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Only Move
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Many laymen subscribe to some form of this fallacy: "All the pieces are visible at chess. Top players can calculate everything"

It suggests a certaindeterminism deriving from knowledge of the rules and the positions of the pieces. Thenature of struggle amongst elite chess players is quite something else.

Truth is that there is a lot of uncertainty. Many decisions are taken on conceptual or visionary evaluations, not necessarily on calculative ones. There are situations played even by the world's very best where a portion of the game is played in a haze.

"I had no idea what was going on" is a quote often heard in the press conference.

Sometimes, players find themselves hanging by the thread of the only move. It might be during an attack, a defence, the opening or the ending. Every other move worsens the position, there is only the option of staying alive. It is the only chance.

One makes that choice and awaits developments ...

At the Life Masters' Pairs in the Chicago Nationals, defending along with Chip Martel, this (effective) position arose :

Sartaj
KJ107
2
J
Dummy
43
AK
A
10
Chip
xxx
3
32
Declarer
AQxx
A9
W
N
E
S
P
P
2
P
P
P
D
1
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Clubs are trumps, declarer's shape is known, every trick is worth some match-points.

Declarer cashes theA ...

Can you spot the only move?

Sartaj
KJ107
2
J
Dummy
43
AK
A
10
Chip
xxx
3
32
Declarer
AQxx
A9
W
N
E
S
P
P
2
P
P
P
D
1
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

If I played the7, declarer can draw the last trump and come out a low spade. Down to only spades and hearts, the defense scores only one additional trick.

Playing theJ seemed like the only move. If nothing good happened, we would still score the same two tricks with theK and the10.

As I played the J,partner followed with the6. If declarer's spades wereQ98, he can force out a spade trick by power.

On other layouts ...

Sartaj
K107
2
J
Dummy
4
AK
A
10
Chip
xx
3
32
Declarer
Qxx
A9
W
N
E
S
P
P
2
P
P
P
D
1
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

With sayQ8x orQ9x, he can exit a low spade. West follows suit with the7.

If the trumps have been drawn, East can overtake and return a spade.

If they have not been drawn, West can beleft on lead for a trump play

At the table, declarer postponed the trump draw and came out theQ ....

Sartaj
107
2
J
Dummy
AK
A
10
Chip
9
3
32
Declarer
82
A9
W
N
E
S
P
P
2
P
P
P
D
1
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

As I won theQ with theK, the defense faced another point of theonly move.

To kill the spade ruff, I had to exit a trump.

And partner ......

Sartaj
107
2
J
Dummy
AK
A
10
Chip
9
3
32
Declarer
82
A9
W
N
E
S
P
P
2
P
P
P
D
1
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

On theJ, Chip followed with another forced maneuver.

Spotting the dangers of spade suit blockage, he discarded the blocking 9!

Had he failed to find this play, declarer could come out a low spade and the defense can no longer score two spade winners. The tangled spades meant that declarer must score a non-trump trick.

If declarer's spades were stronger (AQ87), there was no successful defense. On the actual layout, after the unblock, declarer was dead.

Did the defense need to calculate all the way?

All the plays by the defense : Unblocking theJ, Preserving the9, Exiting a trump, Discarding the9 were cases where general principles help play the only card that can possibly keep the defense alive.

The defenders played these card in hope. It was possible to calculate the situation to the end. But the winning defense could also be worked out by only move reasoning.

Just like in chess,there are some situations which require precise calculation. There are multiple opportunities and distractions. There is only one sharp way to navigate the perils.

Turn on your combinational vision. Here is the situation again:

Sartaj
KJ107
2
J
Dummy
43
AK
A
10
Chip
965
3
32
Declarer
AQ82
A9
W
N
E
S
P
P
2
P
P
P
D
1
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Can you spot the way for declarer to score the fourth trick?

Sartaj
KJ107
2
J
Dummy
43
AK
A
10
Chip
965
3
32
Declarer
AQ82
A9
W
N
E
S
P
P
2
P
P
P
D
1
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

The hard-to-spot winning path is : Draw the trump, cash theA forcing West to unblock.

Now play theQ.

The fluidity accorded by theJ now comes back to bite. The defence must give up a trick.

Sometimes only move. Sometimes precise calculation.

There are no easy paths to mastery.

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