FIDE has announced the lineups for the 2014-2015 Grand Prix series. Assuming it works the same way as the last series, the top two finishers overall will automatically qualify for the next Candidates event, the winner of which will play for the world championship in 2016 against the winner of this November's title match between Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand.
Question: Do you think it's important to study the chess classics? Or do you think that the use of technology has made an awareness of the famous games of chess history superfluous?
Answer: I think it’s a matter of perception. Personally I always wanted to study classic games to find my own style. To find your individuality you have to seek out and get to know the classics. When you start to play chess you think you’re inventing something new; each player believes that, but in time you realise that a lot more has been played than you think. That process of studying games and finding something that can enhance your individuality is what I especially value in chess. And also its history: how, when and why it was invented fascinates me and I think that usually occurs with people who play it at a very high level. As for technology, it has changed the game a lot. It’s true that it’s caused a lot of people to ignore classic games, but I doubt anyone “at the top” can neglect that aspect of chess.
Studying chess history doesn't stifle creativity, because human beings don't have the cognitive wherewithal to master the game. Even if we someday create a computer that solves the game, that still won't be enough. (Don't believe me? Have a look at entry 393 here and ask yourself how likely it is that you could win that, if "perfect play" from move 1 somehow resulted in the starting position of that monstrosity. And if your opponent deviates somewhere in the first, oh, let's say 500 moves or so, what then?) All the same, I've heard from club players over the years that they don't want to study openings or look at great players' games because then they wouldn't be creative and wouldn't be figuring things out for themselves. Is there anything to this idea?
I think there's a nugget of truth to it, but it's mixed in with some mistaken ideas. Moreover, the part that's right can be extracted and transplanted into a context that includes learning from others. The bit that's right is that one should try to understand and figure out what's going on for oneself. The more we engage with the material and practice calculating and analyzing, the better we'll be, as long as we're getting feedback. And what's the feedback mechanism? A stronger player's analysis, whether that be from a human author (or coach, or some other competent player) or a chess engine. A test without feedback really isn't a test at all.
So when you're studying an opening line, you might start from a given position and spend thirty minutes or more looking at the board, maybe moving pieces around, seeing what you can come up with, what problems you suspect are there, what plans come to mind and so on. That's where you start. But that's not the end of the story. Then crack open the opening book and see how things square with your thoughts. Maybe you had a good idea, but it can't be implemented for one reason or another, and therefore players have had to move on to different plans. Or perhaps you overlooked your opponent's idea completely. Or maybe you managed to figure out the main idea of the position, or one of the main ideas, and your grasp of the variation is excellent!
Now, suppose your idea isn't mentioned, or it is but you think there's a good response to what the book (or article or whatever) says. Great: now switch on the engine and see what it comes up with, and continue your pursuit of the truth. You can do the same with studying classics, too: start the game at a certain point near the end of the opening, and go through the game in solitaire-chess style. Again, you're investing yourself, developing your skills and exercising your creativity, and once you're done you can compare your thoughts with those of the human annotator and perhaps with the computer.
This procedure lets us learn from others while still satisfying our desire to figure things out for ourselves, too...or rather, to try to figure things out for ourselves. As noted above, chess is simply too deep for us to figure it out even cooperatively, let alone as a solo achievement. Indeed, when even the world's greatest players from Fischer to Carlsen (and Caruana!), and far more so their predecessors, make imprecisions and even mistakes on a regular basis, how can the rest of us avoid them? (In fact, engines still manage to beat each other, and there are much, much stronger than the best humans. So it's obvious that even they still make at least minor mistakes.)
How can anyone think they can solve chess on their own? One interesting (and worrisome!) answer comes in the form of something called the Dunning-Kruger Effect (DKE). The nutshell summary is that people who are incompetent are often, maybe even typically, unable to recognize their own incompetence. (As we are all incompetent in many things, God help us all!) All of us who have watched "American Idol" and other "talent" shows have seen this in action when positively dreadful singers protest vociferously that they are really quite gifted. (Perhaps so, but it would be better if they gave their gifts elsewhere.)
The DKE has three "official" components, according to David Dunning & Justin Kruger. Citing Wikipedia, Incompetent people
- tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
- fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
- [and] fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
Bad news indeed, but there is a fourth claim that offers us a ray of hope:
- [Incompetent people can] recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill.
