Grandmasters don’t see pieces, they see patterns

chess naked guys

Reading Chess Tactics by Sam Palatnik and Lev Alburt, I originally underestimated its worth.  Superficially, the authors merely inform the reader to look for and use things like “pins” and “skewers” and such… If you’re any sort of chess player, you already know those terms, so I won’t bore you with explaining them.  But Palatnik and Alburt did bother, and yes, I was bored.

But skimming farther, on the point of dropping the book completely, I slowly came to realize that the authors were actually preparing me for the REAL meat of their book… the idea of “motifs.”  Motifs are patterns that appear and re-appear in the game of chess.  Some of these patterns can present opportunities for combination moves.

Realizing that motifs– and recognizing and using them (or defending against them)– was the real major topic of the book, I suddenly remembered reading once that when the great chess masters look at the chessboard, they see something the rest of us don’t.  We see the trees, they see the forest.  Grandmasters don’t see pieces, they see patterns.

Learning the moves, the combinations and other tactics, the general strategies of the beginning, mid, and end game… these are for the brain.  The motif is the soul of chess.

The chess player with any hope of taking his game up to the next level, must learn to recognize the motifs, the patterns.  Much of this just comes from playing… and playing, and playing.  But it’s also nice (and advisable) to have a mentor to point-out these patterns (some taking the form of “traps,” some of “zaps”) to facilitate and extend the process.

The next step, is to recognize the preparatory patterns that lead to the virile motifs.  This can extend farther out… to see the positions that lead to the patterns that lead to the motifs.  Chess has so many different move-combinations, along with so many ways that one position can transmute into another, that there really is no end to studying chess… it can be an entertaining, fulfilling life-time pursuit.

Once you’ve mastered the rudiments of chess, I strongly advise moving-on to becoming conscious of patterns… how to recognize them, how to use them aggressively, and how to defend yourself against them when you realize your opponent is sending a nasty one your way.

Lastly, my favorite part of Chess Tactics was doing the Exercises the authors provided, in which they diagram a position and ask you to choose the best next move.  These were set up with patterns that facilitate useful combinations in chess, and were a good way to teach one to recognize these patterns in the future.  There are numerous combinational moves other than the most basic, one-two punch.  Sometimes you can use one piece to obstruct, while another jabs.  Sometimes you can create a diversion on one side of the board, to decoy an opponent’s piece away from where you really want to attack.  Sometimes, just standing in the way of your opponent’s pawn will enable you to clobber him with a hook around the stand-off.

Chess, the next level, boils down to this, young grasshopper…  Don’t see the pieces… see the patterns.


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