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    Wednesday
    Mar142012

    A Funny Quote...But Is It True?

    In issue 4143 of Chess Today, Mikhail Golubev annotates the crucial game Cmilyte-A. Muzychuk from the penultimate round of the European Women's Championship. The winner of this game (Muzychuk, as it turned out) would more or less guarantee herself first place (or so one would have thought!), so Golubev could write the following after move 8 (the first moves were 1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 dxc4 7.e4 g5 8.Bg3 b5):

    A good choice (for both sides) for the more or less decisive game. Cowards (a.k.a. men) usually do not play like that in critical games, being much too afraid of losing, their opponents [sic] preparation, and anything and everything.

    An amusing quote, to be sure, and it's certainly true that the players chose a brave line while some men, sometimes, prefer safer play. Naturally, it's also true that there are men who play daring chess regardless of the tournament situation, and one would expect that there have been female players who have chickened out in some crucial games.

    But here's a question for someone with a LOT of time on his (or her) hands, or who knows how to cull the relevant data in speedy fashion. If we check a large sample of the data from men's and women's events (or mixed events, when relevant) will Golubev's quip hold up?

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    Three examples: Nimzowitsch in Karlovy Vary 1929 cowardly chose 1.e3 against Spielmann when he needed a win - and succeeded. At the other hand, three years before at Semmering, Nimzo courageously played the Latvian against the same opponent - and lost.
    In the last round of the Interzonal at Moscow, 1981, Beliavsky played the Benkö Gambit against Gheorghiu, which earned him the second place and qualification.

    March 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMNb

    its more complicated than all that...

    Men are much more risk takers (in their youth!)
    As they get older, more experienced, they get more and more conservative, surpassing even women in their conservativeness!

    Have a look at Kramniks, Kasparovs, Shirovs etc style from their youth to now.

    This holds not only in chess but life in general... have a look at the cycle (from the evolutionary perspective)..

    In their youth.. men take huge risks (impressing women with dangerous feats, fighting with other men) to be with as many women as possible and to father as many children as possible. BUT once that's accomplished they SWITCH.

    Now they are defensive and want to protect what they have... they become "loss averse", rather than the risky "hungry for a win at all costs"

    There is also the pattern that the high level the player is the less likely they are to go in for the "win from the opening" route... Kasparov, Kramnik, Karpov are all fans of the "slow burn" route to victory in must win situations

    [DM: As you say at the start of your comment, it's more complicated than that!

    I'm looking for evidence, and telling an evolutionary "just-so story" based on the relatively risky behavior of some teenaged boys isn't evidence, sorry! Even the three or four instances (hardly enough to count as a reasonable sample) supplied fail to make the case about increased conservatism as one ages: Kasparov continued playing dynamic, kill-them-in-the-opening (when possible) chess through the end of his career; Kramnik got solid (but in his early 20s) but has been playing very lively, even risky chess the last couple of years especially; and Karpov always went the "slow burn" route. (Of course when someone mixed it up with him he would give back better than he got, but the vast majority of his wins even when he was young came by grinding opponents out.)] Shirov too continues to play super-crazy chess, regardless of the opponent or circumstance. (Another point worth mentioning is that if it's true that players grow somewhat more conservative as they age it's at least as plausible to attribute it to reduced energy as it is to a loss-averse mindset. Of course, in any given case it could be either or both [or neither].)

    Also, it's important to distinguish what you label the "slow burn" approach from something more cowardly. Karpov in 1985 went head-hunting against Kasparov in their final game in a must-win situation and came close, but there he was really operating on Kasparov's turf. In 1987, in game 23, he maintained the tension and won, and then Kasparov did the same thing. But that was both a psychological ploy and one that had to do with assessing the danger that a forced line would have been worked out and resolved itself in some kind of dead equal position. It had nothing at all to do with being afraid of losing. As for Kramnik, the line he played vs. Leko in their last match game wasn't especially quiet, but when he had the opportunity to turn it into a nice positional edge he accepted the challenge. In the previous game with Black, however, he played the Modern Benoni, which is a very sharp and strategically risky system that has often been thought at least half-incorrect at many times in chess history. He also made a risky opening choice at the end of the match with Anand as well.]

