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Bobby and Him

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I hope this is the last Fischer item for a while, but it's a good one. This Guardian piece is by Stephen Moss, who chased after Fischer for days. It also fills in some of the blanks around the Schaap incident mentioned below. Fun read.


Great journalism !

Oh yeah. Beautiful and sad, like the old story of a late '70's telephone conversation between Schaap pere and Fischer involving an invitation to Wilt Chamberlain's house. I hope this really is the last Fischer item -- forever.

Heres an interesting thought. A fantastic proposal if you will. It seems even the strongest chess players on this planet can not beat the dang computers. I propose a man v.s. machines match to prove that Fischer still rules. Human Side: Kasparov, Karpov, Ponomorov, Anand, Kramnik, Kasimzhanov and Yes...Fischer. Computers:Hydra, Junior, Shredder, Fritz. An exhibition of trememdous proportions. The humans dont have to be in the same room or country, ruling out any problems with each other. Of course the computers will get along just fine.
Best score amongst human takes all. Prize fund a million. THINK BIG or you are doomed to think small!

Just reported that Fischer may play Benko in Serbia. How old is Benko?

I'm all for rumors, but "reported" usually implies a source. Benko is 76. Fridrik Olafsson would be a more logical choice.

The remoras Fischer has been toting around for the past few months are quick to see if they can now make a buck off their protege. I don't see them leaving Fischer's side after a job well done if they can cadge a percentage of a million-dollar match with someone Fischer is sure to beat. Offers to bring Kasparov to Iceland have been raining down (not that I think Fischer himself would do this), as if Garry would want to give Fischer a chance to spit on him in person.

Fischer has frequently been quoted to the effect that he now only plays "Fischerandom" chess. So I presume that the rumored match(es?) are to take place under "Chess 960" rules? Surely the "source" would divulge this... ;-)

Kramnik and Anand take part each year in the light-hearted Melody Amber blind/rapid tournament. What a show to see them and maybe Spassky, Karpov, Korchnoi and Fischer banging away at Chess 960 in Iceland!

Interesting fantasy, but I think you seriously overestimate the number of prominent grandmasters who would publicly play the weird-ass Fischer. Of the names you mention, I consider Spassky, who would surely play, the only "probable".

Karpov would play for the glory of Mother Russia. (Unless a better offer came along--he is an economist, you know). Korchnoi, seeking to evan an old score, might bring along a hypnotist to stare at Karpov. Anand might like to add 960 chess to the list of chess variants that he dominates. 960 chess would offer Kramnik a wider palette with which to paint.

But about the game of chess, Fischer's the sanest person of all.

Kasparov's fiendish opening preparation helped establish him for many years as the chess world's only superpower. In his books on the Karpov matches he attributes much of his success to his superior opening preparation. Of his famous rook sac in the Anand match Kasparov said it took a just a few minutes over the board, but many hours at home.

The availability of computers has vastly accelerated the opening preparation arm’s race. Before their 2000 match, Kasparov told Kramnik that he had ten computers working 24 hours a day. And Mig’s recent interview enlightened us about Kasparov’s 17,000-line Garrybase.

But Kasparov credited Kramnik for out-preparing him in 2000 and nowadays Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand, Leko and Topalov draw 80% of their common games. So unless some of these guys are figuring it all out at the board we now have at least five opening preparation superpowers.

In the ”Garrybase” interview, Kasparov offers a telling quote about the current world of chess:
“It’s not about the quality of your opponent’s analysis, it’s the machine. If he’s been there and you haven’t there’s no hope, you’re dead.” But what if both you AND your opponent have been “there”? Then both of you survive, but if you’ve both worked “there” out to the endgame then that individual game expires into a draw.

With a growing number of opening preparation superpowers raking over the available terrain with their computers the quality of play goes up, the number of errors go down, and more and more superpower games end up drawn. Since the computer explosion we’ve had two long superpower matches. Kasparov-Kramnik offered two decisive games out of fifteen. Kramnik-Leko four of fourteen; one of them because Kramnik turned his computer off too soon!

Players have been predicting that for years that chess would soon be played out. But an 80%-and-growing draw rate among the top five Gms surely demonstrates that such proposed solutions as no agreed draws before fifty moves, paying more prize money for decisive games, giving black more or less time on the clock or more or less credit for a win or draw will not solve the essential problem.

