29 January 2010

Chess Set Available for Use

Chess in Christchurch © Flickr user mikeyu1402 under Creative Commons.

It's good to know, but why are playing hours shorter on the weekend? A color photo of the same scene is also available on Flickr.com: Chess in the square.

28 January 2010

Do You Care about Today's GMs?

Not too long ago, Wahrheit, the pipe-smoking proprietor of Robert Pearson's Chess Blog, posted the question Do You Care About Today's Grandmaster Games and Tournaments? He summarized his concern with

My purely unscientific sample says that the over-teenage, under-2200 crowd spends a lot less time at the club discussing the latest GM games than when I started going to clubs around 1980.

While I doubt that many GMs lose sleep over this issue, perhaps they should. I am absolutely certain that the only people on the planet who are the least bit interested in GM chess are the card carrying members, the rank-and-file, of the chess playing public. If they aren't interested in GM chess, then no one is. This contrasts with most other sports / hobbies / pastimes, whose experts can count on a smattering of interest from those who know next-to-nothing about said sport etc., but who will spend at least a few of their 8760 hours per year watching an occasional program or reading the odd story about that passing interest.

Wahrheit: So, for any reader who has been around serious chess long enough to have seen the beginning of the computer era, what say you?

I say thanks for asking. It's a good point and since I've been interested in serious chess since the years just before the Fischer boom, I'm qualified to answer.

Wahrheit: Do you look at yesterday's Wijk aan Zee games with annotations by the excellent Dennis Monokroussos, or was it on your radar at all?

Substitute 'any cat.18+ tournament' for 'yesterday's Wijk aan Zee' and 'any competent commentator' for Dennis Monokroussos and my answers are:

  • 'Do you look?' • Yes, I look, but not immediately, and often long after the event has ended.
  • 'Was it on your radar?' • Yes, it was, because I follow a number of news sources and blogs, many of which report on the same top level events.

One of the attractions of chess is that we can play through a Lasker - Capablanca game from a century ago and get the same sort of intellectual pleasure as from playing through yesterday's game between two world top-10s. Chess news and chess games have a certain timeless charm that increases with temporal distance from the event.

How many chess fans can name the last 2-3 winners at Corus-A or at Linares? I know I can't, but when the day comes that I'm suddenly interested in Kramnik's handling of a certain variation, or Anand's conversion of a miniscule opening advantage, I'll look at the game and say, 'Oh, yes! That's the year he won that event. He was in great form, wasn't he!'

Wahrheit: If you were around for both, were you more likely to look at the games from Karpov - Kasparov 1985 than Anand - Kramnik 2008?

Nothing has changed. I was just as likely to look at the K-K games in the 1980s as I was to look at the most recent World Championship match. A big difference is that nowadays the games are available immediately. In the pre-Internet, pre-TWIC, pre-Chessbase, pre-blog era the games were available only when they were printed. In the days of Fischer - Spassky 1972, or the early Kasparov - Karpov matches, that meant printed the next day in mainstream, big city news sources. Other top level games were available a few weeks or months later in the specialist chess press.


Now it's time to change gears. This Q&A is obscuring Wahrheit's original point, that 'the masses increasingly don’t care about innovations at move 17 or 25, even compared to 20 years ago in the Kasparov era'. I'm not sure that they ever did care. Kasparov, the best prepared player that the world had ever seen, was following in the footsteps of of his well prepared predecessors: Alekhine, Botvinnik, Fischer, and Karpov. What was once, for those players, proprietary technique in preparation is now the common property of all world class players. Some players might work harder, and some might have slightly better memories, but they all work hard, looking to improve their own openings while looking for chinks in their opponents' openings. What has changed is that where once they moved wooden pieces at lightning speed around a chess board, they now slave away at their computers, watching the numbers calculated by their chess playing software scroll by.

We, the small part of the public interested in chess, know that the first 10-20+ moves in any 2700+ (maybe 2600+ or even 2500+) GM game are the result of both players having studied that opening using software and then having memorized the most favorable lines. What we might not know is that players did the same 25 years ago. It might have only been the first 10-15 moves and it did not involve computers, but the basic technique was already in use.