All the more reason for us to train with an eye on what others have done. Study the classics, my friends!
Jon R. Edwards, ChessBase Complete: Chess in the Digital Age (Russell Enterprises, 2014). 350 pp., $34.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.
Once upon a time most chess players didn’t have enough information. Some of us can even remember that time, but now it’s in the distant past. Nowadays there’s an information glut. On average there are between two and three thousand new games available for download each week from TWIC, and that doesn’t even count what’s going on in correspondence chess. Being able to process all that information would be impossible without a computer and a database program like ChessBase, but even with them it’s a great challenge. And what if one doesn’t know how to use ChessBase, or doesn’t know how to use it very effectively?
Enter Jon Edwards’ new book, ChessBase Complete: Chess in the Digital Age (henceforth abbreviated as CBC, while ChessBase [the program, not the company] will be abbreviated as CB). While not commissioned by ChessBase, it’s liable to do them a lot of good, as the book is immeasurably more helpful than their manuals or help files. CBC very methodically tells the beginner all he needs to know about CB, and even very experienced CB users (like yours truly) picked up a few useful tips about the program. Computer-savvy CB users may not need the book – though I’d recommend that they at least have a look at it when they get a chance – but everyone else who uses CB or is thinking of doing so ought to consider picking up a copy. At $35 CBC isn’t cheap, but it’s worth the investment if you’re spending at least a couple of hundred dollars on CB and one or more big databases (especially the MegaBase).
The book has 14 chapters (called “Scenarios”) and five appendices, plus a foreword by Karsten Mueller, an introduction, the table of contents, a short page about the author and an index. The materials pretty well runs the gamut of everything you can do with ChessBase, from researching with pre-existing databases, creating one’s own material, using the analysis engines, and doing various things on their PlayChess server (playing, watching games, and giving/taking lessons). Let’s elaborate on the contents:
Chapter 1 offers a very quick overview of some fun and useful search functions – how to create your own “book” of Bobby Fischer’s games, for example.
Chapter 2 is a short chapter whose main idea is simply this: don’t add your own games to the MegaDatabase! I did glean one neat tidbit of which I was completely unaware, and it’s that one can search CB’s Online Database for players or rating ranges and not just as a sort of opening book tab.
Chapter 3 discusses basic database management (opening databases, opening games, entering games, copying and pasting from one database to another, editing games, save vs. replace, etc.). This will all be very familiar to experienced users, but new users without a great deal of familiarity with computers will appreciate having the ABCs clearly spelled out for them. One thing worth noting is Edwards’ frequent use of screen shots. These are helpful for anyone, but especially for those who aren’t old pros with CB or computers.
Chapter 4 shows how to look up a potential opponent’s games and offers various ways of statistically analyzing the information – primarily but not just their results in various openings. Edwards wisely notes that one can also perform such an investigation on oneself, which is useful not only for the insight we can gain into our own play but to help out-think our opponents as they prepare for us.
Chapters 5 and 6 are about playing on ChessBase’s Playchess server. Chapter 5 is about playing in general, while chapter 6 is about tournaments on the server.
Chapter 7 shows the tools one can use to annotate one’s own (or other) games. This includes text commentary and Informant-style symbols, and a few other options as well.
Chapter 8 is one of the longer chapters in the book (30 pages) and offers a lot of guidance and advice regarding opening preparation. There’s a good deal of discussion of ChessBase’s Online Database, one’s Reference Database (typically the largest database one has, optimally the Mega database) and Repertoire Database. There’s a discussion of using and modifying opening keys, there are some comments about opening statistics, and a good deal else besides. Many CB users will quickly gravitate to this chapter.
Chapter 9 is even longer and more valuable, and covers the use of engines and the different ways CB enables us to analyze with them. There’s also a considerable discussion of how to use others’ engines (or to allow others to use our engines) through the “Let’s Check” feature or in the cloud. There is much else besides, so this too is a chapter one should quickly and deeply peruse.
