The Curse Of The Premove

I sincerely envy the people who have the time to follow all the chess that is happening now. There are so many events, commentaries, streams, webinars, banter-blitzes, courses, books, that it feels overwhelming.

Perhaps that is just me, with my work taking all the time and making it impossible to even watch a single event or listen to a commentary. And yet the sheer amount of chess content appears to have increased manifold.

Chess has moved online and this makes it akin to the e-sports. The rules of the game are still the same, but some of the abilities to do well online are quite different from the ones to do well over-the-board.

Online it is all about speed. Even when there is some increment per move, speed is what counts. Speed wins games, often in spite of quality.

One of the new habits of the “online generation” is the so-called premove. The art of the premove (I wonder how Botvinnik would understand this phrase) is to foresee with certain degree of probability what the opponent will play and then premove your own move, with the sole aim of not losing even a millisecond of your own time.

Here are two extreme examples that show to which length the advocates of the premove will go in order to take maximum advantage of this feature.

The starting moves of the Reti Opening, Black has many options at his disposal. But can you guess which move has the highest score for Black (I wouldn’t dare call it “the best”) in online chess?

The move 2…Bh3. This is online chess, with its own bluffs and probabilities. The move shows that Black expects White to premove 3 Bg2 so he wants to take immediate advantage of that by winning a piece on the spot. Of course, in case White doesn’t premove, then Black loses a piece. Is the risk worth it? Every online player should decide for himself.

The second example is from a short video clip I saw on Twitter. The World Champion is playing Black and he is completely winning.

But Carlsen, who is also part of the “online generation” and uses all the “tricks of the trade,” fell victim to these tricks. He clicked (that’s more precise than to say “played”) on the move …Ka4, which is a perfectly reasonable move, as it wins. That was not the mistake, the mistake was that immediately after making the move he premoved the next one, namely …Kxa3. And White, probably a shrewd online player himself, paused for a 1-2 seconds before cunningly playing Kc5! A fantastic move, banking on the “premove effect”. In OTB chess this means nothing, but online… Upon seeing this Carlsen immediately started to laugh, as the system executed his premoved …Kxa3 when White took on b5 with a draw.

Yes, online chess is often absurd with its own rules, tricks and speed demons. Whether we like it or not, we’re going into this territory now. Some of us will adapt, others will decide to wait until the next OTB tournament. In the meantime, expect more of the above-mentioned excitement.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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4 Comments
  • Richard Meulders
    Jun 26,2020 at 10:26 am

    The practice of ‘premoves’ reminds me of the auto-completion function when writing mails/texts. Personally I find it just doubles your work because you have to check if the programme hasn’t made nonsense of your words. So I disable that function. Checking your work for possible typos or language mistakes is OK, but Not if you let the machine take over your mind.

  • Jun 19,2020 at 1:15 pm

    […] to establish its place there. It may be different from the chess we are used to playing, with its premoves and disconnects, but that is the “new reality,” whether we like it or […]

  • Adam
    Jun 4,2020 at 12:33 pm

    Hi Alex, Do you have any upcoming courses planned? I have a few of the chessable courses and out of all of them I find your explanation and insight most valuable. It is evident that you have many years of experience playing or following the openings you suggest.

    • Jun 19,2020 at 12:32 pm

      Yes Adam, I do have some planned (like a couple of Lifetime Repertoires) but the world-wide situation has made travel impossible so I couldn’t travel and record the videos. That’s why there has been a delay in the publication. Let’s see how things change now as the world opens up. Fingers crossed! Thanks for your kind words, I can only aspire to continue in the same way!

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