Every chess player knows that some chess moves are harder to spot than others: backward moves, horizontal moves, moving a piece to an apparently protected square, quiet moves in sharp positions, positionally undesirable moves and so on.
Moves like these don’t easily enter our mind. Therefore, many chess players miss key tactical opportunities and lose valuable rating points.
The following article is devoted to these special chess moves. Why are these moves so hard to see? And what can be done to spot these objectively simple moves in your own games more frequently?
To start with, you get the chance to learn actively and solve 4 chess puzzles on the topic. Try to solve them before reading on. (You’ll find all the solutions at the end of the article.)
Human Beings vs Chess Engines
It is well-known that human beings calculate differently than chess engines. Computers check any possible move and variation in any given position at light-speed. In his excellent chess book “Move First, Think Later,” IM Willy Hendriks hits the nail on the head:
“It’s obvious that ‘beautiful’ is a human qualification. The computer is not (yet) into beauty. An incredible queen sacrifice is just one of the million possibilities it considers at every turn, and not more or less special than all those other moves.”
Human beings, of course, calculate entirely differently. Our brain simply discards certain ideas or moves because of our knowledge of the game.
In the position on the right, no serious club player having his head on straight would consider the move 7.Ke2? here.
We simply know that the king needs to be well-protected in the opening and middlegame and therefore should not stand in the middle of the board or in the way of the own pieces.
For the computer, however, the move 7.Ke2? is just one of 45 legal moves available in the position.
Admittedly, this example bold and simple, however, it is key to understand the decision-making process of human beings at the chessboard. To quote IM Willy Hendriks again:
“[The computer] often manages to surprise us. When a human looks at a position, he sees what he already knows. When we let the computer look at a position, it shows us what we didn’t think was possible.”
Every chess player has a certain repertoire of chess knowledge which guides his decision-making process. In the excellent book “Invisible Chess Moves,” FM Emmanuel Neiman and IM Yochanan Afek describe this as follows:
“[…] A lot of elements in the games of experienced players are mechanical. In the opening: develop quickly and castle. In the middlegame: be careful with unprotected pieces. In the endgame: centralize the king. The quality of a player can be established by the number of such integrated principles that he knows. The stronger the player, the better he will be able to break such automatical rules if that is necessary. Professional players are always ready to take exceptions and paradoxical moves into account.”
This enables us to understand why our brain usually discards backward moves when we’re attacking. They simply seem counterintuitive. For this reason, it is key to think outside the box and also look for moves you normally would not consider.
Without further ado, let’s dive straight into some examples:
A Quick Note: If you want to get the most from the examples in this article, we suggest you try to solve the chess puzzle first before reading the solution.
Chess Calculation: Forced vs Unforced Variations
If there are hard-to-see-moves in chess, there also have to be easy-to-see-moves. Easy moves don’t challenge us to think outside the box. They come naturally to any experienced chess player. Forced moves, for instance, can be classified as easy-to-find-moves.
As the name suggests, forcing chess moves are easier to calculate than lines involving quiet moves because they force your opponent to play certain moves.
If you give a check, your opponent has to do something against it immediately – he can’t ignore it for one or two moves and play an intermediate chess move.
If you capture your opponent’s queen, he usually has to recapture as otherwise he’d be significantly down on material. Instead, if you calculate a quiet chess move, your opponent has various moves they could play.
Therefore, strong chess coaches repeatedly preach that we should first look at the forcing moves when calculating lines.
The position on the right is a good example to illustrate this point.
Checking forcing moves first is a useful approach to quickly find relatively obvious tactical ideas in a position. In the position at hand, White has three forcing moves (checks, captures or captures with check) available – 1.Bxf6, 1.Ne7+ and 1.Nh6+.
On checking these three moves, it soon becomes obvious that 1.Bxf6 and 1.Ne7+ don’t make a lot of sense. 1.Nh6+, however, wins on the spot. White wins after 1…gxh6 (1…Kh8 2.Nxf7+ wins the Black queen) 2.Bxf6 (a forcing move – attacking the Black queen) Qd7 3.Qg3+, followed by mate on g7.
In essence, it’s not too difficult to find the solution to this chess puzzle. Due to the fact that White only went for forcing moves, there weren’t many subvariations to calculate. Also, the move 1.Nh6+! is not too difficult to find if you follow the approach to always check all forcing moves in any position.
However, there is no good recipe for finding candidate moves which are of an unforced nature. Here are some examples:
Special Chess Moves: Quiet Moves
It is White to move in the position below.
Special Chess Moves: Intermediate Moves
It is Black to move in the position on the right.
The position occurred in a game between Mattison and Vukovic in 1925. At first glance, it looks like White’s bishop on e2 is en prise. However, it turns out that Black gets mated after 1…Qxe2? 2.Rxf8+ Kxf8 (2…Rxf8? 3.Qxe2+-) 3.Rf1+ Kg8 4.Qf7+ Kh8 5.Qf8+ Rxf8 6.Rxf8#.
However, Black has an intermediate move which makes White’s combination impossible. 1…Qe3+! White immediately resigned.
The problem for White is that after 2.Kh1 Qxe2 3.Rxf8+ Kxf8, White can’t bring his rook to f1 with a check as this square is no longer protected by the White king.
Special Chess Moves: View The Whole Board
It is White to play in the position on the left.
Many chess players miss good moves because they are too focused on one side of the board.
The following chess tactic occurred in a game in the London System. Many chess players like the London System for the various attacking chances it offers on the kingside.
However, sometimes you need to use the whole board to win games.
