CHESS Magazine: Forgetting our Intention

by CHESS Magazine
9/27/2017 – The practical point of this article is to minimise certain errors. Standard chess mistakes usually occur when a player misses a move or moves available to his adversary. FIDE Master Amatzia Avni, a psychologist by profession, focuses on mistakes that occur when you play a move without going back and rehearsing prior calculations and previous conclusions. Like Pal Benko in the 1962 Curacao Candidates, when he missed a clean draw against none other than Bobby Fischer when he forgot his original plan.

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A peculiar type of error

By Amatzia Avni, courtesy CHESS Magazine

Standard chess mistakes usually occur when a player misses a move or moves available to his adversary. Here we’ll focus on a strange mistake which stems from another source.

[Event "Israel"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "'G'"] [Black "'A'"] [Result "0-1"] [Annotator "Amatzia Avni"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r4rk1/ppp3pp/3p4/3P1p2/5R1q/P3PP2/1P1Q1P1P/2R3K1 b - - 0 18"] [PlyCount "5"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [SourceTitle "Chess 2017 #09"] {This position arose in a game between two strong teenage players.} 18... Qh3 { With the obvious threat of 19...Rf6, intending the lethal 20...Rg6+ 21 Kh1 Rh6. White was alert and played} 19. Qe2 ({ready to meet} 19. Qe2 Rf6 {with} 20. Qf1 {.}) 19... Rf7 {Black defends c7 and now White forgot about Black's previous threat, as in his mind the black rook on f7 was destined only to a passive role.} 20. Rcc4 $4 Rf6 {. --- This tragicomic example demonstrates a special kind of blunder. Unlike the common mistake of ignoring the enemy's threats, here a player is aware of his opponent's intentions, but after some time he loses concentration, forgets his previous thoughts, and errs.} 0-1

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[Event "Santa Monica"] [Site "?"] [Date "1966.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Unzicker, W."] [Black "Ivkov, B."] [Result "*"] [ECO "B92"] [Annotator "Amatzia Avni"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2r1rbk1/1p1n1ppp/pq1pb3/4n3/3NP3/2N3Q1/PPP1B1PP/2BR1R1K w - - 0 18"] [PlyCount "3"] [EventDate "1966.??.??"] [SourceTitle "Chess 2017 #09"] 18. Nf5 {--- Annotating the game, Ivkov reveals that, having foreseen White's threat (19 Rxd6) in advance, he began assessing the consequences of various defences, as 18...Rc6, 18...Bxf5, and 18...g6. Somewhere during his thinking process, he forgot about White's immediate threat and blundered horribly:} Kh8 $4 19. Rxd6 {(1-0, 78).} *


[Event "Leningrad"] [Site "?"] [Date "1932.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Chekhover, V."] [Black "Model, A."] [Result "*"] [Annotator "Amatzia Avni"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "3rr1k1/pp3pp1/4b3/8/2P1B2R/6Q1/P2q2PP/5R1K w - - 0 29"] [PlyCount "7"] [EventDate "1932.??.??"] [SourceTitle "Chess 2017 #09"] 29. h3 ({According to White, a strong player and a prominent study composer, he calculated the variation} 29. Bh7+ Kf8 30. Qa3+ (30. Bg6 $1 {wins}) { , but realised that} 30... Qd6 {grants Black a sufficient defence, so he made 'luft' for his king.}) {Black blundered with 29...Qe2?} 29... Qe2 $2 {and now White's previous idea would have won:} 30. Bh7+ Kf8 31. Qa3+ Re7 32. Bd3 $1 {However, Chekhover forgot to re-examine his previous idea and missed this golden opportunity, the game eventually ending in a draw.} *

Forgetfulness happens in other chess areas too. According to Knotts and Hearst, in 1994 Korchnoi forgot he had just played a certain move in a blindfold game and tried to play it on the computer screen once again on his next move, something that cost him a lot of time and eventually led to his overstepping the time limit.

