Sit On Your Hands

When you see a good move, sit on your hands and see if you can find a better one.

I’d forgotten this old tip from Dr. Tarrasch until one of my Facebook friends recently reminded me of it. Actually it’s one of the best bits of advice you can give to a player, especially young ones who tend to move too fast.

This is a perrenial problem for coaches of young players and many address it in a less effective manner. Once, when I wasn’t there to look after him, my son was seen to be moving too fast and was instructed to ‘write his moves down’ in order to slow him down. Unfortunately, rather than helping him concentrate, this proved to be a huge distraction because he simply wasn’t used to it. It’s like telling a tight rope walker to count backwards so he won’t rush and hurt himself.

Of course one might well ask why, if this is such great advice, you don’t see top players sitting on their hands. The answer is that physical prompts of this sort only need to be used until a particular habit has been established, so as soon as moves are no longer made impulsively the prompt can be phased out.

This is the same with other protocols such as the Blumenfeld Rule, if you use it consciously for a while then eventually you’ll do it automatically. Here is how Alexander Kotov described this rule in his famous book, Think Like a Grandmaster. And note that you now should trace the move on your leg rather than writing it on the score sheet because FIDE have outlawed writing moves down before playing them (apparently this is ‘taking notes’):

It often happens that a player carries out a deep and complicated calculation, but fails to spot something elementary right at the first move. In order to avoid such gross blunders, the Soviet master B. Blumenfeld made this recommendation:-
When you have finished your calculations, write down the move you have decided upon on the score sheet. Then examine the position for a short time ‘through the eyes of a patzer’. Ask whether you have left a mate in one on, or left a piece or a pawn to be taken. Only when you have convinced yourself that there is no immediate catastrophe for you should you make the planned move.

In the following game Samuel Reshevsky would have benefited from using the Blumenfeld rule. A few seconds thought before playing his 92nd move might have led him to see White’s stalemate trick which cost him a valuable half point. Of course he might have used it for the first 91 and then just forgotten due to tiredness:

Nigel Davies

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About NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in St. Helens in the UK. The winner of 15 international tournaments he is also a former British U21 and British Open Quickplay Champion and has represented both England and Wales on several occasions. These days Nigel teaches chess through his chess training web site, Tiger Chess, which has articles, recommendations, a monthly clinic, videos and courses. His students include his 15 year old son Sam who is making rapid progress with his game. Besides teaching chess, Nigel is a registered tai chi and qigong instructor and runs several weekly classes.