How to Evaluate Chess Positions
Chess Middlegame Strategy

How to Evaluate Chess Positions? | 4 Key Factors

How to Evaluate Chess Positions? | 4 Key Factors

In this lesson, I will teach you how to evaluate chess positions easily within seconds with the example of the world champion Magnus Carlsen’s games.

How do we say whether a position is equal or someone is better? Is it the material or attacking opportunities? What about positions where there is material imbalance? Study this lesson and learn the 4 KEY FACTORS to evaluate positions in chess.

You can complement this lesson with The #1 Shortcut to Become Strong in Chess.

Evaluate Chess Positions like Magnus Carlsen

I will share with you how you can evaluate any chess position or any chess move easily within seconds and do it similar to Magnus Carlsen. Let’s take a look!

Example-1: Carlsen vs Giri

It’s White to move, and here is the first question: How would you evaluate a position like this? Who’s better and why?

How to evaluate chess positions like Carlsen against Giri

Or maybe is it equal? What do you think about this?

First of all, it’s not that easy to evaluate the position because it’s really imbalanced. We can see that the material is imbalanced, the pawn structure is also completely different and, at first, you may find yourself a bit confused deciding who’s better and why.

Maybe you think that because Black has two rooks and White has a rook and a bishop against them; maybe Black is better. Or maybe, White’s better because the black king is a bit exposed. Maybe White can deliver some checks here… But neither of that is correct!

4 Factors to Evaluate Any Chess Position

First of all, let me share with you the classical approach, which is a step-by-step approach that you can use to evaluate chess positions easily. Later, I’ll give you a pro tip on how you can use a simplified version of this classical approach to evaluate any position within seconds.

In the classical approach, there are four factors that you get to consider to evaluate a chess position.

First Factor

The first factor is material. If we start counting material for this example, you can see that White has a bishop and two pawns against a rook. So, there is about equal material balance here.

Approximately, 3 points (a bishop) + 2 points (2 pawns) = 5 points (a rook).

Second factor

The second factor is activity, which mainly talks about activity of your pieces and your opponent’s pieces. If we evaluate this factor here, we can see that White is clearly ahead.

For example, both black rooks are passive, doing nothing. The knight on a rim is dim. Basically, all of Black’s pieces are passive. In contrast to this, if you take a look at White’s pieces, the white rook on the b-file is doing a great job, controlling an open file, as well as putting pressure along the seventh rank. The knight on h6, even though it’s on the edge, it’s in close proximity to the king ―it can deliver some checks; therefore, it’s pretty active.

Currently, the bishop on a3 is not doing much, but it’s White to move and White can easily push the pawn forward and the bishop also gets very active.

Therefore, comparing activity, we can see that White is clearly ahead. All White’s pieces are a lot more active compared to Black’s. There is a clear edge for White.

Third Factor

The third factor is the king’s safety. And even though in an endgame it is a less important factor because normally you cannot checkmate the opponent’s king, nevertheless we can see that the white king is completely safe here and the black king is a bit exposed.

Again, White can deliver some checks here and annoy the king. Therefore, overall, White has an advantage here. Not such a big advantage, but nevertheless it’s a an edge for White.

Fourth Factor

And the fourth, and final factor, is pawn structure. Here if we take a look at the pawn structure, we can see that White has a passed pawn along the c-file, which is really dangerous. It’s fairly close to the promotion square. And if you compare this to Black’s pawn structure, you can see that all of Black’s pawns are isolated and weak. Therefore, talking about pawn structure, White is clearly ahead once again.

Summary of Factors

Now let’s put it all together. Talking about the four factors to evaluate a position, we can see that the material balance is approximately equal, but the rest of the factors are clearly in White’s favor.

This shows you that White should have a significant advantage here. Three items out of four are in White’s favor. That’s a big advantage and, indeed, this position is winning for White.

You can see in the video lesson how the game ended. Black resigned within a few moves. It was an easy winning for White.

