Missing the obvious

The comments following today's daily puzzle illustrate a really fundamental principle regarding what makes a "good" player.  Here is the puzzle (6/27/12 Mate in 4):








The link to the puzzle is: http://www.chess.com/forum/view/daily-puzzles/6272012---mate-in-4

Over and over people commented that 4.Rf4 was also checkmate, overlooking the fact that the queen could simply take the rook.

This phenomenon is fascinating and frustrating to me, and encapsulates perfectly the difference between good player and not-so-good.  Once it is pointed out that the king can take the rook, anyone will say, "DUH!  How could I miss that?!"  But that is the question!  How do we miss that?!

I am, as of yet, still unconvinced that there is anything difficult or intellectually challenging about chess.  It is just a question of "not missing the obvious."  The frustrating question is, how do we learn not to miss the obvious?  It requires noticing something that is simply going unnoticed.  It's not a question of understanding the position better.  There is nothing inherently difficult about any position in chess.  It is simply a question of noticing it.

You can listen to or read any explanation of an opening position, for instance, and even the most unexperienced players will understand the concepts--the bishop is attacking this square, the pawn puts pressure on that square.  Yet when you read a book that assumes too much that you will be able to notice the important elements of a position, it can make such a book extremely difficult to follow.

Is it more than just practice?  Are there techniques for searching a position for a good move?  Right now, what I repeat to myself constantly is "look at every piece!"  Now I am learning to look for more details--revealed checks, sacrificing in order to move an opponent's piece to a different square, and so on.  There is a lot, no question, and at the end of every exercise I miss, I say, "how did I miss that?!"

Can that question--how did I miss that?--be answered?  Or is it just a question of getting familiar with the recurring patterns?

Let me say one other thing--this discussion may really be the difference between "getting" chess and not.  It's impossible to "get it" until you have a complete familiarity with the patterns and pitfalls.  Once that is taken care of, once you never say "how did I miss that," then perhaps the game becomes interesting.  Now we are not waiting for the other player to make a mistake.  Now we have to outsmart the opponent.

On the other hand, "outsmarting the opponent"--what is that but a deeper question of "how did I miss that"?

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