As you ponder your next chess move, it is essential to perform a reality check.
Make sure you analyze your opponent’s key responses to the move you are considering playing. Ask yourself the following questions each turn in order to prevent making simple mistakes:
1) Did my opponent’s last move contain a threat? If so, make sure you evaluate it and respond to it if necessary.
2) Do my pieces have sufficient protection? Do I have a piece that is hanging? Does my opponent have an under-protected piece?
3) Is my King safe? What about the opponent’s King? Can I take advantage of my opponent’s King by, for example, preventing him from castling?
4) Did my opponent’s last move properly deal with the threat posed by my last move?
5) Do I still need to develop my pieces?
6) Can I improve my rooks to an open file or generally, make them useful? Can I double up rooks on an open file? Do I need to still open up files for my rooks?
7) Does my opponent have any weaknesses in his position? What are the targets I should considering attacking?
8) How can I attack the target(s)? Any other weaknesses that can be exploited? Develop a plan!
9) Look away for a few seconds and come back to the position with a completely clean, unbiased mindset. Is the move I’m about to make a blunder? Am I hanging a piece? Am I following for a forced checkmate? Make sure you double-check everything and analyze all forcing moves (checks, captures, moves with real threats).
While this analytical thinking method is mainly for opening and middle-game play, most principles apply in the endgame as well.