The 4-Step Thinking Process

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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 the position above. 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. Try it out and I’m sure you’ll see an immediate improvement in your game!

Read more about how to improve at chess by clicking here: “Three Ways to Improve at Chess”.


I learned a lot about how to always play with a plan by watching this video!

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