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Chess Guidelines (Principles)

(Updated 05/28/14 )
Chess Definitions - Articles Page - Main Chess Page

Improving/Learning - General/Thought Process - General/Other - Monroi provides Dan Quotes

Opening - Middlegame - Endgame - Humorous - Internet Posting - Kasparov on Principles - Strong
vs. Important Principles
The difference between a guideline (or principle or rule of thumb or heuristic) and a
rule is that a rule works (or is required) all the time (or has a few, definable exceptions),
while a guideline is just a helpful hint that does not have the force of a rule - some
guidelines work almost all the time - others to varying degrees of frequency. Principles
help you figure out what to play when you don't know what to do; if analysis suggests a
best move, that usually overrides principles. Another way of saying this is that strategy
usually tiebreaks equally safe moves.

"When there are no tactics, follow principles as best possible, but if there are tactics,
principles are almost best forgotten"

For other sites' excellent list of principles, link to:

Chessville's Wisdom page: Why Didn't Somebody Tell Me These

Exeter (England) Chess Club's Quotes (tons here!)
Steinitz's Theory
Steinitz' and Vukovic' Rules of Attack
Famous Chess Quotes
GM Soltis' list of three famous chess principles that are not true
Larry Kaufman's 2012 principles updating the average values of the
This interesting link has principles to help find tactics
My 6,000+ tweets - About 1,500 are "Chess Tip of the Day" with tons of
these principles and sayings, and more! I now have over 3,000 followers

See also: GM Alburt and Lawrence's 2003 book Chess Rules of Thumb, Soltis' 2008
The Wisest Things ever said about chess
...and the Novice Nooks Opening Principles, Chess Principles and Common Sense, and
Strong Principles vs. Important Principles

(*A Dan Original/Special Principle)

*"Your rating doesn't mean anything. Your playing strength is the only thing that
matters; in the long run your rating will follow your playing strength."
"You improve (and your rating goes up) when you 1) learn a new pattern or principle or
2) when you identify a mistake and are able to avoid repeating it - not when you win a
bunch of games." = adding positives and subtracting negatives. Figuring out how to
identify and avoid repeating mistakes is one of the best things you can do!
*"You have to lose your fear of a rating before you can become that rating."
*"I don't rate my students on whether they win or lose; I look at how much time they used and
how well they used their clock as a measure of whether they were trying to do their best."
"Play mostly opponents 100-200 points higher than you - you need to be punished for
your mistakes so you won't make them again."...
"...but don't completely stop playing opponents 100-200 points lower than you - they are the
ones whom you have to learn to beat consistently."
"If you have a choice of which section to play in a tournament, play 'up' a section most of the
time, but occasionally play 'for the money' in your section so you learn how to play under
pressure and how to beat players slightly worse than yourself."
"A player who thinks he is better than a higher rated player who can consistently beat him is
probably not trying his best on every move. That's why he thinks he is better, but he gets
worse results."
"Play as much as you can, especially slow chess - it helps you develop board vision."
"*Don't be afraid of losing. Be afraid of playing a game and not learning something."
Losing can be a great motivator if it helps you identify and correct things you are doing that
cause the loss.
"A good game is one where you learn something!"
*"If learning chess was that easy, everybody would be good."
"If you are my student, you are doing the work; I am just helping to guide the way." There is
no magic fairy dust or pronouncement that will instantly improve your game (but some of the
guidelines on this page - if you don't know them - can be VERY important."
"Don't play a game or even a move if you don't feel like trying your best."
Fight hard every move - or resign! Always play your best...
"Chess is good for the brain - even for adults - no one has ever seen a senile chess
"If you worry about your opponent's rating or play to the level of your competition, then don't
look at his rating until after the game."
"Having a reputation as a good sport is as important as having a reputation as a good
"You don't have to know all the rules but one: If something is happening on your board
that is strange, abnormal, or you don't understand, stop the clock and get the
tournament director."
*"The worst thing that ever happened to some juniors is the invention of the rating system.
Without it, they would just play whenever they felt like playing and would get a lot stronger,
instead of protecting their rating, etc."
"Play people who will expose your mistakes (just above you) or those whom you can practice
technique (just below you). Beating up players way below you (bully) or getting destroyed by
those way above you (name-dropping) is not an optimum strategy for improvement.
"If you are a beginner looking to become a master in a short time, then no legitimate
instructor will claim he can do that for you. It takes years of work to become a master."
"It always struck me as strange that someone would study something subtle that could take
one from 2300 to 2303, when what they really needed was something basic to take them
from 1400 to 1450!"
"In chess, if you learn to consistently (each move) do the little things in chess: take your time,
count the material effect of your move, and check for basic tactics, and you will soon find that
these are not so little!"
"Instead of playing a five-minute game, now that OTB time delay is standard, play a two (or, if
that is too slow, one) minute game with a five-second time delay" (In the US, 5-second delay
is still the most common)
In chess you get better if you add positives (learn new concepts or patterns) or subtract
negatives (get rid of misconceptions and mistakes).
You improve the most if you seek out the strongest competition, learn from your mistakes, but
always play with confidence, win or lose. (paraphrasing GM Maurice Ashley)
Thinking you are going to lose almost always works - it is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. So
play the best you can and assume the best. If it doesn't work out that way, learn from your
mistakes and get back and play optimistically next time, too.
Study tactics and then play according to the principles on this page. No matter what happens,
when the game hits its tactical climax, take your time and play better at that point and you
can often win.
Improvement begins at the edge of your comfort zone (Rowson; Chess for Zebras)
Players seeking to improve therefore need to place emphasis on developing their skill, not
increasing their knowledge;... (Rowson; Chess for Zebras)
I call an instructive game where you learn multiple things which you are less likely to repeat a
'Three rating point' game. Normally you learn less than a rating point per game (it takes
thousands of games to go from 1200 to 2200) but if you get an occasional extra instructive
game, you can learn a lot, hence the 'Three Rating Point' game!
Practice not until you get it right, but until you NEVER get it wrong. (especially useful when
applied to the 2000 basic tactical ideas)
*Think of a draw offer as an offer to remain ignorant of what you would have learned the
remainder of the game.
*Never start a game without the intention of using almost all your time! If you don't feel
like playing that slow, instead play a game with a shorter (faster) time limit.

