What I should have done with a material advantage
It's common in games at my current level for one side to realize an early significant material advantage, even advantage of a piece (usually through a blunder rather than by good play). Until now, my immediate strategy when realizing such an advantage has been: (a) make sure my pieces and king are safe, then (b) try to force a trade of pieces. The idea is that as long as I keep my king and pieces safe, an extra piece in the end will at least overwhelm my opponent's pawns and, if necessary, lead mine to promotion. I suppose this strategy would typically help me win (assuming I'm using all of my pieces), but I don't think it helps me learn to play better chess. In particular, as long as my king and pieces are safe, I should be using my extra material more actively and with greater coordination.
Re-reading Dan Heisman's "When You're Winning, It's a Whole Different Game" and "Trading Pawns When Ahead" (A Guide to Chess Improvement), it's clear I've been applying several less accurate or, even, wrong principles.
|More accurate principle||"Principle" I've been following|
|Think defense first||Play defensively (and, sometimes, with paranoia)|
|Make fair or advantageous trades of pieces, not necessarily pawns||Force trades of pieces|
|Make sure you are using all of your pieces all of the time; get every piece into the game fast||Get extra pieces into the game at some point|
As DH makes clear, "Think defense first!" does not mean "Play passively" (let alone "Play paranoid"). Rather, the principle is about order of priority: "Attack all you want, but first make sure your opponent cannot get back in the game via a tactic" (p. 283). For the reasons I mentioned earlier, it is often advantageous to trade pieces when ahead in material--but not when other moves would be more advantageous. And as long as your own material is safe, you should use all of your pieces all of the time; otherwise, you're not really playing with an advantage.
Here is a game from last Tuesday using the wrong "principles."