By the way, why would we like to think like Carlsen? Well, maybe you should know that many chess players consider Magnus Carlsen as the GOAT.

Example-2: Esipenko vs Carlsen

What do you think about this position? It is White to move, but it doesn’t really matter that much. Who’s better and why?

How to evaluate chess positions like Carlsen against EsipenkoNow you know the factors to evaluate chess positions, so you can evaluate as precisely as Magnus Carlsen. ☺

Let’s do it together. The first factor is material, and material balance is equal.

The second factor is activity of your and your opponent’s pieces. And here we can see that it’s more or less equal. Both players centralize their forces, they are fully developed, the knight is on the edge of the board, but is doing a good job putting pressure onto the pawn. We can’t really say that it’s a bad piece. This is quite normal, both players are doing well here. Therefore, it’s about equal.

In terms of the pawn structure, we can see that Black has two pawns in the center of the board and, even though White is trying to attack them, they are well protected. Since they’re in the center of the board, they’re also controlling a wide range of squares, so there are pros and cons having this kind of isolated pawns in the center. Once again, the pawn structure is approximately equal.

By the way, while evaluating a chess position, you don’t have to dig too deeply, trying to really calculate the amount of weak squares both players have or something like that. We evaluate it approximately. Therefore, if you aren’t sure whose pawn structure is better, it probably means that it’s about equal.

The final factor is the king safety, and here both kings are safe. There is no danger for either of them; therefore, we can say that it’s equal as well.

All in all, we can conclude that all four factors are about equal for both players and, therefore, the position is about equal. Indeed, after a repetition a moves, the players agreed for a draw. None of them could find a way to make any progress here and the position was equal.

Example-3: Carlsen vs Fedoseev

Again, we’ll go through the four factors that we already learned to evaluate chess positions. At the end of the lesson, I’ll share with you the simplified version of evaluation, where you spend just a few seconds evaluating a position.

Let’s do it step by step, so that you can clearly understand the entire system.

How to evaluate chess positions like Carlsen against Fedoseev

First of all, the material balance. Here we can see that White has a rook against a bishop and the pawn. This is material advantage for White, approximately worth one pawn. Here it’s an edge for White.

If we’re talking about the activity of the pieces, then here the rook on f2 is doing a fairly good job because it’s open along the file. It’s controlling the f-file, so this rook is okay, even though it’s not doing too much because everything is already covered there. The rook on d1 is completely passive, it’s just protecting the pawn on d4. The bishop on f1 has nothing to do, it’s completely restricted by the black pawns. It can’t really go out anywhere, it can’t do anything. The king on g1 is also stuck here. In an endgame, you want your king to be closer to the center of the board. So, most of White’s pieces are passive. Now let’s take a look at Black’s pieces.

The black rook is extremely active along the a-file. You can go inside with Ra2, and it will potentially create a lot of problems for White. The knight on e6 is a great knight, it’s putting pressure onto the white pawn and it’s also blockading White’s pawn from e5. Therefore, it’s a great piece! The king is in the center of the board and is great for an endgame. It’s also better than the white king. The bishop on b7 is not doing much, so it’s not about the best piece of Black’s, but aside of that Black’s position is extremely active. So, here it’s a clear edge for Black.

Talking about the king safety, both kings are safe. Usually, in an endgame you cannot really attack the opponent’s king.

And talking about the pawn structure, the final factor: we can see that Black has advanced pawns which are ready to go forward anytime. This is a really big problem for White. On the other hand, White’s pawn on d4 is weak, the black knight is putting pressure onto this pawn and White has to constantly guard it. Overall, Black’s pawns are more advanced. So, here once again, it’s a clear edge for Black.

Summarizing all the factors, White is ahead in material and Black has a better pawn structure as well as pieces activity. Therefore, it is two to one. Black is ahead in two factors and White is ahead in just one. Therefore, Black is better, but White is still fighting. It’s not an overwhelming advantage for Black.

White can still try to survive. This was a long game. You can download the games for this lesson, if you want to see the continuation of this game.

