I've been playing chess for a number of years, though I've never really devoted enough time to be any good at it. My current USCF over-the-board (OTB) rating about 1600, but it's been a number of years since I've played in a USCF-rated tournament, so I imagine it's a bit lower now.
Some folks have asked me for recommendations on chess books; there are so many out there, it's difficult to know where to begin. If you are just starting out, I might recommend A Primer of Chess or Chess Fundamentals by Jose Capablanca, or Play Winning Chess by Seirawan and Silman.
After you learn the basic rules, moves, and mates, the next best thing is to study tactics; Chess Training Pocket Book and Test Your Chess IQ: First Challenge are great for that. There are also some good places online; Emrald CTS is nice free one, and Chess.com is another good one, but it is not free (but is worth the price of admission, imho).
If you're looking for a good non-human sparring partner, there are a number of good chess-playing programs out there. When your OS of choice is Linux like mine however, your options can seem a bit limited. There are a number of good free engines, such as the venerable Crafty; it doesn't come with an interface, but can be used with programs like xboard or glchess. If you are using Ubuntu, you can set it up relatively easily like so:
sudo apt-get install crafy crafty-books-medtosmall glchess
If you want the 3D board, though, you'll need a few more packages:
sudo apt-get install python-opengl libgtkglext1 python-gtkglext1
Then, when you fire up glchess, and start a new game, you'll have the option to choose the chess engine you want to use.
If you're looking for a more complete package that just works out of the box in linux, and don't mind spending a few bucks, I like Shredder as they have an interface that allows you to easily analyze games and adjust the playing strength of the engine to something us mere chess mortals can play a reasonable game with.
If you happen to live in the North Reading, MA area, maybe we can play in person?