05 November 2011

Chess Isn't Boring

Am I keeping my promises or what? In my previous post, A Chess960 Almanac, I followed-up a topic introduced in Chess960 Encounters, Past & Future, and now I'm going to follow-up a second topic. The lucky winner this time is Non-random Fischer Random, an essay by Arne Moll that appeared on Chessvibes.com last month. Moll is one of my favorite chess writers and I've enjoyed reading many of his previous essays. He usually knows what he's talking about, but he missed the mark on that Fischer Random piece. I'll start with a few excerpts from the essay.
Watching the 7th game [1.Nf3 b5 2.e4 a6] of the Kasparov - Short blitz match last week made me realize once again how radical Fischer’s proposal to shuffle all the pieces on the first rank was and still is. If you want to avoid boring theoretical chess duels, all you have to do is force the players to play an unexplored variation or opening – problem solved.

The italics are mine. Here's another excerpt.

Short also beat Kasparov with the now-rare King’s Gambit -- and with a rare line within the King’s Gambit at that -- providing another argument for those people (and I think I consider myself to be among them) who claim that all it takes to solve boring computer preparation is some creativity in the opening. Is that too much to ask of professional chess players?

At this point Moll introduced the main idea of his essay, playing the traditional start position with a Black Pawn on a6 instead of a7. Why do this?

All openings would have to be studied anew, because the slight modification will create all sorts of subtle and not so subtle differences. The game would still resemble chess sufficiently not to lose the interest of the general public, but the nuances would be different enough for the insiders to immediately appreciate the complete make-over of "boring" chess opening theory.

And here's an excerpt from one of Moll's comments.

I love our game as it is and I think there's plenty of room to avoid boring theoretical duels without doing anything to the starting position! But some think more radical measures are needed, such as Fischer Random. This article is mainly written for them: my position is that you don't need Fischer Random to avoid existing opening theory: if you want to get rid of current opening theory, then all it takes is making minimal changes to the starting position.

Here's another excerpt from a comment, this time without the keyword 'boring'.

Isn't the main goal of this form of chess to avoid any kind of heavily analyzed opening theory?

No, that's not the 'main goal of this form of chess'. It's a side effect. Fischer addressed the real issue in a quote I used in another post, Fischer: 'The *Old* Chess Is Dead':

Q: Do you follow chess at all? A: I follow the old chess, I follow all the pre-arranged matches, like the last Kramnik - Kasparov match [October 2000]. At the highest level it is all pre-arranged, move by move. You have very interesting, beautiful pre-arranged games being created by very intelligent players, working with computers, working in teams. I have no objections to people creating such games, but they must say these are pre-arranged games, but they must not claim that they are finding the moves over the board. I have learned so much from these pre-arranged matches and all these cooked-up notes, they're wonderful. But they are fake, they are flawed.

And because Fischer's 'pre-arranged' accusation has been so misunderstood, here's another quote from him that I used in Fischer Compares Chess960 to Puffed Wheat:

'Because I know what chess is all about. It's all about memorization, about pre-arrangement.' • 'But creativity?' • 'Creativity is lower down on the list', shaking his head. • 'But you became World Champion on creativity.' • 'First of all, it was a long time ago when I played with Spassky the first match. And even the second match is already some time ago, thirteen years ago. And chess just in the last few years has changed dramatically with all this computer stuff. But really, if you analyze chess objectively, very objectively, it's been a lousy game going back even to the time of Morphy. There was a lot of book.'

Fischer never said that traditional chess was 'boring'. He said it was 'dead'; he said it was 'about memorization, about pre-arrangement'; he said it was a 'lousy game'. He never said it was boring. This entire train of thought reminds me of another of my recent posts -- Capablanca and Chess960 -- where I encountered a different 'straw man' argument.

While we're on the subject, there is indeed a boring aspect to chess. Short draws are boring. Remember the 1984-85 Karpov - Kasparov match, or the 1995 Kasparov - Anand match? Short draws, especially one after another, are *really* boring, but chess960 won't eliminate them. If you want to prevent two players from agreeing to draw after playing only a few moves, other mechanisms are needed and those mechanisms apply to chess960 as much as they do to traditional chess.

Back to Moll's solution to his 'straw man' argument against chess960, the use of a slight alteration to the traditional start position, I'll discuss that in another post (a follow-up to this follow-up). It's the second time the idea has appeared from a knowledgeable source as an alternative to chess960, so it deserves some consideration.


GeneM said...


2008/Jan , "Polemic Thinking, Part Two"

The above link shows M.Dvoretsky proposing Arne Moll's idea, a few years ago.


HarryO said...

That dvoretsky article is great except that it is fundamentally flawed in two psychological ideas:

1) Dvoretsky is completely and utterly confused about aesthetics and chess. Aesthetics is what you make it nothing more! Chess960 FRC is no less aesthetic than traditional chess. Dvoretsky is simply confusing aesthetics with habit. It is just boring old players of chess with the traditional position hardwired into their memories, unable to see how habituated they are and thus unable to let go of the traditional start position and allow it to occur naturally with a 1/960 chance.

2) Dvoretsky is completely and utterly confused thinking that GM's play Chess960 like children (with the assumption that adults would play it differently). All of us are children in the face of Chess. We are simply playing a game that has been simplified for the human mind. We might as well admit it and allow chess to become a more creative pastime with Chess960. You can still do vast memory exercises with Chess960! Look around for examples of Chess960 theory, use a bit of imagination and your memory of what to do will be tested to the limit already! I predict that a child would do better at working with Chess960, than many adults of the traditional game would.

3) The idea to start the game with a pawn on a6 is frankly embarrassing. It simply smacks of people who cannot let go of their memories of the traditional setup. Much better is to play traditional chess and Chess960 together as was done at KvQ! We just ask for a little bit more creative thinking so that Chess960 takes it's proper place along side traditional chess. Moving a pawn to a6 is not going to stop the exodus of interest in chess and even worse, is not going to stop the massive rise in computer analysis.

Chess and Chess960 are not mutually exclusive.