Do you have a thought process for finding candidate moves?

Once you find all possible candidate moves, how do you narrow it down to your final choice?

Regarding the process, do you have a certain order of things you look at or is it in a random order?


6 Answers 6


Here is a basic checklist you should always consider (in order of priority):

  • Examine all tactics currently available to both players on the board within the next move; these take priority. Usually, each tactic has a purpose, such as check-mate (highest priority), winning material (secondary-priority) and securing a very strong position (tertiary-priority.)
    • In the case of an opponent's tactics, search for "in-between" moves in the execution of the tactic. Many times one non-obvious in-between move can spell the difference between a beautiful defence and losing the game. To give an example of an "in-between" move, suppose your opponent has a discovered attack ready on your queen using a knight and a bishop. His goal is to win a rook for his knight by using the discovered attack and simultaneously attacking your rook and queen. He does not realize that your queen has an "in-between" check move allowing her to move to safety as well as your rook.
    • In the case of tactics available to you, also search for all "in-between" defensive moves available to your opponent. For example, suppose the previous example of the knight, bishop discovered attack on the queen was actually your tactic. After thoroughly investigating your opponent's options, you realize he can check and move his queen to safety with the in-between move. Therefore, you move your king to a square where a check is not possible, forcing the queen to move to a worse position this turn else face the wrath of the tactic the next turn.
  • Search all available tactics (as thoroughly as above) within 2,3,4, ... n moves where n is limited by the amount of time you have on the clock and your gut-feel for how important this position is vs. how sure you are your current best move is.
  • Search for guaranteed positional weaknesses in your opponent. In the lack of tactics available in the game, it can be hard to find a reason to play one move vs another. This may be a daunting task for a beginner, but rest assured there is almost always a best move. Almost all positional weaknesses deal with pawn positioning, specifically the colour your pawn chain sits on, or lack of being able to form pawn chains. In order to achieve positional weakness in your opponent, you may have to do it through a tactic so keep that in mind. I'll list some common positional weaknesses:
    • A knight placed where an enemy pawn can not "kick" him off is substantially stronger when placed close to an enemy king. This is called a knight on an outpost. This is mainly because it opens up the possibility of many forking tactics. Often, when your opponent has no other means of kicking your knight, such a knight is worth at least 1 rook, sometimes 1 rook and a pawn.
    • Doubled-pawns create long term weaknesses since they can no longer form pawn chains in one direction. DO NOT consider this a considerable weakness in the early or middle game, because it is not, it is only a weakness in the endgame. Doubled pawns near their king, especially if he is castled, are always a weakness at every point in the game.
    • The colour your opponent's pawn chain sits on determines their good bishop (the opposite coloured to that colour bishop is the good bishop) seek to trade their good bishop while keeping your good bishop, this is a minor advantage that becomes greater in the latter part of the game.
    • The first one to double rooks on a file usually owns that file for the rest of the game. There are notable exceptions and usually a great many tactics available to both sides when fighting for dominance over a file so be careful with this one!
    • A rook on the same file as an enemy king or queen (even if there are many pawns and minor pieces blocking) is still a valuable position for the rook, as you can usually create interesting tactical variations by removing the pieces in the way 1 by 1.
    • Look for "back-rank" problems in your opponent (as well as yourself!) If your king or your opponent's king can be mated with one rook attack on the back rank this makes for interesting tactical options for both sides!
    • Try to make your rooks "pigs." A pig rook is a rook placed on the second to back rank (either rank 7 or 2 if you are playing white or black.) A pig rook is very strong as he is usually both attacking undefended pawns as well as posing a considerable threat to the enemy king. If you can get doubled pig rooks this usually means a win or a draw for yourself. This is generally hard to accomplish as it takes a minimum of 2 moves (usually 4+), but look for tactics as this is almost always a win especially near end-game!
    • Rooks belong behind passed pawns, and always push your passed pawns, the closer they get to the other side the more they are worth!
    • The three (or four) pawns in front of a castled king are extremely important. Enticing your opponent to move them (to kick a bishop or a knight) creates a permanent weakness in your opponent's defences. Always give your opponent the option of kicking your piece with these pawns, as when he does you know that you can take advantage of the new weakness he has created.
  • With that last point, I would like to conclude this with two simple principles: the principle of two threats and the principle of every move leaves something behind. The first principle is easy to understand, create 2+ threats for your opponent and it will be hard or impossible for him to defend both. The second principle is much more subtle but just as important. Chess is a game of a delicate dynamic equilibrium. Every move you or your opponent makes gains some advantage but also creates some weakness, if ever so slight. Search for these weaknesses in yourself and in your opponent at all times.
  • 1
    @Idog I think your method takes too much time!
    – user2001
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 17:24
  • @RauanSagit yeap, most of my games are lost on time, expect ones with long time controls!
    – ldog
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 9:41

