Chess calculation training deserves high priority if you are serious about improving your chess.
As is the case with any other skill – calculation should be trained. And should be trained the right way.
This brings us to the main problem we often face – knowing just how we should go about to improve this important skill.
In this article I will give you advice that will put you on the right track.
Chess calculation starts with knowing when to calculate
In many positions you don’t even need to calculate a lot of variations. You should mainly focus on calculation when there are forcing moves in the position. There are 3 types of forcing moves:
- Captures and
When there aren’t such forcing moves between the pieces then there is no need to fry your brain thinking about moves that don’t lead to any concrete outcomes. In fact, you can better spend your time thinking about your plan of action and your strategy.
Find all your opponents threats before you start calculating!
Make it a habit to find your opponent’s threats before you start calculating your own ideas.
One of the most common calculation errors is to ignore your opponent’s threats. Information about your opponent’s threats will help you to avoid wasting a lot of time on moves which are clearly mistakes in the light of the opponent’s threats.
Find ALL the candidate moves before you start calculating!
Once you found your opponent’s threats, the second step should be to find all the candidate moves (all the forcing moves. ie. checks, captures and threats).
If you skip this step, you will risk calculating random moves and jumping from one idea to the next – without making proper progress. This only tires your brain and in the end you make a move without doing proper calculation anyway.
To help you avoid this random way of thinking, I suggest that you follow a certain order:
- Find all the candidate moves involving your queen,
- Find all the candidate moves involving your rooks,
- Find all the candidate moves involving your bishop,
- Find all the candidate moves involving your knights,
- Find all the candidate moves involving your pawns,
- Find all the candidate moves involving your king (particularly in the endgame stage).
The moves that need to be calculated properly are all the forcing moves. Lets look at an example.
Here is a position from a real game:
Before reading on, I suggest that you look at the position above and decide how you would approach it if this was your own game.
The correct order in the chess calculation process
First, we need to find our opponents threats:
- The player with the black pieces has a lead in material (extra rook and pawns), thus his main threat is to simply consolidate the position and eventually win the game by using his extra material. This implies that we should find something special very soon or else we will simply lose.
- Black is threatening to capture the white knight with Qxe7 – winning even more material.
Now that we know black’s threats, we can start to find all candidate moves for white:
- Candidate moves - Queen: 1) Qxh7+ (a capture); 2) Qxg5 (a capture); 3) Qd4+ (a check) 4) Qxb4 (a capture).
- Candidate moves - Rooks: 1) Rc1 (threat to c3 pawn)
- Candidate moves - Bishops: 1) Bh3 (a threat to f5 pawn); 2) Bxd5 (a capture)
- Candidate moves - Knights: 1) Nc6 (a threat); 2) Nxd5 (a capture); 3) Nxf5 (a capture) 4) Ng6+ (a check).
- Candidate moves - Pawns: 1) f4 (threat); 2) g4 (threat)
- Candidate moves - King: None.
Of course – a quick look at all the candidate moves will reveal that many of these moves can simply be discarded.
For example – the move 1) Rc1 threatens black’s pawn – but it is clearly not enough given the current circumstances of the position (black has an extra rook already). Also moves like 1) Qxh7+ loses the queen and gives white nothing – we don’t need to spend time on moves that we can instantly see are bad. Yet, following this process will help you to not miss some opportunities.
In the above example you might spend a lot of time calculating the moves Ng6+ or Qxg5 (which don’t lead to much). Instead, if you followed the process to first find all the candidate moves, you would quickly find the move 1) Qd4+ (which wins the game instantly).
The power of this method becomes more evident when you make a habit of it. I suggest you always follow this process, not only when you play but also when you solve tactical puzzles. Initially it will feel like hard work but pretty soon it will become a second nature (which is exactly what you are trying to achieve.)