My tactics and calculation abilities are fairly decent since I practice chess puzzles a lot, but I seem to be lacking in other areas. I always feel uncomfortable in a lot of chess games even though I've honestly played a lot of them by now. As the title suggests I want to gain the confidence and knowledge on what moves to make. I would love to become more adaptable. I love seeing masters being able to play and knowing what to do in any given position and would like to work towards that sort of ability. What should I do?
What you describe is a lack of strategic intuition. Fortunately that can be learnt. All of the following quotes come from Studying chess made easy by GM Soltis.
You need to learn how to spot strategic patterns
"I only see things quickly if I have seen the position before," GM Yasser Seirawan once said in explaining how he found strong moves so easily.
According to this, developing strategic intuition rests on pattern recognition. When learning tactics, you had:
- Theory: e.g. the abstract idea of a pin
- Practice: e.g. solving tactics puzzles
This brings me onto...
Learning patterns is about theory and practice
The same thing that was said about tactics can be said for strategic patterns. For example, one pattern might be the exchange sacrifice. It has theory, you can find puzzles, and you can apply it to your games.
Theory + Practice = Success
Learning patterns is often subliminal
This begs the question, how do I learn these patterns? Well, this is a life-long process.
Some researchers concluded that the typical grandmaster knows 10,000 patterns (!). Don't worry.
You can become a pretty good player, perhaps even a master, with a much smaller number of positions in your mental 'pattern bank'.
GM Soltis suggests analysing master games, and gave this specific advice:
Take note of each middlegame move that is awarded an exclamation point. Try to figure out why it's a good move. If you think you understand why, try explaining it in your own words, as if you were teaching a fellow student.
You lack basic opening knowledge, strategic thinking and likely endgame knowledge.
1) Modern Chess Strategy by Ludek Pachman is a good starter, and 2) 100 endgames you must Know by de Villa
Openings are a matter of choice, but you need a good general book if you are just getting into chess study: 3) Fundamental Chess Openings by van der Sterren
The usefulness of any advice given here will depend greatly on your rating, but for what it's worth, I'm around 1650-ish and one aspect of the game that has become increasingly important for me is pawn structures:
The pawn structure determines the ideal squares for you pieces. Rooks like open ranks. Bishops are inhibited by your pawns on the same colour. Knights love squares where they can't be attacked by pawns on the side ranks, especially advanced squares.
The pawn structure often determines the nature of the play, i.e. whether the game is closed and manoeuvring or open and tactically complex.
Backward and isolated pawns are weak and good targets for attack. Similarly, your backward pawns are weak and perhaps you can do something about it?
Advanced pawn chains can be powerful in controlling squares in the opponent's territory, but they also provide opportunities for piece placement (especially knights), and a well timed pawn push can annihilate a pawn chain easily.
A pawn push at the right moment can greatly swing the initiative in your favour. Look at your pawns and try to find the best candidate for advancement, and consider the best placement of your pieces for this advancement.
Many opening variations give rise to the same pawn structures, hence a good understanding of the positions that you often arrive at during opening play will greatly improve your level of comfort and ability to come up with sensible moves during the middle game. For example, the so-called Carlsbad structure often arise from a variety of openings, and is one common idea here is the powerful minority attack.
Whether you should liquidate into an endgame is greatly determined by your pawn structure. If you have many weak or isolated pawns, you probably should prevent piece exchanges until you can either fix your weaknesses or create similar weaknesses to your opponent. Higher rated players can often evaluate whether an endgame is winning or not by simply looking at the pawns on the board.
There are a number of books about pawn structures available. The one I've been studying is The Power of Pawns by Jurg Hickl. Again, this book may not be appropriate if you are higher rated, but to me it provides reasonable guidance on how to approach the post-opening phase of the game.
What you want to achieve requires a lot of practice by playing, but I think there are things that could help you get there faster than just playing game after game. From what I can gather, my guess is that you are not yet an intermediate player (Elo range 1300 - 1800), but correct me if I'm wrong.
