Are you able to evaluate your position objectively?
David Lapetina, Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)

Are you able to evaluate your position objectively?

Dec 31, 2017, 2:32 AM |

Being an amateur player, can you assess the situation on the board correctly? If not, how can we improve our evaluation?

Evaluating a position is of course important. If you think you are losing, you tend to look for other solutions than if you think you are winning.

Jeremy Silman wrote about looking for loose pieces the other day, and suggested we try that on our own recent games. I got inspired enough to do a more thorough test: Evaluate the position on the board after my opponent's 10th move in my last 10 classical games OTB; including looking for loose pieces.

The result? I systematically underestimated my own position, according to Stockfish on 25 ply. On average, my evaluation was off by a quarter of a pawn. This exercise gave me a couple of hours of actual evaluation of positions I have played - which is most likely a better training method than playing bullet (to me, anyway).

I picked the 10th move by chance; long enough in the game to have some action going on, not too late for any major blunders (usually) to have appeared. For a 1600+ player like me (FIDE rating), they do occur too often. 

Let me share with you a game where I was far off in my own evaluation. The game itself may not be that interesting to others, but it can serve as an example of how us club players can train based on our own games:

The position to evaluate for training purposes here is 10...Qc7. The point is not to find a winning move, but to assess the situation.

These are my notes:

Material: Equal.

Pawn structure: White has a  majority on the queenside, but lacks a center pawn. The pawn on c4 is a nuisance for Black's pawn on b7. Both players have fianchettoed on the kingside.

King safety: Both sides have castled short, with an equal position.

Hanging pieces: White: The pawn on c4, the rook on a1. Black: The rook on a8, the queen on c7.

Activity/space/development (I find it hard to really distinguish between these factors, though they sometimes may differ widely): White's knight on d6 dominates the board. The pawn on c4 also gives White some more space than Black. I find both to be dynamic, temporary plusses.

Lines and squares: White has a half open d file with serious pressure. Black has a half open c linje. Black controls the long diagonal a1-h8, White a8-h1. The d file is the main point of this position.

My evaluation: White has a clear advantage due to the knight on d6, with possible play against the queen on c7 as well. White ahead by 0.9.

Stockfish: White is winning. +1.7.


So, in this case - if I thought I was actually winning and not just better, would I have found something better than my next move? Not sure. But I on one hand knew the knight was fantastic on d6, yet I did not appreciate just how important it was to solidify it.

Interesting point is that even though the knight disappeared from d6, the weakness of the d7 pawn basically decided the game in the end.

You can read a long post by a far better player than me on evaluating a position here. You can also find an old Silman post on evaluating the position on this page.

If you have thoughts on how to evaluate your own positions as a training tool in order to become a better player, I would be happy if you shared them in the comments section.