Automatic Decisions: A way to Improve your Chess – Now! by Nikos Ntirlis

About a year ago, I visited Jacob in lovely Glasgow and we made together a series of videos (5 of them) where he explained briefly his theory on the “Four Types of Decisions” we make in Chess. In this article, I’d like to talk about Type of Decision #1: Automatic Decisions and how I realized, one whole year later, why such a simple idea can have a huge effect on the level of the chess I (and I am sure also you) play. If you have no idea what are the “Four Types of Decisions”, you can check the introductory video of the series, where this legendary dialogue took place:

Jacob: “What is the one thing you should always do when you have an automatic decision?”

Nikos: “Maybe check if this is not the only move?”

Jacob: “He is not as stupid as he looks!”

If you want to expand on this topic, there are two books where this theory is explained in detail:

Strategic Play (2013)

Thinking Inside the Box (2017)

Also, you can check this video which is dedicated to this type of decision.

So, let me now share with you my recent experiences and why I think I (and you) should take seriously Jacob’s advice on that subject.

First of all, what is an automatic decision?

According to Jacob: “Moves we make almost without thinking

Some players relate this thing to intuition, or to the first move that comes to mind or what I have heard many times as moves that we would have made in blitz.

If you are like me, it might have happened to you many times when you analyse a game of yours that a certain move, the first move that came to your mind in that particular position, was the correct one and you happened not to have played it for incorrect reasons. This happens because sometimes the first move that comes to our mind is what feels the most natural one. Of course, as we know, chess is a concrete game and even in the simplest positions there are always a few forced moves to calculate before we make a decision.

So, by experience we learn that in when the clock is ticking in a practical game and when we don’t have any reasonable reason against it, we should trust our intuition.

I could hear you asking now: “And how do we improve our intuition?” The answer is simple: training! And I could really cannot offer better advice than use Jacob’s books, solve many exercises and improve your intuition and other chess skills in general.

In this article however, I would like to talk about the opposite scenario. When not to trust our intuition! When we calculate a line which feels natural and correct and this line actually happens on the board. What are some traps that we can fall into and they don’t allow us to reach the full potential of our practical playing strength?

Instead of developing a theoretical discussion, let me demonstrate my point by showing you two fragments of two recent games of mine.

Example 1:

1.f4 d5 2.e3 g6 3.Be2 Bg7 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.0–0 0–0 6.d3 b6 7.Qe1 Bb7 8.Nbd2 c5 9.Qh4 Nbd7 10.c3 e6 11.Bd1 Ne8 12.Qh3 Nd6 13.Bc2

In this position I was Black against a fairly dangerous club player and his last move was putting his bishop to c2 with the obvious intention to play e3-e4. Although I took my time here, I ended up playing the move that felt the most natural to me, which I thought I had calculated reasonably well its consequences and I was fairly confident about my position.


What I thought also, is that this is the natural break White is playing for in the similar Dutch position with reversed colours (I am talking about the e4 break with colours reversed). Usually, when this break comes, you know you are better.

14.fxe5 Nxe5 15.Nxe5 Bxe5

Here I had only calculated 16.e4 after which I thought I had a “clever” idea which was 16…Qc8!? proposing a favourable for me queen exchange and if 17.Qh4 maybe 17…f5!? which has the point that I attack e4 once more and if he takes on f5 I take with the knight with tempo on his queen.

The engines don’t completely agree that this is optimal play by Black, but it is indeed reasonable and I am not sure if I’d have indeed played either 16…Qc8 or 17…f5. At least I thought I had one reasonable idea and for me that was enough to have chosen 13…e5 at that point.

In general, I had the feeling that his queen on h3 was kind of annoying. For example, combined with a knight to g5 it creates a mating threat which I may have to parry by weakening my king’s position with something like …h6. So, I wanted her to be removed from h3, that’s why I thought about Qc8. Also, when I was calculating my 13…e5 break, after seeing the Qc8 idea, it briefly came to my mind the Bc8 idea, but this felt less natural as I will have to “undevelop” my bishop while it clearly looks at this point very nice and active at the long diagonal.

My opponent, true to his tactical style, chose another move:


Aha! So, his idea is gain a tempo by attacking my bishop and then play e3-e4 and if I take he plays Ng5 with tempo (threatening h7 in passing) and so, I am not winning a pawn.

OK, no problem, bishop is attacked, bishop is moved back to its fianchettoed position.


And now:


Yep, I saw that coming, but I thought that I had a strong retort ready.

