Mastering Your Chess Intuition

Mastering Your Chess Intuition

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Intuition manifests itself first and foremost in the ability, in a somewhat unconscious way, and with a high degree of accuracy, to choose between different lines of play. — GM Valeri Beim, The Enigma of Chess Intuition

I can feel it coming...I can always feel it coming. — The Antagonist in Gentlemen of Fortune (1971), a classic Soviet film. 

Intuition is an immensely difficult concept to grasp. It is seldom discussed in chess literature, and yet — according to Garry Kasparov — it is "at the heart of success in all things."

In an ideal world, we would base every decision on a logical and sequential train of thought: I calculate X, I notice Y, and therefore I choose move Z. Unfortunately, such a linear thought process is not applicable in every situation. Frequently, the position is so complex that calculation and positional reasoning leads nowhere. To this end, I would like to dedicate the next three articles to an exploration of this crucial skill.

In my opinion, intuition can be deconstructed into three types: positional, tactical, and psychological. In today's article, we will tackle positional intuition.

IM Rensch uses his chess intuition to solve 30 chess puzzles in 30 minutes: full video here.

Positional maxims exist for a reason. Generally speaking, it is indeed crucial to establish a firm control of the center, to maintain a wholesome pawn structure, to avoid simplifications when you have a space advantage, and so on But following them dogmatically, without considering the specific circumstances, is a recipe for disaster. One aspect of positional intuition, then, is the ability to sense the correct time to violate these principles.

We turn to Bobby Fischer for an excellent illustration.

22.Nxd7 is a decidedly anti-positional move in every sense:

  • White trades his powerful knight for Black's passive bishop.
  • White allows the a7 rook to reach an excellent defensive post.
  • With Black's position so cramped, simplifications are in his favor.

All of this is true, yet Fischer correctly deemed that the outwardly useless bishop actually held Black's position together. Furthermore, removing the knight from c5 enabled Fischer to infiltrate the seventh rank, paving the way for a quick finish.

Often, the most difficult aspect of converting a positional advantage is choosing the right plan.

When the result of the game hinges on your ability to evaluate and decide between several enticing options, accurate positional intuition is critical.

Onischuk's technique made a strong impression on me. Instead of settling for a slight edge with 37.Rb3 or 37.Red3, he applied his intuition and ascertained that after 37.c5, my incarcerated bishop would eventually doom any attempt at a successful resistance.

Without a doubt, the positional sacrifice is the purest demonstration of intuitive mastery. Regardless of how palpable the compensation, sacrificing material for vague strategic reasons is no light matter. As usual, general considerations are futile. You must approach the position concretely, calculating and reasoning as much as possible, but letting your intuition make the final decision.

To be sure, experience is the best way to improve your intuition. The more knowledge you accumulate, the more precise your subconscious judgments, evaluations, and snap decisions will become.

But I hope that this article will be a worthy companion on your long voyage to intuitive mastery.

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