Decision Making – An Elementary Algorithm for Chess

Chess is a simple game to learn but very difficult game to master. Chess beginners learn the rules of the game very easily and quickly figure out things like moving pieces, capturing etc. However beyond this very basic stage they have no idea what to do. Developing a process for good decision making in chess is very difficult for beginners. They do not posses a structured way of evaluating the position on the board and neither do they have sound basis for deciding moves. So they miss obvious moves and make elementary blunders. In fact most beginning players loose a large percentage of matches due to very basic mistakes.

So here we are providing a very basic decision making algorithm for beginners. It is not complicated and its certainly not the best, but it is sound and will lead to improvement in decision making. Basically we are creating a checklist to follow, so that basic errors are avoided and hopefully opportunities are spotted or better still, created.

A) Evaluate the Board

First we evaluate the board. Beginners normally skip this step completely and usually jump straight to figuring which piece to move. This is sure way to loose and loose quickly. First we must evaluate the board and then only start thinking about moving pieces. This process has four steps.

1) Position of Kings

In chess, the king is well, “King”, so the first step is to observe the position of the two kings on the board. Our principle aim is to keep our king safe and attack the opponents king.

2) Development of Pieces

Next we look at the development of pieces, or rather the relative development of pieces. This is a race, we want to develop our pieces while denying our opponent the same.

3) Pawn Structure

Evaluating the pawn structure is very important, but not easy for beginners. So beginners must concentrate. Pawn structure provides vital clues to the kind of battle your opponent is trying to fight i.e open/closed, slow/fast etc. Pawn structure may also reveal if our opponent is trying to win or force a draw.

4) Weak/Undefended Pieces

Lastly we check for undefended or weakly defended pieces. We must check our pieces first and the opponents later. This completes the process of evaluating the position on the board.

At the end of evaluating the board, ask yourself the following question.

Who is in a better position and why”

If you have a solid, well thought out answer then proceed to the next step otherwise evaluate the board again.

B) Candidate Moves

After evaluating the board we now staring think about moves. Beginners usually only think about their own moves but do not think deeply about their opponents moves/refutations. So we actually have to think about moves and counter moves. We are trying to find 2-3 good moves usually called “Candidate Moves” and finally pick the best one. This process has three steps.

1) Our Checks, Captures, Improvements, Sacrifices and Opponents Refutations

a) Checks – First we try to see if we have any ways of checking our opponents king and then we analyze how our opponent may try to get out of those checks. It is necessary to evaluate each check and our opponents refutation to its logical conclusion. In case no good candidate moves emerge we proceed to the next step.

b) Captures – Now we try to find if we can capture any of our opponents pieces and if yes, then with which of our pieces and also how our opponent will react to the capture. Again it is essential to study all of the options available to us and work out our opponents refutations to the logical end in each line. If no good candidate moves emerge we proceed to the next step.

c) Improvements – Now we look for pieces we can improve. However in this case we have to be extra careful. This is because while checks are forcing moves (opponent must react), and captures lead to gain in material (opponent usually reacts though is not forced to), piece improvement is a more subtle move. We are trading time (one move spent) to occupy a more favorable space and we hope that this will lead to us gaining the upper hand at some later time. Of course sometimes we can do two things at once, like improving our Queen and at the same time putting the opponents king in check or capturing a piece. Thus while improving a piece can potentially a very powerful move, our opponents refutations must be checked even more carefully. Now the last step.

d) Sacrifices – Now we look if can give up a piece, so that we may gain the upper hand at a later stage. Sacrifices have to be though thru even more carefully. Opponents refutations worked out even more thoroughly. This is because we are willing giving up material for a time and hopefully space advantage. Beginners should be aware of this step but should avoid sacrifices since their evaluation and calculation is not very good and they are likely to misjudged the situation.

2) Opponents Checks, Captures, Improvements, Sacrifices and Our Refutations.

a) Checks – First we check if out opponent has any way of checking our king and how we can refute them. Beginners have difficulty in this and so find themselves suddenly checkmated very often. If we spot no checks to our king, or established that we can refute all possible checks, we proceed to the next step.

b) Captures – Now we check captures available to our opponent, and means available at our disposable to refute them i.e retreats, capture back immediately, or react with some countermove. Again all options available to our opponent and our refutations need to calculated to their logical ends. If no capture are available or we have worked out refutations to possible captures then we can proceed to the next step.

c) Improvements – As we saw earlier improving a piece is an attempt to gain space at the expense of time. Our opponent is hoping to gain the upper hand at a later stage. Thus we must carefully analyze opponents improvements and prepare countermoves/refutations. Now to the last step.

d) Sacrifices – At beginner level, an opponents sacrifice is usually a mistake, still it is necessary and useful to inculcate the habit of analyzing it throughly. Therefore we should try to find potential ways in which our opponent may sacrifice a piece to gain time and space advantages later in the game.

3) Making No Move

After analyzing checks, captures, improvements and sacrifices for both ourselves and our opponent we need to check about the possibility of making “no move”. In other word we play some random move simply to pass the turn to our opponent. This type of situation is call a “Zugzwang”. Its a german phrase that means “compulsion to move”. It is a situation in which the obligation to make a move in one’s turn is a serious, often decisive, disadvantage. These type of situations occur mostly in endgames and are not very relevant to beginner play. However it is an important concept in chess and beginners need to be mentally on the look out for such situations. Zugzwang moves are a part of “Candidate Moves” but we have mentioned it separately to highlight their conceptual difference with most other chess moves. Thus we need to analyze the concept of doing nothing for ourselves and our opponent.

So at the end of finding candidate moves and selecting the best one, ask yourself the following question.

Why is this the best move”

If you dont have clear answer, then repeat the above process again. In case you are able to explan througly as to why it is the best move, ask yourself ask yourself another question

Is there a even better move”

As a beginner you will often find that there is one….


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