Friday, February 16, 2007

Subtle chess vs brilliant chess

The terms I used in my post yesterday can easely lead to false associations. That's why I want to propose to use the following nomenclature:
  • Laminar chess - Opening or endgame. No special name needed, since the term was only introduced to express the analogy with ideas from the chaos theory.
  • Turbulent chess - Subtle chess. The piece activity is still below a certain treshold. Play is characterized by gaining little advantages which build up to a great advantage.
  • Chaotic chess - Brilliant chess. The piece activity is beyond a certain treshold. Resulting in a complexity beyond the limits of the brains of mortal man. Here are brilliancy prices to be won.
Of course subtle chess can be brilliant (but you will not win a brilliancy prize with it) and brilliant chess can be subtle, but hey, it's just an agreement in nomenclature.
Subtle chess and brilliant chess are used to express the difference in style what usual is expressed by a positional style and a tactical style. But since the latter expressions express a kind of opposition that is non existent, it is better to use the terms subtle chess and brilliant chess. Tactics can appear everywhere in the game from the opening, the endgame, in subtle chess and in brilliant chess.

With hindsight I can say that my new approach to chess was aiming at subtle chess. But how useful will that be in the light of the new discoveries I made yesterday?

Subtle chess is associated with draws. Capablanca was an exponent of subtle chess and he predicted the end of chess because of this.
Brilliant chess is associated with playing for the win.

44% of all played games end in a draw. If I equal the non-draws by subtle chess to the draws by brilliant chess I get a typical Temposchluckerian hypothesis that in 44% of the games subtle chess plays a major role. And in 56% of the cases brilliant chess.

Common advice.
The common thought and advice is, that when there are no tactics around, you have to improve your position. When Blue Devil asked me how I used my time when there are no tactics around, I started an investigation and was shocked by what I found. When there was no evident tactic I mainly stared paralized to the position in an attempt to find one. Once I discovered that, I decided to follow common advice, and try to improve my position in stead. Since I proved to be very bad in positional exercises, this promised to be a panacee.
After my discovery that piece activity is paramount in position improvement, I decided to go for it. Since I never do things half-heartedly, I wanted to adopt an old mans repertoire (a la J'adoube or King of the Spill), as I would have called it earlier.
Despite the advice of some worried fellow Knights like Nezha and Takchess who warned me for mentally going downhill, missing the true purpose of the game.

But now comes an important point.
My discovery yesterday is that brilliant chess consists for only a little part of tactics. I consider the position of yesterday as an example of brilliant chess. There is -to my non brilliant chessmind- no evident tactic in the position. The pieces are already very active, and the suggestion to improve your position looks rather absurd.
And so I'm staring paralized at the position again. Not seeing a tactic, not seeing a method to improve my position.
This are the kind of positions I find my self in very often. Consuming time and hence accepting draws against lesser rated opponents or even losing in time trouble.
In the past I tried to solve this by doing more tactical exercises. But from tactical exercises you get better in tactics and not in common brilliant chess.
Until yesterday I thought that subtle chess would be the panacee.
But before that, I have to ask myself the following question:

Is it possible to improve in (non tactical) brilliant chess?
In order to find out I start with the position of yesterday. If I cannot come to a definite conclusion about this position, I certainly cannot know how to train it.
The first thing is to develop a strategy to approach this kind of positions.
While pondering about the position I was struck by the following: the position is ruled by concrete variations. Common rules don't work. And what is more, the initiative is paramount.

The initiative.
The same geometrical position has to be judged quite different in answer to the question "who is to move?". This sheds another light on pattern recognition. Where concrete variations rule, the move you are going to make MUST keep the initiative. After some thought, this means that the candidate move MUST be a threat, capture or check. This reduces the possible moves considerably. If you are the underdog in the possition, life is simple. You have to react to your opponent. And of course you try to catch the initiative yourself.

The coming time I'm going to investigate the rules that govern the initiative. What to think of patzer sees check, patzer gives check. What seems to be no good. Or the threat is stronger than the execution. Because it hands over the initiative. I'll be back on this later.

In the mean time I continue to listen to video's of mastergames and to experiment with the old mans repertoire in my cc-games.

Happy chess!

Update: proofreading by others showed that the main point didn't come across. If the same happens to you, don't despair, I certainly will work it out in the future.


  1. I have some difficulty with your nomenclature, Tempo. Because also openings and especially endgames can be subtle, brilliant, chaotic or laminar. I think the character of a chess game has nothing to do with its early or late stage.

  2. "44% of all played games end in a draw".

    Excuse me, but this cannot be true. You are talking about all games, but this number looks like a megabase statistic of GM games.