*"You can't play what you don't see" - This applies to lack of board vision, lack of tactical
vision, not taking time to consider tactical moves, or even quiescent errors.
"If you see a good move, look for a better one - you are trying to find the BEST one."
*"If you see a good move, don't just look for a better one - take time to make sure your
intended move is safe and as good as you think it is."
"In 'Real Chess' you make sure you can meet all of your opponent's threats before he makes
them; otherwise, it is 'Hope Chess.'" (See Feb 4 2011 Tweet of the Day)
"*Hope Chess is not when you make a threat and you hope your opponent does not see it.
Hope chess is when you make a move, wait for what your opponent does, and then hope you
can meet his threats. Players that play Hope Chess will never get very good because some
threats cannot be met."
"Always assume your opponent will make his best move. Never make a bad move and hope
your opponent will make a worse one."
But...When your opponent makes a move you have to assume it might be a mistake. So
check to see if your opponent's previous move is safe, whether it no longer guards a piece,
"If you play a bad move and hope your opponent plays a worse one, that is not Hope Chess -
that is bad (or "hopeful") chess!"
"*Playing chess is primarily a series of puzzles, move after move, where you have to take
your time and solve the puzzle: 'What is the best move?'"
"The primary goal of most moves is to make the best move you can find, given the time
"The final, main part of a good thought process is proving that the move you think you are
going to make results in a better position (assuming opponent's best play) than any other
candidate move does!"
"Write your move down before you make it and then take a fresh look around to look for the
most obvious errors." This is called a Sanity Check.
Pace yourself to use almost all your time every game." - this is an underrated and VERY
A major time management goal is to identify critical moves and allocate more time to these.
It only takes one bad move to lose a game. So be careful on every move!
One move is only better than another if, considering your opponent's best replies, it leads to a
position that is better than the position to which the other move leads.
Never play a bad move fast! (Unless you are in time trouble)
In general, the more tactical the position, the more critical it is, the more precise analysis is
required, and slow play is required. Alternately, the less tactics in a position, the less critical it
likely is, the more general principles can be used, and you can play relatively quickly.
*"They just don't get it" - What I say about players who do all kinds of studying but still play
way too fast without learning to differentiate between candidate moves.
Your judgment won't improve in 10 minutes but your analysis should, so save your time for
critical/tactical moves.