How many club players could pinpoint where the new move ('N') occurred in a game between two 2700+ players? Very few. How many could do it 25 years ago? Also very few. Does it matter? It depends on where you stand. The trend at GM level will continue until chess as they know it is played out. It might take 10 years or it might take 20 or more, but opening theory will eventually be exhausted. That's a fact, not an opinion, and that's why I'm becoming more and more interested in chess960. The memorization ends the day you admit that there is more to chess than the single, traditional start position. On that same day a chess game begins once again with the first move.

26 January 2010

Many Zeros, One Hero

Nearly five months after my last post on the USCF's political plight -- Wrapup on the 2009 USCF EB Election -- the lawsuits and the long ordeal are over. For a press release by the USCF, see USCF Agrees to Settle Lawsuits with Susan Polgar and Paul Truong [USchess.org]; for expert commentary, see Settlement in Dispute That Riveted the Chess World [NYtimes.com]. Worth bringing to wider attention is a note of appreciation posted to the USCF's members-only forum, A special thanks to Bill Hall:

No matter whether anyone likes or dislikes the settlement, the fact is that it *is* a settlement. USCF now has the opportunity to move forward and get back to promoting chess which is why most of us are members of this organization in the first place.

However, I truly believe that every member needs to take the time to send a thanks to Bill Hall for the superhuman devotion and dedication he gave to the effort to resolve this issue in USCF best interests as best he could. Let's face it, the guy conversed with 14 different defendants and multiple sets of attorneys on a daily basis oftentimes including nights and weekends for over two years. Think of the stress and the toll on his and his family's well being. I honestly do not believe that there are many people who would have done this for USCF or any other organization.

Thank you Bill Hall for all your time, energy, and efforts to do what you truly believed to be best for USCF. We look forward to seeing your ability to lead the organization out of the valley and up to a higher plateau.

The USCF's Executive Director responded in the same thread:

I appreciate the sentiment, but if you want to thank me, do so by thanking my staff who picked up the slack as best they could in the face of staff reductions, reductions in pay, and serious uncertainty. You have a lot of good people working for you, and they have been through a difficult period. There are also a lot of issues pending out there that have not received my proper attention through this process, and to any of you affected by this, I apologize and begin some much needed catch up work so we can turn our attention to the future of the Federation. Also, this as been a very difficult time for all of the defendants individually, and in their representative capacities. At times emotions have run high and at times feelings have been hurt. I want to thank everyone that has been involved in the USCF's defense as part of the joint defense agreement. [...]

What has shocked me in talking with so many is just how much we all really do have in common. It is easy to get mired in a contest of wills over our differences, but to be great we must find a way to recognize our commonalities and grow from there. That is how we must move forward. Chess is bigger than each of us, but chess can only grow through all of us. I owe so much to chess. That is why I am here. I want kids to have the same opportunities that I have had, and I want adults to have the opportunity to enjoy and love the game as I have grown to love it. In seventy years the Federation has had its ups and downs and it has persevered. Seventy years is something to fight for.

Bill Hall, Executive Director, USCF

Thanks, Bill Hall! Thanks, staff! Seventy years of positive support for chess is indeed something to fight for.

25 January 2010

One Hundred Days for an Opening Repertoire

In Preparation and the Path of the Challenger, I presented arguments from both Kasparov and Karpov on who is better prepared for a World Championship match - the reigning champion or the challenger. Since the only person who is able to comment fully on match preparation is the player himself, we are fortunate to have the thoughts of both players.

Kasparov's insights from 'Kasparov v Karpov 1990' are particularly useful, because he covered many details related to preparation which are normally not available to the chess public. Here's an example (p.2); Karpov qualified as challenger in March 1990.

Back in January 1990 I began planning my preparation, considering how to allocate my efforts, and where and with whom to carry out my training sessions. But there are events over hich we have no control.

Q: You have in mind the January events in Baku, as a result of which you not only broke off your first training session, but were also forced, together with your relations, to flee from your native town?

