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Using the Process of Elimination in Chess

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Imagine this situation (one we’ve all been in more than a few times): you’re struggling to defend a difficult position, and you’re also down to just a couple of minutes or less on your clock. Your opponent makes a big threat – maybe one you didn’t anticipate – and suddenly, you notice that you’re only left with two options, but you don’t have much time to think. Worse still, both are complicated, and the clock is ticking…

Here’s a quick tip on how to sometimes save a little time in these situations. If you’re in a position (particularly when under time pressure) in which you have a limited number of options, you may not actually have to analyze all of them. For instance, in the above situation, we only have two choices that are in any way reasonable (or perhaps it was a check that left us with only two legal moves). Begin analyzing one of the moves. If you find a simple refutation to that move, you’re done – simply play the other move without thinking at all!

Playing a move without thinking might seem crazy, but in that situation, it’s the best thing you can do. After all, there are only two possible outcomes. If that move is also losing, you’ve lost nothing; you already know your other option was terrible anyway. If the second move keeps you alive, though, you now have more of your very limited time to think about the resulting positions.

Of course, it’s important to be sure you’re truly down to your last possible move before you use this technique. There’s nothing worse than picking a move in this manner, then later realizing there’s a third or fourth move you should have looked at – one that actually could have saved your game!

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