Considering the seemingly impossible

4/14/2005 -
 Garry Kasparov is writing about how chess can be used to help you with life. His book "When life imitates chessĒ will come out in the fall. I have read quotes from top players who say Chess is life. Maurice Ashley is teaching a college course on how chess can help teachers.

    Being only a class A player, I think chess can help people. One lesson that chess has taught me, is to look deeper into a problem. It taught me to look beyond the roadblock that blocks your path. Chess teaches you to look for ways to get around a blockage, or ways to just walk right thru it. Often times, a roadblock isnít a roadblock at all. Chess has taught me to consider the seemingly impossible. Chess has taught me to  temporarily suspend conventional wisdom. It's good to use conventional wisdom as a guide, but sometimes this guide can blind us to other possibilities.

    Chess is an infinite game. There are more potential positions in chess than atoms in the universe.   In order to play at the top levels you must look deeply into a position. You must be able to propagate positions in your mind many moves deep. However this is not always the case. Sometimes you can find deep ideas by just finding that one move that allows you to see deeply into a position. This type of move is sometimes seemingly impossible or a move that goes against the conventional wisdoms of the game. Itís a move that looks like a blunder at first or 2nd glance. Amateurs and even top players donít even considers it.

   Sometimes with chess, once you find that key move, deep plans can play themselves. Itís a move that transforms the position and gives you a deep understanding of the position. It is a move that dictates the course of a game. This move is like a Eureka in science.

    I think scientists might be able to find a cure for HIV by temporarily suspending the conventional wisdoms regarding microbiology. This is hard to do; after all itís the conventional wisdom that helps find cures for many diseases. Conventional wisdom is needed to keep things in order. But sometimes, conventional wisdom is the roadblock. Sometimes it pays to suspend it momentarily, in order to consider other possibilities. It is this kind of thinking that leads to great discoveries.  Often after deep analysis these great discoveries are consistent with conventional wisdom.

  There have been many seemingly impossible moves played on a chessboard. One such move that springs to mind was covered in Garry Kasparov's book ďMy great predecessors part oneĒ. The third world champion, Alexander Alekhine found many seemingly impossible moves at the chessboard. In 1925 at the Baden-Baden tournament, Alekhine from the black side of the board took on Richard Reti, one of the fathers of hyper modernism. Conventional chess wisdom says the rook is worth 5 pawns. You donít want to move your rook into harms way, unless you get something substantial in return. After debating the Reti opening for 26 moves, the following position occurred on the board:

 It's Alekhine's move:


        Most amateurs and top players would not even consider the move that Alekhine played. After all it goes against conventional wisdom. You donít carelessly put your rook in harms way. In order to find this move, you must consider the seemingly impossible. You must suspend conventional wisdom for a moment and consider the impossible. Alekhine did just that and played 26..Re3. He placed his rook in harms way. However, the following line 27 fxe3??, Qxg3+, 28.Bg2 Nxe3 shows us that the rook is really not in harms way after all.  Alekhine also threats 27 Ö Rxg3+. 

  After the game Alekhine made the following comments about this move: "It seems almost incredible that this spectacular move not only stops white's attack but even brings him serious trouble."  We realize now that this move, 26.. Re3 is consistent with conventional chess wisdom. But we also realize that conventional chess wisdom prevents us from seeing it.  Alekhine did get something substantial by placing his rook in harms way.  Alekhine went on to win the game in 42 moves.  


Richard Reti vs. Alexander Alekhine  - Baden- Baden 1925
Maurice Ashley article on Chess and Teaching -
Maurice Ashley - Chess Reporter
Garry Kasparov - Chess Reporter