Seeing ghosts

Oct 18, 2014, 3:05 AM |
Have you ever seen a ghost? If you are a chess player (which you probably are, since you're on this site), I would guess that you have. I've seen many ghosts in my games, and when I played a game earlier this week, the entire chess board seemed to be haunted. Ghosts were everywhere.
The thing about ghosts is that they can be scary at times, but their most dangerous characteristic is that they steal attention and keep you from seeing other things. I mean, ghosts are fascinating, so if you see one, why would you look at anything else?
In this game, I have several examples of ghosts. In the position below, the first one appeared. I saw that the c4-pawn was tactically vulnerable, and wanted to exploit it. My upcoming moves were more or less entirely focused on winning the pawn. This gave me tunnel vision and kept me from seeing other possibilities. What about d6, you ask? Well, the c4-ghost kept me from seeing it.
As you see from the game, c4 was not the only ghost. The potential knight fork on f2, and the potential pin-and-win of my queen by Be3 were very scary threats, but not as real as they appeared to be during the game. In other words, they were ghosts. Scary ones, yes, but objectively not that dangerous.
So what have I learned from this game. Well, for one thing, Alekhines defense can lead to a difficult position where the king is trapped in the center and the pawns are over extended. But the main lesson to be learned here is that a singular focus on specific moves is not healthy. It is all too easy to get caught up in thinking that your opponent has an unstoppable threat, or that giving up material is inevitable. Sometimes, just scooting the king over kan solve all your problems and save the game. Similarly, when an opportunity arises, it can steal all the attention from other good (better) continuations, and generate bad positions.
The sad thing about this is that my conclusion and advise to myself is far from new. The old saying "when you find a good move, look for a better one" really summarizes everything - both in terms of attack and defense. Getting caught up with one single idea is dangerous. So always look for other options. And don't be afraid of ghosts.