We are our worst chess enemy

What are the main reasons we make mistakes and commit blunder after blunder when playing chess?

Well, self-obsessed, quite too often we tend to forget there is another fighter sitting across the table!

Playing a game of chess resembles a wrestling match between two fighters, locked up in a hold, each using force and counterforce trying to throw each other. It’s a process of continuous mutual adaptation, of give and take, move and countermove.

Fool's mate, chess art by Shannon Larratt

Uh-oh, somebody got surprised here: Fool’s mate, art by Shannon Larratt

The problem is, we pay more attention to what we are doing instead of focusing primarily on the other player. This has a devastating effect on our performance as we fail to adjust to the opponent and understand why they do the way they do (adaptability is the law that governs survival in war as in life).

Look at Masters, what they do? They focus intently on the other side all the time. And the rest of us, what we do? We focus on ourselves.

The art of warfare depends on our understanding the opponent.

We need to get inside the opponent’s head to find out what they are thinking. We need to be able to estimate what their moves really mean and what they are likely to be playing.

We should stop beating ourselves

Why is all this so critical? Because in order to win any war of life we want to reduce the opponent’s fighting potential. Some call it strategy.

Only after unmasking the opponent we can select the best possible strategy for the situation at hand. That is, to diminish the opponent’s possibilities of resistance, and on the other hand, to forestall his aggressive intentions (the Strategist in us should always think in terms of paralyzing the enemy).

“Reading” the enemy enables us to focus on what is the essence of warfare: seeking to find “soft spots” or holes in the enemy’s armor through which we could infiltrate along the line of least resistance. Funny thing, the other player are constantly giving us clues how to beat them. But we simply don’t look, or don’t know what to look for.

Here is an example from an actual game to clarify the point:

Efim Bogoljubov – Peter Romanovsky

Leningrad 1925

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Nd5 Be7 5. d3 Nf6 6. c3 d6 7. Nxe7 Qxe7 8. Bg5 h6 9. Bh4 g5 10. Bg3 Bg4 11. h3 Bxf3 12. Qxf3 O-O-O 13. b4

Selected Games by Romanovsky (book cover)

Romanovsky [1] himself comments in his Selected games, Fiskultura and Sport, Moscow 1954:

“Bogoljubov’s play has always been characterized by utter overconfidence and a sense of being infallible. In this game too, he fails to realize that he played lousy the opening (moves 5, 8-10). Now before finishing full mobilization he embarks on a “deadly attack” against the enemy king.”

“White should have played 12.Be2, to which Black most probably would respond with 12…Qe6 preparing advance …h5 and …g4.”

13…d5 14. Qf5+ Kb8 15. b5?

“This attempt to win a pawn ends sadly. It was necessary 15.Be2, but after 15…Ne8 16.O-O Nd6 17.Qf3 d4, or 17…dxe4 dxe4 18.Qe6 Black takes initiative anyway.”


“Of course, I saw 15…Qa3 after 13.b4 had played.”

“But it would be very interesting for us here to follow White’s thought process: were it not for 15…Qa3, 16.b5 would win easily for White. Was it really possible that White was under impression that his opponent didn’t see either the queen move, or the e5-pawn being threatened!”

“The same thing occurred to me in my other games too, this one being no exception: my opponents thought they had deceived me, while in fact they had deceived themselves [2]. Overconfidence and underestimation of the opponent’s plan is inherent to many chess players. It is why they make blunders and serious mistakes.”

“There is no more salvation, if 16.Bxe5, then 16…Nxe5 17.Qxe5 d4 (17…Nxe4! forcefully opening the e-file is also a killer, mr) and Black’s attack is unstoppable.”

16. bxc6 Qxc3+ 17. Ke2 dxe4 18. Rd1 Rxd3 19. Rxd3 Qxd3+ 20. Ke1 Qc3+ 21. Ke2 Rd8 0-1

Nice example of how even the greatest are beating themselves by failing to pay attention to what the player across them has to say. Bogoljubov either didn’t see 15…Qa3 coming, or he didn’t want to see it. Either way, the cost was high.

© 2012 iPlayoo!


Book cover: Isaak Romanov, Peter Romanovsky, Moscow 19841. Peter Romanovsky (1892-1964) was Russian IM, International Arbiter, chess trainer, theorist and author. He was born in St. Petersburg. One of the strongest chess players in the 1920s, he was the first Soviet chess player who was awarded the title of Honoured Master of the USSR in 1934 and Honoured Coach of the USSR in 1957. USSR Champion in 1923 and 1927.

During the worst period of the 900-day Siege of Leningrad, in winter of 1941–42, he was on the brink of death when a rescue party found him half-conscious from starvation and cold. The rest of his family including his four daughters had frozen to death. All the furniture in the house had been used for firewood. A chess manuscript which had been in preparation by Romanovsky was also lost at this time. In the post-war period he was lecturing on chess at Moscow State University, and had two more children.

Romanovsky published two true classics on chess middlegame, which were translated into English in 1990. These are Chess Middlegame Combinations, and Chess Middlegame Planning, both published by American Chess Promotions.

2. Deception (its dual partner is surprise), is a major warfare principle. In essence, the aim of strategy is to get the opponent out of balance by using elements of movement and surprise. In the profoundest sense, physically, it takes the line of least resistance, while the equivalent in the psychological sphere is the line of least expectation.



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