Making a Choice

Making a Choice

WGM Natalia_Pogonina
Oct 25, 2011, 12:00 AM |
43 | Strategy

During a game each of us has to make choices. In some positions the choice is limited to a single playable continuation, but in most situations we have to consider a few alternatives. If there are many options, this process becomes a real challenge. Chess engines rely on brute force and calculate millions of variations per second, while we, humans, don’t have the same processing power. However, we can rely on our knowledge and intuition. Let’s review the process of making a decision over the board.

At some point you get out of book and start playing on your own. The position can either have a general or a precise character. In the first case there are many playable alternatives. In the second you have to dance on the edge of a cliff and choose each move very accurately. Therefore, in the latter case the level of responsibility is much higher. To find the best move, you have to understand the position well. That involves seeing the potential plans for both you and the opponent. However, some positions are so complicated that even a correct evaluation isn’t enough for making the right choice. Also, time is a factor, and we don’t always have enough of this precious resource to study the position in detail. That’s why intuition and experience come into play: strong masters often see the right move straight away, without analyzing the position thoroughly. It is hard to underestimate the importance of having a developed intuition. One can’t become a top player if one relies on calculation alone. Our mind can’t consider all the moves (unlike a computer), so there will be lots of mistakes, unless something more guides us. To improve your intuition, you have to develop as a person, gain experience and trust yourself.

The step-by-step process of choosing a move (unless there is only one reply possible) looks like this. Let’s say your opponent has just played his move. Your actions:

1. Memorize the idea that jumped to your mind right away. That’s what your intuition is telling you. If you feel really confident that it’s the right option, go ahead and make the move. If not, proceed to step 2.

2. Take a look at the board from your opponent’s perspective. What is he threatening? If you adopt this prophylactic thinking, you will both choose better moves yourself and avoid terrible blunders.

3. Evaluate the position. You should decide what transformations are favorable for you; where your pieces should go. Once you find the right plan, it will often be easier to make the next few moves.

4. Calculate. First of all, check the move that your intuition suggested. Then, depending on the situation, either calculate the most obvious replies (e.g. accepting a sacrifice), or determine the candidate moves and review them one after the other.

This is an approximate mechanism. Different chess players might be applying different modifications of the procedure. Also, depending on the nature of the position and the amount of time, some stages can be skipped.

Today I will show you my game vs IM Anastasia Bodnaruk from the latest EuroCup.


Anastasia didn’t take advantage of my wrong continuation on move 14, and then she herself committed serious errors on moves 19 and 20. White’s exchange sacrifice was natural and efficient. Black had to play very accurately, while White wasn’t at risk at all.

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