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What to do when you don’t know what to do

Jan 12, 2016
StaffCoachWGM 2263
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It’s very common for chess players to find themselves in situations where they have no idea how to proceed. These moments can be quite frustrating and cause a player to blunder, make arbitrary moves, or self-destruct. Young players especially encounter these situations. It’s essential for their development to understand how to handle these situations and confidently continue their games.


So, what to do besides habitually staring at a position or complaining, “I did not know what to do?” There are two main objectives to focus on:

A. Developing reasonable tactical and calculation skills
B. Developing the ability to find strong continuations and resources

A) Developing reasonable tactical and calculation skills

Let’s face it. Simple tactics decide the majority of chess games. When you don’t know what to do, you should start by assuring all of your pieces are safe and then searching for your possible tactical threats.
We won’t spend much time now discussing how to improve tactical and calculation skills. Although these skills are massively important, they are also relatively easy to practice and easy to advance. Especially here on Chessity you have a great opportunity to regularly exercise your tactical vision and calculation. Make your daily or weekly goal and routinely attain it.


B. Developing the ability to find strong continuations and resources

Let’s imagine you’re in a position where all of our pieces are safe and you don’t have any tactical possibilities. Unfortunately, you might get stuck not knowing what to do and spend an unreasonable amount of time to make a move which you don’t feel strongly about.
What to do in these positions instead? How to understand what’s happening on the board? How to identify strong continuations and resources?

When detecting what’s happening on the board, players need to be able to answer various questions regarding to their positions. These questions include but are not limited to:

• What are the problems of the position?
• What are the advantages?
• What are the opportunities?
• How can pieces work together in the best way possible?
• What does my opponent want to do?
• What pieces can be improved?
• In what areas of the board is my opponent most weak?
• Can I organize an effective attack against my opponent’s king?


Strong chess players frequently ask themselves questions to guide their thinking. Consequently, some questions become incredibly insightful and lead to opportunities that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Life is still not that easy however. There is a tremendous amount of possible questions and players cannot spend a lot of time listing and answering all the possible questions they come up with. That would lead to a disaster. So, what is the key aspect of this question hunt?


Do you remember the time when you were put in front of position and assigned to find a solution? Many players often follow up with a question asking what to look for. Is there a checkmate? Do I win a material? Or should I just look for a plan?
These kind of questions aim to direct players’ attention into certain aspects thus minimizing their own engagement.

Let’s see how all of the above applies to real-life situations.

                                                              Game #1

                                             How to continue for White?


                                                          Game #2

                                   What questions come to your mind now?                                                                                                                  What would be your move for White?





(Don't forget to click on the 2nd dot in the upper right corner to see solution to the 2nd  game)

Last Note… Remember!
Ask yourself meaningful questions! Finding answers will lead to understanding of the key elements of a position.


Tips For Coaches:

1. Ask your student questions each and every time you analyze positions or solve puzzles with them. This way they will easily adopt the habit of understanding a position through questions/answers system.
2. Although the first step is to encourage students to ask MANY questions, the ultimate goal is to build their own detective thinking where they quickly dismiss unimportant question and focus on answering the key ones. Therefore, after your students get well acquainted with the idea of generating questions during analyses, teach them to dismiss irrelevant questions.
3. Exercises to help with the routine of generating and answering questions:
• Playing out positions
Group your students into pairs and have them playing a selected position. After all games are done, together analyze the position and see what questions they sought and answered correctly or incorrectly, and what questions did not even cross their mind.
This analysis is also more engaging then immediately analyzing a random position as the players have already a degree of connection and understanding with the played out position.
• Guessing the moves from top players
This exercise helps students understand what they should be looking for in a position. It also tempts them to ask questions about the moves they did not guess correctly and ultimately engaging them in the idea of asking/answering question quest.

Thoughts? Leave a response below! I will be glad to learn from your insights and answer your questions.

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HvdL 00:18 - 13 Jan 2016
Thank you again for a great article. I have played a few times "guess the move" but not just with games from top players also with games the kids played. They love it when there game is on the big digiboard :) The two players will stand with me in front of the group.The others will guess the next move and then the players of the game can tell why they made the move they did in the game. Together we then figure out if it was the best move. It is allways lots of fun.

Another "game" i play with them is this ....
I give two kids each a different position. Then they get a few minutes to write down what they think are three candidate moves and what they think is the best move. When they are finished i let each couple move to the next board and find there the best move ... then to the next board etc. At the end we look on the digiboard what were the best candidates moves in each position and what was the best move to play.

I will for sure use your article for my future lessons ..... thank you very much.
samurora_play 14:25 - 19 Jan 2016
Is it possible to implement chessity with such diagrams to teach the game of positions giving some explanation?
samurora_play 14:25 - 19 Jan 2016
Katerina 12:09 - 23 Jan 2016
Thank you guys for your feedback!
2HvdL: You seem to be a skilled coach so I hope that you find some interesting bits of information in every post.
2samurora: I am not sure whether it is possible for Chessity to make such diagrams that would provide similar explanations.I can ask. Meanwhile, I will put more exemplary positions in my post.
2teorems: I am not sure what exactly do you mean. Although Black may continue the same way, White would have a better upcoming moves after 3 Rab1.
ROLEX_play 12:57 - 15 Oct 2018
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ROLEX_play 13:01 - 15 Oct 2018

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