The Genius of the Kibitzer, Part I

Kiitz (kib·itzed, kib·itz·ing, kib·itz·es Informal)

1. To look on and offer unwanted, usually meddlesome advice to others.
2. To chat; converse.


Michael Koblentz’s Saturday post Chess Blindness led to some interesting discussion on Nigel’s Facebook page; my own thoughts on true “chess blindness” were:

I think chess blindness is due to a narrowing of visual attention similar to the “tunneling” reported by people in combat. For a vital moment we see only part of the board, or only some of the pieces. Visually imaging ALL of the opponents pieces before moving catches many of the superblunders.

Michael’s move Rxf3??, as opposed to a common- or garden-variety “error”, really was chess blindness; as he states, “I never even saw White’s capture with the King!” A truly spectacular blunder of my own can be found in the post Chess Humour where I have a crushing position at move 9 and after almost 15 minutes contemplation allow mate in one because I stopped looking at the opponent’s queen and only looked at what material my own queen moves could gain.

However, these are exceptional blunders, and while we all have made them, they’re rare enough. I am more interested in something else, only tenuously related to real chess blindness. As I also wrote on Facebook:

If we answer the question of why kibitzers so often see what the players miss we will be on the way to improving ourselves.

Most of us have had the experience of casually observing a tournament game, and in just a few seconds spotting some “obvious” two-move combination that would win material, or some “obvious” threat by the opponent that needs to be immediately attended to. If the players we’re watching are below expert level, most of us have also often seen the person overlook the killer shot, or the opponent’s threat, generally accompanied by suppressed groans from the observers. Some of these moves are of a type that, if the same player were to be shown a diagram while sitting on a couch at home, they would find the move within 2 minutes 98 times out of 100.

These kinds of mistakes are not the result of lack of knowledge, lack of ability or failure to do thousands of tactics problems.

The difficulties of substantially improving your chess results, especially as an adult whose grading has plateaued, are an interesting conundrum. Not overlooking the “obvious” is a step in the right direction. I have a several methods to share, from a range of coaches, psychologists, neuroscientists and even actual chess players that might help if assiduously applied, but I will reserve the details for my next post.

I would rather hear from readers this week. Have you experienced the “genius of the kibitzer,” and do you have any ideas for how we might see these things in our own games, rather than uselessly finding them while observing the games of others?

Use my contact page or leave a comment on Nigel’s Facebook. I would be happiest sharing a variety of ideas rather than just pontificating on my own!