12 Tips On How To Think When Playing Chess (Bonus tips included)

think play chess

Have you ever asked yourself how chess grandmasters think during a chess game?

Are you someone who makes random moves when playing chess? Have you had enough with making long chess calculations, which never works?

Are you looking for ways that you can make your chess playing time follow some process you can learn to improve your chess strategy?

Then ultimately, I guess you’re looking for some tips or methods in how to think during a game of chess?

If your answer is yes to all these questions, then you clicked the right article.

The fact is that most people think chess is an intricate game since it involves a lot of thinking.

I mean you’re already trying to figure out too many answers such as what your opponent might be thinking, what is the best move you can play, are your calculations correct, should you defend or attack, also you have different strategies and tactics in mind, and I mean a whole lot is going through your mind.

But wait a minute; are these the right questions to ask yourself? Well, this is what we will discuss in this article.

In this article, I will share with you 12 tips on how to think when playing chess. So, without wasting your time, get your chessboard ready, and let’s get into it.

Make sure to read till the end since I have some bonus tips for you!

Here are the 12 tips on how to think when playing chess

Don’t forget to check out this article:
Win chess games by using some of this ideas here!

These steps or tips do not have to be executed in every move, of course, you’re not going to do it during the opening theory; during the opening whiles you’re still on the theory, and you’re not going to do it during the end game but in critical positions when people tend to waste time.

These tips will teach you how to access a position, manage your time, and find the best move.

One thing people do not know is that Grandmasters do not calculate 50 moves ahead, I mean they are not supercomputers.

They do not look at a position and find 10 candidate moves and calculate 20 for each variation and then come to a logical conclusion.

Most often, they rely on their intuition to see which are the best candidate moves, and they do not waste time too much time finding the candidate move.

They pick one or two moves and calculate these, and once they make sure they work, they play them.

Bruce Pandolfini wrote these tips I will share with you- he was a master chess player.

Learn more about Bruce Pandolfini here. Also the author of Pandolfini’s Ultimate Guide to Chess. (Amazon link)

1. Move with Purpose

Every time you make a move, you need to make sure that you have a reason and a job for those pieces.

So, if you’re moving up these pawns, know that there is a reason why the pawn is moved up the middle, is to block another pawn from moving forward.

Let’s assume you’re using a white and black chessboard.

So, if you’re taking white, and you’re attacking the two blue squares in the middle of the 5th horizontal rank, then you are stopping other pieces from coming.

Now, there is a purpose for this move. Sometimes I see people make a random pawn move, and they do not know why they made that move.

Does that pawn prevent any threat? Or any other pieces coming in from that side?

So, always make sure that you have a purpose for your moves, whether if it is attacking a piece or you are guarding a particular square or defending your King.

You may also like to read an article about chess moves and chess terms.

2. Play for the Center

If you are playing for the four center squares in the middle of the chessboard, then you are going to be able to control the game, and your pieces will be able to move more freely if you are controlling the four center squares at center of the chessboard; thus the vertical files d and e on the 4th horizontal rank and the vertical files d and e on the 5th horizontal rank.

With this chess trick, you will be able to prevent the pawns from moving forward and also block the Bishop from being able to move out.

This is because whatever square the Bishop lands on, it is going to be captured.

Also, the Knight is blocked from moving out because it will also be captured.

So, if you play for the center, you find a way to control the middle, and you will control the game.

So, have all your pieces directed towards the center so that your opponents cannot come through and checkmate your King.

3. Advance Both Center Pawns

The two pawns at the vertical files d and e of the horizontal rank 2 are going to be your hardest-working pawns in the game.

If you can advance your pawns forward as far as you can without it being captured, again, you can control the center of the board, and you can control the whole game preventing your opponents from moving their pieces out.

So, if your opponent is making some pawn moves on the side, remain focused and do your best and keep pushing your pawns up, the further you push your pawns up, the closer the walls that these pawns(the two pawns at the vertical files d and e of the horizontal rank 2) are attacking is going to be closer to your opponent.

So, you’re going to keep your opponent from fighting at your house; instead, they’ll have footwork more and more about defending at their kingdom.

4. Develop All the Pieces

This next tip is an essential reminder and should always be on top of your mind…

You need to develop all your chess pieces, which also means that you also need to think of the best move for your chess pieces.

All the pieces on the first horizontal rank are on the bench.

They’re not scoring points, and you’re not doing anything if they are on the back rank.

If you can find a way to bring out your Knights and your Bishops into the game, you’re going to find that these pieces are going to have more things to do rather than just sitting back there.

Do not just make needless pawn moves that don’t help out towards the game.

You need to make sure that these pieces have a job, give it some work, let them come out to the middle of the board to fight for your King.

5. Castle Early

I remember when I was learning how to play chess, I used to perform this move whenever I feel that the game is closed.

Like when all the major chess pieces are out or already developed.

After you have developed your pieces and you have removed the pieces in between the King and the Rook, remember to castle your King as soon as possible.

It is easier to attack the King if it was in the middle of the board; you give your enemies options to attack you diagonally or even down the middle if you leave your King in the middle.

But, if you castle your King, you only know that black only has the chance to attack one way.

