How To Improve Your Chess Calculation

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One of the most fundamental skills in chess is the ability to calculate moves in your head.

And to do that, you need to have a strong understanding of the chessboard itself.

After all, if you can't visualize the board clearly in your mind, it's going to be difficult to calculate anything accurately.

A tennis player (for example sake) must intimately understand the tennis racket, the court, and the ball. They must know how the ball bounces on different court surfaces, how the strings on their racket affect ball spin, and how to exploit different angles. Similarly, a chess player must understand the chess board — aka square color dynamics, coordinates, etc.

Now, the big question…how on Earth do we improve these things?

Here are some exercises:

NOTE: do these without looking at the board - only use the board to verify your answers.

LEVEL 1: Identify the color of each square: This might seem trivial, but it's important to be able to quickly recognize whether a square is light or dark. It can help you with things like identifying potential pawn structures and recognizing different color complexes of different pieces. So, try to visualize the board in your head and name the color of each square, starting from a1 and going all the way to h8. Play around with it! Have a friend tell you a coordinate and you have to figure out whether it’s a light or a dark square.

Practice examples:

What is the square color of: b4, d6, e2, f5, g7?

LEVEL 2: Which squares does X piece control when it is on Y square? This exercise helps you understand how to control different parts of the board. Choose a piece and a square, and then try to picture all the squares that the piece can attack or control from that square. For example, if a bishop is on c1, which squares can it control diagonally? Can it control any squares on the opposite side of the board? You can adjust the level of difficulty by adding more pieces to the mix.

Practice examples:

  • What squares does a knight on e2 control?
  • What squares does bishop on c7 control?
  • What squares does a black pawn on d6 control?
  • (Harder) What squares do a bishop on b2 and a knight on f3 control?

LEVEL 3: How can X piece get to Y square in Z amount of moves? This exercise helps you practice visualizing different moves and combinations. Choose a piece and a square on the board, then try to find a way to get that piece to the square in a certain number of moves. For example, how can a knight get from f3 to d7 in two moves? You can easily adjust level of difficulty by changing up the distance between two squares, changing the pieces, and adding constraints (like “without getting captured by an opponent’s piece!)

Practice examples:

  1. What are the different ways a queen on d2 can move to g5?
  2. What’s the shortest route for a knight to move from b3 to d5?
  3. What’s the shortest route for a white bishop to move from b2 to g5 (if there is a black pawn on e7) without getting captured?

The key is to practice these types of exercises regularly and to try to visualize the board as clearly as possible in your mind. You can play around with different computations and constraints.

I personally enjoy practicing these exercises anytime I have a little bit of free time - like if I’m waiting for an appointment, in an Uber ride, or heck if I’m just bored at home and sitting on my couch. The beauty of this you can practice these exercises with your just your mind!

As you get better at these exercises, you'll find that your ability to calculate moves and combinations will improve as well. It’s not uncommon to start playing better at blindfold as well.

Good luck, and have fun!

-Coach Priyav

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Ready To Unlock Your Full Chess Potential?
Train with our top-tier chess coaches. Private, online lessons carefully designed for players of all ages and skill levels.