I've recently joined chess.com at the suggestion from chess club.

Something I've always struggled to understand with chess is why certain moves are "good" and why others are "bad"

I got thinking about this especially recently as I played around with the tactics on chess.com. Some of the "answers" were obvious- of course you'd take the bishop with your king if it meant getting you out of check and there was no consequence for moving the king to that spot.

But there were other times where it seemed a bit murkier. It had you mess around with the king until you could take the rook. What if you don't want to take the rook? And would that move only be good for that particular setup? You're never going to be in the exact same setup they give you in tactics. There's way too many combinations.

Is a good move = something that will get you closer to checkmate? Or is it more subjective, and good = ridding of a piece.

Some excellent chess games have been played without removing a single piece from the board. What makes that good and others not good? How do you realize what a good move is?

  • You are never going to be in the exact same setup, but there are patterns. The more you play, the better you will be able to see them.
    – Annatar
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 6:50
  • "Having more material is good" is a very basic one. The tricky part is of course that some patterns may contradict others, and then you have to weigh them (you could say that you use higher-level patterns for that, e.g. "Mate is better than winning material"). Being able to judge correctly will mostly come from experience and is essentially the definition of "chess skill".
    – Annatar
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 6:53

2 Answers 2


TL;DR - Winning material is usually good but it's checkmate that wins a game of chess.

In chess there is only 1 primary aim, to checkmate your opponent before she checkmates you. ALL other aims are secondary. Thus a good move is one that makes you more likely to checkmate your opponent before she can checkmate you. End of story.

However great though that be it doesn't always provide a whole load of practical guidance when sat at the board with the clock ticking louder and louder. Thus as players of the game we employ a number of secondary objectives that experience has taught us will, with a good degree of probability, lead to the primary objective above, e.g. control the centre, develop your pieces, force your opponent to make weaknesses, win material, with your extra forces checkmate your opponent - it's only the last that counts, the others are just useful, but often very useful, stepping stones to that end.

To get to some of the more specific parts of your post, yes, the vast majority of times winning material is a good thing. To use the military analogy you now have more soldiers than your opponent, and more soldiers in a war is generally a good thing. Here's an example from a game I played at the club earlier this week:

[White "Me"]
[Black "My Victim"]
[Result "1-0"]
[FEN "r3q1rk/pp2p1bp/3p1p2/3P1PnQ/2P1B2R/1P2B3/P6P/2R4K w - - 0 1"]

1.Bxg5 Qxh5 2.Rxh5 fxg5 3.f6 h6 
    ( 3...Bxf6 4.Rxh7# )
4.fxg7+ Kxg7 5.h4 1-0

Why has my opponent resigned? Well ultimately it is because he believes I am a good enough player that one extra piece is enough for me, in the long run, to force checkmate against him. At the board he'll say "Oh, I dropped a piece to Ian so resigned", but this is really a short hand for the above - Checkmate is the ultimate aim in chess, all others are secondary.

However you are also right in saying that it does depend on the particular situation, and this is because while a great aim winning material doesn't win the game of chess, checkmate does. And thus occasionally a player will give up material because he or she thinks or has calculated that doing so will make it more likely that they will checkmate their opponent before their opponent checkmates them. Be very clear that this is the exception rather than the norm, but it's having to evaluate such possibilities that makes chess such a great game! As an example here's one of my favourite games of all time. Black gives up loads of material but it's all toward the end of queening one of his pawns, and with his new queen he will checkmate his opponent - and checkmate is how you win a game of chess!

[Event "Student Olympiad, Marianske Lazne"]
[Site "Marianske Lazne CSR"]
[Date "1962.07.??"]
[Result "0-1"]
[White "Eduard Gufeld"]
[Black "Lubomir Kavalek"]
[ECO "C64"]
[PlyCount "64"]
[FEN ""]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Bc5 4. c3 f5 5. d4 fxe4 6. Ng5 Bb6
7. d5 e3 8. Ne4 Qh4 9. Qf3 Nf6 10. Nxf6+ gxf6 11. dxc6 exf2+
12. Kd1 dxc6 13. Be2 Be6 14. Qh5+ Qxh5 15. Bxh5+ Ke7 16. b3
Bd5 17. Ba3+ Ke6 18. Bg4+ f5 19. Bh3 Rhg8 20. Nd2 Bxg2
21. Bxg2 Rxg2 22. Rf1 Rd8 23. Ke2 Rxd2+ 24. Kxd2 e4 25. Bf8 f4
26. b4 Rg5 27. Bc5 Rxc5 28. bxc5 Bxc5 29. Rab1 f3 30. Rb4 Kf5
31. Rd4 Bxd4 32. cxd4 Kf4 0-1

Recently I had a memorable position where Black could win White's bishop with a fork:

[White "Ben Cassidy"]
[Black "furrykef"]
[FEN "8/p1p1k3/1p3pK1/1P1nP3/7P/3B4/8/8 b - - 1 46"]

1...Nf4+ 2.Kg7 Nxd3?? 3.exf6+

...and suddenly Black is in deep trouble, because White's pawn on f6 is unstoppable and it will become a queen. It's almost always correct to win a piece when possible, but "almost always" is not "always"!

The key is to look at what your opponent can do to you after you make your move or sequence of moves. Otherwise, you might be walking into a trap!

  • 1
    Interesting position. But, while it's technically true that Black can't stop the f-pawn from queening, if White tries 1... Nf4+ 2. Kg7 Nxd3 3. exf6+ Kd7 4. f7 Nf4 5. f8=Q Ne6+ that new queen is forked and the game seems drawn. The problem is really the combination of the f and h pawns; Black can only stop one of them.
    – D M
    Commented Nov 28, 2019 at 7:07

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