Chess beginners – and even people who have been playing for quite some time – often find themselves in positions where it is difficult for them to see every outcome of the potential moves they have available.
Failing to properly assess the situation in front of you can lead to making a bad move, or not making a move which could have been much more strategically valuable. The solution to this problem is practicing calculation. The calculation process may seem daunting, but when you break it down into its fundamental parts, it is a simple and straightforward process which will greatly improve your chances of victory.
Calculation is a fundamental part of any successful chess player’s strategy. In chess, if you’re not putting thought into how your moves – as well as those of your opponent – will affect the outcome of the game as a whole, you’re essentially playing blind. Calculation is the skill which allows us to see ahead and determine what the appropriate move to make. In this article, we will discuss the simple 5-step calculation process which you can use to practice determining the outcome of your moves, as well as improving your ability to discern your opponent’s threats and the consequences of their moves. Practicing these ideas will help you become better at seeing the outcome of your decisions in the game, as well as reading what your opponent’s future moves are likely to be.
Find Opponent’s Threats
Before deciding what your next move will be, you have to analyze the board and the position of each piece. This will help you keep in mind which pieces of yours are under threat, and if your move will increase or decrease those threats. It’s important to assume that your opponent is aware of how he or she is threatening your pieces – don’t assume they don’t see something which could be important. If your opponent is a skilled chess player, they are likely running a similar calculation strategy against you.
This is a very important part of the process because as you practice identifying these threats and threatening positions, you will learn to recognize them faster and faster. This type of repetition will adapt your strategy to the point where you don’t need to consciously think about it in many occasions – you’ll recognize the layout of the board and will be able to make a decision based on previous experience and training.
Identify Tactical Targets and Motifs
Once you have finished your threat assessment, you’ll need to determine what pieces on the board are actionable. You’ll look at your opponent’s positioning in relation to your own, and decide what tactical moves you can make to reduce his or her assets, or push for a finish. Look at which pieces on your opponent’s side are open to threat and can be considered targets. Look at the adjacent pieces to determine the risk of taking action on those targets. Decide if you are putting yourself at risk by making the move against a target.
Additionally, review the lessons you’ve already learned, and try to decide if you can spot any motifs which could be employed against your opponent. For instance, if your opponent’s king is positioned in the back row and is trapped behind his pawns, this could open his vulnerability to the back-rank checkmate motif. When we practice different sets of moves in chess, we’re not necessarily learning them so we can employ them against that exact set of circumstances. We’re learning them to ensure that we can recognize them as they develop on the board, or even so that we can force those situations at will.
Calculate All Checks, Captures and Tempo-Moves
Steps 3 – 5 of the 5-step calculation process are bundled together here because they all fall into the same category of your analysis. You will be determining which type of move is best suited to the current layout of the board – whether you’re moving for a check, forcing your opponent to respond in a certain way, or even just forcing your opponent to waste their next move.
First, try to see if there are any immediate routes to check or even checkmate. You’ll be looking for vulnerabilities in your opponent’s king position, as well as which pieces are currently defending him. Determine if you have an immediate route to victory, or if you can use your move to put your opponent in check, or harass their king in another way.
If there are no routes to checking your opponent right off the bat, take a look at which moves you can use to force your opponent to respond in a certain way. Not all of these will be valuable – in fact in many cases most of them won’t be – but consideration of each possibility is important not only for practice but also to ensure that you’re not missing anything important. Try to see how your move will force your opponent to respond, as well as how your own move may leave your valuable pieces vulnerable to response from your opponent.
Finally, you can analyze the board for tempo-moves. These force your opponent to effectively waste their turn, or in some cases even more than one turn. See if you can target one of your opponent’s high-value pieces and force them to move to protect it, or even to lose it. These moves can often result in a board layout which favors you more than your opponent.
After you have run through the steps discussed above, you will likely have come to a point where you can see one move which greatly outweighs other possibilities in terms of strategic value and risk to yourself. Though there will be situations where two or more moves hold similar values and risk assessments, the calculation process will at the very least help you narrow your choices down, and as you practice it will become more and more easy to slip into this line of thinking as you decide what your move should be.
It’s important to note that this part of your strategy will require practice – you can’t become a professional at calculation in just one game. Each move in each game you play will add to your calculation ability – both by giving you experience in how your opponent responds to your moves, as well as by helping you to recognize the different types of board layouts and motifs present at a given time.
To help you train this important skill, I’ve included calculation training exercises in the 10-Day Chess Challenge. Give it a try!