Systemize your Thinking Process

  • GM arunabi
  • | Nov 21, 2011

 I've been wondering this for a long time. In games for which it looks like white's (or black's) pieces are attacking a weakness which is throughly defended, a strong comentator on the game will say white's pieces aren't active. An example is an endgame video I recently watched with white's rook on a6, knight on a5, pawn on b4, and blacks rook on c8, knight on d8 and a pawn weakness on c6. The commentator for this game says "White's knight isn't very active so he transfers it to a more useful square", but isn't the knight (and rook) both serving a good function by keeping blacks pieces tied down passively defending their pawn? I've seen examples like this in openings, middle games and endgames all of which there are equal attackers and defenders (or more defenders) but the attackers are considered "passive". Could you explain what I'm misunderstanding? Thank you.


Dear Reader,

You are right, in many cases the attacking side ties up the defending side's pieces, and he can maintain the pressure. But there are some exceptions as well. In the given position, White’s pieces are attacking the weak c6-pawn and Black’s pieces are tied up. When the commentator says “White's knight isn't very active so he transfers it to a more useful square,” there can be several reasons like

  1. When the weakness is over-protected (If the number of defenders is greater than the number of attackers, the defending side will have the option of taking one of his defenders away for other ideas)
  2. The weakness is defended well and there is no way to improve the position further, so he changes his plan. (In the given position if white cannot bring another piece to attack on c6 or he doesn’t have other plans)
  3. If the defending side is going to eliminate the weakness( In the given position if Black manages to play c5)
  4. The attacking side wants to create a second weakness for the defending side.


In the position you mentioned, the White knight was on a5 in the corner of the board. If white is not able to capture the c6-pawn then there is no use of knight being in the corner. Since white has a temporary advantage (permanent advantage means material advantage) it is necessary to play the right plan and gradually increase the advantage. If the pressure is neutralized then Black might equalize or sometimes create counter play as well.

As the saying goes “one weakness is not enough for a win, it is necessary to create a second weakness.” Imagine in the given position there is another weakness on the kingside for Black and he has to defend both weaknesses. White will keep shifting his attack from one weakness to another and Black will have a hard time defending it. In the process of creating a second weakness the attacking side must take care he doesn’t allow the defending side to eliminate his 1st weakness. One weakness sometimes is not enough to win because it is much easier for the defending side to defend the weakness.

This is really a fantastic question and I hope a lot of readers will benefit from reading the reply.


Hello GM,

Im 15 years old and have been playing chess for about 2. I consider myself an advanced player even though I dont have a rating yet (my performance in tournmants is about 1900-1950) and have been stuck at this level for about 1 year. I read a lot of books by famous authors (Kotov, Dvoretsky , Nimzovich ...etc)

but I cannot use the knowledge I get in practical play and I  think randomly during a chess game, I try to systemize my thinking process but I can't.

Can you give me an advice?


Dear Reader,

If you would have read Think like a Grand Master by Kotov, he has given several ideas about the thinking process during the game. It is important to discipline your calculation. Kotov says to calculate 3 candidate moves in any given position. Make sure you calculate all three lines before making a move-- this is really important and even several IM’s and GM’s very often do this mistake. It is simply because of the old advice "if you find a good move always look for a better one."

How to find those 3 candidate moves initially? Usually you get the feel of the position and know what to do in the given position, in other words intuition. Make sure before starting any calculation you select the candidate moves and then start going deeper into the variations. It is also important to complete a variation before starting to calculate another variation. These kind of disciplined calculations will help you a lot in the long run.

When Knight is there, fork is there. When Bishop is there, pin is there. When Rook is there, skewer is there. When Queen is there, double attack is there. My coach in my early days always used to tell this to me. After so many years of experience I now understand that, when you calculate in this manner you will be able to find many tactical blows hidden in the position.

Whatever knowledge you have make sure you understand it well.  For example:

1)      I will never create a pawn weakness.

2)      I will never expose my king.

3)      I will never leave my knight in the corner

These are some basic ideas you must follow when you play the game. Initially, know the rules, and as you get experienced you will know the exceptions as well.

Chess game can be divided into three stage

  1. Opening
  2. Middle game
  3. Endgame

Opening: Whatever opening you play, make sure you learn its basic ideas and plans. There is no use in memorizing moves without understanding them. Know the idea behind each and every move, when you prepare and train yourself this way, you will know what to do even when you face a new move.

Middlegame: There should be a game plan. When you study the opening make sure you learn the plan that has to be executed in the middlegame. You need to be tactically alert and make positionally sound decisions in executing your game plan.

Endgame: Forecast the type of ending you need to play from your middle game itself. If your pawn structure is worse, then it is not wise to play an ending, where you will either lose or make a draw after much suffering. Learn the basic endgame positions and you can easily relate them to the position you get over the board.     


I think your problem is you lack experience and I am sure when you get experienced you will start using the ideas you prepare. I would recommend you to play as many games as possible. This can be both tournament and friendly games. In the meantime make sure you keep improving your middle game and endgame skills. 


  • 20 months ago


    "The thought Process of Chess" by Wahres is good too.

  • 5 years ago


    i wish the author gave illustrations,e.g., a game or two with running commentaries. that way, the article would be easier to follow for us beginners.thanks.

