Chess Telepathy

Chess Telepathy

GM BryanSmith
Jun 23, 2011, 12:00 AM |
62 | Other

Recently I was playing in the Forni di Sopra Open in Italy. As it so happened, another American player was there, IM Marc Esserman. In the second round I wandered over to look at his game with GM Oleg Korneev. Esserman is a very aggressive player, and he had sacrificed two exchanges to break up Korneev’s castled position. After glancing for a couple seconds it looked like he had a dangerous attack.

Suddenly Marc grabbed me by the arm. He was very upset. “I had such a great position, now I blundered…” he whispered, and then he said something about f5. I went back to the board and looked, and sure enough, Korneev had this Bf5 shot which would end the game immediately. Going over to him again, I said “sure, but it looks like he doesn’t see it.” Korneev was holding his head and generally looked tortured, but if he saw the move he would probably play it immediately. “Don’t look at the game, he might sense it,” Marc said. That was what gave me the idea to write about telepathy in chess.

He was probably right, if I had been looking at the game, with Bf5 in my mind, Korneev might have picked up on my brain waves. For sure there is some telepathy in chess, mostly from one’s opponent, but from a spectator it is also possible. Let me show you an example from one of my games, long ago. It’s not very hard to find the winning move, so I will let you have a go at it:



At first I had looked at a rather large investment of material: 15.Nd5 exd5 16.exd5 Bxd5 17.Bxh7+ Kxh7 18.Qh4+ Kg8 19.Bxg7. Well, stranger things have worked. But after 19…f5, there wasn’t any convincing followup. I also tried to make 15.e5 work (since moving the e-pawn is clearly positionally desirable). But it didn’t work. So I started thinking about other things.

Jaan was away from the board, but around then he came back. I sensed some nervousness, and thought “that’s strange. Maybe the sacrifices do work somehow.” Once again I calculated the knight-and-bishops sacrifice, again finding nothing. Finally I played 15.Ne2, and although my position remained ok (a little later I stood better) I eventually went wrong and lost. Of course, you have probably already seen what Jaan told me about after the game. I thought it was strange, though, how I sensed that something was there, even though Jaan is good at hiding his thoughts, like his countryman Paul Keres was famous for. Probably if he were sitting at the board worriedly looking in the direction of g7, I would have seen it!

There is an element in chess that is sort of a tacit negotiation between the players. Sometimes you might have a situation where both players have “agreed” that one player is the one pressing, the one with an advantage, even though an objective view of the position might show otherwise (especially if the one “pressing” is the higher-rated player). I think this phenomenon caused my opponent in the following game to miss a rather obvious win. At that moment I “acceded” to a draw, which my opponent agreed to quickly, since I had been the one with a very slight advantage.

I had easily equalized in the opening, but unfortunately it was a very drawish kind of equality, and my opponent was rated a couple hundred points less than me, so I wanted to play for a win with black. Finally I agreed that there was nothing there, played 26…a3??, and offered a draw, which was accepted. Try to find how with one move my opponent could have instead got a full point:




Of course, I saw the danger posed by the unguarded position of my queen, but my sense of danger was dulled because of the unspoken agreement between me and my opponent that I was the one playing for a win, and he was trying to draw. This was probably also the reason he missed the win. We both saw 27.Rb8 (which would be met by 27…Qc1) but not the other move.

Finally, one last example. Sometimes a player’s negative evaluation of his own position can inspire his opponent to carelessness. Here was a crazy example from a recent tournament. This was probably one of the strangest games I have ever played, against GM Gergely Szabo of Romania. I had made a blunder in the opening and was simply down a piece. True, I had two pawns for it, but the position was totally hopeless, because my pieces could barely move. All he has to do is bring his a3 knight into the game and I can resign. “With a look of disgust” (as one spectator put it) I played 30…h5:

I think definitely the fact that I considered my position to be hopeless influenced my opponent. The truth is, he still had to think a little bit. Also, I think the telepathy involved convinced him to try to “refute” 30…h5 by taking the pawn (instead of the winning 31.Nh6, keeping Black stuck). This was the turning point, and slowly I got into the game and eventually took over and even won.

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