Do you believe in chess psychology?

by ChessBase
5/27/2003 – Feel a little lost going over Grandmaster games? You might learn more from the mistakes of players near your level, and at least you can indulge your feelings of superiority. This annotated game looks at psychological mistakes in beginner games instead of lots of variations, even if Bobby Fischer famously said, "I don't believe in psychology, I believe in good moves." The game

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Psyched Out

For six months now Mig Greengard's project has been delivering chess training by e-mail every week. All the basics plus things like annotated amateur games and player profiles are included in the White Belt and Black Belt newsletters.

We're happy to bring ChessBase readers some exclusive Ninja samples, beginning with the game below from White Belt between players of less than World Champion caliber. You can replay the game and annotations online here.

Don't you dare laugh when you look at the ratings of the players in our game this week. They might not be Kramnik and Kasparov, but just like any player they make good moves as well as bad ones. This game illustrates some of the common psychological errors that plague most casual players, apart from the inevitable tactical difficulties.

Why psychological instead of intellectual? Because many of these moves are not the product of any calculation or lack of experience. They are reflex moves that a psychologist would explain better than any Grandmaster. Can you recognize these types of moves in your own games? Don't fall victim to your own fears! If your opponent beats you let it be on the board, not in your head.

1) Panic attack! When someone attacks your piece don't just run away. Your opponent is just as capable of blundering as you are no matter what his rating is. Don't forget about your own plans and DO THE MATH. Can you capture the attacking piece? Do you have an even more powerful threat yourself? Can you just let the piece be captured to your advantage? Too often players focus all their attention on their attacked piece and ignore the rest of the board.

2) Mutual blindness. Just because the other guys doesn't see something doesn't mean you have to ignore it too. This is related to perpetual blindness. Look at the entire board each move, you might find something new. Otherwise you will miss the same opportunity move after move. In today's game both players are ignorant of the fact that White can win a bishop and they keep ignoring this for the entire game!

3) Pawnophobia. Aggressive pawn pushes against your king look very dangerous, and sometimes they are. On the other hand sometimes they are just massive weaknesses you can exploit. Look for chances to grab the initiative with your own pawn push or to lock the enemy pawns in place to use as targets later on. Don't let your opponent bluff you into thinking his attack is inevitable.

1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 So far, so good! Both sides have used every tempo to develop something. White's last is a little conservative, but it gets the bishop out of the way so he can castle. 5.c4, attacking the black center and preparing to recapture with the bishop (5..dxc4 6.Bxc4) was good.

5...Bb4+ Check! Check! Wow, I played a check! Groan. I call this a "check in one." White just blocks the check with an attack on the bishop. You might try to justify this with how the c3 pawn will take the b1 knight's best square away, but the time lost by the bishop compensates and white can later play c4 and put the knight on c3 anyway. And d2 is a fine square for the knight as well.

6.c3 Ba5 Ack. What future does this bishop have here? It's biting on granite on c3 and will need several moves to get back into action with something slow like ..c5 and ..Bc7. Both ..Bd6 and ..Be7 kept the piece active. Keep your minor pieces on good squares, or at least on squares that can become good after some pawn breaks.

7.Nbd2 Nc6 It might not seem related, but this makes it even harder to rehabilitate the bishop on a5. This move blocks in the c-pawn, which needed to chip away at the strong white center and which needs to get out of the way so the bishop can return to civilization via c7.

..Nc6 was a natural developing move, but it actually does more harm than good. White's Ne5 was not an immediate threat, so this knight should have either waited for ...c5 or just gone to d7 directly.

8.0-0 White has made every move count. His pieces are out, his center is solid, and his king has castled to safety. What more could you ask from eight moves? True, his e2 bishop is a little passive, but let's not get too picky.

8...0-0 9.Ng5? The dreaded one-piece mating attack! What is the point of this move? Even if we give white another free move here there is nothing! h7 is defended twice; this move is completely pointless.