A: Yes, of course.

Q: You were left without a home, and it is not hard to imagine all the problems which piled up on you. Did you nevertheless succeed in carrying out fully your intended preparations for the match?

A: To say that my preparation was not carried out fully would be an understatement. The sort of preparation which I am accustomed to seeing was altogether absent. Before each match for the World Championship I used to reckon that 100 days of work were necessary. On this occasion I barely managed to scrape together 60 training days, but these were by no means those unclouded days of preparation on the banks of the Caspian Sea, which we had earlier.

Here Kasparov described how he was affected by the events of Azerbaijan's Black January (1990), when Soviet troops occupied Baku.

The normal pattern of life was destroyed. And this before such a match. There was neither sufficient time, nor reserves of nervous energy, nor calmness. The only thing I succeeded in doing was to outline the strategic course of the coming encounter, although only very approximately.

The strategy was to fight 'for maximum complexity' with both White and Black, but the course of the match showed Kasparov that his preparation with Black was inadequate (p.3-4).

I did not imagine how well prepared my opponent would be.

Q: During the match this quickly became evident.

A: Yes, but during the match everything is much more difficult to do. And there is another important factor, which I have already mentioned. I did not succeed in carrying out in full my preparation program, which had to be reduced to 60 days, and that with many breaks and distractions due to other things. It is quite obvious that when the time for preparation is reduced, the program itself also begins to be reduced, it is cut short. And therefore another incorrect step was taken, one which almost proved fatal. I wanted not only to play for complications with Black, but I even began avoiding theoretical duels, planning various irregular set-ups, deliberately going in for inferior positions, merely in order to avoid theory and maintain the tension. Tactics which are completely atypical of me, and in the given instance I stifled my own style of play.

Imagine spending 100 days preparing an opening repertoire. And this on top of already being the best prepared chess player in the world.

22 January 2010

Lost Prodigy

Jeff Sarwer - A Lost Prodigy (Part 1) (6:00) • 'This is the story of Canadian born child chess prodigy Jeff Sarwer.'

See also: Lost and Found: An Interview with Jeff Sarwer from the USCF's Chess Life Online.

21 January 2010

Chess Can Sell Aluminum (1960)

If you look carefully, you'll see a blue window in a thick stone wall. Is the scene in a castle?

And what's that got to do with a chess?

FORECAST: There's a world of aluminum in the wonderful world of tomorrow ... where you will furnish your home for elegant fun with aluminum ... aluminum that takes so many colors and shapes it turns a table and chairs into an endlessly versatile game center ... aluminum that can be enameled, brushed, cast, forged, stamped or extruded in as many moods as there are moves on a chess board. Aluminum Company of America, Pittsburgh.

It comes 'in as many moods as there are moves on a chess board'. Good analogy; now I get it!

19 January 2010

Scientific American's Chess Neuroscience

After my surveys of Scientific American's Chess Puzzles and Computer Chess, there remains one area where chess is interesting to science: Chess Neuroscience. That's the phrase I used in the first post, but it might not be the most accurate term to describe the subject. Wikipedia says,

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system. Traditionally, neuroscience has been seen as a branch of biology. Nevertheless, it is currently an interdisciplinary science that involves other disciplines such as psychology, computer science, statistics, physics, philosophy, and medicine. [Wikipedia: Neuroscience]

With that in mind, here are the articles I found. All were published after the last of the SciAm pieces on the evolution of Computer Chess.

