If you are someone who is new to chess you might be amazed by how much chess players can calculate in general, and I must say that I am one of these people. Now that I have the experience, the topic of how many moves can chess players look at in the future is something that I can answer.
As far as normal estimates go, here is what I know:
Novice chess players can only calculate 1-3 moves ahead, while titled chess competitors can look at around 5-12 moves in the future. If we are talking about super grandmasters most can calculate up to 10-25 moves ahead and some can even play a whole game on memory.
Some of the estimates here may seem wild if you do not have a lot of knowledge in competitive chess, however, I can attest that these are true in most cases. I have been following a lot of tournaments for years, keep on reading if you are interested.
Novice chess players can look at around 1-3 moves in the future
The player’s level would have to be taken into consideration when determining how many moves they can see ahead, beginners will forecast significantly fewer moves when compared to titled players.
If we’re talking about beginners most people would only be able to look around 1-3 moves in their respective position, this is because they don’t have the intuition (yet) to see further ahead. In fact, it is not that uncommon for beginners to not see moves ahead at all.
Even if this is someone who has been playing chess for a long time, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have developed the intuition to see far in the future. Calculating multiple moves ahead takes a lot of skill, it is not only about the experience but also the competence of the player.
1-3 moves for novice chess players is a good benchmark, one should expect that people in this level can only see moves around these numbers.
Titled chess players can look at around 5-12 moves in the future
Titled players (Fide Masters, International Masters, Grandmasters, etc.) should be able to look some 5-12 moves ahead which would vary depending on the time control. The skill of individual players will also play into the equation and there are some outliers who can look even further.
Even titled players have different calculation levels, some excel in processing multiple lines that could be played by their opponent (while some may not). This is why the range for titled players is much wider (5-12) since a good margin is needed to make this accurate.
There are some who can not see more than 5 moves ahead but are so good in other aspects of chess that they can compete at this level. On the other hand, there are those who are so good at calculation but fail on others which is why they cannot surpass this level.
People who have acquired a title in chess are those that have spent endless amounts of hours analyzing positions, it is no wonder that they can see this far ahead. The only exception is with faster time controls, even titled players would not see 5-12 moves ahead in bullet.
Super Grandmasters can look at around 10-25 moves in the future
Now this is quite different, super grandmasters are above the fold when it comes to titled players (basically the best players in the world). These individuals have not only spent countless hours training but also have the natural talent to go beyond, they are exceptional.
Super grandmasters which consist of the best players in the world can look at around 10-25 moves in the future (depending on the time control), primarily on classical or rapid time formats. Longer time formats after all give the most opportunity for players to think about the position.
Regular titled players are sometimes in awe at how much super-grandmasters calculate, they can see so many moves ahead even when most predictions do not even occur over the board. This is what happens when hard work meets talent.
It is important to note that blitz/bullet games don’t give much leeway for players to see ahead, in such time controls even super grandmasters can only look some 1-3 moves ahead.
This of course also applies in situations when the super grandmaster is in time trouble, when there is not much time left on the clock even the best players rely on intuition.
Almost all super-grandmasters can see 10-25 moves ahead even with the skill difference (as long as the circumstances are normal).
Prepared super grandmasters can see up to 30+ moves in the future
We have already discussed that super grandmasters can look really far ahead in the future, however, what if we take this knowledge to the next level? How many moves ahead can a grandmaster see when they are fully prepared?
A fully prepared super-grandmaster after all represents the pinnacle of human ability, it is chess in its absolute form. With the help of strong chess engines along with the player’s affinity to memorization, super grandmasters can definitely look far ahead.
Extremely prepared super grandmasters can look ahead 30 plus moves in the future and basically play an entire game on memory, if the lines are reviewed beforehand elites can see that far in the future.
This is often something that you will witness in many round one’s of famous super-grandmaster tournaments, almost all the games are played from memory which leads to theoretical draws.
Believe it or not a super grandmaster can see 30+ moves from a single move on the opening, the only exception is if the game is played in faster time controls. If we take all the other factors to the most ideal (player’s physical condition, motivation, time control, etc.) super grandmasters are capable of this feature.
Chess players in general can look pretty far ahead as soon as they have spent significant time playing the game, calculation is after all one of the most important aspects of being a chess player. Blitz and other fast time control unfortunately do not accommodate this, but it should be fine on others.
If we’re talking about decent chess players there is a plague today that makes people play on intuition rather than calculation, but the estimates above should apply in most cases. That is all, thank you for reading.