Saturday, October 24, 2009

Easy To Lose Yourself

Why are tactics so important in chess?

Because playing chess requires precision and calculation is typically the single most important factor between winning and losing.

I myself have gotten lost in complications before and have made moves which are not optimal. Herein lies the predicament of chess at the lower levels.

If you give your opponents a myriad of choices to play, they will make at least one mistake in the process. And this naturally applies both ways.

This is why that most players advocate sharpening your tactical and calculation skills.

But why does tactical skill seem to elude many players (including myself)?

One of the reasons, in my case is that my pattern recognition skill is poor. While there are trillions of possible chess positions, certain fixed chess positions occur again and again. And it is these positions that tend to become the foundation of our ideas when we do our strategic planning during the game.

And unfortunately, this requires a certain degree of memorisation. We need to literally "open our eyes and our minds" and become receptive to new concepts and ideas. Once our minds become more accustomed to these tactics, unconsciously, our ability to put our pieces to better positions improve. We start to see and evaluate positions better.

The ability to constantly find the best move in the modern game is a task that is very hard to accomplish. But with constant revision and practice, it is possible to improve this aspect of the game. And one way to do it is to work through tactical puzzles, lots and lots of it (Not puzzles from made up positions, but puzzles taken from actual games/studies).

Since my long layoff from chess, my tactical vision has deteriorated alarmingly (I lost all my blitz games to my friend's son Dylan a couple of nights ago) and I'd realised that it is because my chess knowledge has not been "engraved" into my physical consciousness. I need to acquire the ability to make good moves as easy as I am taking a breath of fresh air.

As a final note, here's a cute little puzzle from one of my games. My opponent moved differently prior to this and we diverted but I was calculating this position in one of the minor variations in the leadup to this.

In the following diagram, White tries to fend off Black's crushing attack (White had used up an enormous amount of Queen moves to snatch pawns at the deadly cost of lagging behind in development) and plays 1. Nh3?

Is there anything that Black can exploit? Or may be there is a checkmate somewhere in there?

Answer as usual can be found by highlighting between the brackets
The reply was swift and deadly:
1. ... Rxc2+!

1st response:

2. Kb1 is met with Qxa3!! After 3. bxa3 Nc3+ with mate to follow.

2nd response:
2. Nxc2 Rc8! White is helpless against the threats of Qa1 and Rxc2 and cannot defend both.


  1. In an OTB game, I would have played Nxc2, which is still very good for Black, but not an instant win. Of course I considered Rxc2, but couldn't work out all the lines.

    The interesting part is that I had the specific thought that the second Rook could be useful. But never even thought about it when trying figuring out the lines for Rxc2.

    Doomed to mediocrity.

  2. Hi LEP,

    Don't feel bad. It took quite a while for me to realise that the followup Rc8 actually works.

    Which boils down essentially, one should not only actively look for forcing moves, but non-forcing ones as well.

    It just takes a longer time to work out the calculation. Sometimes, the moves don't jump straight at you but if there's a gnawing thought at the back of your mind, look out for it.

    If you can't find the correct way, just keep working at it. You'll get it in the end.

  3. What about 1...Qxa3, 2.bxa3 Rxc2+ 3.Kb1 Nc3+ 4. Ka1 Ra2#

  4. Hi The Caquetio Knight,

    One of the lines I looked at was indeed.

    1.... Qxa3 seemed to win when I suddenly realised that White is not obligated to take back the Queen but counter with another sac with 2. Qxe4! with the idea of freeing the escape square d2 for the King.

    Taking the White Queen with 2.... dxe4 is not advisable as after 3. bxa3 and the Knight on b3 is attacked. Black still has an advantage but most of the tension is gone. As a result, I discarded that line but now looking at it..... hmmm....

    2... Qa1+ doesn't seem to work as well as after 3. Kd2 Qxb2 4. White Queen moves say to e5, Rxc2+ Black is still going to win as White's King is so vulnerable.

    2... Qa3 looks interesting (and probably the best shot)concentrating firepower on the c2 pawn (with White's Queen en prise) looks crushing.

    Thank you very much for your ideas. You've given me something to think about! :)

  5. I had initially looked at Rxc2+ and then looked at sac-ing the queen before playing that. I had not spent much time looking at what happens if White ignores the queen sac. Very interesting position.

  6. Hi Polly,

    It's quite often not easy to see and evaluate complex positions and to be aware of possible tactical shots when the situation arises.

    Rxc2 was not my first choice when I first evaluated the position either.

    Cheers :)

  7. I would suggest giving Chess Tactics Server a go if you haven't tried it before - -