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Improving your Chess Thought Process

To move beyond the novice level, it is essential to have a solid thought process that you use during serious games. A thought process is a sequence of steps that you go through to select a move. This article presents the building blocks for a basic thought process that will get you on the right track. But first, we need to define a couple of terms.

We will use the term action moves. Action moves are checks, captures and threats. These 3 move types are extremely important, as they form the foundation for tactical opportunities, maneuvers and mistakes.

During steps 2-4 of the thought process shown below, you are looking to identify candidate moves. Candidate moves are your most promising possible moves. It is important to identify several possible candidate moves, rather than simply making the first reasonable move that pops into your head.

A Basic Thought Process

Step 1: Your opponent has just moved. If you are keeping score, write down the move. Look back up at the board.

Step 2: Ask yourself: What is the intent / result of my opponents move? What can she now do that she couldn't do before? One way to identify your opponent's threats is to look at the action moves (checks, captures, threats) that she could make if she were to immediately move again. How can you respond to these threats?

Step 3: Do you have any tactical opportunities? Look at all of your action moves.

Step 4: Do you have any strategic opportunities? Look for positional weaknesses and opportunities on both sides. Remember, in steps 2-4, we are trying to identify candidate moves.

Step 5: Consider the candidate moves that you have identified. For each, look at the reasonable responses that your opponent can make. Make sure to consider her action moves. Do you have an answer to each of her responses?

Step 6: Choose the candidate move that you think is best. Often, some threat that your opponent has created will dominate the situation. You must be sure to keep your pieces safe from capture, and take advantage of any mistakes your opponent makes. Wait -- Don't make the move yet!

Step 7: If you are keeping score, write down the move.

Step 8: Do a sanity check. Look back at the board with fresh eyes. Does your move leave any pieces en prise (in take)? Are you missing anything obvious?

Step 9: Make the move.

The process is not a rigid one. At different points in the game, you may have to make modifications. For example, the process may be shortened during the endgame or memorized opening. Also, you don't always need to identify all of your candidate moves up front. If the situation calls for it, you might analyze a very promising move first, before identifying other candidates.

If you follow the general guidelines listed above, it will help you to play with a solid thought process. Eventually, the entire sequence will become automatic.

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Chess Improvement - Table of Contents
Beginner Level
Novice Level - Board Vision - Part 2
Tournament Level - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Thought Process
Best Books for Novices - Part 2 - Part 3