Upgrade to Chess.com Premium!

There's Not Always A Clearly Best Move or Idea

In previous articles, I have dealt with the fact that there's not always one single correct thought process that covers all situations (positions; time control issues), and I've also dealt with issues when a player states "I reach positions where I don't know what to do." (Take these two links if you are interested in those issues).

But there is a third key "don't know" issue, which is that in many positions there is no single correct move or plan (and, of course, in many there are - see most puzzles!).

In his wide-ranging book Chess for Zebras, GM Rowson has a chapter "Psycho-Logics" and, within that Chapter, there is a section "The Importance of Not Having A Clue". In that section he makes a statement in bold which I would like to repeat:

"the stronger a player is, the more likely he is to begin by saying "I don't know" when you ask him what is happening in a position."

There are several reasons for this, but one is that many positions contain several issues and factors (imblances, to use the Silman term) that could be dealt with by a variety of logical/reasonable moves and ideas. Sometimes the best idea requires a specific move order or plan (most likely in a combination or in the endgame), but other times the position is much more fluid and a variety of moves and plans might all be reasonable. The key is that to assume a priori that there is always only one right move and plan is a falsehood that will make your thought process and analysis, not to mention your ability to finally decide on a move, much more difficult.

In the middlegame, if the position is objectively equal, there may be a variety of moves that will keep it about equal. In an endgame which is drawn, there may be multiple paths (with possibly more than one initial move) to achieving that draw. If you give a position to a computer engine and ask it to display the top several moves and these moves end up separated by about a tenth of a pawn or less, it is likely that any of them are reasonable and, in most senses, equally good. So, in these situations, if you don't know what to do and end up picking any of these moves, that's quite OK, despite what doing lots of Solitaire Chess (where you are often asked to find the "right" moves and are penalized if you don't) may lead you to believe.

Here's an example. In the following opening (shown after Black's 7th move) my student had trouble figuring out what to do on a number of moves.

I gave this position to Houdini 3 and let it show me the top six moves.

At 22 ply there was about a 0.15 pawn difference between the top move and the sixth move, and it stayed that way for most of the opening.

In all the lines presented White eventually got his kingside pieces out and, despite Black's menacing pawn storm, often castled that side. But that's not the point. The point was that on most moves White had a choice of several ideas and continuations that were reasonable and led to a slight advantage. In lines where Black played ...Bxc3+ bxc3 and gave up the bishop pair, then White eventually playing c4xd5 to undouble the pawns open up the position for the bishops was usually best and logical, but even that was not absolutely necessary. This is not at all surpising for a "normal" opening position where there are not many threats and several pieces left to activate.

In these types of positions, for me to suggest to a student that he didn't find my (or "the right") idea would be to send the wrong message. I know this particular student wanted me to teach him how to find that right move in this opening, but I had to admit that if he just kept developing his pieces and did it reasonably without wasting time, there was many ways to skin this cat.

So, while puzzles often pyschologically prepare us to find those "best" moves and sometimes your criticality assessment tells you that you must do exactly that, it is important to keep in mind that sometimes looking for the exact right move (or plan) will not only waste time, but could be a futile effort since "any among equals" in many cases might be a more reasonable goal.

Comments


  • 11 months ago

    BlueKnightShade

    Mundopazyojnyop wrote:

    how do u choose the correct move then

    Well, I think that the article reveals that it is the wrong question. It is not about "the correct move", it is rather about "a correct move" or "a good move". Since there are many choises you would need to choose a move that you believe is a good continuation. I think that danheisman's reply earlier on can be an answer to the question on how to find a correct or a good move:

    NM danheisman wrote:

    PedoneMedio - Thanks. There's no simple answer to that question (but feel free to ask it on the next showSmile). One (of many indicators) would be the number of possible pieces (and permutations thereof) that have capturing sequences in likely lines. Another would be: the more imbalances, the more dynamic. For example, obviously castling opposite sides with queens on the board is much more dynamic, usually, than castling same side. That's a major imblance.


    So you could say that you base your choise on what kind of game you would like to play in the continuation or what appeals to you.

     

     

  • 14 months ago

    Mundopazyojnyop

    how do u choose the correct move then

  • 14 months ago

    ghostofmaroczy

    The quotation in bold is another way of saying, "Weak players have too many of their own ideas."

  • 14 months ago

    NM danheisman

    PedoneMedio - Thanks. There's no simple answer to that question (but feel free to ask it on the next showSmile). One (of many indicators) would be the number of possible pieces (and permutations thereof) that have capturing sequences in likely lines. Another would be: the more imbalances, the more dynamic. For example, obviously castling opposite sides with queens on the board is much more dynamic, usually, than castling same side. That's a major imblance.

  • 14 months ago

    PedoneMedio

    I'd be interested in a little advice about a related question I have about opening moves.

    You often read in Chess books things like "this is the positional variation" or "the most abitious (i.e. tactical and 'messy') variation", et similia.

    So, is there some general way to smell the positional continuation from the tactical one when you're choosing among relatively equal opening moves? I mean if one can find some general indications that, let's say, putting a Bishop on a particular diagonal will likely lead to a more dinamics-centered game than developing a Knight on a particular square (positional continuation), without having to analyze all the possible continuations (beside verifying that both moves are safe and sensible), which would cost too much time in the opening.

    (I'm speaking about a situation when you have no "book move" to play)

  • 14 months ago

    NM danheisman

    Elubas,

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, I do that too, but if I quickly see that it doesn't make that much difference I will pick the one my experience or style likes better (in your case it will usually be castling!) and do it without spending too much time. As you note, what time control you are playing is an important aspect and time management is a very important chess skill.

  • 14 months ago

    Elubas

    A very interesting point. Perhaps I have too much of a perfectionist attitude -- I'll be in a situation where I have some clear positional formation I can setup, but have a choice between say 0-0 and some other move that's part of the setup. I'll try to find some subtle reason why one move may be a bit better than another, but perhaps sometimes the truth is either move order will lead to basically the same situation. It seems this happens to me most often in the opening. This kind of thing may be what gets me into time pressure in faster time controls such as  G/50 or faster.

Back to Top

Post your reply: