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Tomorrow I'm playing in my third OTB tournament. I have tried coming up with really long chess "acronyms" to try and remember all the different things I need to consider before my move but they become so elongated and tedious I end up mentally ditching them and just more so start "playing from the hip."

That said my thought process is really simple:

(1)During my opponents move: Scan the board for all undefended pieces and pawns, giving a slight emphasis to MY pieces and pawns. Afterwards consider any moves that could potentially protect them and possibly add protection to another piece/ key square simultaneously. Then I scan the board for my opponents undefended pieces and pawns.

(2) During my move: Ask why my opponent played his last move. What is the thought behind is move and is there a threat he can make with it soon (by using another piece in combination etc.) Weigh several candidate moves and critique them. Does my move leave a key square or other piece undefended? If I make this move won't my opponent refute it?

And that's about it. When it comes to strategical conepts like weak pawns/squares and imbalances (bishop pair/ queenside pawn majority) I haven't really fit such things into my thought process. It doesn't mean I'm not aware of such things somewhere in my mind, it just means it's not presently apart of my deliberate thought process. Which is part of the reason I'm here... to ask if it should be!

If anyone can help me out even if it is after my tournament tomorrow that would be great!

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  • Hope that, you did well in the tourney. I just want to add a few more tactical ideas in your thought process.. 1. If you have slight material adv, exchange all major pieces asap and convert it to an endgame. 2. Go with your playing style (open/close). Don't ruin your position (i.e double pawn, open file) for the sake of 1 or 2 pawns Jul 12 at 17:36
  • What's your playing strength? I can tell you that advanced players don't use this kind of lists at all. They don't have a fixed thought process that they would actively remember and go through each move. I'm not a chess teacher and I'm not sure how beginners should approach learning chess so maybe there is some value for lower rated players in your "algorithmic" way of thinking. Anyway, I guess it's helpful to at least know that more advanced players don't do it that way.
    – nyymi
    Jul 13 at 17:02
  • @nyymi Do they really just "don't do that", or do they already have such a understanding of the game, that they at any point just have the answer to this questions already available in their brains? I'm by far no advanced player but somehow I would assume that this is similar to how you have to think very actively about every step of a newly learned skill while you perform it more or less automatic, the more advanced you get to it. Personally I think this kind of mental check list is a good way to stay focused and see nothing that would speek against those two points.
    – Christian
    Jul 13 at 18:53
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I hope you did well in the tournament, and I'm thrilled you keep going back to them! I also applaud you for trying to apply the things you are learning so quickly :)

There are a lot of things to learn - and not all of them are 'knowledge' things - how to handle the pressure (keeping score, the clock, and the competition aspect), how to accomplish SO MUCH in such a limited time, and including how to remember 'everything'.

And perhaps the most important is that this all is part of a process. I've coached children in chess for 20 years, and I also teach math, and I think most people develop accuracy before they develop speed when they are learning new things. The trouble is - it's hard to develop accuracy in the competition itself. So realize that accuracy is developed OUTSIDE the competition. The tournament is to measure where you are at that moment.

Your checklist is a good place to start - you have to begin with threats, and they will eventually become more automatic (or automatic-like). You build accuracy by studying, but it's also important to review your games afterwards. In the olden days most opponents would go over the games with you, and it's valuable to get a view into someone else's thought process. Sometimes it's downright amazing! But that can be a great way to see how the strategic and positional elements fit into the overall game. If you can't do that, try to review them with a friend and argue out different moves and lines. But you must also review your games afterwards by yourself. It's useful to have an engine handy, but try to think hard about each move and its consequences with the luxury of 'infinite' time you have after the tournament ends.

Dan Heisman's books were always good for tournament players who were starting out. He gives very practical advice about the experience of playing chess, and not just the best chess move.

Playing is important - both informally and the more formal tournaments you are beginning to play. Spend some of your home learning time too by looking at games as if you were playing them in a tournament. Bruce Pandolfini has had a long time chess column in Chess Life called I think 'Solitaire Chess' where you play one side of a game. You probably already get Chess Life, (and this is easier if you are looking at paper) but if you need more practice the USCF recently made available an archive of MANY YEARS of Chess Life: https://new.uschess.org/chess-life-digital-archives

Good luck! And I wish you many decades of enjoyment tackling the game!

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