In my previous articles in this series I have shown how orderly and logical thinking is fundamental to improving chess calculation. Good moves aren’t found by “magic” nor whispered mysteriously into the brains of the best players in the world. These moves are the result of a logical sequence of reasoning, which might be accomplished naturally by the most talented players in the world. For the rest of us mortals there are techniques to achieve this.
Chess is a sport with a lot of art and some science. From the scientific point of view, logical thinking is analytical (divides reasoning into parts), rational (follows rules) and sequential (linear, goes step by step). In this context, the comparison is one of the most powerful resources to reach conclusions, in science and in chess.
Making comparisons is a particularly important technique to help understand chess. We use it either consciously or unconsciously in all three phases of the game, and it’s especially important for understanding the openings. In another article I will talk more about this, however the question I want to answer now is this: How does comparison help me to calculate better?
There are intricate and complex positions in which two moves seem similar and only a correct process of comparison allows us to reach the correct conclusion. Here is an example of this:
As we can see in this example, when we need to decide between two or more moves that look similar and we find ourselves confused, we can calculate further and then try to make a comparison between the different resulting positions. When you get to the end of a variation a good question to ask is: Where do I prefer this piece? Once you find the answer you should return to the starting position and then apply the move. I believe that with this method you will be able to solve the following more complex exercise:
Readers who have followed this series of articles are likely to ask why I have one again chosen a pawn endgame? First, I would like to explain that they are all my own creations, and it is not just an accident that many of the positions I choose as examples are pawn endgames. Actually the endgames have a stigma of being boring but, in truth, endgames are full of calculation. One piece of evidence that indicates this is that GM Shirov once said that he liked to play games to the ending because then he could show one of his greatest strength; calculation. Now returning to the position in the diagram we can see that Black has something similar to an “outside passed pawn” and after the elimination of the pawns of the kingside Black arrive first into the queenside to take the White pawns. For his part White aspires to achieve a draw and for this he only has two serious candidates. He needs to look at either 1.a3 or 1.a4 since 1.f6 + loses valuable time and White is totally lost (again I encourage you to check this blindly). Meanwhile 1. Kg4 is the same.
Exercise: Using the comparison method find the move that achieves a draw.
In short, the comparison method is used when we have to make a decision in the present that will get us to the same final position with a small difference depending on which move we choose. Then we directly put ourselves in the final position and we ask: What do I prefer in this position? It may seem like an insignificant detail when we’re analyzing, but chess is full of details. As the great Sherlock Holmes would say: “It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are by far the most important”. Isn’t that so, my dear Watson?