How Having to Make a Move Can Be a Curse

The beauty of a move lies not in its appearance but in the thought behind it.
Aron Nimzowitsch

Most chess players enjoy being in control and remaining active. Therefore, when it is their move, they are happy, and having to stay idle during the opponent's move is a necessary evil. However, being the one to move can actually be more of a curse for a human than a blessing!

In every position, if you make the best move, the evaluation will remain the same. Speaking in chess engine terms, when you choose an inferior continuation, the evaluation will go down. If you frequent chess sites that feature broadcasts of chess tournaments, you see this all the time. Even though chess engines don't play chess perfectly just yet, in most cases choosing the top suggestion of the computer is a guarantee that the evaluation of the position will remain unaffected. And you can't "improve" it; it can only stay unchanged or decrease.

Hence, you can view approach the game from a slightly different perspective than usually: how does one "pass" in an efficient way, i.e., makes moves that don't affect the evaluation much while forcing the opponent to ponder difficult variations. In this sense, having the right to move is a liability in a certain sense because, after your choice, the position will either remain as good as it was or worsen.

Back in the day, computer scientist Dr., IM Ken Regan introduced the term "nettlesome" with respect to World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen after analyzing his games. It implies that Magnus knows how to play "consistently accurate moves that maximize the chances of inaccuracies from an opponent" (Dr., GM Jonathan Rowson, The Herald, Scotland, 2013). The ability to put pressure on the opponents and set well-disguised traps is one factor that separates him from other great chess champions.

According to the statistics of the Play Magnus app, most of its users can't beat Magnus age 10+. Even his character in the game is sly enough to know how to trick the unsuspecting victim, forcing him to walk a tightrope during the game, where a single misstep might turn fatal!

An experienced and cunning player always knows how to put pressure on the opponent. The more choices the latter has to face, the better for you. Here are some of the benefits of this approach:

  • Each challenging situation offers a chance to go wrong.
  • The more complicated it is to make a choice, the more time he will spend, potentially exposing him to time trouble.
  • One's mental and physical resources are limited. The longer and the more complicated the game, the more exhausted a person becomes. Hence, the more challenges your opponent faces during the game, the more likely he is to crack up under pressure eventually.

Even though chess is a concrete game, let me offer you two typical examples of when this tip could prove quite handy. Naturally, there are way more of them than that, but we have to start with something.

Let's say you are on the attacking side. Your position is a tad better, but there are no knockout tactical blows just yet. Inexperienced attackers typically waste a lot of time in such situations and then end up making the most direct continuations, creating obvious one or two-move threats, such as taking a piece or giving checkmate. Usually, in such cases, the opponent's reply is more or less forced, so they shrug and defend against the threat, making the attacker ponder his next step once again. Quite often, it leads to time trouble and self-destruction, such as going for an incorrect tactical sequence. In this sense, wanting to win too much can be detrimental.

A more sophisticated player, however, calmly makes common sense moves, building up the position and putting the burden of choice on the sweating opponent, for whom it could be pretty difficult to decide how to try to improve his inferior position. It is not unheard-of people to make weakening moves in such cases, changing their position from bad to worse.

Another notable example is the famous "do not rush" principle that is widely used in converting better endgames. I won't be going over the concept itself since it deserves a separate article and will instead focus on the part directly related to the art of passing the move to the opponent in the best possible way.

Defending is usually more complex and less pleasant than attacking. When playing an endgame position "for two results" (a win or a draw) it often makes sense not to force matters. In such situations, experienced players start maneuvering and seemingly shuffling the pieces back and forth, trying out different ideas on the board. It serves several goals:

• The longer the game lasts, the more tired and demoralized the opponent usually gets, especially if he is on the defensive.
• If your moves convey an impression of doing nothing, the opponent might lose his vigilance and underestimate one of your maneuvers when you finally initiate them.
• There is a chance that your opponent will lose patience and try to force matters himself, ruining his position. This is what they refer to as "the fruit will ripen and fall by itself."
• Using such an approach, you have the opportunity to try out all the offensive setups one by one and see whether the opponent will be able to respond to them correctly.

Summarizing, if you have a choice between moves that seem to lead to positions of roughly the same evaluation, ask yourself the following questions before making a final choice:

• For whom will the arising position be easier to play: for my opponent or for me?
• How would I reply if I were him?
• Is his reply a no-brainer move, or is there room for making a mistake?

Keep in mind that chess is a GAME played by two people, so errors are waiting to be made. Using this fact to your advantage can significantly boost your performance. Good luck!

Are you not convinced yet? Does this blog post sound too vague to you? Please make sure to check out our trademark Magnus Trainer app to learn from Magnus himself how to pose as many challenges to your opponent as possible!