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Top Level Chess

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With Corus Wijk aan Zee starting on Jan. 14th, it's tempting to look beyond the current crop of interesting tournaments. Events with obscure names like Drammen and Harmonie are strong and interesting. Traditional tournaments in Pamplona, Hastings, and Reggio Emilia also provide a fun mix of players.

It's a shame that many fans (and media) only pay attention when the top-10 are in action. Consider that most chess fans can't tell a 2700 game from a 2500 game (and that there IS no difference 80% of the time, statistically speaking). Then factor in that games between 2700s are drawn 70% of the time (not including rapids) and you realize it's mostly a matter of celebrity.

This isn't to say the top tenners aren't better players or that they aren't capable of playing spectacular manifestations of genius out of reach of the lumpen-proletariat GM class. The elite are the elite for a reason and they deserve our attention. Still, it's a fact that these days the best way to distinguish category 20 from category 13 tournaments is by the percentage of draws.


What is so surprising about it? How many follow
the baseball minor leagues, college basketball
compared to the NBA. MLB etc.?

Also it is not clear what you mean when you say: "and that there IS no difference 80% of the time, statistically speaking".

Games involving 2400s and 2500s are typically blunderfests and understandably many of these end with a result (the blunders from both sides typically don't cancel each other). I followed the Olympiad seriously and even as an amateur found the level of play of the 2400 and 2500 rated players fairly mediocre - at least in patches and compared to the top players. The difference is not only in the openings but also in the rest of the game, particularly the endgame - something even an amateur can notice (especially with the aid of computers :))

As I said before, this is true of almost all sports. Top players and teams tend to be very good in defence and don't allow or nullify the effect of some spectacular moves which will work in lower level games. What is more spectacular to watch - a technically correct olympic wresting match or a WWF match?


The nature of chess is such that a 100-point rating difference at the GM level is more about consistent results, not the quality of individual games. You could look at 100 wins by a 2500 and 100 by a 2600 without any discernable difference in quality. Those 100 points are from losing less often. It's not irrelevant, but it's not something fans notice.

Difference in the openings? Unless you are an expert with better knowledge of the openings than the players involved, you are totally blind to them. The same goes for middlegame and endgames for that matter. I spend dozens of hours analyzing games every month and the idea that someone rated under 2000 can tell the difference between a game between 2500s to one between 2700s is laughable.

You should say "ONLY with the aid of computers". People sit there and see Fritz go from +1.33 to +0.43 and say a GM blundered. This is idiotic. Computers don't play the same game as humans. Of course a 2400 will make serious blunders more often than a 2700, but nothing a 1900 player is going to notice without Fritz.

The comparison to the minor leagues of other sports is a fair one, although poor play in physical sports is relatively obvious. On the other hand, college basketball and American football are hugely popular in the US. Ratings for the NCAA tournament and the college bowl games aren't inferior to those of the professional leagues.

Fans care about the elite because of what they have achieved and because the stakes are higher. We KNOW they are the best. But when it comes to the games, most fans would get both more enjoyment and instruction from seeing (small) mistakes made and punished. Not that they would notice the difference most of the time!


I disagree with you. I think you are overestimating the talent of 2400 players and underestimating the off the board skills of sub-2000 players working with computers (aren't you one yourself?).

At least you agree that what you said applies to other sports as well. Also, in many other sports the finer nuances are not so obvious unless explained by the expert commentrator in slow motion replays. If that is fair, then what is wrong with fans using computers to follow matches. You look at alternatives, weigh them yourself, see what the software suggests and what the player chooses. That way a fan gets better insight and is more intensely involved and can also improve as a player. Using Fritz is not only about following the numeric weightage. As regards the endgames, I didn't even need a computer to spot the blunders and there were so many of them. Probably it was because of FIDE time controls and also because one is in a better frame of mind when watching than playing.

On the whole, it is a matter of taste. I would rather watch Brazil play a low scoring tight soccer game against Italy than see them thrash a lowly rated team even if there are more creative moves in the latter game.


OT: I hope that Anand and Sasikirian and their families are safe and well after what happened in Chennai and so many other places.

Given what you say Mig, do you then prefer the FIDE knockout "World Chess Championship", or a 2-3 month long first-to-six-wins match between Kasparov & Kramnik?

