Thinking Chess

Thinking Chess

Hikaru Junction

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Thinking Chess

There are several ways to decide on a move in a game of chess. A good chief weapon is calculation, calculation and careful evaluation. The two approaches which are commonly used are pure calculation, evaluating carefully, and going down the ladder of threats. The three methods which I recommend are pure calculation, evaluating carefully, and going down the ladder of threats, and asking a number of questions. These four– are amongst our weapons!

Why the stammering in a supposedly carefully crafted blog post? I don’t know, I didn’t expect a Spanish Inquisition!

Calculation is used to conduct a cursory blunder check, addressed further on. It is also used in tactical positions especially, but is also useful for small positional maneuvers. Here is a very tactical game which I enjoy to demonstrate this technique’s potential. Of course, if you are not very good at calculation, one drill which I recommend is to set up a blank board and move around pieces while playing through games from a book.

Garry Kasparov–Vladimir Kramnik It (cat.19) 1994

Another point of showing this awesome game is to infuse this very wordy blog with some chess analysis. Of course, another approach is to try to calculate as little as possible. The two topics below are useful in trying to make less work for yourself while playing chess. Here is an interesting Youtube video about avoiding calculation:

The Ladder of Threats is a useful tool for performing a cursory check for tactics each move. By starting at the most potentially dangerous and going through most very common tactics, you can quickly, in a minute or less in uncomplicated positions, decide on a move that doesn’t, at the very least, lose immediately. Here, without further ado, I present the Threat Ladder.

The Ladder of Threats:
1. Double Check
2. Check
3. Hanging Pieces
4. Things that are Lined Up
4a. Pins
4b. Skewers
5. Forkable Things
5a. Knight moves
5b. Diagonals
5c. Straight lines
5d. Queen moves

The questions which I ask myself during a chess game consistently are, to be fair, relatively few. The questions which I try to ask myself are many and varied. Some of these are, in order of importance,
Throughout the Game:
1. What is my opponent’s idea?–What are they trying to do, and can I prevent it?
2. Are there any tactics?–I answer this one by going through the threat ladder above.
3. Can I attack the king?–Usually no, but always useful to ask in case the answer turns out to be yes.
4. Are all my pieces happy?–Do they have the best scope? Can I improve them?
5. Which area of the board should I play in?–Defense, Offense, Central, Sides?

In the Opening:
1. Am I developed enough?–Can I use time to take material or reinforce the center?
2. Which side should I castle on?–Kingside, queenside, or perhaps not at all?
3. Are my pieces heading towards their best squares?–This, and where are they?
4. What would be good trades to make?–Their better piece for my worst piece, but which is which?

In the Endgame:
1. Is my king well positioned?–Can I improve its position?
2. Are my other pieces well positioned?–If a rook, to the seventh rank, if another, to an outpost.
3. Where is my potential passed pawn?–And can I make it into a real passed pawn?
4. Should I push my pawns?–Do I gain space, or instead conserve the tempi?

These questions help me decide on a move. I hope they and the other sections prove instructive.


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Hikaru Junction
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30 Jun 19
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27 Mar 15