Sometimes, I'll be in a position where my opponent is threathening to do something and I cannot stop it. So, in response, I play a move that looks pretty dangerous and clever, but which I in fact have not managed to calculate all the way through and I have no idea whether it will work or not.

And I often see that in such situations, the opponent becomes overly paranoid and thinks I've just played some sort of mastermind move, and then they start retreating or playing too defensively or whatever, and I manage to weazel my way out of the situation.

When I then go back and analyze my play with the engine, it will often tell me that my clever move was a complete mistake and my opponent wins by just doing the obvious thing they were about to do.

At what point do these mental tricks, where you make dangerous-looking movies to make your opponent overly paranoid, stop working? I'm thinking there must be some point where players simply become too good to be fooled by that sort of trickery, and just calmly make decisions based on pure calculation.

I currently play in the 1600-1700 range on lichess.

  • 5
    These moves that you call 'tricks' can be very difficult to deal with in practice, and if you look at the games of world champion Mikhail Tal you will find that several of his sacrifices were objectively unsound despite him winning anyway. So it really depends on just how tricky the move really is to deal with.
    – Scounged
    Apr 20, 2019 at 7:35
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    If in the game you are going to lose if it continues in its current course, well you are just going to have to change that course if you don't want to lose. You still may lose, but at least you've made a practical chance for yourself - in a recent game down on clock, material and position I sacced a further pawn to have a chance of trapping my opponent's rook. Totally unsound, but in practice it worked and I won.
    – Ian Bush
    Apr 20, 2019 at 8:49
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    If the computer says it was a complete mistake, then maybe it wasn't true that you couldn't stop the threat? Apr 23, 2019 at 11:29

4 Answers 4


This trick is prevalent in all levels. Of course, depending on the position, your ability to muddy the waters varies. Against much higher rated opponents, it is typical that they will gain an advantage without giving you much counterplay. Nevertheless, in all levels of the game, the losing side will try to muster some counterplay to get back into the game. You make a comment about moves that look dangerous but are not. The higher rated your opponents are, the more likely they will realize that your plan is not dangerous. Often, it will be better for the losing side to defend and wait for the right time to strike than to go all out on a dubious plan. Furthermore, many positions, even in the top levels, can be wildy complicated to calculate, and the objective evaluation is not always a good predictor of outcome even at the top levels. Thus, not even grandmasters will always be able to evaluate the position accurately from "pure" calculation. So to answer your question more precisely and perhaps unsatisfactorily, if you make a dangerous looking move, if it is "obvious" to your opponent that it's unsound, you'll be punished. Where "obvious" depends on the strength of your opponent and the subtleness of your clever move.


If you're losing, then attempting to complicate matters is a good idea. It gives your opponent a chance to go wrong and you a chance to recover. I've saved many games by aggressive moves that upon scrutiny could be found wanting. If your opponent stays calm and analyzes them thoroughly, then chances are they probably won't work. But nothing has been lost by trying.


Depends on how much experience people have dealing with bluffing. The trick you mentioned can be effective at all levels, but against a 2000+ player (with lots of experience) it's likely to not have too much of an effective.

Still, the tactic has been used by GMs against other GMs successfully in the past. Karpov was once down a clear exchange against another top player in the world. He played so confidently that he messed his opponent up and either drew or won.


This is not a mental trick, this is how chess should be played!

If you cannot stop your opponent's attack, you'd better find yourself some counterplay. Of course, you won't always be able to calculate the consequences of your moves, but who cares? If you can pick between a weird success possibility and a certain faillure, the choice is not hard!

As your level increases, the "mental trick" won't move away, you will just learn how to create more subtle, precise ones, and also how to predict your opponents plan and react before!

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