I don't mind draws; it's the 13 mover that takes ten minutes that *must* be abolished. I'd like to see the 2700+ players prove that the phrase "with equality" is true.


Don't misunderstand me. I much prefer classical chess and don't like blunders any more than anyone else. I was just lamenting that many strong and interesting events are largey ignored because they don't have a crowd of big names. Mistakes are always more instructive, but the players aren't there to provide us with bad examples!

How else is the average, everyday chess player/fan supposed to follow the game? (I think that saying we "only pay attention when the top-10 are in action" is a gross overstatement, but let's run with it anyway.)

If they are anything like me, most of us wood-pushers have a pretty limited amount of "leisure time" available to devote to ALL of their interests (whether that means only chess, or lots of different things.)

I WISH I could watch/study/discuss chess for a living, but Mig beat me to it. {grin}

Given the real world, we fans must choose which tournaments or matches we follow; with instant availability of huge volumes of current chess games to watch/study/discuss these days, it seems like there is more going on EACH WEEK than we'd be able to digest in a year!

So, how do I choose? For me, it depends on how much of my precious free time I'm spending on it; if only a little, I'll certainly start with the "big name games;" I mean, come on, when FORCED to choose between "potentially great" and "nearly as good as that," who chooses "nearly?"

This is particularly true if I expect to discuss it with others at "the club" (whether live or on the 'net) because there's a better chance the other players will have seen (or at least heard about) those games.

On the other hand - and the reason that I think the "only" is a significant overstatement - if I'm planning to put some time in studying the games, I'll download the ubiquitous .pgn file from ANY tourney that is ongoing or just finished - whether major, minor, or bush league, and assuming they either have their own website or that Chessbase.com or whomever has the games - and filter it for my opening rep &or let Fritz analyze them for the "big moments" (significant changes in score) in the never-ending search for ideas that (I wish) might provide an insight I can leverage in my next game against my arch-nemesis... {grin}

(And man, am I happy about the amazing technology we have at our fingertips these days!)

As far as the media goes, if my needs represent a noticeable portion of the chess media's "audience," it follows that they, too, must prioritize their coverage to assure that they include some deeper coverage of the events and games that are first on my list, and, where space and time allow, include at least links to the websites or the .pgn files for events and matches that are below the top of the list.

Given limited time to follow chess events, I have come to prefer "second-tier" events to the "elite supertournaments". There's more fighting chess, which is a better model for my own play/improvement. I can't afford to spend two hours following an abortion like Leko-Kramnik, Brissago (m/11) 2004. And you can find plenty of blunders in supertournaments, too: Kasparov and Anand have botched endgames, Svidler resigned a drawn position, etc.

It would be easier to take Kapalik seriously if his comments weren't comically exaggerated. A 2500 is better at chess than about 99.999% of the human race. To call their games "mediocre" is an insult to what they have achieved.

For what it's worth, college football and basketball are more popular than the pro versions of those sports. There are a whole bunch of reasons for this, but I believe one reason is that the games are more wide-open, and less predictable. It's similar to what Mig is saying about chess, except that there are no agreed draws in team sports.

It would be interesting to show Kapalik a blind sample of games between unnamed players ranked from 2400 to 2800, without telling him who they are, and see if he could really spot such a great difference in how they perform.

Kapalik wrote, "I think you are overestimating the talent of 2400 players and underestimating the off the board skills of sub-2000 players working with computers (aren't you one yourself?)."

My understanding was that Mig is a GM, meaning he has played to a 2500 level in the past. He may not be playing competitively *now*, but he isn't a sub-2000 player.

When Kapalik said "mediocre" he also said "in patches and compared to the top players", in case somebody missed that part. Who wouldn't agree that the play of a 2400- or 2500-player is mediocre compared to the one of the world's top ten? How it compares to an amateur's is not the issue.

Corus would be more interesting if they invited Kasparov. It wouldn't change the schedule or number of players because Kramnik is sure to catch a bad cold if he might have to play Kasparov, and the total number of players would be the same.

First I would say that I watch only college basketball and no pro basketball at all, due to the fact that college hoops has all the true emotion and intensity that the NBA lacks.

