In even the most quiet-looking position there might be a tactical bolt of the blue, but consider a game might last 50+ moves, and your time and your concentration are limited resources. Thus it is not feasible to do like a computer and calculate each and any position many moves forward to be safe. So, to use your resources effectively,

What are the objective criteria which suggest the position needs immediate tactical attention?

  • 1
    Always look for forcing moves to evaluate: checks, captures, attacks/threats. Sep 2, 2021 at 21:19
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    It often comes to intuition. Experienced players have a "feeling" for when a position is critical
    – David
    Sep 2, 2021 at 22:49
  • I am asking , how can we avoid checking on every move ? @David
    – AnjumSKhan
    Sep 3, 2021 at 4:14
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    I'm pretty sure the answer is simply that you have to check for tactics on every move, and even top grandmasters miss tactics sometimes. Note that you don't have to start checking for tactics from scratch; you just have to check if the last move caused any tactics to show up (and if the move you're thinking of making will give your opponent any tactics). Sep 3, 2021 at 5:31

3 Answers 3


Every position after the first few moves of the opening requires a certain minimum level of tactical attention. Even in a quiet position the first questions you should ask your self after your opponent has moved are:

  • "What is my opponent now threatening?" and
  • "What is my opponent trying to achieve with that last move?"

These questions can have both tactical and positional answers and they can have more than one answer. Asking these questions is what Nimzowitsch called "prophylaxis" and it is what separates bad players from good players.

Positions where there is tension, where captures on both sides are possible always require some calculation if only to decide whether it is a good idea to resolve the tension. It is particularly important to keep an eye out for tricky little zwischenzugs and by both sides. Again, both material and positional factors need to be considered in evaluating the position after the dust of exchanges has settled.


I suggest "Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna" - know when (and where!) to look for winning combination. It aims to precisely improve knowing when to take more time for specific tactics. Also covers thought process generally.

The chapters get a good sense of what to look for

  • King Position
  • Unprotected Pieces
  • Alignment
  • Knight fork distance
  • Trapped pieces
  • Crucial Defender / Overloaded Defender
  • Impotent Defense / defense Too far away

It is said that good players (not me! :-) have an intuitive sense of when a position is brewing with tactical possibilities. But if you want some heuristics to guide you, some factors that are often mentioned are:

  • weak or exposed king;
  • loose pieces: pieces that are not protected, even if they are not attacked, or even pieces where the attackers and defenders balance out;
  • pieces with limited mobility (which might be trapped).

There's a video that goes into these three factors, by IM Anna Rudolf: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUd_wBqapHY

There's also an article by Dan Heisman called The seeds of tactical destruction which lists more specific factors such as overworked pieces, weak back rank, pawns near promotion, etc.

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