How Chess Masters Think? Separates masters from recreational players


Chess master thinking

For people who are new to chess, a chess master’s way of thinking seems like a superhuman intellectual capability that only a few people can understand. This is far from reality though, anybody can understand a chess master’s way of thinking if they know the fundamentals of the game.

They consider many things that a lot of amateur players do not even think of, it is in the nature of competitiveness that they also think of many factors. In this article we will be talking about what chess masters think and why they are thinking such things, keep on reading if you are interested.

Chess masters think like a normal player – Only much better and faster

There are many beginners who think that chess professionals have a magical way of thinking that goes beyond human comprehension, they are of course gifted but this is not the case. What they are doing is not magic, it is a result of thousands of hours spent strategizing, studying, and working on their game

For most of the moves chess masters usually do not think that differently from people who have decent experience with the game, it is just that they are naturally stronger. They can see more things, they can figure out common patterns in the position and act on it at a faster pace.

If you have been playing chess for quite some time then you would know this, most of the decent moves will show themselves in the position without you even thinking about it. Chess professionals are just that, exceptional they are way stronger and can see more things without thinking about it too much.

The way chess masters think is pretty much straightforward, what is the best move in the position and what am I trying to achieve here? A grandmaster that is looking to go for a draw would play the safest moves, if he is trying to go for a win then he would take more risk, that’s really what they are thinking for the most part.

Chess masters love thinking about the endgame more than anything

This is an underrated aspect of being a chess professional, most of them would prioritize the endgame among anything else. You would see many grandmaster games where they trade everything for a simple position and hope to win in the endgame, even when they could go for something in the middlegame.

One of the most important things that separates chess masters from your average intermediate player is that they think about the endgame, most would think that the middlegame is the most important. The endgame is key to winning top chess competitions, a lot of chess masters think about the long game.

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A beginner chess player might think about the middlegame more than anything, a chess master on the other hand would think about the long run and how it affects the endgame. A chess master that cannot convert a simple endgame can even be called an embarrassment, you should also be able to win from just being up a pawn in an endgame.

There is a reason why the best player in the world right now (and possibly of all time) is a master in endgames (magnus carlsen), chess master thinks about it more than any other phase of the game. There is also a reason why endgame inducing lines like the Berlin defense and the Petroff defense are more popular on elite levels, they are that important.

Chess masters think about their intended result while playing

This is another aspect of being a chess professional that is often overlooked, there are instances where a chess master would rather go for a draw than a win. Winning of course is the most favorable result of all, however it carries a lot of risk that may even lose a player the game.

Chess masters usually have two modes of playing, one is when they are trying to win and the other is when they are only trying to draw. This is actually a question that pops out to a chess master’s head as the game progresses, they have to think about this constantly.

Drawing a chess game is easier than trying to go for a win, there is even a saying that chess masters can draw at will. One just needs to play safe and trade most pieces in order to make a draw, if they are trying to win however they need to force complications that may lose them the game.

This is something that is looming in a chess master’s head all the time, whether they want to play it safe and go for a draw or try to risk it all by going for a win. Most beginners will only think of one result (a win) since they are not playing against elites, however a chess master needs to consider their current standing and evaluate how they are going to play.

Chess masters tries to take advantage of any opportunity no matter how small

If you watch any grandmaster games this is a theme that you will see often, any positional nuances that they can take advantage of is going to be taken advantage no matter how small. There are many grandmasters like anish giri, fabiano caruana, and ding liren that can squeeze something out of little mistakes.

When chess masters play they can see very subtle opportunities in positions that an average player cannot comprehend, usually positional. They can see if a pawn is weak, an endgame is winning, or when a knight is stronger than a bishop, this is how they think about the game.

Most grandmasters actually play defensively and focus on not making any mistake rather than forcing a well , rather they wait for an opponent to make a mistake. This is how a grandmaster thinks, most of the time they would rather wait for a mistake than risk going for a win (and perhaps losing the game).

Of course there are situations where the grandmaster needs to go for a win no matter what, however most default to defensive play which is why you see a lot of drawn games among the elites. Thinking about it, this is the most optimal way to play chess, play it safe and rarely lose a game but take advantage of any small win that can come your way.

