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Obvious Moves

The following position is from a game of mine at the 4ncl last Saturday.

J. Shaw – J. Pitcher, England 2014

I have played a few decent moves to reach this position. I sacrificed a pawn (possibly temporarily) to free my wonder bishops. But my queen is under attack. So what should I play?


I played this after just a minute, with my thinking being: “I have to move my queen and this is obviously the right square, tripling and hitting f4.”
In fact, it is probably not in the Top 5 best moves.

22.Be4! I was more than usually surprised when the engine mentioned this move. “Is that legal?” Yes it is, and it wins rather simply. For example: 22…f5 23.Rxf5! Rxf5 24.Bd5 OK, it’s “simple” after you see it.

22.Qg4!? is also crushing and genuinely quite simple. Black will have to give up his knight, as 22…Ne5? 23.Rxe5 Rxe5 24.gxf4 is resignable.

Other decent moves included 22.Qd3 or 22.Qf3 or 22.Qf1.


That really is an “only move” as 22…Ne5? 23.gxf4 is killing.

Now if only my queen connected to f3, I could reply 23.Qxf3 and then meet 23…Ne5 with the powerful pin 24.Qf4.


I decided to simplify before I had a bad accident.

23.Bxf3 Qxg3 is about level.

23.Bh3!? and 23.Bf1!? were both worth considering, but I didn’t spot them either.

23…fxg2 24.gxh7+ Kh8 25.Qxg2 Bf6 26.Rd7 Qc5 27.Bxf6 Rxf6 28.Qe4

I have slightly the better of what I think should be a draw. Much later I managed to win a rook ending.

So, is there a lesson from this?

I am bad at spotting candidate moves. I make wild assumptions about something being an “obvious” or “only” move, when in fact there are many other stronger moves. I also make decisions based on very general grounds when a little more detail (even a little calculation) would help.

All true, and these are common faults in my games, not just a one-off. So I have the diagnosis, and I know what I need to work on. Now, do I have the time and/or motivation to do the work?

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  1. Michael Bartlett
    November 20th, 2014 at 22:54 | #1

    Reminds me a lot of what just happened to Anand. Rook attacks Queen; queen moves to better square.

  2. Michael Bartlett
    November 20th, 2014 at 22:55 | #2

    assuming 22.Qg4!?

  3. Mark Moorman
    November 20th, 2014 at 23:48 | #3

    I came up with Qg4—odd since I usually fumble these things badly.

  4. Ashish
    November 23rd, 2014 at 02:18 | #4

    I can’t think of a reasonable heuristic to generate the candidate move 22. Be4.

    “Interpose something between his attacker and my queen” will not typically yield a good result.

    On the other hand, “What is the most attacking move I can make [each move]?” might have turned up 22. Qg4.

  5. November 23rd, 2014 at 02:46 | #5

    Hello, John Shaw! Qg4 was my immediate response, which led me to reject it out of hand….nasty habit of mine. More to the point, it seems…I see my own major flaw being the same as yours. “…..do I have the time/motivation….etc…..?” And let’s not forget one last indispensable ingredient……The ability? After 5 years banging my head on the wall I am convinced calculation in chess is as much a divine gift as an acquired talent. Of course, one can improve….but after a certain age, I believe, only to a certain degree. What I love/enjoy in chess is the positional struggle, the general guidelines, the pearls of wisdom handed down to us patzers from the masters over centuries of struggle. So I concentrate my efforts on these things which I enjoy so as not to turn my chess game into something hateful. Of course I study tactics and practice calculating….but spend more time playing thru annotated master games, solving positional puzzles and end games…..the things I enjoy. Lo and behold! Since changing my strategy (about a year now) I enjoy chess more than ever AND my results have improved…..though I assure you, the GM’s need not fear me anytime soon. Hope this helps and GoodChess to you in future! MC

  6. November 23rd, 2014 at 02:53 | #6

    Hello again, John Shaw! My apologies, sir! I had no idea you were a GM…. I would never presume……still, GoodChess! MC

  7. John Shaw
    November 24th, 2014 at 11:32 | #7

    @Michael Chollet

    Hi Michael,

    No need for apologies. Based on that sequence, there was no way to guess I am a GM. And that was my “good” game of the two I played at the 4ncl weekend. I will blame it on rust. I will be better next time…

  8. Phil Colllins
    November 24th, 2014 at 12:22 | #8

    “To a chess master, there is no such thing as an “obvious” move. Experience has shown repeatedly that wins or draws are thrown away by thoughtless play. Careful planning is the essence of chess strategy. Every move must be scrutinized with care. Each must be analyzed in the light of the plan under consideration. Nowhere is waste of time more severely punnished than in chess.”
    Samuel Reshevsky

  9. Jacob Aagaard
    November 24th, 2014 at 12:55 | #9

    @Phil Colllins
    As someone who works with very strong players I would say that this is complete ……..!