  • 2001: A Scorecard; How close are we to building HAL? • 'Even computer chess, in which seeming progress has been made, deceives. In 1997 IBM's Deep Blue beat then world champion Garry Kasparov. Deep Blue's victory, though, was more a triumph of raw processing power than a feat that heralded the onset of the age of the intelligent machine. Quantity had become quality, Kasparov said in describing Deep Blue's ability to analyze 200 million chess positions a second.'[January 2001]

  • Brain Study Shows Grandmaster Chess Players Think Differently Than Amateurs Do • 'Grandmaster chess players tap into different parts of their brains than amateurs do when plotting their next move, according to a new study.'[August 2001]

  • The Intimate Machine : Intelligent by Design • "When Deep Blue played chess against Kasparov, the machine was not looking at the board and was not lifting the pieces by itself," says Manuela Veloso, assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. "The computer was extremely good at thinking, but not at actually perceiving the board and having an arm move the pieces. I feel that intelligence includes these abilities." [Scientific American Frontiers; October 2002]

  • The Expert Mind • 'How did he play so well, so quickly? And how far ahead could he calculate under such constraints? "I see only one move ahead," Capablanca is said to have answered, "but it is always the correct one."' [August 2006; preview only]

  • Men's Chess Superiority Explained • 'The topic of sex differences when it comes to matters of the mind is, needless to say, a divisive one. Those who wish to argue that women are just not as smart as men often point to chess as their proof. Although girls can obviously play, no woman's ever been world champion. But before looking for cultural or biological explanations for the disparity, scientists say you need to do the math.'[December 2008]

  • Tamir Druz: From Risking Check in Chess to Checking Risk in Energy Futures • 'The more he became involved in competitive chess, the more he began to wonder: "What made a great player great? What made one player better than the next?" He got to know many elite players, and his observations made him think that neither bookish intelligence nor the ability to memorize lots of information had much to do with anything.'[April 2009]

Starting with the quote attributed to Capablanca, there is much in 'The Expert Mind' worth comment. For starters, it uses the term Cognitive Science rather than Neuroscience.

Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary study of how information is represented and transformed in the brain. It consists of multiple research disciplines, including psychology, artificial intelligence, philosophy, neuroscience, linguistics, anthropology, sociology, and education.[1] It spans many levels of analysis, from low-level learning and decision mechanisms to high-level logic and planning; from neural circuitry to modular brain organization.
[Wikipedia: Cognitive Science]
As it is the only full length feature article in the list, I'll come back to it in a future post.

18 January 2010

Preparation and the Path of the Challenger

My previous post in this series on World Championship Opening Preparation (see The Key to Kasparov's Success Against Karpov) was based on comments by Kasparov in his book on the match (KK3-1986). In each of his three books on the Kasparov - Karpov matches (KK2-1985, KK3-1986, & KK5-1990), Kasparov commented specifically on his opening preparation for that match. He has covered the other two matches (KK1-1984 & KK4-1987) in his Predecessors series, but any insights will have to wait until I procure the books.

Kasparov's comments on preparation for the fifth match (KK5-1990, 'Kasparov v Karpov 1990' by Kasparov et al, Pergamon 1991) were more detailed than in the other two match books and he covered a wider variety of topics relating to preparation. Here's an excerpt (p.1).

Q: It is well known that the basis of your successes is deep and thorough preparation for each important event. For this new encounter with your 'perpetual' opponent you must have begun preparing long before the match.

A: Since this was already our fifth match, it could have been expected that the preparatory work done by both players would be of the highest quality. In addition, this match differed from the previous ones by there being a normal three-year interval. We finally had sufficient time to rest after the race which accompanied the four previous matches. Nevertheless, previous experience was taken into account and, multiplied by such an interval, it should have brought good results. I should straight away say that Karpov prepared for this match much better than ever before. This fact is important to note, since for the first time in my experience I had to contend with a better prepared opponent.

Why was Karpov able to prepare better? Because before the match itself he had to pass through a severe selection process. Playing three Candidate matches is a good form of training. This gives an undoubted advantage, as I know from my own experience. One acquires form and self-confidence. Victories over strong opponents provide inspiration. One has an established team, working together for a year and a half in the same rhythm, with practiced set-ups, well-considered plans and well-organised work.

That last paragraph contrasts with Karpov's own observations on the qualification cycle ('Karpov on Karpov', Atheneum 1991, p.206; for an overview of the matches, see my page World Chess Championship : 1988-90 Candidates Matches).

