Knightmares

Knightmares

thamizhan
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Dear Grandmasters Arun Prasad/Magesh Panchanathan:

My question may be too simple for you, but here goes: when reviewing my games, 80% of the time I lose because of knight blindness. I simply fail to see the potential my opponent's Knights have, and, by extension, I must by under-using my own knights. Knights, of course, are the most complicated pieces to manoeuvre, and I am intensely aware of my deficit, but I still keep missing knight moves. 

My question is: is there some silver bullet cure for knight blindness? Some form of practice that will switch the lights on, and keep them on? Or is it simply a matter of escalate my fear of knights, and look at all 8 squares each knight has, every move, so as to avoid my recurring 'knightmares'??

Thank you in advance, 

 David Melbourne



Dear David,

Your question is definitely not a simple one, and to be honest, the more specific your questions are, the better you will be able to understand the solution. I am impressed with the fact that you were able zero in on a problem like this. Normally players would find it difficult to recognize minute patterns like ignoring threats along files/ranks/diagonals or even mishandling a particular piece such as a knight or a bishop. Such patterns are very likely to be present in every single chess player's repertoire, but they tend to go unnoticed.

The reason I say it is difficult to identify such patterns is because a mistake in chess can be attributed to a thousand different causes. Lapse of concentration, lack of energy, lack of sleep, bad opening/middlegame/endgame knowledge, bad time management, bad focus, overconfidence and I can keep adding on to the list. For example if you had lost to a knight fork three times in a row in tournament games, but you were in severe time trouble in one game, slept badly in one game and had bad food in the other game, then I would say your problem is all over the place rather than just missing knight forks. You should be watchful for such errors. In any case, now let us discuss some steps involved in finding and eradicating such issues.

Firstly, this minute level of accuracy in determining such a problem can be a great asset and yet be potentially dangerous too. As a precaution, we will talk about why and how one should come to such conclusions about their game, just so we do not spend hours trying to fix a problem that did not exist. We humans are often influenced by random ideas or thoughts that are put into our heads by the surrounding environment. For example, I have seen several parents who tend to identify a pattern in their children's games which according to them contributes to their loss. This is not essentially wrong all the time, but I find about 90% of such conclusions are based on some randomly collected information rather than proper logical methods. I am not trying to say you probably misjudged your problem, but I am trying to say that there are a lot of pitfalls on such roads and we need to watch out carefully to avoid one. In order to avoid this, try to be precise in your analysis and in your conclusion about your mistakes.

Secondly, even if you were to have identified the problem precisely, the fact that you are thinking that you are going to miss knight maneuvers is going to have an impact on the way you are thinking about the knights during any game. Are you thinking about missing knight moves because you miss them in reality or are you missing knight moves because you think that in your mind to begin with? A little confusing yeah! This is the classic chicken or the egg question. It is probably difficult and also pointless to try to find an exact solution to this question, but we can set some guidelines. It is great that you found a problem with the knight maneuvers, but do not dwell upon that long enough to let that affect you during a game.

Think less, you don't solve the problem,

Think more, you add to the problem,

Think just enough, you solve the problem.

What is just enough? That is a million dollar question you should ask yourself. Only you will know how much is right and probably your results will know even more. Practically speaking, striking the right balance between not doing something or overdoing something is the most difficult thing in life.

The last part of my answer and also the most important part is how do you actually solve it if such a problem really exists. Given that you have identified your problem, what you will need to do is to work on your weakness. Identify positions where knight maneuvers are important (This is where a coach or a working partner would come in very handy) and try to work on them. Analyze such closed positions and solve tactics that involve knight maneuvers. That should put you in the right track.

Here is a very good exercise that will help you understand the power of a knight. It is white to play and win in the following position. Try to think and find the solution first before you continue reading the explanation below.

 

It is a theoretically known fact that a rook and knight cannot win against a rook which implies that if white loses his pawn on c5, then the game would be a draw. It also makes black's target pretty straight forward, he will go after the c5 pawn at all cost. This also implies that if the white knight reaches the square e4, then white is already winning because black has no way of capturing the c5 pawn anymore and the white king will march slowly back into the center and white will eventually win.

The real problem in this position is that the white knight is not able to reach any safe square to protect the pawn. Let us take a look at the solution now.

That was one mighty knight taking control of one whole file from the rook even though it directly was only able to control two squares (f7 and f3), the rest were controlled through the threat of forks.

Another little exercise you can do is to move a knight around a chessboard in your mind. You could just move it at random; you could pick squares and then try to find the fastest route between them; or if you get really good, you could try doing a "knight's tour": passing through every square on the board exactly once!

Now, if you think you have problems with knights, go on and work on more positions and exercises like these and I am sure you will see visible improvements in the knight department.

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