Sunday, December 03, 2006

The fine art of pruning

If you look at the web, you see mainly two schools of chess, who consider themselves opposite to each other. I'm talking about the tactical or strategical approach to chess.

The tactical afficionados belief in the geniality of mankind and see a tactical move as one of the highest creative outings of the human mind. These guys have a romantic image of mankind.

The strategical afficionados think that chess is actually too difficult for mankind. They realize that no one can oversee the full impact and length of all variations of a complex combinational move. Hence they feel it as an act of gambling to make such moves.
Since they hate risk, they prefer to keep the game as simple and surveyable as possible. They tend to accumulate little advantages and try to condense them to a win.

Capablanca is an exponent of the strategical school. Basically he always moves forward, denying the opponent as much space as possible. If an enemy piece hinders him, he trades it off. But he never goes back. When he sees a favourable ending, he trades the queens and he goes for it.

The technique of Capablanca gives the strategical inclined the idea that it is possible to steer the game in a direction that they want it. For Karpov it was more satisfying to win a game by having steered well than by gambling with tactical moves.
The chess tree has a sheer unlimited amount of branches. Every move cuts off possibilities, prunes one or more branches. Capablanca thought that wise pruning on both sides would always lead to a draw in the end. In the past century that idea isn't proven. On the contrary, when you look nowadays, you often see the chopping of savages.
The super GM of today is pragmatic and takes the best of both worlds.


  1. greetings fine young man.

    high RD's revisited after long absenses can make for some real volatility! himmmm.

    still enjoying your blog. a break from CTS is a great thing. after five+ weeks, mine is now officially over and im 'back' there, too.

    the record month of rain here is over, the highest monthly reading in seattle since 1933 or so, but i love the rain...

  2. Bottom line is that capa was both a strategic AND a tactical genius.
    He played combinations that you or I never would have seen OTB in a million years.

    And so was Lasker, for that matter.
    (Kramnik too). You just don't get to the world champion level unless you are both a strategic and tactical genius.

  3. Its ying and yang my friend. Ying and yang. I have to stay a strategic win seems more satisfying than winning by spotting a tactical blunder by my opponent. A strategical win seems to confer a greater understanding of chess. Yet of course, all strategy ends in tactics. So we must know both but when your opponent is tactically strong then you must rely on your deeper understanding of squares, weaknesses and strengths. Ying and yang.

  4. I've been investigating Nimzo's games. So far the surprising thing is that, its full of sacrifices.
    for example, this most interesting game Hypermodern Magic
    (I saw this in a FICS tutorial)

    That a GM must achieve both tactical and strategic proficiency is unquestioned. I think that even for a tactical player, accumulating small advantage are necessary. One difference is that perhaps in a moment in time - a decision will have to be made on whether to launch a tactical assault or to continue the slow grind. In that moment, the character of the player is revealed. Whether he is Petrosian or whether he is Tal

  5. PMD,
    Yeah, I know, the chinese grandmaster Gin Yon Yin, wellknown for his positional play, and the japanese IM Matsuharati Yang with his daring sacrifices.

  6. Nezha,
    Nimzovitch has a very intrigueing style indeed. I think by the way that in this game black failed to open lines (by sacrifising a pawn or two himself) at the kingside and to start a counter attack.

    The good thing of Capablanca is that his style is crystal clear. It is not so mixed with complexities that it diverts you of the core of what he is trying to accomplish. A game of Nimzovitch is much more difficult to understand, so it's not a good start if you still have to learn the basics.

  7. Everytime i go to your site and see this tree being cut - I'm freaking out (my environmental sentiments)