Chess Tactics: Overcoming Human Bias

Chess Tactics: Overcoming Human Bias

Apr 12, 2011, 2:24 PM |

One of the best ways to improve your chess game is to look at your own games critically for areas where you could have played better. Earlier this week at SOHO Coffee Company, one of my favorite places to play chess in Seattle the owner has a chess board behind the counter.

In the following position, I failed to find a crushing move. Take a minute or two and see if you can find the best move with Black to move:

What would you play?

When I reached this position I knew there was a strong chance of a wining tactic. Black is only a pawn up but there are several factors that should point to a tactical win:

  • Black pieces control the center of the board
  • Several of those pieces threaten the white king
  • Black controls a lot more squares then white
  • Black’s pieces have a lot of coordination
  • The white king is running low on safe squares
  • The g2 pawn is pinned against the king leaving h3 weak
  • The white kings pawn cover is weakened
  • whites pieces lack coordination

In this Position I took two to three minutes to look for a knock out blow and could not fined one so I played my Queen to f6. My opponent then started exchanging attackers with Ra3 and the game continued in with a winning position for black, but no easy win in sight.

SPOILER (make your comments or guesses before reading this):

Here is the algorithm I use to calculate moves in this type of situation.

  • Check the checks
  • Check the captures
  • Check the forcing moves

I progress through this iteratively until I am out of tactical moves, then look for a way to improve my position strategical.

Here is what went through my mind I looked at:

1. …. Bxg2+ the rook on a2 can capture and the attack ends

1. … Rxh3 2. Qxh3 Attack is over, g2 has lots of defenders

1. …Qxg4 2. Bxg4 and the attack is slowing down

1. … Bf5?? 2. Bxf5 Now it is black that is losing

1. … Qd6 threatening the undefended bishop which allows for 2. Bf5 and white to starts exchanging attackers

I thought I had checked all best possible moves. but there was a human blind spot in my calculations. The move I misses was what FIDE Master Charles Hertan, a Massachusetts area chess coach and author of Forcing Chess Moves: The Key to Better Calculation, would call a FORCING MOVE that one needs COMPUTER EYES to notice. This move was:

1. … f5!! this leaves blacks queen undefended but threatens 2. … Rxh3 mate if white goes after the queen. To avoid mate white has to avoid the queen and sacrifice material to stay alive. This move would have ended the game in short order. My attachment to my queen did not allow me to even consider this move when I was making calculations.

Take away when calculating check ALL the forcing moves! As humans the only way we can over come our biases is to recognize them and the specifically work to change them. Knowing that I am overly attached to my queen the next time I am in a situation like this I will intentionally look for moves that might appear to give the queen away.

I hope this helps you improve your calculation skills! I also recommend Forcing Chess Moves: The Key to Better Calculation for advanced students(1400 to 2200 ELO) wanting to get better at tactics. For beginners I recommend Winning Chess Tactics by Grand Master Yasser Seirawan and for kids: Chess Tactics for Students by John Bain.

Originaly posted at