Secondly, I think that if the so-called second tier of GMs were regularly playing against the top-10 you would see their ratings rise and the top-10 ratings fall a bit. The top-10 keep their ratings artificially high by playing, for the most part, only against each other. Don't get me wrong- I am not saying that the top-50 ranked GMs are better than the top-10, only that the differences would be less than you think if the top-10 were forced to play 'lesser' GMs more often.

"Who wouldn't agree that the play of a 2400- or 2500-player is mediocre compared to the one of the world's top ten?"

I, for one, wouldn't characterize their play as mediocre. You are talking about degrees of excellence.

2400-2500 players ARE mediocre when compared to the top (2650+) players.

The rating formula proves it every day.

That said, why should people follow so-so tournaments when they can follow top events?
After all, there's no guarantee that any game in any tournament will be of any technical level. Bad and good games happen in both so-so and top tournaments. The only reason people have for following top ones is that the probability of an excellent game taking place is greater for a Kramnik-Kasparov game than it is for Fishbein-Kudrin.

That's a simple fact of life.

I agree that "lesser" tournaments usually provide more drama, because of the higher incidence of blunders. If what we want is drama, we should support faster time controls, not classical-time-control tournaments with mediocre players. The latter are quite unappealing.

I have to agree with Marc. There are so many players in the top 100, say, who are fun to watch. We're talking about the best of the best on the entire planet. Only Kasparov, Kramnick and Anand are perpetually indominatible. There seems to be quite a musical chairs event going on between the rest of the top 10 and top 20. Then there are many other worthies trailing along only slightly behind.

It's probably fun to watch along with Fritz, but I don't see much value in that for a more lowly pawn pusher. Focusing more on following the game on your own makes you put more effort into figuring out what is happening in terms of plans and tactics. You can always fritz later or read the analysis in New in Chess (or right away with mig or other tournament reports).

Anyway, this has been a fun year to watch live games...the best of Kramnick/Leko, Adams/Kasimdzhanov, Nakamura/Ibragimov (sp?)and Nakamura/Karjakin. Top 10, top 20, top 100 all good as far as major tournament action goes.

My only wish is that all the exciting technology that makes this all possible be used to make databases of even more lowly players so that I could "prepare" for opponents at my level.

I still enjoy watching supertournaments, although I agree with geeker that it's very frustrating when so many games end up draws after a couple of hours. But I actually am starting to prefer the "mid-level" tournaments with a mixture of GMs, IMs and even FMs. There are more mistakes, but there are also more fights. And I often find the mistakes (and their punishments) more instructive than 20 moves of super-GM opening preparation, followed by a TN from Black and a draw half a dozen moves later. In fact, I personally believe that the super GMs operate on such a refined level these days that it might even be harmful for a player below, say, IM strength to study their games too thoroughly. Too much going on behind the scenes that we just won't understand, chess engine or no.

For those who prefer watching only the supertournaments, I suspect that that preference has a lot more to do with the attraction of the top players' prestige and reputations than the actual quality of chess. With no offense intended to anyone who posts on this board (and with the exception of GM Yermolinsky and maybe a few others who post here), we could all learn a lot from the games between players from the level of IMs through "run-of-the-mill" GMs, and we are probably more likely to do so.

I don't like watching games online with a chess engine running anymore. It's similar to going through the puzzles in a tactics book and looking at the answers without trying to solve them. Sure, you get to see some neat combinations, but you really aren't learning how to find them for yourself. It's a very passive experience letting the engine tell you what to think, and I have found that trying to figure out things for myself while the game is ongoing is ultimately not only more instructive but more enjoyable.

People who think that "run-of-the-mill" GMs or even IMs are mediocre players might try watching some games between such players without Fritz running and try to figure out what is going on for yourself. I think that most spectators below IM strength (which of course, is 99-plus% of all players) will find that the IMs see things that we spectators miss a lot more frequently than vice versa.

So one answer to the question of why you would watch "mid-level" GMs and IMs play as opposed to only watching super GMs play is that you are more likely to learn something from watching imperfect games than near-perfect ones.

Just my opinion.

I agree with Irvin and Acirce. Some other comments:

- My references to "mediocre" play of 2400 and 2500 players was relative to the 2700+ players.

