19 July 2014

Clinging to the Past

In my previous post, It's Not Unusual, I brought up GM Soltis's 'Chess to Enjoy'column in the current issue of Chess Life. The focus in that post was on combinations, but Soltis has more to say that is relevant to chess960. After discussing combinations, he moves to the value of studying the games of top players.
But the problem is that games played by today's top grandmasters have less to teach the aspiring student than do older games. Why? Because a typical game by elite grandmasters these days begins with 15-plus moves of computer-checked home analysis. What happens in those moves is often impenetrable if you're not already an expert in that opening.

He repeats the idea a few paragraphs later.

Something similar happens in grandmaster games in which the opening is highly analyzed, such as the Sveshnikov Variation of the Sicilian Defense, the Marshall Gambit in the Ruy Lopez, the main line of the Classical Variation of the King's Indian Defense, or one of several others. In each case, the game doesn't really start until move 20 or so. How much can you possibly learn from them?

And finally concludes that there is not much to learn from these games.

And you learn more when you see how a great player punishes mistakes. But today, when a Nakamura or a Carlsen wins, it is usually because their opponent made errors that are subtle. The mistakes are so below-the-surface that it's hard -- if not impossible -- to learn from them. In short, we have more and more games to study and yet fewer and fewer teachable moments. A well-known American grandmaster, who has given thousands of lessons, put it well. "Today's games," he told me, "are bad for your chess."

The same criticism, 'bad for your chess', is sometimes aimed at chess960. If studying modern games that use the traditional start position is considered bad for your chess, does the argument have any real weight against chess960?

Why doesn't GM Soltis just accept the obvious fact that computers have changed chess forever and adopt chess960? A look at Bookfinder.com reveals that he has published many dozens of chess books, the majority of them on the opening. The popularity of chess960 would severely diminish interest in those books. Is it any wonder that Soltis, and the rest of the chess publishing sector, will cling to traditional chess for as long as they can?


GeneM said...

A few years ago I listed to a live interview of Andy Soltis conducted by John Watson.
The problem of excessive opening preparation came us. Soltis then said (quote is my best approximation from memory)...

"In five years all grandmaster tournaments will be chess960."

Soltis really did say that. I love chess960, but I thought to myself - No way it will happen that soon.
John Watson stammered while thinking how to reply, and said something like...
"Oh, I do not see it that way at all."

Yet despite the above quote of Soltis, and the quotes that Mark captured in this blog post, Soltis made no mention of chess960-FRC in his column; even though his whole theme implicitly begs the question.
Maybe the USCF Chess Life editor would frown on a column that mentions chess960?

GeneM, 2014-July-19

GeneM said...

Soltis writes that...
"[A grandmaster] game doesn't really start until move 20 or so."

This phrasing is misleading and causes the wrong feeling. More accurate is to say that...
"[A grandmaster] game doesn't really start until the 40th move or so; or until 20 move-pairs have been completed."

Apologists for the heavy redundancy of modern grandmaster opening play love the unfortunate ambiguity in the way too many chess fans abuse or overload the term 'move'.
1. e4 e5 --- is not one "move".

It is unfortunate that chess notation evolved to overload the move numbers.
It would have been better if White's moves were numbered as 1 3 5 7 9 11 13 etc, and Black's were numbered 2 4 6 8 10 12 etc.

All odd for White, all even for Black.

This would have eliminated the archaic dots in notations like - "21...c5", and replaced them with "42. c5".

The common column format of list move-pairs would still work fine:

1. e4 e5
3. Nf3 Nc6

And today's ambiguity in the term 'move' would be weakened, because no two moves (one White, one Black) would have to share a move number.
Nobody would go around saying things like - "White unleashed the games first novelty on move 20".

GeneM, 2014-July-19