Playing in Blinkers

‘The Finnish psychologist Pertti Saariluoma has identified a remarkably common source of error in chess thought. In simple terms, it happens when you become so fixated on one move or variation that it produces an inhibiting effect on all other thoughts. You start thinking about a temping rook move advancing down a file, and you overlook a more powerful retreat; you are so proud of one piece powerfully established on a strong square that you miss the chance to force a simple win with a sequence beginning with its exchange for a passively placed enemy piece.

These common errors are all connected with the way we perceive chess positions. With up to 32 pieces scattered over 64 squares, and our poor brains generally incapable of juggling more than seven items at the same time, we need to codify the pieces into meaningful subsets. We don’t think in terms of discrete pieces on their individual squares., but instead understand a position in terms of the relationships between groups of pieces. The trouble is that such a process is liable to lock us into particular mind-sets. When, for example, we have a queen and a bishop on the same diagonal, their relationship exerts such a pull on our thoughts that it can blind us to possible moves of the queen or bishop on the diagonals.

The only solution – though difficult to put into practice – is to train yourself to look again at each move of a variation in a fresh and naïve manner. Somehow, you have to put your previous thoughts aside and clear a path in your mind to let radically new ideas come through.’

– Hartston. B. 1997. Better Chess London, United Kingdom: Hodder Headline (2004) p. 72

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