Chapter 10 revisits the topic of searching from chapter 1, but at a deeper and more sophisticated level. In addition to various do-it-yourself searches, which are covered in details, there are also pre-formatted keys for the Mega database: 16 under “Themes” (with sub-keys under almost every one of the main themes), five under “Tactics” (with sub-themes), nine under “Strategy (same comment) and 12 under “Endgames” (ditto).
Chapters 11 and 12 return to the Playchess server. Chapter 11 offers a brief overview of watching games there, and chapter 12 is meatier, covering the taking and giving of lessons on the server. (I give lessons there, among other places, in case anyone is interested!) He also covers the premium channels there, which include many pre-recorded videos. (Including almost five years’ worth from yours truly; it was an interesting surprise to see a screen shot from the list of videos I had done on page 228!)
Chapter 13 covers some of the tools CB has for the correspondence chess player (Edwards is a Senior IM with ICCF [that’s a title between IM and GM; it has nothing to do with age] and a former US Correspondence Chess champion), and chapter 14 closes out the body of the book with coverage of writing about chess using CB’s tools.
The appendices are useful as well, for both beginners and more advanced users. Still, the foregoing should be enough to let the prospective buyer know if the book is of interest, so I’ll close here with the suggestion that if you’re a ChessBase user it probably ought to be.
After weeks of drama and delay, Magnus Carlsen was facing a deadline - today: sign the contract for the world championship match against Viswanathan Anand, slated to begin in two months in Sochi, Russia, or be forfeited and replaced. Carlsen signed.
Sadly, a foolish and completely unnecessary penalty on the final play of the game (or rather, what would have been the final play of the game) prevented Notre Dame from making it 38-0. Even so, it was a comprehensive beating of one of their long-term rivals in what will unfortunately be the last game the two teams will play for the foreseeable future (excluding potential bowl games).
Look out, NCAA, Notre Dame is for real this year. Michigan was well-regarded before this game, ranking from #25 to #32 in the three major polls. We should move up a few spots from #16 (#15 in two other polls) by next week.
Record so far: 2-0.
Next victim: Purdue.
And fairly peaceful draws at that, but after nine very exciting rounds at the Sinquefield Cup it's hard to begrudge the players the relative day off.
The first game to finish went only 19 moves and featured two of the most combative players in the world and a situation where one might normally expect a big fight, but it was not to be. Veselin Topalov was apparently surprised by the particular line of the Berlin Magnus Carlsen chose, and without making a dent on theory the game ended in a quick repetition. If Topalov had won he would have taken clear second and jumped to #3 on the rating list, but in the final position the players agreed that playing on would have entailed more risk for White than for Black.
The second game to finish was Levon Aronian vs. Fabiano Caruana. Even in this game it was Caruana who had what slight chances there were for a decisive result, but fatigued and possibly a bit undermotivated he didn't play energetically enough and Aronian managed to equalize. Concerned he might even be getting a little worse, Caruana offered a draw at the first available moment, on move 30, and Aronian accepted, happy to put a very unsuccessful tournament behind him.
Finally, Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave made it to the time control and a bit further, but the game was equal all the way (but with play) and the draw was a normal result there too. (All three games here, with some comments and game citations for the first two.)
An anti-climax, yes, but what an amazing tournament for Fabiano Caruana! His final score of 8.5/10 put him three points ahead of the second-place finisher (Carlsen 5.5, Topalov 5, Aronian & Vachier-Lagrave 4, Nakamura 3). He gained 35 rating points to take second on the rating list by a massive 43 point margin, has reached a rating level previously achieved (and surpassed) by only Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov, and his 3097 TPR is unsurpassed in the history of chess (in events of this sort). Speaking of Kasparov, he himself said that this was the most amazing tournament performance he had seen, better than anything he achieved and even than Anatoly Karpov's 11/13 in Linares 1994. While I don't think it breaks his heart to put someone else's performance ahead of Karpov's, it is true that the players are getting better and better, and on top of that Caruana really had no lucky games; if anything, he was a bit unlucky against Carlsen in round 8 and Nakamura in round 9. (On the other hand, Karpov was close to winning three of the four games he drew in Linares, so we shouldn't be too quick to bury that event in the sands of time.) At any rate it was a fantastic performance by Caruana. Bravo!
