A Guide to improve your evaluation skills

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My goal is to make chess the most widely played game in this planet. Although this may be overly ambitious, this is the right estimate looking at the amount of effort and dedication put in this website. This blog is just a by-product from the youthful exuberance of a 16 year old. I hope you will support me in this journey which I have undertaken.

May 13, 2020

“How do you improve your evaluation skills?” is a question I received from a person that asked me this in my forum (which you can access by clicking here).

This is a central issue, in my understanding almost practically proportional to “How would you improve at chess?” since the single greatest factor corresponding to your playing quality is your evaluation ability.

Besides, chess is a reasoning game, so improving how you think must be firmly identified with improving how you play. Certainly, things like having a superior demeanor, conquering fear, building stamina, and other non-thinking traits likewise influence your quality, yet your thinking skills is clearly at the core of the issue.

First let’s start out by defining simple yet intricate terms:-

Thought Process – This is the succession of events that occurs when you consider a chess move (counting what occurs on the adversary’s thinking time). This isn’t equivalent to the content in your thought, which is the thing that you are thinking. For instance, a procedure could begin with asking yourself “What are the things my adversary is attempting to do?” and “Is my rival’s move safe?” while the substance is the things the opponent is attempting to do and the information about the security of his move.

Analysis – the process of creating move trees during the thought process. This can be very specific move trees, such as “If I play Nxf7, he can re-capture …Kxf7 or Bxf7” or creating a more generalized version of move candidates, such as “My opponent has played 1.a4. Which openings can I play in reverse such that 1.a4 is not helpful, or even a detriment?”

Calculation – The analysis of forcing moves sequences, almost always involving captures and recaptures (haha agadmator), giving and getting out of check, and making and meeting threats. Forcing moves are checks, captures, and threats. Much of analysis is not forcing sequences but, when that occurs, the analysis becomes calculation.

EvaluationDetermining which side stands better, how much, and why. This almost always occurs at quiescent nodes in the analysis tree (e.g., you would not stop after capturing your opponent’s queen and say you were ahead a queen if the opponent can simply recapture to make the position even and “quiet”). The exception is that sometimes quiescence cannot be reached, usually in speculative sacrificial lines, when you have to use your judgement to evaluate the game. This can come from many reasons ranging from intuition to favourable pawn chains.

All other processes can be improved by consistent study and tactics. However, evaluation is a skill that is as important as analysis (sometimes even a post-thought of analysis!) and is something that the chess player needs to develop himself/herself.

A very good and recommended exercise to improve evaluation could be selecting fairly “quiet” positions where there are very likely no tactics and then evaluating the position, trying to clearly state which side you think stands better, how much (e.g. equal, white is a little better, white is a lot better, white is winning, white is winning easily, etc), and why. Then give the position to the engine and let it analyze and evaluate for a while and compare your evaluation to the engine’s.

For your evaluation to be deemed correct, you can most likely use any reasonable quantitative value. A fair amount would be when you are +- 0.40 points (that is 40 centipawn) away from the engine’s evaluation. It is half the value of a pawn and you can say that you’re evaluation skills are pretty good if you reach that level.

But for beginners and intermediate players, try to CONSISTENTLY (I repeat, CONSISTENTLY) aim between +- 0.75 – 1 points (that is 75 centipawns – 100 centipawns). This will allow you to keep improving and will increase your accuracy percentage. After, you trust your skills you can slowly reduce the deviation from the original value as predicted by the engine. This will allow you to keep improving indefinitely.

Although, the computer engine cannot tell you why it evaluated the position in that manner, what you can definitely do is rethink and look at a fresh angle trying to justify the engine’s point of view.
This is the best evaluation exercise thanks to the advent of neural networks, data storage and the proliferation of free engines. Be sure not to include a tactical position as the evaluation will be dynamic as there would be interesting lines and opportunities.

This article was originally meant to be a list of important definitions article, but I combined it with a forum question. This will be a precursor to other articles so make sure to go over the definitions once again as a lot of players are confused by this concept as well. Hope you’ve learned something new today.

Happy Learning,

Yash Mehta

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