*"The most important principle in chess is SAFETY; second is ACTIVITY; everything else on
the board is relatively unimportant." (But thought process, time management, and
learning/prioritizing general principles complete the Big 5 and are also important.)
"Don't worry about winning or losing - worry about taking your time to find your best move
every move."
"If you are losing and no longer are going to try to make your best move every move, resign
and do something better with your time, like going over your game with your opponent or a
good player."
"The a-file is always on White's left - the first rank is always in front of White."
"*Time management is an important skill in chess; having 15 minutes left when your
opponent has 5 (in a sudden death time control without time delay) is worth about 200 ratings
In slow over-the-board play you should keep score until you have five minutes left with the
one exception: If your opponent has much less than five minutes left and you are losing
It is a good idea to write down how much time you (and your opponent) has left after every
"If you are watching a game, do a good imitation of a wall. - Don't interfere with a game no
matter what (unless you see one of the players cheating away from the board, such as using
a computer; that you should report to the tournament director)."
"In the opening a player should play like a book, in the middle like a magician, and in the
ending like a machine."
"*In a swiss tournament the most important rounds are the first and the last."
"If you can capture with more than one pawn, usually capture toward the center." This is
especially true if the capture was on a knight (b or g) file.
There are only three times you should make a threat:

When your opponent meets the threat (which he almost always will), the result is
that your threatening move does more for you than his defending move does for
him (i.e., the threat and reply is a net positive, or at least even, result for you.
Otherwise you are making a bad gamble your opponent will not make his best
move.), or
When the threat cannot be met, or
When you are losing badly; in this case you need to give your opponent
opportunities to make key decisions so he might blunder and let you back in the

