Choosing Candidate Moves

Introduction

How do you choose a candidate move?

When you play a game of chess you always try to play the strongest move but after the game you may engage in some analysis with a strong chess engine and find that although there are many variations you could have played that fit your style of play and most of your moves while they may have been absolutely sound were not the engines first choice, they were not candidate moves.

A candidate move is a single move for each possible variation of the position you want to play that a strong player or strong chess engine gives to it, it's highest rating. And all the rating points that it used to determine that move are based on many factors that you may not have even considered.

This move is considered a candidate move because it is the strongest and most sound for a variety of reasons. Its those reasons that you should be most concerned with. Because once you have mastered what those reasons are that make up a candidate move you will be playing more skillfully.

This page on determining a candidate move is going to help you organize your thinking and basic knowledge towards that goal of the concepts that make up the decision making process of how to choose a candidate move.

If you choose not to read this page for what ever reasons and procrastinate that you don't need such knowledge then consider this.

It you are serious about increasing your chess skills just how do you think you are going to achieve it? By simply playing more games maybe? Is that the way the masters achieved their rating? Paying a coach perhaps to help you increase your chess skills? Of course if you don't care about your rating and only play for its entertainment value then I suggest you leave our club because you are never going to be an asset here.

Maybe you feel that your understanding of the game is sufficient for now. So why work so hard to improve it. But then you have to ask yourself.

So how much has my rating improved?

In the last three months, six months or a year? Why has your rating failed to improve significantly? With all your knowledge gained in playing games why has your ability not increased significantly also?

Why does your ability not increase in proportion to the number of games you play?

I don't think I have to spell it out for you, the answer is obvious. Important chess knowledge required to increase chess skills is not obtained in playing games, it only comes from the hard work of study.

It's the equivalent to fixing a racing car to win races that doesn't have an engine.
You can put on the most expensive wax and polish the exterior for hours and hours and make it shine with a high gloss, but with out a powerful engine it's not going anywhere. Or if it does have a small puny engine its not going to go very fast or win any races either.

This analogy is similar to the engine in a chess program like Fritz. With out that engine Fritz would be near worthless, not able to analyze or calculate anything. Just a simple viewer like chess assistant, SCID or chessbase. This engine makes all the difference in the world to a chess program like Fritz , and those engines are constantly being improved on each time a new version of the chess program comes out.

How powerful is your chess engine? Are you actively trying to improve its power, better understanding of chess and calculating abilities too?

What kind of engine have you? Does it have any special abilities? Consider the unique playing style of the Fritz Engine of Junior 9. According to its authors, it is now a reigning computer chess world champion in all categories.

This is because Junior is different from all other programs in its search strategies and evaluations function. This gives the program a very distinctive "STYLE" of play. The special strength of Junior is its understanding of compensation. This makes the program an extraordinarily effective tool for analyzing sharp and dynamic positions especially those involving the sacrifice of material. It is the program that shocked Garry Kasparov with its famous bishop sacrifice on h2. It's the program that is most likely to correctly understand the compensation involved, both in the execution of a sacrifice and the defense against it.

Have you tried to develop a distinctive style of play also? In our page of How to Develop a Opening Repertoire is a discussion on the styles of the top GMs past and present.

The popular styles of the masters.

Attacking, Positional, Defensive, Unorthodox, Conservative, Tenacious fierce defender, Not overly aggressive, let opponents weaken their position before attacking and stresses defense, Vigorous and combinative, Loves mayhem, Fearless attacks and deep understanding of the endgame.

Further consider two players, one can see four moves ahead and has little basic or positional knowledge of the game and the other that can see only two moves ahead and has spent the time to obtain extensive basic chess knowledge and positional knowledge, who will win the vast majority of the games?

This is a key lesson that all the time spent in acquiring the ability to see several moves ahead are worthless when compared to see only a few moves ahead but to have extensive basics chess principle knowledge to ensure you are making more sound candidate moves that will guide you to a winning game.

How do you choose a best move?

Is there some simple method by which you can use to determine a so called best move or candidate move?

Proponents who have tried to simplify the choices and come up with a solid unified theory that one can use in any position argue that to actively promote an advantage in a position can involve so many different concepts that it is almost impossible to try to state only one methods above all the others. Yet there are sound and logical ideas that one can use that can simplify the process.

Given all the choices to move in any chess position can be a daunting task. So what can one use to guide them into the right decision?

Just like there may be no single one best move given in any position, there also may not be no single idea one can use to find one, but your guide lines can be the same as those that strong players use if you care to study what those guide lines should be.

