Resetting the Objective - Pt. 1: Recalculating

NM PhasmicChess
Mar 21, 2018, 3:55 PM |

As helpful as tactical problems can be in the improvement of your calculation and tactical vision, OTB play usually develops in a different fashion. For one thing, pieces aren't always hanging, and the kings are often safe. So how do you evaluate a position like the one below?

Material is level. White has the bishop pair, and both sides have a somewhat damaged structure on the kingside. Before you say white is better, I should probably add that black has the move here. Positionally, white seems to be doing alright. But the doubling of the rooks on the e-file and the pin of the knight on e5 indicates the possibility of tactical play - maybe even for black. Also, black's h6-bishop is x-raying the rook on e3. That suggests a pawn push.

As a master, I might calculate 1...g4 2.Re4 Nxc4 3.Rxe8 Nd2+ 4.Ka1 Rxe8 5.Rxe8 Nf3, and see that the bishop on h2 escapes. Try to visualize the position if you can. Can you see that black is just down an exchange? Going back to the original position, I suddenly have a new idea: if the bishop on h2 didn't have a move, I would win it at the end of my line. Let's try it out:

 Going back to the position where white retreated his rook to e2, it turns out that was the fatal mistake. Instead, gxh4 and Re4 are just a couple of ideas for white. It's not at all clear that the endgame favors black, as the rook is strong, and black lacks a passed pawn to rush up the board.

One of the most common mistakes that all players, no matter their strength, make in the course of their calculation, is they fixate on a certain idea in the position, a specific objective. This can easily lead to a type of tactical blindness, especially when you are calculating tactical variations in your mind.

But what if you can reset the objective? That doesn't always mean that you dismiss all prior variations. Sometimes all you need is a little inspiration. For example, in my calculations, I made trapping the bishop my objective - the desired outcome of my calculations. But what if the potential of a passed pawn is more important than the idea of winning two pieces for the rook?

If I reset the objective, I might return to my original concept:

Sometimes, it can be hard to change your objective when calculating forced lines. This is especially true since a change in move order, or an unseen quiet move, can often overturn your previous evaluation of a line. Consequently, strong players will mull over a forced line again and again, trying to make it work. Sometimes, they just need to recalculate the variation, making sure that the endpositions they evaluate really are endpositions.

Looking half a move further is a sound piece of advice for tactical calculations. In this case, that would have been sufficient. Alternatively, your objective may be off center. That can throw your calculation and evaluation off-balance. If you reset the objective, that provide the spark necessary to light a fire in your calculations. Instead of a mating attack, a favorable endgame may become the new goal. Even in this instance, where simple recalculation could have lead to the correct idea, changing our objective made it easier to reconsider the initial forced variation.