What to do *before* you make a move at chess

Last night I played a chess match for Cumnor 2, against a team from Witney.

I’m delighted to report that Cumnor 2’s team won (Liam Glenn will follow-up with a match report in due course), but it was no thanks to me.

Because sometimes I’m my own worst enemy at chess.

My problem is that I’ll think and think about a position, and then – suddenly – see a possibility. Rather than sit on my hands, I make the move, hit the clock and… ugh! already I can see before me the terrible decision I’ve made. I try to hide my self-loathing, but I suspect my poker-face is pretty lousy.

Take this position from last night, with me (White) to move.

White is about to make a terrible blunder...
White is about to make a terrible blunder…

My position as White isn’t exceptional, but I think it’s okay. But my next move proves disastrous.

12. B5 ???

What on EARTH was I thinking? Well, clearly I wasn’t thinking that I was removing the one piece that was protecting my black-squared Bishop. As soon as I made the move, I left the room to make myself a cup of tea (and bang my head against the wall)

My opponent was clearly baffled by the craziness of the move as well, spending some time looking at the position (from both sides of the board!) before deciding that there really *wasn’t* a trap, and that this *wasn’t* some devilish sacrifice on my part, and happily snaffling up the Bishop I had given away for free.

12. … QxC5

Oh dear. Things aren't looking so good now for White
Oh dear. Things aren’t looking so good now for White

You can tell how annoyed I am by my stupid stupid move, by the fact that I am prepared to humiliate myself on the net like this.

Naturally, my opponent went on to win the game. Well done to him.

Okay, so everyone can make a blunder – or miscalculate a position or come out the worse after a tactical sequence. But I can’t forgive myself for just giving pieces away on a plate like this.

What occurs to me is that I haven’t learnt (and by that I mean learnt and put into practice) the basics of what to do before you make a chess move.

“Sit on your hands,” was the advice of one of my teammates last night at the post mortem at the pub, later. And maybe that is good advice. Clearly I need to religiously put a checklist into operation before I make *any* move.

The internet came up with some suggestions which I’m reproducing below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what works for you, or whether you think I simply need a brain implant.

What to do before you play a chess move #1

Before playing a move, pay attention to the following :

  • Is some piece of mine undefended? If a few aren’t, then I should pay particular attention to them not being forkable, with anything (by a queen, mostly). If it is the case, I might decide playing something that makes the position safer.
  • Is my king safe enough? All checks my opponent can administer should be benign.
  • Is my move achieving something? Better have a wrong plan than no plan at all.
  • What move am I expecting my opponent to play? A handful of possible moves is fine, as long as it’s not “well, anything, basically”. Ideally, I see how neither of these moves are a problem to me.
  • Tactics : Often enough, there is about one square of interest on which both players’ pieces concentrate: is this square defended enough times, by the right pieces? (i.e. defending with a rook and a queen a pawn that my opponent attacks with light pieces is not going to help) Is the checkmate I am defending from still not working?

What to do before you play a chess move #2

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Which squares is this piece controlling now and which squares would it control from its new position?
  • Which pieces is it defending now and which pieces would it defend from its new position?
  • What are the various options for my opponent after I make this move?
  • How does this move fit into a longer term plan, or to put it another way, what purpose do I want it to serve?
  • How well is the piece protected in its new position? (Of course, this does not apply when I want to give up the piece.)

Over to you…

Do you have more suggestions or advice? I’d certainly like to hear it. And let’s hope I learn to put it into practice before my next match on Monday night.

Leave a comment below.

Published by

Graham Cluley

When he's not playing chess rather poorly for Cumnor Chess Club, Graham is normally talking a lot about computer security on his blog, or insisting people listen to his podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @gcluley.

4 thoughts on “What to do *before* you make a move at chess”

  1. Hey Graham, you’re being way to hard on yourself here. b5 suggested itself to me too. If he takes the pawn, you want to take back with the knight hitting the queen and perhaps landing on d6. I know it drops the bishop but we ALL make mistakes. Anyway, we should probably withhold active operations and play Nd2 or 0-0. Thanks for the post.

    1. You’re very kind Simon, but it was daft of me!

      (And yes, castling would have been a better option I reckon. Others have pointed out that I probably shouldn’t have extended my queenside pawns quite so far anyway)

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