- As others have mentioned, most fans can devote only a limited time to chess events and I feel it is better to spend that on top-tier events. Even if there are some dull draws, there are invariably one or more exciting games every day. There are a few good/instructive/creative games in lower rated tournaments as well but they are often covered in online and print columns after the tournament.

- I see a lot of double standards in many of the arguments. Some like Mig argue about about making chess more popular and exciting, getting sponsors, minimizing draws etc. and yet go on criticizing FIDE time controls. All of these objectives can be better achieved with FIDE time controls than with classical controls. There will be little dispute over the claim that most fans will prefer the faster FIDE time controls. As Irvin said, chassical time control games between lower rated players can get really painful. Possibly classical games should be restricted to world championships and some elite tournaments. Remember, chess is a sport and not the quest for ultimate truth.


If I had nothing better to do, I'd love to whip up a random sample of games with the names removed, and see if Kapalik (and those who agree with him) can actually tell the difference between a 2500 game and a 2700 game. My betting's with Mig: they can't.

Marc Sheperd says:
>>>If I had nothing better to do, I'd love to whip up a random sample of games with the names removed, and see if Kapalik (and those who agree with him) can actually tell the difference between a 2500 game and a 2700 game. My betting's with Mig: they can't.>>>

This is the double-standard argument that Kapalik was talking about: all of a sudden, the players' ratings don't matter, because the games, although less sound, are more interesting.

What if somebody "switched" the argument on Mig:

"Hey, Mig, you can't really tell the difference between games played under non-classical time controls and games played with classical chess controls. If you can't tell the difference, why not support the shortening of time controls, as proposed by FIDE? "

Pretty absurd.

The bottom line is this: if an observer has to decide what to watch, he should go for the highest rated chess match. All other things being equal, the odds of getting lucky enough to watch a classic are MUCH HIGHER when the fan chooses Anand-Kramnik over Yermolinsky-Ivanov.

That's not difficult to see.

Another point to consider:

Where do we draw the line??????

How about even more dramatic encounters between 2300 players, where the blunders are more frequent and the "lead" changes hands more frequently?

What about matches between 1600 players, where you can barely guess the next move?

That's certainly interesting, isn't it?

And now to interupt normal service with a little rant from me.

I guess I'll start with:

"There will be little dispute over the claim that most fans will prefer the faster FIDE time controls."

Oh really! You may prefer this - I and my friends do not. If I am willing to follow a 4 hour game - I am willing to follow a 7 hour game - often several of them. My guess is that the above quote is just an opinion based...well... based on nothing than the authors own intuition.

Now as for the talk about 2700+ and 2500+ games there is a lot of rubbish being spoken. I suspect most stating their opinions have never had the opportunity to play a GM or IM in a tournament game and analyse with them after. Once you have had that opportunity you realise the true gulf between you and them is way greater than between playing a 2400 and 2600. The real difference is generally the level of resistance in bad positions not so much in making gross blunders in the first place. And following a game with a computer is fine. But what is not is when some obnoxious 'fan' quoting their computers without any understanding of what is really going on starts claiming that this GM or that GM is crap or pathetic. I would accept this from a 2700+ player not from Fritz aka 'a fan'. Funnily enough 2700+ players don't use such disparaging terms.

And I and my friends/team mates cannot tell the difference between a 2500 and 2700 game and we are all over 2000 although sadly not far enough!

Finally and on a separate note I am always amazed by all the studying that people say they do. I find it truly amazing some of the claims. Letting Fritz analyse a game that you did not play will not help you unless you do some serious work after and I doubt that many do. Everyone knows this of course. However, if you really are doing stack loads of analysis of tournament games then I hope you are improving. If not I suggest only studying that which you enjoy. We all wish to be better but lets face it if you are only 2000+ and are 20 years old or more (a random age), and have been playing a few years then you should give up on being an IM let alone GM. All this is completely besides the point but I have had too much good cheer over the last few days! :)

Now normal service can be resumed and those who wish to have their own ridiculous rant may do so.

Respectfully, I think Mig and folks thinking there's that little difference are way off base. The top ten players play better quality chess than 2500 players. Otherwise they wouldn't have the better rating.

