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GM Joel on When it's Not Your Move Print E-mail
By GM Joel Benjamin   
January 31, 2008
 Hi Joel,

 I'm Josh and I'm a class A or B player from Western New York. What do stronger players (GM's or IM's) think about when it’s not their turn? I read once that computer programs are often analyzing and guessing what their opponents might play and thus they come up with a set of responses for that.  I know when it's my turn I often (if the situation is winning for me or perhaps I'm comfortable) meander around the tournament room viewing other games, to look at the other results. I'm aware that perhaps this isn't the best thing to do when it’s not my turn but I honestly don't know what to think about.

I've tried to predict my opponent's best move and come up with a few responses. However about 75% of the time my opponents are making moves that aren't my predicted moves, (which is not to say that they are poor players, far from it, they are just making moves that I'm not analyzing or missing). It usually doesn't bother me when I don't see the moves that they have made because I usually trust my own personal judgment on what is their best move.
 How could I better use my opponent’s time?

Thank you,
Josh Rofrano
Rochester NY
1343 and climbing


I believe that computers continue to analyze from the expected move until it is their turn again.  Computers don’t make good role models here anyway; human brains need to rest periodically to stay fresh for later decisions.  Most grandmasters will also get up to wander the room after making a move from time to time.  What to do when seated at the board and not on move is an excellent, if infrequently asked question.

As a teacher, I am frustrated by the way children often ignore the game after they make a move.  I’ve seen many kids fail to follow up on their intentions because they have forgotten what they were planning by the time their opponent makes a move.

While this time is valuable, in a way it is a bonus.  You don’t need to come up with a move and stop your time from ticking away, so you are free to use it in many constructive ways.  Predicting your opponent’s best move and analyzing possible responses is one of the things you should be doing.  This project is especially fruitful in a tactical position that lends itself to concrete analysis.  However, if your opponent has a lot of possible moves that could plausibly be played, you need not focus on just one of them.  In that situation you might be better off planning, both for yourself and your opponent.  Concentrate on ideas and strategies, rather than moves and responses.

Players should use a combination of general and specific analysis depending on the nature of the position and clock situation.

I haven’t seen literature on the subject, nor have I discussed it with my colleagues.  But my intuition is that strong players do a lot more of this general analysis while opponents are on move.

By the way, you described yourself as an “A” (1800-1999) or “B” (1600-1799) player despite a rating in class “D” (1343).  I’ll take this as a bold prediction, and I hope you are able to back it up!