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The Bitter End

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Been down with a nasty cold this weekend. Yes, yes, how hard could it be to type out a few entries, especially with so much going on in the chess world this week. Leko struck back to equalize his classical world championship match against Kramnik. Leko missed a drawing continuation in game one (as documented in Black Belt #94).

Adjournments are untenable in this computer age, but in 50 years when players compare the endgames of 20th century with those of today, they'll think we forgot how to play. The top players may know as much or more today, but faster time controls and no adjournments mean lower quality.


I guess one might say that the endgame play of old was artificially high. Can you name any other sport where the players can take a time out and then come back the next day to finish the game?

I found Leko's comments at the press conference after his win very interesting. He seemed to indicate that the reason he knew that the 3P+B vs. 3P+R endgame was a problem for Black was because he had reached such a position in his opening preparation (!!) in the Grunfeld. If this is true, and typical of other super grandmasters' preparation, maybe the term "opening preparation" is a misnomer and we need a new term.

In light of the above, I find Mig's speculation about the deterioration in endgame play to be very interesting. Of course the lack of adjournments is a signficant factor in the quality of endgame play. But the time factor aside, is it possible that top players today spend so much time on opening preparation that their endgame abilities have suffered in comparison? (After all, there are only so many hours in the day to study chess.) My impression is that top young players today are tactically very precise (they are all Fritz's children, to adapt a Tal phrase) and know a huge amount of opening theory, but may not have the strategical understanding and endgame knowledge of the top young players a generation ago. I wonder to what extent this impression is actually true. Maybe someone who is qualified to form an opinion on this issue (e.g., GM Yermolinsky) might be willing to comment.

It seems to me that top players today are in danger of becoming rather specialized, somewhat like a pitcher in baseball who serves as a "closer." Due to the level of opening preparation, at the time top players start to play moves outside their home preparation they have usually bypassed what we use to call the opening phase and often most of the middlegame phase as well. You would think that this would make endgame knowledge more important than ever, because it is the stage of the game that they are most likely to have to play "on their own."

Notwithstanding my comments/questions above, it seems that Leko plays endgames quite well, and he has won some fairly close endgames against top players in the last year or two (e.g., the rook and pawn endgame against Anand at Linares, this game against Kramnik).


Not only is it the only game where players could resume the next day, but it was also the only game that one could get help with from one's seconds during the night.

There are many examples (especially from the Soviets) of team analysis of crucial ( perhaps all?!) adjourned games.

The argument that Mig stated as a given (that the computer era rules out adjournments in professional play) has been my own for many years. However, since most adjourned positions are in the endgame (an area where computers are not so strong), why not allow such analysis (after move 60 say). It's not like everyone doesn't use the same engines anyway.

I just don't understand the difference betweeen a player getting mid game help from an engine or another GM.

Leko has justified the confidence that some of us had in his resilience and fighting spirit.

Regarding adjournments, the current system is fine and the past was an anomaly. In most sports, the last few minutes are often frantic, eventful and hence error-prone (such as the penalty shootouts in soccer, hockey etc.) - so no problem if the same thing happens in chess as well. In fact, it adds to the excitement. It is high time chess is looked as a sport and not as a quest for the ultimate truth.

In that spirit, I am very much in favor of FIDE KO with shorter matches, rapids and blitz games. That makes chess more exciting, brings more people (the world cup soccer is similar with golden goals, tie-breaks and nobody calls the most popular sporting event unfair).


Jabinki's comments regarding seconds are trenchant. Today's chess rules are correct. Adjournments cannot be allowed. To give an example of a travesty involving adjournment, see below.

In the Fischer-Botvinnik game in Varna 1962, Botvinnik was headed for defeat. The game adjourned and the next morning Botvinnik said Geller had been up all night and found a drawing line. As is known, that game ended in a draw with Fischer up a pawn. This, of course, is complete nonsense. It is fine to use seconds for game prep, but your games s/ be yours, period. I don't see how anyone can argue this.

So the question then becomes whether endgame acumen has decreased at all. Probably not if the rules had always been no adjournments, which is definitely the way it should be.

