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ONE OF the questions which people often ask on first meeting those of my ilk is: "How many moves can you see ahead?". Apparently sensible, this is not really very well defined, being somewhat analagous to the one about the length of a piece of string. For the answer, of course, is that it depends on the position.

In his classic and possibly admirable but enormously didactic work, Think Like a Grandmaster (still in print, available from BT Batsford at pounds 14.99), the late Alexander Kotov discussed at length the "tree of analysis" which, depending on the position, may be either a long straight trunk or, at the opposite extreme, a thicket. I believe I once described it in an interview as being Stalinist, though that's rather too strong: he insisted that in order to be efficient, "In analysing complex variations one must examine each branch of the tree once and once only", and I've never in my life met a player who operates according to that precept.

In a thicket of variations the position may be so complex that even a player of my strength will be delighted to see accurately more than a move or so ahead. In the opposite case, though, it may be possible for even a moderate player to gaze far into the distance.

Take this admittedly obviously contrived example. It's simply a race between the passed pawns and the first 15 moves by both sides are "obvious", although Black can choose precisely when to move his king out of the way of the rook's pawns.

The situation then is slightly more complex, since if Black didn't have his last pawn then it would be a draw due to stalemate: he would have no legal move after 24.Qf2. I suppose, in principle, the whole line right up to 25.Qf1 mate could be "analysed": though any strong player would stop after 15.a8=Q+.