In 2021, I started taking chess lessons (thank you, Calvin!). It’s an incredibly beautiful and constructive game that, like martial arts, teaches me a lot about life. There is an inner game to chess, in addition to its logical and tactical nature. That’s why I love it, but I also have a lot to improve.
One thing I get frustrated by is that I tend to make the same mistakes – leaving pieces hanging, allowing pins, and sometimes playing too defensively. Here are some noteworthy and recurring principles from almost 50 pages of lesson notes by Coach Calvin and me.

Mindset

  • Have a killer instinct. When you have momentum, go in for the kill – focus on closing the deal instead of protecting minor pieces or getting distracted with “short term” captures.
  • Be aggressive and optimistic. Think positive (attacking) before looking for defensive moves.
  • From Kotov’s Think Like a Grandmaster: Always look for all the candidate moves for your big pieces
  • Having a good position/setup in chess is key. More effective than tactics and tricks.
  • Being resilient, tough, and resourceful. Hanging in there and outlast your opponent.

Opening

  • Always make sure your center is (over)protected
  • No pawn breaks until major pieces are activated
  • Don’t allow pins.
  • Don’t just tolerate opponent’s pieces on your side

Middle Game

  • Look for CCT (Checks, Captures, Threats)
  • Trade pieces when ahead in material
  • You often willingly give pieces away, instead of your opponent actually outplaying you. Don’t give pieces away and let your opponent attack you for free
  • Teamwork! Coordinate your pieces
  • Trading is your friend.
  • When in danger: Don’t just assume you are out of options. Look at your big pieces for help. You have resources. You need to believe that you have resources. You often assume you are out of options when you actually have many available moves.
  • Prophylaxis: Be in the shoes of your opponent. Try to look for moves that can change the whole picture (or basically ruin your whole plan) and prevent them if you can. Anticipate your opponent’s next move.
  • Petrosian’s Principle: Before making your move, check all your big pieces (forget about the pawns) and see if there are any loose (unprotected) ones. If so, protect them with your next move.

Endgame

  • Main goal in endgames: create passed pawns to get a queen
  • Do not forget about your back rank
  • Simplify, simplify: Towards the endgame, just get rid of the opponent’s pieces and defenders. Remove your opponent’s last hope of counterplay
  • Rooks like (half) open files and the 7th rank
  • If you’re worried about stalemate, just give a check
  • King-pawn Endgames: The main weapon is opposition
  • One thing all grandmasters have in common is that they are good at endgames