Continuing the point about adjournments helping the Soviets w/ regard to the Fischer-Botvinnik game, this is another reason why Fischer was the greatest ever. He rarely had access to anyone to "help" him in the middle of games whereas the Soviets always had top 10 players available. Had Fischer played in an era where there were no adjournments, his dominance would have no doubt been much greater. Numerous games where Soviet opponents managed to escape would have ended in wins for Fischer. This is also why Fischer's record against the best of the best (Botvinnik, Petrosian, Spassky, etc) wasn't nearly as good as his record against players one level below that. It wasn't b/c the top Soviet players were so good, but rather b/c they were getting so much help in order to make the S.U. look better.

Another great story about adjournments occurred during the Fischer-Taimonov match in 1971. Fischer and Taimonov had 2 adjourned games and the Soviets asked Fischer to agree to a draw in one game if the other was scored a win for Fischer. Bobby refused and won both games. He had gotten so good that even teams of Soviets couldn't make a draw against him. Kasparov and others have not had overcome these kinds of odds.

TaimOnov, taimOnov, taimOnov - you said it enough times to raise my suspicion about your knowledge of chess history.
Why did you, my dear sir, join this discussion? To show us how much you hate and fear the Soviets? Relax, they're long gone.
Do you want to celebrate the twin punch of Ronald Reagan and Bobby Fischer bringing down the Soviet regime? What's the occasion then, Bobby's delayed deportation?
Un the meantime you denigrate the great players of the 1950-1960's whose contributions to the game are appreciated by millions of fans.

About the alleged endgame skill deterioration.
Myth. Total myth. Urban legend.
Apply the same Fritz scrutiny to the games from the adjournments era - you'll find mistakes all the same.

Sorry, jimromerules, but your points make no sense. First of all, Fischer-Botvinnik was just one game, and to make ridiculous claims (like one that Fischer was actually stronger than his results showed) based on on just one game is a bit too much, even if you were right about everything else.

Another mistake of yours is that you forget that Fischer-Botvinnik was played at a chess Olympiad, and that is a team competition. So it was ok to analyze the adjourned games with your teammates. And guess what - not only Botvinnik did that, but Fischer, too. I've read it in Tal's book - when he came up to americans' captain (to offer draw, I think), he saw americans examining the same position as the Soviets did.

And the third point is - if the seconds were allowed just for the purpose of helping with examined games, then you cannot fault just some people (soviet GMS) for taking advantage of it - it was an option open to all.

It is a good thing we have Yermo to set things straight.

Russianbear, I guess I didn't make myself clear. My point was the RULES were a joke, not that Botvinnik or anyone else s/ be faulted for using them to his advantage. Using somebody else to tell you what to do in the middle of the game of chess creates a substantial question about your claim to victory. How can you say a you won when somebody is telling you what to do? If you want the credit, shouldn't you have to come up with the moves yourself? If not, please explain why not.

Now all that said, I recognize those were the rules at the time and nothing the Soviets did in that regard was illegal. If you reread what I wrote you will see I never said they violated any rules or gained an unfair advantage. The Soviets played by the rules as those rules were written at the time. Why the rules allowed adjournments and in-game help from seconds is somewhat dubious. Maybe it had something to do with Kapalik's point about "searching for ultimate truth". If so, that sounds more like a seance with Ricky Williams than a game of chess.

Regarding your point about Olympiads, yes those are team games, but individuals play each other. In the Davis Cup (tennis' equivalent of Olympiads), countries don't get to swap out players in the middle of the match or replace them for a few points here and there. As is stated by others above no other sport allowed that.

If you think Fischer's support team matched the Soviets that's fine. I said he rarely used seconds to tell him what to do during adjournments. I will concede that the use of the word "rarely" maybe overstating it, but in Evans' book he discusses international tournaments where the Soviets each used their "team philosophy" while Fischer had no one, not even for prep. This didn't happen every time out, but I don't think it's stretch to say the Soviets had considerably had more help than Fischer. Given that and the fact that Fischer ripped 20 in a row against the best the world had to offer at the time, it seems reasonable to at least entertain the idea that his dominance wasn't fully revealed.

