Where I ramble on about the things I find interesting about chess...
Tales From the Gambito Open #384,
or "Tales from the Crypt"... I see dead pieces...What can you see? , by Chuck Ensey
I played 3 strange games today, all of which had severe cases of "chess blindness" on both sides of the board. This is where a player misses an "obvious" crushing move. It can be due to many factors. Often time pressure is to blame, but this was not the main reason in these games. It was more a case of the players having "tunnel vision", that is, just being focused on only one part of the board or one idea, and missing "the bigger picture". Or the players might have been thinking about lots of things, but not the most important ideas on the board...The most glaring example was my Round 3 game with Roberto Aiello where I missed a mate in 2 with 10 minutes on my clock! Instead, I was content to offer a draw with perpetual check! I remember doing that once against the fine Expert Rick Aeria about 5 years ago, and now it has happened to me again (or more accurately, I did it to myself). I just didn't see the mate in 2, but even worse, I didn't take the time to look for it. A really inexcusable mistake, I should know better, but sometimes the tension of the game is so great you just want to end it peacefully, forgetting that the object is to WIN. Players are especially vunerable to taking draws against higher rated players, while they are more likely to fight on longer against lower rated players. But it seems to me that the rating differential shouldn't really be the determining factor - the position on the board should be, but often we are led astray by the lure of gaining rating points. It is a good rule to always keep trying to win until all chances are exhausted, and not be so willing to take the draw. Some players NEVER offer or accept draws, other players are often more than willing to split the point. It is a fine line, but at least you should take some time to think about it, rather than jumping at the first chance to draw.
On the other hand, sometimes if you try too hard to win, you can end up losing - that is always the risk you take... I won't even go into my second round game with Richard Jensen, where he turned down my draw offer and instead proceeded to make a move that proved to be a terrible oversight, costing him the game.
In the game against Roberto, I just ASSUMED it was a draw, and was relatively happy with this result, but when you have a draw in hand, say by perpetual check, why not take a little extra time to look at more alternatives? Maybe there is something more there, and this case, a lot more: a MATE IN TWO was right there, as bystander Pejman Sagart immediately pointed out to us after I shook hands with Roberto. After going over the game, Roberto discovered that HE had blundered a move earlier by allowing this mate in 2 to come up, and that by simply retreating his King to h7, he could have secured the draw. I confirmed this later with Fritz. After seeing that, I didn't feel quite so bad, but then again, I missed several crushing moves before we reached the final position. I could have sacrificed a Rook, winning by force in just a few moves, but I missed it.
Computers are very good at finding these tactical shots, but Roberto, to his credit, actually saw it during the game and showed me afterwards. During the game, I was looking hard, but I just didn't seem to have a clue. My tactical vision is sometimes surprisingly weak. But I think I played a strong positional game to get to that point. Still, it is all very strange and makes me wonder why we miss so much good stuff over the board. The kibtzers usually claim to have seen it, and the computers of course never miss a good tactic. For me, this mystery is part of the really great allure of chess: that there are things on the chessboard that not everyone can see! The more advanced players have this magical ability to see what the average player cannot, and often these unseen moves are beautiful in their own special way. On the other side of the coin, and this only happens rarely, even great players sometimes get distracted for various unknown reasons and completely miss a rather obvious move that even a rank beginner might see!! It is one of the great mysteries of the human mind and of chess itself as to why this happens. I have often wished that I had a "sixth sense" - not to see dead people - but to never miss the obvious moves and even better, to see all those hidden crushing moves that only great players find!! It is amazing that those great players can often see a forced win in a glance, but us mere class players can stare at the board for a very long time and still not see it...
"The joke's on you and you're going to choke on it too...because I can can see for miles and miles and miles and miles...." The Who
But then once you do see it when it is pointed out to you after the game is over by a rude spectator, or later on at home by an impersonal computer, it is then SO obvious and easy to see that you can't understand how you could have possibly missed it! This is truly amazing! The sun bursts through dark clouds and..."I see the light!!"