And now for dessert: rumors are floating that he may switch back to representing the USA. He was asked about it in the post-game press conference, and his "I don't want to say anything about this" seems like the kind of remark that suggests that it may in fact be in the works. (Yessssss!)
Looking forward, it should be noted that while the Sinquefield Cup is over the festivities in St. Louis are not. First, the final press conference will begin momentarily. Second, on Monday they will have the "Ultimate Moves" competition. Here's how the tournament site describes it:
Ultimate Moves will feature eight two-man teams made up of a GM and an amateur player each. The teams will compete in a double-round knockout bracket, with teammates alternating moves in games with a time control of 15 minutes and 2-second increments. Stay tuned for more details.
Third and better still, Aronian and Nakamura are reportedly playing a 6-game Chess960 match on Tuesday, and as they are both former world champions at that version it should be especially entertaining to see.
Sharjah is fine and the Sinquefield Cup was great, but the apotheosis of the week is coming in an hour when #16 Notre Dame chews up and spits out the Michigan Wolverines in a home game. The drubbing starts in about an hour (7:30 p.m. ET) and will be televised on NBC.
Hou Yifan and Ju Wenjun finished with identical scores of 8.5/11 in the Sharjah Women's Grand Prix, allowing the former to win the overall series ahead of Humpy Koneru. Humpy needed to finish this event tied or better with Hou, but had a disappointing tournament and finished three full points behind.
This means that Hou Yifan will be in a world championship match in 2015, either as the champion (if she wins the women's knockout world championship this October, in which case Humpy Koneru will be the challenger thanks to her second place in the Grand Prix series) or as the challenger (in which case Humpy is out of luck, unless she happened to win the KO).
As for the rating hunt, Hou finished at 2667.2, leaving her eight points behind Judit Polgar (once it's official and gets rounded down). Sharjah co-winner Ju Wenjun even managed to pass Humpy Koneru for third on the women's list, thanks to the enormous combined swing of 41 points.
The Sinquefield Cup is winding down and the players are perhaps starting to run out of gas. Fabiano Caruana played 38 very good moves against Hikaru Nakamura on the white side of a Berlin ending and had him at death's door. Fatigue and moderate time trouble struck, and he made an inaccuracy on move 39 and a big oversight on move 40. Even after the time control he still had some winning chances, but he failed to make anything of them and Nakamura drew comfortably by the end.
Likewise, Magnus Carlsen seemed to be grinding his way to a win against Levon Aronian, but shortly before cashing in he saw the right idea but talked himself into a different move (or at least a different move order), one which didn't work. Aronian escaped.
Veselin Topalov could have caught up with Carlsen in second place with a win over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, but although he obtained an advantage with Black he couldn't turn it into a win, so he remains in clear third.
The tournament ends tomorrow (though there will be some other events following it), and these are the pairings: Aronian - Caruana, Topalov - Carlsen, Nakamura - Vachier-Lagrave.
Sinquefield Cup, Round 8: The Streak Ends, But Caruana Clinches Tournament Victory With Two Rounds To Spare
The dreams of a 10-0 whitewash by Fabiano Caruana are over, sadly, but he "console" himself with the fact that he has clinched clear first in the strongest tournament of all time. That puts a cool $100,000 in his pocket, and he will be #2 in the world at the tournament's end. Moreover, his current rating of 2836.1 puts him at #3 all time, behind only Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov. Pretty incredible company. His TPR of 3247 isn't too shabby either.
In today's game he was close to a win against Carlsen, but 26.0-0 let the foot off the gas and Carlsen scraped his way to a drawish ending, one which Caruana didn't seem too intent to try to win. From the perspective of tournament victory, a draw was sufficient, and for all his strength and ambition even Carlsen cannot hope to make up a three point deficit in the two remaining rounds.
In the game between Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave Aronian had a huge advantage on the white side of a Philidor with 5.g4, but let his opponent slip away with a draw. Finally, Veselin Topalov won on the black side of a Berlin endgame against Hikaru Nakamura - convincingly, too.
The rest of the tournament is now something of an anti-climax, but it would still be nice to see Caruana do some more damage and not call off the dogs just yet. The round nine pairings are Caruana (7.5) - Nakamura (2!!), Carlsen (4.5) - Aronian (3) and Vachier-Lagrave (3) - Topalov (4).