Simplify Your Chess: Work with Plans, Not Moves


By Ian King

As a child, I happened to chance upon a little book that emphasized the importance of simplicity over superiority and ultimate truths. While it was my first introduction to philosophy, I quickly appreciated its significance in other realms of life, and readily applied it to my academic studies, scientific thought, and religious contemplations to a delightful level of success.

When I later learned chess, I noticed that the simpler I made my decision-making process, the ‘stronger’ I became. In time, I began to beat pretty strong players on the back of very little chess theory and often came away amused. It was only when I began my first real studies into the game that the reason became clear.

You see, the biggest difference between a master and a novice is that the novice constantly thinks in terms of moves, while the master thinks in terms of plans. As a result, the novice always has a harder time choosing between candidate options, and always stands at a greater chance of making errors no matter how good he is, or how great his horizon (that is, how far ahead he can see). Just as in science, it is he who has the clearer picture of things that becomes superior.

In that light, it became clear to me that it makes more sense to master the general plans and spirit of each opening, than to simply know the correct moves for both sides. Otherwise, one might arrive perfectly at the end of opening theory and then stutter on into possibly inferior positions.

To avoid this, I propose practice playing idea-based chess in every form of chess you play, even bullet and blitz. Don’t just play lines you’ve memorized to a high degree; if possible, play new ones that uphold the same ideas or principles, and see how good you fare.

When you make a mistake, analyze the game. It doesn’t matter if it was a bullet game or not. Study it and see why your idea didn’t work out. Use an engine to check out alternative moves, and then play the same line again till you can enforce the same idea to some level of success in that line. Then pick another line. Do this even for lines outside your playing style or usual repertoire.

If you practice this idea-based technique enough, not only will you have an easier time playing any game you encounter, your playing style will also garner a higher degree of sophistication. You’ll also be able to handle yourself better in practically any position you find yourself in, and can easily sense when danger is coming for you.

You’ll also be able to increase your depth significantly if you combine this with good calculation and visualization training.

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