Friday, 12 February 2010

How Do You Evaluate a Position?

First of all, I have some exciting news. My friends at have created and posted a video from the London Chess Classic tournament held back in December. There are several interviews with grandmasters including Vladimir Kramnik! You will also notice a few shots of me in action :) So please do check out the video and let me know what you thought of it:

Tomorrow is the start of my all-play-all Challengers tournament at Uxbridge (near London). You can see the list of my opponents in the table here:
The tournament is quite intense with one round tomorrow and two rounds for the following 4 days. Yes, I'll be working hard during the Saint Valentine's Day. But I wish you a very happy Valentine's Day filled with lots of love! I'll update you on my tournament result towards the end of next week.

In the last post I published a puzzle (Yurenok- Peat). It was very easy and I'm sure all of you found the solution. My opponent resigned after: 21.Nxg6 because after 21...hxg6 22.Qxg6+ he either loses his queen 22...Bg7 23.Qxd6 or gets checkmated 22...Kh8 23.Rh3+ He could have moved his rook with 21...Rf7 but I guess he didn't fancy playing with two pawns down in a totally lost position!

I was asked the other day to describe how I evaluate a position. I'm sure you'd agree it's quite a complicated topic to discuss. I would be very interested to hear from you - my blog readers - how you would answer this question. My guess is there are as many answers to this question as there are chess players in the world!

During a game I don't systematically evaluate every weakness vs. every strength to come to a final evaluation. I do it more subconsciously than that, but if I was to "break down" my subconsciousness it would include all the things I know about what's good (e.g. bishop pair, etc) and what's bad (e.g. lack of space, etc) and my overall level of experience of the position in question. Some books suggest very detailed approach for position evaluation but I've never heard any decent chess players going through a tick list in their head!

My evaluations probably tend to range from "winning", to "better", to "about equal", to "complicated", to "difficult" to "lost". On top of that I consider my time spending situation and try to assess my chances realistically from that perspective. I'm also an optimist by nature so have a tendency to overestimate my chances sometimes. It's not that easy to cure this problem, but I'm trying. One of my friends IM Adam Hunt has given a good advice which went along the lines of: don't assess a position as "winning" or "losing", but rather assess as "white has better chances" or "black has better chances". His view is that is how top players evaluate positions if you listen to their after-game analysis. I think this advice certainly has some psychological value as it's much harder to re-adjust during a game if you thought you were winning earlier but didn't at the end, however it's not such a big psychological loss if you thought you only had better chances! Another related point is also in the wording - it's important to notice opponent's "chances" - something that I don't always pay enough attention to. Well, enough for now! Maybe with your help we can start a bit of a discussion on this topic.


Ryan said...

I like the idea of not thinking of your position as 'winning' or 'losing', but only as one side or the other having better chances.

I think I'll try that!

Alberto Santini said...

After some lessons with an IM, my thinking process is the following: I check if there is some fatal threat for my army, then I check for tactics (checks, captures and threats) and, eventually, I find a plan.

When I found the strategical idea, I check if there is an opponent's tactics, confuting my candidate move and the plan.

In summary: pre-check, MY tactics, MY strategy, HIS tactics.

I do it more subconsciously than that, as you said, and the clock can change (mess) the context.

The evaluation of a position is critical in a chessplayer's practical strength; usually I overestimate or underestimate the dynamic and permanent factors (tunnel vision). The practice and the in-depth analysis help to acquire a positional flair - a "feel for the position".

I recommend the book "Questions of Modern Chess Theory" by Isaac Lipnitsky (2008 - Quality Chess) - the missing link between Nimzowitsch's My System and chess today.

<> (I.L.)

Maria Yurenok said...

I'm glad you like it SonofPearl. Alberto, you seem to have a very good approach to evaluating a position. I haven't heard of the book that you've recommended but will look out for that.