09 May 2015

Unlearning Chess

On my main blog I've been posting an occasional piece on the theme Controversial Keene, using material from the English GM's forum on Chessgames.com, where
Keene chats with both fans and detractors, bringing to mind Em. Lasker's famous dictum that 'a fighter is a target as well as a shot'. While the conversation meanders through many topics of little interest to the chess player, it occasionally stops to focus on some aspect of chess history where Keene played a role.

After the post Keene on 1993 & 2000 WCCs, I continued working through the forum in my spare time, eventually running into this (kpage=79):-

Oct-18-04 ray keene: i hate fischerrandom - i cant even get chess right and along comes someone to make it more difficult and forcing me to unlearn decades of hard earned opening theory. bad idea. if you want another form of chess play shogi or xiangqi - beautiful variants of chess hallowed by centuries of oriental culture.

Although the opinion was written more than ten years ago, I doubt that Keene has changed his mind since then, unless of course he's actually played chess960. I also imagine that Keene's sentiment echoes the thoughts of many GMs and IMs. It's a restatement of 'I'm too old for this crap!' that we saw in my previous post Stuff Happens.

That in itself doesn't merit any further comment, but what caught my attention was the phrase 'unlearn decades of hard earned opening theory'. What's to unlearn? Since the fundamental opening principles -- development, center control, etc. etc. -- are the same in chess960 as in traditional chess, the real difference is that thousands of memorized variations no longer serve a useful purpose. Is that what Keene meant? He continued,

Oct-18-04 ray keene: [...] if you recall the roman senator cato used to end all his speeches with the words - cartago delenda est! well - a bas fischerrandom!!

The French phrase 'a bas fischerrandom!' translates to 'down with fischerrandom!' Keene repeated the condemnation after a few more posts before abandoning it.

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: chess and chess960 are not competing against each other. It's not a zero-sum game where the winner takes all. Chess players who want to continue studying opening variations are free to do so. Chess960 players who have no interest in this are also free to do so, without being at a disadvantage against the traditional players. Players like me, who enjoy playing both chess and chess960, have no compelling reason to abandon one for the other.

Was Keene, the author of myriad chess titles which could become irrelevant in a chess960 world, worried that the chess960 public might stop buying his books? I doubt it, because players taking him up on his alternatives -- 'if you want another form of chess play shogi or xiangqi' -- would also not be interested in his books.

That raises another question: Are chess960 players interested in books on Nimzovich, Petrosian, or recent World Championship matches (topics about which Keene has written)? I know I am, because the history of chess960 extends back through the history of chess, but I don't know that other chess960 players would agree with me.

1 comment:

HarryO said...

Bravo Mark great post!

I am a Chess960 player and have only played SP518 (standard chess) twice in the last four years - yet I constantly watch and learn from the great history of chess because the ideas are all relevant to Chess960 play.

I am constantly surprised at what I learn from the games of the great genius and inventor of Chess960 - Bobby Fischer.

People who think that Chess960 is incompatible with Chess are suffering from a false dichotomy problem. It comes from too many years of black and white thinking.

Harry from Chess960Jungle.