17…Bc8 18.Qg3

And now after some thought, among several alternatives I chose:

18…dxe4 19.dxe4 Qe7!? 20.Bf4!? Nxe4 21.Bxe4 Qxe4 22.Ng5

Your engine might tell you that White’s pawn sacrifice is a blunder and that Black is much better but I think that this is beyond practical human play as Black has to play very unnatural/difficult moves to prove it. The pawn sac is the most natural way to play and after this White gets a dangerous initiative.

So, in practice this position is unclear. I thought I am at least OK, because when the move Bd6 comes I can sacrifice the exchange and be safe having two bishops and a pawn as a compensation. As happens in practice, small specific problems arise all the time and in time trouble I committed a mistake and I had to defend a difficult endgame an exchange down. I came close to succeeding but at the end I lost.

This looks like a reasonable game continuation, right? Nothing particularly strange happened. Yes, the play might not have been optimal at a few places, but was there a big mistake? Probably not. So, what is going on? Was not the natural …e5 break that clear after all?

If you analyse this game with an engine afterwards you might get a wrong impression. Yes, in the time trouble phase, after I took the pawn I could have played slightly better, but what is the big lesson from an improving point of view? What would an experienced coach advise?

I am sure that Jacob would pinpoint the main problem at move 16. Let’s see once again the diagram:

Here I played 16…Bg7 almost without thinking. This was an automatic decision by definition! But was this the best move? No! It is actually the third best!

First of all, I could have played 16…Bf6!?

The point is very simple to understand. The bishop covers g5 so that the knight cannot go there. I’d be a liar if I said that I didn’t see this move, but I rejected it without thinking. My bishop seemed loose and “hanging” on f6, so it felt unnatural.

This is an illusion of course. There is no concrete way to take any advantage out of the “hanging” state of the bishop. Next I can bring my king to g7 for example. This might had required from me less than a minute of thought to figure it out. Yes, in a blitz game I might not have chosen the move, but in a classical game it was well within my strength to figure this out quickly and understand that this is a better move than 16…Bg7?!

But the best move in the position is actually 16…Bc8!

What really bothers me is that I had seen the idea! I actually played it next move! If I do this now, there is no queen to g3! Actually, White’s best might is 17.Qh4 after which I exchange queens and I have rather large positional advantage. As you’ll in the note to move 16, I had also seen the idea of trying to force an exchange of queens to relieve some potential pressure to my king’s position.

So, this mistake didn’t have to do at all with my lack of chess skills. It had to do with my bad decision making process. Once again:

“What is the one thing you should always do when you have an automatic decision?”

“Maybe check if this is not the only move?”

It would have taken less than half a minute probably to actually understand that 16…Bg7 was not best. Let’s keep this lesson in mind and see the second example.

Example 2:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0–0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.g4 Bd7!? 10.0–0–0 Re8? 11.h4 Rc8 12.h5 Ne5 13.hxg6 fxg6 14.Nd5!? e6 15.Nxf6+ Qxf6 16.Be2! Nc4 17.Bxc4 Rxc4 18.b3!? Rc7 19.Qh2 Rec8 20.Rd2!? e5 21.Qxh7+ Kf7 22.g5 Qe7

In this game I am White against an even stronger opponent (close to FM strength). Because of my reputation as a theorist my opponent thought it is a good idea to play 10…Re8? in order to avoid the well-known paths and play a game out of the book. This was an unfortunate decision as the Sicilian Dragon is not the kind of opening which is good for experimentations.

If you want to know how Black should actually react after 9.g4!? check out Gawain Jones Dragon books (tip: he should start with 9….Be6!). You can find this analysed in Volume One.

Back to the game now. After I opened the h-file and played the move Nd5 to remove the last defender of the kingside, I felt optimistic. Around move 16 I was actually looking for a killer blow (I was mainly looking for something connected with Nf5) but nothing was clear. The game continuation actually was something I had seen from afar (it is not as difficult to come to this position in your head as there are a limited amount of attacking ideas you can see, with Qh2 being the most obvious one!) and I had also seen my next move which I though should end the game fairly quickly.

At this point I had about 7 minutes on my clock and I played the very natural and objectively strong:


I attack the queen, I attack the bishop and he cannot play his main idea which was …Rh8 trapping my queen. So, the game continued:

23…gxf5 24.exf5

Now 24…Rh8 is not possible because I can give a check at g6, then take on h8 and then play f6 and resigns. Also, if he plays:

24…Bxf5 25.Qxf5+

I take back with check, I am material up and his king’s position is more than suspicious. I should be winning. This was exactly what I thought when I was calculating 19.Qh2. Seeing such a variation with so many forced moves 6 moves long is well within the abilities of any club level player.