These guide lines are those that use the basic principles of chess and may or may not consist of basic rules for less advanced players. As one's experience grows, one learns that some rules are meant to be broken. For example the old rule that of always capture with a pawn towards the center is widely followed, but a good 30 percent of the time it is correct to capture away from the center. The trick of course is to know when and more importantly why to do so. Other rules such as avoid doubled pawns, castle as early as possible, develop knights before bishops, etc can also be suspect.

However that does not mean that there are not certain basic principles that can never be broken and not followed as sound guidelines.

The Secrets of Calculation

Many say that chess is 99 percent tactic, and some say it is not, it is 99 percent calculation. It's the technical and practical aspect of how to think ahead and select candidate moves, the evaluation of end game positions and finding the proper move order. We have a page on the use of calculation to find out more information on using it.

Calculation is the working out of variations without moving the pieces physically. There are positions that have a purely tactical nature and in such situations the player's ability to calculate variations accurately can take on great importance. It may be based on an imbalance in order to form a plan and from that plan calculate candidate moves that lead up to some advantage for you or it may be involved in calculating the importance of a threat from your opponent. If your calculations show that the threat does not really present a serious problem then maybe your planed combination will be more decisive to go through with rather than try to defend against your opponent's plans of attack.

If your planed combination involves a sacrifice, it is then a calculable series of moves to see if it leads to material or positional gains and can not be made with out a through calculation first being made.

The combination you may be calculating may be a sacrifice combined with a forced sequence of moves, which exploits specific peculiarities of the position in the hope of attaining a certain goal or mate.

We know that this is the master's main tool in selecting their so called best move or candidate moves. But if your not a master, then what?

True you can use the principles of calculation and you should do so before you venture into unknown waters but to gain the use of calculating effectively you should first train your combinative vision and study the games of such skilled attacking players as Alekhine, Tal, Kasparov and Fischer. Follow their opening moves and then cover up the rest of the game and endeavor to figure out all the rest of the moves. You should also try to figure out what their plans are based on, the imbalances or weakness that they are trying to exploit if any exist.

There are many books on how to play winning chess and most are based on how the masters think and how their games were won by them skillfully calculating ahead. But then there are also strong playing masters like Judit Polgar who said after winning a tough game against another GM, "I just trusted my institution to select the winning move and it proved to be the right choice."

The point here is that in order to choose a so called best move you do need guide lines in choosing rather than just to make moves based on what you may think is a good move and may be looking a move or two ahead. That is probably how most average players make their decisions, they just think a good tactical move is based on looking a move or two ahead, but is it?

Making sound moves that are going to give you a long term advantage is more than that, they must be based on solid basic chess principles.

Strong chess programs don't have to have any knowledge of sound basic chess principles if they can look 15 or more moves ahead in a billionth of a second. But humans can't do that, they need some practical methods to guide them.

Let us look at some of these basic principles of chess that you can use to make good moves.

It's been found by people who were interested in how strong players play that the stronger a player is the more knowledge he has about pawn levers. In extensive testing of strong players the more a player knows about the basic principles of pawn levers the better is his play.

Pawn Levers

A pawn lever is pawns move which:
1. Offers to trade itself and
2. Leads to an ultimate improvement in the pawn structure of the side playing it and or
3. Damages the opponent's pawn structure.

So we notice that number three gives us a basic chess principle to guide us in our choice of moves in that to damage your opponent's pawn structure may be a good choice in choosing a candidate move. Let us put that down in our list of sound basic principles to guide us. Also note that the calculation of moves is not a basic chess principle, rather it is a method of determining what a move may lead to and to determine a move order especially important in the end game.

1. Damage opponent's pawn structure.

We have a page on Pawn Levers to give you more valuable information on this subject. So your choice of moves could be based on this basic information about Pawn Levers if you care to study it and learn more about this valuable tool.

If you own a strong chess program like Fritz you may be amazed at all the basic principles that Fritz can expound on in the option Explain All Moves.

Recently in the analysis mode in Fritz to see if I could find another good opening plan for The Queen's Gambit D37, I was considering the options of either advancing a pawn or of taking the adjacent pawn and Fritz gave me 43 choices in the Explain All moves box.

Some of the moves were, Is not bad, is not wrong, is playable, is ok, is good, is fine, etc. But other choices were much more meaningful. Like increases pressure on c6, overprotects d4, controls g4.

Others near the bottom of the list were, is wrong, is bad, loses material, gets refuted, is a weak move, aimless, not to the point. Is less strong, etc,

But there were others choices that actually gave advice based on sound basic chess principles that could be useful and solid advice for most any position consideration.