Yermo, I said Taimonov twice. His name is spelled correctly and he played Fischer in 1971. To what end have I shown myself to be unknowledgeable of chess history or have a proclivity against the Soviets. Am I not supposed to give examples? I was making a point about adjournments. Adjournments are no longer allowed and had a very positive effect on the quality of endgame play, which was Mig's point to begin with.

Well! Don't want to wade into the Fischer mess - but as someone with a fascination with the past I second what Yermo said about the errors of previous generations - plans are sometimes deeper after adjournments but overall play is no better than today. Tho we are of course only standing on shoulders.

Time-outs and coach's advice are allowed in many sports. The key is the length of the time out.

Boxers have breaks between rounds. Tennis players have breaks between sets. Basketball coaches call time-outs specifically to give players advice on how to play the game in progress. In fact, a coach who DOESN'T comment on the game in progress isn't doing his/her job.

The difference is in the length of the adjournment. Baseball has had a few games called for darkness and then completed the next day. But not nowadays, when all professional fields have lights.

Weather does still cause long delays in some sports, particularly baseball and softball. Usually these are completed the same day, but sometimes they go overnight.

(In 2002, a softball game between Ohio State and Central Michigan was called for weather and completed the next day.)

So...coaches in many sports confer with players during time-outs in the action. In fact, they do so MORE than in today's chess, since chess allows this only during adjournments.

The most unusual feature of the adjournment was its length. Even so, some sports experience weather delays that require completing a game the next day.

Duif, I had thought about your comparison of a coach giving advice in tennis, boxing, etc. However this has limited comparative value. The issues involves decision vs execution. Coaches can only give advice on decisions. E.g., in boxing a coach can tell you to go to the body, stick and move, etc. How well you do what you're told, execution, is another matter entirely. This is true of all physical sports. Just making the right decision (e.g. serve and volley) is not enough. You have to execute that decision. If you come to the net and I make a great lob or passing shot, then I beat you even though you may have made the right decision.

In chess, execution is a constant. One person making the move Re8 is the same as any other person. Therefore, the decision becomes everything. If I make a decision to put my Bishop on a square that pins your Queen, then your Queen is pinned (other things being equal). You can't stop it. You can only deal with the fact that I'm going to get your Queen (if I decide to take it).

This is why coaches' help in a chess game is much more significant. A chess coach can effectively win a game for a player whereas in boxing that can't happen.


While I think Fischer's record would have been better had today's rules regarding adjournments been in effect when he played, I certainly do not think of Efim Geller as a lightweight or non-entity.

Your point about my anti-Soviet feelings was surprising. I have no love for Fischer whatsoever. He can rot in a federal prison for all I care. And I certainly do not think Reagan was the cause of the S.U.'s collapse. Not sure how you came to these conclusions, but anyway that isn't how I feel.

I joined the discussion regarding adjournments to basically rip on adjournments. My examples using Fischer were done b/c Fischer is still the most well-known player and his games involved controversy.

Anytime someone says the rules of a game need to be changed they are in a way denigrating the achievements of those who played under those rules b/c they are saying those accomplishments were done under a system that didn't properly measure the competitors. It might not be said so directly, but that is the ultimate statement. However, it isn't intended to offend anyone.


The comments are aggressive, but some of the ideas are ok. Fischer's overall record may or may not have improved, but Botvinnik did concede Geller found the drawing line you mentioned. That sort of occurrence wasn't unusual. It is kind of lame to have someone else do your thinking for you - particularly in chess! Fortunately, the rules changed.

So, Mig, Yermo, what's your impression of the match so far? It has been very exciting to me--but I am bigtime in favor of these types of matches, so I am somewhat bious. As for getting advice from seconds/GMs--we would be a lot better off if we were looking for a good system instead of a perfect one. Correct me if I am wrong, but hasn't Fischer played his only world championship match against a man renown for lack of psychological preparation, distaste for his country's oppressive tactics and relatively littel competitive spirit. It's too bad Fischer never played a match against Bot or Karpov in their prime--I think the results would have been telling. Lasker blew smoke in the face of his opponents. Karpov at times won because of smoke alone. And yes, psychological pressure coming from opponent is a legitimate winning technique. The world champion must be a good psychological tactician among other things.


