Sunday, July 29, 2007


ISAM: Inspect, Select, Analyze, Move

A simple mnemonic I use while playing slower games of chess is ISAM. I pronounce it like "I, Sam." And, no it has nothing to do with that ISAM.

Inspect, Select, Analyze, Move.

When it is my turn to move I inspect the position. I quickly examine all possible moves for each side in the immediate position to get a sense of threats and opportunities.

I then select some of my possible moves as candidates.

I analyze those candidate moves and determine the best move. "Best" may be determined by tactical considerations or positional but at least some tactical consequences must usually be considered.

Then, I write down that move on my score sheet and make one last check of it on the board and then finally make that move on the board. Writing down the move before playing it has helped me to reduce blunders. Sometimes one gets caught up in the analysis of possible future positions and I find this last step of recording the move and looking at the board in the present is a useful last step before playing the move.

This process is iterative in nature. As I am analyzing moves I may realize there are additional candidate moves I should consider. Or, as I am analyzing one move I may realize I need to reconsider something in a move already analyzed. I prune the analysis tree in depth and breadth where ever I can to keep the analysis simple and within my ability to calculate and manage.

The above is what I do on my move. On my opponent's move I consider positional and more general issues. I think long-term. I consider the board with just pawns and kings -- am I winning, losing or drawing that possible pawn ending and how should that impact my play? Do I want the Queens to stay on or to be traded? What is my best piece? My worst? How can I improve it? What is his best piece? How can I trade it or reduce it effectiveness? What is his worst piece? How can I keep it bad? What about the center? I may also keep analyzing tactics if that is the dominant feature of the position.

Update: As Blue Devil Knight points out in comments it is no longer legal to write down your move before playing it in USCF events. See Move First, Write Later, A New Year's Resolution?. So I guess my procedure will change to touching the scoresheet and fixing my move in my mind as if I had written it down, etc. and actually record the move after the fact. Or something like that.


Looks good. Are you allowed to write before moving? I think that is now against the rules. For some reason people are very angry about this.
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