These were advice suggestions that we need to note on our list of basic chess principles to use for our Basic Guideline list.

Weakens the King Safety, Increases the center control, the bishop has less influence here.

But the one move it suggested that I thought was the most significant was, a5!

"White gets more space!"

Is not that a good sound basic principle we find in our list of opening principles that is in our training pages? Basic principles teach us that one of the goals in the opening is the struggle for more space.

"White gets more space" is our Candidate Move

Its our candidate move because its based on sound basic chess principles.

In our page of Winning with the Point Count System System we learned that Simply squeezing your opponent to death is good way to win games. But to squeeze an opponent, you must first acquire a significant advantage in space.

When you have the advantage in space, you control more territory than your opponent. Your pieces have more squares to choose from than the enemy pieces, which are severely restricted in their movements. By applying the principles of space, you can win a game by taking so much space away from your opponent that all he can do is pace back and forth in his little cell, waiting for you to proceed with his execution.

I used the advice of the basic principle of space and played advancing the pawn to a5 to gain more space and instantly the Evaluation Profile Graphical Display Graph jumped into action with a large green bar above the base line to denote a significant advantage for White. If instead I had taken the adjacent pawn, not only would I have lost the opportunity to gain more space but I would have wound up with a new isolated pawn that would have been necessary to protect by a major piece, not a good move because defending a pawn with a major piece, a rook or bishop takes away the use of that piece for more useful choirs, like harassing his king maybe.

Basic Candidate move list.
Use this list to determine your next best candidate move. If you analyize the moves of the Masters in their gmes you will find that many of their moves were based on this important list.

Take a good look at our Basic Positive Chess Principles List. All of those concepts are based on the fact that they all increase the effectiveness or strengthen a position and so can be called positive factors either for your self or for your opponent as well.

By using the following simple example we can make it more clear on how to use this same simple example to use the other positive factors in much the same way.

So if you want to increase your effectiveness you would want to use them in a positive way. Conversely if you try to prevent your opponent from using them you have gained an advantage as well and then they could be turned around for a negative disadvantage for your opponent.

For example picking the first one, Control of the center. In the opening if you are White, you might want to try to take control of the center by moving e4. That move attacks two important squares in the center of the board to take control over those key squares. This is a strong positive move that attempts to take control of the center. But it does more than that. It also uses other positive factors in that it gains space, and takes control of important key squares in the center of the board,

Ideally your plan in the Queen pawn opening is to put pawns on d4 and e4 to control the center. Develop your Kings Bishop and Knight and castle early.

These are the positive ideas. The preventive ideas are to stop Black from doing the same, to shift the equilibrium in your favor.

So now your plan is how to try to stop Black from doing the same. If Black moves e6. You play d4 to increase your control on the center and maintain your advantage. Black plays d5 and you take it with exd5.. Black takes back with his Queen. What should be your next move?

If you follow your chess basic principles list you should develop your Knight with tempo and attack the Black Queen making a forcing move. Again this is not only a good forcing move but a candidate move as well based on a chess principle of developing knights before Bishops. Now White is about to fall into a trap because he failed to follow opening basics of not moving out your Queen early in the opening moves and losing tempo of developing your pieces as well.

Black has to respond to this move by moving his Queen to prevent capture, but instead Black decides to pin the Knight against the King with his dark Bishop from e8 to b4. White counters to relieve the pin with Bishop to d2. Black must now move his Queen from d5 or lose it. He moves it to c6. White attacks the Bishop with pawn to a3. Black blunders and decides he does not want to lose his Bishop and moves his bishop to a5 . and now Black is about to lose his Queen with a vicious pin of White's light square Bishop on e1 to b5. Pinning the Black Queen on c6 to his King, with the White knight on c3 holding the White Bishop's pin. and with that decisive move Black resigns with the loss of his Queen so early in the game.

You now can see that by White following basic chess principles he gained an advantage that was decisive in wining the game for him in just the first 6 opening moves of the game.

Once you have gained control of the center you will want to observe other very important basic chess concepts of basic opening principles and develop your pieces to key squares for their maximum effectiveness. You will want to strengthen any advantage you have made by developing your pieces and to strengthen your control on the center however small it may be. One way to do this is to always try to maintain at least one pawn in the center of the board.

As you now can see all of the above ideas can be used for you to make a plan on how to decide as to what your candidate moves should be in the opening. If you just use this one simple idea, no longer will you have to make decisions that are not based on sound chess principles concepts. And you will have a guide towards nullifying your opponents advantages.

Basic Positive Chess Principles List.