Everything so far seems correct and logical. So, what went wrong? Wait and see…


About 6 min on the clock… How am I winning, how am I winning…


Less than 3 minutes now. I thought that 26…Qf7 is forced and I had to calculate if I have a forced win after the exchange of queens (seemed unlikely) and I finally settled to play 27.Qe4. No forced win still, but an overwhelming advantage nevertheless.


What is this? I just doubled on the h-file because I thought that 27.Rh8+ wins. Isn’t it? Actually it is, but with my clock ticking and with my main aim not losing the game (as it was a team competition and even half a point in my board was valuable) I decided to be safe.


Now my bishop can also come into the attack and there is no …Qf7 anymore.

I saw 27.Rh8+ Bf8 and after the objectively killing 28.R1h7 I didn’t like missing something with less than a minute on the clock after 28…Rxc2+.

27…Qf6! 28.Qxf6 Bxf6 29.Kb1!? d4 30.Bc1

Once again at move 29 I thought about taking on a7 and I saw that …Ra8 is not possible as that rook is lost after Rh8+. But once again I wanted to be safe. In the diagram position above I am material up and I actually have play against his pawns. This should be winning, right? And no risk of losing!

The game ended in a draw indeed after I failed to evaluate correctly a rook endgame (yes, I know all rook endgames are drawn…)

I might as well have won the game, Let’s try to make a conclusion. What was the problem, or what lesson should we take?

An inexperienced coach or player might pinpoint the critical moment at move 27. Yes, 27.Rh8+ was winning objectively. But I don’t think that this was a huge practical mistake. There was time pressure and there was psychological pressure that I have at least not to lose because of the match situation. The position remained technically won after that as well.

I am sure that Jacob, once again would have pinpointed my decision at move 23. Let’s see the position once more:

Here I played 23.Nf5. A strong move. But my problem was that I didn’t check if there is anything else!

Yes, my knight is attacked, so if there is anything else if could be a very forcing move. Let’s just check for a few seconds, not more. Can you find an alternative which we could check briefly?

I did this experiment with some junior students of mine rated below 1500. They pointed out within 5 – 10 seconds each the move 23.Rh6!

At this point I don’t care if this move is good or not. I just care about spotting that this move exists!

As Jacob says: “Before you can think, you should be able to see!

We are not calculating here. We have 6-7 minutes on the clock and we just want to spend 5- 10 seconds scanning for other possibilities. It is well within the powers of a 1400-1500 rated player to spot 23.Rh6!

How long it would have taken to me to realise that this move is winning? I don’t know. I am guessing less than a minute as the variations are pretty straightforward. Let’s see:

The only line we should objectively calculate is 23…exd4. Nothing else makes sense. But now 24.Rxg6! and I am threatening to take bishop and then queen with check or checkmate. So, 24…Kf8 is forced and now simply 25.Bxd4 and as 25….Bxd4 26.Rg8 is checkmate White is winning.

Not a difficult line and a much, much, much easier win than 23.Nf5.

So, once again, there was not a problem of calculation, not a problem of wrong time management, not a problem of lack of imagination or bad tactical vision or anything else.

These are areas I should definitely improve and can always be improved. This is not news. But, for my case:

It was mainly a decision making problem, considering 23.Nf5 an automatic move when it was not!

That’s why the “Four Types of Decisions” theory can be such a wonderful practical tool for chess improvement. I know that if I train hard I can calculate better, if I study harder my openings or endgames my results will improve. But maybe there is no time for this. Which is the single, biggest weakness in my game which can easily be fixed without spending any time to spot it and possibly fix it? For me, it is definitely my decision making progress regarding automatic decisions. A simple 5 second-worth question “do I have something else?” seems to be able to improve my practical results without changing anything more.

I promise I’ll fix this Jacob. I promise…

46 thoughts on “Automatic Decisions: A way to Improve your Chess – Now! by Nikos Ntirlis”

  1. Benjamin Fitch

    Just want to mention that “check if this is not the only move” pertains not only when you’re responding to a chess move but also when you’re responding to something that your significant other has just said during a conversation or argument.

  2. Very interesting post Nikos. What strikes me as relevant too is the fact that you mention your time-management and assume that this does not play an important role (of course, you did not mention what the tempo was, so I assume standard FIDE?!). Still three minutes left on move 26 in practice would put most players under a lot of extra pressure, affecting the quality of their decisions. I do not mean to critize you, if you felt you had everything under control, I believe you, but I wanted to add something which I think has not been discussed a lot.

