Thinking Protocols

I’ve often seen thinking protocols recommended as a way of playing better chess. So when a player has to decide upon a move he’ll go through a kind of organized internal dialogue.

The best known example is the so called Blumenfeld rule which suggested that before you play a move you write it down (which these days is illegal) and then look at the position through the eyes of a patzer. I once experimented with this approach but found that my thinking lost its ‘flow’.

What probably happened was that a too great an emphasis was then placed on the ‘thinking’ part of the brain which is not how the truly strong decide on their moves. There is an increasing amount of evidence to suggest chess strength is really down to superior pattern recognition, which throws forward the moves that should be considered without any ‘thinking’ at all.

On the other hand my growing experience with junior chess suggests that the internalization of some simple and highly streamlined protocols might be very useful. Strong players seem to have these deeply embedded in their minds, automatically considering what their opponents want to do and checking to see if they have a better move. But youngsters don’t seem to have this, at least not early on. So some structured guidance could be very useful.

I would suggest keeping it as simple as possible, for example by just two little questions. Immediately after your opponent’s move it’s good to ask yourself what the threat is. And just before your own move ask yourself if there’s something better.

By keeping these short and simple they shouldn’t get in the way too much and should soon be established as a habit. And once that’s done the number of errors made should diminish.