Chess Position Evaluation

It's essential to learn how to evaluate a position, especially the positions that result from the various possible choices for the next move. Here is what an International Master wrote:

1. Tactical threats. This beats everything else. No positional assessment can be made (or more accurately, they are useless) without checking all the tactics.
2. King's position. This is closely related to point no 1, but is a different category, as without king safety the game is likely to be lost, even if no immediate threats can be detected.
3. Material balance. If the material is unbalanced then you need to judge the compensation, eg an attack.

These are the three main pillars of position evaluation, in this particular order. Once it is done and they are all considered to be equal, then the following principles may come next:

Positional assessments:
1. Badly positioned piece. ("If one piece stands poorly, the whole position stands poorly" - Tarrasch)
2. Central control/space advantage.
3. Pawn structure (weak pawns, backward pawns, doubled pawns etc).
4. Superior/dominating pieces, eg the bishop pair, good knight vs bad bishop, etc.

My own list:
* Mobility and development of pieces, space, pins
* Control of the four centre squares
* Pressure and control of other squares
* Co-ordination of pieces
* Endgame chances
* Weak points, such as a doubled or isolated pawn, badly positioned piece or vulnerable king. These are focal points for the attack for one side and the defence for the other.

Other things to consider include: where is the action happening, kingside, queenside, or in the centre? Is the emphasis on attack or defence - who has the initiative? Note that certain advantages, such as earlier development, are only useful if they are exploited quickly. Not all advantages can be kept - some have to be swapped for others, eg the bishop pair to win a pawn. In fact, no advantage is of any use unless it is exploited.

It's important to have a specific aim at every stage of the game, such as to drive away a dangerous piece, or to win a pawn. There is little point in mechanically moving my pieces to what look like good squares unless I know what I am trying to achieve, both tactically and strategically.

What distinguishes a weaker from a stronger player is not so much how far they calculate ahead, so much as which lines they choose to calculate. It comes down to knowing what is really going on in the current position and focusing on what matters. One of my problems is that I cannot see what is essential in a position. I think, "But what about this threat, and what about that?" I try to hold the entire position together and it seems too hard because there are too many possible attacks. To paraphrase John Lennon, a chess game is what happens while you are making other plans.



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