Finding Your Chess North Star: What Are You Optimizing For?

Since starting my blog in 2021, I’ve answered hundreds of questions from readers. Most of my answers begin with “It depends.” This isn’t a cop-out, but rather what I genuinely believe. It’s incredibly challenging to provide clear-cut advice without knowing the answer to one of the most crucial questions:


What Are You Optimizing For?


Depending on the values and goals of my reader, my answer can vary a lot. It can go from encouraging readers to put themselves to the test to simply enjoying a chess streamer on the sofa. Let’s examine one of the most common questions I receive to show the huge difference in possible answers.


What Opening Should I Play?


Many readers inquire about a specific opening suggestion. As I explain in my article ‘Best Chess Opening’, there actually isn’t a one-fit-all answer to this question. Depending on what the reader optimizes for, these could be my answers:

  • Optimizing for winning quickly → play trap openings
  • Optimizing for improvement → play strategically sound openings, for beginners open positions, mostly 1.e4
  • Optimizing for simplicity → play a system-based opening like the London


As you can see, the answers couldn’t be more different! There is no “objective” truth. It all depends on your values & goals.

The same principle applies to significant life decisions. Being a freelancer works for me because I optimize for:

  • Freedom of time
  • Independence
  • Enjoyment of what I do daily


If I were to optimize for stability and finances, it would be a terrible choice! I have earned less in the past eight years than some of my lawyer friends will earn in the year to come.


Frequently Ask Yourself: What Am I Optimizing For?


The problem I see in chess and life is that many people don’t know what they’re optimizing for. Lacking this compass, they feel lost when trying to find the “right” opening or deciding where to live in the future.

Knowing what I optimize for has made my chess career and life much simpler. I can make rather complex decisions quickly because I know my main values.

Recently, I’ve gotten into poker and had a hard time getting up from the tables late at night because there was a lot of money to be won. Then one day, I wrote in my diary:

Health > Fun > Finances.

A simple equation to follow. Now, when deciding whether to play a little longer, the answer is usually NO. And because I have a clear compass, it’s easier to get up and leave, even if I might win a lot of money in the wee hours of the night.

According to my own rules, I’m not optimizing for money, but for health. And staying up very late is definitely not beneficial for my health. So I leave the table and go to bed.

I hope this illustrates why having a clear answer to “What are you optimizing for?” is so important and valuable. Reading these lines, you might have asked yourself if you know the answer to that question. Let me help you explore this.


Common Optimizing Points In Chess


In chess, as well as in life, it is essential to reflect on your personal goals and values. Here are some common things people may optimize for in chess: fun, long-term improvement, quick rating gain, and health benefits.

To determine which of these you prioritize, consider the following questions and reflect on your answers:


1. Fun


Do you primarily play chess for the enjoyment of the game? Is your main goal to have a good time, regardless of your performance?

If so, you might want to focus on playing casual games, experimenting with unconventional openings, or participating in friendly tournaments with like-minded individuals.

Watching Streamers, playing Bullet, and trash-talking while playing are all activities you should do if you enjoy them. Expect to get stuck at a certain level, but that’s fine. As long as you still enjoy what you do, you are doing the right thing.


2. Long-term Improvement


Are you more interested in developing a deeper understanding of the game and improving your skills over time?

If this is your primary focus, you’ll want to dedicate time to solving difficult exercises, analyzing your games, and working with a coach or mentor. Be prepared to invest time and effort into your development, even if it means experiencing temporary setbacks or slower rating gains.

In nearly all endeavors I take on, this is my main priority. But it doesn’t have to be yours!


3. Quick Rating Gain


Is your goal to rapidly increase your chess rating? If so, you may want to focus on learning and mastering specific openings, tactics, or endgames that are likely to give you an edge over your opponents.

This approach comes at the cost of a well-rounded understanding of the game and will lead to plateaus in the long run. However, if you don’t mind getting stuck, trap openings and tricky lines are exactly for you.


4. Health Benefits


Do you view chess as a way to exercise your mind and maintain mental sharpness? In this case, you may want to play chess regularly but not obsess over your rating or competitive success.

Instead, focus on the cognitive and emotional benefits of the game, such as improved problem-solving, concentration, and stress relief.




Once you have identified what you’re optimizing for, you can make more informed decisions about your chess training, study materials, and time investment. Moreover, this clarity will help you avoid frustration and disappointment, as you’ll have a better understanding of your own motivations and expectations.

Remember that your priorities may change over time, and it’s perfectly fine to adjust your focus as your interests and goals evolve. The important thing is to remain aware of what you value most and to make conscious decisions based on that understanding.

It is also important to understand that nearly everyone wants a little of all the four points above. It is valid to say that you mainly focus on long-term improvement but also want to have a little chess “just for fun”. You don’t need to go all in on one and neglect the other three. But whatever you choose as the main point should be your guide for future decisions.

By answering the question, “What are you optimizing for?” in chess and in life, you’ll be better equipped to make choices that align with your values and bring you satisfaction, success, and personal growth.

I firmly believe that

anyone can improve their chess through the right mindset and training techniques.

I’m here to guide you on your journey to chess mastery.

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