10 other ways to improve at chess
Learn to control that instinct. Learn to have patience, learn to keep THE TENSION
"When you see a good move, look for a better one" - Emanuel Lasker
My last article on chess was quite popular and I am happy to report I kept improving and passed the legendary 2000 rapid rating threshold on chess.com (though I still suck at blitz).
I have not posted in a while so I said that it would not be a bad way to make a comeback by putting in some advice for the more intermediate players, advice that I think can pin-point some specific items that someone needs to pay attention to in order to go up the rating ladder. Of course, this comes from my own experiences and reflections so feel free to challenge any of the items below regardless of your rating.
Without any further ado let's get started.
1. Never snap take
Capturing a piece is an animalistic instinct, giving you an instant gratification feeling and adrenaline rush, but you have to learn to control that instinct. Learn to have patience, learn to keep THE TENSION. Of course in some positions it is the best move to recapture or capture, but always do it after considering alternatives, even for cases that seem obvious.
2. Beware of poisoned captures.
This is a particular case of the previous advice. In certain chess positions, it may look like a piece is free to take. It may be free as in "it is not protected by anything", but there may be downsides to capturing that piece. For example, by capturing that piece you may lose the defense of other pieces or key squares that enable certain tactics to happen. Another example is the following trap: White thinks that it can capture a free knight, but the queen then gets attacked by black's rook and he has to lose the queen since it is pinned to the king.
3. Beware of the horse recapture blunder
This is a blunder that happens quite often even at relatively high ratings because of the non-intuitive way the horse moves. It is best illustrated with an example.
In the position illustrated below, black may think that it attacks the white knight two times forcing it to move and when it does it can just capture the pinned white bishop. The problem is that when the white knight moves it also becomes a protector of the white bishop so black will lose the queen.
This is quite an obvious case since the board is overly simplified. But when you are in a complex middle game you might overlook this detail so always keep it in the back of your mind when you try to do some deflection tactic that involves an opponent's knight.
4. Force decisions out of your opponent
Put pressure. Try to make moves that either ask a question to the opponent or at the very least that prepare such a move. This increases the chance that he blunders while also distracting him from his own plans. This is also how you make tactics happen.
5. Active King in endgames
If a game is heading towards an endgame make sure your king is as active as possible. Usually, you want the king castled and hidden in the corner of the board, but once the queens come off you need to start thinking about activating your king. Most of the time that means moving it toward the center of the board.
6. Always check if you can trap a piece
There are many situations where it is not obvious you can trap a piece, but if you look closely that is possible. It is especially tricky to figure that out with knights. An example of that is illustrated. G4 for white captures the black knight since it has nowhere to move safely.
7. Do not be afraid to make unnatural-looking moves
Get rid of the anxiety of making unnatural moves(for example under-developing pieces, putting horses on the back rank or the sides of the board, moving the rook off the back rank in a middle-game). Doing these moves might just be the best move with the added benefit that it will throw your opponent off guard when he sees such moves since it is likely he did not consider them in his calculations.
8. Do not be afraid to damage your structure
Quite related to the previous advice. Don't be afraid to damage your structure if it helps control some key squares or enables other pieces.
As an example consider the following positions. You may think that it is bad to offer an exchange of light square bishops by moving the white bishop to D3 because you would have to recapture with the C pawn resulting in doubled pawns on the D file. The truth is this is good for you because in the resulting position you control with your pawn the important E4 square, preventing the black knight from jumping in. As an added benefit it also enables your queen to get out to the B3 or A4 squares.
9. Make moves that pose multiple threats
If possible, make a move that seems to have a clear intention like attacking a piece, but it also has a hidden purpose. Also very good are moves that just pose two problems at the same time. An example of that is a discovered double attack which you can find referenced in my previous post.
10. Shred ideas that do not work anymore
As you improve, old plans and ideas that you had and used to work at lower ratings will not be so successful anymore. When you notice that, stop using them and try something different.
That's it. I hope to come up with another list when I hit 2400.