Concrete Problems, Part 3
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Concrete Problems, Part 3


    It's a Christmas miracle. For a while, I was struggling to find a topic for this post. I was feeling more inspired by writing Blogosphere Monthly News than by thinking about this, and the list of topics was running dry. I had introduced the idea of concrete problems. I had shown what they were. I had shown that what matters isn't who sets the most concrete problems but who sets the biggest ones.

    And after all of this, I couldn't help but wonder: What else is there to add to this series?

    Then Christmas happened, and the excellent book Chess Strategy for Club Players fell into my lap. I spent a large part of the day working through the first 9 chapters, and in there, I found my inspiration for at least one more Concrete Problems post.

    Titled players are amazingly chill about almost every position. Knight coming into f4? It doesn't do anything anyway. Rook on the second rank? There's nothing for it to attack. Anyone who has ever read a chess book has seen how nonchalant the author is about possibilities that scare class players, whether it's a pawn break, an open file into your position, or a seemingly strong pawn or piece.

    One could say that what scares a 1500 and provokes them into making a mistake is a trivial matter for an Expert. These "ghosts" of problems, I believe, rear their ugly head in almost every one of my games, and they usually come in the same forms, over and over again. They are, again...

A pawn break. An open file into your position. A seemingly strong pawn or piece.

Ghost #1: A pawn break

    We amateurs just don't know what to make of pawn breaks, and we make some truly terrible mistakes when one is looming and after it appears on the board. Do you take right away? Do you let them take? Do you take later? Do you let them push the pawn forward? Subtract one of these possibilities and you still have plenty to trip over.

    Here's a (recycled) game where a pawn break and a little bit of additional pawn tension find themselves on the board at the same time and that alone causes me to crumble.

Ghost #2: An open file into your position

    This next one is a relatively new game. After I missed a few opportunities (pawn breaks!) afforded by Black's slightly sketchy opening, I committed an inaccuracy and ended up in a terrible French position, but then found a few good moves in a row and even got a bind on the queenside. Then the notorious "doubled rooks disease" struck and I let Black out and split the point.

Ghost #3: A strong enemy pawn or piece

    This is this game's fourth or fifth appearance in my blog, which is possibly a record, and if not, it's close. I always want to put new games in my blog, but I can hardly help it: I play just one 90 30 game a week, and only a fraction of them are truly instructive. It's a classic blunder, but also a classic example of this third ghost: Black's pieces scared me so much that they drove me to literally set the winning tactic up for my opponent. Here it is, one more time:

    There are morals to these stories. A few of them:
    Don't stop your calculation mid-sequence! I missed at least one win from this illness in the first game, and I've missed quite a few others where I stopped my calculations just one ply short of the winner.
    Hold onto ideas; don't forget them between moves. By forgetting a previous idea, I missed a win in the first game just as my position was turning sour. Holding onto ideas from previous moves could have won me that game.
    When in doubt, ask "Is my move sound?" Does 15. g3? really look like something a strong player would play? Does 16. a3?? look like it? What about 21. Rac1? I think I could have figured a lot out about these lemons just by the fact that they look bad, or in the case of 21. Rac1, not like something a strong player would play.

    But titled players circumvent all this somehow. The limits which govern amateur players don't seem to apply to them. They can keep Rooks on the board to their benefit in the face of an open file, rather than just swapping both pairs. They can show that knight on f4 to be just one positional factor or even a liability. They can show pawn breaks to be bad: not even practically good, just a positional mistake. Where we overreact to changes on the board, the titled player embraces them and navigates them deftly. How?

    Until next week, I leave you with just one example, but, I hope, a good one:

    Next week, we'll look at more examples of this chessic clairvoyance and figure out how we can learn to see through ghosts at our level.
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