Think Like a Grandmaster

GM Maurice Ashley once said,  "I disobey principles so my opponent cannot obey principles." What's this… a chess Grandmaster admitting to breaking the very principles that we are all taught in chess? Most certainly. In another interview, "The Mind of a Grandmaster," Ashley asserted that the truth of a given position is more important than principles. Since GMs have more exposure and insight into the nuances of chess positions, they often know when to break the rules that novices live by… two bishops, connected pawns, knights in the center, etc. While these principles are good guides to follow, they can prevent one from adopting the correct plan.

In a recent article at,
Mark Peplow sheds some light on how Grandmasters find the correct plan… they put their ego and self-importance aside and think about their opponent's response more objectively. In a study done by Ruth Byrne and Michelle Crowley, they found that…

"novices were more likely to convince themselves that bad moves would work out in their favour, because they focused more on the countermoves that would benefit their strategy while ignoring those that led to the downfall of their cherished hypotheses."

How many of us find an interesting idea (e.g., a beautiful sacrifice) over the board only to become so engrossed that we forget about a simple opponent response that refutes the whole idea? We want to believe it is correct!
GM Jonathan Rowson discusses this in Chapter Five of his excellent book, "The Seven Deadly Chess Sins." Perhaps everyone has done this, but according to this article, Grandmasters use Karl Popper's "falsification" methods to execute strategies. Peplow's article gives an interesting view of chess psychology and the theory of "falsification."

Read the article!

Posted by The Chess Drum: 11 August  2004