Your tactical thought process?


The order in which we examine candidate moves can have a huge impact on how quickly (if ever) we solve a tactical positions. Some suggest ordering our candidate moves based on our intuition. Others suggest analyzing the most forcing moves (checks, mate threats, captures, other threats), first--that's the method I currently use.

Either way, if you begin with the wrong candidates you may end up calculating 7-ply down thirteen branches, before realizing the solution is only 5-ply down another...

How do others handle this dilemma?


I am trying to change from Intuition (in my case: guessing) to  Forcing moves


I tend to look at forcing moves, and also moves that I'd like to play, but don't work for some reason.  Sometimes the reason they don't work can be the key to finding a good move which makes them work.


I think consistently examining forcing moves has helped me avoid blunders and find wins more often than the intuitive method. But some positions, like the above, unravel very slowly. Starting with checks, then captures, then threats it takes me a full 2-3 minutes to find the solution. That really bothers me.

Below is a position that I see instantly--but I imagine someone who doesn't see could spend awhile pursuing checks (six!) then captures then threats:


The first thing that jumped out at me was the weak bishop. It is a bit soft because it is only protected by one piece on the initial move. Because of the rook being the only logical recapture piece, we start to recognize the back rank weakness when we move the rook out of the way. After the initial kernel of weakness, it's just a matter of calculating out a few lines. The position is forcing in nature, so Re1 comes pretty rapidly.


I change between puzzles and games.  With games, I miss all sorts of oportunities thinking along confused and vague lines, back and forth between forced and waiting moves.  With puzzles, a solution is presumed, and I tend to look for the forced.  Having said that, the 1st position took me awhile to see what actually worked.    The 2nd almost makes your point better.  I, too, saw it instantly, but over the board I might have missed it going for myopic checks.


The first time I talked to you on this site was when you messaged me about 18 months ago, asking me how I found a win in a complicated endgame. I remember my response was something pretty lame along the lines of 'Hmmm... I don't know, I guess it was just intuition.'

All this time later, I am still pretty hazy on what the heck is going on. However, if I had to guess, I would say that I am calculating. I think most of this calculation is done very quickly and somewhat subconsciously, though. When I make a quick analysis of a position that I explain as 'intuition,' I think maybe I am just calculating a bunch of positional dictata very quickly.


In a game its tougher to find the tactical combination, so I have started to use Stillman's technique (from Reassess your chess) which says don't even bother calculating till you see 1) open or weakened king 2) undefended piece, or 3) inadequately protected piece. For puzzles I look for en prise pieces in complicated positions, forced moves, and think twice about moves that seem too obvious. After I spot the weakness I calculate.


Interesting post. I try and look at patterns (Knight forks, pieces on same diagnal) and then look for loose and unprotected pieces. After this i look for checks or moves to open up lines in front of the King. It is much easier doing this solving problems than in ones own games. A common fault I have in my own games is i get so involved at looking at my own concepts i forget my opponent can do the same and I often fall into positions where I have these same tactics applied to me.

The whole concept of how we look at a board and consider moves in a very interesting topic with many good books written on it


I’m in agreement with aansel. I think all combinations have a motif. By looking for the following every move I can determine if it’s possible a combination may lurking in the position. If there’s no basis for a combination you can’t make one happen and only then look for a plan based on strategical factors. The "plan" may be nothing more than a short maneuver designed to locate a piece to a better square.

1. Board scan of ranks, files and diagonals after opponent moves and before I move.

2. Look at all checks.

3. Undefended pieces.

4. Pins and forks.

5. Pieces that do not have "escape" squares.

6. Look for masked pieces.

7. Briefly look at bizarre and surprising moves -Sacrifices -Pawn breaks -Obviously unplayable moves


good thread

i first try to figure who is the attacking and who the defender.

@ Odie_Spud what are masked pieces?


"Hmm... This move looks like it will take a long time to figure out a response to. Hopefully I can claim a win on time."

Nah, thats not really it. I agree with the looking for weaknesses and then ways to exploit them.