Any game, especially a game played by one of the grandmasters, is subjected to simultaneous massive analysis by a hundred pairs of eyes in all corners of the globe. If therein lies an original idea, then literally the next day everyone knows it, and immediately sets to studying it, searching for an antidote, or its development, or something similar in other positions where this idea can be injected.

The world champion does not have this problem. He is not obliged to lay out his cards until the time to defend his title arrives. He can even allow himself a loss, just to keep from revealing himself.

But the challenger often has to lay out all of his baggage. In order to get the match, he has to overcome opponents who are often not weaker than he is. These opponents are not stiffs you can outclass with technique and character. New methods are needed. You have to employ as many new methods as are needed, because if you are stingy now you may not make it to the championship. Occasionally you throw down your trump cards only to find that you are holding nothing special. [...]

A bullet, once spent, cannot be used again. How I lacked for these bullets half a year later in the match against Kasparov. I had to play three matches to get to Kasparov. Three dozen games. I was forced to bare myself almost completely.

Kasparov, of course, had entirely different worries: While I was prepared for Johann Hjartarson and fought against him, Kasparov was getting ready for Karpov. While I prepared for Yusupov and fought against him, Kasparov readied himself for Karpov. While I prepared for Timman and fought against him, Kasparov braced himself for Karpov. His entire entourage was focused on me. They studied me, sought breaches in my favorite formations, and looked for antidotes to my plans of attack -- my plans and mine only. Of course, they followed the progress of the other challengers as well, since each one was a possible source of new ideas, too. But I am convinced that Kasparov did not see any of them as a possible opponent.

Who is right? I suspect that there is an element of truth in both accounts, and that the advantages / disadvantages in each account cancel each other.

15 January 2010

14 January 2010

Chess Ads - Paul Masson

So many companies have used a chess theme in their advertising that it makes you wonder why chess organizers have so much trouble convincing those same companies to sponsor chess competitions. A few months ago I posted Chess Ads - Givenchy Ysatis, but I could have picked from many other attractive ads.

The longest running series of chess ads was undoubtedly the George Koltanowski solving tourneys sponsored by Paul Masson in the early 1960s. Here's a graphical overview.

Although I've guessed at some of the contest numbers and years, the captions should be substantially correct. I'll flag any errors if I discover them.


Later: Looks like I missed one. The description of this ad said, 'a great original vintage ad removed from a 1966 New Yorker magazine', placing it sixth in the sequence shown above.

12 January 2010

Scientific American's Computer Chess

Continuing with my survey of chess in Scientific American (see Scientific American's Chess Puzzles for the previous post), the magazine has through the years published four feature articles on computer chess:-

  • 1950: Claude Shannon; 'A Chess-Playing Machine'; Scientific American, Vol.182 no.2 (February 1950); p.48-51
  • 1958: Alex Bernstein and M. de V. Roberts; 'Computer vs. Chess-Player'; Scientific American, Vol.198 no.6 (June 1958); p.96-105.
  • 1973: A.L. Zobrist and F.R. Carlson, Jr.; 'An Advice-Taking Chess Computer'; Scientific American, Vol.228 no.6 (June 1973); p.92-105
  • 1990: Feng-hsiung Hsu, Thomas Anantharaman, Murray Campbell, and Andreas Nowatzyk; 'A Grandmaster Chess Machine'; Scientific American, Vol.263 no.4 (October 1990); p.44-50.

The four articles roughly trace the progress of chess playing computers over four decades: from utopian concept (Shannon) to an early operational model (Bernstein) through the years of slow progress and false leads (Zobrist) until grandmaster level was attained (Feng-hsiung Hsu). Wikipedia: 'In 1950 Shannon published a groundbreaking paper on computer chess entitled "Programming a Computer for Playing Chess".' Which was first, this paper or the SciAm piece?

SHANNON, Claude E. "Programming a computer for playing chess." In Philosophical Magazine, 7th series, 41, no. 314 (March 1950): 256-75. • '[With:] SHANNON. "A chess-playing machine." In Scientific American 182, no. 2 (February 1950): 48-51. 4o. Original printed wrappers; boxed. In this paper, written for a lay audience and published one month before the more technical paper above (probably because of the scheduling requirements of the different journals), Shannon gave a brief history of chess-playing machines, described the steps necessary for creating a chess-playing program, and ended by considering the question of whether chess-playing computers "think".'

