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Patterns & Biases

User Rating: / 9
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 28 August 2013

By GM Lars Bo Hansen, PhD, MBA

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How does the chess mind work? How do chess players spot strong and surprising moves and why do oversights and mistakes happen?

These are complex questions but no doubt two factors are critical: pattern recognition (positive influence) and biases (negative influence). To work on these issues, playing through a lot of Grandmaster games, new or old, is helpful. Look for recurring patterns in tactics, maneuvers, and positional plans. You may have a computer running to check for blunders but the objective here is not a detailed analysis of each game. Rather, it is to increase the stock of patterns in your chess brain. For this purpose, it is better to look at many games rather briefly than to analyze a few games in detail. It is also important to look at a variety of openings, typical middlegame positions, and even endgames. Don't look only at games in your own openings, patterns reach beyond openings.

An instructive example of patterns and biases can be found in the game Gupta - Wojtaszek from the GM tournament in New Delhi.

Replay the game

Between moves 31 and 36, an interesting intermezzo happened, perhaps in time trouble. Black was better, but after White's 31. fxg6 he was let down by his sense of danger (a frequent bias, underestimating the opponent's threats) and recaptured by 31...hxg6? rather than the safer 31...fxg6 when he could use the h-pawn as shield for his king and the 7th rank for defence.

What Black missed was the typical tactical pattern 32. Bg7! This clearance, allowing White's queen access to h7, is a well-known pattern from the Sicilian Dragon, highlighting why it is useful to study a wide range of games and openings.

By move 36 White was winning but missed the win by 36. Qxg6?! rather than the simple 36. Rff1 with the threats 37. Ne6+ and 37. Rxc3!

This shows another typical bias in action. As chess players, we are often biased in favor of forcing moves, perhaps because chess coaches teach us an early age to look at forcing moves first. This is good advice but remember to look at alternatives as well! Quiet moves, especially those moving backwards, are often missed or forgotten.

If you like the article, you can learn more about GM Lars Bo Hansen & his books at

Related materials:
h2-h4 revolution
How to beat higher-rated players
Rook and pawn vs. rook
Thinking in schemes
Does the "Draw with Black, Win with White" approach work anymore?
Boris Gelfand & maintaining a strong center
How to react to a chess novelty
A lesson from the Ukrainian Chess Champion
Carlsen-Anand @ Tal Memorial
Strategy of Restriction

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 28 August 2013 )
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