Is it a good habit for an amateur to always try to play the best move (according to his best calculation), instead of sometimes purporsely play an inferior move hoping that his opponent does not know how to take advantage of it?

For example, this implies avoiding playing slightly inferior but playable lines such as the exchange variation of Ruy Lopez, the king's gambit, or (as black) the queen's gambit accepted, or setting up a trap which objectively is not the best move in a particular position, but when your opponent does not see through it, you gain some advantage.

I personally feel that purposefully playing an inferior move may be helpful with obtaining advantages (and therefore winning chances) in a particular game, but may not be the best strategy, if not harmful, to one's life-long learning process of chess

So, is it a good habit for an amateur to always try to play the best move?

This question is related. But my question is more about improving one's chess strength instead of winning a particular game.

  • 1
    This is essentially the same question as chess.stackexchange.com/questions/22257/…
    – Brian Towers
    Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 17:08
  • @BrianTowers, not exactly and I am aware of that question. My question is more about whether the habit of always playing the best move is good for one's chess strength improvement while the other question is about the strategy in one particular game.
    – Zuriel
    Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 21:51

3 Answers 3


This is a complicated question since chess is very complicated, and both board, and time, factors may be part of a decision.

Overall, yes, you should always play the best move probably 99% of the time. If there is a second alternative, but it is not much worse, and you think that your opponent might get caught up somehow, you can consider it. If it is genuinely just bad, then no, avoid it.

Recently, in a game, I was playing someone well below me, and I played a move that sacrificed two pawns, but I played it knowing it was incredibly dangerous, and that he did not have enough time to figure it out. Well, my reasoning was sound until the tournament director walked by, and realized that the increment was set wrong, and was going to add time. My opponent, graciously, offered a draw, which was accepted.

There is one more case that I can think of, and that is if you know the style of your opponent. Let's say he is known not to defend well, and you have the choice between a positional move, and an attacking, but maybe not sound, move. If you are a good attacker, then it might be worth it given his known weaknesses.

Those first openings that you listed are not really inferior, but rather, might not give as much opportunity for an opening advantage, especially the King's Gambit. That is mitigated at lower levels, where opening theory is not memorized as deeply. The QGA is a bit more dangerous as it, generally, does cede a definite slight plus to white.

So situational chess is a thing, but do not go overboard playing horrible moves that can bite you. Also, everything is out the window if you are significantly worse: In that case, do whatever you can to complicate the position, and make it tricky for your opponent.

As far as improving one's strength, and game-situation aside, yes, you should always try to find the best move.

  • 1
    Thank you! I understand sometimes playing a slightly inferior and risky move may increase your chance of winning a game. But i am not sure if this stratege is the best in the long run (for one's chess learning processes).
    – Zuriel
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 23:42

This is a fairly simple question, really.

Beyond the opening, you should always try to play the best move. Playing for traps will hinder your development. You learn by playing what you think is the best move and then analyzing why it isn't.

Your openings choices, however, should be primarily concerned with what you're learning and how you're improving rather than what the best move is. The Ruy for example is the best objective choice for white after 1.e4 however it is strategically complex and requires a large understanding of theory. It would be a mistake for a beginner to try and tackle it. Non-professionals should always consider the trade-off between theory and objective analysis and choose appropriate openings. Lower rated players should look more at tactical/classical openings because those are the openings that will help you improve.

  • Thank you! At the opening stage sometimes it is difficult to say which is objectively the best move. For example, 1.e4 is strategically complex for beginners, and 1.c4 is probably objectively as good as 1.e4 but simpler, and i find it much easier to handle. To me 1.e4, 1d4, 1c4 and 1Nf3 are equally good and 1.g3 is slightly inferior. So based on the spirit of my question, i would avoid 1.g3.
    – Zuriel
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 23:39

I recently had a game against a player rated about 200 points higher. With black, after my opponents 14th move 14. Bd2, I had to make a difficult decision, as my king was still on e8, and my opponent had half-open e- and d-files.

after 14. Bd2

One candidate move was 14. ... O-O, which is also the move the computer recommended later. Instead, I played 14. ... h5 !? (with the idea to play Ng4 later, if possible, or maybe g7-g5-g4 and/or h5-h4-h3). I preferred this move because I recently worked at improving my understanding of such positions. Of course this also means that I considered my winning chances higher in that type of position (I actually won that game), but additionally, I could practice what I had learned recently, so I think that this also helped me to improve.

Regarding openings: I believe that by playing certain "inferior" lines, a player can greatly improve. Consider the kings gambit (which is mentioned in the question), the Morra, the danish gambit, the Traxler - all these openings emphasize tactical patterns, for example a weakness on f2/f7 is a recurring pattern. By playing such openings, you will also learn to look out for such patterns, which is always helpful (also in many other lines).

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