I'm glad you don't subscribe to Larry Evans's school of political thinking. I may have gotten a wrong impression from your original message.
One thing to add. I played TaimAnov five times, and this is how he spells his name.

The real (and only) reason for abolishing adjourments was that they make Swiss tournaments unmanageable. FIDE abandoned adjourments in 1988, yet Karpov managed to negotiate them back for his match with Kamsky in 1996.
Obviously, the older players get tired after 5 hours of play and they wouldn't mind having the game adjourned. Whatever help one could get from his friends/teammates is hardly that important compared with a chance to get some rest.

Dear Rome,

We made all our moves.

Milli Vanilli

I offer my two cents about the ending. Both Leko and Kramnik are fabulous endgame players. Both of These wins for example are very impressive conversions. It looks easy as Leko and Kramnik play but try and convert the positions against your computer and it is anything but easy. Leko missing a drawing sequence seems to me to have little to do with endgame knowledge or understanding but more one of those unclassifiable mistakes that could happen at any point. It is not for example losing Rook and f and h pawns vs. Rook or some other obscure endings that the past masters would handle masterfully. Of course, they do make mistakes but if you go through large collections of their games you see that they mostly get the job done. Also the argument about Taimanov seems trifling it is the Russian "a" which as GM Yermolinsky knows is somewhere between the English "o" and "a".

jimromerules: I still don't understand why you think Fischer was stronger than his results showed.

If he sometimes didn't want to use seconds even though he was allowed to, that is his problem. It just shows that his individualistic mentality impeded his performance. If a player has a weakness of character (being anti-social and all), than I don't see how you can use it to say he was stronger than his results showed. Thats like saying (I will use one of recent ideas of Mig here) that if Kasparov wasn't such a megalomaniac, he would be rated 3200. Another analogy I can think of is basketball: let's say there is a player who can never hit a clutch shot. Is it really fair to say about him - "if only he had nerves of steel, he would be better than Michael Jordan. Therefore, he must be better than Michael Jordan". That's kinda what you are trying to say about Fischer - that if he didn't recognize the importance of teamwork, that's proves his strengths. To me, it proves nothing but weakness.

And again, I dont see how Fischer's game against Botvinnik (which was an Olympiad game) could be used an example of the point your are trying to make. Fischer too used help of his teammates. Chess Olympiad is a team game. If the american team wasn't as good as Team USSR, too bad.

And yes, it is TaimAnov.

DP: actually its the other way around - it is english "o" as in "mom" or "job" that is is somewhere between the Russian "o" and "a". Russian "a" is a very clear "a" - kinda like english "a" in "car". And under the standard rules of transliteration it is always transcibed as "a" into English.

True I was thinking more about the a in man. I don't know which is short a and which is long a. In any case the standard rules is sort of what I was alluding to Russian "a" is always transliterated into English as "a" not "o" which makes alot of sense.

Russianbear, you didn't respond my main point which had to do with adjournments so I guess you'd rather talk about Fischer. That's cool. As I said, I used Fischer as an example b/c he is widely discussed. For the record, I like Botvinnik much more than Fischer. I just think chess is an individual sport and any in-game help from coaches pollutes its integrity. The help coaches give in other sports is not the same as chess for reasons I gave above. I agree with your statements about Fischer's individualistic mentality. Your comparison using MJ doesn't work, but the discussion can't go on forever.

Many websites spell his name Taimonov so it isn't like I made that up. I'll spell it Taimanov from now on. Do you have to speak Russian to post on this board?

jimromerules, you make a very good point. Coach's advice can indeed be critical to winning a game in a sport, but it is not sufficient in itself. Your distinction between the two aspects (decision and execution) may well be the real reason chess is not a true sport, where golf is. It's the first time I've seen this idea expressed in this way, and it is interesting as it applies to that other question.

I think that the wins from drawable or equal positions in this match say something about what early draws do to chess - yes, some positions are dead draws, but it can be argued that some of these middlegame draws would result in a decisive result if played on (but it could be argued again that mutual errors could allow comebacks).

Just food for thought.

What about TaimEnov ?

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on October 3, 2004 11:43 PM.

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