15 February 2010

'An Enormous Investment of Effort and Time'

The last three posts in this series on World Championship Opening Preparation have been drawn from the 1990 Kasparov - Karpov match. Let's skip forward a decade to the 2000 Kramnik - Kasparov match, and return to the source of that post on opening preparation, 'From London to Elista' by Bareev and Levitov, published in 2007. Bareev was one of Kramnik's seconds for the matches against Kasparov and Leko (p.14):

Levitov: In recent years there's been a revolution in opening preparation. What only Kasparov used to do, everyone now does, and there's an enormous amount of work for the top-class grandmasters to shoulder in the search for a new move. It's become difficult to find any untravelled path.

Bareev: This is mainly a problem for the top chess players. In essence, scrupulous analytical work that demands an enormous investment of effort and time is done by only a handful of people. They find and play the novelties, and the overwhelming majority of chess players sit with the Internet, patiently waiting for a fresh idea to appear in a variation that's interesting to them, and as soon as they see something new, having quickly checked it on their computer, they rush to successfully use it first. [...]

Chess grandmasters live in the proverbial ivory tower. When Bareev speaks about 'the overwhelming majority of chess players' he apparently means something more narrow like 'expert chess players'. As I recently pointed out in Do You Care about Today's GMs?, 'the overwhelming majority of chess players' are blissfully unaware of novelties played by grandmasters.

The co-authors go on to make an important observation about the role of memorization in top-level chess.

L: So, does a grandmaster today really have to sit for two or three hours before the game and simply refresh his memory with a huge number of opening lines? To learn everything from cover to cover -- otherwise he can't do anything?

B: If you've done a huge amount of work, then yes -- you have to refresh your memory, because otherwise you won't remember it for the game, and it'll be as if you never had this knowledge. And Kramnik had to spend several hours before a game refreshing his information, memorizing certain variations.

L: So there's no creative work during a match?

B: Of course, there is. Where do you think novelties come from?! But the volume of information that the chess player has to deal with is now so great that a team of assistants woring several hours a day is needed, in order to work through a framework of variations. And to refresh the variations and ideas before the game, this takes several hours.

There's an equally curious disconnect in the last two paragraphs. Where do I think novelties come from? As Bareev said just before this, they come from 'scrupulous analytical work that demands an enormous investment of effort and time'. That work is not done 'during a match'; it is done before a match.

In the next post for this series, I'll extract Bareev's observations on the 'team of assistants'. Seconds, anyone?

No comments: