There seems to me to be a strange phenomenon in chess where a combination exists and pays off if and only if you make a series of accurate moves without any deviations. Often times you can find many of the correct moves in that series without having seen the point of the combination, or the entire combination. This strikes me as odd. Why should this be so? If those moves are only good if you complete the combination, why then do they jump out at you intuitively, even if you can't see the whole combination?

  • Request: I answered, but still, could you add a striking example? Commented Dec 20, 2023 at 10:19

2 Answers 2


As a 100% intuitive player, I try to answer:

Combinations do not come out of the blue. There must exist objective preconditions (say, a lead in development). Even if I can't calculate further than half a move (in fairness, I can, but my brain hurts if I try), I "see" the move. Case in point: I was analyzing a training game with a kiddie and his trainer. He said: You were lucky, the engine gives a move here that annihilates you. Me, in a nanosecond: e5. He: How did you... Me: Easy. You gave the move away by it's pure existence, in Sicilian Bxf6 gxf6 structures, it is always e5! Of course I couldn't analyze e5, it wasn't even that tempting. But intuitive players know thousands of patterns, and the case you describe is simply the pattern checker throwing a "Go!".

Compare also to Alpha Zero. It doesn't do concrete "calculation" at all, it only checks patterns (that's how neuronal nets work). Still, it's a tactical monster.


The initial move or moves of a combination and understanding the full sequence, whether the combination is a blunder or a winning one, are not connected.

ALL initial moves of this sort are the rest of pattern recognition or a kind of intuition. At least for players who have progressed to the early beginner stage where some chess related pattern recognition has been developed. Complete beginners may still make moves that are almost random.

Understanding the full sequence is a matter of correct calculation. The two are not connected. Not understanding the full sequence, a kind of "hope chess", leads to chance results. You may get lucky or your move may be a blunder.

Here is an example from the "HangingPawns" YouTube channel of a player getting lucky. He thought Qh8+ at the end of the combination would be mate, overlooking the black knight on g6, only to be rescued by the possibility, spotted at the very last moment, of Bxf7#.

Some of HangingPawns commentary added in the comments, but it's worth watching it on his channel for the full emotional rollercoaster.

[Title "Getting lucky"]
[fen "1nbqrbk1/3r1ppp/p5n1/1p3p2/1P1NP3/PBQ5/1B2N1PP/3R1RK1 w - - 0 1"]

1. Nxf5 Rxd1 2. Nh6+ gxh6 {Oh! There's a knight on g6! There's a knight on g6! Nooo! Wait!} 3. Bxf7# {It does work. I have Bf7. ... I didn't see Bf7 before I played Nh6. I didn't see that. Luckily it did work} (3. Qh8+?? Nxh8)

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