    Apart from hard to train factors such as having had enough sleep, self-confidence (which is also connected to developing a feel for getting a position you like, your opponent dislikes etc.) there might be another reason. Apart from solving exercises to develop better skills in decision-making under pressure, I guess it is also important to gain enough experience in the kinds of positions we like (and don’t like) naturally, such that the direction in which to calculate or look for moves comes at a quicker pace. In practice, most games are not decided on move 27, but indeed short of time on move 36 or something. I guess it would be interesting for you as someone who is developing practical player skills to analyse at what moments you used up much time and if this investment was justified. Last but not least: a move like 23.Rh6 might have been found using the three question too, which would definitely help you to spot it more…

  3. @Frank
    Hey Frank,

    It was a regular FIDE-time control pf 90 min + 30 min after 40 + 30 sec/move.

    The fact that i had 3 min on the clock at move 26 is of course relevant. Missing 26…d5 27.Rh8+ Bf8 28.R1h7 might seem to someone like my true big lost chance in the game and make wrong conclusions. This was my point. I don’t mind not seeing the killer move at that point. I would not mind either if i searched indeed for an alternative to 23…Nf5 and didn’t find 23…Rh6! If that was the case, this would have been a problem of lack of tactical vision.

    My main point was that i didn’t even searched for an alternative. not that i didn’t find them. That would have been another problem entirely. It is not a problem of skills, but a problem of bad technique in decision making at that point, treating the position like there are no alternatives, like an automatic move/ decision.

    The three questions is another tool. I believe it is indeed a universal tool which ca be used in many, if not all situations. In the particular cases above i think using it is a bit unpractical. You dont actually need it because the position requires a forcing decision. In both cases, a piece is attacked and there is another threat from your opponent. So, your choice is limited. This might be 1,2 or 3 moves. For me, in both cases it was only one and i didn’t look further. This is a problem. As simple as that.

  4. Have to say I agree with Frank here…

    “How long it would have taken to me to realise that this move is winning? I don’t know. I am guessing less than a minute as the variations are pretty straightforward.”

    Well you left yourself 7 minutes for 13 moves so ‘less than a minute’ might be more than you could afford to spend as you had already evaluated Nf5 as a good move so it was a safe decision irrespective of it not being the best move. If you get yourself in time trouble you are almost forcing yourself to make automatic decisions and unless you are a GM who can do all this calculation at lightning speed in just a few seconds you may get burnt sometimes. If you were out of book at move 10 that’s leaving 3 mins per move till the time control. As most of the moves from 10 till 23 were very natural dragon moves (push h pawn, take with bishop once knight arrives on c4, queen to h file) i think its the time management decisions here which need to take your priority rather than beat yourself up for decisions you made when you were already in a hole.
    Perhaps you need to know your own rough time (personal to you) you need to check it really is an automatic decision and never leave yourself less than that amount of time per move. In this case Nikos it was about 30 seconds per move so if that is not sufficient you may need to reevaluate but it will be different for everyone

  5. Hello JB,

    In my humble opinion, i see this argument/way of thought again and again and let me say that i think it is wrong.

    When you have a totally winning position, there is no point counting the time left at your clock.

    In this kind of position, 7 minutes is not time trouble! 7 min is more than enough time for 13 moves when you have 30 sec increment.

    As i said, i did the experiment with some 11-12 year old kids rated bellow 1500. They saw all the variations after the Rh6 move in about 1,5 minute. This is not extra-ordinary. It is well within the skill set of any club-level player.

    Spending even 5 minutes out of 7 if necessary (even more i would say!) and finish your opponent brings more reward than playing sub-optimally (like i did) and keep more time in the clock.

    Think about a poker analogy. You rather go all in and maximize your chances winning the pot than keep the game lasting longer and risking your opponent getting a card he needs later. I can think of many more analogies in game theory, even in resources theory (Computer Science). I have a resource (7 minutes) which i need to use and maximize my chances NOW, otherwise i’ll have plenty of resources later which will be useless.

    Also, in this scenario, i am not talking about a huge time investment. I am talking about a quick 5-10 seconds scan of possible alternatives.

