How To Decide Your Next Chess Move: The Ultimate Guide

How To Find The Best Next Chess Move?How To Decide Your Next Chess Move: The Ultimate Guide

  • Step 1: Figure out the key elements of the position and define your plan.
  • Step 2: Consider your opponent’s plans, threats, and his last move.
  • Step 3: Come up with candidate moves for your next chess move.
  • Step 4: Calculate your next chess move (calculate forcing moves first, check the move order, blunder-checking).
  • Step 5: Execute your next chess move.


Chess is a game of decisions. On the chessboard, it is not important what we see, only what we play. Let’s imagine that you’re playing an important game in a chess tournament and you’ve reached a winning, but a complicated position with a little time left on the clock.

Let’s say you’ve got four promising chess moves at your disposal which all seem to be good at first glance. On closer inspection, however, it turns out that only one move is winning. In such a situation, you need to quickly decide, to play the right move in order to win the game.

If you play another move which seems to be equally strong, but actually loses the game due to some move order nuances, it won’t help you after the end of the game to claim that you considered playing the correct chess move. You can’t change the decision you made in your game afterward.

Decide Your Next Chess Move – An Example How To Decide Your Next Chess Move: The Ultimate Guide

To illustrate this key aspect, we shall dive straight into an example and discuss the aspects involved (see the diagram on the left):

If you want to learn the maximum from this example, we suggest you to stop reading and try to solve this chess puzzle first. It is White to move. Can you spot the winning combination for White? How To Decide Your Next Chess Move: The Ultimate Guide

The position at hand looks promising for White as Black’s king is caught in the corner and has no escape squares. The most logical move for White to play here would be 1.Qh1+ (always try to calculate forcing chess moves like checks and captures first).

The problem with this move, however, is that Black has the resource 1…d5+ (see the diagram on the right). Not only does Black block the diagonal, but he also gives a check with his queen on g6 himself. After a chess move like 2.Ka5, Black can take the pawn on a7 with 2…Kxa7 and there are no more mating threats.

Another idea for White is to play 1.Nd5, blocking the d-pawn and threatening mate on b6 and c7. But once White’s knight moves, Black can give a check on d3 (1…Qd3) and White even loses his knight.

Moreover, there are even more chess moves for White to consider here like 1.Qh8 (pinning the knight on f8), 1.Nc6 (blocking the 6th rank) or 1.Qc2 (threatening to exchange queens and mate Black’s king in the corner with the knight). How To Decide Your Next Chess Move: The Ultimate Guide

Instead, the only winning move is 1.Qh6!! With this move, White threatens to take Black’s queen on g6 and to take Black’s knight on f8. However, White’s queen is not protected on h6 – Black can simply take it with 1…Qxh6.

But White has the strong move – 2.Nd5 (see the diagram on the left). The knight blocks the pawn on d6. Black has no check with his queen and he can’t defend against the mate the next chess move.

It is important to note that after a chess move like 1…Qf5, removing the queen and protecting the knight on f8, White has 2.Qh1+! Due to the fact that Black’s queen left the 6th rank, the move …d5 no longer comes with a check.

How To Decide Your Next Chess Move: The Ultimate Guide
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After 2…d5, White wins after 3.Qxd5+ Qxd5 4.Nxd5 and Black gets mated in the next chess move as his king can’t escape from the a8-square.

In a practical game, the decision which chess moves to play next (1.Qh1+, 1.Nd5, 1.Qc2, 1.Qh8 or 1.Qh6) decides about the outcome of the game – in the last case, White wins; in the other cases, White only draws or even loses.

How To Decide Your Next Chess Move

As we’ve seen, it is not always easy to decide your next chess move in a game. Frequently, chess players blunder, because of making the wrong decision!

One key difference between grandmasters and average club players is that Grandmasters are trained to make decisions and have a lot more practical skills.

Many club players waste a lot of energy calculating chess moves that grandmasters simply ignore because they know these moves are bad. As a result, many players spend valuable time on bad chess moves and plans and lack time for important decisions later in the game.

