It is said that given enough time even an average player can play the "best" move in any given position.

Thus the real question in chess is that of time control. It has been argued by several chess tutors/authors (e.g Dan Heisman) that differences in a player's "thinking system" is what differentiates a patzer from a master. Because both players have the same amount of time in which to make moves, the one with superior time management (which, in this sense, is used to mean "how long it takes to make a good move/the best move") will win.

If we give the patzer unlimited time, but the master normal time controls, in theory the patzer should win (or at the very least draw).

So, how does one create an algorithm (aka a thinking system) that allows the player to make good moves (but not necessarily the "best" moves, since that would be impossible) while still being time-conscious? How do the masters do it?

Things to consider:

How would such a system operate?

Would it be hierarchical or web-like?

Would it consider each position a separate case with its own algorithm or be totally universal?

How much should memory (of openings and games) be involved?

  • 5
    "It is said that given enough time even an average player can play the 'best' move in any given position." This is not said by me! Even given unlimited time, your patzer will not be able to calculate deeply, will make many strategic mistakes, and will be very bad in the endgame. If you give a 1400 player unlimited time and a 2200 player normal time controls, my money is on the 2200 player.
    – dfan
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 15:17
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    I would say that was wrong. Given enough time anyone can make the best move they are capable of, but not guarantee they make the best move possible.
    – yobamamama
    Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 16:13

5 Answers 5


There is some truth in what you say, time management obviously plays a role. I often feel that I can compete with IMs if I have twice the time. (Incidentally in my last game against an IM this theory was put to the test, he spent half of his time smoking and I managed to win the game).

But, if the difference in playing strength between you and your opponent is too big, no amount of thinking time will help you overcome it. Chess is first and foremost a game of understanding and intuition. If you haven't acquired this understanding before the game, no amount of thinking will lead you to conclusions that might just be obvious for a GM.

In that sense playing a game of chess is similar to writing a poem. Say, you and Shakespeare have a sonnet competition going on. He will have ten minutes, you will get ten hours. No amount of thinking will give you his vocabulary and feel for the english language.

There are super GMs who have an atrocious time management (Grischuk comes to mind). So it isn't a factor that totally cripples your chess strength. But, to finally come up with some actual advice:

  • Be confident.
  • Avoid perfectionism.

Everything else is experience and common sense. There is no mechanical "algorithm" that is applicable for a human being. Recommended reading: The seven deadly chess sins, by Jonathan Rowson.

  • I think you miss the poster's point. He was only using infinite time vs. regular time control to illustrate the more important point of having a proper thinking process. I was searching google on 'thinking systems' and was hoping to find some good answers to the original poster's question. Alas, there were none here. I will keep looking!
    – Shalarian
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 14:34
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    It's true that I don't address the core question too much, because it is based on a lot of misconceptions. We are humans not computers, we don't use algorithms to think. To quote myself: "Chess is first and foremost a game of understanding and intuition." Algorithms, like a blundercheck, can at most be crutches until you get to the point where your move finding is as subconscious as hitting a ping pong ball. Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 7:59
  • No, there IS a human chess algorithm - more like a heuristic. Chess is not just a game of understanding and intuition There are search techniques such as alpha-beta pruning and other "pruning" techniques that can reduce the number of moves to calculate. The common misconception is that humans don't or can't think like computers, this is false. Algorithms are INDEPENDENT OF COMPUTERS. We humans can still use methods from these search algorithms to reduce our cognitive load.
    – Laser
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 22:35
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    Well, you can implement typical computer algorithms with a human mind, it' just brutally inefficient. The human brain is too slow in sequential calculations. A human getting really good at something will always be mostly based on intuition i.e. highly parallel pattern recognition. Of course there are tips and tricks how to look at positions and how to calculate efficiently, but as I said, those are mostly crutches and should become superfluous as you get better. Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 7:46
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    I'm more of an adherent of "Move first, think later.": movefirstthinklater.com/english.html Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 7:26

The three main things that better players have over worse players in terms of thinking process are

  1. Conscious memory. You get to a theoretical endgame (or see that you could reach it) and search your memory to remember whether it is won, and how the win is achieved. Or you recall memorized opening moves.

  2. Unconscious pattern recognition. Something about the position on the board leads you to look at particular ways of continuing. At the very lowest level this consists of things like noticing hanging pieces; at higher levels it might be things like knowing the most useful plans for a given pawn structure, or realizing that a certain type of sacrifice might be promising.

  3. Better calculation. Often aspect 2 comes into play here as well as it lets you automatically "prune your tree of variations", checking out promising moves for you and your opponent and discarding ones that are unlikely to work.

Although the end result of these three aspects is that the master arrives at good moves faster than a novice player, I would say that the differences are qualitative and not merely quantitative. The master is not simply thinking the same things as the novice but faster; he is thinking different things.

What I am trying to get at is that creating a "time-efficient thinking system" by itself is not sufficient to cross that gap. You will have to get better at the three things above, which in turn will make your chess thinking more efficient.


What I've gleaned - for a more efficient thinking process be an MCP.
ie. focus on:
M - Memory
C - Calculation
P - Pattern recognition

Acronyms are highly useful in chess!


It sounds great in theory, but creating a completely algorithmic thinking system is impractical for humans. And why would you want to operate strictly to an algorithm? Our creativity and intuition is what gives us a chance against the machine's super speed and memory (or at least what used to).

A patzer with huge amounts of time usually couldn't beat a master with less time. The master's intuition is too strong. Theoretically with unlimited / infinite time a patzer should always win, but what's the point of discussing that?

If you really want an algorithm here's the best I have:

1) Read books / play games / solve puzzles.

2) Gradually build your intuition+calcuation abilities over time from step 1.

3) Repeat step 1 while playing in tournaments.

4) Hopefully gain success.

  • And yet a national master uses just such a checklist. He has about two dozen things he considers each move. Take his full course and you would be taught it as you neared graduation.
    – yobamamama
    Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 16:14
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    @yobamamama Once you're at master level you should be doing such checks implicitly. A couple of checks could be useful, but to have two dozen things you do every move seems highly excessive. Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 3:33
  • I agree. But this master is not like most masters and can only get good results at very slow time controls. I surmised he needs the list because he cannot play speed chess well at all.
    – yobamamama
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 4:13

Learn to make decisions! Budget your time so you use enough but not too much on a given move in normal situations. When a problem arises then you can take longer but still you have to make a decision without using too much time as that would make later moves more rushed and less good for all of them.

Practice. Play at exactly a short time per move so you learn to think enough, but do not dawdle on deciding and moving.

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