I’m sure you know the feeling–sometimes you reach a moment in a game where you feel that you don’t know what to do next. How do you solve this?
First of all, you should understand that this feeling is a clear indication that you weren’t thinking clearly about your objectives! Which brings us to the first problem…
Problem 1: You Don’t Understand the Objectives of the Game Well Enough
If you want to overpower a strong opponent, you must know beforehand how you will approach the game. This means you must know what your objectives are and understand how they will help you achieve your goal.
The details of the objectives are beyond the scope of this article (find out more in this free chess course), but I will give you a quick summary here of the five most important objectives.
The 5 Main Objectives of a Chess Game
These are the five most important objectives in chess that you should keep in mind.
- The Material Objective: Aim to win material whenever you can because the player with more material (pieces) has more opportunities to force enemy pieces into defensive positions.
- The Development Objective: Develop your pieces to their full potential because well-developed pieces have more fire power than undeveloped pieces.
- The Centre-control Objective: Treat the center-squares as targets because they are the most important squares on the board and most of the action takes place in the centre.
- The King-Safety Objective: Keep your king safe and try to expose your opponent’s king, because an exposed king is extremely vulnerable to tactical threats.
- The Pawn-structure Objective: Keep in mind that the pawn-structure affects the development of the pieces and determines where the weak squares are.
Simply keeping these five objectives in mind will go a long way in helping you answer the critical question “what should I do in this position?”
Problem 2: You Lack the Skill to Calculate Longer Variations
Since there are so many possible moves and responses to each move, it becomes humanly impossible to calculate all the variations. The first step in solving this problem is to recognize that you aren’t a computer and that you need to prioritize which moves needs to be calculated.
Calculation is too difficult for many chess-players since they try to calculate variations that should not be a priority. Trying to calculate everything, tires your brain and you end up making moves that you haven’t calculated properly in any case!
Did you know…? Even top computer programs do not calculate all the moves in a position! Complicated algorithms “advise” the computer as to which moves should be calculated and which not. In the programming-world this technique is referred to as “pruning”. This “pruning” is partly the reason why one strong engine could possibly make a move, the other engine didn’t even consider as an option!
Which moves should you calculate then?
The moves that deserve priority are all the moves with forced consequences, in other words, you need to calculate the consequences of every move that:
- Captures a piece
- Checks the king
- Makes a threat
You will find that calculating only forced moves is already hard enough – let alone trying to calculate other moves too! Once you have calculated the outcomes of forced variations, you can be calm and start to think about strategic ideas.
Thinking about your strategy before you know what the outcome of the forcing variations are, is both dangerous and ineffective.
What about other moves – isn’t it risky to not calculate them?
Think about this – if you calculated the consequences of all the forcing moves, then all the remaining moves don’t carry any tactical threats! This implies that you can judge those moves intuitively (based on your understanding of the objectives of the game), instead of calculating the countless variations that can arise from them.
Let me remind you, the point here is that we need to prioritize which moves we calculate and which moves we don’t need to calculate.
A great way to start working on your calculation skill, is by doing visualization exercises. You can read more about it in the article–Why Visualization Is the Most Important Skill in Chess.