That means that your opponent has to find a way to attack, and you already know the way the attack is coming from.

Again if you leave your King in the middle, from either diagonal directions or even down the middle.

6. Answer All Threats

When you start playing chess, you would typically be thinking of how you can attack your opponent.

Or how to make sure you are always moving with threats to your opponent’s tactics or strategies…

But you should not be thinking about that always…

If you do not know what the word ” threat” means, then let me explain it to you.

A threat is whenever a piece is attacking another piece.

Alright, if black decides to move his Knight to vertical file g of the 4th horizontal rank, then you have to ask yourself: what pieces your opponent is threatening or what pieces is your opponent is attacking.

So, every time your opponent makes a move, you need to find out the pieces he or she is attacking, and make sure that you defend against the move.

From the example set, you can see that the Knight will be attacking the pawns on the vertical files h and f of the second horizontal rank.

And also, if you move the Bishop to the middle as said above, then the Knight can attack the Bishop too.

The black Knight is an excellent position to start attacking and threatening your white pieces.

Now, you have to make sure that those white pieces are adequately defended, or else your opponent with the black pieces is going to get away with a free attack or free piece.

7. Look for Double Attacks

Whenever you’re playing a game, you need to find out where you can move the chess pieces to attack two pieces at the same time.

Let me tell you why double attacks or fork are very powerful in a game.

Let’s assume you’re creating a fork, were your white Knight moves to the square on the 5th horizontal rank and the vertical file e.

It is now attacking the black Rooks on the 6th horizontal rank and the vertical files g and c.

This is fork because it is now attacking two pieces at the same time.

It is tough to defend against a double attack in a single move.

Black only has a chance to make one move, so that means that black can only move to a square using only one piece.

So, even though your opponent moves away to try to run away from your white Knight, the Knight can still attack the Rook on the black Rook on the 6th horizontal rank and the vertical file c and taking its spot.

Or, we can take a look at a different type of double attack with the Bishop.

You can move your Bishop to the 3 horizontal rank and the vertical file g.

This gives your white Bishop a chance to attack any two black pieces at the same time.

So, it doesn’t matter where black decides to move, and black will also lose a piece.

And also, in this position, the Bishop is attacking both the Rook on the 6th horizontal rank and the vertical file c and the King.

At the same time. So, the Rook cannot move because the King will be under attack.

Remember, double attacks are tough to defend because you only have one move to make to protect against it.

So, whenever you’re playing a game, find out ways to make double attacks.

8. Make a Plan

Checkmates do not happen randomly, and you have to find out, you have to make a map; do you want to checkmate using two Rooks?

Or do you want to come in for a Queen’s bear-hug checkmate?

Or do you want to find a way and try to get rid of all your opponent’s pieces on the 8th or 1st horizontal rank?

So you can get to King quickly?

Whichever way you choose, it is considered a plan. It is hard to win a game if you do not have a plan.

So, let’s assume, for example, if you are driving or if you use GPS before, you have first to know where you want to go.

So, why don’t you find out where your final destination is on the chessboard because you can’t use a GPS if you do not know your final destination.

So, you have to make a plan, you have to find a way to checkmate your King, just keep in mind you want to attack from either the sideways or the middle, but no matter what, you have to strategize, and you have to come up with which way that you want to attack and checkmate your opponent’s King.

9. Take the Initiative

Do not wait for your opponent to attack you, find a way to make the first attack towards the King, so there are often that I see people play deep thus they are just pulling up their pawns randomly and they bring out their Knight but they put their Bishops still all the way back, and they are just playing very slow.

Their pawns have not even passed up the 5th rank to even attempt to attack their opponents.

So, if you wait on your opponents to attack you, you’re going to have a higher chance of losing.

So, why not make a way to start attacking pieces, to find a way to get through towards the King?

So, remember, take the initiative of finding a way to attack first.

You may also be interested to read our article about 8 practical tips to get better at Chess.

10. Control Open Lines

Rooks are great on open files, and Bishops are great on open diagonals.

So, Rooks do not do well when they are hiding behind pawns, and they do well when they are on an open file.

So, if you’re able to place a rook on open files, they can control that entire file.

That means whatever piece that steps on to the file that Rook is on, you can take them wherever they land along that file.

Now, controlling open diagonals for Bishops is the same way.

You want to find a way to bring your Bishop out into the game and start controlling an open diagonal in the game.

If you put a Bishop diagonally between two pawns, the Bishop is not being used to its full potential.

It is trapped between two pawns is almost as if you’re using the Bishop as a bigger pawn.

You do not want to use a bishop that is a big pawn, and you want to make sure that it has room and freedom to come out and attack the board.

11. Simplify When Ahead

What should you do when you have a material advantage?

If you are ahead in pieces, try to trade to see a clear picture of the chessboard.

It is harder to see the entire chessboard when there are more pieces, but you can always find ways to trade off pieces to get rid of all the threats.

Also, you can minimize any danger from your opponent.

You want to trade when you’re ahead in materials so that you can get to the in-game faster, which means your opponent will have fewer pieces to defend with, so you want to simplify the chessboard by trading pieces when you’re ahead in material.