From A Grandmaster Chess Machine, nearly four decades later:

In January of 1988, at a press conference in Paris, world chess champion Gary K. Kasparov was asked whether a computer would be able to defeat a grandmaster before the year 2000. "No way," he replied, "and if any grandmaster has difficulties playing computers, I would be happy to provide my advice."

Ten months after Kasparov's statement, in a major tournament held in Long Beach, Calif., Grandmaster Bent Larsen, a former contender for the world title, was defeated by a chess-playing machine we had designed in a graduate project at Carnegie-Mellon University. The machine, a combination of software and customized hardware called Deep Thought, won five other games, drew one and lost one, tying Grandmaster Anthony Miles for first place. Because machines are disqualified from winning money in tournaments, Miles pocketed the first prize of $10,000. (Deep Thought nonetheless defeated Miles a year later in an exhibition play-off match.)

A few years later, after Deep Thought had evolved into Deep Blue and lost its first match to Kasparov, SciAm reported The Deep Blue Team Plots Its Next Move [8 March 1996]. The team got its chance a year later: Kasparov vs. Deep Blue, 'IBM's silicon powerhouse plays a rematch with the world's chess champ' [21 April 1997]. Deep Blue won and Kasparov accused IBM of cheating, but most of the rest of the world accepted that he had been beaten fairly, though ruthlessly, by a powerful opponent. The era of human superiority in chess was over and SciAm has not published another article on the subject.


For a video of the Bernstein computer in action, see Chess on an IBM 704 (1958).

11 January 2010

The Key to Kasparov's Success Against Karpov

Just like he did for his book on the second match with Karpov (see The Appeal of a Certain Strategic Pattern), Kasparov wrote a postscript to his book on the third match ('London - Leningrad Championship Games', Pergamon, 1987, p.139), where he addressed the topic of World Championship Opening Preparation. The following excerpt opens with the surprising insight that the difference between victory and loss in the second match was due entirely to Karpov's inferior opening preparation.

Without the slightest doubt, in the period between the matches [KK2-1985 & KK3-1986] Karpov did an enormous amount of work, and prepared a mobile opening repertoire, aimed at the development of theoretical discussions during the course of the match. Intending to battle for the demonstration of his rights in all fundamental creative debates, Karpov concerned himself very seriously over widening his arsenal of playing methods. I am convinced that all this would have been quite sufficient to give him victory in 1985, but by the return match I in turn had managed to work through the necessary amount of information and had largely eliminated those defects which had been revealed in my previous meetings with Karpov. Essentially, the return match broke the traditional stereotypes about 'home' and 'away' grounds in Kasparov - Karpov matches.

In the first instance it must be mentioned that Karpov managed to reach a new qualitative level of opening preparation, largely using the experience accumulated in our previous matches. My traditional advantage in the initial stage, declared by many commentators (and by Karpov himself) to be the foundation of my previous victory, melted away in the return match. Moreover, by skilfully combining purposeful work in the most critical directions with deep strategic anticipation of the opponent's plans, for the greater part of the match Karpov held the opening initiative. I think that now the causes of the fiasco suffered by the Gruenfeld Defense will be understandable [Kasparov lost three games].

In employing the new opening, we were counting on the conservatism of Karpov's opening outlook and on his unwillingness to engage in mutually dangerous theoretical discussions (of which I already had positive experience from my employment of the g2-g3 variation against the Nimzo-Indian Defense in the 1985 match). There was a danger that the new opening might well show signs of cracking, on encountering a fundamentally changed approach by the opponent to the solving of opening problems. This, of course, need not have happened, but during the match I, unfortunately, lacked flexibility and intuition.

