Kotov Syndrome

Kotov Syndrome

It's no secret that calculation is a critical skill for chess players. Almost all players fall victim to the Kotov Syndrome when trying to analyze different lines—at least before they are aware of it!

Here's what you need to know about the Kotov Syndrome:

What Is Kotov Syndrome?

Kotov Syndrome is an expression used to designate the process of making a hasty move without considering its ramifications after trying and failing to analyze other moves in a position.

The name of this "syndrome" comes from GM Alexander Kotov, author of the classic chess book Think Like a Grandmaster. In the book, Kotov described an incorrect yet very common calculation process that often leads players to select a suboptimal or bad move.

Kotov Syndrome
In his book, Kotov mentioned that even strong players are prone to making this calculation mistake. Photo: Dutch National Archives, CC.

According to Kotov, in positions where the lines are complex and there are numerous candidate moves and variations to calculate, it's easy to make a hasty move. A player in that situation might spend too much time going over two moves and all of their ramifications without finding a favorable ending position. In that process, the player is likely to go back and forth between the two different lines, always coming to the same unsatisfying conclusion—this wastes precious mental energy and time.

After spending too much time evaluating the first two options, the player gives up the calculation due to time pressure or fatigue and plays a third move without calculating it. According to the author, that sort of move can cause tremendous blunders and cost the game.

Using the game example above, Kotov shows us the correct continuation:

Why Does Kotov Syndrome Matter?

Kotov suggests that you must have a system to calculate effectively and not fall victim to the process described above. Recognizing the importance of having a calculation system and being aware of the "Kotov Syndrome" are the first steps to get better.

To improve players' calculation, the author proposed what he called the "tree of analysis." Briefly, this technique involves:

  1. Coming up with candidate moves in each position—moves that look promising for each specific position;
  2. Analyzing each of the candidate moves and its subsequent variations in turn only once;
  3. Comparing the final position for each move and variation and choosing the best one.
Kotov Syndrome
An illustration of a tree of analysis.

Although criticized for being incomplete or sometimes too vague, many of Kotov's ideas are still widely applied today. His method for calculating variations brings clarity to the process, reduces blunders, and helps to find winning moves.

Test Your Skills

Now that you know about the Kotov Syndrome and Kotov's method for calculating different variations in a position, it's time for you to put your skills to the test. Try finding the best moves in each of the positions below:

Puzzle 1: What's the quickest way to checkmate?

Puzzle 2: What's the winning move in this position?


You now know what Kotov Syndrome is, the dangers of falling victim to it, and how you can avoid it. Head over to our Puzzles page and practice your calculation skills. Remember not to move the pieces until you see the whole combination in your head!

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