Chess & Tactics: The Evaluation of Chess Positions

Chess & Tactics: The Evaluation of Chess Positions

Every chess player faces the challenge of evaluating the position of his chess pieces on the chessboard. But at what point is a position obvious and clearly shows the chess piece that needs to be moved? When can the player save time by making a quick move? When does he need to analyse the game situation intensively and invest time carefully? In the following article, I would like to take a closer look at the factors that are important when evaluating a chess position. For the sake of completeness, I will also go into a few basics that should be used for the evaluation and will concentrate primarily on the middlegame in order to do justice to its complexity.


The Importance of Positional Evaluation in Chess

Due to the significantly better analysis possibilities offered by computers and, in particular, artificial intelligence in recent years, competition in chess has increased significantly. What was considered a good chess move a hundred years ago can now mean the loss of the game. And not because the move was actually good at the time, but rather because the opponent simply didn't have all the counter-attacking options in his repertoire. The countless famous chess traps that promise a quick win from the opening are a good example of this.

The famous Scholars Mate after four moves

The famous Scholar's Mate after four moves:
The queen moves via h5 to the unprotected square f7. Black has neglected his defence. The protection of the bishop leads to checkmate.

Even if the evaluation of the chess position has always been the most important criterion for the next chess move, today there is a much smaller margin for blunders. This also means that every chess player must prepare methodically and much more extensively for the evaluation of his game situations. As time always plays an important role in chess, the game must be analysed as efficiently as possible.


Important Factors when Analysing the Chess Position

Chess is one of the most complex board games in the world. A complete analysis of a game situation, especially under time pressure, is therefore virtually impossible. Nevertheless, certain constellations can always be evaluated and taken into account when deciding on the next move. The challenge here is to recognise a pattern in the chess position as quickly as possible that reveals the opportunities and risks.


Material Value & Material Ratio

Even though the material value of the chess pieces is part of the basic knowledge, I would like to explain it again here for the sake of completeness. All chess pieces have a value which, for simplification purposes, is defined by the equivalent value of a pawn. The following is an overview:

  • King = ∞
  • Queen = 9
  • Rook = 5
  • Bishop = 3
  • Knight = 3
  • Pawn = 1

The value of the king cannot be measured, as its protection determines victory or defeat. The queen has the equivalent value of 9 pawns, making it the most valuable chess piece on the chessboard. The queen is followed by the rook, which has a value of 5 pawns. The bishop and knight are valued at 3 pawns, although there is often disagreement here. The bishop is considered by many to be slightly stronger than the knight. Finally, the pawn represents the equivalent value of 1.

The evaluation of a game situation or a chess position should always take place against the background of these countervalues, as they can represent a measure of the striking power but also of the defence. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, more on this later. However, it is always important to remember that chess pieces should only be captured if this actually results in a tactical or strategic advantage. If, for example, a player is behind in material value, exchanging chess pieces without a recognisable advantage is always a disadvantage and should be avoided as far as possible.


The King Safety

The first evaluation of the chess position is to ensure the safety of the king. Is my king under threat? Have I already castled? Is a chess piece pinned in defence of my king? There are many game situations that affect the king, even if it only really becomes active in the endgame. In order to be able to concentrate more on the attack, it is therefore important to keep your own king safe and not to neglect it when making your own moves. A good example is the back rank mate, which can also occur in the middlegame if you protect your king but don't give him any freedom of movement.

Back-Rank Check Mate in the Middlegame

Back-Rank Check Mate in the Middlegame:
The rook moves to b8 and forces the black bishop to f8. With the support of the white bishop on h6, victory is assured.

In the early phase of the game, after moving the knight and bishop, castling should also be played and an escape route has to be provided for the king. A simple pawn move on the a- or h-file could be sufficient for this. When analysing the chess position, the first priority is to check the safety of the king. It is essential to avoid being forced into zugzwang by a vulnerable king.


Concrete Threats by Both Players

The main focus is on the threats. On the one hand, they are the greatest danger, as they represent the tactical goal of the opponent, but on the other hand they are also a great opportunity to put the opponent under pressure. The most common threats in the opening and middlegame come from the knights and bishops, as they quickly come into play and create a complex dynamic. This is usually followed by the queens and rooks, which are moved later and more cautiously, but are also more powerful.

To analyse the game situation, the existing attacking possibilities of these chess pieces should be re-evaluated in each move. And here it is important that this is always done anew. Players are often so focussed on their own attacks and motives that the opponent's threats go unnoticed or are simply overlooked. This is the main reason for blunders in chess that result in the loss of a chess piece or even the loss of the entire game.