Before Karpov and Kasparov, Fischer was the opening preparation superpower. But at some point it must have occurred to him that his methods, carried to an extreme and with the aid of computers, had the potential to virtually swallow up the entire game and permit the best over-the-board chess players to be defeated by the best at-home chess preparers.

Being crazy, Fischer didn’t mind throwing his lifetime of opening preparation out the window and preferring, with RandomChess, to play his entire games “over the board.” His RandomChess will not be popular with any sane person who’s invested a lifetime in opening preparation around the classical chessboard. But is there a better way to cure the 80%-draw rate in modern superpower chess without altering the game's essential nature than the one proposed by Fischer?


In any sport, those at the top use preparation and any available technology to help differentiate themselves from their competition.

In chess as in other sports, big events are rarely won at the scene, but in the months and years beforehand. Here again, chess is no different to other sports. This includes
• top sprinters e.g. Maurice Greene psyching out opponents for years in the lead up to the big championships,
• marathon runners e.g. loneliness of the long distance runner, preparing at altitude
• team sports e.g. Many great plays are practised for hours on the training field, in preparation for that one time in the championship game when it might make a difference.

Technology ideas include using wind/water tunnel experiments to improve aerodynamic performance for runners, cyclists or swimmers (e.g. shark skin suits). Pioneers who made the difference through technology include Greg Lemond in cycling (especially 1989 tour de France) , Schumacher in countless Grand Prix and Kasparov in chess. They deserve kudos for thinking outside the square and then putting in the hours of effort to work out these small differences.

The latter two have reacted well to dips in form or competitors’ improvements by taking a hard look at themselves and applied and reinvented themselves several times over the years and in each case people have talked about changing the rules to stop their dominance. That is not the dominant player’s fault.


A second post in response to Greg.

Don’t give up on classical chess yet. We’ve all seen the maths about the number of 40 move games etc. It will take a lot more than 24 computers with Fritz to solve the game of chess, and even if one does, it will be impossible for humans to memorise all the winning variations.

Humans still need to decide what sort of positions to investigate and use the computer to check the ideas are tactically sound and in a few cases to find improvements. In the “Garrybase”, the ideas are Kasparov’s, not those of Fritz, which is more like an editor which stores the ideas and checks for grammatical errors (The novelist is still the creative source).

Kasparov’s opening preparation is designed to put his opponent in a position where he will be as uncomfortable as possible and most likely to make mistakes. He has generally been better at choosing these positions than his rivals.

However, Kramnik outdid him at this in 2000, by choosing stodgy positions where Kasparov is (relatively) uncomfortable. Doesn’t make exciting viewing for an Open Sicilian lover like myself, but gripping to see someone find the way to topple Kasparov. Topalov has been most impressive recently, by striving for dynamic middlegame positions where he is much more comfortable and then deliberately unbalancing them a la Tal (especially during his Libya run). He’s playing like Morozevich with brains and it’s great to watch.

A lot more than 5 players have reasonably bombproof repertoires, but I think that the top players you mentioned are better because they are stronger middlegame and endgame players and are better at steering the games into the types of positions they like. It’s only natural that they play each other, they make fewer mistakes and therefore there are more draws. After all the result of a perfectly played game of chess will be a draw.

It’s not all about openings, and if the chess-playing public (myself included) realised that, we’d be a lot better players for it.


The top performers in chess or any other sporting activing should definitely be commended for their hard work, Al.

Foot and bicycle races will always be interesting because they're potentially infinite--there's always room for athletes to get a bit bigger, faster, and stronger than the next guy.

On the other hand, we've long known that chess is finite. To an unimaginably intelligent person, chess would be as cut-and-dried as tic-tac-toe is to you or I. The commendable efforts of our greatest players are nonetheless slowly pushing the game of chess toward tic-tac-toeness to the extent that 80% of superpower games are drawn.

A foot or bicycle race ten feet in length, a golf course measuring ten feet from tee to hole, would result in a helluva lot of drawn results. In any of those scenarios the sports would lengthen the race or expand the challenge so that the differences between the competitors could be adequately expressed.

Maybe it's come time for chess to find a way to expand its challenge so that the differences between its top competitors can be adequately expressed.