    March 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteraussie

    Yes I wasnt exactly aiming at scientific rigour ..
    I'm making an off the cuff point, just like the girl does in the comment.
    (she was probably joking and smiling when she said it)

    [DM: Actually, it's a guy - GM Mikhail Golubev is male.]

    Its probably not a good idea to search for "rock hard evidence" with something so subjective as "courage", it will mean very different things to different people... everyone assesses risk in different ways. An endgame specialist vs a opening specialist will have very different ideas on what's courageous.

    [DM: But there are objective metrics one can use. For example, one could compare the number of short draws in critical last- and late-round situations.]

    Anyway, Im just generalising and I think my analogy was valid:
    In youth we have more energy and ambition (esp males) and haven't been exposed to the pain associated with the riskier paths, so youths are more "courageous".

    Name 3 players from any period in history where a males chess style got wilder, riskier as he aged?

    [DM: Sorry, not interested in changing the subject.]

    Kasparov dropped the Kings Indian and Grunfeld and settled for QGAs, nimzos and solid defences. Theres some interview out there he did about that... His style did get more solid as he aged.
    (Also regarding Kasparovs "beat them from the openning".. I dont consider lines you've checked with computers and you know are winning risky/corageous by the way)

    [DM: Kasparov dropped the KID for a reason he made public: he didn't have time to work on both that and the Najdorf to his satisfaction. It's true that late in his career he generally played more solid systems against 1.d4 (primarily the Chebanenko Slav), with only the occasional sharp line, but against 1.e4 and when playing White his repertoire remained very dynamic. Of course, if the argument is that his late path from more solid openings to riskier ones is supposed to prove something, then what about his path from the Caro-Kann in his younger years and the stodgy Queen's Gambit Declined up through around 1985 to the King's Indian and Gruenfeld later on?

    As for courage, he was always a genius of preparation, so if you're going to discount that then he was never a courageous player by that standard - a conclusion that is at least prima facie absurd.]

    Kramnik gradually has been getting more and more solid. He tried the "lively" thing for a couple of tournaments and went back to his natural style in London... also he only plays lively when he is not risking much (eg when he had already won dortmund) or against the tail enders.
    Its interesting he talks about some of these things in his dvd, the slow burn against leko as well.

    [DM: The DVD is ancient in the context of this discussion - it's five years old. Maybe he isn't sacrificing pieces in every game, but overall his style the past couple of years has been much more open, as Kramnik has himself noted.]

    Leko became a d4 player.. and also pretty much dropped his grunfeld for nimzos

    [DM: If Leko could stand in for all the chess players in the world, then it would be game, set and match to aussie. :)]

    March 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteraussie

    I would question the entire idea that it is brave and promising to play sharp theoretical lines, but a sign of cowardness to play a quieter opening. Sharp openings can often peter out to a draw, quieter ones can still lead to a middlegame with three possible results. Two examples to support my point (these games between tournament favorites were played at an early stage of the event, but still were or could have been tournament-decisive):

    Carlsen-Kramnik, round 1 of London 2009: Was Carlsen a coward to play 1.c4 ? In any case, he won the game and later the event. Another distant example would be Kasparov playing the Reti in a must-win game against Karpov, the result was also "mission accomplished".

    [less widely known but recent and known to me:] In the German championship that just finished, GMs Siebrecht and (eventual winner) Fridman faced each other in the fourth round, the first one in a Swiss event where favorites played each other. Fridman played the Botvinnik variation (and the relatively rare 10.-Be7), the game ended with perpetual check after 22 moves.

    Another aspect is that top women shouldn't be compared to top men but to men of roughly the same Elo strength. Thus Cmilyte-Muzychuk is roughly comparable to Siebrecht-Fridman but not Carlsen-Kramnik, or to give a US analogue to, say, Finegold-Shulman rather than Nakamura-Kamsky.

    March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

    [DM: But there are objective metrics one can use. For example, one could compare the number of short draws in critical last- and late-round situations.]

    I dont really believe in "objective" when it comes to humans. We are all very subjective.
    Firstly short draws (as Thomas also mentions) can be very sharp and crazy then end in some perpetual, so that rules out that "objective measure"

    [DM: No, it just means one has to look. I didn't say it was an easy project.]

