20 March 2008

Matters of Technique

A Google search on 'chess "matter of technique"' picks up the usual complaints about this phrase commonly used to annotate chess games. Most people who complain about it have never had to write notes to a game that is obviously won for one side. It's also a reasonable bet that they often don't bother to play through the subsequent moves when they encounter the phrase.

Having said that, I agree that it wouldn't hurt chess writers to summarize a winning technical procedure in a sentence or two. This could also be done on annotated games instead of abandoning all further comments long before the loser resigns ('the rest is not interesting').

Google picks up a number of MOT uses by Robert Byrne, a long time chess columnist for the New York Times, now retired. Byrne had a knack for summarizing a complex game in a few paragraphs by pointing out the critical positions and the key variations. When he wrote 'matter of technique', it was to avoid wasting precious column inches on an obvious procedure.

Here are links to the games where Byrne used the phrase in one of his columns, plus a links to the games on Chessgames.com. Can the technical phases be explained briefly?

My search also picked up a book title. Here's a link to the Amazon.com page...

'Excelling at Technical Chess' by Jacob Aagaard

...The book's subtitle is 'Learn to Identify and Exploit Small Advantages'. The back cover says,

'And the rest is a matter of technique' is an annoyingly common phrase used in chess literature. The implication from the author is that the task of converting a typically winning position into a full point or converting a drawing position into half-a-point is relatively straightforward. However, as all of us practical players realize, it's not always as simple as this, and many hard-earned points are wasted through 'a lack of technique'.
In this valuable book Jacob Aagaard aims to solve this perennial problem. He arms the reader with several endgame weapons that every strong technical player has in his toolbox. These include important skills such as schematic thinking, domination, preventing counterplay, building fortresses and utilizing zugzwang. These tools are illustrated in deeply analyzed games containing numerous different themes. A serious study of this book will ensure that the reader no longer need fear the word 'technique'!

I would think that 'exploiting small advantages' is not the same as 'converting a winning position', but this might be a lack of knowledge on my part. Better to read the book before passing judgement; it's now on my watch list.

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