When I play chess, here's my process of thinking:

1) Check defensive move:

  • I check pin, fork... against me
  • I check move to support my pieces

2) Check offensive move:

  • I check mate
  • If I don't find mate, I check possibilities to pin, fork... pieces of opponent
  • Otherwise, I develop my pieces

In general, I think defensive move first, then offensive move but this is my way of thinking. Each player thinks differently.


Thought process in a chess game is vastly different among novice, average, expert and grandmasters. It's a gradual learning which comes with time, experience and passion.

The novice players see moves to immediately gain a piece, give check, exchange a piece, etc. They generally don't think one move ahead.

Average players have acquired some tactics, strategic play, knowledge of positional advantage and make their moves according to these combinations. They scan the board hard to find a better move than the move they have decided to be the best.

Expert players develop intuitive knowledge about other players style of play. They are well verse with chess openings and can take advantage of other player's opening blunder. They are good in strategic play and see the board ahead after 3 to 5 moves combination. They normally play for checkmate rather than immediate positional advantage, or short term gains.

Chess grandmasters have excellent memory, and they can recall games similar to the position shown on the board. They don't think much, as their mind automatically thinks only about the best moves as it comes with experience. They are very good in analyzing variations in a chess position. They always tend to make moves that result in deterministic checkmate rather than non-deterministic positional play, although the later can be converted to former.


This is something I struggle with, I'm in the bad habit of honing in on one move, analyzing it, assessing it as OK, and then going with it, for better or for worse. I think something that is going to help me instead is to scan all of the pieces for each side, and take into consideration their prospects, either individually, or in tandem with other forces. Pawns on the other hand are a different matter.


There is a nice story attached to the 1960 Tal-Botwinnik match. They adjourned after 40 moves and began analysing the game so far. Botwinnik had got his Queen offside and Tal had numerous exciting sacrifices to look at but had not played any of them. In the analysis, Tal was trying to find out if any of them would have worked, but noticed after a while that Botwinnik was not contributing much to this. Eventually he said, Mikhail, you were not looking at this were you? and Botwinnik replied No, I was working out that I wanted to exchange Rooks but not Queens. None of the answers here mentions anything like this. Everyone starts with a move and calculates forward. Botwinnik started with a goal and worked backwards.

  • I knew a guy who tried to think about the endgame and work backwards. Unfortunately it was almost always too many moves away to work well for him. You should think some about the end game especially in quiet positions but he started thinking endgame at move 1.
    – yobamamama
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 18:44
  • Apparently if works if your name is Bottwinik. But I said working backing backwards from a goal. I did not say anything about the goal having to be the endgame
    – Philip Roe
    Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 20:33

This is what I do after I get out of preparation:

  1. Check for threats against me
  2. If none or I judge them to be insignificant: Look for weaknesses in the opponents position and then look for tactics to attack them
  3. If none: Move a or h pawn (to create weaknesses and per Aronyan's advice: "If you don't know what to move, move a or h pawn")
  4. If, for physical, tactical, or positional reasons 3. is not available, improve king safety.
  • Formatting looks complete so I can read it all now. Still moving the rook pawn if you don't know what to do is silly. That was the beginner strategy I saw in 6th grade as the kids played their first game and had no idea what to do so one kid moved his rook pawns so all the others did that too.
    – yobamamama
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 19:08
  • @ yobamamama You might want to look closely at the preconditions for it. I do it when I get out of the opening prep in the absence of threats or other ideas to weaken the opponent's position, following no other's by Aronyan's advice. Besides, it works. Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 19:12
  • If you don't know what to do push a pawn is the worst answer because pawns don't go backwards. Pushing pawns is a big commitment. For beginners who have trouble knowing what to do and could not follow a checklist like ldog I advice them to point their pieces at the opponents king. If they are playing someone on their level this is often enough to win. Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 23:05

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