Techniques to Calculate Better, Part 3: Comparison

In my previous articles in this series I have shown how orderly and logical thinking is fundamental to improving chess calculation. Good moves aren’t found by “magic” nor whispered mysteriously into the brains of the best players in the world. These moves are the result of a logical sequence of reasoning, which might be accomplished naturally by the most talented players in the world. For the rest of us mortals there are techniques to achieve this.

Chess is a sport with a lot of art and some science. From the scientific point of view, logical thinking is analytical (divides reasoning into parts), rational (follows rules) and sequential (linear, goes step by step). In this context, the comparison is one of the most powerful resources to reach conclusions, in science and in chess.

Making comparisons is a particularly important technique to help understand chess. We use it either consciously or unconsciously in all three phases of the game, and it’s especially important for understanding the openings. In another article I will talk more about this, however the question I want to answer now is this: How does comparison help me to calculate better?

There are intricate and complex positions in which two moves seem similar and only a correct process of comparison allows us to reach the correct conclusion. Here is an example of this:

As we can see in this example, when we need to decide between two or more moves that look similar and we find ourselves confused, we can calculate further and then try to make a comparison between the different resulting positions. When you get to the end of a variation a good question to ask is: Where do I prefer this piece? Once you find the answer you should return to the starting position and then apply the move. I believe that with this method you will be able to solve the following more complex exercise:

Readers who have followed this series of articles are likely to ask why I have one again chosen a pawn endgame? First, I would like to explain that they are all my own creations, and it is not just an accident that many of the positions I choose as examples are pawn endgames. Actually the endgames have a stigma of being boring but, in truth, endgames are full of calculation. One piece of evidence that indicates this is that GM Shirov once said that he liked to play games to the ending because then he could show one of his greatest strength; calculation. Now returning to the position in the diagram we can see that Black has something similar to an “outside passed pawn” and after the elimination of the pawns of the kingside Black arrive first into the queenside to take the White pawns. For his part White aspires to achieve a draw and for this he only has two serious candidates. He needs to look at either 1.a3 or 1.a4 since 1.f6 + loses valuable time and White is totally lost (again I encourage you to check this blindly). Meanwhile 1. Kg4 is the same.

Exercise: Using the comparison method find the move that achieves a draw.

In short, the comparison method is used when we have to make a decision in the present that will get us to the same final position with a small difference depending on which move we choose. Then we directly put ourselves in the final position and we ask: What do I prefer in this position? It may seem like an insignificant detail when we’re analyzing, but chess is full of details. As the great Sherlock Holmes would say: “It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are by far the most important”. Isn’t that so, my dear Watson?

Andres Guerrero


Techniques to Calculate Better: Part II

As explained in the first part of this series it is only necessary to calculate in positions where there are forced variations and the possibilities are limited. It is impossible to calculate when the possibilities are unlimited.

In these situations the first logical step is to select a series of candidate moves, so we can immediately conclude that in order to calculate well we need to select good candidates moves. This process is extremely important and there are techniques that will help you to improve it.

One of the first authors discuss the idea of candidates moves was Alexander Kotov, in his famous book Think Like a Grandmaster. However Kotov proposed creating a complicated tree of variations, which is inefficient. I believe that in chess there are no ready made recipes, and instead it is orderly and logical thought that will lead us to success.

Many times in order to find good candidates we need to have good candidate ideas. These candidate ideas will lead to a limited number of candidates, and only the analysis of these will allow us to know if it is necessary to find new candidates. A concrete example will serve to clarify all this:

Choosing candidate moves correctly is the basis for success in calculation, however the correct move in a particular position will not always be among the first candidate move that we will analyze. Even the strongest GMs don’t achieve this all the time, sometimes it is necessary to expand the number of candidate ideas and moves.

This statement raises the question about when is the time to expand the candidates? As I said earlier there are no exact recipes or algorithms when calculating, but I can tell you a series of recommendations: First you must select very few candidates. Sometimes it is enough to select a single move since the best move in the position may be obvious, or so it seems. Most of the time we choose 2 or 3 moves to consider, and very rarely more than that. In principle we should limit ourselves to a serious analysis of these chosen alternatives. Many times, through this analysis we are going to conclude that one of these alternatives is the best, but it is also possible that we will not reach a definitive conclusion. When we intuitively feel that in the position we can achieve more than what we have found by calculating the first candidate move, we must stop concrete analysis for a moment and take a fresh look at the position, without any preconceived idea, and ask ourselves: Are there other options? Is there something that I’m missing? Are there other candidate moves? This way we will find the hidden resources of the position. Here is a very simple example of this:

Successfully selecting the candidate moves is the basis of any good chess calculation. Meanwhile expanding the candidate moves is a very important technique to calculate correctly, since there are positions where the winning or saving resource is hidden. The difficult thing is not the concrete calculation of moves but the finding of this resource. Once found, calculating it will not take much time.

Andres Guerrero


Techniques To Calculate Better: Part 1

This will be the first in a series of articles in which I will present several techniques to improve the calculation of variants.

First of all I would like to answer the question that many students ask me: When is it the time to calculate? In general there is no exact answer to this question, however I will try to answer it: The necessity to calculate appears mainly when there are forced variations, when our move gives a limited number of options to opponent and vice versa. The best example of this is the check, if on the other hand our move isn’t a check, or a threat, or a capture, surely the opponent will have a wide variety of possible answers. In this case calculation is likely to be inefficient, will lead to fatigue and will not lead us to any important conclusion,

Here I will present two examples of when to calculate and when not to calculate:

The next technique I want to teach you about calculation is this; before you calculate in depth, review the first moves.

Many times we lose a lot of time and energy calculating variants in depth and we do not realize there is an unexpected resource (our own or that of our opponent) in the very first move, and this makes the rest of the calculation unnecessary. That is why it is very important to have the habit to review the first move and verify that there nothing we have forgotten. The following position is a continuation of the previous example and a good example of this:

The next important aspect directly related to reviewing the first moves is based on expanding the number of candidate moves. This will be the subject that we will examine in the next post.

Here the solutions to the exercises in my last article:

Andres Guerrero


Intermediate Moves: An Important Resource

The intermediate move (also called an in between move, intermezzo or zwischenzug) is an important tactical rsource. It appears in many chess games, either on the board or in calculations of players, and the idea is very simple. It is an unexpected movement that interrupts an apparently forced tactical sequence and changes the outcome of the game.

Here are a couple of examples:

This next position shows some characteristics which make intermediate moves possible: unprotected pieces and a check in the middle of a sequence:

While it is rare to see a GM oversight because of an intermediate move, it is really common to see beginners games where they overlook this resource. Here are 2 more examples taken from the practice of my students where an intermediate move decides the game:

Here are some tips for recognizing intermediate moves:

• Look for threats of mate (example 2), attacks on the queen and checks (examples 1 and 4). These are very common ways examples of intermediate moves and need to be examined.

• If, in the middle of a combination, both players are left with a threatened piece of equal value, sacrificing it can be a form of intermediate move (example 3).

• It is important to take into account the possibility of a counter by our opponent. (Example 2)

Here I leave you with 3 exercises of intermediate moves and will show you the solutions next time:

Andres Guerrero