Never mind what Lasker said. When the positional logic leads you to a good move, play it.

English master and FIDE arbiter Adam Raoof said in the teaser to Finding Ideas in Chess: “Finding ideas in chess is hard… sit on your hands and look harder!”.

I don’t agree with either part of that, though Raoof is a very successful teacher, and chess master. An idea at the board isn’t something that comes in a flash of inspiration, but something you deduce as a result of following the breadcrumbs. “Looking harder” is a recipe for self-doubt. With practice, and decades of playing over Capablanca games, it gets easier.

Chess teachers have been sharing for 100 years Lasker’s old saw about seeing a good move as prelude to looking for a better move, but one of the greatest world champions (and author of the classic textbook Manual of Chess) was seeding four generations of chess teachers with bad advice.

If there was a better move available than the good move you’ve found, it suggests one of two things: 1) Your tactical vision is lacking, or 2) You were following the wrong trail of positional breadcrumbs. In either case, your tactical vision and positional judgment aren’t going to improve in the additional minutes you spend looking at a position; you’re only setting yourself up for time trouble by examining the same things repeatedly.

Raoof gives this position. White to move in Kveinys-Kholmov, 1991:

What are the clues to guide you, where are the breadcrumbs of logic to follow?

IM Silman built his whole teaching career on this: What are the imbalances in the position, and what are you going to do about them? Fine said the same thing in Chess the Easy Way: Consider the material, pawn structure, piece mobility, king safety, and threats; then ask: What am I going to do about it?.

White sacrificed a pawn to get here. For the pawn-minus, White has the bishop pair, and Black has an exposed king. Each of White’s pieces has moved, but you can’t say there’s a lead in development because the queen’s only safe squares are h1 — worse than h2 — and e5, where she’ll get traded, and White wants to avoid that.

Black’s exposed king will feel relieved if the white queen leaves the board. The player who’s behind in material stands the best chance to stage a comeback by attacking as hard as possible with the material remaining. The queen is the largest source of potential counterplay, so Black wants it gone, while White counts on it to help justify that pawn sacrifice.

Black’s got the only threat: …Qc5xc2. If White could arrange Qh2-e5, then White’s got a bigger threat Qe5-h8+ (at least drawing, if not winning). For Qh2-e5 to happen, the black queen has to be chased off her sight of e5. A lame bishop retreat to b1 or d1 gets nowhere, while Bc2-d3 probably just invites ….Ra8-d8.

I think the evidence points to leaving the bishop to be captured, because …Qc5xc2 opens e5 for the white queen (and now you’re thinking in the Purdy way: Is ….Qc5xc2 an ‘unreal threat’, one that can be ignored?). In fact, White can nudge the black queen in that direction with b3-b4, which includes the threat Bc2-b3+.

Freeing the queen from that wretched h2, plus the threats created by Qh2-e5, are equal to the additional material investment of a bishop, I think. I’m sold on b3-b4. What did Kveinys find?

The only Kveinys-Kholmov 1991 game I could find is this 7-move draw. Next step: consult Stockfish. Stockfish said 1. Bd1 is 0.21. I’m surprised that it thinks Black should reply 1…f4, enabling 2. Bxh5:

Click or tap on a move in the game text for a popout display board.

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