24 December 2011

Setting Chess Back 100 Years

In my most recent post, Not Everyone Likes Chess960, my second of three examples included a quote from Yakov Damsky.
'One Step Forward, Two Steps Back' is the title of a book by that chess lover V.I. Ulyanov or Lenin, and that is wholly pertinent as a judgement on Fischer's idea.

Damsky didn't explain what he meant by that remark, and since he died in 2009, we're not likely to get an explanation. I understand it as saying that chess960 somehow sets chess back, a notion which I've already encountered in this blog.

First we had More Arguments Against Chess960, where I quoted Tim Krabbé saying, 'Any form of shuffle chess puts chess back 200 years'. This wasn't just the respected Dutch writer having a bad hair day. Some time earlier he is on record saying, 'chess would be put back 100 years'. The more he thinks about chess960, the more it puts chess back.

Later we had A Highbrow Dismissal of Chess960, where I quoted Mark Dvoretsky saying, '[Chess960] games almost never show us any aesthetic value. If we remember how hard it can be to discover the secrets of a position even in traditional chess, where we can refer to many generations' worth of experience, what I’m saying becomes logically obvious.'

I was reminded of all this when I encountered John Watson Book Review #82 : Historical and Biographical Works, Installment 3 on TWIC. In that 'review', really several reviews rolled into one article, the American IM tackled two books by GM John Nunn: 'Grandmaster Chess Move by Move' and 'Nunn's Chess Puzzle Book'. The review isn't dated, but the newest book reviewed was published in 2007, so it's from a few years ago. My interest on this blog is in the 'Puzzle Book', where Watson wrote,

I'd like to describe a fascinating and potentially controversial section that Nunn incorporated into this book, one that seems to have escaped notice in most book reviews: his historical comparison of older, pre-World War I players to modern ones. Nunn calls this section 'The Test of Time'.

In his review Watson quoted large portions of the book, enough to let us follow Nunn's complete train of thought. The British GM started,

One of the great perennial questions in chess is: how do the great masters of the past compare with the leading players of today? Like all really interesting questions, it is very hard to answer. It is even possible to disagree on the ground rules for the comparison: for example, should you take into account the development of chess theory over the intervening time, and not mark down the old masters for their naive handling of many opening systems?

He then went on to describe the results of a study where he compared the games of the great 1911 Karlsbad tournament with the 1993 Biel Interzonal. Since the Karlsbad tournament was played 100 years ago, you can guess where I'm going with this post...


Today is Christmas Eve, I'm running late, and there are more pressing matters than the evolution of chess theory. I'll leave you to read Watson's synopsis of Nunn's findings and will come back to the topic for my next post, scheduled for the day of New Year's Eve.

To all those who celebrate the holiday, have a Merry Christmas! And please be careful about drinking and driving.

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