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Article - What's the Point of My Opponent's Move?

Patrick_Y_Huang

If you want to improve to the next level, you have to realize that chess is a two-player game. It's impossible to win if you just sit there and make your moves; you have to consider what your opponent plays, and act (or react) accordingly. This principle is one of the biggest differences between beginner and a master.

How do you act/react to your opponent's moves then? It's actually quite simple. After your opponent plays his move, your first thought should always be, "Why did my opponent play that move?" Your opponent is not dumb. They are just as smart as you. Every move of theirs has a point - whether that be to attack your pieces, to improve their position, or maybe they don't know what they're doing and they don't want to lose on time. If you want to become better at chess, you have to think about why your opponent played the move that they played. 

Let's take a look at some examples:

In that first example, we saw a very clear (and common) example. White failed to anticipate the reasoning behind Black's move, and consequently got their queen trapped. If they had seen the threat, White would've been able to prevent it.

Obviously, not every move by your opponent will be as immediate as the previous example. With that in mind, let's take a look at a move where the point might not be immediately obvious, or with immediate consequences.

In this example, White makes a move that doesn't make an immediate threat. Instead, they have a plan: to push all the pawns up the kingside. And Black helps White achieve their plan, by placing their bishop in front of the pawns, free to be attacked.  You never want to help your opponent achieve their plan. You either a) stop their plan, or b) continue with your own plan (if your plan is faster than theirs). 

As we're here in this position, I'd also like to note that the computer actually thinks ...Bg4 is fine. I disagree. While it may not be a concrete mistake, it allows White to proceed exactly like they wanted to, and wastes valuable time for Black. The computer playing perfectly might be able to defend against that attack, but most people will be miserable in that position. Don't trust everything the computer says; it's just a useful tool. In this case, trust your brain and your instincts. Would you want to be Black, defending against that attack?

Moving on to the third example: Occasionally, your opponent just has no idea what they're doing. They have no plan, and their move has no point. You should never be that opponent; never play a move with no point. That's like playing soccer, but your entire team is blindfolded and they can't see the net. If your opponent makes a move like that, proceed with whatever you want to do. Follow your plan, improve your position, and get ready to attack. 

For the fourth and final example, let's take a look at a multi-purpose move. If an opponent's move has multiple points, then it's hard to figure out why your opponent played this move. These are the best moves, and they often contain multiple benefits. As a chess player, you want to play these moves, and you want to watch out and be extra careful if your opponent plays these moves. 

Tricky! Now here's a puzzle, based on the concept of "Why did my opponent play this move?" It's very difficult, and there are dozens of variations to calculate. If you solve it, post a comment here, or send me a private message! There's no "perfect" solution, so as long as the move you give me doesn't lose immediately, I'll count it as a pass. The first person to solve it will receive bragging rights, and my admiration. I know, it's a great prize.