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I've recently been learning the fundamentals of the game using the chess.com lessons and game reviews, but the thing I can't seem to figure out is how to even know what to look for or focus when analyzing a complex position in the middle of the game. I've instinctively started mentally splitting the board into quadrants and trying to consider what seem like the most important pieces in each quadrant, what squares they currently control, and what squares a piece would control if I moved it to some other particular spot. And that seems to have improved my skill a little, but there surely has to be a better, more in depth way of doing it that's at least somewhat algorithmic (because otherwise how would chess engines, which are just software programs, afterall, be able to do it?).

For example, I was reading how to analyze chess position and the author gives a specific example and then points out several things of note consider before deciding on the next move. Once he pointed them, I could see how they're relevant, but he doesn't explain how he noticed those things specifically. I know it will partly come down to practice and experience, but surely there must be some kind of systematic, even algorithmic, way to analyze the board, otherwise chess engines wouldn't be able to do it. But what is it?

Also, apologies if this has been asked and answered before. Nothing relevant came up in the search results, but that does necessarily mean much, based on my experience on other SE sites.

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  • I don't think there's such a "system". Each position requires focus on different things. Normally you want to start by checking direct tactical threats before moving on to strategic aspects. Things like good/bad pieces, open files and pawn structure usually matter but they do so in different ways every time. In all honestly most of the time I've read guides on how to think in chess they describe methods I can't honestly believe they really use in practice
    – David
    Commented May 5 at 19:16
  • I'd like to know of such a framework. I would have liked it if I have an answer to this question. but now I'll try to do some reading to answer this question. for my self at least. Commented May 7 at 20:25

2 Answers 2

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I am writing some sort of a booklet on middlegames. Accurate position evaluation is clearly the number one factor in finding correct plans and moves. I am advocating the idea that rather than asking who has the advantage, we should ask what advantages each side has. It is seldom the case that one side has everything and the other has none. This way of thinking encourages prophylactic thinking and alerts you to your opponent’s resources.

Then, as has been done before, I break the advantages into two groups. I copy from my draft below and apologize for lack of formatting.

\subsection{Solid Advantages} Advantages that your opponent cannot diminish in only a few moves. These are long term advantages that one can hope to convert to a win.

\begin{enumerate}

\item \textbf{Material} Pawn up, exchange up, queen for minor pieces, etc.

\item \textbf{Weakened enemy king} For example, it lost the right to castle, or pawn(s) in front of a castled king are missing, over-extended, or are structurally compromised.


\item \textbf{Advantages coming from pawn structure.} 

This is actually strongly tied to many other types of advantages, to the degree that some authors have treated middlegames solely based on pawn structure alone -- although I believe that pawn structure is not the whole story. Desirable features are advanced pawns, fewer pawn islands, a pawn majority on queenside, semi-open files, potential for pawn breaks, spatial advantage due to pawn formation (e.g.\ the e5-pawn that drives away the N from f6), pawns on the right color according to the color of the bishops on the board. To avoid are doubled, backward, or isolated pawns, weakened square that can become outposts for opponent pieces, compromised pawn shield in front of king,

\item \textbf{Space} advantage that comes from consolidated pawn structure. An example is the advance variation of French defense -- provided white has bolstered the d4-pawn.


\item \textbf{Indisputable control} of a key file or diagonal or even a single square


\item \textbf{Color complex domination.} For example, if the dragon bishop gets exchanged in the Sicilian Dragon.
\item \textbf{Bishop pair.} Under usual circumstances, one does not have to give up their bishop pair voluntarily.

\end{enumerate}

\subsection{Dynamic Advantages} These need to be utilized to gain solid advantages above. If you fail to convert these advantages to the solid ones, you will have obtained nothing. Sometimes one often converts one transient advantage to another before finally turning it into a solid advantage. It is never a good idea to play on autopilot, but it is specially a bad idea in such situations. You cannot make progress by ``just waiting/slow/strengthening moves''.

\begin{enumerate}

\item Lead in development

\item More active pieces

\item Initiative

\item Strong central pieces

\item Spatial advantage that comes from piece activity and fluid pawn structure.

\item Disproportionate concentration of pieces, e.g.\ if most of your opponent's pieces are on the queenside, you can safely afford to sacrifice material on kingside for an attack.

\item Temporarily outcast enemy piece(s), e.g.\ a bad bishop or a knight on the rim.

\item mobile pawns

\end{enumerate}

So, it becomes clear: your goal in a chess game is to gain solid advantages. Since, often this is not given to you for free, you need to use transient advantages to achieve solid advantages.

So, take any of the examples from your book or a game and list advantages for both players. Then decide whose advantages rely on the dynamical nature of the position and whose come from static features. Based on that each players can try to divert the game to the direction where their advantages get emphasized. Hope this helps. I share positions from my games on IG: chess_ps.

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By way of analogy, suppose you had read an article by an art critic titled "How to Look at a Painting" The critic would use words like "color", "tone", "hue", "mood", "composition", "balance", "foreground", "texture", many of which you would feel you understood, but still not quite be sure what the critic was "on about". You would understand that this was your first exposure, and you might need to see many more examples before you could share the critics sensibility. Likewise, Silman gives a list of the things he wants you to be aware of, and you sort of understand most of them, but you do not yet understand all of them, or how they combine. Do not be discouraged. Chess understanding ia complex enough to be compared to acquiring a new language. Think of it in those terms, and judge your progress accordingly.

You only give a extract from the book and I do not have a copy, but if there are other examples, look at one of the diagrams, and try to assess it before reading the commentary. How much did you see?

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  • Explain the downvote please. Do you not understand analogies?
    – Philip Roe
    Commented May 5 at 23:21

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