9...h6 Justifying White's premature 'attack'. This weakens the black kingside for no reason at all. Black doesn't gain a move with this, it was his move anyway! Keep the f, g, and h pawns on their original squares in front of the king unless you really have to move them.

10.Ngf3 Re8 11.Ne5 Moving the knight for the third time in a row just to exchange it? White has more space and better pieces, and now he wants to help Black by swapping off that bad knight on c6 for the good one on f3?

You can't win by just moving the same pieces around. You need to advance pawns and also get your heavy pieces into the action. It was time to grab some space on the queenside (and attack that stray bishop on a5) with 11.a4!, threatening b4 and a5, winning the bishop. If you can gain space without weakening your position, do it!

11...Nxe5 12.Bxe5 Nd7 Excellent. Black immediately threatens the well-placed bishop and might even grab control of the center with moves like ..f6 and ..e5 if White isn't careful. 13.Nf3 White is willing to give up his bishop pair in order to gain a strong knight on e5. Still, this is too much simplification to expect any real advantage. You need to keep pieces on the board to attack anything.

13...b6?? I can only imagine that Black wanted to play ..c5 next and recapture with this pawn. That this moves loses a piece instantly was not considered (by either player). Black cuts off his bishop and now b4 wins the piece.

[13...Nxe5 14.Nxe5 c6 with ..Bc7 next.]

14.g4?? Huh? Not only does White miss the free bishop on the queenside, he decides to give up a pawn on the kingside with this crazy thrust. He opens up his own king for no reason at all. [14.b4]

14...Be4? Why not take a free pawn? Black decided to buy whatever White was selling instead of calculating for himself. (See error #1 above.) He panicked when his bishop was attacked and probably didn't realize he could just capture the pawn. 15.Bd3? Still ignoring the win of a piece with b4.

15...c5! After many delays Black finally gets in his dream move. This prevents b4 and attacks the white center. 16.h4? We could only expect this after g4, but that doesn't make it good. If the white king were castled on the queenside and safe on b1 or c1 this might make sense, but now it's just making his own king vulnerable. The white pawns lack protection and when they go, so will the white king they were supposed to be protecting.

16...cxd4 Losing time and again making the bishop vulnerable to b4. It was time to go on the attack.

[16...Bxf3 17.Qxf3 Nxe5 18.dxe5 Qxh4 Black has an extra pawn and his structure is in great shape compared to the mess White has. White has chances to attack with moves like Kg2, Rh1, g5. 19.Kg2 c4 20.Rh1 Qe7 21.Bc2 b5 Black is going to bring his bishop back to c7. White will have to throw the kitchen sink at the black king and pray.]

17.exd4 The rest of the game highlights a few basic concepts. Black refuses to capture the powerful bishop on e5. Both sides ignore the bishop on a5, which has more serious consequences for Black since he is basically playing down a piece.

An inactive piece is like no piece at all. White didn't even need to win it with b4 because Black never used it! Later, Black weakens his own kingside pawns and is quickly wiped out.

17...Bxf3 [17...b5 The important thing is get the bishop back into the game. The pawn isn't worth as much as that bishop. 18.Bxb5 Bxf3 19.Qxf3 Nxe5 20.dxe5 Rf8 Material is equal but White will have a hard time justifying his pawn-pushing on the queenside. The h4 pawn is hanging and the white king is wide open.

Black will hit the white e-pawn with ..Bc7 and can even go for his own kingside attack with ..f6. Black also has the open b and c-files to attack down with his heavy pieces.]


20.Rh1 Qe7 21.Bg3 Passive. Bf4 threatening g5 was logical.

21...f6 22.Bh4 Qe8 23.Rae1 Qf7 24.Bg3 e5 25.Qf5 g6 [ 25...e4] 26.Qxg6+ Qg7 27.Qxh6 Qxh6 28.Rxh6 exd4 29.Reh1 Kf7 30.Rh7+ Ke6 31.Bf5# 1-0

(Diagram, final position) The bishop still sits on a5 like a monument.

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