"I don't worry about winning - I worry about finding the best move and let the result take care
of itself."
"A knight on the rim? Your future is dim (or grim!)"
"You would not give up the Bishop Pair for nothing any more than you would give up a Queen
for nothing."
"Trade off your bad pieces/pawns for your opponent's good pieces/pawns."
"If it wins, do it!" Don't worry about all the other guidelines on this page. You can make a
complete mess of your position if you checkmate first or get up enough material.
"Never save time on your clock for playing lost positions!" - Use your time wisely while you
still have a chance - don't play too fast.
Donald Byrne rule: "If you see what looks like a mate, but you're not 100% sure and instead
can easily win a lot of material, just take the material and mate later."
"Middlegames where each side has an opposite colored Bishop are more likely won;
endgames with opposite colored Bishops are difficult to win, even if you are ahead a pawn -
or even possibly two."
"The weaker you are, the more learning general principles and general information is helpful.
The stronger you are, the more learning specific information, like how to play specific
openings, endings, and pawn structures, comes into play."
"Any class player will make great strides if he realizes that the control of individual squares is
as important as any other strategy in the game."- IM Jeremy Silman in The Amateur's Mind
"I know how to play when I am losing badly - I just take all my pieces and throw them at my
opponent's King. If it doesn't work, I was lost anyway and if it does I can win!" - NM Rich
"The best way to play for a draw is to play for a win and if it doesn't work, maybe you can
settle for a draw!"
"Loose Pieces Drop Off" (LPDO) = "Nunn's Dictum"
"Three pieces are a mate!" (Meaning if you have three unopposed pieces around the
opponent's King that is usually enough to checkmate him).
"A bishop is good behind its own pawns if they are mobile. If those pawns are fixed, then it
may be a bad bishop." (but remember Suba's 'Bad Bishops guard good pawns!")
"When (re-)capturing when ahead, if possible, take with a piece which offers further trades."
"The more open the position, the more that time-dependent guidelines are important. For
example, 'Knight on the rim' hurts more in open positions since the time it takes for the Knight
to re-position itself is more critical than in less open positions.
"Never take the Queen's Knight (b-) pawn with the Queen. But this mostly applies in openings
when the Queen can either be trapped or it takes too much time to extricate it.
"At the start of a game a tempo is worth about 1/3-1/2 a pawn. Later it can be worth much
*"The more symmetric a position is, the more a material advantage is meaningful." Corollary:
The more you are behind, the more asymmetric (both in terms of pawns and type of material
imbalance) you want it to be. If you are behind, it is better not to have a subset of your
opponent's material, but rather an imbalance (better to be down the exchange than two
pawns, etc.). If you are ahead, better to be up a superset of your opponent's material than be
ahead on some type of imbalance.
"If you don't know what to do, identify your worst piece and find a way to make it better."
"If you can trap your opponent's King in the middle of the board with Queen's still on the
board and a relatively open position, that is worth, on the average, about 2 pawns." (Alburt)
"Just because a cute move is possible doesn't make it good!"
"If you can't find a plan, find your worst piece and make it better." Alternatively, "...find your
opponent's worst piece and keep it bad." Often a great plan is just to make your worst piece
If you don't know what to do, don't push a pawn! Alternatively, if you think that "doing nothing"
is a good plan, it is probably not a good idea to move a pawn (because pawn moves create
weaknesses and cannot be taken back).
The lesser the value of a piece, the more likely that it can happily perform 'guard' duties to
guard another piece. Valuable pieces should not be used to guard less valuable pieces over
many moves - a waste of material.
When you are ahead and you exchange pieces, it is not always the value of the pieces which
is important; it is the position left on the board and how easy it is to win. When ahead, you
can often give back part - or even all - of the material if what is remaining is an easy (or
easier) win.
"A win by an unsound combination, however showy, fills me with artistic horror." - Steinitz
Tactics flow from superior positions.
With ratings under 1900 USCF, the better the analyst, the better the player. Other skills such
as opening knowledge or understanding positional nuances are basically not large factors.
If you can play well in critical positions it is not so important how well you play otherwise (until
you get really good!)
The duller the position, the more meaning a material advantage is; the more wild the position,
the less material is valued.
If you find a move that does at least four good things, do it! (George Kane)
In general, guarding something is not desirable since this ties down pieces (which have better
things to do), may require additional guarding later, and may lead to the removal of the guard
tactic. However, guarding with pawns is often OK since they often have nothing better to do
than to guard something.
Don't beat yourself! Make it so others have to beat you! For example, don't get into
unnecessary time trouble or don't give your opponent free pieces.
When you are the higher rated player you can often count on your lower rated opponent for
helping you with bad ideas. So sometimes doing "nothing" may spur him on! (But in your
analysis don't assume he will make bad moves - that is something completely different).
When there is only one open or semi-open file for your army and it is an open file, then if you
have two rooks, almost always double rooks on that file
One important thing that consistently separates good players from lesser players is the ability
to not cry over spilt milk. You can't change the past; you can only do the best you can in the
Whenever possible, capture so that you get more pawns in the center (this is a very
underrated and overlooked principle). So you don't just capture toward the center when you
have two possible pawn captures, you often capture with a pawn toward the center when you
can capture with a piece.
If you only have one bishop left, then:

1) If there opposing bishops of opposite colors and these are the only two pieces
(non-pawns) left on the board, then put your pawns on the same color as your bishop.
(i.e., this case is bishops of opposite colors, no other non-pawns except kings)

2) In all other cases (more than one piece left on each side; only pieces left are
bishops of the same color, etc.), then put your pawns on the opposite color as your

Whoever uses his rooks best in the opening, wins the opening; Whoever uses his pawns best
in the middlegame wins the middlegame; whoever uses his king best in the endgame wins
the endgame.
A piece "A" that is guarded by another piece "B" which is attacked is not really guarded by
piece B (important removal of the guard idea)
The end goal of space is more activity for your pieces (than your opponent). If space does not
give you that, then probably in that position it is not that beneficial.
GM McDonald: "One of the rules of dynamic chess is that a loose pawn structure that
energizes the pieces is always to be preferred to a neat and lifeless one."
* Strategy and positional ideas are the tiebreak of equally safe moves; similarly style is the
tiebreak of equally desirable moves.
Good players make their own luck (or "good players are lucky")
Permanent solutions to weaknesses/problems are better than temporary or patchwork
*You should have only two gears: "Try your best" and "Resign". Everything in-between is
dangerous and counter-productive
Don't place pieces of greater value on the same line (diagonal, file, rank) as a piece of lesser
value, even if that line is temporarily blocked/closed. It leads to pins and discovered attacks.