"Respectfully, I think Mig and folks thinking there's that little difference are way off base. The top ten players play better quality chess than 2500 players. Otherwise they wouldn't have the better rating."

Respectfully, I think this misrepresents what Mig said. He wouldn't deny that a difference exists between 2700 and 2500 players. His point is that the difference is SO subtle that the vast majority of observers are not capable of perceiving it.

It would be interesting if someone actually posted a reasoned and discerning description of a difference they can actually perceive. So far, we have Kapalik rather inelegantly informing us that games between 2500 are "mediocre" and "blunderfests." These comments are so far removed from reality that no rational debate is possible.

Sorry to hijack the thread again, but the good news is that Anand and his family are well and so his participation in Corus is certain. He was in Chennai, when the tsunami hit.

"Anand, who lives in the little town of Collado Mediano near Madrid, is on a brief visit to India to meet up with his family in Chennai. Unfortunately, it also happened to be one of the places, which was affected by the tsunami, which hit South East Asia.

"I am extremely close to the place where the tsunamis hit. It didn't affect us because we were far enough, away from the beach," he said.

"It is sad to watch what happened to so many people. It took some time to even understand what was happening. For the first few hours, the numbers (of casualties)were still very modest as compared to what has happened now. Now, the casualties are in the thousands and that is sad.""

Marc Shepherd says:

>>It would be interesting if someone actually posted a reasoned and discerning description of a difference they can actually perceive. So far, we have Kapalik rather inelegantly informing us that games between 2500 are "mediocre" and "blunderfests." These comments are so far removed from reality that no rational debate is possible.>>

Are you concerned with "rationality"?

Then, begin by explainig to Mig that there IS a BIG difference between Category 20 and Category 13 tournaments. It's the differerence between a run-of-the-mill grandmaster like Yermolinsky and a top Grandmaster like Shirov.

It's not a matter of "names" or "celebrity status". Top players have earned their spot. Top players are top players because they play better (obvious, isn't it?). And, if we want to watch the best games, it follows we must watch the best players (obvious, isn't it?).

When quality doesn't matter, we play the games ourselves. Heh heh...

Interesting points. I'm a fish and I don't know if I can tell the difference between 2500 or or a 2700+ players even after analyzing with fritz. The same is true with FIDE time control or the calssic time control. In the latter case the games picked would have to be random - if you chose games where the players happened to play good endgames I probably woudln't be able to tell. Also in both cases short draws I clearly wouldn't be able to tell.

I like the classic time controls becasue I like to compare players and games of different time periods. We now don't have adjournments so the end game may suffer even with classical time controls but with the FIDE sped up time players consistantly complain that the end game really suffers. I for one don't care to watch this.

I don't care to watch rapid games either. I get as much enjoyment from watchign grandmasters play rapid or blitz as a cat would. Just watching pieces move around the board really fast but having no idea whats really going on. To understand whats going on I need a computer, a good commentator, and a slow time control. Jusupov did an excellent job on Kramnik Leko. I really felt I understood what the players were striving for. For me, that was the ideal chess event to watch. As an aside, its interesting because I don't know what Jusupov's rating is now but he really pegged allot of what was going on despite his rating being lower than the players. This suggests many of the thoughts and chess ideas going on in the non elite players heads are by and large the same.

Comparing to College versus pro I think is a bit different. College ball is lower quality but the gimmick is they are all college kids. They are the best of the college kids. You don't see many division 3 college football games watched as close as the division one games. Nor do you see semi pro leagues watched closely.

I watch either supertournaments or tournaments that are of interest to me because of some special niche reason. I watched the mens and womens US National championship. Yes the men were some very strong players but even if they weren't I'd probably still watch becasue I'm american. I might watch the junior world championships if broadcast and I might follow the womens events even though they are not rated in the top ten. As long as they are the best children -for the junior championship and best women, its of interest.

Anyway at least when watching the top ten 1) I have the perception that this is the best chess possible. 2)Also I have some favorites in the top players so that adds. Give me two names that I can't pronounce let alone heard of before and I'm probably not goign to watch. Like mig said celebrety factor. 3)The super tournaments and matches are more likely to have audio commentary. This is a *big* plus for me. Not just fritz giving variations but having a strong player give the big picture ideas is very helpful. 4) The stakes are also an important factor. If the world championship is on the line that makes it much more exciting to watch than if its just another tournament.