In other words, perfect chess is drawing chess. In order to reduce the drawing percentage of the chess superpowers against each other you're going to have to introduce more errors into their games. This was accomplished at the back end of chess games by the elimination of the overnight adjournment.

You can introduce more errors into superpower chess games by the chopping the time control or playing blindfold, as is shown by the Melody Amber games.

It might be more aesthetically pleasing, however, to induce errors into superpower chess games by playing Randomchess; diminishing the power of computer-assisted preparation; making players work it out over the board.

I read it all the time that the result of a perfectly played game of chess will be a draw: how do you know? As far as anyone can tell, might well be that the result of a perfectly played game of chess is a win for white. Even if the current understanding of chess is drawish for today's best humans when playing against each other (with many other factors like tournament tactics and personal egos involved), it is less so for best comps. And computers tend to come up with winning solutions for positions formerly considered drawn (see Tim Krabbé for endgame examples). Or: the evolution of opening theory shows that "normal lines" of the past fizzle out to dead boring draws, but really crazy lines prove to be actually playable. Who knows, maybe a real crazy unbalanced line will just prove to be a perfect win in the end.

Hi all,

This is my first post here. I have been a long time reader and fan of this blog and Mig's other work.

I would like to offer some thoughts and ask some questions on Greg Koster's previous posts in this thread.

I don't dispute the high number of draws amongst the world elite (is it really 80%?) but do we really want to change the game because of that? It seems to me that at a slightly lower level (lesser grandmasters, international masters, fide masters, etc.) while theory still plays a very big role, there isn't the same sense that the game is played out. I don't know what the percentages are but there are certainly many more decisive games. Should the top players really be playing a different game then the rest of us? And if they do, what are the ramifications of that? Will club players still want to play chess when their heroes amongst the top players are playing a similar, but still different, game then what they are playing?

It is also interesting that Greg used the word "aesthetic" when suggesting random chess (or chess 960, whatever you want to call it) because from what I have seen, that is one of its greatest weaknesses: it is just plain butt-ugly!

As I alluded to above, there is no need for us mere mortals to give up standard chess but let us say we did. Let us say tomorrow that GM Ashley announced that his big tournament in Minnesota will be a random chess event. How would we prepare for it? Obviously we could all throw away our opening books or use them for our fireplaces. With random chess any and all openings that we know and love will no longer exist. If you are passionate about the French or Sicilian, get over it. They no longer exist. But what should we do with our middlegame books? There the matter is not quite as clear but I think most of them would become useless museum pieces as well. Perhaps our endgame books are safe. Am I wrong on any of this?

I hope we can hold on to standard chess for as long as possible. And what I wouldn't give for a time machine so I could go back and somehow uninvent these infernal chess engines (Fritz, etc.,) which have done so much to damage our game and hasten its demise.

I agree that chess 960 has some great potential but let us exhaust chess first. In addition, at that point the machine will become by far the best player in town and humans will start playing as badly as Andersen. Sounds quite distasteful. In any case, chess is plenty hard for me and I still derive satisfaction from it and see many new and beautiful lines played all of the time so I don't see much problem. The main issue is that the top guys are playing super-solid stuff with black against each other. Another point is that they are all of almost exactly the same strength. Finally, in many games they just play their analysis and then shake hands assuming a draw is a foregone conclusion. This is why we see so many draws. I think chess is still plenty rich.

Chess as sports is one thing, chess as the ultimate battlefield is another, and i don't really care for the sports part. Don't get me wrong, i have highest regard for Kasparov et al for their skill and knowledge, but more than their opening repertoire i'm always impressed by the way they are able to simply outplay their opponents in complicated situations.
Even if they get an opening advantage the game is hardly yet decided...it's their ability to be creative and calculative in the middle and end games that makes the real difference. The small opening advantage Kasparov gets with sharp lines would still be squandered and turned around by players of lesser strength (it was also great to see great defender Leko to equalize despite Kasparov's great initiative and advantage in Linares..that was the kind of chess that's rewarding to watch).

960 is like a jump right into the middlegame...and it has it's own fascination because of that. But still...i'm not a fan of opening preparation, but yet i have mixed feelings about it. Perhaps i don't see chess as exhausted. In any case, for some reason even if i find it appealing, i don't wholeheartedly embrace it, nor would i choose it over conventional chess.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on March 27, 2005 8:13 PM.

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