Chess on Easy Mode
This may shock younger readers, but there was a time when we didn’t know the best chess moves. There were no engines to tell us. In these dark ages, we stumbled along with only our puny brains to guide us.
Over time, through trial and error, rules began to emerge. These rules didn’t necessarily let us find the best moves, but they protected us from the worst flailings of our own stupidity. They let us play games where we had a fighting chance even against tough opponents.
Nowadays, we know that the rules don’t always apply. Engines break the rules all the time. And when they do it, they’re right: they’ve seen that specific factors in the position allow them to break the rules.
Nonetheless, the rules still have value. There’s a reason they evolved the way they did over time. They proved their value when it comes to winning against other humans. So, here are four old-school rules of thumb for winning more often.
These rules aren’t about finding the best moves. They’re about how to win without needing to find the best moves.
Develop all your pieces
Note: all your pieces. Not most of your pieces. Not 90%. All your pieces.
I’m talking to you, bishop on c8.
It only stands to reason that you give yourself the best chance to win by using all the forces at your disposal. But all too often, we get distracted by a shiny object – a loose pawn, an awkward piece – and decide to go on an expedition with the handful of pieces we have out.
Resist the temptation. Bring out all your guys.
Keep your king safe
If you’ve read this newsletter for any length of time, you know how much I love castling. I’d castle three times a game if they let me. Part of what makes castling so great is it’s the simplest way to secure your king.
Once again, you already know this. But I often see players accept a risky king position because they don’t see how it can be exploited. You might be right in the short term. But when the position opens up and the tactics start flying, that’s when the king gets caught in the crossfire. It happens all the time.
Keep your king safe, not from the threats you can see, but from the threats you can’t see.
Don’t create pawn weaknesses
As with a weak king position, we often accept a pawn weakness because we don’t see how our opponent can exploit it. But later on, perhaps in an endgame after a lot of trades, that weakness can loom large.
A big part of all this is not giving your opponent simple paths to victory. When you create a weakness in your own position, you give your opponent a simple plan: attack that weakness with everything they’ve got. Don’t give them that simple plan. Make them work harder to beat you.
Don’t sacrifice material
I saved the most controversial one for last. Aren’t sacrifices the sexiest moves in chess? Doesn’t being over-attached to material make you a simple-minded peon?
Well, maybe. Certainly many of the most iconic games in chess history involve spectacular sacrifices. These are undoubtedly cool. But it’s not the easiest way to win chess games.
Like creating an unnecessary weakness, going down material gives your opponent a straightforward path to victory: neutralize your attack, trade down, and win an endgame. Let’s make them get a little more creative to win.
If you bring out all your pieces, keep your king safe, don’t create pawn weaknesses, and don’t sacrifice material...how exactly is your opponent supposed to beat you? It’s going to take something pretty special.
As with anything in chess, there are exceptions. Of course, sometimes sacrificing material is the best move. But remember: these rules aren’t about playing the best moves. They’re about winning without playing the best moves.
If you’re reading this, chances are, you already know everything in this article. But go take a look at your last ten games. In how many of them did you actually follow all four points?
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