Critical moments in chess - an invaluable lesson

by Albert Silver
7/30/2016 – The idea of critical moments is not hard to understand, and perhaps because of this is so easy to underestimate. These key moments in our games are essentially the turning point, leading to a decisive and negative change if missed or played improperly. Veteran trainer Adrian Mikhalchishin casts his expert eye on this topic to teach the student to recognize them and not misplay them.

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What is a critical moment? These are words we often read in the comments of top players, whose understanding of their importance is absolute. This is not to be confused with always playing them correctly or even recognizing them when they occurred. If the top players have this issue, imagine the lesser mortals at the chess board.

Obviously, playing them correctly is not something a simple 60-minute course can teach, as they are still the domain of technique in all its shades and tones, but if you fail to even realize you face such a time, the task will be that much harder. The famous trainer Iosif Dorfman, we are told, espoused the theory that every game had 5-6 critical moments in them, though explained that these were for both sides, and their nature would vary as well.

What kind of moments are we talking about? In a nutshell there are three types: positional turning points where a plan must be adopted, calculation where precise moves must be found within the tree of variations, and finally one of the most difficult and advanced ones, the endgame transition. This last is one the author emphasizes quite rightly, explaining that transitioning to pawn endgames is especially critical as they will allow no wiggle room to change the evaluation once there.

Mikhalchishin’s presentation is clean, with a long prelude as he exposes the concepts and ideas, followed by game excerpts where critical moments were either played correct or not, and why. He also explains how and why a player may seem to be finding all the moves, only to suddenly, ‘inexplicably’ lose the thread and collapse. It is not inexplicable. The grandmaster clarifies that this is common, and playing reasonable moves when there are few or no decisions to find is easy, until the crossroads appears and their ability is truly put to the test.

As one would expect, ample visual cues are used to help explain the position

One added bonus is that the author has selected 70 extra positions and game excerpts to be
studied by the student. All are well commented and will help internalize the lessons at hand.

A sample excerpt from the course 

All in all, an excellent course on an important theme, that will help make you observe your games and those of others differently, or at the very least with a greater focus. Highly recommended.

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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.