    Jacob might say more about this when he can talk about critical positions and time trouble, but i have seen the following…

  6. Another point you raise, is when you talk about:

    “As most of the moves from 10 till 23 were very natural dragon moves (push h pawn, take with bishop once knight arrives on c4, queen to h file)…”

    I disagree again. I am not well-known for my good time management, but in this case i think it was OK. When you see this game, indeed every move seems natural and logical, but in fact every decision here has a huge value. When to play Qh2, when to play g4-g5, when and if to exchange at h7, the move Be2, the move b3, the move Rd2 and even the move Nd5 (should i allow exchange sacrifices at c3 after Bh6?) and several Nd4-Nf5, or Bg5 or Bh6 variations required careful examination and were not automatic decisions. I would say that the only automatic move i made was, unfortunately Nf5 🙂

    But regardless of the specifics (which indeed can trigger useful discussions regarding critical decisions theory connected with time management) my main point was this simple idea about checking if a move is automatic or not. What dissapoints me in both the examples above, is that i could realise that my decisions should not be automatic only with a few seconds investment. If the alternatives were more difficult to find and required deeper investigation, then certainly other considerations like how much time left i have on my clock could be more relevant and this wouldn’t feel like much of a problem. But in both cases the alternatives were simple, so simple and it is a pitty to lose such…

  7. @Nikos
    I guess you miss somehow JB’s point. You tell us that 7 minutes is not time trouble and is not the problem you had. You maybe right for many players. But you yourself mention the time many times in your original post. So it seems to have been a problem for you.
    It’s a valid question why you took THAT long on your previous moves. Your first ten moves are obvious, so you spend (nearly) all of your time on moves 11 to 22. Of course this leads to problems, and influences your decision-making. Your right, that moves where not automatic, but still they should be found quicker.
    With half an hour on the clock on move 22 it might be a completely different game. And maybe you check again and Rh6 pops up somehow.

  8. Hi Nikos

    Thanks for replying- few points
    1. apologies for misunderstanding the time control- I thought the increment was only after the 40th move the way you wrote it so you did have 30 secs more than I thought. I now think of it less a time management issue than before but still the most significant contributing factor
    2. when you said ‘How long it would have taken to me to realise that this move is winning? I don’t know. I am guessing less than a minute’ I presumed it was a lot longer than maybe you are talking about . if your quick 5-10 scan picks up even one alternative move (Rh6 in your example) then you still need that ‘less than a minute’ to evaluate it and then compare it to the evaluation of your other candidate (Nf5) that’s still a chunk of time when you are low on the clock. and what if you had found more candidates? When you had done all the thinking about Nf5 previously and evaluated it as edge/possibly winning and can make it instantaneously I’m not sure you should criticise that decision – it was the inability to see the candidate of rh6 when analysing Nf5 earlier ‘from afar” when considering Qh2
    3. I do agree it is not an automatic decision to play Nf5 though which I guess is your point- even retreating the Knight to e2 looks good as the kingside is so open and the Nd4 isn’t really en prise as exd4 Bxd4 wins though I guess you need to see the Rh6 move here in these lines as well so if you missed it one line you will maybe do the same in…

  9. … in other similar ones . However when you are short on time there is that pressure to make these quick decisions. Only you can tell if the time spent on moves 11-22 were truly wisely spent and you would have had extra time left to confidently play 27 Rh8 as you did have that extra time to spare in the bank. When you have about a minute left at move 27 and talk about playing it safe as you don’t have time to calculate lines, whatever you think about your decision making process it really is mostly a time trouble issue.
    No personal criticism meant- I’m more the other way- I make decisions too quickly I think and don’t think long enough but we all have our weaknesses to iron out

  10. @Thomas

    Hello Thomas,

    Both JB and Frank have valid points, but still i think that my main point was to talk about something very important, which i see time and time again to many club players like me and discussing about time management issues is a distraction. For example, in the first example i didn’t have any time trouble (aybe i had 40-45 min or something) and i still missed the alternatives. If i had 30 min before Nf5 i may not have looked for something else anyway. Maybe i’d have won the game anyway because i would have time to find R1h7, but the problem about decision-making regarding Nf5 would have remain un-noticed somehow then.

    My main issue when discussing time management together with automatic decisions is that a wrong conclusion might be made. That when we are short on time we should make more quick decisions. I am against that. I think that finding better moves will save us time in general and an easy area to improve our game is when we make automatic decisions.

    As you seem to be interested in that, at moves 14, 16, 18, 19 and 20 i spent most of my time. Maybe on average 10- 15 min to each move (definitely more than 20 minutes for 14.Nd5) as i felt that i am at the verge of winning. I spent 6-7 minutes deciding on 9.g4 and another 6-7 minutes trying to remember the positions i had analysed after 11.Bc4 (as after that we transpose to another big main line) before i conclude that i better play at quick h4-h5…

  11. Also please notice that i was the team captain and i had to check another 9 boards regularly in order to know what is the much situation.

    Definitely i’d have saved at least 2-3 min somewhere and this might or might not have made any difference. For example, play the “obvious” 16.Be2 earlier, althought the 16.g5 and 17.Qh2 was tempting and somehow closing the second rank seemed un-natural to me.

