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I am sure that we have all seen ‘oic’ written on our screens, computer or phone, it is the accepted net/text acronym for “Oh, I see.”
Now as chess players, it is London to a brick that we have all uttered a similar phrase when we have been surprised by a move that we hadn’t seen coming.
So here is a system that I have amalgamated from many great teachers, Cecil Purdy and Jeremy Silman being the most prominent contributors to the thoughts and ideas that I now offer to you as a system of thinking to improve your play.
Observe, Imagine, Calculate!
Observe may seem to be obvious, what isn’t so obvious is the question of what to observe.
The answer may seem contrite, but the chess position in front of you is what needs to be observed! But don’t just look at it and start thinking what will I move, take note of the specifics within the position.
This could be a quite lengthy discussion right here, but to keep this as short as possible, one must consider all the things that have been mentioned in every good book you ever read, looking for tactical themes and positional themes. I tried to write what to consider and soon reached three pages, so if you aren’t sure what is being referred to here, then it is time to read any book on strategy and tactics that you can lay your hands on. Material & Imbalances, Safety of the Pieces, Tactical Motifs, and Structure are some of the subheadings that I would use to fully explain everything that needs to be considered.
This may sound onerous, and in some ways it is, but you can only play what you see, so learning to see as much as you can in any position will enable you to play much better. The great thing about this part of the system is that it all can be done on your opponent’s time, and the position only alters move by move, so one can imagine a sketch where you add a bit, erase a bit, add another bit, the basic picture remains the same, it is only the alterations that have to be noted. In longer games, one may only need to ask how the last move has changed the position and what are the threats, to move on to the next step. I think that it is occasionally good to review the whole board, maybe every 4-6 moves, every player would be able to recall forgetting about that bishop sitting over there!
Imagine is the next step. Here there are no rules. Using all the information you have gleaned from the position, now is the time to start seeing the ideas, even those nonsensical QxP+ captures that ordinarily are dismissed because it just loses the Queen, something in the position may make it work this time. Now don’t go jumping at the first good move you find, unless your game time indicates otherwise. Take some good old advice. Sit on your hands and see if there isn’t a better move. I caution here that one must be sure that there aren’t any tactical means to exploit before embarking on a great plan. If you haven’t found any tactical means to secure a winning advantage, select a move that improves your position, perhaps even inducing a small concession from your opponent. Straight from Purdy, a plan should seek to remove your weaknesses, improve your strengths, remove the opponent’s strengths and of course exploit or create weaknesses for your opponent. It of course may not be possible to do all four at once, but if you bear these ideas in mind, you should start seeing positions that are more attractive for you.
Now we move to the final step;
Calculate I did think of using Check here, but as it implies an attack on the king, it may actually direct your mind away from the task you need to complete. So, whether it is a tactical idea or a strategic plan, it is time to calculate, select the move/s that appeal to you, and then work out that it is good for you. In the event of a tactical idea, try to go a move or two beyond your gain to ensure that there isn’t a sting in the tail. If it is a strategic plan, it may only be two or three moves deep. This is quite sufficient in some positions, and even if you need to work ten moves ahead, you still need to visualise the position you are aiming at and be sure that it is what you want. This skill will improve the more you do it, so just keep hammering away until you get there. I won’t recommend any particular way to do this, me I am of the simple he goes there, I go there, type, whilst others rattle of “If Nxd6, then Qxd6 etc. Some take Kotov’s advice that you calculate each line fully once and only once, I know that I often switch between ideas as they are often intermeshed and a move in one line may actually make a previously considered line better and needs to be checked there. I even sometimes go through the trouble of interchanging the moves, just to see that there isn’t anything better. Mind you, this hurts when you have selected a line and then play the second move of the line first but, that can usually be attributed to failing to follow the next bit of advice. When you have calculated and selected your move, then briefly recheck it once again, this practise will save you many blunders.
So that is the basic system, you can see that each of these three may be expanded greatly to cover everything, I suggest that you do just that, you will soon find that you will be able to call it ‘My System’.
I add the following as general advice; Most players attack better than they defend, therefore if there isn’t anything in a position that screams it must be played, then look to be attacking. If you are unable to formulate any reasonable idea of how you wish to proceed in a game, there is a safety valve, improve the position of your worst piece. This simple idea can often be a great saver, as instead of shuffling a knight around in the middle of the board, you may see that rook sitting there on a1 doing nothing. Remember, chess is a party; all the pieces like to be invited to the party. The one thing impossible in chess is to do two things at once; therefore if you can find moves that require the opponent to do two things at once, they can’t satisfy that requirement! Every loss is a lesson, take note of it and look forward to the next game.
I hope that OIC soon becomes a positive statement for you, not the more usual exclamation of surprise.
Get into chess! It’s a lifetime of enjoyment!
© Phil Bourke 2008
thanks Phil patience is a virtue
very good advice!
Interesting treatment of the topic, Phil.