OPENING (also see the Novice Nook column Opening Principles) - The top ten are
numbered follow by honorable mentions:
#1 "Move Every Piece Once Before You Move Any Piece Twice" - unless it is required by a
tactic.... Believe it or not, most players absolutely cannot follow this guideline no matter how
hard they try!
#2 "It is usually MUCH better to take a piece that is doing nothing and make it do something
than it is to take a piece that is already doing something and make it do a little more!"
#3"Develop the pieces on the side you are going to castle before the pieces on the other
side." or as a corollary, "Develop the Bishop on the side you wish to castle before the other
#4 Don't develop your pieces to squares where they can just be efficiently attacked by enemy
pieces of lesser value (often pawns) and therefore have to retreat.
#5 "Castling is usually the most important move in any opening." It is the only move which
may save a tempo by moving two pieces at once!
#6 "If your opponent plays something you don't know, don't panic - just follow the general
principles (like the ones on this page!)"
#7 "Develop Knights Before Bishops." (Note: This usually means the Knight before the
Bishop on the same side, not necessarily both Knights before both Bishops).
#8 Don't play the opening like the middlegame
#9 "The player who uses his Rooks best probably wins the opening." Alternately, "The main
goal of the opening is to properly develop your Rooks."
#10 "Don't put your Knight in front of your c-pawn in double d-pawn openings." (In general,
don't block your break moves and put your Rooks behind your break moves).
Hon. Mention: Play the moves you have to play before the moves you want to play
Hon. Mention: "Develop a rook to the same file where you opponent has his queen,
especially if the queen has already moved. This even makes sense if the file is closed, so
long as there is any possibility it could open up due to exchanges."
Hon. Mention: "Don't start a fight until either all your pieces are ready or at least you have a
lot more pieces active than your opponent."
Hon. Mention: *"Don't start a fight until your King is safe!!" (especially if your opponent's King
is already safe) or "Don't fool around until you are castled."
Hon. Mention: "If you are White and your opponent does not stop you by his opening moves,
set up the 'little center': e4 and d4"
Hon. Mention: "Play the piece to the square where you KNOW it must go before you play
another piece to the square where you think it might go. The extra move might help you
determine to which square the latter piece should move."
Hon. Mention: "Moving just two pawns in the opening is usually not enough to give your
pieces space; on the other hand, moving six or more pawns is usually too weakening and
takes too much time."
"Low rated players should play tactical openings to improve their tactics."
"The King always moves two when you castle."
"The best way to refute a gambit is to accept it."
"A good metric is how many moves it takes for you to move all your non-pawns. 12-16 is
normal. If you use a lot more than that, you are probably neglecting your development, likely
your Rooks."
"In the opening, if you can drive a Knight out of the center by attacking it with a pawn, it is
usually correct to do so."; similarly, ""If you can push a pawn up and safely drive a Knight out
of the center, it is probably good to do so, especially if in doing so you don't weaken any
*"Any opening that you know well is good no matter what its reputation."
"For most players, it is not memorizing opening sequences that are important, but following
good general principles that apply throughout the game and especially those in the opening."
Of course, the stronger you get, the more specific opening knowledge is helpful.
*"It is good for most developing players to play the King's Indian Defense and the French
Defense for a while, since you cannot avoid their pawn structures in many irregular openings
"In the Ruy Lopez, the play is rich enough that the better player almost always wins."
"Until you can develop ALL your pieces every game during the opening, you are not ready for
intermediate play."
*"Bd2 is usually bad for White in almost any opening unless it is tactically required."
"Don't pin the adverse King's Knight to the Queen before the opponent has castled." (One of
Lasker's rules)
"Don't play your f-pawn up one (f3/f6) unless your opponent's Queen is off the board, you are
already castled, or are soon going to castle the opposite side. Especially avoid guarding the
e-pawn from a pawn capture, e.g. 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.f3?! dxe4 4.fxe4?? Qh4+ 5.g3?? Qxe4+
and 6...Qxh1.
"Don't prevent pins with h3/h6 and a3/a6 unless those are the only good squares for the
Bishop; on the other hand, playing h3/h6 to prevent a Knight from harassing a Bishop on
e3/e6 is often correct."
"If a Bishop plays Bg5/g4 and is NOT threatening to take a knight (it can do so, but it is not a
threat), it is often correct to hit it with ...h3 or ...h6 to force it to decide which diagonal it is
going to stay on."
"Don't move all pawns onto the same color squares as this creates weak squares of the
opposite color."
"Put your pieces on the 'right' side of the pawns (usually meaning behind them!). For
example, in non e-pawn (and many e-pawn openings, like the Ruy Lopez) openings, it is
usually right to put your Queen's knight behind your c-pawn, like c4/Nc3 or ...c5/...Nc6."
"A premature attack is doomed to failure."
"If you opponent is castled and you are not, be especially aware about catching up in
development, especially castling too, and not prematurely opening the center to his (big)
"If you castle opposite sides and Queens are still on the board, the side that gets to the
opponent's King first with the most usually wins!"
"If you are already winning, try to castle on the same side as your opponent. Castling
opposite sides tends to make the game sharp and minimize any material advantage."
If you move a pawn to open up a diagonal for a bishop, then should you usually NOT move
up another pawn to develop the bishop on the other diagonal. It should be developed on the
original diagonal without wasting time to push the second pawn.
Don't fall too far behind (in development) in the ability to castle. In particular, if you are
opponent has the ability to castle or has already, make sure you can get your king out of the
center too before it is caught in a crossfire of centralized rook checks.
Botvinnik's Rule: In slow games, use about 20% of your time for the first 15 moves. In fast
games, use LESS than 20% of your time for the first 15 moves;