Odie_Spud: Not all sacrifices are un-playable. Many great masters sacrifice material in order to gain an advantage in position or a powerful attack.

I usually look at forcing moves first, because those moves are what is necessary to make a good combination successful. (I always look for combinations in my games!) If I can't find any, then I look at the board and see what tactics or strategies I can exploit. Sometimes, a tactic such as a Knight fork may seem impossible to accomplish because of a certain defending piece. When this occurs, I try to move the piece out of the way, if I can:

So White sacrifices a Queen for one move, and thus creates the posiiton neccesary for the tactic. For the most part, attackers will have to create the combinations in a game. They usually won't fall into your lap.

If no combinations, tactics, or other forcing moves are possible, then I look at the board from my opponent's perspective and try to visualise what move I would not want to see were I in his position. Then, I play it! (Sidenote: these are my tactical thought processes only. Since I am a mostly positional player, more thoughts than these are running through my head during a game. Another good thing is to try to anticipate your opponent's tactical abilities so that you can neutralize them as the game progresses.)


Likesforest: you are quite right. I did not see instantly. i think my problem is seeing the major piece first, minor piece next. or perhaps seeing the trees instead of the forest.


@ Odie_Spud what are masked pieces?

When a piece of lesser value would attack a piece of greater value, but for the moment does not, because there are pieces standing between them. Say you have a R on a file opposite your opponent’s Q but there are pieces in between that prevent you from capturing it with your R. The R’s attack on the Q is masked by the pieces in between. You’d want to look to see if there’s a way to eliminate those pieces in between, say with a check or an attack on another piece so that you could win the Q, or if it moves away win some other material or otherwise inflict some kind of damage on his position. These tactics are often missed because it’s not a direct threat and there are pieces shielding the piece of greater value, so it looks safe.

Odie_Spud: Not all sacrifices are un-playable. Many great masters sacrifice material in order to gain an advantage in position or a powerful attack.

I agree. That would come under number 7, so I have taken that into account. Even a positional sacrifice has to be based on creating some kind of weakness in an opponent’s position does it not?


My recommendation to myself (necessary, because of the number of times I don't do this and blunder-away a winning game):

i) With experience, comes the ability to recognize board patterns, weaknesses (yours & the opponent's), and possible moves. By experience I mean not just the number of games you play, but the amount of thought you put into it - absorbing the essence of your own analysis.

The more experiene you have, the more you see and the quicker you see. "Intuition" is, in a way, a "quick route to seeing something" - based on that experience (could also call it pattern recognition - but that is probably imprecise).

ii) Back your experience. Consciously try to recognize known elements on the board.

iii) Consciously look for weaknesses in the position (both yours & the opponent's).

** why "consciously"? I can't remember the number of times I played the first/last move that came to my mind and went grumpy for days!

iv) Only then, look for possible moves. If you can't find a good one in the first 3 moves that come to your mind (based on ii & iii above), only then look for others.

A minor dilemma: What if you found a good/winning move? Won't you keep looking for a better move (for a quicker / more beautiful way to win)? Won't that take more time too?

For now, this will probably have to do for me. But I will keep an open mind to refine the process, I guess.Smile


"When you see a good move, you must sit on your hands and look for a better one." - Emmanuel Lasker.

Good advice.


I agree with looking for forcing moves but I also like to speed up my thinking by trying to work out when my position looks tactical. If it doesn't I don't bother with calculation but just play a move that looks good.

For example in the first diagram White's king is obviously in trouble because the enemy queen is close so as black I would take time to calculate.

Even then I wouldn't go through every forcing move. For example in the second diagram I would notice that the Queen is vulnerable on the King's diagonal. That means the likely win is the Bishop pin and I would only have to check moves that helped that aim.

Thats why I prefer an intuitive method to calculation, as it helps you solve tactics more efficiently in timed games, and you can usually be sure of not missing something blatant


For me it's all about looking for patterns & yes, I analyze forcing moves first.  If there are no forcing moves I will go with what my intuition tells me to calculate first.

BTW, what's the answer to the first problem (in the opening post)?


My tactical thought process is usually pretty short: "oops."