When You're Way Ahead...
The most well-known principle when you are way ahead in a game is to trade pieces, but I have found it's more accurately stated:
Make fair trades of pieces but not necessarily pawns.
There are some positions where you are way ahead and want to trade pawns and some where you dare not. I covered this in my column Trading Pawns When Ahead.
However, trading pieces, IMHO, is not the single most important principle to follow when you're winning easily; it's not even the second most important. In my mind, here are the big six:
- Think Defense First - I often get misquoted that this means "Play defensively" but that's quite different. I discuss the difference in the column Misquoted or Misinterpreted (currently Chess Cafe charges 99 cents for this one - that may change in the near future).
- KISS - Keep it Simple. Complications always favor the player who is losing, unless the one ahead is a top computer.
- Make fair trades of pieces, not necessarily pawns
- Make sure you are using all your pieces all the time - it's like you are on a hockey power play
- Don't worry about the little things, e.g., if you are ahead a knight and can force the trade of queens but it will double your pawns, double away.
- [Bonus] Avoid unnecessary time trouble. For example, if you win a knight with 40 minutes left on your clock in a sudden death time control, aim to have about 5 minutes left at the end of the game, not the normal "almost zero".
I once had a student who was losing quite a few games when he was winning. So I suggested he read my column on this: When You're Winning It's A Whole Different Game.
Then I suggested that he go to page 3 of Novice Nook Chess Lists, cut out the list of the six things to do when way ahead, and tape it to the side of his monitor. Then, every time he was playing a game online, got way ahead, and had time to review it, he should stop playing, review the six principles, and try to follow them the best he could. When he finally got sick of the six and had them memorized (and understood!) backwards and forwards, he could tear up the paper and throw it in the trash.
So, fast forward a couple of months and the student is still losing games when way ahead. Worse, he's not following the principles that would have prevented those losses.
So, as a reminder, I asked "Name the six things you should do when you're way ahead." His response was unexpected:
"I don't know them!"
Confused, I said, "But I have a note on your lesson page that a while ago I asked you to cut out the six things you do and tape them to your monitor, reviewing them each time you are way ahead. Didn't you do that?"
The honest reply: "No"
My confused retort: "Why not?"
"I thought you were kidding!"