What is the best chess technique? I mean, how do World Champions think in a game? What happens in their minds?

Do they think of their moves in advance or they just know what to move because they have practiced a lot?

I ask this because I've seen some videos with really fast players and it is hard to imagine that somebody can think so fast.

  • 3
    There are two interesting books that I know of that actually transcribe strong players' verbalized thought processes as they make decisions: Avni, The Grandmaster's Mind, and Aagaard, Inside the Chess Mind. I found them both fascinating.
    – dfan
    Apr 14, 2015 at 17:45
  • en.chessbase.com/post/…
    – user3431
    Jul 20, 2016 at 0:07
  • I think only a World Champion can answer this question ;)
    – relipse
    Jul 22, 2016 at 14:49

7 Answers 7


When chess players play very fast, they think in much the same way that you think when you talk really fast. You don't think about nouns and verbs and grammar and dictionary definitions of words, although language is incredibly complicated; you have that all internalized. Good chess players have internalized the standard patterns of chess the way that you have internalized the standard patterns of speech.

Now, if you're writing a formal essay, with lots of time in which to write it, you'll spend lots of time thinking about how to construct your argument, exact word choice, possible objections of the reader that you want to address in advance, etc. Similarly, chess players think very carefully and deliberately when they have a long time to think.


It is not that strong chess players think faster but rather that they think better. With the arsenal of a variety of patterns, they do not have to think faster because of their knowledge of patterns. Instead of calculating 2-3 moves ahead, patterns allow the person to know the result of combination instantly. It is in this way, an accumulation of patterns, that ultimately creates a strong player. It is important to note that even with their accumulation of chess patterns, chess players still rely heavily on calculation. Their is a reason that professional chess games can last up to 6 hours at times, and of course this implies that they do not know what move to play. Chess players play fast only when low on time or if the game has a fast time control in which the reverse happens and they rely heavily on patterns and "intuition." In regards to how chess player decide what move to play, they go through the lines of various candidate moves and assess the position that arises from them. These actions would be quite impossible for normal humans to do because of our inability to effectively assess positions and the fact that every position has about 40 possible moves and just calculating 1 move ahead would take 160 continuations. That is where the patterns are very effective and allows players to intuitively know what possible continuations are worth considering and what should be disregarded.


An interesting read would be "Move First, Think Later" by Willy Hendriks. It covers this topic from a different (and very interesting) perspective. Here are a few highlights covered in the book:

The De Groot study found that a difference between weak and strong players was not usually depth of analysis but rather that strong players just see the best moves. Weak players may never even analyze the right move(s) at all.

He asserts that there is no magic thinking process that strong players use. His justification is that if there was a thinking process or algorithm that would suddenly make you strong, chess wouldn't be very interesting and there would be many more strong players.

The voice you hear in your head that is suggesting moves is compared to a PR person speaking for a company (they may be well spoken but they didn't invent the things they are describing). In the same way, by the time you become aware of a move (and justify it with positional considerations) it has already been provided to you by a subconscious process that you are basically unaware of.

So how do strong players magically find moves? He suggests that it's less finding and more recall (e.g. memory). In other words they've looked at, played, and analyzed many high quality games, exposing the strong player to thousands of patterns. Which, you know, is what most strong players recommend you do if you want to get better.


Strong chess players are not as fast thinkers as they are efficient. A better chess player is more efficient, he eliminated the bad moves faster allowing him to focus more on coming up with better moves and strategies.

Whether or not they think in advance completely depends on their style of playing. Some players are instinctive, who prefer to go with sacrifices even though unsound still have potential (Ex. Mikhail Tal), other prefer to be 100% sure of their strategy and tend to calculate multiple lines to ensure something is correct. However both still do calculations, even Mikhail Tal wouldn't simply just blunder into a bad sacrifice, the only difference is, one relies on calculations to make his next move, the other more about how he feels about the positions. Of course there are other type of players in chess so it truly depends on the person!

When it comes to fast games, otherwise known as bullet games, usually lasting from 1 min to 3 minutes(anymore than that and you enter the 5 minute mode which is considered blitz) strong players tend to have better experience on how to "run the clock" and because of that their moves are mostly focused on confusing their opponent rather than go for a long run win, since there isn't much time to think that far ahead. That is also why you see more blunders in a bullet game, as blunders tend to draw the attention of the opponent and make him lose time.

It goes without saying that you shouldn't watch a bullet game in order to learn something from it, bullet games are a "must experience" type of thing in order to learn from them, they help make you think faster on less time and more efficient.

Hope I helped :)


Maybe the last chapter (Chapter 21) of great book from Peter Romanovsky, the soviet middle-game technique have good answers to this question. The name of the chapter is "How Players think during the game". He very carefully and exactly define the elements of thoughts as Spirit of the position, Variations and Post-Variation positions. After that he exemplified each concept in real games and describe how every player think and how they may have mistake and select bad choices for the next move.


I would like to add to other answers that, as well as experience and pattern recognition, there are also some simple enough principles that can help quickly assess the merits of a move/position without having to analyse it in depth. They don't always give the true value but usually will.

For example:

- Gain and maintain the initiative
- Principle of two weaknesses and increasing pressure
- Control the centre
- Take towards the centre (partly as a result of the previous principle)
- Control open files
- Good and bad bishops
- Knights good in closed games, bishops good in open
- Revealed attacks, forks, skewers, pins etc.
- Passed pawns strong, doubled and isolated pawns weak
- Push weaknesses
- Protect your king (until it's safe to use it as an attacker)
- etc.

These allow an experienced player to assess a move in a crude but quite effective way without having to calculate it or remember that pattern from another game. Given time, the player will want to assess it more thoroughly than that and the masters will be doing more from specific experience of similar positions as they have so much but I think these principles and others are used by grandmasters in their assessments to quickly look at a move and think "that's almost certainly going to be bad" and not waste time thinking about it.

Equally, they can apply the same principles to their opponents positions and moves to spot weaknesses that they can then devise plans to exploit. A good player could spot a likely weakness from these principles and see a piece/move that might be able to exploit it in a second or two's thought.


I highly recommend Kotov's trilogy (Think like a grandmaster, Play like a grandmaster and Train like a grandmaster). The first one answers your question precisely.

  • 3
    It is worth pointing out that most modern players don't think that Kotov describes grandmasters' actual thought processes very well. See for example this excerpt from Soltis's The Wisest Things Ever Said About Chess.
    – dfan
    Apr 14, 2015 at 17:43
  • @dfan That link doesn't point directly to the excerpt anymore. Which page is it? May 13, 2018 at 2:34
  • Item 23, page 30. (I don't have access to the book right now but I went to the Amazon page and searched for Kotov.)
    – dfan
    May 13, 2018 at 11:05
  • "Kotov endorsed a rigorous, if not rigid, procedure which called for analyzing each candidate move as if it were a tree branch, with subvariations sprouting from it. Analyze each branch and sub-branch once and only once, Kotov said, and when you're done, play the candidate that results in the best position when met by the defense. But few people actually think this way [...]. In practice, masters employ a much more chaotic method [...]"
    – dfan
    May 13, 2018 at 11:05

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