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Chess Malpractice

By Ned Goldschmidt

It is to be expected that a rank beginner at chess will take back moves. If each costly error meant the start of a new game, our novice would develop unevenly and with little or no understanding of end game technique. With no knowledge or appreciation of the rich opportunities or special qualities of end game play, his interest, in many cases, would wane.

But his object should be to reach that point in time and experience when he no longer need retrieve bad moves. To strive for that goal it is necessary that he understand the reasons why it is reprehensible to correct his mistakes. His misdeeds are born of ignorance, not maliciousness.

He probably knows that if he tops his drive in golf he cannot walk twenty yards out on the fairway, pick up the ball and tee off again. He doubtless knows that if he plays a wrong card in bridge it is high treason to grab it back, insert it in his hand and play another in its stead. He may not be able to see so clearly, however, why a second chance in chess is disadvantageous to his opponent. It is the duty of his more experienced friend to explain.

Look at it this way. If one player takes back several moves, then his opponent must •have the same privilege. But how many moves are "several"? One, two, three, four? After a game of this kind you frequently hear the loser lament "He took back all of his bad moves and I didn't" or "He took back two more moves than I did" or something of the sort. In any event, there is no real satisfaction in a win marred by second guesses. It is a spotty victory.

Or you are playing a rather deliberate player and after five minutes of deep thought he moves. Then your mind begins to work aiong the new possibilities presented and for about three minutes you explore the various lines of play opened up and evolve a plan. You are about to make your reply. Your hand is half raised and then he says "I don't think that was so good. Do you mind if I take it back?" Your three minutes of earnest thought have gone with the wind and you have no compensation for them. You have wasted your mental energy for three minutes. Repeat this several times in the course of a game and what have you? Not cricket, surely. A possible bad consequence may be that you will make your moves too quickly for your own good. You will be trying to play faster than he can change his mind.

Nor is it sporting to recall a poor move immediately after it is made. The ability to play chess implies the faculty of visualizing and realizing, in advance of the move, what the board will look like after a piece has changed its square. For the same reason it is unethical, although legal, to place a piece on a square, hold it there with the tips of your fingers while you study how it looks in its new position and then, perhaps, move it to a more promising spot.

None of this need trouble the beginner. The power of visualization and the ability to play without recalling moves will come to anyone with practice. It is only necessary to realize that it is improper and why. No one will ask him to handle a clock or expect him at the outset to abide by tournament rules; but when a man who has played chess for more than a year, say, still takes back moves it can only be because he does not fully realize that it works an injustice on his polite and patient friend across the table.

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