Botvinnik's rule would not apply in exceptionally tactical openings, ones where
you get out of the book in one or two moves, or of course ones that go book for
(almost) 15 moves.
The Three Main Opening Goals (not to be confused with principles):
Activate all your pieces safely, efficiently, and effectively

Get as much center control as possible (occupation is not always necessary)

Find a safe place for your king and get it there as quickly as possible

"When looking for tactics - for either player - look for Checks, Captures, and Threats, in that
order - for both players."
*"If you are winning by a piece or more, THINK DEFENSE FIRST. That does not mean play
"The Exchange (winning a rook for a bishop or a knight) is worth about half of a piece."
*"If you are interested in learning, think of a draw offer as an offer to remain ignorant!"
"Putting out your hand when you offer a draw is presumptuous; always put it out after the
draw is agreed upon, not before."
"If you get way ahead, it is more important to use all your pieces and safeguard your King
than it is to try and get further ahead."
"Most games between lower rated players are won or could be won on tactics, so studying
tactics when you are lower rated is much more important than anything else."
"Attack pinned pieces with pieces worth less than them; never take a pinned piece unless it
leads to some sort of tactic or you cannot maintain the pin."
"Having the 'Bishop Pair' - two Bishops when your opponent does not - is worth about half a
"Bishops are better in open positions - Knights are better in locked/closed positions - Bishops
are also better when there is action on both sides of the board."
"When ahead pieces trade pieces, when behind pieces, trade pawns."
"If you have a pair of Rooks and your opponent only has one, it is usually correct to trade
"Knights are 'Path' pieces. Have an idea of where you want one to go!"
"Patzer sees a check - gives a check," but "Always (consider) a check, it might be mate."
"Doubled pawns are not always weak."
"When capturing with pawns, it is correct most of the time to capture toward the center. If the
result is doubled pawns, this is correct even a higher percentage of the time." It is also more
likely correct when capturing on a Knight file (b or g).
"A premature attack is doomed to failure."
"You can't attack where you don't have an advantage."
"An attack on the flank is met by a counterattack in the center." Especially if the center is not
"Rooks need open and semi-open files. Don't let your opponent control open files with his
"Don't 'give up' control of an open file by trading Rooks and bringing your opponent's other
Rook to the file unless you can either neutralize the file by moving a Rook/Queen to that file
or have some tactic."
*"It is not enough to recognize tactics. You must recognize them quickly enough that you will
see them - even without prior knowledge that they are there - during the short time you have
to move in a normal game"
"If the four e and d pawns are all locked together, then the 'pointing rule' says 'put your hand
across your d and e pawns so that it points toward your opponent (the other way hurts your
hand!); whichever side of the board your hand is pointing is the side you should attack - and
also the side you should play the pawn break on the c or f files'" Note: Don't apply this
guideline unless all four pawns are locked against each other!
"When the game gets complicated and there are a lot of captures, it is usually correct to
make a capture (or at least an extremely strong threat) to hold the initiative. To make a quiet
move usually leaves your opponent the opportunity to take the initiative." In any case, specific
analysis and not general principles are required to make the decision!
"If you have some sort of structural or minor material deficit, it is better not to trade and to
play aggressively, or else your opponent's long-term advantage will tell in the late
middlegame and endgame."
"When both Kings are exposed and the heavy pieces are still on the board, the initiative (or
attack) is often worth everything so you usually should keep checking (or capturing) if you
can." In these positions sacrifices of material are often quite common as you cannot let your
opponent start attacking with tempo.
"Talk to your pieces. See which ones have the best arguments for moving them next. Never
ignore a piece completely!"
"When your opponent has weak pawns, trade a few pieces. Then the weakness of the pawns
often becomes easier to exploit."
*"If a piece is attacked defended, but some of its defenders are removable, then you can't
count them as defenders - so that piece may be possibly won with removal of the guard!"
When you have several checks, consider first:
Checks that bring additional pieces into the attack, or

