Chess calculation is an area where 95% of club players really struggle. The large majority of amateur games are won (or lost) because of blunders or bad calculation. However, all aspiring players need to work on their calculation skills if they want to progress in their chess career. Strong calculation skills will help you in every phase of the game – from the opening to the endgame.
One key problem is that when most club players think about chess calculation they think of tactics, combinations or sacrifices that either win material or deliver mate and long complicated lines which need to be worked before playing the next moves.
However, the truth is that chess calculation not only requires the ability to see a number of moves ahead and calculate various lines but also to spot all the possibilities for both sides and choose from all the lines you’ve looked at. A strong calculation isn’t always about seeing many moves ahead but seeing the correct ones. If you find the best move, you don’t need to calculate long 10 moves variations to justify it. You just need to play it. But how do you find the best move?
Help is at hand! IM Mark Dvoretsky was arguably the world’s best chess coach and was the trainer of many world-class players. Additionally, he was the author of such chess classics as Positional Play and the book every serious player needs: Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual.
Chess Calculation: Finding The Right Candidate Moves
In this video, Mark Dvoretsky joined chess24’s GM Jan Gustafsson to discuss one of the key aspect of chess calculation: Finding the right candidate moves.
Most chess players are already familiar with the concept of finding candidate moves. Before starting calculating, you must do a list of candidate moves which should include every check, capture and threat. Most chess coaches mainly focus on these forcing moves and suggest to calculate them first.
As the name suggests, forcing chess moves are easier to calculate because they force your opponent to play certain moves in response. If you give a check, for example, your opponent has to do something against it immediately – he can’t ignore it for one or two moves and play an intermediate move.
In this free preview video, however, IM Mark Dvoretsky focusses on candidate moves which are more difficult to spot. He highlights the importance to not only consider all the obvious moves in a position, but also quiet moves which might seem very modest at first glance.
The key point is that you are not guaranteed that all the obvious moves are the best moves. Therefore, you need to train yourself to look for additional ideas and hidden resources in order to end with a complete list of candidate moves. It makes little sense to calculate 10 moves deep and to try to make a complicated variation work if there is a much better move at the beginning of your variation.
Let’s take a closer look at an example IM Mark Dvoretsky discusses with GM Jan Gustafsson in the video:
Inarkiev, Ernesto (2606) – Bakre, Tejas (2446), Gibraltar 2004
The position at hand occurred in a game between Ernesto Inarkiev and Tejas Bakre (see the diagram on the right). Black just played the move 21…Nd5!? The basic tactical idea of this move is that White’s bishop on g5 unprotected. If White plays 22.exd5, Black would play 22…Bxg5. If White plays 22.Bxe7, Black could recapture with the knight.
That said, it is White to move. At first glance, White has a couple of promising moves at his disposal. White can play 22.Qh4, 22.Nxe7+ or 22.exd5 Bxg5 23.d6 (or 23.Qe4). On closer inspection, however, none of these moves leads to an advantage for White.
Therefore, White should not desperately try to make any of these moves work by calculating many moves ahead. Instead, White should rethink his choice of candidate moves. Are there some additional ideas? Is there any move which White could have missed?
By doing this, White has the chance to find the only winning move in this position – 22.Bh4!! White has various interesting active moves at his disposal and chooses to modestly retreat his bishop to h4. Psychologically speaking, moves like 22.Bh4 are not easy to spot for human beings. It’s especially easy to miss such moves if you have many promising candidate moves available.
What’s the idea behind this quiet bishop move?
First of all, the bishop on g5 was attacked by Black’s bishop on e7 and moves to a square where it is defended. Secondly, it is important to not forget the Black’s knight on d5 is threatened by White’s pawn on e4. With a protected bishop on h4, the capture exd5 is a serious threat. However, Black’s knight on d5 can’t move as it has to protect the bishop on e7.
Therefore, Black’s only move in the position is 22…Bxh4 (22…Nf6!? 23.h6! g6 24.Nxe7 Qxe7 25.Rf1!+- The knight on f6 is pinned and the pressure on the f-file will be too much for Black.) 23.Qxh4 (see the diagram on the left).
Now, Black’s knight on d5 is still hanging. If it moves, White can win an exchange with Ne7+ or play for a mating attack with h5-h6. Black is lost.
Chess Calculation with Mark Dvoretsky
The old candidate moves technique still deserves a place in modern chess. Calculating is much easier if we know what candidate moves to calculate.
If you’re calculating various moves and can’t find a satisfying solution, concentrate on which candidate moves you might have missed besides the obvious ones. Sometimes, modest quiet moves turn out to be decisive. Always ask yourself: Are there any other candidate moves which I overlooked?
In the full course, World-renowned coach Mark Dvoretsky tackles even more fundamental calculation techniques which you can apply in your own games. Using countless high-level examples and exercises, Mark makes us all that little bit sharper. You’ll learn:
- To understand what to calculate
- To become better at calculation
- Key Techniques that help us find the best moves
Improving your calculation ability will dramatically improve your results in your own games. Click here to get instant access with 35% off.