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    Friday
    Jan192018

    On Grandmaster Post-Mortems

    In the preceding post I uploaded the video of the post-mortem (i.e. post-game analysis between the players) between Peter Svidler and Magnus Carlsen. I've always been fascinated by such analysis sessions, and find them far more interesting than the "official" commentary, and this is true even when comparing the same person playing both roles. Svidler is a fantastic commentator, but when he's analyzing a game he just played, with a peer, it's even more interesting.

    There are multiple reasons for this. First, the energy: the player is full of energy from the game, and what the players generally analyze is what they found most interesting and unclear. So the players are more excited, and their analysis is more exciting, both because of the nervous energy they bring to the post-mortem and because we're getting a look at the most critical moments of the game.

    Second, they're not worrying about the audience. (Not least because much of the time, there isn't one.) They don't have to behave a certain way; it's all about the chess, not being a "host" or a "professional".

    Third, and also because they don't have to worry about an audience, we get to see what they're worried about, what they were looking at and how they were thinking about the position. Long, tricky, and often beautiful variations come out, not general concepts and bite-sized variations. (This is not to denigrate the commentator's work; it's in praise of seeing unfiltered grandmaster analysis.) It also helps us to see what grandmasters are really capable of.

    Fourth, a minor but nevertheless invaluable point: watching them analyze on physical boards that aren't converting the output to a computer cures us - at least temporarily - of the foolish inclination to compare their chess to the computer's. Instead of "Bwahahaha, what a moron, he missed a mate in 52!" we get to watch, mouths agape, as they rattle off 10-15 move variations we never dreamed of, even if we were running our engines all game long. And those lines are often not only plausible, but correct!

    Some of my favorite and most memorable moments in chess have had to do with post-mortems. I'll tell three stories here.

    The first one I'll mention occurred the first time I ever managed to score against a grandmaster in a tournament game. In the previous round I had crushed an IM (another first for me), and now I was faced with Larry Christiansen, then especially a very strong GM whose FIDE rating was often around 2600, and at a time when that was rarer than a 2700 rating is today. I sacrificed a pawn in the opening with Black for an attack, he sacrificed a piece to take over the initiative, and then I returned the piece to reach an equal rook ending that we drew straight away.

    After those two successes I was on cloud nine. I had arrived! I was a real chess player! And then we had the post-mortem.... Christiansen showed me line after line that he had considered, some of which I had seen but most of them were brand new to me. One amazing idea after another just overwhelmed me, and by the time we were finished I wondered how in the world I had managed to draw a game with this creature. It was an awesome experience.

    The next two weren't post-mortems in which I was a participant, but a spectator; once watching a video on a DVD, the other time in person. The DVD example was the post-mortem of Kasparov-J. Polgar, Wijk aan Zee 2000. (Game here.) Kasparov's attack looked suspicious, and I remember a 2000-ish friend of mine thinking it was just rubbish, but when I saw the post-mortem and Kasparov demonstrating one stupendous line after another that same feeling of awe had returned. The video was on an old ChessBase Magazine DVD, but I haven't been able to find it on YouTube or elsewhere. If someone else can, please share the link in the comments.

    The third was at the World Championship in Mexico City in 2007. I was able to attend about half of it in person, and saw the post-mortem live. I wish there was a video of this one, which involved two of the trio Vladimir Kramnik, Peter Svidler, and Boris Gelfand. I wasn't close enough to see the board clearly, and they were of course analyzing in Russian, so I couldn't say anything about the analysis itself. What I could see was an almost savage energy as they just bashed out variations, one after another. There were few hesitations or episodes of pointing to this square or that; just analysis, as if a pair of computers could use human beings to display their variations in real time. (Not that fast, but you get the idea.) This went on for 15-20 minutes or so, and there was no slowdown at the end; they blasted through their last lines too, then instantly stopped and went to the stage for the press conference.

    Two honorable mentions: (1) There was a Svidler-Kramnik game from the 2014 Candidates (I mentioned it on this blog - see this entry and the video) - where they conducted a joint post-game analysis with the hosts, and it was amazing in its own right. Both players tend to overwhelm their interviewers, and seeing the two of them fighting it out for alpha male in the talking department was pretty amazing in conjunction with their analysis.

    (2) The second honorable mention is a sort of antipode to its predecessor. When I was a youngster in the early 1980s, either just north or just south of a USCF 2000 rating, I played GM James Tarjan. He handled me pretty easily, but in the post-mortem was extremely polite and treated me like a genuine colleague and not some fish he could have beaten while sick and drunk. I've faced a good number of grandmasters of the years, many of whom were very polite, but Tarjan's generosity of spirit has stuck with me over the years. I don't recall being amazed by the analysis (possibly because I lost too easily to require any pyrotechnics), but his gentlemanliness was something special.

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    Reader Comments (1)

    Those are charming stories!

    January 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip

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