Here’s what you can do in order to properly decide your next chess move:

Candidate Chess Moves: How To Decide Your Next Chess Move: The Ultimate Guide

The idea of candidate moves was first put forth by Grandmaster Alexander Kotov in his book Think Like a Grandmaster.

GM Jacob Aagaard got to the heart of the concept of candidate moves in his excellent chess book “Grandmaster Preparation – Calculation”:

“This is the art of seeing before you think. We all notice two or three ideas in any position in the first three seconds. But we are not guaranteed that they are the best ones.

If we train ourselves to look for additional ideas, we will end with a list of interesting moves, which it makes sense to calculate.”

Finding the right candidate chess moves is one of the most difficult aspects of becoming a better chess player. Of course, finding the right candidate moves depends on the nature of the position.

You can come up with candidate moves by relying on intuition, pattern recognition, calculation, guessing, strategic and positional principles and many more approaches.

The most effective method to find the correct candidate moves is to include the following aspects into your thought process when deciding your next chess move:

  • What are the most important elements of the position? Some possible key factors could be material, pawn structures, superior and inferior minor pieces, space, initiative, king safety, control of important files or squares, weaknesses.
  • What is your plan? Do you want to launch an attack against the opponent’s king? Are you targeting several weaknesses in your opponent’s camp?
  • Do you want to exchange queens as this would be favorable for you? It is always important to know what you want to achieve. If you don’t find an answer to this question, you should take your time and define your plan for the position.
  • What is my opponent threatening with his last chess move? Chess is a game which involves opposition. Due to the fact that you’re not the only one who is making plans to win the game, it is likely that your opponent wants to trick you or that he sets traps for you. In order to become better at chess, it is essential to not only focus on your own plans but also watch out for your opponent’s plans and threats.
  • What is the drawback of my opponent’s last chess move? It is important to understand that all chess pieces and pawns control certain squares as long as they are on the square they are. Once they move, they control new squares, but they also give up the control of some other squares. This concept is especially useful connected to pawn moves. As we all know, pawns can never go backward. If you start your game with 1.f4, you’ll get control over the important central square e5, but you’ll also weaken the position of your king which now has one defending pawn less around him.
  • Calculate forcing moves firstAs the name suggests, forcing chess moves are easier to calculate because they force your opponent to play certain moves. If you give a check, your opponent has to do something against it immediately – he can’t ignore it for one or two moves and play an intermediate chess move. If you capture your opponent’s queen, he usually has to recapture as otherwise he’d be significantly down on material. Instead, if you calculate a quiet chess move, your opponent has various moves to play.
  • Check the move order: Sometimes you see an interesting tactical possibility, but unfortunately, the combination doesn’t seem to work. In these cases, it is a highly effective method to change the move order. You can try if your combination works if you start with the move which you wanted to play second or third. Very often, the move order makes all the difference.

When you have made up your mind, execute your move! 

“Many people continue thinking after they have decided on what move they want to make. The less obvious drawback is at times they change their mind only to choose moves inferior to their first decision! Even if they avoid this they still end in time trouble later on . . .”

These are wise words from GM Jacob Aagaard’s chess book “Grandmaster Preparation – Calculation” which can’t be underestimated at all. Many chess players fear to make definite decisions at the chessboard and think far too long for their next chess move.

Due to the fact that you don’t have endless time to execute your chess moves in a practical game, you have to stop thinking at a certain point and just make a move. If you think 30 minutes about which of your two rooks to put on an open file in move 10, you’ll lack this time in a complicated position which might arise after move 20.

Conclusion – How To Decide Your Next Chess Move

At the end of the day, chess is about solving one problem only: What should I play on the next move?

As we’ve seen in this article, it is not always easy to decide your next chess move. Many chess players face plenty of difficulties with the decision-making process. But if you try to follow the steps and guidelines presented here, it’ll be much easier for you to execute your next chess move and win plenty of games.

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