The Chess-Player’s Brainfade

One of the most important qualities that a chess player must have on his C. V. is the ability to analyse accurately. One can possess all the theoretical knowledge and experience in the world, but when it comes to it, it is our moves over-the-board, that will decide the game. And if we are blase or complacent in our contemplations, we will (or should) pay the price.

What makes human chess so exciting, is that even with the best of intentions, games are filled with oversights, inaccuracies and darn right blunders. These are made at all levels, and even the greats fail. Perhaps you watched the recent online blitz showdown between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura? As well as being a real treat to see just what these players are capable of seeing given such short time, there was also some comfort to the mere mortals among us, when Nakamura hung his Queen by allowing his King to be skewered.

This makes me feel slightly more at ease, in sharing with you the following example that I recently played online. It is a correspondence game with a 7-day time control and I feel that it perfectly demonstrates the difficulties we face in maintaining a clear head, capable of consistent accurate analysis. Both myself and my opponent certainly failed at this in the most critical moments of the game, which was decided by who made the last error rather than any brilliance. This was, luckily for me, my opponent, who also committed the great faux pas of assuming that his opponent knew better than he did, as you will see.

So what do we learn from this game? Well, a few things:

  • We have to base our analysis upon the nature of the position. This goes without saying, but it is sometimes startlingly easy to forget. My positional and psychological decisions had served me very well up to a point in the above game. When the pieces are not in contact, when there is no tension, limiting one’s thought process to this is fine. The analysis of lines can often be limited to a few moves in these positions — infact, deep analysis of lines would be an inefficient use of time. However, when creating tension, when the pieces are in close contact, this changes. Even more so if one is intending to take a risk, such as a sacrifice. Deep, thorough and accurate analysis becomes essential and general positional and psychological thought simply will not suffice. We must endeavour to confirm that we will get the return we want, we can’t just wish our opponent to do something or trick or bully them into it.
  • Our opponent does not have to cooperate with our aspirations. Actually, the chess player’s goal is to not cooperate with the opponent. My decision to play 17…Bxh3 was based on the fact that I felt that White would be compelled to move his knight (therefore allowing me the strong …Qh4) after 18.gxh3 Rg6+ 19.Kf1 Bh2 in order to stop mate. This was completely inaccurate, but I saw what I wanted to see and didn’t see the reality on the board.
  • Our opponent is never infallible. My opponent’s decision to not play 18.gxh3 ultimately cost him the game. Had he analysed accurately, he would have seen that the bishop was a safe capture and that he would be fine to all that I had to throw at him. Instead, he relied on the accuracy of my analysis and in effect allowed himself to be bluffed, thinking that I had all my i’s dotted and t’s crossed. This resulted in him losing a game that he should have won.

John Lee Shaw