I think the important thing is that FIDE and organizers not try to force fans to watch events they don't want to even if Objectivbely they are correct that fans *should* watch this or that. They should work to get the types of events fans want to watch. Over and over the fans have asked for a championship system similar to the old candidates cycle and have been told these other KO tournaments are better. I suppose with time all the people who want this or that will eventually get frustrated and stop following chess. Then all that will be left are fans that want what is offered but thats obviosuly bad for chess.

>>As an aside, its interesting because I don't know what Jusupov's rating is now but he really pegged allot of what was going on despite his rating being lower than the players.<< -niceforkinmove

Arthur Yusupov was ranked third in the world right after Karpov and Kasparov around the period of Seville '86. He's no mere mediocre 2600 level grandmaster. (with 2500 level players presumably being "poor" "fishy" "blunderfest" grandmasters and pity those stupid IMs, who presumably suffer from cognitive impairment.)

BTW, my rating is about 1000 points below Yusupov's and my games really are blunderfests. And a good thing, too because that's the only way I can win any of them. I would benefit more from studying annotated games of 2000-2200 level candidate masters because I might see something there that could possibly resemble real tournament techniques I could apply. But nobody publishes candidate master annotated games.

Another note: My last tournament game (I won the U1800 section) turned on a knight and pawns ending where I had slightly better knight placement, and time was short for both of us. I won convincingly but I could tell that my higher rated opponent was making mistakes I wouldn't have made. And I suspect that any master could take either side of the board in that endgame and beat me easily. But where do I see such an ending played out well? Not in the practice of the 2700 crowd. More often between 2500 or 2300 players.

Any of you really looked at the tournaments mentioned in Mig's original post, I'll take Pamplona which is the one I followed more closely, being it held in Spain. The players there: Gelfand, Sutovsky, Karjakin, Mamedyarov, Vaganian, Bruzon, Naidistch and de la Riva. Most of them are over 2600 and in the top 100, not your 2400-2500 patzers.
Indeed, I think there's quite a difference between those 2400-2500 players and the ones +2650, but much more subtle between these and the top 10-20. In fact I doubt whether I would be able to find out which games were played by each one if I did not know, in spite of being over 2300 (subpatzer??) myself. In my opinion the main difference is that playes as Sutovsky for example have good tournaments but quite often very bad ones, and also that in spite of being almost 2700 they don't have opportunities to play supertournaments.
Regarding the fide time control, anyone having played under it should know that by the time you reach an endgame you are most probably playing just on the increment, so it is impossible to calculate almost nothing, and the involved tension and little time make bluders unavoidable, even at GM level, so the general quality of endgames is very poor, and sometimes even before, it turns more into a rapid game than into a classical one.
Happy new year!!

I've followed Drammen just because Carlsen is playing there, too bad he's only playing on "strong IM" level lately though. ("only" of course being very relative.)

The absence of a clear cycle for the world championship contributes to this, I think. People are constantly looking for clues as to who are the best players in the world at the moment. That might be why they prefer to look at super tournaments with as many top-10 grandmasters as possible.

Actually some of your posts are not entirely correct. College basketball is clearly the better game than the NBA and more popular when you look at ratings, etc. However, the NFL is much more popular than college football and in my opinion a better game.

Actually some of your posts are not entirely correct. College basketball is clearly the better game than the NBA and more popular when you look at ratings, etc. However, the NFL is much more popular than college football and in my opinion a better game.

Brian if you look hard enough in the right places you will see games where a top player cranks an ending with a miniscual edge. Of course these are not that popular because they are kind of boring. But guys like Dvoretsky and Benko publish games like this sometimes often with very insightful comements. I think the difference between guys like Sutovsky and the elite are much more significant than was claimed by chessplayer but it may be because they play against such strong opponents (themselves) that there games automatically become much stronger.

I also would note that some GM's( good ones) have often recounted the incredible superiority of the elite. Many people know of Yermolinsky's story from his book. I have also heard some private stories to this as well.

Merit very much just given that enjoyable report. My partner and i book-marked the websites & Iwill offer again again the second thing is.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on December 27, 2004 11:28 PM.

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