Or like the old saying, "In a world of blind men, a one-eyed man is King!" I guess that would describe a sandbagging Class "A" player who was somehow allowed to play in a Class "D" section... So the big question is, "What can I do to increase my tactical vision?" I get lots of advice, but it seems to boil down to practice and study. How mundane! I want an easy button! "The Quick Road To Chess Mastery"...that will be the title of my first book after I figure it all out. But don't hold your breath...let's get real here, in this world it takes a lot of hard work to gain anything of REAL value. Masters and Experts can more easily find those hidden moves because they have years of study and hard experience burned into their brains so they can more quickly recognize patterns of play that have worked for them in the past.
See game here: Ensey-Aiello
In my last round game against Tom Victory I had two connected passed pawns deep into his Queenside territory and was cruising along when I made what I thought was a clever move, attacking his exposed Kingside from a distance with Qb6 and with a Rook on g1, I was threating Qxg6+, plus I was threatening to hit his Rook next move and also to trade Queens to a won ending.
All very nice, BUT then to my horror, AFTER I had already made my move, I noticed that I had left the Rook file completely unguarded by playing Qa5 to Qb6. Now all he had to do was play Ra8+ to check my King on a1 and it was OVER! To prevent mate, I would have had to interpose my Queen, and then lose it to Rook takes Queen. Ouch!! But fortunately for me, at that point Tom had a case of chess blindness and he played g5, covering the threat to his King, but missing the crushing move Ra8+! He was low on time, but I think he still had about 3 minutes left to my 10 minutes or so. I am just thankful that he didn't see the look on my face after I blundered, or maybe I was able to keep up a good "poker face", but believe me, I was dying inside!! I am certain the spectators saw it (Daniel Grazian told me later that he did), and I was just sitting there waiting for my death sentence when suddenly I was reprieved!! A last second pardon! Chess blindness had struck Tom....Very fortunate for me... And they say there is no luck in chess? HA! Nine times out of ten Tom would see that move; he is a strong Class A player. But some quirk in his mental processes blinded him on this occassion.
From the sidelines it is easy to see these things, but not so much when you are in the heat of battle. In a tight game it is easy to be caught up in the emotional rollercoaster and the hundreds of random thoughts that are racing through your mind, especially when you think you are about to lose and your blood pressure is probably skyrocketing! Of course, if you are also low on time, then your brain just turns to mush (at least mine does) and you can't see anything worthwhile... And every little noise is a huge distraction. The trials and tribulations of a chessplayer!... But the thrill of victory is so sweet, it is enough to keep us coming back for more!
see game here: Ensey-Victory
In the game with Tom Victory, I also found it fascinating that the gods of chess punished me for making that blunder, even after Tom missed it, by throwing in a way for him to draw, but cruelly for Tom, it was very difficult to see, he had to give up a whole Rook and push a pawn against my King to expose it to checks from his Queen. And if I took his Rook and he captured my pawn with check, it didn't matter if I took the pawn or not, the perpetual was still there. It is amazing that I went from totallly winning to dead lost with just one bad move and then even after Tom missed that saving move for him, there was still yet another path to redemption for him in this apparently hopeless position...how wonderful chess is...
The mind of a good chess player has to be so flexible, so adaptive and so receptive to hidden resources even in hopeless situations...The mysteries of the Royal Game and the lessons it teaches us about our minds and attitudes are very valuable things. The greatness of the fighting spirit is shown to beautiful effect in the world of chess. At a minimum, chess is just the most interesting game out there by far; most other games are just trivial by comparision, I am sorry but that is the truth. IM Cyrus Lakdawala was telling me the other day that Chess is not only the most interesting game, it is also just one of the most interesting things in the world, period! Maybe chessplayers could popularize our game more by letting others know just how exciting, fascinating and fulfilling chess can be. There is very little in this world that can match the thrill and satisfaction of a well played game.
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