The art of looking for Candidate moves!!
Calculation has always been an important topic in Chess.
Aspiring players work tirelessly on improving their calculations.A lot of research and work has been done on this subject in chess literature.
One of the first books that delved deeply into this topic of calculation was the book “Think Like a Grandmaster” written by Alexander Kotov. In the book he mentioned how his results were affected due to his bad calculations and shared ways by which he was able to fix this problem.
A groundbreaking work when it was released - Think Like A Grandmaster by Alexander Kotov
One of the terms that he coined in the book was ‘Candidate moves’.
He suggested that before a player starts analyzing a position he/she should look for ‘Candidate moves’.
This in simple words means to look for options in the start position before one immerses himself deeply into the mazes of complicated variations.
Whenever you look at a position, some moves will automatically pop up in your brain.
But instead of going ahead and calculating them deeply, it makes sense to stop and look whether there are more options available than the ones our intuition suggests.
This doesn’t mean that you will always find a better move than the one you considered at first to the best.
But it surely will increase the probability that you don’t miss anything stronger in the given position.
That is why I call it a good habit in the calculation technique.
Pic Credit: ChessKid's/Word the Day!
Any habit like the one looking for candidate moves can be cultivated by proper training and proper exercises.
In this case it is important not to put too much emphasis on solving the positions accurately but rather following the process in your mind while calculating.
During training, looking for candidate moves should be nailed in your head so that it comes automatically during the tournament game.
Therefore, one of my main aims while training students in to cultivate in them good calculation habits and looking for candidate moves in one of them.
Consider for example the following position borrowed from of my training exercises:
White to play!
When I give this position to solve to my students, most to them start calculating deeply after the ‘obvious’ 1.Rd1.
All they get in the end is a draw.
They try different moves while calculating but in vain.
Then I tell them to look for options at the start! They look surprised that there even exists an option at the start.
What else is possible apart from the obvious 1.Rd1!? But when they start looking other moves available, it dawns on them that there is a much stronger move available for white, that is 1.Rh8!! Instead of capturing the rook on d1 white should sacrifice his own rook in order to get a winning advantage!
Well, this is an extreme example to prove that looking for options at the start helps a lot! But even in tournament games we miss a lot of good opportunities when we focus only the move suggested by our intuition.
Here is one of the examples from my own game where I missed a golden opportunity to defeat a strong Grandmaster with the black pieces because I didn’t get past my intuition and look for options…
Ivan Saric vs Swapnil Dhopade, Black to Play
This position arose in my game against GM Ivan Saric (Rating – 2664) of Croatia in the Gibraltar Masters 2018.
I was on the back-foot since the opening and the game was slipping through my grip.
When I played 34…Bc3 attacking his knight on d2, he played 35.Nf3 and I immediately replied with my pre-decided move, 35…d2 and then went on to lose the game in a few moves.
But, had I looked for options in the diagram position I would have found the strong 35…Be1! which turns the tables in blacks favour.