In the position at hand, Black just played the move 1…Nh5, trying the eliminate the bishop on f4. White, however, has an easy way to exploit the position of the unprotected knight on h5 if he also considers Black’s position on the queenside.
After 2.Bxb8! Rxb8 3.Qe5, White wins a whole piece. The rook on b8 and the knight on h5 are both attacked. Don’t only focus on one side of the board– stay flexible in thinking.
Special Chess Moves: Moves To Protected Squares
It is Black to move in the position on the right.
Moving pieces to apparently protected squares is counterintuitive. Therefore, it’s easy to miss such moves.
Here, Black wins with the surprising 1…Rd2!, threatening mate on g2.
If White captures the rook, Black wins back the rook with dividends. 2.Rxd2 Qxe1+! 3.Kh2 Be5+! 4.g3 Qxd2+ and Black is winning.
Special Chess Moves: Backward Moves
It is White to play in the position at hand (Carlsen – Ivanchuk, 2007).
Special Chess Moves: Hard-To-See Moves For Positional Reasons
Sometimes, we don’t find the best moves because we don’t consider moves which are positionally undesirable. In such cases, we have to become creative to find these invisible, counterintuitive moves.
The position on the left shows an endgame which arose from the Grunfeld Defense. Black is a pawn down but has an active rook on the second rank. Here, Black’s best move is a move which is absolutely undesirable in terms of positional play and therefore hard to spot.
Black can go for the strong move 1.…e5! Positionally speaking, every serious Grunfeld player would discard this move. White can respond with 2.d5 and obtains a protected passed pawn.
However, the subtle idea behind this move is that Black creates a mating net against White’s king. After 2.d5 Bh6!, Black has the idea to play …Bf4 and …Rh2#. Suddenly, it is White who needs to be careful not to lose the game.
Special Chess Moves: Hard To See Moves For Psychological Reasons
Practical chess games are not only about making mistakes but also about exploiting these mistakes. It often happens that lower-rated players don’t make use of their higher-rated opponent’s mistakes because they have too much respect for the opponent.
They start the game with the wrong pre-game attitude by thinking that it’s unlikely that their opponent will make a mistake. This psychological problem even occurs in the games of the world’s best players.
The position on the right occurred in game 6 of the World Chess Championship match between Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand in 2014.
Carlsen, playing White, managed to get a slightly better position out of the opening. At move 26, there was a double blunder. Logically, Carlsen tried to improve the position of his king and played the move 26.Kd2?? (see the position on the left).
This move, however, was a huge mistake and Anand could have reached a winning position after 26…Nxe5! (with a discovered attack on the g4-rook) 27.Rxg8 Nxc4+! (an important Zwischenzug) 28.Kd3 Nb2+ 29.Ke2 Rxg8. Black would have been two pawns up with excellent winning chances.
However, Anand missed this hidden tactical opportunity and played 26…a4? This allowed Magnus to keep his advantage. Finally, he converted his advantage into a win.
Why did a world class player like Vishy Anand miss the opportunity to exploit such a blunder by Magnus? First of all, a common situation where mistakes happen is when the pressure is too high for the player.
Players often make mistakes because of the competitive tension. Undoubtedly, there was a lot at stake in this World Championship Match for Anand.
However, even more importantly, it is very likely that Vishy had too much respect for Magnus. Vishy had already lost their first World Championship Match one year earlier in 2013.
Most probably, the reason why Vishy missed this huge opportunity was that he did not expect a strong player like Magnus to make a mistake in this type of position.
Hence, it is key to always be alert for unexpected tactical opportunities. Don’t think that your opponent does not make mistakes only because he has a higher rating.
Conclusion: Special Chess Moves – How To Spot Hard-To-See Moves?
In chess, certain moves are harder to spot for humans than other moves. We’ve seen plenty of examples of hard-to-see special chess moves in this article. Now, the key question is:
What can you do to find these hidden chess moves and resources?
- Always look for tactical ideas in every position. Sometimes a tactical shot occurs out of the blue.
- Don’t calculate variations only superficially – if your variations don’t work, don’t dismiss them immediately. Question them, look deeper and calculate half a move longer. Be hesitant to reject a line. More often than not, you’ll find unexpected opportunities which you may have easily missed.
- Understand the mechanisms which make a move hard to see. Usually, these special chess moves are in contrast to the chess principles we know.
- Keep your tactical brain in good shape. The more chess puzzles you solve, the more tactical motifs you’ll see over the board. It is much easy to spot a hidden tactical resource if you’ve seen the idea before.
- Solve chess studies. Chess studies often have surprising solutions and force you to be creative.
- Analyze with the computer. Computers are a tremendous help for analysis and an invaluable tool for aspiring players who want to improve. Computers are good at showing us the special moves we have missed.
- Expand your mind – think outside the box. If you really want to become an excellent chess player who finds hard-to-see moves over the board, we’ve got a special offer for you.
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Solutions to the Chess Puzzles:
Top Left: 1…Rxe1+ 2.Rxe1 Re2!! and Black wins.
Bottom Left: 1.Nh8! with the threat of 2.Ng6#. Black has no defense.
Top Right: Black needs to rescue his queen. 1…Qf3!! saves the day for Black. 2.gxf3? is met with 2…Nxf3+ 3.Kf1 Bh3#.
Bottom Right: This one is a tough nut to crack. 1.Rxc5! is indeed a good move. However, it was necessary to see the whole variation. 1…Qxc5 2.Bxf7+ Kh8! (2…Rxf7? 3.Rxd8+ +-) 3.Qxc5 Rxd1+ 4.Kf2 Rxf7 5.Qh5!!, the key move, attacking the rook on f7 and the rook on d1.
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