The last paragraph answers a question I raised in the previous post on the second match: 'I can only marvel at the insights, both chessic and psychological, that equip a player to determine that a certain "strategic pattern obviously does not appeal" to a world class opponent. What are the clues?' The clue was Karpov's 'unwillingness to engage in mutually dangerous theoretical discussions'.

08 January 2010

How to Photograph Chess Sets

How to Photograph Chess Sets from Prince August Toy Soldier Factory (5:26) • 'Techniques to photograph the Battle of Waterloo chess set or any chess set or group of miniatures.'

Two links appear in the clip: PrinceAugust.ie and EdmanCollection.com.

07 January 2010

World Championship Etiquette

What is the appropriate show of appreciation for a newly crowned World Champion?

'Press photo by L.Blodnieks. Riga people are meeting their World Chess Champion - Mikhail Tal.'

After a long absence (see Soviet Era Photos III), Ebay seller bulkcover is back with more photos: Items for Sale From: bulkcover; results found for chess.

05 January 2010

Don't Cross Kasparov

FIDE President Campomanes' termination of the first Karpov - Kasparov (KK1, 1984/85) match set in motion a sequence of events unparalleled in the chess world : two more matches (KK2, 1985 & KK3, 1986) to clean up the mess left by the first, the creation of the GMA, the Kasparov - Short match (1993) played outside of the jurisdiction of FIDE, the 13-year schism with two separate World Championships and their associated cycles, the PCA, the replacement of Campomanes by Ilyumzhinov, the abolition of FIDE's traditional Interzonal and Candidate qualifying events, the FIDE knockout championships, unification, and (still to come?) a new structure for FIDE's qualifying cycles. Next month sees the 25th anniversary of Campomanes' most infamous statement: 'I declare that the match is ended without decision.'

04 January 2010

The Appeal of a Certain Strategic Pattern

It's taken a few posts to arrive here, but my series on World Championship Opening Preparation has identified the five Kasparov - Karpov matches (last post: Who Has the Richer Store of Ideas?) as the first extended testing ground for the importance of opening preparation in matches at the highest level.

The following is from Kasparov's account of the second match, 'New World Chess Champion' (Pergamon, 1986, p.97).

The six month interval [between the 1984/85 and 1985 matches] had not been wasted. During this time my trainers and I were able to plan a new match strategy, based in particular on the features of my opponent's style and his tastes. Revealing in this respect is the creative debate in the Nimzo-Indian Defense. In the opinion of many, my success in the first game was determined by the factor of surprise, but subsequently too, throughout the entire match, Karpov experienced serious difficulties in this opening. The strategic pattern obviously did not appeal to him, and it was precisely this factor that we had taken into account in our preparations.

At the same time, Karpov did not prepare for the match anything new, but restricted himself merely to insignificant improvements in variations which had occurred in the first encounter. What told here was evidently Karpov's dislike for serious analytical work. Regarding this one recall's Karpov's controversy with my teacher, ex-World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik, who has always emphasized the exceptional importance of the research tendency in chess. Karpov retorted that Botvinnik's views were hopelessly outdated, and asserted that in our day it is only constant practice that can be a source of the raising (or maintenance?) of chess mastery.

I should mention that it was easy for Karpov to make such a criticism -- he himself had available a large team if highly qualified helpers, who regularly supplied him with fresh ideas. Well, our encounter at the chess board can be regarded as a practical solution to this theoretical argument...

I can only marvel at the insights, both chessic and psychological, that equip a player to determine that a certain 'strategic pattern obviously does not appeal' to a world class opponent. What are the clues? How much of it is guesswork?

01 January 2010

Chess and the Polish Underground

'Statue of Jan Karski, a member of the Polish underground who worked to help Polish Jews escape the Nazis and tried to alert the world to the horror of the concentration camps, on the grounds of Georgetown University in Washington, DC. After WWII, Mr. Karski served as a professor at the school.'

Care for a Game of Chess? © Flickr user Kevin H. under Creative Commons.

For a photo of the complete statue, see Chess Anyone?. • The Streatham & Brixton blog latched on to this subject and went much deeper: We are not amused VI.