  • 5 years ago



  • 5 years ago



  • 5 years ago


    So, could someone/people clarrify in a paragraph a good mindset or process to go through before moving - like a checklist - or am I being too simplistic?

  • 5 years ago


    @spottery2k - I enjoyed your comments about your learning methods. However, the only thing that the Fool's Mate and Scholar's Mate prove is that *if* my opponent makes a terrible blunder, I *might* be able to checkmate him in 6 moves or less.

    When grandmasters play, the games rarely last less than 20 moves (unless they're feeling very passive and just want a draw) because the white and black armies start on an equal footing, and GM errors are usually small enough to prevent a quick win by the opponent.

    Even a patzer like me can last over 40 moves against a grandmaster in a simultaneous exhibition. I've done it twice. I lost both times in the end, of course. :)

    Perhaps I misinterpreted your intent, though. If you meant "I have to be careful to watch for my opponent's threats, because if I blunder I might get checkmated in a few moves," then I would agree wholeheartedly.

    I love your picture with the little one, btw.

  • 5 years ago


    There's a lot of great advise here, most of which I'm familiar, but I'll offer my advise for what its worth. I've only been learning the game for about a year and a half, but here are the things that have helped me. First, in addition to playing a lot of games I also drill myself on timed puzzles (mate in 2-3, forks, skewers, pins, etc...) to develop my instincts. Also I follow the basic philosophy outlined in Yasser Seirwan's Playing Winning Chess. Understanding all the principles and exceptions is important to get past beginner status, but excelling at the game has less to do with wondering which principle-exception to follow from one move to the next than it does observing the whole board in terms of 4 basic overlapping principles:

    1. Force - maintaining control and finding ways to limit the opponents options.

    2. Time - Every move counts. Opponents have little choice but to respond to checks on their king or queen, and therefore prevent them from developing before you do.

    3. Space - Are each of your pieces defending/attacking as many squares as possible?

    4. Pawn Structure - The soul of chess. Determines the tactics and strategies that will be available to you and your opponent.

    On a final note, I developed on my own the understanding that at no point in any game is either player more than 6 moves from checkmate. I don't know that for certain, but its based on the same principle known as 6-degrees of separation (ala Kevin Bacon). Fool's mate and School's mate prove this with wins in the first 4 moves; therefore, any game exceeding 20 moves means someone missed a grand opportunity. Such games require careful review.

  • 5 years ago


    good and important.

  • 5 years ago


    The controversial "Squares Strategy" by A. Bangiev is an attempt to explain some of chess's deeper concepts and how to apply them to practical maneuvering. If you decide to take the journey, it's a lot of complex and confussing reading, which you'll have to edit and practice to understand basic "squares first then maneuvers," thinking process presented; also, If you don't have a understanding of equilibrium and positional qualities you may not get much out of this chess study to add to your chess thinking skills. This should start a healthy discussion about chess thinking skill.

  • 5 years ago


    thanks for the ideas.

  • 5 years ago


    Thank you for this article. I found this and some of the responses very helpful.

  • 5 years ago


    a very helpful one .. 

  • 5 years ago


    very helpful, thx

  • 5 years ago


    I got a lot out of this article, particularly your tips about better organizing your thought process.  Thanks!

  • 5 years ago


    Dan heisman's book The Improving Chess Thinker gives a lot of information about the thinkprocess by each level of play. I just finisched it. And there a lot of tips to improve your chessthinking. my problem was that I did not think systematic at all. by reading the book I do now 1."scan" the position 2. find candicates 3.make the move. Sounds very natural of course, but: to find the candidates I do now judge the move. is it atacking? is it make my position better? Do I defend now. or worst, do I play Hopechess (just play a move and hope that it will be ok) I try to make a move with it does attack, position, defending. check on hopechess. And if I have that move, I 'll try to find a better. On the club I draw a 1600 and almost won a 1900 player. (my rating is 1400) since I just try this system of thinking.

  • 5 years ago


    Great article!

  • 5 years ago


    Hmmm! I have to think about this for awhile to understand and remember. Very good. Thank you.
  • 5 years ago


    Very good points!!! Thanks for the article!

  • 5 years ago


    yes good article

    just a quetion for exmaple 1e4

    we know that black respence is 1....c5 sécilien 1....e6 french 1....c6 kharo can 1....g6 robach 1....d5 scandinavien 1....Nf6 alekhine.

    we see karpove and anad play alekhine in black.and sécilien.

    do you find that the sécilien has some weaknes like in shvennigen karpov vs kasparov  chopion chip 1984 ?

    The other quetion is about the dragon B70 do find some weknes in king side safeter h4.

    other quetion:

    in sécilien closed 1e4 c5 2 Nc3 and here do finc some weakness in black position after 3f4? (karpove choice is 3 g3? WHY)

    what about the anticélien like slim bouaziz vs anand in 1990 1-0 why anad lose??


  • 5 years ago



    try reading Silman's How to Reassess your Chess. He provides you with techniques that allow you to evaluate the position instead of just calculating more or less random lines. Once you master the method of assessing imbalances and some additional things (e.g. visiualizing dream positions) you should more easily be able to choose proper candidate moves. And as far as discovering something flawed with your plan, there must have been a reason for you wanting to move the piece in the first place, so maybe you should go back and see if you could somehow obtain your initial goal based on maneuvering some other pieces first...

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