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Chess masters are strategy first tactics second

When you watch a lot of beginners chess games you can notice that most look for tactics before anything, this is the opposite way of thinking from a chess master’s perspective. Chess masters would think about positional moves first with subtle intentions rather than a tactical combination, this is for a reason.

Looking for a tactic that actually works takes some time, a lot of energy and time is wasted if there isn’t a tactical combination actually available. This means that it is better to just play positional moves and wait for the opponent’s mistakes then to waste energy and time, plus it is much safer.

A chess master would think about how to improve the position 90% of the time rather than a tactical combination that can end the game, it is much safer. Of course a chess master would try to spot a tactic if it is obvious, however most would rather play positional moves if they cannot find one.

When doing interviews you can notice that super grandmasters usually only consider subtle positional moves until they realize that a tactic is possible. This tells us that strong chess players are strategy first and tactics later, they will not try to find a combination until they can feel that it is present.

Chess masters consider their opponent’s playing style

Some grandmasters think more than what is just seen on the chessboard, I am talking about the playing style of their opponent. Someone who has been playing the game for a long time knows that convenience is an important thing, one would normally want to take their opponent out of their comfort zone.

Most of the players that are new to chess only really look at themselves for improvement, and this makes sense since they don’t have a lot of skills related to the game yet. A chess master’s way of thinking is a little bit different, they already know a lot of things and would rather pay attention to the opponent.

Every opponent is a different kind of player that requires a different approach, you can’t play the same way against different types of playing styles. Which is why research before the game is incredibly important, most chess masters prepare for their opponent by looking at their previous games.

Grandmasters in particular have a whole team of seconds to prepare openings and study their opponents, they have to incorporate how their future opponents are going to play. In the elite level almost everyone is at the same level, in order to stay ahead one has to go beyond and study their opponent’s playing style.

Chess masters thinks about 4-12 moves ahead

When a chess master thinks they see several moves in the future that are much more than what a beginner can see (visualization and calculation), this is harnessed from years of continuous play. This is true, however a lot of people exaggerate how many moves chess masters see in the future that it is ridiculous.

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When we are talking about how many moves in the future can a chess master see it is usually between 4-12 moves, being up that amount is rare. Even when someone like Carlsen says he can see some 25 moves in the future it is usually based on preparation (or forced lines), even the world can only think 4-12 moves ahead.

When a chess master pauses and takes some time to think, they are usually calculating several moves in the future, usually on the moves that they have seen first. Most chess masters would not go into some 20 + moves into the future since their opponent might not play the initial variation, their opponent can deviate.

When you see a chess master calculating they are not really looking so much ahead in the future, rather they are in a constant decision-making phase on what is the right thing to do. Most can calculate almost immediately what is going to happen, however depending on many factors a chess master needs to make difficult decisions (not necessarily that they are looking 20 + moves in the future).

Chess masters are almost always pessimistic about their position

Contrary to what most people believe, chess masters are actually more pessimistic about their position and tend to underestimate themselves. This makes sense in a game such as chess where one mistake can decide everything, people want to not overextend their confidence.

A single move can single handedly lose the game, no matter how advantageous the position seems to become, a chess master needs to be pessimistic. They need to be critical of their play in order to raise awareness, if they let their guard down then some 30+ good moves will be wasted.

We have to remember that it only takes one single bad move in order to neutralize some 30 + good moves, this means that someone has to play seriously from beginning to the end. Especially in a competitive environment where it only takes so little to lose the game, a chess master is constantly thinking on how to improve their position.

They tend to critique themselves during the game and how they can improve their pieces without giving too much advantage, even when they are up in material. There is nothing more shameful than losing while being up in material, so a grandmaster tends to think pessimistically about the position while playing.

Chess masters think like how most normal chess players think except they are way better, they also take into consideration their opponent’s playing style and whether they should go for a win. Most of the time they would rather go for a draw, and this would warrant a different playing style that is much safer.

Most of their moves are also positional, they only look for tactics if they feel it is in the position, for the most part they focus on defensive moves that have subtle intentions. We can really learn a lot from how chess masters think since we can incorporate it in our own games, thank you for reading.

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