The following framework for analyzing a position was outlined in the book Chess Instructor 2009 and described in a post by an international master with the screen name Meister on chessforums.org.
The Hertan Hierarchy
Opponent Makes a Move
-What is he/she threatening?
- Is there a direct (one move) mate threat or attack on a piece?
- What about a 2-3 move sequence of forcing moves?
- Did the piece moved uncover a threat by a different piece?
Option A: Opponent's Move Did Make a Threat
A1. Check again: is the threat real?
If I let him or her carry it out, do I have a forcing move at the end which turns the tables ('the sting at the end of the scorpion's tail')?
If Opponent's Threat is Real:
A2. Can I make an equal or stronger threat?
This is a crucial first question which club players often forget to ask, leading to 'knee-jerk defence' and many lost opportunities. First, did the opponent's move ignore my threat, and if so, would carrying it out lead to my advantage? Second, did his move allow me a new forcing possibility which trumps his threat?
If I Can't Effectively make an Equal or Stronger Threat:
A3. Can I defend actively?
Do I have a defensive move that meets the threat, but also furthers my goals, for instance by developing a new piece, or moving a piece to a better square? If no:
A4. Can I defend flexibly?
In other words, can I stop the threat without tying down my pieces too much, limiting my choice of future plans, or unnecessarily committing to a certain pawn structure? If no:
A5. If all else fails, can I defend the threat at all, without serious negative consequences? (Don't give material up for nothing!) If no:
A6. If I must give up material, can I achieve significant counterplay? If no:
A7. If I must lose material without counterplay, how can I resist most stubbornly?
Option B: Opponent's Move Did Not Make a Threat
B1. What are my most forcing options?
The most important analytical tool is the practice of always analysing the most forcing moves first. Do I have a 1-3 move combination leading to mate or win of material?
If I don't have any effective forcing options:
Now we are in the territory of strategy and positional play. The basic question of chess strategy is this:
B2. How do I improve my position??
It's a very tough question which is basically a lifelong learning process, but here's a very good question to start club players thinking in the right direction.
Where's my strength?
Meaning, in which area of the board are my pieces and pawns able to act most effectively? There are 3 options: the kingside, queenside, or centre. To answer this question, consider the following:
Where do my pawns control more space? In which direction is my pawn structure 'pointing'?
Where are most of my pieces posted - or pointing?
Where do I have open files for my rooks? If I don't have any, where can I create them by forcing pawn trades?
Does my opponent have any attackable weaknesses (structure, king position, under-development, etc.?)
Once you decide where your strength is, the next important strategic decision becomes:
How can I play to my strength?
Yes, there is a time and place for responding to your opponent's strength first, when objective judgement shows that this is necessary. But most club players are much too easily swayed from the crucial strategic imperative to make playing to one's strength the 'default option'. Playing to your strength is rather like the strategic equivalent of always analysing the most forcing moves first. All other things being equal, it is better to advance your own agenda than to respond to your opponent's. Here a few questions to ask yourself when considering options for playing to your strength:
Can I move a piece to a better (more mobile or aggressive) square?
Can I open a new line of attack on the side where I'm better?
Can I activate a piece that's not doing much, or transfer another piece into the attack zone?
Can I trade or chase off a key defender?
Can I provoke a structural weakness on the side where I'm better?