12 June 2019

Video completed: Tatev Abrahamyan's "How to Think Like Your Opponent in Chess"

"How to Think Like Your Opponent in Chess": in the past, this - or more precisely, the lack of doing this - was a major hole in my thinking. This fact was exposed during the process of analyzing my own games, and led to developing a more structured thinking process, including explicitly recognizing the need to falsify your candidate moves.

In this Chess.com video, which is one of a new series (under the header "Why You Should Always Ask What Your Opponent Is Up To"), Tatev Abrahamyan first picks a game of Nimzovich's and looks at some key points. She emphasizes the fact that the process of thinking like your opponent - in other words, about what your opponent is planning to do - is not just about avoiding tactical blunders, but also about playing the most effective moves. In some cases, this will mean moving to prevent your opponent's idea first, rather than directly pursuing your own plans.

Her narration is on point, although occasionally a little too rapid. For instance, in the two places she suggests that you pause to think about what Nimzovich (Black) should do in the first game example, she then immediately tells you the move played before you can move to pause the video. In the second game example (see below), though, she gives enough time to pause if you are alert.

The second example is from IM Anna Zatonskih - GM Marie Sebag (2019 Cairns Cup). The turning point comes in a surprise tactic by White just out of the opening, a temporary knight sacrifice which wins a pawn and gives Zatonskih a positionally won game. It reinforces the idea of never assuming there are no tactics in a position, even if it looks "normal", which is another repeated personal flaw in my play that was revealed during previous game analysis.

The last example game in the video is a classic one between Alekhine and Nimzovich in a French Defense. Abrahamyan looks at a critical moment where Nimzovich should have prevented a key idea of Alekhine's and shares some specific ideas about minor piece positioning in the structure, along with a more general lesson about being able to take your time in the absence of forcing threats from your opponent. Alekhine as White establishes a complete bind and can then improve the position at his leisure. (This game is where the famous "Alekhine's Gun" formation appears.)

As with most good instructive material in chess, there's not just one lesson to be learned from the video. I found the interplay of ideas in the first Nimzovich game, particularly regarding when it is OK to move the g- and h-pawns in front of the king, and how to blockade your opponent (a classic Nimzovich theme), particularly valuable. In the last game, seeing how Alekhine applied the strategic bind and then exercised patience and seemingly small moves to win by strategic zugzwang was also enlightening.

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