Chess Tactics: The role of memory

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In our article 7 ways chess is beneficial to your mind, the first point was related to memory. We explained how the mental exercise to remember openings and their varitions or tactical issues in middle and endgames and so on help to build up our memory. How about the reverse? Obviously, the better memmory you have, the more you can recollect moves played by you or others in certain situations. These ultimately constitute your experience and we all know that experienced players tend to have an edge over the amateurs.

But the problem is: how much can you remember of all the games that have been played over centuries? So our aim is to understand the pattern or position on the chessboard where certain tactics can be employed. To give a more specific example, let us consider the subject of ‘pins’. These may come in all ‘shapes and sizes’ meaning that they may be along ranks or files or diagonals, the pieces involved may be different in different situations etc. but you do not have to remember all those specific situations. Once you understand how it occurs, you can detect the possibility of a pin by looking at the pieces on the chessboard. The same thing holds good for other tactical weapons in chess.

You may therefore wonder how very experienced players even of Grandmaster level still fall prey to such tactics like a pin. So most likely reason could be a partial blindness arising out of intense focus on one’s own plans or on a particular area of the chessboard, which prevents one from seeing what else is happening on the board. And this is something that affects the Grandmasters also, if you take a look at the following positions.

two similar positions

In this diagram, we will refer to the situation on the left as position 1 and that on the right as position 2.

Position 1 occurred after Black’s 26th move in a game played in 1906 between Mikhail Chigorin (or Tchigorin) as White and Akiba Rubinstein as Black. Chigorin was one of the top players from Russia in later part of 19th century and was a contender for World Championship against Steinitz (but remained unsuccessful). Rubinstein was a Polish Grandmaster of high ranking and regarded as one of the best endgame players of all time.

Position 2 occurred after White’s 39th move in a game played in 1946 between Erik Lundin as White and Vasily Smyslov as Black. Lundin was a Grandmaster who was Swedish champion ten times. Smyslov was a Russian Grandmaster who became World Champion in 1957.

Do you find some similarity between these two positions separated by a period of 40 years? No? Compare the top right half of Position 1 and bottom right half of Position 2 – do you see it now after reversing the colors of pieces and squares? I presume you do.

What was the outcome of these two games after reaching almost identical positions? In Position 1, Chigorin played 27. Rf7 whereupon Black resigned as he has to give up his Queen against Rook to avoid checkmate.

In Position 2, Smyslov could not find(!) this move and played 39. … Nf2+ (instead of Rf2 that would win) after which both players agreed to a draw!

So a future World Champion missed a winning line that was shown 40 years earlier by another World Champion aspirant! If you ever overlook a winning line, analyze what made you do so to guard against future mistakes.

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