4 Important Elements of an Effective Chess Calculation Technique

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As a chess player I’m sure you’ve experienced the excitement when you see a move that can finish off your opponent right away.

But then doubt sets in. And you wonder–did I miss something? A well-developed calculation skill will help you avoid mistakes, but more importantly – it will increase your confidence!

When doubt sets in, it often results in lost opportunities since you think of those moves as “risky”. This does not mean you should take more risks! Instead, it means you should train your calculation skill to the point where you can rely on it – with confidence. It’s a hallmark of all strong chess players.

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How to Improve Your Chess Calculation Technique

Training your calculation skill can be difficult, particularly if you don’t know how to train it. But once you understand the 4 elements of an effective chess calculation technique – things becomes a lot easier. They are:

4 Important Elements of an Effective Chess Calculation Technique

  1. Always start your calculations by observing the consequences of your opponent’s last move
  2. Understand the difference between forcing moves and non-forcing moves
  3. Your chess tactics skill supports your calculation skill
  4. The ability to calculate deeper variations rely heavily on your visualization skill

On the rest of this page I will discuss the details of these four elements and give some examples.

1) Always Start Your Calculations by Observing the Consequences of Your Opponent’s Last Move

You’ve already done calculations on the previous move. You know a fair bit about the position already. There is no need to calculate everything from scratch on every new move. Redoing all your calculations from scratch would be an inefficient use of your time and mental resources.

Here’s a simple example that demonstrates how observing the relevant consequences of white’s last move will help you find the best response.

Elements of an Effective Chess Calculation Technique
White just played f3. How will an effective calculation technique reveal a good reply?

By simply observing the consequences of white’s move, black’s best response will become obvious!

The consequences are:

  1. White is threatening to capture black’s queen. (The queen should probably move.)
  2. The e3-square becomes unprotected. (The queen could go there.)
  3. The white king becomes vulnerable to a check on the g1-a7 diagonal. (An exposed king is often a tactical target.)
  4. The f3-pawn obstructs the connection between the Ra3 and Na3, which implies Na3 is now undefended. (An undefended piece is also a tactical target).

I’m sure you can see how, by simply observing the consequences of white’s last move, you can easily find the move Qe3+, followed by Qxa3.

I chose this example to illustrate a point. Of course, things won’t always work out so smoothly in an actual game. Nevertheless, considering the consequences of your opponent’s last move should always be the very first step in your calculation process.

In summary:

Your opponent’s last move represents all the changes in the position. You need to identify those changes right away – by observing the consequences of your opponent’s last move.


2) Understand the Difference Between Forcing Moves and Non-Forcing Moves

The second important element of an effective chess calculation technique is to understand that not all moves can (or should) be calculated.

It is humanly impossible to calculate all the moves in every position – fatigue will eventually set in and sooner or later you will make mistakes. The key to an effective and efficient calculation process lies in understanding which moves should be calculated. In a nutshell – only forcing moves should be calculated.

Forcing Moves vs. Non-Forcing Moves

A forcing move makes a threat and forces the opponent to either defend against the threat or make a concession, ie. to give up some material. A non-forcing move on the other hand, does not make any direct threats, which means the opponent is free to consider many options.

There are 3 kinds of forcing moves:

  1. Checks,
  2. Captures (often implying piece-exchanges)
  3. Threats (and counter-threats)

The number of possible responses to a forcing move is always limited – which makes calculating them easier.

In complicated positions there are a high number of forcing moves and responses – making it still hard to calculate everything. That is why complicated tactical positions will be a real test of your calculation skill.

When it comes to non-forcing moves, it makes no sense to try calculate all the possibilities. Not even computers can do it! Trying to calculate everything will lead to frustration and fatigue. Instead, it makes more sense to evaluate non-forcing moves based on chess principles and your understanding of chess strategy.

In summary:

Calculate forced moves – as deeply and accurately as you can. There is no need to waste a lot of time calculating non-forcing moves. It is sufficient to simply evaluate them based on your understanding of chess principles and strategy.


3) Your Chess Tactics Skill Supports Your Calculation Skill

The 3rd element of an effective calculation method is your tactical skill. The tactical combinations that may appear in your chess games often share recognizable patterns and ideas. Such typical patterns and ideas are referred to as “themes” or “motifs.”

By making an in-depth study of a specific motif, you will improve your understanding of how the motif works in different situations. Furthermore, this way of study will help you notice interesting and “less-obvious” ways in which these motifs can be used.

But why is this important to your calculation technique? The point is that a well-developed tactical skill will increase your ability to recognize potential tactics based on certain features of the position – which will guide your calculation process in the right direction. This means you won’t lose as much time and energy calculating irrelevant variations that lead to nowhere.

In summary:

Your tactical skill supports the accuracy and speed of your calculation skill.

For further reading on this topic you can refer to the article on how to improve your chess tactics skill.

4) The Ability to Calculate Deep Variations Rely Heavily on Visualization Skill

Visualization is the ability to see in your mind the positions that would be reached if certain moves were to be made – without making the actual moves on the board – and seeing them so clearly that you can accurately consider the implications of each new position.

Here’s a quick question that will help you determine how good your visualization skill is:

Do you ever find yourself thinking about your next move – and end up looking repeatedly at the same variation trying to make sure you calculated correctly?

If you say yes, it’s a sign that your visualization skill is not well trained. The good news is that training your visualization skill will bring a significant improvement to your overall game.

In summary:

Your ability to calculate deeper variations rely heavily on your visualization skill. Visualwize is a proven visualization training tool that will rapidly improve your visualization skill.

How to Improve Your Calculation Skill

This article on an effective chess calculation technique contains a lot of powerful information. However, the information will only be useful to you if you can learn to apply it.

Here is some practical advice that will help you improve you calculation skill:

  1. Use tactical puzzles to practice your calculation process. When you solve tactical puzzles, practice using a consistent calculation method and calculate only the forcing variations. I recommend you use the calculation method presented on Day 1 of the 10-Day Chess Challenge.
  2. From now on, in every game you play–develop the habit to always start your calculations by observing the consequences of your opponent’s last move

By focusing your attention on the 4 elements of an effective calculation method, it will soon become a natural part of your thinking process. Not only will you improve your calculation skill, but you will increase your confidence–and ultimately boost your results!

To conclude:

  1. Applying a consistent calculation method whilst training chess tactics (solving chess puzzles) and
  2. working on your visualization skill (with Visualwize) will go a long way in helping you develop an effective chess calculation technique.