The 3 'Illnesses' Of Chess

The 3 'Illnesses' Of Chess

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The member Canyounotquit wrote: “I really want to know why and how I lost this particular game. I had a piece lead and still I lost badly. I’ve no idea where I went wrong.”

JS: Everyone loses games. But, while pros will figure out what they did wrong, amateurs usually have no idea where the REAL MOMENT OF DOOM hit them.

Yes, any computer will point things out, but since it’s not speaking and telling you what’s up, all you’ll get is reams of moves that are often way over your head (it will tell you to do this or that, but in most cases you won’t understand any of it!). And so, as losses pile up and frustration raises your blood pressure to new heights, you accept that you’re hopeless, or you blame your openings, or you insist that your opponent was using a chess engine, or you will mark up all those losses as “unlucky.”

I’ve pretty much mentioned (in the zillion articles I’ve written) what the main problems are for those that suffer from the “I lost but don’t know why!” disease.

But let me, once again, list the three of the most important ones for players under 1900, since it’s harder to cure these illnesses than most players think (in fact, many never find a cure!):

  • You hang your pieces!
  • When you have decided on a move, you fail to figure out what your opponent’s BEST response should be.
  • You often don’t have an agenda, or you easily throw it away when your opponent makes a threat or perceived threat.

Again, there are more chess “illnesses” than these, but I will only focus on the three I listed.

Let’s leap in and see where Canyounotquit turned a “game-over” winning position to a loss.

Black is a full piece up. That means that White doesn’t even have a pawn for it. On top of that White has no attack, his bishop isn’t doing much, and Black has no weaknesses.

Let’s take a look at Black’s position. Black’s bishop is better than White’s, and his d5-knight is beautifully posted on d5. Black even has a space advantage in the center. 

Since White has no threats at all, Black needs to do the following:

Create an agenda! Do NOT curl in a ball and start to defend or play on the queenside. Instead ask, “Everything is great, but where’s my plan? The center is blocked, White will try something on the queenside (though White can’t really create anything real). That leaves the kingside. White has no pieces on the kingside (other than his king). 

If you do the math, we get the following: White will try and attack on the queenside but it’s rubbish. Black should ignore it. Black has more central space, but it’s not going to knock out his opponent (though if the center opens up then that should favor Black due to his magnificent knights and control over the d5 and d3 squares). The kingside, though, is begging to be conquered.

Thus 16…g5 is the most logical (Of course many moves win easily, but why not brutalize your opponent for daring to play on?).


Let’s return to our initial position:


Okay, I know a lot of you will say, “This is beginner stuff. I don’t do it!”

Really? I’ve looked a many hundreds of games from players 1000 to 1900, and just about all of them make these errors now and then or, in most cases, often. If you decide to ignore the three illnesses, that’s fine, especially if you’re a masochist and love the feeling of losing again and again.

The fact is that most players are not aware of these three illnesses (or at the least one or two of them).

And the only way to fix this problem:

  1. Be aware of it! If you aren’t aware of the three illnesses, you won’t be able to cure them.
  2. Once you’re aware, you need to train yourself to avoid the horrors that the three illnesses create. To do this, you have to look for all three before you move and, over time, it will become an unconscious, and fairly quick, scan. When this becomes a normal part of your calculations, you’ll be shocked at your vastly improved results.

Here’s a typical (but extremely instructive) example:


Believe it or not, this little game offers a lot of important lessons. Both players (and those that are reading this article) should go over it carefully.

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