How positional evaluation relates to chess strategy

It’s no secret that chess is a strategy game, even to those who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of those strategies. Chess has been regarded all over the world and for most of its existence as the premiere game of strategy and tactics.

How positional evaluation affects planning your chess strategy
Evaluation in chess is the process whereby you compare the progress each side has made towards achieving their objectives.

However, many people do not realize that even the most basic moves in chess all stem from positional evaluation!

The ability to look at the board and evaluate each aspect of the active game before making your move is crucial in advancing your chess strategy, and separates those who know how to frame a proper move in terms of what is currently on the board from those who spend the majority of their time thinking about how they are going to win, and as a result don’t decide how they will get there.

An easy way to imagine a proper evaluation process is to break it into a series of steps which you can use as a check list. In this article, we’ll discuss each step, how you go about it, and why it is significant to the evaluation process. Practicing these steps will not only help you figure out how you want to proceed, but will help make you a better chess player in general.

Compare Material

The first step in the evaluation process is to determine if one side has a material advantage over the other side. This is a foundational step in creating a strategy, as it will help you decide if a particular course of action is worthwhile or is too large of a risk.

A simple example would be to imagine a board where white and black have the same pieces remaining, except that white has 7 pawns where black only has 5 pawns remaining. This shows us right away that white possesses a material advantage over black. The next steps will focus on deciding if black’s disadvantage can be compensated for in other ways.

Compare King-Safety

Since the object of chess is to checkmate the opposing side, the next step in a solid evaluation strategy is to determine the relative safety of each side’s King. It’s necessary not only to determine how you can expose your opponent’s King, but to determine the risk of your own King being subjected to risk if you make an offensive move. Further, it’s important to recognize your own weaknesses in this area, because seeing the openings you’ve left for your opponent to harass your King will help you to avoid them in the future.

Once you have determined which side’s King is the least safe, you can factor this into your overall assessment.

Compare Piece Development

The next step is to consider which pieces on the board are active and how they can develop. This will show you which pieces your opponent will likely keep as defensive or passive pieces, as well as help you understand how you can develop your own pieces in either an offensive or defensive capacity. If you have more powerful pieces which have still not been brought into play, this can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, depending on the layout of the board and your determination on the other steps in the evaluation process.

The ultimate goal here is still to determine which side has a clear advantage over the other, but this step in particular will help you determine what your immediate strategy for your next move will need to be.

Compare Center-Control

Controlling the center of the board is considered important in chess because it imparts an ability to control the rest of the board as a whole. Many players move to control the center of the board straight from the beginning of the game – it’s considered that important for many strategies. Besides just control, occupying the center of the board allows you to hinder the mobility of your opponent’s pieces while simultaneously helping you move your own.

These reasons and more are why the fourth step in the evaluation process is determining which side has control of the center.

Compare Pawn-Structures

Leaving gaps and openings in your pawn structure is a surefire way to lose your pawns. For the final step of the evaluation process, look at your own pawn structure as well as that of your opponent, and try to determine what openings exist and for whom. Isolated pawns serve as great targets for you when they exist on your opponent’s side, and potential weaknesses in your own defense when they exist on yours.

Further, forgetting the importance of pawns is a great way to find yourself in checkmate. Not only do pawns represent a force in their own right, but the structure of the pawns on the board can restrict movement and create openings in equal measure. Take some time to really get a feel for your own pawn structure as well as that of your opponent.

Conclusion

After completing the steps discussed in this article, you should be able to make a determination about which side has the advantage in the game. This is a fundamental part of chess, since the object of the game itself depends on formulating a better strategy than your opponent.

While the advantage won’t always be immediately obvious, using the above discussed steps will help you to determine which player is in a better position, as well as help you decide how you should proceed when it’s your turn. Proper evaluation doesn’t conclude simply when you’ve run through these steps, however. You must learn to continuously evaluate the board in order to determine the best course of action.

Practice going through these steps as well as practicing them on the board. It’s likely that after running through them and applying them in real world games of chess, they will begin to come naturally to you. At some point you will be able to forgo the framework of a step-by-step process and will likely be able to take these factors into account automatically. This is just one step on the road to becoming a better player, but it’s a large one.