Tigran Petrosian, in his third matchgame against Fischer held a better position when suddenly his opponent claimed a draw: “For the first time in my life I fell for a threefold repetition... In chess I mainly fear two things: sealing an impossible move in an adjourned game and falling into a threefold repetition with a better position; [...] when Fischer demanded the draw I could not understand what triple repetition he was talking about.”

Also, forgetting one’s preparation is a frequent phenomenon. Especially in the modern era, when there are loads of opening variations to memorise, many players complain that they just couldn’t reconstruct the moves they were rehearsing at home. Mixing up variations happened too (in the old days) in adjournment analysis, even at the highest levels.

[Event "World Championship, Moscow"] [Site "?"] [Date "1958.??.??"] [Round "18"] [White "Botvinnik, M."] [Black "Smyslov, V."] [Result "*"] [ECO "A16"] [Annotator "Amatzia Avni"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2R2k2/8/6p1/p3K3/bp3P2/6PB/r6P/8 b - - 0 46"] [PlyCount "10"] [EventDate "1958.??.??"] [SourceTitle "Chess 2017 #09"] {Botvinnik testifies that after the resumption of play, Smyslov was firing off his moves at lightning speed, trying to confuse his rival. Here he should have continued 46...Kg7 or 46...Ke7 with a likely draw; instead, as he sat back down he instantly produced the blunder:} 46... Be8 $4 {"Probably he confused the present position with the one which could have arisen [in a different variation]" - Botvinnik. Black lost after} 47. Bd7 Re2+ 48. Kf6 {(1-0, 74), as} b3 {succumbs to} 49. Rb8 b2 50. Bxe8 Rxe8 51. Rxb2 {.} *

We don’t have an account of the proceedings in the next episode, but we may deduce with a certain degree of confidence what happened from the moves.

[Event "Krasnodar"] [Site "?"] [Date "1995.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Mikhailenko, A."] [Black "Savenko, A."] [Result "*"] [Annotator "Amatzia Avni"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/8/5p1p/kp1p1PpP/2pP2P1/2P5/2KB1b2/8 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "4"] [EventDate "1995.??.??"] [SourceTitle "Chess 2017 #09"] 1. Bf4 $1 {A great move, intending Bd6-f8.} ({By contrast,} 1. Bxg5 {fails to} fxg5 2. f6 Bg3 3. f7 Bd6 {.}) ({After} 1. Bf4 {, Black can play} b4 ({or the more complicated} 1... gxf4 2. g5 f3 3. g6 Bh4 4. Kd1 f2 5. Ke2 b4 {both of lead to a draw.})) {However, he opted for 1...Bxd4?:} 1... Bxd4 $2 ({The idea was} 1... Bxd4 2. cxd4 gxf4 3. g5 f3 {which wins for Black.}) {Apparently he forgot about 2.Bxg5!:} 2. Bxg5 $1 {What was previously a losing move, is now a winning one!} -- (2... fxg5 {is defeated by} 3. cxd4 {;}) ({and} 2... Be5 3. Bxh6 {is also without hope for Black, as he is behind in the pawn race.}) *

“We often look for and note enemy possibilities before beginning our calculations; but once we get involved in a deep line of analysis, it’s easy to forget our earlier conclusions”
—Bruce Pandolfini

Convinced that the phenomenon is not infrequent, I asked some friends if they encounter such occurrences in their games. This elicited only one response; I suppose most people are not keen on seeing their embarrassing moments in print...

[Event "Israel"] [Site "?"] [Date "2010.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Amit, E."] [Black "Blass, U."] [Result "*"] [Annotator "Amatzia Avni"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r5k1/p2nq1pp/3Rp3/2p1PrN1/2p2P2/4Q3/P5PP/5RK1 b - - 0 20"] [PlyCount "3"] [EventDate "2010.??.??"] [SourceTitle "Chess 2017 #09"] 20... Raf8 ({"Due to Black's obvious threat after} 20... Raf8 {, I immediately considered} 21. Rfd1 {- so if} Rxf4 ({or} 21... Nxe5 22. Rxe6) 22. Nxe6 { - which would have won."}) {"Suddenly I forgot the threat and played 21.Rxe6"} 21. Rxe6 {"After} Qxg5 {I could have safely resigned", admitted Eli Amit.} *

Sometimes forgetfulness is positive: it’s good if our defeats are not stuck in our long-term memory, so that we can move on. One’s victories should also recede into the background during play. Vishy Anand said in a 2015 interview that his habit of ‘forgetting’ his achievements to keep his motivation intact has contributed immensely to his results.

