Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Chess and Poker Face Part Tres: Other Tells in OTB Chess

Chess and Poker Face Part Tres: Other Tells in OTB Chess

In cards if a reaction physically divulges information to your opponent it is called a "tell".

The use of a surprise variation or surprise move, especially a sacrifice, then gauging your opponent's reaction is fun. Once in a time scramble a nervous young opponent constantly was glancing my eyes to gauge my response to his every move; and also immediately after I completed my move. I think some people believe that a person will look the opponent's piece that they believe will gives them the most trouble when immediately completing their move. In this game I actually put on my Red Sox cap and would have put sunglasses on if I had them.

Then for those who have the habit of writing the move down before moving, you can write down a fake out move, and try and get a tell from that. I don't know why some people go thru such efforts in hiding their written move, Just write it down after you move, if you are that concerned about a tell. Max Enkin and my old nemesis Mikhail Derazhne

are constantly laying their pencil and hand over their recent moves, comes to mind.

I try to write down the time of each move made. Then when on the move analyze if the duration is out of the ordinary eg.: 15 minutes to make that one. I try to recognize pretty significant variances either shorter or longer than I expected given the position. Opponents I have faced often and sense that they are either moving faster or slower than they normally do can tell me that they are unfamiliar, familiar, might have a cook to zap me, or they look rushed. Important OTB information to better judge your opponent.

Also I have the habit to always writing down the times before I get up from the board. This is based on some of the tricks people would play in the 70's when we all had analog clocks: it was alleged that some were reaching over and adjusting the clock while the opponent was away.

Two stories about the surreal level of awareness of some good players at tournaments:

1. About ten years ago, it is late Saturday afternoon in the skittles room at Clarenden Street at the BCF in round three of the Winter Open. I was sitting at the club computer planning something to use against a possible next round opponent. Mind you there are 30 + contestants in two sections this day. Master Jacob Rasin drops into the club and glances at the cross table in progress and the results chart. Most people are still playing in the hall. He walks over to me, says hello and glances at the computer screen and says oh a better this line against Paul Sciaraffa

is................let me show you...... In other words in about one minute of study he absorbs all the pairings of first three rounds and anticipates outcomes to an extent that he can decide with precision what opponent lowly me will face. And what the probable opening will be. The outcome of which occurred exactly as he assumed BTW!? Pretty scary stuff. I can only imagine that he played out in his mind what each game probably of each opponent of every round looked like.

2. Anecdotal - a Bobby Fischer Story concerning his memory and awareness can be found at:


Do have any stories about tells or players awareness or unawareness?

Please Comment.

Thank You.

Mike Griffin


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