Turn Off The Autopilot!
Chess is a cruel game. One moment of negligence, one second of distracted thinking, and hours of hard work instantly go down the drain. For most chess players, the euphoria of success — a combination, a hard-fought victory, a positional masterpiece — vastly outweighs these occasional moments of tragedy.
However, in the heat of moment, a painful experience may very well feel like the end of the world, and a blunder or missed opportunity can have a tremendously debilitating effect even on the most battle-hardened grandmaster.
The most prudent approach is to simply embrace our imperfection. Nonetheless, we can considerably improve our tactical ability by locating and eradicating cognitive habits that foster tactical negligence.
There is a particularly common mental shortcut that almost always leads to devastating consequences: autopilot mode.
Players frequently turn on autopilot mode when executing an ostensibly forced move, often a recapture. This subconscious labor-saving mechanism has led countless players to miss golden opportunities and to commit fatal blunders.
The following game is a brilliant illustration.
While Hikaru would probably take on e5 99 out of 100 times, this blunder is certainly no fluke. It was driven by a perfectly understandable psychological process that we all experience more often than we'd like.
My suggestion is fairly straightforward: even when your reply appears forced, take a couple of seconds to switch off the autopilot ensure that you are not missing a simple tactical opportunity.
While this approach sounds cumbersome, it can bring tremendous benefits, fostering the kind of tactical vigilance that is a crucial aspect of a strong grandmaster's arsenal.
There is nothing earth-shattering about this game, but — with time trouble rearing its ugly head — I'm not at all convinced that I would have won the game had I chosen 28...Qe4+. Instead, I was able to find the lethal tactic, and score an important victory for Team USA.
Here's your opportunity to show the ability to repudiate autopilot mode. Remember: a few seconds of patient reflection is often all that you need to turn the game in your favor.
Hopefully, this article raised your aware of a very common habit that we must all strive to avoid. True perfection is unattainable, but we can definitely come close!