The Artistry of Chess: How Intuition Shapes the Game

by Izolda Trakhtenberg

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People hail chess as the ultimate test of strategic thinking. Yet, it is a game that goes beyond calculation. While knowing the ins and outs of openings, strategies, and tactics is crucial, another element infuses my game. That element is intuition.

To me, the strategies and tactics of chess are the black-and-white part of the movie “The Wizard of Oz.” They are sound and practical, and they work. For me, intuition transforms chess into the colorful world of Oz. More ideas seem possible when I bring my creative thinking cap to the game.

Intuition in chess is not about flashy sacrifices or unpredictable moves. It is about understanding the flow of the game. You sense your opponent’s intentions and make decisions that help you envision the game’s progression.

Consider the Immortal Game played by Adolf Anderssen in 1851. Anderssen embraced intuitive play in this non-tournament match. He sacrificed material to create a coordinated effort that led to checkmate. The game has been recreated a lot as a teaching tool. When I perused the game, I saw that some of Anderssen’s moves would be unusual today. They were not what some would consider a good strategy, but they worked.

Did he rely on his intuition in this game? I am uncertain, but I like to think he let his inner knowing guide him to victory.

Additionally, Mikhail Tal, the Soviet-Latvian player, who taught Premier Chess’ 122nd Podcast Guest  Grandmaster Alex Shabalov, was known for his surprising play. He trusted his instincts to navigate through complex positions and outmaneuver his opponents.

Intuition in chess isn’t about making inspired moves. It is also about understanding your opponent’s mindset. When you tune into their patterns and anticipate their plans, you foresee the game’s flow.

Besides intuition, creativity and creative thinking also play a crucial role in chess. Creative players like Bobby Fischer could think outside the box. They found innovative solutions to almost impossible positions.

Do not get me wrong- I am not saying they relied on their instincts. I’m sure Fischer and others like him spent countless hours learning and refining their gameplay. Yet, they also used out-of-the-box thinking. That makes me believe that they trusted their intuitive insights as well.

By embracing creativity, players explore unconventional ideas. They create opportunities, where none seemed to exist. That is why new players can sometimes beat seasoned ones. They learn how the pieces move, and then they rely on instincts and sometimes win.

When I was a child, I beat my father one of the first times I ever played him; he was not happy about it. He is not the sort of person who would let you win. I won because I moved in ways he didn’t expect. I suspect he was not paying as much attention as he should have been. I must say I did not beat him again for years. My guess is he started paying much better attention once he realized that I could give him a game.

Yet, it does not always work. Many years ago, I played my friend Al while we sat around a bonfire at the ocean. I played using my instincts. It got me within striking distance, and I could see it, but I could not see how to finish the game. My instincts only got me so far. Then, a solid knowledge of endgame tactics would have won me the game. When Al saw the move that showed my inexperience with endgame tactics, he gasped.

“You had me,” he said.

”I thought I did,” I replied. “But I couldn’t bring it home.”

He won the game. Then, he mentioned how far I got by instinct rather than studying chess amazed him. He said I could be a much better player if I spent some time on it. Likely, he was right.

Despite that loss, I still rely on my intuition when I play. While I’ve looked over some of the famous matches, I’ve never studied the game. I’ve played a fair amount of chess. And I’ve realized that when I win, it’s because I use my intuition and ability to read my opponent. It won’t win me tournaments, but I’ve surprised many players with how far this way of playing gets me. It has surprised me as well. I play for fun, and I concede that relying solely on intuition/creativity won’t be the way to win you tournaments.

I do notadvocate this style of playing for everyone. Intuition and creativity should complement, not replace, your knowledge of chess fundamentals. While they can provide insights and guide your decision-making process, they’re not substitutes for study and practice. This is true if you plan to play seriously.

However, my favorite part of playing chess is notplaying chess. It’s gaining insight into my opponents – how they think, plan, and act. What do they find important? How do they approach problem-solving? Do they believe in planning and playing carefully? Or do they believe in explosive attacks that lay waste to the board in a frenzy? These insights let me play the person. And that challenge gives me great joy. People fascinate me. Chess gives me ideas to ponder about intuition and creative thinking. As I refine my creativity and collaboration workshops, my chess matches inform what I develop.

Others have used chess to learn, and some have left the game for other disciplines. For example, Josh Waitzkin ,son of Premier Chess’ 120th Podcast Guest Fred Waitzkin, shifted his focus from chess to martial arts. He has said it’s because he felt he had learned all he could from the game (on Tim Ferriss’ podcast, as I recall). I also wonder whether the more fluid process of the martial arts (once you learn the kata) allows him greater freedom to explore his intuitive skills. He stated he used chess and then martial arts to refine his ideas on learning. Someday, he might return to chess if he finds it still has things to teach him as he goes deeper into how our minds and brains use strategy, intuition, and instinct.

Chess is a game that rewards strategy, tactics, intuition, and creativity. If you hone your intuitive abilities and embrace creative thinking, you can unlock new dimensions of the game. If you do, I will see you somewhere over the rainbow.

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