Tactics exercises are a good way to practise evaluating such game situations. Well-known chess portals such as or offer a large repertoire here.

The search for the best manoeuvre in a chess puzzle

The search for the best manoeuvre in a chess puzzle
(solution below)

The big problem here, however, is that the training with these exercises cannot be transferred directly to a real game situation. The chess puzzle always provides a game situation in which an important tactical manoeuvre is possible. In a normal game of chess, on the other hand, it is not clear when thoughtful consideration can win the game with a clever move. In the above example, there is a complex game situation that could occur at any time in the middlegame. But how do you recognise that this is exactly the time to seek out an outstanding chess move?

Nevertheless, practising with these so-called chess puzzles should not be omitted. Although they do not promote the identification of a crucial game situation, good practice can significantly increase the speed of game analysis.

The solution to the above problem is as follows:
Black moves his queen to d4 and puts the white king under zugzwang, as the knight is pinned on f3. Black then captures the white bishop on c4. Recognising the unprotected bishop and the pin represent two challenges at once, which in combination lead to winning the bishop.


Strengths and Weaknesses of the Pawn Structures

The pawn structures of both players also define the structure of the game. It is not uncommon for attacking opportunities to arise only by breaking a pawn structure or by the push of a pawn itself. But attacks can just as often be blocked by the advance of a simple pawn. It is important to realise that neglecting pawns restricts the freedom of movement of all the other chess pieces and also generates fewer offensive opportunities for pawn promotion later in the game. They can also lead to the loss of a game if they are not moved and constrict the king. Many famous games have ended with a king surrounded by its own pawns and unable to find a way out (see King safety above).

When evaluating the game situation, it is therefore important to find weak points in the opponent's pawn structure and to avoid own weak points. The challenge here is often not to attack, but to favour a pawn rather than a knight or bishop when making the next move. Many players try to avoid this so-called slow play because a passive style of play is considered disadvantageous. As a result, the pawns are only moved out of necessity and their potential is ignored when evaluating the position.


The Activity of the Chess Pieces

Even though all chess pieces have a material value, this is highly variable in a game situation. A queen who is unable to move is useless despite her high material value. In a chess position, this can mean that an opponent's bishop can be more valuable than your own bishop simply because of its position. If a king stands on a dark square after castling, the value of the opponent's bishop, which also moves on the dark squares and could attack the king in the course of the game, automatically increases.

Early x-ray attack on the king by the bishop

The bishop aims for the king's square and can become a threat during the course of the game

The rooks cannot always realise their full potential either. In highly contested chess games, it can happen that a winner is determined before a rook has even been able to enter the game. If such a situation arises, chess pieces that are highly unlikely to be relevant to the outcome of the game should not be identified as potential targets for an attacking move.


The Space Advantages and Space Disadvantages

The strength of each chess piece depends on how well it can move on the chessboard. A space advantage therefore exists if your own chess pieces have more movement, attack or defence options than those of your opponent. Whether a player is at an advantage or disadvantage can be based on various factors. Blunders usually lead to space disadvantages, of course, while a clever move can conquer half the chessboard. But also the choice of the chess opening has a significant influence. Black often allows his opponent more space in the centre in order to prepare tactically for a counterattack. But how is a space advantage evaluated and what influence does it have on the decision for the next move? This question is particularly difficult as all influencing factors interact with each other. Nevertheless, the chess position should be checked for the following points:

  • Centre Control
  • Open Lines and Diagonals
  • Pawn Structures
  • Blockades
  • Activity of the Chess Pieces


Space advantage in chess

The space is determined by the pawn structures, but Black has a decisive advantage

In this example, the chess position appears balanced. However, Black has a much more mobile knight, while White only has his bishop, which is also blocked by his own pawns. In order to ensure that the knight can utilise its strength, Black must move his king into the attack as quickly as possible.



Evaluating the chess position is the greatest challenge in chess and a benchmark for a player's playing strength. Without a clear structure and analysis of all possible dynamics, an efficient search for the best chess move is almost impossible. However, by working through and categorising the various analysis factors, it is at least possible to create a checklist that can help to reduce the number of blunders.

I hope my guide was able to help you evaluate your chess position and offer new starting points for finding the best chess move. If you also play chess on the chessboard, have a look at my range of Staunton chess pieces and chessboards. I have a wide selection of handcrafted products in tournament format.


I hope you enjoy the game, have lots of success and make rapid progress in your learning.

See you soon.



Back to blog