The 3-Step Calculation Method

In this lesson you will learn how the 3-Step Calculation Method works. It is a very helpful tool and easy to learn!

Each step in the process will help you gather information that will be useful in the following step. You may find it helpful to remember the steps by thinking of the 3-letter acronym, TRC:

  1. Find Opponent’s Threats. (T)
  2. Observe Tactical Resources. (R)
  3. Calculate Forcing Moves. (C)

The example below will help you understand how to apply the 3-Step Calculation Method.

Practical Example of the 3-Step Calculation Method

In the diagram below, black’s queen just captured a pawn on b2.

TRC Calculation Method Example Exercise

We will now apply the 3-step calculation method to the position and try to find the best response for white.

Step 1: Find Opponent’s Threats (T)

A common mistake chess players make is that they think about the position mainly from their own perspective. However, you should always take the time to grasp your opponent’s imminent threats and likely plans before you think of your own ideas.

In the diagram below, we can observe that black is threatening Qxe2. Why is this a threat?

Diagram above: Black is threatening Qxe2. The point is that if white recaptures the black queen with 2.Rxe2, then 2… Rb1+ 3.Re1 Rxe1# is checkmate.

Note: An important benefit of understanding your opponent’s threats is that it provides the perfect background for the next stage of your calculations. For example, if you discover a serious threat, then you know you must either 1) find a strong counter-threat or 2) defend against the threat. And if you didn’t find any serious threats? Well, then you are free to focus on your own opportunities and ideas!

We’ll keep black’s threat in the back of our mind whilst we move on to the next stage of our calculations.

Step 2: Observe Tactical Resources (R)

Tactical resources are any targets you can attack, threats you can make and any potential tactical patterns you can find in the position. You need to make mental notes of this information before you move on to the final stage.

TRC Calculation Method Example Exercise Stage 2

These are the tactical resources white observed:

  • The pawn-shield in front of the black king is compromised. This implies the black king is, potentially, exposed to checks.
  • The black rook on b8 is the only defender of black’s queen.
  • The black pawn on e6 is undefended.

Note: Not all tactical resources in the position will be easy to find, but taking the time to uncover them is a crucial part of your calculation process.

Step 3: Calculate Forcing Moves (C)

Now that we’ve acquired important information about the position, it is time to calculate actual variations. In this step we will rely on a technique known in chess circles as CCT. It implies that we focus our attention on all the checks, captures and threats.

TRC Calculation Method Example Exercise Stage 3

Considering black’s threat, here are the main variations white should calculate:

  • 1.Qxb2 Rxb2 2.Rxe6 Rxa2 and it is unclear which side, if any, is better.
  • 1.Rc8+ Rxc8 2.Qxb2 and white won material
  • 1.Rc8+ Kh7 2.Qxb2 Rxb2 3.Rxa8 and white won material.
  • 1.Rc8+ Kh7 2.Qxb2 Rxc8 and white still won material
TRC Calculation Method Example Exercise Conclusion

Diagram above: Since all the variations after 1.Rc8+ works in white’s favor, we conclude that it is the best move for white.

A Note on the CCT Technique

Since calculation is an infinitely complex aspect of chess, it is helpful to simplify the process by focusing on forced moves–checks, captures and threats (CCT).


A check is the most forcing move in chess and therefore the easiest type of move to calculate. If you find a check that leads to a forced win, then there is no need to calculate other moves. In many cases a check could also be a capture.


When you capture a piece your opponent’s best response will likely be to recapture. It is always easier to calculate the moves where you know what your opponent’s response should be.


A threat is an attacking move that forces your opponent to either respond 1) in a defensive way or 2) to make an even stronger counter-threat.

What About Moves That Aren’t Forcing, Shouldn’t They Also Be Calculated?

Generally, there is no need to spend much time on calculating moves that don’t force a specific response. Instead, such moves can be judged based on your evaluation method and therefore there is no need to calculate it.


Calculation is a skill you need on nearly every move you make. Clearly, then, it would be very helpful if you had a calculation method that you can practice beforehand and use during your games.

Note: It is important to understand that this method is not intended as a strict algorithm that you must follow on every move. Rather, it offers you a practical way in which to structure your calculations, not only in positions where you sense there may be tactics, but also in other positions where a certain amount of calculation is required.

Note how the 3-Step (TRC) calculation method provided structure to white’s thinking process. Of course, being familiar with tactical patterns (in this case the ladder trick, overloading a defender) will further support your calculations.

Another benefit of using the method is that it will continually provide you with information that will also be useful on the next move.

If you practice this calculation method whenever you solve tactical puzzles, it will eventually become a very useful tool to help you calculate variations in your own games. The acronym TRC (Threats, Resources, Calculate) will help you remember the 3 steps.

A great way to get a head start with the TRC calculation method is to get your copy of my exercise collection:

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