One of my students, who read through my last piece here at the Chess Improver, mentioned that I had not brought up a teaching method I used for calculation training. Chess comes down to thinking ahead and having the ability to do so! All the strategic and tactical skills in the world won’t help you if you can’t see into the future of the game. The method I used to teach thinking ahead was born from a book that taught beginners how to think three moves ahead in chess. I’m going to introduce you to the idea this week because it will greatly improve your ability to create tactical combinations. Next week, we will finish going through our game. What do I mean by thinking three moves ahead in chess?
You make a move, your opponent makes a move, and then you make a move. Of course, it’s not that easy! If you just made a move, and after your opponent made a move, you made a random third move, you’d be playing a terrible game of chess! While thinking three moves ahead in chess seems simple enough, compared to thinking five or six moves ahead, it is extremely difficult for the beginner. Trying to decide on a single move is tough for the chess novice. Trying to come up with three moves seems out of the beginners skill set. Besides, doesn’t the beginner only have to come up with two moves, since one of three is made by their opponent?
That is the core of the problem facing beginners in terms of calculation skills. That, and wishful thinking. Beginners tend to put little thought into their opponents move when they first start learning the game. They suffer from a bad case of wishful thinking. What do I mean by wishful thinking? A beginner will see an opportunity to make a move that does something big, such as win material or deliver checkmate. However, to achieve these goals, the beginner will need to make two moves. They think that after they make their first move, their opponent will simply make some random move that allows the beginners second move to deliver the winning blow. In other words, the beginner thinks “I’ll make this great move, my opponent will make a really bad move that allows me to make my brilliant, winning move.” This is wishful thinking and it has no place in the game of chess!
I believe that the biggest problem beginners have is that they don’t really consider moves their opponent can make in response to the beginners move. This is the core idea behind thinking three moves ahead. So how do you do this? You play both sides of the board. You pretend to play your opponents side of the board when considering your own moves. Here’s how thinking three moves ahead works:
Let’s say you’re playing White. The first step is to come up with three possible candidate moves. I suggest three candidate moves because there is a difference between good moves and great moves: Good moves are just that, moves that help you. Great moves are game changers that can greatly tip the balance of the game in your favor. If you play the first move you see, it might be a good move or it might not. If you have a choice of three possible moves, you’re forcing yourself to look at the game position in greater detail, which is what strong chess players do. You compare those three moves to one another, noting their pros and cons.
However, even coming up with three candidate moves and then making one of them is pointless unless you consider what your opponent will do in response to that move. This is the key to thinking ahead. After you come up with three possible moves, you need to consider your opponents best response. As White, you would look at Blacks position as if you were playing the Black side of the board. As Black, what would you do in response to each of White’s candidate moves? Now, you try to come up with three candidate moves for Black!
By playing through your opponents best responses to your candidate moves you’ll be better able to determine the merits of your move choices. You will start to develop your positional analysis skills and discover both strengths and weaknesses within your position and that of your opponent. See the position from your opponent’s side of the board will greatly help you determine whether your candidate moves have any merit. There’s one more step in this process.
You might be thinking that “my opponent can make an endless number of move responses. How can I possibly find the move my opponent is going to make?” Use the games principles to guide you. If you are playing through the opening phase of the game, your opponent is probably going to employ the opening principles such as developing their minor pieces towards the center. If you’re in the middle-game, look for possible tactics your opponent can set up and use against you. Use the games principles to guide you.
After you’ve worked through each of your opponents responses to your candidate moves, you have to consider your response, the third move in thinking ahead three moves. Make sure you opponents moves are the strongest moves you can come up with! This last move by your opponent is easier to deduce than you might think! If you have come up with three candidate moves for your opponent, choose the one that is most in line with principled play. That is most likely the move your opponent will make! However, think about the other two opposition moves and see if you can come up with a third move for yourself that also helps stop those moves as well. While you cannot stop three move ideas at once, you can make a forceful move that requires your opponent to only deal with that move. An example would be a tactic, such as a fork, pin or skewer or a check.
What do you do if your opponent makes some off the wall, odd looking move that seems to do nothing constructive? First, examine it closely to make sure it isn’t a trick or trap. Many beginners have lost games because they ignored a move that didn’t seem to be based in a game principle. If you can’t find any merit to that move, come up candidate moves that employ a game principle appropriate to the game phase you are in.
Next week, we’ll go through the game we’ve been working through in earlier articles. Until then, I want you to try employing the idea of thinking three moves ahead. If you use this method, you’ll be surprised a lot less by your opponent and play better chess. Here’s a game to enjoy until then!