I have been away for a few months, in which time I have been through a long plateau and a bout of chess related self-doubt. The reason for the self-doubt is that I feel that I should be at a different playing level than that which I am (1300 USCF), and I am a bit frustrated that my chess improvement efforts have reaped little fruit in the past few years. In a way, this self-doubt has caused me to rethink the way I play and study chess, and hopefully these changes will cause real improvement in my playing strength. I have several posts that I have been working on that address some of my doubts and how I plan on addressing them, this post is the first of a series.
We make a mistake when we think of bishop pair advantages or of knight outposts before we consider all of our opponent’s threats. The result is our knight getting to a wonderful central outpost, but on the next move our opponent forks our Queen and King and we lose yet another game. While positional knowledge is important and required, particularly at the +1800 level, recognizing threats and having good tactical vision is more important to winning games at the <1800 rating level.
This does not mean that you need to spend your entire game reacting to your opponent’s threats, this will only cause you to play a dull defensive game dictated by your opponent’s moves. What this means is that on every move you need to ask yourself, “What is my opponent threatening?” and “What is the consequence of my opponent’s last move?”. Once you identify your opponent’s threats and plans you need to decide how you are going to react to your opponent’s plan and how it relates to your own plans.
According to Dan Heisman, there are three things one can do against a threat:
1. Ignore it
2. Create a bigger counter-threat (counterattack), or
3. Stop it.
The point is not to play your game based on your opponent’s moves, but to always be very aware of what your opponent is trying to do, and to either prevent it or continue with a more threatening response of your own. What you cannot do is not consider the threats your opponent is making, and then end up playing a positional move or a rule of thumb move which causes you to lose the game. Hopefully, by simplifying our thought process we can play better chess.