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.
In the example below, the bishop is attacking both the rook and knight. However, white can make a nice counter-threat with b4, which takes away the c5 and a5 squares from the queen.
This will lead to an exchange of queens and a +3.00 positional advantage for white.
It opens up lines like:
25. b4 Bxc4 26. bxc5 Bxe2 27. Rxe2 Rd7 28. Rfe1 e6 29. Rb2 Rb8 30. Reb1 b6 31. Bxc6
Rd3 32. Bg2 Rxc3 33. c6 Rd8 34. Bg5 Rdd3 35. Bd2 Ra3 36. Bb4 Ra4 37. Bf1 Rd5 38. Rc2 Rf5 39. Bc4 Rf4 40. a3 a5 41. Bb5 axb4 42. Bxa4 bxa3 43. Bb5 Rf3 44. Bf1 Kg7 45. Kg2 Rg3+ 46. Kf2 Kf6 47. Rxb6 Bxb6+ 48. Kxg3
Put white up two pawns of material.
When a piece is under threat, sometimes the best move is to counter-threat.
Positionally or tactically, that can manipulate your opponent’s piece somewhere less favorable while enabling you to move your under-attack piece to a more favorable square on the subsequent move.
Here, your knight is attacked.
You can create a counter-threat by attacking the opponent’s queen. The attacking pawn is protected by your queen, so it can’t simply be taken.
On the subsequent move, you can move your knight to a better square, ideally centralizing it so it can control more squares.
Another Example of Creating a Counter-Threat
In this position, most players would look at this position and move the rook to e1.
After all, losing a rook for a bishop isn’t normally a good exchange.
However, the best move is to actually capture on b7.
By capturing on b7, the knight is hanging, which makes taking the rook a suboptimal move.
Black taking the f1 rook would put white into a comfortable winning position while white moving the rook to e1 would equalize the game, though it’s not immediately obvious.
Later on in this game, exchanging a rook for a bishop makes sense:
By eliminating the bishop, it leaves the d5 pawn hanging, which moves the rook from a8 and allows the a5 to start threatening promotion.
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.
Let’s look at another example.
Here, white is content to trade all heavy pieces outside the dark-squared bishops to pursue an early endgame against an opponent with doubled pawns.
This is the key structural weakness that gives white a slight advantage that it’ll attempt to convert.
Also, due to the dark-squared bishop, it’s important for both sides to emphasize playing on the light squares with their pawns and kings to negate the power of the bishop.
King position in these endgames is also a big factor.
The white king is much more influential here than the black king and the white bishop is stronger than the black bishop.
White has an edge as it positions its pawns on the light squares, with a more active king, while black has three pawns that are blockaded on dark squares.
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.
When Suboptimal Moves Are the Best Moves
Suboptimal moves in chess can be the best moves if they avoid theory and take your opponent into unexpected lines, or help achieve some other strategic goal.
For example, if your opponent specializes in the Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian Defense (e.g., Maxime Vachler-Lagrave), then you might want to avoid that expertise and play openings like 1. d4 or 1. c4.
It can also help you achieve some other strategic goal.
For example, in this position as black, playing the optimal move keeps the evaluation even (0.00)
However, after the capture, you might have to exchange queens, which greatly increases the odds of a draw.
In turn, you might choose to move your knight to f6 instead.
This gives white a +0.50 to +0.60 advantage, but it can actually give you greater win odds than the “optimal” move by moving into other lines that provoke different moves from your opponent.
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.”