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Tips to help you think better at chess – and elsewhere.

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Here are some thinking tips to help make you a better chess player.  Funnily enough the same approaches can be very helpful in other walks of life too.

  1.  Develop your pieces.  At the start of the game don’t move the same piece several times or launch a premature attack with just one or two pieces.  This rarely works. Use each move to develop another piece and put it on a strong square.  Get your knights and bishops out to guard your centre.  Castle and then centralise your rooks.
  2. Have a plan.  Once you reach the middle game when the pieces are developed then you should not shuffle them aimlessly.  You need a plan.  Building an attack on the enemy king is often a sound strategy.  Use pawns with rooks behind them to break up the defence of your opponent’s king.  You might plan a push on the kingside, the queenside or in the centre.  In every case it is better to have a plan than no plan.  Of course you might have to change your plan depending on what your opponent does.
  3. Ask yourself, ‘Why did my opponent play that last move?’ Sometimes we become so focussed on our own plans that we overlook a winning manoeuvre by our opponent.  If they play an unexpected move there is probably a good reason for it, so check out their threats as well as developing your own.
  4. Look for a strong move and then look for a better one.  At speed chess all you need is a strong move, especially one that makes a threat (say to win material).  However, in a serious match played over an extended period then you should pause after you have thought of a good move.  Don’t play it straight away.  Try to find an even better one.
  5. Develop or exchange your weakest piece.  If you do not know what to do in a static position then ask yourself how hard is each piece working.  If you have a piece that is not guarding or threatening anything then bring it into a stronger position.  If you opponent has a piece in a strong position then try to drive it away or exchange it.
  6. In complex positions look for tactical tricks.  Calculate the main lines and then look to see if there is a clever sacrifice or manoeuvre which gains an advantage.  Always consider checks and threats against the enemy king first as they are the most forcing moves.
  7. Do not ease up when you get ahead.   If you win a piece say, then there is a temptation to play safe, exchange pieces and try to arrive at a won end-game.  But playing more cautiously can be a mistake if it hands the initiative to your opponent.  Treat him or her with respect and continue to try to find powerful attacking moves.  Whoever has the initiative and is making the threats has a big advantage in chess.
  8. One silly slip can give the game away so keep concentrating on every move.  This becomes hard to do in a long match.  But remember, if it is tough for you, it is tough for your adversary too.  Keep setting challenges for your opponent and sooner or later they might slip up.

The final tip is this.  Keep a note of all your moves and some time after the game enter them into a chess app on your computer or phone.  Get the program to analyse the game and learn where you went wrong or could have played better.  It is a good way to improve your standard of play.

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