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Some simple tweaks to improve your chess game

By Torbjørn Ringdal Hansen

Just think about it: How often do you lose because your opponent played brilliantly?

I would guess that most of your losses happen because you didn’t do what you are supposed to do during a game. By making a few adjustments, I’m sure you can improve your game considerably.

I have played so many games of chess, and you won’t believe how many stupid moves I have done. What I eventually realized was that I have to be a bit strict about my thought process when playing.

If you manage to follow these steps during a game, I am pretty sure you will improve your game.

Step 1: When it’s your opponent’s turn
Avoid calculating too much! It’s important to save energy for when it matters, so I suggest you try to focus on ideas and plans instead. This means that when your opponent finally moves, you are armed with ideas.

Step 2: When your opponent moves
Ask yourself why precisely that specific move was chosen! This is the first step to avoid making silly mistakes. Sometimes you’ll realize that your opponent’s move didn’t come with a threat, which means you can go ahead with your plan. And yes, if your opponent has created a threat, you'd better be ready to do something about it. Your opponent’s threats should ideally be prevented while you are doing something positive to your position as well. This last point is something many forget.

Step 3: While you’re thinking
This is where you do the hard work - you need to switch on your brain.

  • Always see if there is a direct win! By making this routine, you will most likely start spotting tactics you may have missed earlier.
  • Ask yourself: Who benefits from quiet play? Typically one of the players benefits from keeping it slow, while the other wants to keep the pace up. What does this mean for the position you have in front of you?
  • When calculating variations, stick to one line at a time! The usual problem is that players jump back and forth between variations lines when they experience a few obstacles.
  • Unless you want to lose on time, you have to be practical when it comes to the decision-making. This means you sometimes have to decide without having calculated everything to the very end. Most of us play poorly in time trouble, so you should avoid getting too low on time. Trust your intuition!
  • Are you in trouble? Fight! Most players, I included, collapse way too quickly!

Step 4: Before you move
Before you move, you should always have an opinion on how your opponent should respond. When your opponent’s move comes as a surprise, it might be because it’s bad, but another explanation might be that you didn’t do enough to predict what was about to happen. The latter means you are in trouble!

I have feeling that these small tweaks will improve your play. My problem is that I keep on forgetting them. Usually, the position in front of me is so exciting that I forget about being rational. I still think it’s a good list though!

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Photo by Lisa Meinen