    What you might find interesting (or not!) was that i didn’t want to play 16.Be2 because after say 16…a6 what is my threat? I remember i was calculating 17.f4 Nc4 18.Bx Rx 19.Qh2 h6 20.g5 hx 21.Qh7+ Kf7 22.fxg5 Qe5 23.Rhf1+ Ke7 24.Qxg6 Kd8 25.Rf7 Bh8 (believe it or not i reached this position in my calculations) and i had the impression that the black king goes to c8 and b8, my pawns are loose, his pieces are excellent and i might even be worse because i don’t see what i am threatening! Now i see that 22.e5! and 24.Rf6! are killing moves. Maybe another problem of “automatic moves”?

  12. Hi Nikos ,
    I am not sure that the technical aspects of the position are the only ones to be taken into account here . As said , time is a factor which accentuates what is subjective ( feelings about the position, the score of the match , your desire not to lose , … ) over what is objective . And for most of us , it is a bad thing .

  13. Nikos
    Thanks for your opening up about your thought processes. Like me I’m guessing most of the readers of this blog are of club player level and your input is much appreciated as typical of the mistakes we make. Though I may disagree on the relative importance of time trouble vs thinking processes in example 2 I think you make it clear these were automatic decisions that shouldn’t have been. Think the first example is clearly more an error as there were different retreat squares for the Bishop but it is an easy thing to retreat back to the square it came from. the second was much harder as it involved ignoring an attacked piece. Jacob talks about checking there aren’t any zwischenzug but this is slightly different as it’s counterattacking and ignoring the threat. Maybe there could be Some sort of mnemonic that would help to avoid these issues that you could quickly use as a checklist at the board.

  14. gernot zechner

    game 2
    i agree with many here, the time management is horrific. how can u spend 85min for 12 moves?!?! Bc first 9 u should blitz. So its obvious u are not familiar with the dragon positions, bc why u take so long. but thats normal for your level.
    Nikos, dont argue with Thomas, JB or Frank which are surely 2000+ explaining like- yeah it was complicated this or that. just accept it, work on time management, and be be more practical in your decisions. even better players miss Rh6 in time pressure. And under 10min is nothing at move 23 in a sharp position. If u have 30min, Rh6 is easy to just spot, but with 5min u are in panic mode

  15. gernot zechner

    about automatic decisions etc – i watched the videos carefully back then.

    Nf5 or Rh6 isn’t even a simple decision for me. its a critical moment, bc as far as i understand:
    the 2nd best move is much worse, so someone better find the best move

    and game 1: the Bg7 retreat is definitely not automatic, its between simple and critical, bc there are several candidates

    for me:
    automatic: absolutely must play move, NO other choice
    simple: without tactic festival: improving pieces, put rook on open file, prophylactic moves
    critical: finding killer blows, or finding only defences. not finding it changes result dramatically

  16. Reading the question: “What is the one thing you should always do when you have an automatic decision?”

    … I thought the answer was: “Execute it!”

    At least for some that can be an easy way to avoid time trouble. (But what you point out is even more valid, of course.)

  17. Automatic decision ?

    decision mean there is a choice between possibles moves (?!)
    automatic mean the choice is easely made from general principles or knowledge (?!)

    i dont understand why a possible intermediate move will change anything.

  18. Jacob Aagaard

    Like smart ass is not a description of a bottom with great intellectual properties, it is possible that automatic decisions mean something slightly different than you are deducing?

  19. @Jacob Aagaard
    well all is possible.

    do you mean an automatic decision is a forced reaction to a well identified situation. Then it is mostly a kind of reflex move.
    Or do you mean an automatic decision is good decision made without analysis.

    all the automatic decision, simple decision, strategic…. are very confusing to me .

    I am more used to …the wrong decision !

  20. Nikos Ntirlis

    Thanks to everyone contributing to a constructive discussion.

    My main point with example #2 is not time management or typical Dragon positions. It is a mistake in the thought process.

    A mistake can be justified by other parameters (like time trouble or lack of knowledge), but it is still a mistake! If a mistake can be avoided in many ways, then which one is the most effective?

    Maybe by having avoided time trouble? Maybe by knowing better the typical positions? Sure. These would help. What if the Nf5 move was not treated as an automatic decision? Would that help?

    In that particular case, there might have been other mistakes as well, but if a simple question had been made, the chances of winning the game would have been much higher without much-added effort. Also, from a practical point of view, getting better in the automatic-decision process is easier than the general “get better at time trouble”. One thing is much more complex than the other, so let’s get better at simple things first! 😀

  21. Jacob Aagaard

    It is situations where there is only one move. Except, we need to check if this is actually the case before we make the move. I am sure other names were possible… But I am used to being incomprehensible!