Checks that bring a powerful piece (like the Queen) closer to the King to guard
more squares.

"Material doesn't mean as much if you castle opposite sides and queens are on the board."
Attack pinned pieces with more pieces, especially pieces worth less than the pinned piece.
In complicated positions with multiple capturing possibilities for both sides, it is usually correct
to make the first capture, if possible.
The worst types of pawns are vulnerable pawns (backward, isolated, etc.) on semi-open files.
Alternatively, doubled pawns can sometimes be strong, so don't count all non-perfect pawn
structures as "bad".
It is almost always worse to lose a pawn than to take on a pawn weakness.
When creating luft to prevent back-rank mates against an opponent with one bishop, clear
the square the opposite color of the bishop
There are two types of sacrifices:
Those in which the sacrificer does not capture material. These sacrifices you can take
or not, depending upon which is better.
Those in which the sacrificer captures material. These sacrifices you almost always
must accept/capture if your opponent's previous capture puts you behind in material,
because you will lose anyway. Obviously if you see a mate in three and otherwise you
lose a pawn, you lose the pawn, but most times you just capture. For example, you
almost always capture the classical bishop sacrifice Bxh7+.
When your opponent has a pawn, bishop, or knight on "knight 3" (b3/g3 for White and b6/g6
for Black) then it is often a possible plan to attack it with a pawn, usually R4-R5 (a5/a4 or
h5/h4 for Black or a4/a5 or h4/5 for White), possibly B4-B5 (c5/c4 or f5/f4 or c4/c5 or f4/f5)
If one side is weak on a particular color complex, the other side has a bishop of that color,
and the side with the weak squares does not have that color bishop, then that is a large
advantage for the side with the bishop, and even larger (possibly a pawn or more) if queens
are still on the board and there are lots of pawns.

