Sometimes the Top Engine move is not the move you should play in a game. This Newsletter explains why.
Since Garry Kasparov famously lost his match against Deep Blue in 1995 (I wasn’t even born yet), Chess computers have dominated humans. Stockfish, the strongest Chess Engine, is rated at an insane 3546, while Magnus Carlsen, the strongest human, has 2839.
Chess Engines have had a positive impact on opening theory; they brought new ideas into the Chess World (the h and a-pawn pushes come to mind), and they make it super simple to analyze every game you play.
Because of their dominance, they have instilled a wrong and dangerous belief in many chess improvers: The first Engine move is always the best move in the position. In a practical sense, that isn’t true.
As we train to play Chess well against other human beings, the practical side of Chess is super important.
The best move is not the one that has the highest engine evaluation but the move that leads to the most favorable outcome of the game.
It is important to remember that there are no style points in Chess. You don’t get more than 1 point for a quick win. Nor do you get some extras for a beautiful move or winning with 5 Queens up.
The only thing that counts is that you win the game as often as possible. This leads to situations where the first engine move is the wrong choice in a practical sense.
Best Chess Move in Winning Positions
What I see often, especially with newer players, is that people grab material as if there would be no tomorrow. Being already a Rook and a Queen up, they hunt down the rest of the enemies’ pieces, as if the one with the most material would get an extra point.
Forgetting the real aim of the game, they allow some of the opponent’s pieces to create a counter-attack and give away the game, even though they were half an army up. “I’m so unlucky!” they usually say…
When you are clearly winning, don’t obsess about the quickest, nor the most beautiful way to end the game. Rather, think in percentages.
Sometimes, exchanging the Queens will prolong the game, but you are 99.9% likely to win it. That is much better than going for a tactical shot, which you are 95% sure works. Because if it doesn’t, you might have a 5% losing rate! Not worth the risk.
Here is a simple example I gave my student recently. It is White to play, and you should decide between three options:
A) Continuing the attack with 1.Qd6+ or 1.Qf8+
B) Picking up a Rook with 1.Qxa3
C) Exchanging the Queens with 1.Qxb7+
What dis the best move to play?
In my opinion, C is the right answer. Even though Engines will find Checkmate in 7 moves starting with Qd6+, I don’t see a reason to go for that if you can simply exchange the Queens and win the game 99.9% of the time (I’m never saying 100%; it is not over until your opponent resigned…).
Most beginners see a “free” rook on a3 and choose option B. Out of a totally winning position, they make a totally winning position… if black doesn’t have anything concrete.
In reality, after 1…Qf3+ Black has a perpetual and the game ends in a draw. Additionally, after 1…Qh1+, you might even get checkmated if you choose the wrong move 2.Ke2?? Qg2#.
Even if there were no such resources, why give black a chance to check your King with four different moves (and having to calculate the consequences) when you can simply go into a position you know you will win without risk?
Best Chess Move in Losing Position
The opposite applies when you are lost. I prefer having a -10 position with Queens on the board and some counterplay over a -3 position in a dry endgame where I will lose every single time.
Instead of playing the first Engine move, your aim should be to play the move that gives your opponent the hardest task. Ask yourself: “How can I help them to make a critical mistake?” and not “How can I trade down everything to make their win as easy as possible.”
Ask The Right Questions
The next time you play Chess, put your focus on asking the right Question. This will increase the likelihood that you will find the correct responses.
When winning, ask yourself: “Which move allows my opponent the lowest chance to come back?”
When lost, ask yourself: “How can I make the task of my opponent as hard as possible?”
In a game of Chess between two humans, your task is to make your opponent’s decisions as hard as possible while keeping your own decisions simple.
It’s not about being perfect, it’s about doing what leads most often to our desired outcome. And when it doesn’t, you learn something.
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