Have you ever considered what part memory plays in chess skill.   The public certainly think that chess players must have a good memory to “remember all those moves” however this is not necessarily the case.   Perhaps chess players just have a good memory for chess positions.

I did an interesting memory test last Sunday when I was giving a lesson the Bobby Cheng and Laurence Matheson.   I showed them a chess position, with all 32 pieces on the board, and gave them 10 seconds to try to memorise as many pieces as possible in their correct positions.   The results were terrible!    Bobby got 4 or 5 pieces correct and Laurence got hardly any.   How is this possible you ask?   The position was not a “proper” chess position but one where the pieces were placed randomly – hence they had no patterns to recognise.   By contrast I gave them 2 seconds to memorise another position with all 32 pieces on the board and they got it 100% correct.   The position was the starting position of the Sicilian defence which every chess player would instantly recognise.   It just proves that pattern recognition is a big part of chess skill.

Pattern recognition also comes in handy when trying to solve chess puzzles “if you’ve seen one knight fork you have seen them all.”   Today however I have a position for you that is probably not in your mental “database.”   It’s from the game Karjakin v Svidler at the recent Tal memorial tournament in Moscow.   Black is two pieces ahead but his king is in danger either of checkmate or perpetual check.   The puzzle is to find White’s best move and Black’s best reply, then tell me the result.

[fen caption=”White to play – what result?”]r2q1r2/1p1n1p2/p2p4/2bbpP1k/8/2P3Q1/PPB2PPP/R4RK1 w – – 6 22[/fen]


White can play 1.Qg7 which looks strong as it threatens 2.Bd1+, however Black has the clever reply 1…Bf3! when White has nothing better than 2.Qh7+ Kg5 3.Qg7+ repeating position and drawing.