The result of this lack of a structural thought process was most obvious in how I would regularly miss seeing good candidate moves, both for myself and my opponent, when examining a position. My play therefore lacked a broad awareness of tactical opportunities and I was particularly weak in falsifying my own candidate moves. Training games played since this blog was started had reinforced the idea that this was a key area that I needed to work on (nothing like blundering won games to a computer opponent to get you motivated).
But how to work on this area? There has been a lot of material published on the chess thinking process, ranging from the superficial to the incredibly detailed and theoretical. After a few months of absorbing material and deliberately working on testing my thinking process using the Chess Tactics Server, I was reasonably satisfied that what I had put together was a significant improvement. (I've been studying tactics as well, so my overall tactical awareness has also improved.) The combination of improved thinking process and tactical study has raised my accuracy on CTS from 80% to 90%.
The real test, however, comes in slow games and over-the-board (OTB) play. I was fortunate to have the chance recently to participate in an OTB tournament, where despite some early round tiredness due to hotel issues, I was able to significantly raise the level of my overall play. This included my best win to date in terms of my opponent's rating (2100+). In large part, I credit the improvement in performance to the simplified, structured thinking process I've developed. Here's the outline:
What did the opponent's move change about the position?
- Examples include: new threats from the piece moved; new threats from other pieces uncovered by the move; squares weakened; new opportunities for checks, captures and threats on my part.
- Examined in the most forcing order of move types; look at all of the possible checks and captures - both yours and your opponent's - to avoid eliminating possible good candidate moves and to identify potential tactical threats.
- Calculate until quiescence (no more forcing moves).
- Do my current objectives still make sense in light of my opponent's move and CCT?
- Are there new possibilities in the position for tactical or positional exploitation?
- In the absence of a clearly superior/winning plan, how do I best improve the placement of my pieces?
- Look seriously at each move, to avoid dismissing a better move too early.
- Look for overlapping ideas that can be applied from different variations (tactical themes and key in-between moves such as checks and threats).
- Put effort into "switching sides" mentally and attempting to destroy your position after visualizing the selected move.
Some annotated references:
"A Generic Thought Process" by Dan Heisman. This was useful to read through and draw on for ideas, although I found it too broad and complex as something to remember and apply each move.
"Think Like a Strong Player" by the International Chess School. Although I'm not an ICS student at this time (perhaps in the future), I greatly appreciate their approach to study and their willingness to put some of their foundation material on their site, which of course is a good way to attract interested people.
"Going in circles, so I'm making progress" and "Blown away by the idea of Checks, Captures and Threats" by Temposchlucker. His long-term theoretical research and experience did a lot to validate CCT in my eyes.
"How I won my section at the Portsmouth Open" by Blunderprone. His paragraph-long description at the end is a good example of practical thinking.
"Real Chess, Time Management and Care: Putting It All Together" by Dan Heisman. The lead quote by the author ("Your game is only as good as your worst move") sums things up nicely.
"My chess thought process" by Blue Devil Knight. A lot of good points to consider.