04 August 2012

Another Analogy

A couple of years ago I came up with Two Analogies to explain how traditional chess was a subset of chess960. Here's another analogy to explain how traditional chess differs from chess960 in practice.

Let's imagine that a chess game is an exam of 40 questions. I use the number 40 because that is approximately the average number of moves in an average chess game, grandmaster draws not counting. Then let's imagine that some time before the exam you are given all of the possible questions in advance. Let's say there are 1000 possible questions from which the 40 exam questions will be drawn. I picked the number 1000 out of thin air, so if you want to use another number, I won't argue with you. Those 1000 questions are equivalent to the number of opening variations, middlegame plans, and endgame themes in the arsenal of an average club player.

Your task as the taker of the exam -- its importance depends on your personal situation -- is to research as many of those 1000 questions as you can before taking the exam. You can consult books, talk to friends, practice working out examples, and even take trial exams. The only limitations are the time and other resources you have available. The more time and resources you have, the more questions you will master during your preparation. The other exam takers have also been given the 1000 questions, and your score on the exam will be relative to the others.

Chess960 is like taking the same exam without any foreknowledge of the questions. You have some idea about the types of questions you might be given, endgame themes for example, but until you open the exam you don't know with which specific questions you will be confonted. The other exam takers are in the same situation and the favorite to score highest is the person with a better grasp of the underlying subject material.

The difference between an exam where you know the questions in advance and one where you don't is equivalent to the difference between a chess game where you know the start position in advance and one where you don't. Knowing the start position allows you to discover the most effective opening variations and to explore the typical middlegame positions that arise from those variations. That's what chess players have been doing for hundreds of years with a single start position, which made for a captivating pastime until the coming of computer chess. Now it has become drudge work, memorizing scads of variations as the computer presents them. Thanks to Fischer, there's another way to approach the magnificent game of chess.

1 comment:

HarryO said...

Love all the analogies for Chess960! Here is another analogy and this one has really struck home with me.

Traditional chess is very much like case law or "common" law in the legal tradition. Progress in common law is based on the principal of precedent and over time more and more cases build up and more and more lawyers and resources and databases are needed to keep the common law consistent with precedent.....

Here in my country, we started in a common law tradition but gradually over time we moved more and more to statute law.

Chess960 is very much like statute law! In statute law precedent is still important, but principals are derived that override common law. Traditional chess precedent is in many ways "overridden" by the need for overarching rules and this is what statute law tries to find.

Statute law becomes necessary because at some point common law is so bloated that it becomes ineffective at dealing with the big picture issues facing the nation such as as environmental stresses, food security etc etc.

We chess players are actually a bunch of little lawyers!

Chess960 blends the statute law tradition with the common law tradition of the past, to create a new chess that is resilient to change, that preserves the old tradition but is able to lift itself out of the burden of hundreds of years of chess precedent based knowledge that can now all comfortably sit on a cheap mobile phone.

Again, we traditional chess players have become little lawyers. We argue with each other over the facts of "precedent" that we try to memorize and apply over and over again, but miss the point that in the process we are killing the game we love, with the sheer burden of all that precedent.

Can you not see the face of Hikaru Nakamura in the post match interviews at the recent Biel tournament? Hikaru is sick and tired of playing the same openings over and over again and wants to get creative and really show his talents, but because he is loyal to the game he loves, he persists with the endless drudgery of having to keep up to date with the little "chess law" tradition of precedent as it emerges case by case, tournament by tournament.

Why do we do this to ourselves? We are creative beings aren't we? But at the same time if you want to be a boxer and fight hand to fist you can still do that with Chess960.

Everything that is in traditional chess is retained in Chess960.