How to Analyze Chess Positions                                                                     Mike Splane © 2008


Levels 1-3 are tactics, things computers do perfectly. You should perform these tasks when it is your turn to move. Level 4 is positional thinking, which you perform when it’s the opponent’s turn to move.  Positional judgment involves tradeoffs, so deciding what to do is more of an art than a science.


Level One – Checks and Checkmate Threats


Level Two – Captures


Level Three – Threats

Find the biggest threat for each side. If yours is the biggest, play it. If his is the biggest, avoid it.


Examples of Threats


Level Four – Positional Ideas

                If there are no checks, captures or threats, look for ways to strengthen your position, or weaken the opponent’s.  There are many positional ideas to choose from. Here are some key ideas.

Opponent’s Plan

Ask yourself, “What does my opponent want to do?”  If it is dangerous, stop it.

Piece Placement

Identify your most inactive piece and try to find a better square for it.

Pawns and Squares

King Safety

Material and Exchanges

If you are ahead in material by a piece or more, you do not need to win more material. Play it safe.

·         The first rule is always “Don’t allow counterplay.”

·         Aim for even trades to try and reach a winning ending.

·         Protect your king!

·         Do not trade off all of the pawns.

If you are behind in material the ending is lost so avoid even trades.

·         Your best chance is to try to checkmate your opponent.

·         Try to make exchanges which unbalance the material: knight for bishop, rook and pawn for two minor pieces, and so on. Unbalancing the pieces makes it harder for the opponent to trade down into a won ending.

General Concepts

·         If your opponent has a bad piece, limited in its movements, do not exchange it.

·         If your opponent has a piece which can move to many squares or is performing a vital task, try to trade for it.

·         If your opponent has two pieces that need to occupy the same square to be effective, avoid exchanging them.

·         After the opening stage, if your opponent lacks space for his pieces, avoid piece trades.

·         The exchange of even one pair of pieces is often enough to relieve a cramped position.