Some moves in chess are harder to see than others. Sometimes you won’t even consider the best move because, on the surface, it appears to be a blunder, anti-positional, totally illogical, etc. Your brain ignores these moves because it’s been taught to do so. It simply cannot consider every single move unless you are faced with a very simple (though not necessarily easy) position
In my experience, the existence of these kinds of moves is rare, but they can appear anywhere in a game. Here are some examples:
One of the places where you could miss an unexpected move is while following your usual plan in the opening/early middlegame, as happened to me here.
This type of position is fairly normal for this kind of KID Attack, and I had prepared it a bit. Here, in response to my opponent’s last move 11.b3, I automatically played 11… Nb6 putting pressure on the c4-pawn. In doing so, I totally missed that I have 11… Ndxe5!. The point is that after 12.Nxe5 Nxe5 13.Qxe5, black has 13… Bf6 skewering the queen and rook. White doesn’t go down without a fight, however, since he has 12.Nxe5 Nxe5 13.cxd5! exd5 14.Qxe5 Bf6 15.Qxd5, where black is only slightly better.
That’s essentially what invisible moves are… moves that don’t even cross your mind. It appears that the e5-pawn is protected when in reality it isn’t. Now I’m not going to defend myself: I should’ve seen Ndxe5, and it was somewhat embarrassing that I didn’t. There are, however, much harder moves to find than Ndxe5.
When you play a seemingly forced move in ten seconds, usually you’ll be right. There are, however, instances when you’ve just missed a golden opportunity. For instance this position:
Here, after thinking for about five seconds, my opponent played 48.Kxf6?. After 48… Kxg4 49.Kg6 d4 50.Kxh6 d3 51.Kg6 d2 52.h6 d1Q 53.h7 Qd4 black is winning.
Well, it turns out he had 48.g5!! which was a draw. If 48… hxg5 49.Kxf6, both sides queen and it’s a draw. If 48… Nxh5? black even loses after 49.gxh6, and 48… Ne4 49.g6 Nd6+ 50.Ke6 Ne8 51.Kf7 is a draw. I had seen this coming and was relieved when he played Kxf6.
Was g5 invisible? No, it wasn’t. I had seen it coming and was worried that he’d find it. Yes, Kxf6 is the most natural move that appears to be forced, but calculation reveals that white is lost there. All you have to do then is just ask yourself if white has anything else. Like that g5 can appear on your radar. Then you take a deeper look and see that, sure enough, it’s a draw.
Moral of the story: If you’re lost or in big trouble after your natural reply, take a bit of time to see if you have a way to mix things up. Many of these invisible moves actually aren’t invisible if you look for them.
In the next game, I plead guilty to playing an automatic move and not seriously considering alternatives.
With his last move, my opponent took my bishop on g5, so I responded with 21.Nxg5+? Kh6 22.Qd2 f4 23.Nf7+ Rxf7 24.Bxf7 leading to a totally unclear position. I totally missed the killer move 21.h4!. White is bringing the h1-rook into the party. If 21… g4 22.h5 g5, white has 23.h6! winning the bishop and destroying black in the process. It’s totally winning. No excuses for me missing it, but it’s hard to see… In that game, this was my invisible move.
Middlegame positions without warning
Sometimes, flashing signs saying “you have a win/draw” would really, really help…
In this strange position, I decided to grab a pawn with 24… Qxa3?. It was a bad idea, and you’ll see why. Instead I should’ve just gone 24… g6! with a slight edge. After 25.Rb1 (25. f5! was a very strong alternative) 25… Rxb1 26.Rxb1 I realized what I had missed but played 26… g6 anyway since I had nothing better.
White has the fantastic shot 27.Bxg6!! which seals a draw. After 27… fxg6 28.Rb8+ Kg7 29.Rb7+, it’s a perpetual since 29… Bf7 runs into 30.e6. There’s nothing black can do about it if he doesn’t want to lose. He can throw in 27… Qe3+ but after the queen trade he’ll still have to take the bishop. Fortunately, my opponent didn’t see it and played 27.h3?, and I went on to win after some more drama…
It looks like 27.Bxg6 just loses a piece, but it doesn’t. I don’t know how my brain found Bxg6—admittedly a bit too late—but it looks black’s king is a bit shaky, and looking at all the possible captures you see… Bxg6. That’s the hilarious thing: Bxg6 is the ONLY legal capture in this position. You also see that black is just better if white plays normally, and somehow it pops into your head…
I could go on and on and on, but the big picture is clear. There are moves that my opponents and I don’t see. There are moves that very few people see. What’s the solution to this blindness? Unfortunately, there’s no magic cure that will make you see all the things that you missed before. There’s no ritual that will prevent you from missing things. Being human, you will always miss something.
One solution remains: do tactics. There’s more to tactics than just calculation… there’s recognizing and applying motifs. In hard tactics problems, there’s usually an “invisible” move somewhere in the maze of variations—it could be on move 1 or on move 10 of a forcing line—that you have to find. Unlike in a game, the sign is flashing at you; there is a win or a draw, and you have to be on the lookout for it.
Honestly, which one of the examples above wouldn’t be classified as a tactic? After all, tactics are usually more complex than one-move forks. They can be hard to solve just like complicated chess positions. It won’t be a cure, but it’ll help. These moves won’t stay out of reach forever, and with practice, you’ll start seeing them more and more often.