To me, it sounds like you are rather unfamiliar with the concept of a plan in chess. This concept is dealt with in detail in the book Play like a Grandmaster by Alexander Kotov, and is of essential importance when playing any game of chess. You must have a plan, always! Try to avoid making moves without having a clear purpose behind them as much as you can.
Coming up with plans is a skill that needs to be honed, and it is this that you should practice on whenever you play a game of chess. And it doesn't really matter much if the plan is bad; it will still have a higher success rate, in general, than a move played without a purpose.
We could also divide plans into two main categories:
- Concrete plans
- Strategic plans
Concrete plans: as the label suggests, these are plans using specific sequences of moves, such as threatening to take an enemy piece, combinations, mating attacks, etc. These are often good to start looking for, since they can become immediately apparent after looking at the different threats in a position. Furthermore, concrete plans can be used to execute long-term strategic plans. Worth noting is that tactics could be thought of as concrete plans.
Strategic plans: these are of a more long-term, and often positional, nature than the concrete plans mentioned earlier. They are typically not dependent on a specific sequence of moves to be executed, but could consist of using a combination of concrete plans to achieve some end-goal. Examples of typical strategic plans are the basic opening principles, gaining space in order to give one's own pieces freedom of movement while restricting the opponent's pices, pawn storms, trading one's "bad" pieces for the opponent's "good" pieces, setting up a blockade for defensive purposes, etc.
To become good at strategic plans, one must be familiar with positional play, which has to do with making sure that one's own pieces have lots of influence and can cooperate well, while trying to make the opponent's pieces discoordinated and useless. Therefore it is good to know in what situations certain pieces typically are good, and why. Going over games played by strong players is good when trying to learn this, and it's very good to have good comments explaining the ideas behind the moves being played. A very famous game collection is Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur by Euwe and Meiden, which could be a good set of games to study. One thing worth noting is that the beginner ought to begin studying the games of the masters of the past, since modern master games are often very intricate and advanced.
Chess is a very stagnant game . Even to improve the Game is like you need to innovate ways .
- Change your Playing Style .
If you are playing d4 play e4 . If you play French against e4 try playing Sicilian or any other Sicilian Variation .
- Stop doing excessive puzzles and concentrate on Piece Placement .
- Follow Karpov / Botvinnik games if you like Tactical games of Kasparov/Fischer etc .
There are lot more other ways but the thing to do is you change your thinking system and try adapting some other styles .
After your opening development has been completed, look for tactics on each move, yours and your opponent's. Since tactics are so important, I wouldn't stop doing the problems. Since tactics won't always be available, you then try to improve your position by gaining space, preferably in the center if possible, while always looking for imbalances. If the center has become locked, these opportunities may be on a wing. If you can get a dominant position, opportunities for tactics to win material should start to become available. Of course if your opponent is as astute as you are, you may never gain an advantage, and if he doesn't either, a draw would be the likely result. Reading some books on chess strategy (e.g. "Modern Chess Strategy" by Ludek Pachman, "Winning Chess Strategies" by Yasser Seirawan and Jeremy Silman) might also be a good idea to gain some general knowledge about this subject.
There are many ways of being good at chess. Don't try for all of them. Find a guru. Could be a modern player or an old-timer, but somebody whose games you enjoy. Someone that makes you say "I wish I could play like that" (But don't choose Tal unless you think you really think you COULD play like that.) Collect their games, especially the ones with their own notes, and play them over and over. Study the openings that they play, especially how they steer the game toward the sort of positions they (and you) want to play.
This is not a complete magic method, nothing is, but it can form a framework for studying.
Pick up Re-assess Your Chess 3e by Jeremy Silman. He'll teach you the seven imbalances to look out for which will dictate your plan.
- Evaluate the position using the seven imbalances.
- Decide which side of the board to play on (queenside, center, or kingside).
- Construct a fantasy (ideal) position for your pieces: Move your pieces to their ideal locations in your head, without considering the opponent's plan.
- Calculate the moves required to reach this position.
- If you find that it's not possible to reach this position because of some defense by the opponent, return to step 3.
- If after several iterations you find there is no way to realize any fantasy position on that side of the board, return to step two.