Look and Look and Look …

During a post-mortem game between two strong Grandmasters, there came a point in the game when one of their team, (who was kibitzing), said: “This is a position where you look and you look and you look”.

That statement made a big impression on me, and I have tried to apply it within my own chess play. Honestly, it’s not always a good thing, I am a natural analyst, and try to absorb positions as deeply as I can and examine many options. This can, and has, already led me to time problems. So, something which will encourage me to look even deeper can be quite a dangerous thing.

However, sometimes, there comes a point in certain games, where a chess player just feels instinctively that there is something there. That there must be something there, we are better, our pieces are co-ordinated, our opponent is on the back foot, vulnerable, exposed. I believe that this is that time, where we look and look and look. Of course, positional experience helps us find those quiet subtelties in order to zugzwang, just as thematical knowledge helps us to spot knock-out blows. However, sometimes we just have to find that move.

Infact, as Steinitz said, we have a responsibility, an obligation, to find that move. Otherwise, our moment to strike may (probably will) be lost.

At such times, it is our duty to examine as many possibilities as we can. These possibilities must be relevant and in context however. For example, if the action is going on on the Kingside and our build up is there, the probable result of looking at a Queenside pawn thrust will be wasted time. And time should always be used wisely in chess, so we invest it only towards the relevant in our position, and we try to examine its every nook and cranny, even the seemingly implausibe.

This open-mindedness, coupled with technique, experience, understanding, is what creates brilliances — possibly even immortals. As illustration, I’d like to present the following game, played by Russian master Stefan Levitsky and the well-known American great, Frank Marshall.

White tries to dictate play and force things right from the start, and seems to want to avoid positional tension. This is often a sign of a weaker player, or a player who feels intimidated. Their ‘bull at a gate’ approach tends to result in their opponent obtaining the advantage (often a large advantage) rather effortlessly. This is what happens in this game.

Marshall, with the Black pieces, takes his opponent’s play in his stride. Notice how he reacts calmly, with good developing moves, rather than trying to play bold refutations. This is how strong players tend to react to over-ambitious play.

The climax of the game comes in spectacular style, with Black playing a move that at first glance seems preposturous, suicidal even. However, it is without doubt one of the greatest chess moves ever played — and most likely one of the most satisfying.

John Lee Shaw