12. Play for Mate

Taking away bonus pieces is one way of getting ahead, but you should always look for ways to still checkmate the King to win.

Because taking away pieces, you could waste time.

But, if you have only one move to take the King away to win, then why take away all your opponent’s pieces when you can capture the King or checkmate the King?

Checkmating the King is almost as if you captured all your opponents’ pieces.

So, if you’re looking for a way to capture an opponent’s pieces, then always find a way to checkmate the King.

You may want to read about chess puzzles of checkmates’ article.

BONUS TIPS:

1. Stop Playing Quick Chess Games; Play Standard Games of At least 30 mins per side

You need to stop playing those quick and rapid chess games such as bullets and blitz.

They take you nowhere. Speed is not what you’re trying to achieve, and it is the understanding that is important.

You need time to think over your moves and analyze different situations, and all this cannot be done in a short game.

Therefore you need to play standardized games that give you time to think and strategize.

In every situation, take time and think of all possible good moves.

Also, take time and analyze how your opponent will react and play accordingly.

This is how you’ll get better.

You may also want to check out our best chess clock review here.

2. Solve Chess Puzzles

Do you want to know how you should think about while playing chess?

It’s quite easy, and you need to solve chess puzzles…

This is one of the best ways to practice.

Try to solve as many chess puzzles as possible.

Games are time-consuming.

The good thing about puzzles is that they do not take much of your time.

You need to analyze different positions and find the best move in a particular situation.

This helps you in reading chessboards and improving your chess skills.

3. Avoid Blunder Moves

This is the most challenging problem for chess players.

After playing a few games, you’ll realize that you’re not bad.

It is just that at some point, you play a terrible move, a move you wish you didn’t play.

A blunder that gives your opponent a match-winning advantage.

It is just this one or two bad moves that cost you the game. It is hard at times to figure out why this happens.

You may want to check out the top online chess game platform.

But let me share some pointer with you:

There are high chances of playing a wrong move in the middle of the game.   Because there are a lot of possible moves at that stage.  

Plus at times, we get so frustrated thinking that we say, okay, let’s play this.   And that is when the mistake happens.  

It is essential that in the middle of the game, you take your time, and you think of all the possibilities.  

Don’t play in any hassle.  

Let me give you a secret tip here:

DO NOT TRY TO ATTACK VERY SOON.   This is one big mistake that beginners make.   When in doubt, it is always best to continue with your piece development and bring all your pieces into play.

Wait for the right time.   This way, you’ll be able to eliminate those blunders from your game.

You may want to check out article about “improve your middle game” in chess

4. Play Different Variations Opening

When we start learning chess, you will somehow like to play a specific type of opening

If you think that way while playing chess, exceptionally competitive chess – you will not improve your way of thinking when it comes to chess.

That’s why I suggest you do not stick to a particular opening.

Try out different styles to broaden your understanding of the game.

By using different opening variations, you’ll be able to analyze different positions and understand your game better.

This will help you know the type of opening that best suits your game.

You’ll learn something new from every game you play, and that’s what is essential.

5. Do not Memorize Moves, Focus on Your Goals

I do like to memorize chess moves when I was learning, but there are some small setbacks with this type of tactic…

The problem with memorizing moves is that if your opponent plays something unexpected, you’ll be lost, you won’t understand what to do.

So, forget about memorizing moves and focus on the bigger idea.

This idea can be anything, and It can be opening up the game by trading pieces or target the King’s side or to eliminate a central pawn– play towards that idea.

Just free yourself from bookish moves and focus on your ultimate goal.

You’ll be surprised to see how your thoughts flow, and you’ll automatically start to find your moves.

6. Enjoy the Game and Have Fun

This tip is quite apparent. Just enjoy the game, have fun playing chess.

Do not take it too seriously. Yes, I understand you get upset when you make mistakes and lose a game that you should have won.

Just like my daughter, when she gets upset easily during a game, I tell her to have fun and don’t let emotions affect your mind.

Because ultimately, it is just a game, so enjoy it.

I hope you liked my bonus tips, and I hope this article helped you.

Wrapping Up

There you go… those are some of the best tips you need to remember when it comes to how to think when playing chess!

I hope you were able to find the answer to your question on how chess grandmasters think whenever they are playing a game of chess… 🙂

It does not mean that you should be doing a bunch of those tips above all at the same time; it’s practicing and choosing which one, two, or more fits your style of thinking while playing chess.

Maybe that is how chess grandmasters think, what do you think? 🙂

Hopefully, you won’t make any random moves when playing chess anymore and maybe try to see what works for you, do not just start making long chess calculations that do not work in the end.

The tips or list above can show you the necessary process you can do to improve your chess playing time and will be very helpful once you start implementing it in your chess games.

If you find this article useful, please do share it with your friends and family who are interested in chess as well…

Have fun learning what to think when playing chess! 🙂

Gary Flores

Hi there! I'm a dad with kids who loves to learn how to play chess by learning online - also, this is my way of refreshing my knowledge about this game of tactics & strategy. I created chessdelights.com to inspire people who are also learning, re-learning or teaching their kids the game of chess.

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