27 August 2009

Unclear : The Process of Annotation

The gist of a previous post, titled Unclear : Some Huebner Analysis, was Huebner's comparison of two similar moves, 13.Qe2 and 13.Qe1. It generated two thought-provoking comments, both (coincidentally) from award-winning chess bloggers. Michael Goeller of The Kenilworthian, thought that the analysis was 'evidence that Huebner typically over-annotated his games', while Tom Chivers of The Streatham & Brixton Chess Blog considered that it was the 'kind of minutiae Grandmasters deal in daily'.

First, I should clear up a possible misunderstanding. White's 13th move was not Huebner's only comment on the game. As with all his annotated games, he went into detail on many moves, by a quick count nearly 20 in this game. I chose the 13th move because the notes had two examples of the '∞' symbol, my focus in this current series of posts. A closer look at Huebner's notes shows that on a few other moves he went into even more detail than on the 13th move, although that move was one of the most heavily analyzed.

This leads to another point that Goeller mentioned in passing and that Chivers discussed at length: What is the purpose of annotating a game? I imagine that there are as many answers to this question as there are annotators. My own answer is that I annotate a game to document my analysis, and I analyze a game to discover why it had the result recorded at the end: a win for one side or a draw.

In the Huebner game, Goeller pointed to a key position involving an exchange sac, which eventually won. While this position is certainly important, it is only the first step in the analysis. The logical follow-up question is: How did that particular position occur on the board?

Without going into detail, but running the risk of over-simplifying, I often find that the follow-up question leads to a recursive, backward-looking process where each key position arises from a previous key position, and where in that previous position the players had certain distinct choices. These choices can be critiqued in turn.

This process eventually runs into a forward-looking process that starts from the initial position. The players first follow opening theory and then follow common sense until a first key position arises where a player has a transition into the next phase of the game and where the choice of move is far from clear (i.e. 'unclear'). A grandmaster chooses one move, a master chooses another move, and a club player chooses yet another. An example was the 13th move in the Huebner game.

I was reminded of the two directions in this analytical process -- forward-looking and backward-looking -- by a comment in Wade's book on 'Soviet Chess' (p.82).

If I want to illustrate the difference between a grandmaster and a master, I compare Keres' book on the World Championship 1948 with Golombek's very competent work in English; Golombek follows the one thread that binds a whole game whereas Keres shows the difficulties of choice and explores.

I'll have more to say about this book in my series on the Soviet School. I'd also like to look at more Huebner annotations. It appears there is much I can learn from his method of analyzing a chess game.

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