Finding the best chess move in a given position is the hallmark of a skilled player.
This article looks into the various strategies, principles, heuristics, and considerations that can guide you in how to find the best chess move.
Opening Theory (Memorizing Moves & Understanding Their Purpose)
The opening phase of the game sets the stage for the middle and endgame.
Memorizing key opening sequences can give you an edge, but understanding the purpose behind each move is even more important.
This ensures that even if your opponent deviates from known lines, you can still find strong moves based on the underlying principles.
Several fundamental principles guide the game of chess.
- controlling the center
- developing your pieces efficiently
- coordinating your pieces well
- ensuring the safety of your king (priority #1)
Adhering to these principles, especially in unfamiliar positions, can often lead to good moves.
A good chess move often enhances the harmony and coordination of your pieces.
- Does this move improve the position of my pieces? (Is it defending other pieces? Does it cover a large number of squares?)
- Does it restrict my opponent’s options?
Positional considerations often dictate the flow of the game.
Tactics flow easier from positional advantages.
Tactics are the short-term plans and combinations that can win material or deliver checkmate.
Being alert to tactical opportunities, such as forks, pins, sacrifices, and skewers, can help you seize the initiative and capitalize on your opponent’s mistakes.
An example would finding the combination below for black, sacrificing the rook for a checkmate a few moves later.
Related: Positional vs. Tactical Chess
Think – What Does the Move Accomplish?
For example, consider the move below – Be7.
What does the move accomplish?
First, it prevents g5, which could open up various lines for white to attack on that side of the board.
If white were to go g5 and black capture with the pawn, that lead to a recapture by the knight, directly attacking f7. In turn, that could lead to a fork of rooks if black isn’t careful.
h4 attack is less of a threat
Moreover, with Be7, it makes h4 less of a threat.
White does have a 5-on-4 in terms of pawns on the king-side, which can be a long-term advantage.
Be7 can negate this to a degree.
Dilutes power of the white knight
The white knight needs to protect h4 if it were to push its h-pawn to that squares, which essentially pins the knight to protecting the h4 square. Unless it can create better threats elsewhere, which isn’t the case now.
Be7 reduces the power of the white knight.
Another diagonal to attack or defend on
Be7 also simply opens up another diagonal for the bishop to attack or offer defense support.
Given the multi-purpose nature of this move, we can conclude that it’s a fairly strong move for black.
Chess is about anticipating your opponent’s moves and planning your own.
Developing the ability to calculate several moves ahead can be a game-changer.
This skill allows you to foresee potential threats and opportunities, guiding your decision-making process.
Over time, players begin to recognize recurring patterns and motifs.
This familiarity enables quicker and more accurate assessments of positions.
The more patterns you recognize, the faster and more confidently you can make your moves.
This is especially important in blitz and bullet.
Intuition – Does a Move Look Good?
Sometimes, the best move isn’t the result of deep calculation but rather a gut feeling.
Intuition, honed over countless games and studies, can often guide players to make strong moves, especially in complex positions where calculating everything isn’t feasible.
Having good intuition isn’t generally a thing among beginner or even intermediate players because their understanding of the game is low relative to advanced players.
Sometimes you might think – does this move look good?
Of course, from that point (unless you’re playing very tight time controls or low on clock), you’ll need to evaluate it positionally and calculate it out.
Intuition is again especially relevant in blitz and bullet chess.
When in Doubt, Attack Something
An aggressive approach can often unsettle your opponent.
If you’re unsure of the best move, consider creating threats.
What can you attack?
This will at least force your opponent to respond defensively, giving you the initiative.
Just watch out for counter-threats and ways it will undermine your position.
Process of Elimination
When faced with multiple plausible moves, systematically evaluating each one’s pros and cons can help.
By eliminating inferior moves, you can narrow down your choices and find the best move in the position.
Sometimes you can find the best move simply because the other ones are either bad or don’t make sense.
The position below is a classic case of one move making sense because all the other ones available don’t advance the position and would simply make you worse off:
Below is an even more obvious one, two moves later in the same game, because your queen is being attacked and the only retreat square that really makes sense is moving to h4.
This gives you the diagonal to retreat should it be necessary in the future.
Forced moves are situations like obvious take-backs or when there is clearly one move that’s obvious to avoid badly compromising one’s position.
One such example would be taking the pawn to fork the queen and rook.
Later on in this game, we saw a series of liquidations that represented what’s called a forced line from moves 31-35 bolded below.
Evaluation of the Position
Understanding the nuances of a position is imperative.
Consider factors like material balance, pawn structure, piece activity, and king safety.
