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A recommendation from IM Andrew Martin was to improve the position of your worst piece if you are not sure what move to make. Are there any other ways one could improve their position besides the above recommendation? I often find myself making useless moves, that mostly turn into blunders because I am not sure what to do in the position. Sometimes this is a result of just thinking too hard and over-complicating things.

Here is a real-life sample that IM Andrew Martin used to express his point. In the 2007 British Championship between between Nicholas Pert (White) and Stewart Haslinger (Black), which can be found here, after 9. Re1, White showed what his plan was going to be and that was to play e4, which he did on move 10. After 9...Be7 10. Re1, IM Andrew Martin says we reached a critical point in the game which Haslinger got wrong and that was to improve the position of his worst posted piece, which is his Knight on b8. Why? Because it is blocking his Rook on a8 and without the participation of the Rooks, black is not going to be in very good shape. White is going to dominate the center with e4 to e5. Instead of improving the position of the b8 Knight, Haslinger played 10...O-O. IM Andrew Martin instead suggests Black should have taken some pieces of e4 via: 10...Nxe4 11. Nxe4 dxe4 12. Bxe4 Bxe4 13. Rxe4 Nd7. His reasoning was that, Black has now improved the position of his Knight, he is not as cramped as before, he can castle in peace, and White has no pawn breaks to upset the position. Here is the complete game:

[FEN ""]
1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 a6 5. Nbd2 Bf5 6. Qb3 Qc7 7. Bd3 Bg6 8. O-O e6 9. Re1 Be7 10. e4 O-O 11. e5 Nfd7 12. Bxg6 hxg6 13. Nf1 Re8 14. Bg5 Bf8 15. Rac1 Qb6 16. Qc2 dxc4 17. Ne3 c5 18. d5 exd5 19. Nxd5 Qc6 20. Nf4 a5 21. e6 fxe6 22. Qxg6 Na6 23. Bd8 e5 24. Qxe8 Nc7 25. Qh5 exf4 26. Ng5
  • Can you give an example of a position? – Akavall Mar 13 '13 at 16:49
  • @Akavall - I will update the post with a sample that IM Andrew Martin used. – xaisoft Mar 13 '13 at 17:01
  • Whoever down-voted, care to explain why? – xaisoft Mar 27 '13 at 10:54
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Improving your worst piece is indeed generally a great thing to do if it's not a bad idea for tactical reasons. Some other standard general ways to improve your position:

  • Develop all of your pieces.
  • Occupy an open file with a rook (or queen). Bonus: double or triple your pieces on this file.
  • If you already have occupied an open file with a rook, move it to your seventh rank if possible.
  • Put your rook opposite the enemy queen.
  • Connect your rooks (get the other pieces out of the way so they're defending each other).
  • Castle.
  • Make sure you can't get mated on the back rank.
  • Make sure you don't have any undefended pieces (even if they're not attacked).
  • Defend an important pawn or square more than once (known as overprotection).
  • In the endgame, centralize your king.

Of course, tactical opportunities (for you or your opponent) trump these considerations, but all of these are general principles for improving your position in such a way that tactical opportunities are likely to turn out in your favor in the future. For example, putting your rook opposite the opponent's queen means that he has to worry about some situations in which the pieces in between move.

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The reason why strong players try to improve the position of their pieces is to have them placed in an optimum square when tactics start. Games are not just build up. Eventually they will break into tactics. Pieces that are near the king or wherever the action is will pose a danger for your opponents. But optimizing the piece position for the sake of it is not a good idea. There must be a purpose and it usually is to checkmate your opponent.

Study the game Kasparov Vs Karpov From the 1990 World Championship. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKrk5_QjgUw

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If you "often find yourself making useless moves" then the problem is your lack of planning and playing without a plan in mind. Get to the root of the real issue.

I suggest you work on that aspect of your game. You'll find you will be making less and less "useless moves", and by default, less needing to default a move to improving your worst piece. Eventually you will get positions that you don't really have any poorly placed pieces and you'll need a good plan to execute. Now what? Shuffling wood is a very uninspiring way to play chess.

Planning generally follows the pawn formations so start there.

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I came up with a list of 8 "one-move tactics" which I published on my blog and which could be considered 8 "ways to improve a position". They're not hard-and-fast rules -- they could be overridden by multi-move considerations -- but I think if you consider them on any move where you feel otherwise "stuck", you might find one for yourself, or find a move which defeats a one-move tactic that your opponent would otherwise have. Here's the blog post: http://youngjeff2.blogspot.com/2014/08/building-better-chess-thought-process.html

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JG Estiot and Mark Goodwin provide correct answers, but the easiest way find plans is to study master games and use similar ideas.

The suggestion provided by Martin, from Tarrasch's "If one piece is bad, the whole position is bad." This suggestion is a rule-of-thumb to try and help people learning the game. I could provide many examples of where the winning attack was spoiled by one tempo used to "improve" a piece. http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1044117 is a famous game where Fischer move a Rook, using general rules, and he moved it back to its correct square three moves later.

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