Once more unto the breach, dear friends.
I'm not sure exactly why this position, or more precisely this mistake, has become so fascinating to me. I certainly didn't intend to dedicate quite so many posts to it when I started out. Anyhoo, following on from the original post I've already looked at how I miscalculated a tactical line but perhaps only because I'd applied a faulty template and misapplied a perfectly good one to guide my thinking.
Today I want to move away from the litany of my shortcomings, as numerous as they may be, and look at the specific position in which I blundered. It was chess itself, you see, that led me astray. Well how humans tend to play chess anyway.
To explain what I mean I'll need to take another look at Jacob Aagaard's book Excelling at Chess. Specifically it's chapter 4 which addresses what the Overly Voweled One calls 'Unforcing Play' that concerns us. Here Aagaard suggests that we are inherently attracted to forcing sequences of moves when considering a chess position.
"We have a tendency to force play (as opposed to searching for good moves), and the less we feel the need to do so, the freer we are to address the matter of finding the best move."
(emphasis from the original)
At first sight this is a somewhat odd concept. What would be our motive for choosing a move that was not one which we considered in some sense to be the best one?
The reason we employ forcing moves is obvious - forcing variations gives us a sense of control, while less forcing play, in contrast, can leave us with a sense of floating in air and lacking control, which is not a naturally welcome feeling when anxious about the outcome of the game.
Our rational conscious minds, then, sometimes take a back seat allowing an unconscious process to take over. Our emotional need to feel in control trumps every thing else, however much that might lead to an outcome that is counterproductive in terms of our goal of winning the game.
Applying Aagaard's concept to blunder ground zero, if we compare ... Qxd5 with ... Qc8 (see previous posts and comments) we can see the queen exchange is the much more forcing option.
After 1. ... Qxd5 I can be pretty sure White is going to respond 2. cxd5 and for that matter he's almost certainly going to follow my intended 2. ... Na5 with 3. Nd2 to stop my knight getting back into play. There's a huge chance, then, that the position I'm expecting to get at move three will actually appear on the board.
For 1. ... Qc8, however, things are very different. It's not at all obvious what White's next move is going to be let alone what might happen thereafter. I mentioned last time that I did not think about 1. ... Qc8 long enough to even consider what White's response might be. Aagaard's would perhaps see this as me steering myself away from an emotionally difficult option of not being sure what might happen in favour of a course of action that I could be pretty sure - or at least that I could believe - that I'd be able to chart with some accuracy.
Just my bad luck that 1. ... Qc8 happened to be a better move then? Well no, not really.
Implicit in Aagaard's idea is the point that, leaving aside possibilities of miscalculation, there's a sense in which forcing moves are more likely to be mistakes than unforcing moves. Maintaining the tension is sometimes the best approach in a given position but we will nevertheless be tempted to force matters because we always are but there is no equivalent in reverse, i.e. when a forcing continuation is best but we'd be psychologically tempted to keep things steady.
Thus for Aagaard when mistakes happen our tendency to force matters, driven by our human need to feel in control, is disproportionately likely to be a factor.
The idea that we should be wary of forcing continuations is far from uncontroversial. It's also obviously the case, as Aagaard himself fully recognises, that you can't play chess without sometimes finding yourself in a position when it's the best thing to do. Nevertheless, when explaining chess mistakes, our at least explaining my mistakes, it seems to me that there's much of value to explore here and I feel very strongly that if I could learn when to avoid directing play down concrete lines it could well lead to a big improvement in my play. After all, isn't this line from Aagaard familiar to all of us?
"I have long had the feeling that Real chess players are less inclined to force variations, perhaps because they do not have the same insecurity as the rest of us, where we always fear (don't lie to me, I know you do it too) that we are about to mess up our position."