Ignoring noise, smell or other distractions is also advisable, as is disregarding one’s previous score with our opponent. However, forgetting our plans during a game can hardly be a good thing.

[Event "Curacao Candidates"] [Site "?"] [Date "1962.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Fischer, RJ."] [Black "Benko, P."] [Result "*"] [ECO "C13"] [Annotator "Amatzia Avni"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r1b2rk1/p5pp/4pb2/1pq2pN1/7P/3B4/PPP1QPP1/2KR3R w - - 0 19"] [PlyCount "5"] [EventDate "1962.??.??"] [SourceTitle "Chess 2017 #09"] {"When I returned (from the restroom) I smiled when I saw that Fischer had played} 19. Nxe6 $2 {falling into (my) trap," writes Benko. "Unthinkingly, and before even sitting down, I grabbed his knight with} Bxe6 $4 ({completely forgetting what I had planned:} 19... Bxb2+ $1 20. Kxb2 Qb4+ 21. Kc1 Qa3+ 22. Kd2 Qa5+ {with a draw, as if} 23. c3 ({or} 23. Ke3 Bxe6) 23... Qxa2+ {wins the material back with advantage."}) 20. Qxe6+ Kh8 21. Kb1 {White won after a further 18 moves.} *

[Event "US Championship, Seattle"] [Site "?"] [Date "2000.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Benjamin, Jo"] [Black "Gulko, B."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B63"] [Annotator "Amatzia Avni"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "3r3k/4bp1p/1r3n1P/3pqPB1/1p2P3/pP1B4/P1P3R1/1K1RQ3 w - - 0 28"] [PlyCount "10"] [EventDate "2000.??.??"] [SourceTitle "Chess 2017 #09"] {Black's last move was 27...Qc7-e5, threatening mate on b2. White was alert and defended with} 28. Bc1 {and play continued} dxe4 29. Bc4 Rxd1 30. Qxd1 e3 31. Qg1 Rb8 {Now Joel Benjamin forgot what he was clearly aware of, several moves earlier, and played:} 32. Bxe3 $4 Qb2# 0-1

I will presume that a lot of readers are seeking the practical point of this article, i.e. what they have to do to minimise such errors in their games. As the game develops, before each move one has to constantly go back and rehearse prior calculations and previous conclusions. More broadly, any solution lies in maintaining a high level of concentration. Elaborating on ways of achieving this, I shall leave to other writers.

Chess September


The above article was reproduced from Chess Magazine September, 2017, with kind permission.

CHESS Magazine was established in 1935 by B.H. Wood who ran it for over fifty years. It is published each month by the London Chess Centre and is edited by IM Richard Palliser and Matt Read.

The Executive Editor is Malcolm Pein, who organises the London Chess Classic.

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CHESS Magazine was established in 1935 by B.H. Wood who ran it for over fifty years. It is published each month by the London Chess Centre and is edited by IM Richard Palliser and Matt Read.
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psychess psychess 9/28/2017 09:48
Alexander Kotov makes the same point in "Think Like a Grandmaster" but his solution is quite different from that suggested here.
Aighearach Aighearach 9/27/2017 11:24
I think I made all of these same blunders just this week!
KevinC KevinC 9/27/2017 09:18
Thankfully, this has never happened to me in a game, but I have had it happen to my thinking watching relays of GM games over the years. For me, it usually happens when the first move of a variation is so forced that I start thinking only of the second moves, and I forget about the first move. So I come back and want to play the second move first. Again, at least there is no ramification to that other than possibly a bad kibitz.