film, and another in a Spider-Man video game. Soon, these vignettes may be all popular audiences know of him.

Who knows how much footage–or willingness to create CGI Stan Lees—Disney has in store for future Marvel films. But a memorial in scripted one-liners seems to miss out on a whole lot of Stan Lee. The man could be counted on to make the set on time. (According to Jason Mewes, Lee had dinner with his wife every single night without fail at 6:00 pm sharp.) But he could also be unpredictable in some very delightful ways.

Thomas tells a story, for example, of visiting Lee in the 80s in a California house with marble floors. “At one point he excused himself, and he came back on roller skates…. I’d never seen anyone roller-skating on a marble floor.” The short film above animates another of these unscripted moments, when Lee literally went off-script to deliver an extemporaneous monologue on the f-word. Of course, “I don’t say it, ‘cause I don’t say dirty words,” he begins, before letting it rip in an argument for the f-word as “the most useful word in the English language.”

Lee’s off-the-cuff George Carlin routine rolls right into his reason for being in the recording booth: getting a take of his signature exclamation, “Excelsior!”—the word the creator or co-creator of Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Ant Man, Black Widow, Black Panther (and most the rest of the Marvel Universe) reserved for emphasis in his heartfelt, wholesome letters to fans over the decades. After he says his catchphrase, James Whitbrook writes at io9, he goes “right back into having a laugh with everyone around him. It’s a lovely, if profane, remembrance of an icon,” and, unfortunately, not the kind of thing likely to make it in future cameo appearances.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear 11-Year-Old Björk Sing “I Love to Love”: Her First Recorded Song (1976)

Several years back, we featured an eleven-year-old Björk reading a nativity story in her native Icelandic, backed by unsmiling older kids from the Children’s Music School in Reykjavík. In this new find, also dating from 1976, you can hear that same eleven-year-old Björk singing in English, in what marks her first recording. Above, she sings the Tina Charles song “I Love to Love” for a school recital. According to Laughing Squid, the “teachers were so impressed with her voice, they sent the recording to the national radio station where it received a great deal of play.” Soon thereafter (in 1977) came her first album, featuring cover art provided by her mom. We’ve previously explored that here on OC.

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The Great Courses Offers Every Course for $40 Until Midnight Tonight

Here’s a holiday season deal worth mentioning. The Great Courses (formerly The Teaching Company) is offering every course for $40 in digital format (or $60 in DVD format). The deal lasts through midnight on Black Friday.

If you’re not familiar with it, the Great Courses provides a very nice service. They travel across the U.S., recording great professors lecturing on great topics that will appeal to any lifelong learner. They then make the courses available to customers in different formats (DVD, CD, Video & Audio Downloads, etc.). The courses are very polished and complete, and they can be quite reasonably priced, especially when they’re on sale, as they are today. Click here to explore the offer.

Separately, it’s also worth mentioning that the Great Courses Plus–which makes courses available in streaming format as part of a monthly subscription service–is running a Black Friday deal where you can get a free trial for the service, plus 20% of popular plans.

Note: The Great Courses is a partner with Open Culture. So if you purchase a course, it benefits not just you and Great Courses. It benefits Open Culture too. So consider it win-win-win.

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With 9,036 Pieces, the Roman Colosseum Is the Largest Lego Set Ever

“For a normal person back in the day,” says LEGO designer/architect Rok Kobe about the Colosseum in Rome, “You had never seen a building that was over a story high. And to be confronted with such an amazing piece of engineering that’s almost 200-meters wide and 50 meters tall, it was unprecedented.”

Similarly, any LEGO fan might feel this awe while greeting this month’s debut of the LEGO Colosseum. At 9036 pieces it has broken the record as the biggest LEGO set in existence, beating out the Star Wars’ Millennium Falcon (7,541 pieces) and the Taj Mahal (5,923 pieces). Every few years LEGO steps up its game, which might possibly end with a neighborhood-devouring replica of the Great Wall of China. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The Colosseum’s facade has been faithfully recreated on all three levels, with the Doric columns at the bottom, the Ionic columns in the middle, and the Corinthian columns on top. And it also adds the contemporary part of the arena that has been rebuilt to show the original level of the arena in Roman times.

