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The 10th Chess Principle You Can Apply to Your Life

Awhile ago, in 9 Chess Principles You Can Apply to Your Life, we explored how chess principles mimic life and how they offer valuable insights to our lives. A few years later, I realized a very important principle was missing: break the rules.

Chess is a beautiful game and will continue to be one of the most intriguing games, sports, and forms of art. So let’s consider the 10th chess principle for a more strategic lifestyle:

10. Break the rules.

In chess, you must develop your major pieces. Aim for the center. You must occupy open files and follow important principles for you to succeed. Beginners that ignore this lose. Players that seek to advance discover the importance of following these principles. And yet, there comes a point when you must break the rules. Sometimes you should open your king side. Sometimes you should develop your queen early. In some cases, it’s best not to castle. How do you know when? The answer is in time. With experience, you will learn to identify when to break the rules.

In life as in chess, principles help to guide us in the right direction when we may not have enough clarity. However, this principle, reminds us that we must explore an alternative path when it makes sense to do so. This is true in chess, in different domains, and in life. And why would you want to break the rules? Simply because when you can break them (ethically) you can get results you normally wouldn’t. Also for fun, because you can accelerate your learning and get better at recognizing the moments when you can actually break a rule.

In his book Mastery, Robert Greene explains: “Mastery is not a function of genius or talent. It is a function of time and intense focus applied to a particular field of knowledge. But there is another element, an X factor that Masters inevitably possess, that seems mystical but that is accessible to us all. Whatever field of activity we are involved in, there is generally an accepted path to the top. […] But Masters have a strong inner guiding system and high level of self-awareness.”

He continues, “And so inevitably, these Masters, as they progress on their career paths, make a choice at a key moment in their lives: they decide to forge their own route, one that others will see as unconventional, but that suits their own spirit and rhythms and leads them closer to discovering the hidden truths of their objects of study. This key choice takes self-confidence and self-awareness—the X factor that is necessary for attaining mastery.”

You do not have to be a Master to break the rules necessarily. You can apply this principle to break out of a pattern you personally feel has you stuck. Explore breaking out of a vicious cycle if it’s not giving you the results you seek. Breaking the rules = growth. But it’s not easy. You need confidence and self-awareness to deviate from a certain path, but it’s worthwhile when you do spot a potential opportunity.

In 2020, World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen beat one of the top chess players GM Wesley So playing a highly unusual line: 1.f3, 2.Kf2. Carlsen broke the rules and won the game. In fact, chess Grand Masters routinely break the rules. But here’s the thing: they really aren’t being unprincipled. They break the rules when they see opportunities present themselves unconventionally. Experience helps you recognize when you have an opportunity to do something differently. So ask yourself: when, if possible, could I break the rules?

Juan F. Diaz

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