One of the most important qualities that a chess player can possess, is the ability to calculate deep and accurately in a position. It is, no doubt, one of the things that separates an average player from a strong one, and a strong one from an elite one. And, according to its importance, calculation in chess is not something that can not be learned from a book or obtained from software, it can not be emulated or bluffed and is difficult to teach.
It is something which we chess players must develop.
This is obviously done by analysing many positions, first and foremost by playing lots of games. For the player who is serious in wanting to improve their calculation ability, though, hard work must be done away from over-the-board battle. This consists of the analysis of complex positions, against the clock. Some of the old masters used to write down candidate moves on a notepad, and then deeper variations to each. I would advise that players do this now also, only using chess software to check the analysis over afterwards — it will be of greater reward.
It is very interesting when first starting this method of training. When setting the clock to, say, 15-minutes, it will be amazing just how little ground gets covered before the flag drops – and how many mistakes are included. But gradually, the more one carries this out, the quicker the analysis goes, the more organised it becomes, and ultimately the more accurate.
Take a look at the game below, played by the great Mikhail Tal versus Johann Hjartarson. I can imagine that Hjartarson, playing black, was not too alarmed at his obviously inferior position upon Tal’s 33.Nc6, which is where we pick the game up. However, things were about to change very quickly. The reason for this is firstly a failing in Black’s sense of danger and positional technique. However, it is Mikhail Tal’s power of calculation which produces 36…Rc5!! and ultimately decides the day. It is true that Tal’s opponent walked somewhat clumsily in to the trap, but nothing should detract from the fact that Tal saw it’s decisiveness.
It might be of vaule to the reader to take a few moments in order to look at the position at 33.Nc6 before proceeding.
John Lee Shaw