  22. Being incomprehensible is the first move that leads to the Hegelian Chess School .
    But this move is not automatic of course .

  23. Jacob Aagaard :
    It is situations where there is only one move. Except, we need to check if this is actually the case before we make the move.

    Case 1 :
    There is only one legal move –> problem is solved

    Case 2 :
    many legal moves … but only one OBVIOUS move ( all other than the intended move are weak/bad/non effective….at first look) This is step 1
    we check ( how?) & decide the obvious move is the best/only move . So we are back to step 1
    can we make a better check ? or play the move ?

    we check (how again?) and we discover that there is one ( many?) other move of higher value than the intended (only) move. –> this mean the initial hypothesis of a single move to play is actualy wrong. so are we still in the automatic situation ?

  24. Hegel is cristalclear and rather to the point compared to Derrida. Fortunately
    chess is complex and deep enough to waste your life on (freely paraphrasing Hans Ree).

  25. “It is situations where there is only one move. Except, we need to check if this is actually the case before we make the move.”

    from what i understand, it is the same as :
    when there is an obvious move, look if there is some intermediate better move.

    all the problem is the definition of an obvious move.

  26. Larissa van Uden-Steenbekkers

    Dear Sir/Lady

    I have a question about book Sicilian Main lines.
    In game 44 of the book Lyukmanov-Cusiqcanqui on move 25 black can impove with 25…-Qd7 on the game…how can white prove an advantage??
    in the book there is said white has 3 good plans to prove an advantage
    -.Ra1 and a4
    for example 25…-Qd7 26 Qb4-Tf5 27 Qd2-Bh5 and now it s difficult to prove advantage for white

  27. You all did read Jacob‘s books right? The thing is that sometimes we just make a move almost instantly because we assume it was an only move. At such moments Jacob advises us to slow down and have a fresh look at the position (at candidates other than the automatic move). Even if it turns out we erred, we can only blame our rather low level for it, not our approach.
    I made this mistake way too many times, one embarrassing example: White: Kg1, Qc3, Re1,a1, Ne2, Bg2, h2,g3,f2,d3,b2,a2. Black: Kg7, Qd8, Re5, Ra8, Nd4,Nb6, h7,g6,f7, c7, b7,a7. Black to move. And it turned out there was someone else who reached this exact position and blundered the automatic move as well.

  28. Wasn’t there a famous chess player who said “if you see a good move…wait…there may be a better one”? Playing Nf5 without thinking is rather bold since after all you are “sacrificing” a knight. This is a “sharp” position with forced moves, checks, pins, forks what not so I would be very suspicious of every move in this position…black has a concrete threat of Rh8 so white’s choices are limited. Nf5 surely looks natural and is not a bad move. The only other move that counters that threat is Rh6 (or lose a piece after a queen retreat). Then you have to ask the question “if I sac the Knight would I rather have a killer bishop on d4 (which after some calclulation will win back at least a piece) or 2 connected passers on f5+g5 (which will also win back a piece)” mmm both look rather nice 🙂 and then you will not make Nf5 automatic. To decide then you could use concrete calculation, or say to yourself, in the line after Rh6 I have added 2 pieces to the attack (R+B) instead of two pawns.

  29. An Ordinary Chessplayer

    Okay Frank, I’ll bite. What was your blunder? Because this position
    r2q4/ppp2pkp/1n4p1/4r3/3n4/2QP2P1/PP2NPBP/R3R1K1 b – –
    does not look at all “automatic” to me. After thinking for a minute I reluctantly decided on 1…c5 for black. Checking with Stockfish, the machine agrees with 1…c5 at first, but then switches to 1…Rxe2(!). So even the engine does not find the position “automatic”.

    This whole discussion initiated by Nikos has two flaws that I can see:
    (1) Thinking errors at the chessboard are _personal_. Even when we are doing it _right_, no two people think exactly the same way. So much more the case when we are doing it _wrong_.
    (2) Translating from candidate moves in the head to words on the page is fraught with error. In time pressure, even in a fraction of a second, we think of so many chess ideas (many of them _not_ correct) … We never even remember all of them. And the next move there are more… Trying to put those down in words will never happen, so we focus on just one or two “memorable” ideas. No wonder that the reader gets confused, pointing out this or that _other_ idea that seems more salient (leading back to point 1).

    I think Nikos is making a valid point, but his example#2 is maybe not the clearest illustration of his point. I do agree with his example#1, 16…Bg7 just leaps to the mind.

