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Chess Blind Spots

posted November 7th, 2014

Written by guest author Greg Delaney for Wholesale Chess.

A basic concept in psychology is often illustrated by a graphic called the “Johari Window.” Simply put, the four “panes” of the “window” represent various states of self-awareness of who we are and what parts of ourselves we share with the world. The “subconscious” is that part of us about which neither we nor other people know. The “open” pane is the part of us we know and allow to be known by others. The “secret” pane is the part of us we know about but do not share with the world. The fourth and final pane is the “blind” area – the parts of ourselves that we cannot see but others can. I believe that these “panes” exist in our chess playing as well. We prepare openings and plans in secret, we show ourselves and our opponents our tendencies during play (open), and psychologists have long consider those who play chess to be acting out subconscious conflicts when they play. Do we have “blind spots” in chess? Are there things about our play that others can see but we cannot? Could knowing these things help us improve? The answer to all of these is a resounding “Yes!”

Too Much Time at the Chess Board?
Too Much Time at the Chess Board?

Of course, if we are “blind” to these things, we need in some way to find out about them in order to benefit. My bias is that in chess we need feedback from stronger players just as in life we might need feedback from a counselor – we just can’t see it! While working with my chess coach, a number of very important “blind spots” about my play have been revealed to me. For example, she pointed out to me after looking at some of my games that I very often retreat chess pieces rather than move them forward. This tendency shows how passive my play has been – something needing badly to change. She has also pointed out to me (more than once, I am afraid) that I lack confidence in myself and this leads to indecisiveness and self doubt during play. Practically speaking, I use up too much time on fairly evident moves, wondering what I am missing in my calculations or positional assessments.

Many players cannot, of course, afford the relative luxury of having a chess coach, but most players do know a stronger player who might be willing to look over some games and provide some feedback that will prove useful towards chess improvement. It might be a friend or a local club champion. Sometimes, a brief, inexpensive consultation with a titled player is enough to bring to light problems that, after correction, will help us to play a stronger, better game of chess. By whatever means, changing those chess “blind spots” to known problems will help us focus our improvement efforts.

Greg Delaney is Life Member of USCF who returned to chess in 2005 after a three decade hiatus from the game he loves. He is an educator, club player, and student of IM Yelena Dembo. For fun, he blogs about chess and his work to improve as a player.

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Three Real-Life Lessons Children Learn From Chess

posted Thursday, October 23, 2014

This article was written for Wholesale Chess by International Master Danny Rensch - Chess Coach and Vice President of Chess.com and ChessKid.com.

As parents, we are always looking for moments to give our kids "real-life" lessons through the sports and activities they choose, in addition to the general experiences they have.

Here I have decided to share three of the most common life lessons a kid will learn from chess, even at the beginning of his or her chess development. 

Of course, there are many more than three things, but for the sake of my first article for WholesaleChess.com, we are going to keep it to the most critical and obvious takeaways that you, as a parent, can be sure your kids will get from playing chess!

by Clearwater Public Libary

1. Slow down and think before you move!

Real Life Translation: if you see a good move (action), slow down and look for a better one. Consider all your options. There may be more than one good way to achieve your goal. 

Is there any bigger "chess cliche" than that it teaches people (of all ages) to think ahead? To consider their multiple candidate moves? That moving without a purpose or goal is a surefire recipe for disaster?

Well, it is a cliche, but that's because it's so true, and it's one of the most important lessons chess can teach us! 

Thinking "backwards-to-forwards" or "thinking from the endgame" is a term I've used often (along with many other grandmaster coaches). A simple, real-life metaphor to draw upon is that "you may know the mechanics of driving a car, but if you don't know whether you're driving to New York to California, it will be pretty hard to know which turn to take in Kansas."

In other words, if you don't have a goal, it's hard to make the right decision (or even know if you've made the right decision) with the information that's in front of you. 

2. What is your opponent trying to do to you?

Real Life Translation: there are lots of people in this world, and it doesn't always revolve around what you want! Think about what others need, and what they are trying to accomplish.

This tough lesson is perhaps one of the first things kids learn "subconsciously" from a game of chess.

The first time they lose a game where they thought they were on the verge of winning, focused solely on their own plan, their own threats, their own wants and needs...and then BOOM! Their opponent delivers a move and plan they hadn't even considered, and the game is over.

After that moment, the chessboard never looks the same again.

At advanced levels, we call it "prophylactic thinking" to be "defensive minded" and aware of what your opponent wants to accomplish.

Often players are encouraged to make "preventative" moves to stop their opponent from gaining space, activating a piece, starting an attack, etc. -- and this lesson can make a child, almost jadedly, aware that there is more to achieving what they want in life than a tantrum!  

Even at the beginning levels of chess, kids can learn that they must be aware of their full surroundings (board) to be successful, not focused solely on their own moves. 

3. Who gets more points in this trade? (chess counting)

Real Life Translation: risk vs. reward! Cost-benefit analysis! Is it worth it?

In the beginning, a child is easily excited by a trade of any kind. You take my piece, I take yours!

The "value" of each piece is much less important than the thrill of the kill (capture). It's true, we've all seen it.

Even after you try to explain that "giving up your knight for that pawn isn't a great idea" or "if you take that rook, you give me check, which I know sounds fun, but I'm going to take your queen with my other rook," t hey don't care! A check is a check for check's sake!

But over time, this lesson truly begins to sink in. As they lose games because they're willing to trade a "more valuable" piece for a less valuable one, and experience WHY each piece is given that value (i.e., because they truly are more powerful than the other weaker pieces), they start to make better decisions. 

They learn to think ahead and evaluate the value of each piece taken in a capture. They will make sure they don't give up more than they get.

Eventually, they appreciate that "counting in chess" is about more than just "I take you, you take me," like checkers. Instead, it's a strategic decision to always strive to get more than you give up. 

And the most fun lesson and irony of it all?

If they stick with the game, they also learn all the exceptions to these rules and lessons! Just like in life, there is rarely a dogmatic, single approach to any one person, thing, relationship or situation. 

They begin to learn time management, and that always taking forever on a move is simply not an option! They learn that in some cases, it is simply impossible to make everyone happy and calculate all the opponent's options, and they just have to go for their plan!

And they learn the exceptions to giving up "material" for something greater, whether it's an attack, a control over a critical square, etc -- and you can draw your own lessons for your child on what might be greater than material in life.  Smile

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