Use this list to gain an advantage.

Control of the Center.
Strong outpost station
Superior development
Gaining space.
Greater space
Bishop-pair
Rook(s) on a open file
Rook(s) on a half open file
Rook(s) on the seventh rank
Passed pawn
Protected passed pawn
Outside passed pawn
Advanced pawn
Advanced pawn chain
Better king position (castled king)
Pawn Lever advantage
Knight on Outpost advantage
Bishop(s) on diagonal
Strong outpost station
Taking Control of useful open file
Qualitative pawn majority
Take contro of a key square
Two Bishop Advantage
Taking the Initiative 
Castled King
Gain a central pawn majority. 
Gain a Queenside pawn majority.
Gain a Kingside pawn majority.
Make a plan and follow it and try to simultaneously try to stop the plans of the enemy.
Always play in the center because that is the most important area of the board.
Try to gain a spatial plus in the center.
Change bad bishops into good bishops,by moving pawns out of their way. 

Basic Negative Chess Principles List Use this list to thwart your opponent's advantages. By gaining the initiative, attacking, damaging his pawn structure taking away his space, limiting his piece movement, exposing his castled king, creating holes, creating weak squares and using outposts for your pieces, you are creating an imbalance in your favor and gaining the advantage. Prevent your opponent from expanding on the Queenside or Kingside. ---- Weak Pawns---- 1. Backward pawns 2. Doubled pawn 3. Isolated pawn 4. Hanging pawns 5. Hanging phalanx 6. Crippled majority wing 7. Blockaded Pawn ----Weak Squares---- 1. "Weak square complex" 2. Holes for outposts Exposed Castled King Compromised King-side protection Restricted Knight (Anti- Knight Moves) Lacking Initiative Bad Bishop Cramped position Limited Piece mobility Undeveloped Pieces

So now our Guideline list is shaping up into some good useful basic advice for our use in determining candidate moves.

Our Basic Guideline list.

1. Damage opponent's pawn structure.
2. Improve your pawn structure.
3. Gain space
4. Gain control of the center and increase center control.
5. Weakening king safety moves, either for you not to do or to your opponent.
6. Bishops on the long diagonals to increase their influence.
7. Rooks on open files or half open files. 
8. Develop strong outpost stations. 
9. Develop a passed pawn
10. Develop a outside passed pawn
11. Develop a protected passed pawn.
12. Better King position (Castled King)
13. Offside pawn majority
14. Superior Development.
15. Rooks on the seventh rank.
16. Avoid weak squares. 
17. Fast development of all your pieces.
18. Mobilize all of your pieces as rapidly as possible. 
19. Create an imbalance in your opponent's camp. 
20. Take control of weak squares, files and ranks.
21. Don't move a piece twice before you have development of all your pieces. 
22. Don't place a piece so that it blocks the path of another piece or of 
    a center pawn.
23. Don't move a piece to a square from which your opponent can drive it away 
    with a move that furthers his own development and impedes yours. 
    From the basic principle of not moving a piece twice in the opening moves. 
24. Don't make unnecessary pawn moves that weaken your pawn structure. 
25. Avoid having your own pawns on the same color as your bishop.
26. Always try to maintain at least one pawn in the center of the board. 
27. Avoid Backward pawns.
28. Avoid Doubled pawns.
29. Seek passed pawns.
30. Seek a two Bishop advantage
31. Limiting the mobility of pawns.
32. Limiting the mobility of pieces. (Anti-Knight moves)
33. Taking the initiative.
34. Gaining tempo
35. Using the principle of two weaknesses for an advantage.
36. Avoid making imbalances in your camp.
37. Always take towards the center.

(Remember that most imbalances are caused by pawn moves)

So now you have some good guidelines to use to help you decide on your candidate moves. Combine these guidelines with good tactical combinations, endgame theory and a little strategy and you will have a winning combination that will be hard to beat by your opponents.

You must try to understand the logic of every move in your analysis of the masters play. You must ask yourself before you move as to whether this move is good or bad based on your knowledge of Our Basic Guideline list that is based on solid basic chess principles. Use the elements of time, force, space and pawn structure. Plan ahead with a strategy plan based on time tested opening principles of play. Study and use sound basic principles of Strategy for long term advantage play.

As I keep saying, out of sight is out of mind. So if you want to really use and remember all of these basic guidelines as you play, you should print out Our Basic Guideline list and paste it on some stiff cardboard and put it in plain sight on your desktop to review every day.

Remember that simply putting it in a file in your computer to look at from time to time is still out of sight and out of mind and as such you probably will never again look at it.

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