The 4-Step Thinking Process

ThinkingYour opponent has just hit their clock and now it’s your turn to move. Out of all the possible options on the board, how do you decide which move to play? Some people may automatically play whatever move first catches their eye. Others may gaze towards the opponent’s King and try to find a way to attack it.

Many will not know what they should do at all! Is there much thought put behind their move selections? How can we improve our thinking process and find out how to find the best move on the board?

Let me introduce you to the “4-Step Thinking Process.”

This thinking process consists of four groups of questions you want to ask yourself when it is your move:

  1. What is my opponent’s plan? Out of all the moves he could have made, why did he make that move? You want to try to get into your opponent’s head and figure out what the goal behind his move was. They may have threatened something or maybe their move was just simple development. We want to try to figure out what they were thinking.
  2. What forcing moves (checks, captures, major threats) are available for my opponent here? What forcing moves are available for myself now? Always look at these forcing moves before thinking about anything else. There may be an available tactic that you will miss if you don’t analyze all of these moves! If none of the forcing moves look like they will work out well, then move onto the next step.
  3. What is my plan? This is where we start to come up with short-term and long-term goals in the game. Examples could be to develop our pieces, put rooks on open files, defend our king, control the center, make our opponent’s pieces bad, etc. These plans do not necessarily need to be complicated! Sometimes the simplest plans are the strongest.
  4. What move will I play? Once you’ve looked at your opponent’s move, the forcing moves and you have an idea of a few different plans, THEN you begin to consider the specific moves you might play in the position.

Topalov vs SasikiranLet’s put this thinking process into practice in a position. Black’s last move was pawn from a7 to a5 and now it is White to move. Going through the 4-step thinking process, let’s answer each of the 4 groups of questions and figure out White’s best move:

  1. Black was probably a bit worried about White possibly gaining even more space and attacking on the Queenside by pushing his a-pawn. So instead, Black moved his pawn to a5 to stop this idea and gain his own space at the same time. This move does not threaten anything though, so we are not forced to react to it.
  2. There are a few forcing moves possible for White: bxa6 (en passant), Bxe4, Nf4. Do any of these moves result in something good? Well, bxa6 allows Black to play Bxa6 and soon trade off White’s good bishop for his bad bishop. This wouldn’t be good for White. Bxe4 does get rid of Black’s active knight in the center, but brings the d5 pawn to e4 after dxe4, and this contributes to Black’s Kingside attack. Nf4 is a possible move, but Black could easily take the knight or move his rook away. We could keep this move in mind and continue to look for other options.
  3. One possible plan we see, is that White would like to get rid of his bad bishop on b2 if he could. He also has a space advantage on the Queenside with his advanced pawns, so playing in that area of the board could be possible.
  4. In order to accomplish the plan from the third step, we could play the move Ba3, which would soon allow us to trade off our bad bishop for Black’s good bishop. This would immediately improve our position and hurt our opponent’s position at the same time!

Using this process will help to limit the number of blunders and bad moves you might make, and will help you to always play with a plan. If you’d like to learn additional methods to up your game, I recommend checking out these special chess moves that will help you think. Try all of this out and I’m sure you’ll see an immediate improvement in your game!

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19 comments on “The 4-Step Thinking Process

  1. joel says:

    Good content I like it

  2. Josias A. says:

    Thank you for this valuable chess information. One might have all the chess knowledge of this world, his chess strenght will not increase that much without a good thinking process. Most of the time, bad moves or blunders are not caused by lack of chess knowledges or abilities. It’s very often the fruit of unorganized thinking process. A bonus is that, once you’re aware of your thinking process, you will easily learn from your mistakes.
    Josias Foot.

  3. Paul Gallagher says:

    2. is a little ambiguous. It is titled “what forcing moves are available for my opponent,” but you immediately ask instead “what forcing moves are available for myself.” In the example, you look for forcing moves for yourself. But clarification on “which one it is” would be helpful.

  4. miguel says:

    Me fue de mucha utilidad esta clase magistral del proceso de pensamiento ya que aveces no concreto ningún plan en medio juego y tiendo por deshacerme de las piezas buenas sin saberlo y dejo las malas, gracias.

  5. Isaac Bianchi says:

    Those 4 steps made a lot of sense to me. Always good to see what your opponent is trying to pull on you. Look before you leap seems to be a great idea. Once again, thanks for your valuable info and common sense advice.

  6. Kathy says:

    I’m new to the game and I find this article extremely helpful. My one question is how do you determine what is the good or bad bishop? Thank you.

    1. Fernando iChess says:

      Hello! Thanks for taking the time to write, in general a Bishop is good or bad depending on the pawn structure, with a pawn structure of c4, d5, and e4, a Bishop on d3 is bad because its range is limited by its own pawns, while a Bishop on e3 would be a good one because its own pawns aren’t on his way.

  7. Phil says:

    I agree that if you consider your own plan first, you can completely overlook parts of the board where your opponent’s plan lies so I agree with the order. Many is the time that I have seen a ‘stunning’ move for me, got so excited because I couldn’t see how he could refute it but because I didn’t check HIS plan first, I lost because he mated me, won my queen etc. and simply ignored my ‘stunning’ move!

  8. Justine says:

    Wow great very good article

  9. Hedi says:

    Thanks sir for this wonderful article!

  10. Abdul Moeed says:

    Thanks sir! from Pakistan

  11. Abdul Moeed says:

    Thanks sir!

  12. Dr Santosh Senapati says:

    Thanks. The lesson was really helpful.

    1. Fernando Broca says:

      Glad you liked it!

  13. Shobair says:

    Thanks sir that was great looking forward for next articles

  14. Vaibhav says:

    Very good

  15. Vaibhav says:

    Very useful information n guidance
    Looking forward for next mails

  16. Robert says:

    Useful guide, although I would put my plan ahead of my opponent’s, otherwise we tend to react to his/her moves without “pushing our own agenda” [IM Silman]. Nevertheless, nice little checklist you’ve put together. 🙂

    1. ichessnet says:

      Thanks Robert. Jeremy Silman is a very good chess writer. But If we want to plan correctly, we must also consider opponent’s plans. The way we think in a chess game, determines the own chess style.

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