Note: slightly revised 12/12/06.
A couple of bloggers have recently been discussing the need to come up with a thought process (Nezha, Tempo and Fierabras discuss it here
, and here
, respectively). Also, a while back Patrick over at Chessforblood wrote up his own thought process, VICE
While quite a few players poo-poo the idea of using a thought process, my attitude is this: everyone uses a thought process. Some people apply it consciously and explicitly, others unconsciously and automatically, and some are in-between (perhaps in quiet middlegame positions they consciously go through various board-evaluation criteria such as pawn structure, looking for a good plan). Further, some people do just fine without an explicit thought process, and some people will be helped more than others by making their thought process more explicit (what if Kramnik had had a simple blundercheck step in game two against Deep Fritz?).
We all know a lot about chess. A thought process increases the probability that the knowledge we already have will express itself in real games, decreasing the likelihood that we will miss obvious tactics or mates. Most coaches suggest that their students initially follow a set procedure for finding moves during a game. Since they are better than me (and probably most people reading this blog), I'll bet that this is because conscientious application of a thought process helps their students get better faster. With experience, the process should itself become largely automatic and unconscious, and not feel like such a stiltifying pain-in-the-butt to apply.
Ultimately, most thought processes usually boil down to the following steps:
1. Evaluate the present position to determine the strengths and weaknesses of each side.
2. Pick candidate moves that will increase a strength or eliminate a weakness.
3. Analyze the variation trees of the candidate moves, and pick the candidate with the best evaluation in all possible continuations.
A few months ago, I spent a lot of time writing up a thought process, which I called Chessplanner
. It basically consists of the above five steps, but the first step in CP is unique as it explicitly says that right after the opponent moves, don't think, just allow your pattern recognition machinery to work its magic, and see what tactical or other interesting moves pop out for you. As I said in the document linked above, "In previous versions of Chessplanner, I didn't explicitly make accommodations for pattern recognition, but it was an obvious shortcoming when I tried to apply it in real games. Previously, the first step was to evaluate the board, but it was counterproductive to start right in with such explicit calculations as it impeded the operation of my pattern recognition abilities."
In retrospect, it isn't only
pattern recognition that this first step makes room for. It is much more inclusive than that. It allows room for all
those powerful spontaneous, unconscious processes that we possess, built up via experience. It is while playing from this reservoir of unconscious knowledge that we achieve that 'flow' experience that Nezha and Fierabras discuss in the posts above.
Personally, though, just being in the flow isn't enough for optimal play. I often find even better moves when I consciously look for them, considering possible discovered attacks and the like. As I improve, though, these simple tactics pop out without effort. This is why I am not dogmatic that people need to consciously use a thought process: most players are so much better than me that things I need to think about just occur naturally for them. I bet that GMs hardly ever consciously apply a thought process. I have found my thought process especially helpful in forcing me to avoid bad habits (especially playing too quickly and not blunderchecking), and this may be the main reasons many coaches suggest that novices use a process.
There is a lot out there on the topic of thought processes in chess. Material I have seen that includes substantive discussions of thought processes are:
1. Kotov's Think Like a Grandmaster
is the locus classicus
of most subsequent work, though it actually doesn't lay out an explicit thought process. He focuses most on how to evaluate a position and the importance of being efficient in thinking through variations (e.g., don't analyze the same line multiple times). His approach of thinking through vast game trees is now considered somewhat unrealistic for use during games in today's relatively short time-controls.
2. Various Heisman articles such as A generic thought process
3. Soltis' How to choose a chess move
. He doesn't suggest any single thought process, but reviews different types of thought processes and evaluates their strengths and weaknesses in different positions. It is the most recent major revision of Kotov's work, and is quite good. I probably won't read it closely, cover-to-cover, for a couple of years, though.
4. Harding's Better chess for average players
, a wonderful little gem I just found that is meant to be your 'second' chess book. It includes a cool 10-step thought process in Chapter 6 (but it basically reduces to the above five-step process).
5. Silman's How to Reassess Your Chess
If anyone knows of any others that explicitly discuss thought processes in chess, please comment it in! In the next year, when I revise Chessplanner, I'll want to incorporate quotes and insights from all the major resources out there.