There are many great opening, middle game and endgame books out there; see some of my favorite ones here. However, not many books cover practical elements of the game, related to mindset, game preparation, psychology, etc.
Here are ten principles that you likely would not find in any chess book:
- The Divisor of 40 Rule
Unless you read my time management blog post, you definitely would have not heard of this rule. The average chess game is 40 moves long. Therefore, one should take the time control he is playing by 40 and that is roughly the number of minutes he should spend per move. For instance, if the time control is G/60, that means he should spend 1.5 minutes per move.
2) Go with Flow
While it is obviously important to calculate, one should also listen to his instincts, positional elements. There is usually no reason to overcomplicate matters. Yesterday, I taught an intermediate student and asked him in a typical opening position, what the best move was. Perhaps thinking that my question alluded to the idea that there should be some sort of tactic, he overanalyzed, considering many possible variations. To the contrary, he should have suggested a simple developing move.
3) Active Rest
Have you ever been disappointed that you lost a chess game, where you completely outplayed your opponent and made one silly blunder? If the answer is “yes”, that means to you are like every chess player on this planet. As per this old post, while one should not put as much energy into each move, it is important to remain consistent and never put the foot of the pedal.
4) Most Blunders Happen in Winning Positions
The time that players most often lose focus is when they have winning positions and relax. They will often the incorrect mindset that anything wins in a given position. While it is true that many moves may be winning, it is important to always try to look for the best one. David Macenulty, Founder of the Macenulty Foundation, once said “ There’s only one time in chess and when you are allowed to hope and that is when you are dead lost.” When you are winning, you should spend extra time and make sure that you are finding the easiest finishing moves.
5) The Importance of Physical Exercise
In Podcast Episode 158, Lord Carmine Villani shares how his experience as the World Champion of Endurance helps him in his finance career as Executive Board Director of Saudi Crown Holding. A serious chess game could last 6+ hours. Many of the top chess grandmasters are also athletic; Fabiano Caruana enjoys tennis and Hikaru Nakamura enjoys long mountain hikes all around the world.
7. Focus on Transitions, not openings or endgame.
Most chess books are about openings as that is what sells to the beginners and class players. A few years ago, I taught an adult beginner our initial private lesson and he asked me “what openings are we going to learn today?” I quickly told him that were a lot more important aspects of the game for him to learn. My friend and mentor Bill Lombardy, Bobby Fischer’s second, once suggested that instead of studying openings or endgames, I should review whole games, focusing on transitions. One needs to evaluate a position and come up with a plan given his advantages and disadvantages. If one has a safer king or more development, it makes sense to consider attacking. Likewise, if one has less space than your opponent, he should try to make some trades.
7) Review all your games.
Compared to most other chess masters, I have read, far fewer, less than five chess books, cover to cover. While I do have some good book recommendations, studying theoretical ideas is not how I improved to become a titled player. I learned the most about running a business through hammering enterprise sales, founding, and managing Pillar Sales and Premier Chess and learning from my mistakes. Likewise, I developed most of my chess understanding by playing in 950+ tournaments and reviewing all my games. One should review his games alone and then ideally with a coach before turning on the engine.
8) Avoid domino effects.
Just because one domino drops, that does not mean all of them need to follow. When a player makes one mistake or blunder, he often will make several in a row. In many games I had a winning position, made one mistake to get into a better position, another to get into an equal position and soon a last one to get into a losing position. Similarly, after heartbreaking losses, players often lo se steam and will lose several games in a row. In the 2006 World Open, I played in the U-2000 section, after having been an expert player in the past. I studied a lot the week leading up to the tournament, so I was confident about my chances. I won the first game and was excited. In the second round, I was prepared against Expert Rob Guevara, who came to the round with 2-minutes to spare. I mistakenly tried to blitz him and ended up blundering massively and losing the game, when he had a few seconds left. As you can imagine, I was little upset at myself. Instead of picking myself back up though, I kept criticizing myself and before you knew it, I had 2.5 points out of 8 games and withdrew from the tournament. When one makes a mistake or loses a game, it is important to take a breath, relax and maintain stamina.
9) No one is that great of a player.
When I was rated 600, I was afraid of playing against 800s. When I was 800s, I was nervous about playing people rated above 1000…… now as a 2200 player, I can easily fear playing against a higher rated 2400 senior master; however, I am not. I realize he is inferior to an International Master, who is lower in the food chain than a grandmaster. While all grandmasters are relatively super strong, compared to 99.9% of the world, most will not hold their own against the likes of World Champion Magnus Carlsen. Of course, these days, even Magnus Carlsen cannot defeat our silicon friends. Thus, we should not look at higher rated players like they are invincible. Regardless of how strong one’s opponent is, he should pretend like he is playing against someone that is 50 points higher rated than him; that we he will give some respect but not be underconfident. For more about confidence, read this post.
10) Have fun!
In an interview last year, Philadelphia Chess Society Founder Jason Bui told me the number one important thing when it comes to teaching is to make sure kids have fun. Some students will love to play, others would like to do puzzles and others will enjoy lectures. Likewise, many coaches will tell students not to play blitz, bughouse, and other variants. While one should not overdo these; if they will increase your enjoyment and keep you playing chess, there is no reason to give them up.