22 March 2012

The Iron Logicians

The phrase 'iron logic' is something of a cliché when applied to chess. I was reminded of this while working on the post Botvinnik's Legacy, where the phrase kept popping up in various apprecations of the sixth World Champion's style.

But what exactly does it mean? Is there some quality of 'iron logic' that makes it more logical than 'logic' alone? Even though it's often applied to reasoning that has nothing to do with chess, I searched high and low for a definition and came up empty handed. It's one of those phrases that people use without explaining what they mean. Curiously, the use of 'iron logic' is often associated with extreme opinions like 'the iron logic of mutual assured destruction' or 'the iron logic of nature'.

As for chess players, the phrase is always used to describe a particular style of play. It's less often applied to the classical players, where Capablanca gets tagged with the epithet more than Lasker and Alekhine. Petrosian is as likely as Botvinnik to get tagged and I even found the phrase on one of my pages: 1953 Zurich Candidates Tournament : Highlights. In the famous game Reshevsky - Petrosian, the future Soviet World Champion played 25...Re6, sacrificing the exchange; 'iron logic', wrote Bronstein. As for more recent players, Fischer and Karpov often exhibit 'iron logic', while of contemporary players, Carlsen gets tagged far more often than his opponents.

Botvinnik, Petrosian, Capablanca, Fischer, Karpov, Carlsen. String the names together and the connection is obvious. They were the most outstanding of the positional players. So 'iron logic' means positional play of the highest order. To test my hypothesis, I looked for 'iron logic' applied to Tal and couldn't find a single example. Magicians aren't logicians and magic isn't logical. That's why there are so few players like Tal.

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