Friday, February 02, 2007

The importance of being vague and cheap.

This is a position from the beautiful game Kavalek-Kasparov which I showed you yesterday.

White just played g3 to attack the black knight.
In this position Kasparov played the incredible Nb4!

When I looked first at this position it looked just like a bunch of clogged pieces. I have set it on a board and I look every now and then during spare minutes at the position.
Slowly the position becomes more clear. First I started to look after variations, but there are so many that it is just mind boggling.
When I resisted the temptation to get lost in variations and tried to look with a mere helicopterview I discovered other features of the position.

When I looked at blacks pawns on f5 and e5, the advice of Blue Devil's coach came to mind: if a piece or pawn is very well protected, it probably stands in the way. If you think these pawns away, all blacks pieces can flood thru the gate. Kasparov decides that this uncorking of blacks position is worth a piece. Rybka thinks that he is right. I suspect this to be home preparation from Kasparov, but what an insightfull idea!

So fellow Knights who are busy with the circles, hurry up! And fellow graduates, don't stick with blunt tactics alone, but found your tactics with a positional base. Here you see that tactics and positional play are just complementary. Don't see tactics as an end in itself.

I got a lot of commentary of my fellow bloggers lately that my posts are somewhat vague and theoretical. I'm very grateful for these comments because it forces me to reformulate things.

Effort and emotion.
The point is that it is difficult to get a really good practical useful insight. I mean, we all are pretty booked up on the game, but only when knowledge makes a striking impression you can hope that it will help your play. Only if you got crushed by a murderous bishop pair, you get a feel for the importance of it. If you just read it in a book you say, "aha", forget it and continue as usual.

For instance, I knew theoretically the idea behind the King's Indian Defense. But I never got it to work in my own games. Now I see it by Kasparov, things fall at their place.
Two elements seem to be paramount to make an impression.
You have to make an effort, and there must be an emotional element to it.
That's why it is so difficult to learn something by reading a book alone.

My notion of steerability of a game is very vague.
I will try to explain where the question comes from.
A few months ago I thought that chess was 99% tactics. Being with two captains on a ship, I couldn't imagine that it was possible to make a plan that worked either. Knowing this, my idea was that chess is chaotic in nature. Hence you will always find yourself in random positions, with no idea how you got there, and that you must just try to make the best of it.
If you followed my blog, you will know that at a certain moment I proved that chess is NOT 99% tactics. That raised the question if it was possible after all to make a plan.
So the vague notion that it might be possible that the position you find yourself in isn't necessarily to be accepted as a random given fact lead to the introduction of the term "steerability".

Once you ask yourself questions, however vague, it will change your vision. The questions you have in the back of your head decide if and what you get from a study.
Did Kasparov steer in this game?
To a certain degree you are master of the pieces behind your pawns. Kasparov put them so that four of his pieces looked at only two pawns. Just at that moment he sacrificed a knight to get rid of the pawns. In a tactical way, so that not taking the knight would lead to a difficult tactical problem either. So the asking of a vague question lead to an insight in how to play the KID. There isn't always a clear relation between the question and the resulting insight. But with no questions, no insights.

There are other aspects to it, some of them pretty cheap. For instance can I steer from the opening into the endgame, so that I only have to become an endgame specialist and forget about the complex and difficult middlegame. If there was a cheap way, somebody probably had found it before already. But these questions do no harm and can even lead to insights, so I don't mind. In a way the investigation after closed position was a cheap try to get rid of those migrainogene complexities of open tactical games:)


  1. I think a more accurate quote about tactics is "For players U1400, in 99% of games there is a huge (3+ pawn) change in the evaluation when one of them overlooks a tactic, and this is what decides the game."

    This is still true in most of my games. Maybe not 99%, but at least 90%.

    On the other hand, such shifts in the evaluation function can come about not by tactics but in the endgame when a pawn is pushed to a sweet spot, or the king is allowed to make it to a key square with the opposition.

    Chess is hard. Chess is complicated. Chess is death.

  2. Blue,
    that's true but if you have about 1750, and a tactical skill that nears 2000, things become somewhat different. My problem is, how do I get my tactical skills to work even when my opponents know how to choke it by better positional play.

  3. the answer is: you need to have a plan. -it's not enough to be a tactical powerhouse, or to blindly improve you pieces positionally. instead, you need to know where you're going, and why you want to get there.

    it's of course good to improve your pieces, and be able to execute tactics, but you can do much better than that.

    after material stops dropping, the player with the better plan wins.

    btw, that kaspy's sac is not (entirely) positional, the b4-knight hops in and takes material.