  10. Phil Colllins
    November 24th, 2014 at 13:15 | #10

    From “Foreword” of “Rehevsky’s Best Games. Volume I. Beating the Champions”:

    “Today, spectators feel another kind of astonishment. It is my practice to spend the major part of my alloted time on the first fifteen or twenty moves of a tournament game. As a consequence, I am often forced to play at breakneck speed to avoid overstepping the time limit. After such a game, I am frequently asked why I took so long considering “obvious” moves. That’s a question to which I am able to give a partial answer.”

  11. Jacob Aagaard
    November 24th, 2014 at 14:00 | #11

    @Phil Colllins
    So we have two different definitions of “obvious moves” within one or two paragraphs.

    First it is meant as moves made at any stage of the game that are superficial.

    In the Second paragraph it is meaning moves early in the game, where the strategic ramifications can be great.

    There are players today that think very deeply in the early stages of the game, at the expense of mistakes later in the game. I think specifically at Gelfand, Vallejo and Grischuk. Then there are players that play at a consistent high level, without ever going truly deep into the position. I think especially of Carlsen and Caruana. Then there are players that try to be very deep at all times and burn a lot of energy. Mainly I think of Kramnik, but there are others as well I am sure.

    What makes Reshevsky’s writing there a load of …. is that he sacrifices depth later in the game on the alter of being really deep early on in the game. But then says that you can be too superficial at all times.

    There is no real choice made, what is important, what should you consider as important. It is as empty a statement as “you should play good moves” and as the straw man you have people that apparently think that it is not important to play good moves – or to be fairer, to think before you make a move. I am sure they exist, but it is a bit like when I have debates with certain extremists on Facebook. I know I will win the argument in the mind of 99% of people, but I will achieve absolutely nothing else than polishing my own ego. As I know I am doing exactly this, for my own amusement, I keep such nonsense out of my published works.

    Maybe a bit hard of the poor Reshevsky, but I really think he talks against better knowledge, trying to stratify himself a bit above the rest of us, camouflaged by his few fellow masters…

  12. An Ordinary Chessplayer
    November 24th, 2014 at 17:23 | #12

    “Nowhere is waste of time more severely punished than in //chess//.” Than in time pressure, rather. There is no doubt that over-thinking “obvious” early moves is not an optimal allocation of thinking time. Getting away with it, as Reshevsky did so often, might raise doubts if the player is inclined to a gambling mentality. Botvinnik and Bronstein each wrote interesting things about Reshevsky’s ability to play in time pressure. Hey, if it works against Botvinnik and Bronstein, it must be correct! But the actual correct answer is to root out the cause and train to correct it. Botvinnik would have found a way to correct it…

    @Jacob Aagaard – RE the do nothing question. For me, in time pressure there is nothing but calculation. Not the way it should be, but the way it is. I believe Reshevsky had a similar thinking “style”, but at a higher level obviously – predominately calculation, which makes strategical decisions very difficult. Thus the time pressure in the first place. I always found it hilarious that Reshevsky titled his book “The Art of Positional Play”. Maybe that was the publisher’s choice?

  13. An Ordinary Chessplayer
    November 24th, 2014 at 18:40 | #13

    The Art of Positional Play. I mixed this up with his own games collection. The Art of Positional Play was the title of his column in Chess Life & Review, and a book of those collected columns. Still ironic.

  14. John Cox
    November 28th, 2014 at 13:57 | #14

    “My apologies, sir! I had no idea you were a GM…. ”

    LOL. Fantastic passive-aggression (innocent, I’m sure).

    You could perhaps find 22 Be4, I suppose, if you considered that Black’s next move is bound to be 22…Ne5, releasing the newly made pin, and asked yourself where you wanted your pieces to be after that move.

    I have a feeling I wandered by this game around this point and mentally chalked up 1-0. Not that I saw any useful move, obviously.

  15. Capodoglio
    December 4th, 2014 at 07:28 | #15

    The most depressing thing is that put as a diagram I found Be4 instantly as a candidate… but in a practical game it wouldn’t even cross my mind!

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