How to avoid bad chess positions and what to do next when you find yourself in one

Tudor Rickards This post was prepared for a chess talk to members of East Cheshire Chess Club. It may be of interest to club-level players or parents who are increasingly being beaten up by their children at the game of chess. With a little ‘translation’, it may also have value as a guide to strategy and leadership as has been indicated in earlier posts

Anyone who wanders around our chess club during a match will know I get into bad positions, and sometimes get out of trouble. It’s not because I don’t know how to avoid bad positions, it is more that I break rules I was taught as a schoolboy.

Here are the rules I break, and why that is usually a bad thing. I also suggest what to try if you still break them, and find yourself in a bad position.

Rule 1.  Do not fall behind in development

This means do not move the same piece frequently, when other pieces remain in their original positions.

Rule 2. Don’t move pawns without thinking about where the opponent will attack the pawns

Pawns can’t move backwards.  When you move a pawn try to visualize your ‘chain’ of pawns, how the structure may persist, and how it may be broken.  The great Nimzowich teaches us how to attack pawn chains at the weakest point.

Rule 3. Beware of simplifying moves

Unless you are winning, you should avoid simplifying exchanges. More  often than not, exchanges favour the second player.  (Check this out on your games with a Search Engine. See how the advantage swings.)

Rule 4. Calculate most carefully when you think the position has become complicated

Some positions do not need a lot of calculations. For example, if your opponent has been playing the moves you expected. These are balanced positions, with pawns defended,  pieces coordinated.  Decide on how to strengthen the position.  Coordinate pieces to avoid under-protection, and over-burdened pieces. These are where tactics come in.

Rule 5. Practice Plan B

A plan B might be a change of strategy. If you have made a mistake you may need to find a plan that you hadn’t thought of. For example, sometimes if you lose  a pawn it leaves your opponent’s position slightly weakened. Look how to exploit it as if you made a pawn sacrifice.

Remember most games have chances for the player with an inferior position.  A losing game is different from a lost game. Your opponents may relax waiting for the game to be over in their favour

Rule 6.  Avoid time trouble

Try To make safe and simple ‘holding’ moves when you are in a familiar position, to keep up with your opponent’s time.  If you do get into time trouble, try to anticipate your opponent’s move and use your opponent’s time.  If you have guessed his or her move, reply quickly.

Rule 7.  Move quickly, but not too quickly

However careful you are, you will sometimes move too quickly. There are various bits of advice that can help. I found this on avoiding blunders useful not just for beginners.

Other things worth thinking about

In a series of exchanges, watch out for zwischenzug moves (intermediate moves that can ruin a combination).

If you have no obvious move, then you need to see what  candidate moves you can think of.  If you are thinking of breaking principles, be more careful.

There are many useful suggestions about avoiding blunders.  This article is worth studying.

Comments welcomed for other tips about blunders and how to avoid them.

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