The two most important questions in chess relate to tactics and strategy.
Here’s a simplified but practical way to define the difference between the two concepts:
Tactics are about now. In other words, which aspects of the position require immediate attention? What is my opponent threatening? Can I win material? Which tactical resources exist in the position?
Strategy, on the other hand, is about the future. You would typically ask yourself things like: Where’s the best squares for my pieces? How can I get them there? How can I increase my control of the centre?
Here’s how it works:
In every position you should check the tactics first of all. Once you’ve checked the tactics, you should then consider your strategy. To help you do this, just keep these 2 questions in mind:
- Are there any tactics in the position? (relates to tactics)
- How can I improve my position? (relates to strategy)
Whenever you reach a position where you are not sure what to do, think about the 2 questions. They will guide your thoughts in the right direction.
The 2 questions relate to your thinking methods
You might have noticed that these questions directly relate to the 2 thinking methods I presented in the 10-Day Chess Challenge:
- Calculation and
Calculation is essentially the process of checking all the tactics in the position, as well as the tactics that may become possible.
Evaluation again, is the process of determining to which extent you have managed to improve your position.
Structure your thoughts
It is important to be aware of the mind’s natural tendency to wander. If you don’t stay in control of your thinking process, you will quickly start to randomly analyze moves that don’t really serve your objectives. This form of “analysis paralysis” can be the source of any confusion you may experience when you are playing chess.
The 2 questions bring the needed structure to your thinking process. During a game it’s easy to lose sight of your primary objectives. You need some help to keep the right focus.
Let these 2 questions guide your thinking process
Question 1: Are there any tactics in the position?
The first question is related to the calculation thinking process. First of all, you want to know what your opponent is threatening. You won’t feel comfortable thinking about your own opportunities if you don’t understand your opponent’s threats.
Once you know what your opponent’s threats are, you should investigate your opportunities too. Finding tactical opportunities relies on this investigation. Tactical opportunities don’t come very often, but you need to calculate the possibilities on every move, since it may be the only opportunity you will get. Training your tactical skill by solving tactical puzzled is also a great way to help you develop your tactical awareness.
Question 2: How can I improve my position?
This question relates to the evaluation thinking process. It reminds you to evaluate the position and decide which aspect(s) of your position need attention. Once you understand the evaluation of the position, you can look for moves or plans that can improve your position (or prevent your opponent from improving theirs).
Of course, once you identified some candidate moves, you need to again calculate whether there will be any tactics possible as a consequence of the move you intend to make.
Keep in mind that you should look at these questions from both your own and your opponent’s point of view. In terms of the calculation process you want to know what your opponent is threatening. With regard to the evaluation, you want to understand how your opponent can improve their position and what you can do to prevent them realizing their plan.
Tip: The best moves are moves that improve your own position and at the same time prevent your opponent from improving theirs. This is also why you should try make moves that add pressure on your opponent by threatening something. Moves that carry a strong threat limits your opponent’s options and that is usually favorable to you.
Develop the habit to ask yourself these questions
The natural human tendency is to calculate random moves till you find something that looks promising. By adding some structure to your thoughts you can be more efficient and effective.
Remind yourself of the questions: 1) Are there any tactics in the position and 2) how can I improve my position? If you do so often enough, it will eventually become a second nature to do it.
Another helpful idea is to review games you played and try to identify moments where you weren’t in control of your thinking methods. Admit to yourself that at this point in the game weren’t I thinking about the 2 questions. Reviewing your games in this way will help you apply your thinking methods better in future games.
I hope you find these two questions very practical and that it will help you enjoy the game of chess even more!