  3. Old Man! Maybe in Medieval Europe 500 years I might be considered old, but in this century I'm considered "mature"! [grin]

    Adopting a repertoire of the Grandmasters of the game can't be a mistake. . .

  4. Fierabras,
    I used a high quality GM database with 600.000 games. What's wrong with that?

  5. Jim,
    A mature man's repertoire. I can live with that:)

  6. Better idea? I don't know, Tempo. But I think that you only can speak of a game as laminar if it is dead drawn. All other games are chaotic in nature. Maybe the chaos is not yet present, but it lurks in the background, ready to jump at the player who makes the first mistake.

  7. You posted a very similar question here. When I get in such positions I feel like I'm in zugzwang. That is, I've developed great, my pieces are all on the correct squares, active and such, and it is clearly time to convert this into a win.

    Surprisingly often in such positions it is pawn moves that are called for. I spend all sorts of time looking for complicated piece action, but often I need to throw a pawn into the mix to really set the ball in motion, to release the potential energy in my active pieces.

    In the other post I linked to, you wanted to know what question to ask in such positions. It seems you are feeling toward an answer with the idea of the initiative.

    The first question you need to answer, IMO, is "In what sector of the board (K-side, center, Q-side) shall I take advantage of my superior position?"

    Once you have decided that, you can start to think more concretely about how to take advantage of your superior position. And as you say, it will involve attempting to put him on the defensive (i.e., seizing the initiative). As I said, this often involves pawn moves in my games (note I rarely make them usually I mess up and push the wrong pawn or a piece: it is usually coach or Fritz that points them out).

    Perhaps you should take some lessons from a good attacking GM like Larry Christiansen. I bet they would have some great answers for you, and a list of 'questions' for you to ask in such positions, a list you could distill down since you like your lists short.

    And please let us know what you come up with. This is a very interesting topic.

  8. You should have mentioned that those statistics were based on GM games, because on sub-master level (this is where we all are) the draw-percentage is much lower. I guess you still believe in the drawish nature of chess, although statistics of 'all played games' will contradict this.

  9. Fier,
    I have no opinion about the subject, since have never thought about it. But you seem to have. What is the drawratio at clublevel? What is a reason for more draws at GM level in your eyes?

  10. BDK,

    Reading your answer I would say the following about tempo. I think his biggest problem is to "cash in" his superior position. Too my humble opinion (how modest :-))He knows enough what initiative is but clearly in positions where he cannot immediately cash in he seems to be confused. Probably too many options. Tempo you should study these fases. See if there is a trend in your play. For instance between move 10-15 do I get lost (transition fase when opening goes into middlegame)? Or how to convert extra pressure when all pieces are optimal. If I weaken my kingside will the pawn push be enough compensation. Above all whatch your time. Play with a simple idea. I would recommend that you would play much more against sicilian players as white soizin line. Very aggressive and you'll need to push your pawns, and above all keeping the initiative. In this way you will learn, to keep initiative, guard your Q-side and at the same time perform a King side attack. You must learn where priority lays on the board. What is more dangerous general speaking a kingside attack or a Q-side attack if the King is castled short. So black will first defend and then attack.
    I don't know if you calculate 10 ply deep but on the critical fases you should calculate 6 own moves deep. Please learn to subtract pieces that are being traded. Pawns can break the trade against a piece. So above the line i have these pieces that can be traded on e4 and underneath my pieces which can be traded on the same square. Subtract and you have already a good picture. I believe that most people just say KNight takes e4, my knight takes back ,his bishop takes I take with bishop etc. Just say hmmm bishop knight, i have bishop knight - subtract -last piece that recaptures is piece that stands. Calculate much faster and you have better overview. Anyway it helps for me.

    What am I telling?

  11. Tempo,

    Although I don't have any exact numbers I think it is easy to see the difference in draw ratio when you look at your own games or the games played at your club. In 71 games I have played I drew 21 games, which leads to a 30% draw percentage. At my club this percentage is even lower and it is not because we are such attacking players. I think of myself as a rather cautious player.

    I believe there are 2 reasons for the difference in draw-percentages. First of all, GM's make less bad moves, so the game gets harder to win and secondly for GM's there more at stake, playing for their livelihood.

    Now, why is this important to acknowledge?

    It means that for us, below master-level, chess is very crude and you can improve by taking advantage of your opponent's mistakes. I sincerely believe that in any game below 2100 you get at least one chance to win the game. Basically I think there is no need to look for a more subtle, Karpovian approach before you get rid of the "squiggly lines", making your games less flawed.