A holistic evaluation can guide you toward the best move.
Can You Create a Weakness?
For example, take the following position below.
You have a fairly weak black bishop on the side of the board versus a stronger white bishop that controls two long diagonals.
If you take the white bishop, it also forces white to double their pawns, which can become a long-term structural weakness in the position.
We can see later on in this game, that these doubled e-file pawns are a serious weakness for white and eventually get captured by the knight and rook.
Chess is as much a mental game as it is a strategic one.
If you sense your opponent is uncomfortable with aggressive play, for instance, launching an attack – even if it’s not the objectively best move – can be a good strategy.
Bluffing is a concept in chess and not just poker.
In some situations, complicating the position or simplifying it – even if, again, it’s not the objectively best move – can be beneficial.
For instance, if you’re ahead in material, simplifying the position can make it easier to convert your advantage.
At the same time, in timed games, if your opponent is low on time and you’re ahead, you might even consider complicating the position and try to induce more variance in their range of replies to force a mistake.
A 3-Step Process For Finding GREAT MOVES ❗❗
FAQs – How to Find the Best Chess Move
What is Opening Theory in chess and how does it help in finding the best move?
Opening Theory refers to the study of well-established sequences of moves at the beginning of a chess game.
By memorizing these moves and understanding their purpose, a player can quickly navigate the early stages of the game with confidence.
This foundation allows the player to reach a strong middle-game position without making significant errors.
How do Chess Principles guide a player in making the best move?
Chess Principles are fundamental guidelines that players should keep in mind throughout the game.
Examples include controlling the center, developing pieces efficiently, and ensuring the safety of the king.
By adhering to these principles, players can make sound decisions that align with proven strategies.
What does it mean to have a Positional Focus in chess?
A Positional Focus means evaluating moves based on their long-term strategic implications.
Players should ask if their moves are positionally sound and if their pieces are coordinated harmoniously.
It’s about creating a cohesive structure and plan, rather than just creating or reacting to immediate threats.
How do Tactical Considerations influence the best move?
Tactics are short-term sequences of moves that can result in an immediate advantage.
Tactical considerations involve looking for opportunities to exploit weaknesses in the opponent’s position, such as pins, forks, and skewers.
Recognizing these patterns can lead to winning material or delivering checkmate.
It’s important, however, to understand that tactics should ideally flow from a superior position and to not play too superficially.
Why are Calculation Skills crucial in chess?
Calculation Skills allow players to visualize several moves ahead, predicting both their own moves and their opponent’s responses.
A strong ability to calculate ensures that a player can foresee the consequences of their moves and avoid potential pitfalls.
How does Pattern Recognition aid in finding the best move?
Pattern Recognition is the ability to quickly identify common configurations of pieces and their potential outcomes.
By recognizing familiar patterns and geometry, players can instantly have an idea of the best moves to play without having to calculate every possibility.
How does Intuition play a role in decision-making in chess?
Intuition is the innate sense or feeling about a position, even without deep calculation.
Experienced players often “feel” the right move based on their vast experience and understanding of similar positions.
While it’s essential to calculate and evaluate, intuition can guide players, especially in complex positions.
Why is the advice “When in Doubt, Attack Something” given to chess players?
Putting pressure on the opponent can lead to them making mistakes.
Even if there isn’t a clear best move, creating threats can disrupt the opponent’s plans and force them into a defensive posture.
How can the Process of Elimination assist in determining the best move?
By systematically evaluating each possible move and ruling out those that lead to unfavorable outcomes, players can narrow down their choices.
This methodical approach ensures that players consider all options and select the move with the highest potential for success.
Why is the Evaluation of the Position essential before making a move?
Evaluating the position means assessing the overall situation on the board.
By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, players can make informed decisions that align with their strategic goals.
How do Psychological Factors impact the decision-making process in chess?
Understanding the opponent’s mindset can offer a strategic advantage.
For instance, if an opponent dislikes being attacked, applying pressure can lead to errors on their part.
Being aware of these psychological elements can influence the choice of moves.
What are Practical Considerations in chess, and how do they affect the best move?
Practical Considerations involve making moves that might not be the absolute best but create complications for the opponent.
For example, in time pressure, complicating the position can be advantageous.
Conversely, simplifying the position might be beneficial if it leads to a clearer path to victory.
Finding the best chess move is a blend of knowledge, experience, and intuition.
While the aforementioned strategies and considerations provide a roadmap, the key lies in consistent practice and learning.
As the legendary World Chess Champion José Raúl Capablanca once said, “To improve at chess, you should in the first instance study the endgame.”