"The King is a strong piece in the endgame with fighting power worth more than a Bishop or
Knight - Move it 'toward the action' " (King's are worth about four pawns fighting value).
"The endgame has different rules than the middlegame."
"Resign if you are playing a better player and you get to a position where if you were he even
YOU could win easily."
*"Never push a passed pawn passed its zone of protection (unless it promotes by force!).
"Passed pawns must be pushed," but as above "Never push a pawn past its zone of
"Very often a game is won by pushing an extra pawn and forcing the opponent to give up a
piece to stop it."
"If you have a passed pawn (especially a protected passed pawn) you can use it to tie up
your opponent while you roam freely!"
"Connected passed pawns are usually best if pushed together."
"Connected passed pawns on the 6th rank beat a Rook."
"Bishops are usually better than Knights in endgames with pawns on both sides of the
The easiest game to draw is Bishops of opposite color - you can be down a pawn or two and
still draw in many positions.
"It is relatively easy to draw Rook and pawn endgames; easiest to lose are King and pawn
"In Rook and pawn endgames, the most important thing is usually an active King and Rook
"Rooks belong behind passed pawns."
"In same-colored Bishop endgames, put your pawns on the opposite color of the Bishops."
A king, bishop, and rook's pawn which promotes on the opposite color of the bishop cannot
beat a defending king which can get to that corner.
"In King and pawn endgames, the king always comes first (like a pulling guard in football)."
"In Queen and pawn endgames it is often not who has the most pawns, but who has the
furthest advanced passed pawn that matters."
The Law of Symmetry: "If your opponent has more advanced pawns on a wing, you don't
want to allow him an asymmetric pawn structure where he can sacrifice pawns for a winning
passed pawn. Instead you want to play your pawns to enforce symmetry, where a
breakthrough is usually impossible."
In general, Rooks belong as far away as possible.
One good endgame plan (and often in the middlegame!) is to find your pawn majority and get
your pawns moving. Usually push your potential passed pawns first.
Pawns gain in power toward the endgame. For example, while a bishop or knight might be
worth over 3 pawns on the average, they might be worth four in the opening and less than
two in the deep endgame!
Centralize your queen in the endgame (everything being equal).
In a king and pawn endgame with sufficient pawns on the board, an extra pawn is almost
always a win if the defender does not have a compensating advantage. So, given any K&P
endgame with lots of pawns on the board where one side has a clear (non-disadvantaged)
extra pawn and the defender has no majority is almost always a win!

"I don't see how either player can save their game!"
"If I win it was a sacrifice; if I lose it was a mistake!"
"The slowness of genius is hard to bear; the slowness of mediocrity is intolerable." - But that
doesn't mean my beginning students should play fast!
"Castle Early and Often."
*"See a pawn and pick it up and all the game you'll have good luck."
"The loser always wins the postmortem."
The Kolker Rule "Chess starts at 50 points below you" (in other words, players more than 50 rating
points below your rating 'don't understand chess')
Heard on the ICC: "I don't see how White can win without making a serious blunder"
"All the mistakes are there, waiting to be played!"
Strong players find the right plan when there are multiple things to do. Weak players find the
right plan when there's only one thing left to do!

The Big 5 (The five things you should do well first before any others):
1. Safety (Tactics)
2. Activity
3. Thought Process
4. Time Management
5. Learning and Prioritizing General Principles (like the ones on this page!)

The priorities of The Big Five are discussed in The Three Showstoppers

Kasparov on Siegbert Tarrasch and general principles (My Great Predecessors, Volume 1):
"Both in his play, and in his commentaries, Tarrasch aimed to follow general rules, and he
methodically formulated them, completing Steinitz' work. Honor and praise to him for the fact that
nowadays these rules are known by any graded player! Of course, some aphorisms sometimes
provoke a smile - for example, 'if one piece stands badly - the whole game stands badly' or 'a
knight on the edge of the board always stands badly'. In a number of cases it is possible to gain an
advantage even with a 'bad' knight: we can recall, among others, the games Lasker-Schlechter
(Vienna/Berlin 10th matchgame 1910...) and Kasparov-Karpov (London/Leningrad 16th
matchgame 1986). However, Tarrasch's 'dogmas' are not eternal truisms, but merely
instructional material presented in an accessible and witty form, those necessary rudiments
from which one can begin to grasp the secrets of chess." [Emphasis mine]

"...Generally speaking, Tarrasch often carried over his popular ideas of chess philosophy, which
were suitable for beginners, to crucial disputes with the world's leading players - and sometimes he
was proved wrong..."

Dan's Chess Tips Tweet of the Day from Feb 4, 2011 (4 tweets):
For each move, the mantra "checks, captures, and threats" has to be considered for three time
periods: ply 0, ply 1, and ply 2:

Ply 0 is your opponent's previous move: what are ALL the things that move does? Did he
make a check or capture? What are all threats?

Ply 1 is your candidates: What are all my forcing moves? a check, capture, or threat which
may win material, mate or get the initiative

Ply 2 is your opponent's reply to each candidate. If I make that move does he have a check,
capture, or threat in reply I can't meet? (Note: to not consider this part is "Hope Chess"; to
consistently do so is "Real Chess")

Chess Terms
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