Sunday, February 24, 2008

I Have A Defective Brain

While poring through my old games, I'd noticed a serious defect in my play. I tend to play moves that look good without calculating properly.

Not calculating properly as in, not calculating my opponent's moves sufficiently deep enough and not seeing my opponent's moves and that is where I tend to get into trouble.

How does one learn to calculate and analyse deeply? Kotov's method was to break them into candidate moves called the "Tree of Analysis" and start researching each branch of the tree in turn (in his book, Think Like A Grandmaster). Nunn, on the other hand, pours scorn on the idea in his book, Secrets Of Practical Chess and suggests treating sufficient depth of say, 3 major candidate moves before investigating each line further. Nunn also explains that quite often, we tend to forget to investigate a 3rd candidate move while working through the different variations in our heads for the first 2 candidates. This is especially true if the candidate moves are similar to one another or one transposes into the other.

With time controls as tight as they are, utilising your time efficiently is of the utmost importance in tournaments and it is here, I tend to suffer.

My brother-in-law has this innate ability to put pieces on nice squares (which reminds of the old adage that "GMs don't need to know how to place their pieces, they just throw them into the air and they land on a perfect square every time") and I wish I can learn how to cultivate that ability.

With my relatively poor rating of 1450, I can only continue to work hard on tactics. And sometimes, positional play. In any given position, I have to think. "Why does the Knight have to go here, why can't I move my bishop there, which pawn do I push now?"

The answers are not obvious to me at all. Is there any concrete steps that I am missing out?

I normally follow a 5 step plan:
1. Evaluate my opponent's possible threats
2. Evaluate my opponent's weaknesses
3. Evaluate my own weaknesses
4. Improve on my weaknesses
5. Re-evaluate my position after the candidate move.

Take for example, the recent game in Morelia between Leko and Topalov.

To many people, the continuation was very easy. However, even after looking at it for a few minutes, I just could not see the continuation:

Here's the diagram reached after 38. Rc5?? (see 1st diagram on the right)

(highlight between the brackets for the answer)
[Here, Topalov played 38.... Qb8. Threatening mate on h2 and threatening the Knight fork on f2. 39. Kg1 only loses the Rook on d1 after 39.. Qxh2+ 40. Kf1 Ne3+.]

Why are such moves hard to see? According to Neil McDonald in his book, Typical Mistakes, he says that the most difficult moves to see are backward and side moves. We sometimes forget the chess pieces not only can move forwards but sideways and backwards as well.

As a case in point, here's an example of a recent game I played. I am Black. Black is up the exchange but the position of my kingside is close to collapsing. In time trouble, I played the disastrous move 25... Nf8. Any other move leads to mate by the way.

I spent a good amount of time on this move. However, after I made the move, I suddenly see the threat and was gobsmacked that I missed the fatal continuation.

Unfortunately for my opponent, he did so too. What did my opponent missed?

[26.Rxe7 Qxe7 27.Qxc8 was the move]

At this point I start to question myself, how could I have missed this even though the combination is well known to me? It is not that I am unfamiliar with the threat. I know it and have employed it at times.

And yet I followed my own plan and I still could not see the most obvious continuation.

I think I have a defective brain.


  1. your blog is truly one of my favorites. :) warmest, dk

  2. Helle Tanc,

    I would think that if you would have marked the targets (in your mind) in a way simmilar to what I illustrated in my post level 1 scanning, and you would than look for moves, you would see these combinations.

  3. "Not calculating properly as in, not calculating my opponent's moves sufficiently deep enough and not seeing my opponent's moves and that is where I tend to get into trouble."

    Amen and Amen.

    A lot of my tactical mistakes come from not looking at my opponent's threats. I seem to narrowly focus on tactics I can execute.

    Great post ... great examples.

    I just subscribed to your blog and look forward to reading it.