One of the most common questions chess players ask is: “How do chess grandmasters think ―how can they calculate quickly and find the right moves always?” You can find the answer on my lesson Chess Grandmasters SECRETS Revealed ? | Think like a GM!

Example-4: Carlsen vs Nepomniachtchi

Pro Tip: How Grandmasters Evaluate Chess Positions.

Now let’s move on to the next example. It’s Black to move, but it doesn’t really matter.

Now let’s evaluate this position in a more advanced way! I’ve told you that there is a simpler way how chess grandmasters often evaluate positions in their blitz games and even in their long games.

How to evaluate chess positions like Carlsen against Nepomniachtchi

It’s very intuitive. very quick and very simple. Even though, normally, there are four factors, two of them have the greatest importance, which is material as well as activity of your pieces. You can just evaluate basically these two and forget about the rest!

Usually, this is enough to get a precise evaluation. And another good thing is that the first factor, the material balance, is quite static. The material usually does not change from one move to the other. Therefore, you don’t even have to think about it every time!

For example, in this case, the material balance is equal, and it’s likely to stay that way for quite a number of moves.

How to Evaluate the Activity of the Pieces?

Therefore, it comes down to basically just comparing the activity of your pieces and just evaluating this single factor alone. It gives you a fairly precise evaluation of the position.

While evaluating the activity of your pieces as well as the opponent’s pieces, you don’t have to really go too much in depth and try to compare all.

You don’t need to compare piece by piece. You don’t have to do it methodically. You can just have the overall picture of the position.

Look quickly who’s more advanced, who’s controlling more squares on the board, who’s more active, who’s creating threats… Just thinking in those terms gives you an intuitive evaluation of who’s better.

In this way, you can evaluate the position within a second probably.

Looking at this position, for example, we can see that it’s quite symmetric, but White’s controlling an open file. White’s queen can possibly go forward, either to c7 (going into Black’s territory) or maybe to c6 (going after the a-pawn). Therefore, it gives White an edge, and that’s it!

Within your head, you can do this just within one second and you can already see that White is better!

Now, why is that so? Why is it that we can a little bit forget about the king safety as well as the pawn structure?

Well, it’s because pieces are just a lot more powerful than pawns; and, therefore, if your pieces are stronger than your opponent’s pieces, then usually you don’t have to worry about your king safety. It will be safe by default, just because your pieces are guarding it so well. And it’s the same thing with the pawn structure. The pawn structure is usually not a problem if your pieces are extremely active.

In this case, for example, the pawn on a6 is kind of weak, but not just by itself, but because Black’s pieces here are doing nothing. They’re stuck on passive positions. Therefore, White indeed can go Qc6 and start attacking the pawn. It’s not really the pawn itself, it’s rather that the black pieces are not centralized, not active, and this causes the problem to the pawn. That’s why, again, the piece activity is a dominant factor, and that’s why evaluating it alone often is just enough to evaluate the entire position. So, that’s the pro approach, and that’s how you can do this within a second!

The Grandmaster’s Positional Understanding

Now that you are learning how to evaluate chess positions in a professional manner, don’t forget to join the wait list to take the course The Grandmaster’s Positional Understanding.

When we open up enrollment for the next whole hoard of students, you’ll be notified.

If you ever find yourself confused in the middlegame or after the opening, if you aren’t sure why a certain move is better than the other one, if you want to have a step-by-step guide for playing throughout the game of chess, then this flagship course is right for you!

There are so many students who benefited from this course already, and you may give it a shot as well. You can join here.

How to Evaluate Chess Positions (Video Lesson)

Below you can find the PGN file with the analyzed games. Look at how these chess games evolved from the studied positions to properly assess your new ability to evaluate.

I know you really like this lesson! Additionally, if you want to know the two main strategies for finding the right move in any position, then you may check out my lesson ALL Chess Strategy Explained! | How to Win in Chess.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

If you want GM Igor Smirnov to help you get better at chess, watch this Masterclass.

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