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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tunnel Vision

   Chess Reddit had an interesting question. “I tend to get tunnel vision in chess. Is there a thing I can do to prevent this?”
     Apparently it was not clear what the guy was asking. Was the problem getting fixated on his plans and ignoring what his opponent was doing or did he mean fixating on one sector of the board and simply not seeing the rest of it?
     Excluding the medical problem of tunnel vision, it is described as a tendency to focus on a single concern, while neglecting or ignoring other important priorities. In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People author Stephen Covey describes four quadrants of priorities. He says people tend to spend too much time in urgent but unimportant priorities when they really should spend more effort on not urgent but important priorities.
     In chess terms we do like I did in my first tournament in three and a half years when I was in the military. During that time I never set up a chessboard, but had read through Pachman’s Modern Chess Strategy "blindfolded"a number of times. In my first round game I got fixated on establishing a N outpost to the point that even though my strategy was successful, I neglected to notice my opponent had set up a mating attack on the K-side. 
     Then there is another type of tunnel vision as illustrated from a tournament game I'll never forget because it taught me a valuable lesson. I saw that by playing my Q to g4 I could get a strong attack against my opponent’s K. After successfully working out the variations, I played Qg4 only to be shocked when the guy played …Bc8xQ. The latter scenario could have been easily avoided had I looked around the board before making my move. Instead I was concentrating on a small sector around his K.  
     This type of tunnel vision is an easy fix. After your opponent moves and before you move visually scan the ranks, files and diagonals. Sometimes it’s surprising what you see.
     The other problem, ignoring your opponent’s plans is a little more difficult to fix. We seem to have a bad habit of neglecting what our opponent is doing and sometimes even if we don’t, we suffer sensory overload where we tend to reduce the amount of information our brain is receiving; we shut out potentially critical information.
     You have to stay flexible and be willing to change plans if your opponent thwarts your original intentions. Masters tend to do that a lot more than average players. They first look for ways their plan can be refuted. The rest of us usually figure our opponent is going to make moves that ether fall in with our plans or he will ignore our plans altogether. The result is we get fixated like I did on getting the N to a strong outpost to the point we ignore everything else. It helps to do things like asking what HIS plans are, what his last move threatened, how has it changed the position, looking at checks, captures, Pawn breaks and ‘unplayable’ moves, etc, etc. Maybe this following 9-page pamphlet titled The ABCDE Methodology A method for listing and choosing candidate chess moves will help.

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