How does a Grandmaster decide what moves to play? The same as any chess player, by a process of thought. It just happens that the Grandmaster applies the process better, and understands things a little more. It used to be suggested that it was a matter of intelligence, but that is now known to be a myth. Grandmasters have put hours and hours of study in over a chessboard, and played thousands and thousands of games. Of course, some people are cleverer than others, but in the main I believe this to be irrelevant.
It is my belief that anyone with the desire, who is willing to invest the time, can become a very good chess player. And very proficient at applying their mind to it.
It goes without saying that the thought process is one of the most important qualities of a chess player. One can forget the opening, and other theoretical aspects, if one cannot think effectively. The correct line of thought can make a whole bunch of difference, with regards to the clock as well as anything else, and what exactly the correct approach is will depend upon the position on the board.
– How do we know?
– How can we evaluate this essential part of our technique?
Well, those who know my writing will already be aware that I am a great fan of the books by Alexander Kotov, Think Like a Grandmaster and Play Like a Grandmaster (the latter being one of my most treasured possessions). In those books, Kotov goes in to the thought process of a Grandmaster, and especially the differences depending upon the types of situation.
He states that in positions where there is calm, and no contact between the opposing sides, the considerations should be of a general strategic nature, where one wishes to post pieces, what files may open, how the structure and layout may change over time and how we can prepare for it. Importantly, the analysis of variations should be minimal, and merely as a quick check over. By contrast, when there is contact (or credible impending contact) between the opposing sides, he said very simply, “one calculates”. Thus, positional considerations play second-fiddle to the concrete analysis of variations and possibilities.
Failure to apply this can have serious consequences and make one’s analysis muddled and ineffective, as well as costing much time on the clock due to trying to cover everything from all sides. In chess it is very important to concentrate on the relevant. Before I learned this I used to have terrible time trouble problems due to going between the two approaches.
I found it very interesting to see Kotov’s words applied often when listening to Peter Svidler’s commentary during the recent Carlsen-Anand World Championship match. Svidler made many general observations, such as to where he would like to place a certain piece and why. He also voiced his anticipations about certain files being opened, changes in pawn structure, and he was ever mindful of the endgame.
Where there was tension, he wasted little time on such matters, instead stating that “we should calculate”, or that a certain line should be “made concrete”.
This, to me, indicated a finely tuned technique — not that one would ever think otherwise for such an accomplished player as Svidler, of course. And so I decided that in this article I would bring it to your attention, dear reader. If you find yourself unsure of how to approach a certain position in your chess games, or perhaps you are getting in to time trouble a lot, the following points may help you considerably. Infact, I would go as far as saying that there is not a chess player around who would not benefit from bearing the following in mind:
– In positions where there is little contact between the opposing sides, where there is a relative calm: One considers general strategic plans and possibilities. The analysis/calculation of variations is minimal.
– When there is contact between the opposing sides: One calculates variations. Positional and strategic considerations are minimal if at all.
An effective thought process can (probably will) add points to one’s rating. It will certainly add to the enjoyment of the game, due to less blundering and time pressure. It will help us approach chess positions with confidence and clarity. It will result in us finding the relevant and important. Ultimately, it is what will help us find the right moves.
John Lee Shaw