    Also For eg.. As I said for an openning specialist who knows the sicilian 20 moves deep and the structures etc after all that.. its not so risky or couragous.
    For an endgame specialist, he wants to play a quiet openning and go into some endgame with a slight imbalance (which is not risky for him, but very risky for the guy who spends all his time on opennings)

    [DM: Riskiness and courageousness are not the same thing. Courageous actions may entail some risk, but those actions are done despite the risk and not for its own sake. It is, for example, the foolhardy person who enjoys risk as an end in itself. I do not claim that playing a sharp opening proves one is courageous or that avoiding one proves the opposite, though there may be some correlation.

    You are right that there's a sense in which it's not as risky for a player to use a sharp opening if he's well-prepared. But only a sense. The London System is absurdly safe and requires practically no courage (except the courage to believe one will stay awake and not lose on time) while in a Najdorf or Semi-Slav (as in the ladies' game) one can be prepared, sure, but it's quite possible to get out-prepared - it happens all the time, and people who play it are fully aware of that possibility.]

    Its all relative.

    >>Name 3 players from any period in history where a males chess style got wilder, riskier as he aged?

    [DM: Sorry, not interested in changing the subject.]

    I dont think Im changing the subject.. My stance was "the question is not so simple as men are simply cowards" its more complex... men are much more "courageous/risk takers" (the generalized concept of it) than women when they are in their early youth.

    RE: Kasparov ... he dropped the KID because Kramnik kept getting better positions against him everytime.

    [DM: That would have been a reason to stop playing it for a while. But in due course it was repaired, but he never returned to it. In fact, he explicitly said that to do the work he felt was needed would have been too much, in conjunction with the work he had to do on the Najdorf.]

    About the caro canns probably a lot of that has to do with Botvinnik who was probably the biggest influence on him very early on. Then he started to change his style to suit himself more.

    [DM: So, no evidence: you have your theory, and you're going to tell a story to fit it. Got it. :)]

    Also look at Fischers play... before Spassky match, during and the last Spassky match.

    [DM: Hmm? So, when Fischer was 13-28, he was a risk-taker, but when he turned 29 evolution suddenly kicked in and he got conservative? (And is playing two Poisoned Pawns, Alekhine's Defense and the Pirc was evidence of conservatism? Maybe you're thinking that because he played some queenside openings with White that it's evidence of the conservatism thesis, but a much simpler, less ad hoc/ideologically driven explanation is that he wanted to surprise Spassky. It worked. Indeed, it was a courageous decision on his part, because it might have turned out that Spassky's superior experience in those openings might have overcome Fischer's prep and advantage in surprise.)]

    As Im writing this, I realise more and more, just like everything else, its even much more complex than what Im saying as well... look at Polgar... she is very aggressive and hasnt changed much... but her style was pretty much "programmed" into her by her father. So can we say she is courageous, or just playing the only stlye she knows (which isnt "really hers", its her dads)

    Ive been following Kramniks games very closely, (I really like he's style)...
    Apart from the Russian champs and I think the one before that... he is very conservative. He tried the pirc and dropped that like a hot potato. After that loss to Svilder where he went into berserk mode, he went right back to "classic Kramnik".

    Lets look at London (he's latest tournament), where he was challenging for 1st spot ie decisive/critical games.. and look at the sort of games he played.. even against the tail enders (Short and the other brits)

    Anyway DM, you are more courageous than us, you put your name to you penmenship.
    Im curious, how has your stlye evolved? More "courageous" or "conservative"?

    [DM: As I wrote before - and you did too, for that matter - one's energy is a relevant factor. When I'm feeling energetic, I'm more likely to play in a fashion that requires a lot of energy; when I'm not, I'm a bit more solid. It also depends on who I'm playing and the circumstance: if I'm playing a really brilliant tactician I may try to dull things a bit; if against a boring player I'll try to make things more unclear. But overall I think my style has remained pretty consistent.

    Let's call it a day on this topic.]

    March 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteraussie

    I think the discussion about sharp lines leading to draws vs. quiet lines full of play is not relevant here. The point Golubev was making is this: imagine that two draws in the last two rounds of 11-round open guarantee (for both players!) the place in the top-14, meaning the place in the World Cup. This was the situation here. Do you think men would play the Anti-Moscow variation in such circumstances? Or, better yet, consider just the last round. Draws on top 5 boards guaranteed all 10 players place in the World Cup. Yet, there was only one short draw and 3 decisive games on top 5 boards! In a men's event, all 5 games would have been drawn 30 minutes into the round.

    March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrey

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