  30. Well, the blunder (and I do think this example relates to Nikos’ article and is a common weakness in my play) is that I did not bother to look for other candidate moves, thinking that this was an ‘only’ move. (Which, as I understand Jacob’s work, comes pretty close to an ‘automatic’ move, albeit in this case the term does not apply to a check or recapture; it does not seem to me to fall into the category of an ‘simple but not easy’-decision, maybe because of its tactical rather than positional nature). The book that helped me a lot to resolve this error was ‘Practical Chess Defence’, which is full of nice examples of premature resignations.

    For someone who grew up using “steps”, this is an exercise of level ‘5’ i.e. should be easily solvable in practice. Maybe psychological factors also played a role: believing my higher rated opponent (2410).

    @An Ordinary Chessplayer

  31. One other thing I like to mention here: if you would remove the Knight on d4 in your head, (so now you are a piece behind), suddenly Rh6 becomes a candidate move much more easily. Our mind is sometimes in the way, the stored patterns and candidate move finding machine we all have (not to mention our physical hand reflex of moving a Knight to f5) are so strong that they can influence our rational decision making process subconciously I think.

  32. Of course Nikos has admitted this wasn’t strictly an automatic decision as he’d predicted these moves in advance so it wasn’t like he was surprised and had to react on instinct so this begs a question on a related theme about how do you gauge your trust in your calculation?
    It would be interesting what Jacob and Nikos think about revisiting previous calculations- i remember Jacob talking about one of sam Shankland’s games where he tried to analyse all the way to the end but this was asking too much of his skills even as a GM and he missed a subtelty way down the line and jacob suggesting this was asking too much. Was it hubner or Larsen that coined the ‘long variation, wrong variation’ as a warning not to trust your calculation too far ahead but the flip side is also relevant as at these shorter time controls when the games follow the path you have predicted in your previous analysis when can you avoid wasting precious time by avoiding reanalysis of the same position you already evaluated by trusting your previous conclusions and feel reasonably safe that you havent missed something?
    Nikos says he saw the Nf5 move in example 2 ‘from afar’ (possibly even at move 16 a full 7 moves or 14 ply ahead). ie Nikos had a ‘main line’ in his head so should he have reanalysed at move 23 ‘as new’ rather than follow his previous analysis (and so he might have spotted rh6). Maybe this was too far into the future if he did this analysis perhaps way back at move 16 but rely…

  33. …. on his accuracy of his calculation skills if this calculation was made less far into the future eg when black played …e5 this was all quite forcing after the knight was attacked (no time for positional subtleties or quiet prophylactic moves or you will be a piece down)and so the tree of variations you calculate is much less dense and so you ‘should’ be more accurate.
    It’s a tough decision (trust or reanalyse) but there might be some guidelines that trainers use with their pupils that you can share.

  34. An Ordinary Chessplayer :
    Okay Frank, I’ll bite. What was your blunder? Because this position
    r2q4/ppp2pkp/1n4p1/4r3/3n4/2QP2P1/PP2NPBP/R3R1K1 b – –
    does not look at all “automatic” to me. After thinking for a minute I reluctantly decided on 1…c5 for black. Checking with Stockfish, the machine agrees with 1…c5 at first, but then switches to 1…Rxe2(!). So even the engine does not find the position “automatic”.

    Engines don’t believe in automatic moves. They’ll investigate all legal moves no matter how apparently absurd.

  35. recently acquired the opening books of the ntirlis. What would he recommend in white? Does he have any plans in mind?

  36. Recently I read (again) parts of “Pump up your rating” and Axel Smith`s advice is pure logic: as long as you make more mistakes because of time trouble than you do because of moving too fast => try to move faster! In the fascinating PUYR universe an automatic decision is a no-brainer.

  37. An Ordinary Chessplayer

    Move faster to avoid time pressure sounds so simple. Tried it. But what advice for us poor souls who move faster to avoid time pressure, resulting inaccuracies leading us into a difficult position, followed by getting into time pressure anyway? Put that in the category of unhelpful. For avoiding time pressure, I have four specific things to do before the game starts (to give an idea, the first one is sleep), and one specific thing to do during the game, but “try to move faster” is not it.

  38. An Ordinary Chessplayer

    @Llorenç Boldu – Yes. I used to be able to solve studies blindfold. These days I look at a puzzle, think of a move, and then ask “Wait, am I in check?” But it’s not only chess. I used to hate watching my grandfather on the street in his pyjamas checking the mailbox. Who would do that? Now I realize he simply forgot what he was wearing, and soon I will be making the same mistake.

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