The original Colosseum was built over eight years between year 72 AD and 80 AD and between two emperors, Vespasian and Titus. And though we know it as a sandstone-colored structure these days, archeologists have determined it was also colored red, black, and azure. The LEGO version may not be so dramatic, but it does contain a bit more color than the real-life model.

Rok Kobe knows of what he speaks and models. Growing up in Ljubljana, capitol of Slovenia, he would play on the Roman ruins in the city center, especially the Roman Wall. “The five year old would be proud of the adult that got to design this LEGO set,” he says.

At $798, this is not a frivolous purchase. But it will bring an adult hours of fun and keep them occupied.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Toni Morrison’s 1,200 Volume Personal Library is Going on Sale: Get a Glimpse of the Books on Her Tribeca Condo Shelves

Images by Brown Harris Stevens

I will tell you how I began to be a writer.

I was a reader.

Toni Morrison

Those of us who might have grown up harboring literary ambitions may have been humbled and inspired when we first read Toni Morrison. She proves over and again, in novels, essays, and otherwise, the courage and dedication that serious writing requires. She has also shown us the courage it takes to be a serious reader. “Delving into literature is not escape,” she said in a 2002 interview. It is “always a provocative engagement with the contemporary, the modern world. The issues of the society we live in.”

In her seminal text on reading, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Morrison showed us how to read as she does. “As a reader (before becoming a writer),” she wrote, “I read as I had been taught to do. But books revealed themselves rather differently to me as a writer,” in the space of imaginative empathy. “I have to place enormous trust in my ability to imagine others and my willingness to project consciously into the danger zones such others may represent for me.”

Critical readers risk vulnerability, open themselves to shock and surprise: “I want to draw a map… to open as much space for discovery… without the mandate for conquest.” This attitude makes criticism an act of “delight, not disappointment,” Morrison wrote, despite the different, and unequal, positions we come from as readers. “It’s that being open,” she said in 2009, “not scratching for it, not digging for it, not constructing something but being open to the situation and trusting that what you don’t know will be available to you.”

Want to learn to read like that? You can. And you can also, if you have the cash, own and read the books in Morrison’s personal library, the books she thumbed over and read in that same spirit of critical empathy. The over 1,200 books collected at her Tribeca condo can be purchased in their entirety for a price negotiated with her family. In the photos here from realtor Brown Harris Stevens, who currently list her five million dollar, 3 bedroom apartment in a separate sale, certain titles leap out from the spines:

Biographies of Paul Robeson and Charles Dickens, Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost, Eric J. Sundquist’s To Wake the Nations, Angela Davis’ An Autobiography, Cornel West’s Democracy Matters. (Her library seems to be enviably alphabetized, something I’ve meant to get around to for a couple decades now….)

Michelle Sinclair Colman at Galerie lists several more titles in the library, including The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes, “books about and by the Obamas and the Clintons, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Gayl Jones, Henry Dumas, James Baldwin, and Mark Twain.” On her nightstand, undisturbed, sit Robert A. Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson, David Maraniss’s Barack Obama: The Story, and Stephen King’s Revival.

Some other points of interest:

  • She owned a beautiful gold illustrated copy of Song of Solomon with the bookmark on Chapter Four.
  • She displayed multiple-framed Dewey Decimal catalog library cards of her novels.
  • She edited as she read.


  • She had a few never-returned library books. The most interesting was a copy of her own book, The Bluest Eye, from the Burnaby Public Library with copious notes, underlines, cross-outs on every single page.

Were these her own notes, underlines, and cross-outs? It isn’t clear, but should you purchase the library, which cannot be pieced out but only owned as a whole, you can find out for yourself. We hope this historic collection will one day end up in a library, maybe digitized for everyone to see. But for now, those of us who can’t afford the purchase price can be content with this rare glimpse into Morrison’s sanctuary, where she did so much writing, thinking, and maybe most importantly for her, so much reading. Images on this page come from Brown Harris Stevens.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.