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Gelfand Speaks

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In an earlier thread Vlad posted a link to an interesting interview of Boris Gelfand on the ACP site. His remarks about Nakamura's concrete style of play being of "another dimension" jibe with Nakamura's own comments about his play being different and computer-like.

It's hard for those below the master level, perhaps even the GM level, to understand the underpinnings of such discussions of style. Good moves just look like good moves and most fans need computers to sort those out anyway. So it's interesting to get the opinion of someone of Gelfand's playing level and erudition.

It seems natural for the US to produce the first world-class player of this new generation. There is no classical tradition of trainers working with the sacred texts. Players immediately enter the cauldron of open competition where only results matter. The prevalence of computer training and constant online play emphasize objectivity over general principles.


"Natural for the US to produce"... he's still Japanese. And he's largely got where he is by training himself, and family support.

i would be interested to know whether Naka is a fan of Moro, the ultimate master of madness among today's players. (I think I read somewhere that Dvoretsky called Moro the most talented player in his generation)

Japanese? You must be a nature over nurture person. He was entirely brought up in the US and his chess is entirely an American product.

That is home and self-trained was part of my point. There is no system of training in the US.

Having reviewed the "Nakamura-yelling" sub-thread, the Japanese ambassador is expected to file a stiff diplomatic protest over Mark's claim that HN is "still Japanese."

Gelfand says of Nakamura: "he shows off that he has not read a single book". I find this statement intriguing. I had assumed that Nakamura, like other GMs, is well-read in chess. Does Gelfand conclude this from Nakamura's chess moves, or has Nakamura actually voiced disdain for chess books?

From http://www.chesscafe.com/text/skittles242.pdf

"HG (Howard Goldowsky): Do you have any favorite chess books that youíve read over the years?

HN (Hikaru Nakamura): I think when I was younger, around 2000 (USCF), I looked at Fischerís 60
Memorable Games. Iíve looked at some other ones, but not many. I think I read a Tarrasch book once, but I canít remember. Lately, I really have not looked at chess books at all. Now I just use my computer.

HG: The fact that you canít remember any chess books youíve read is very telling!

HN: [laughs] Yes, it is!"

This interview also contains the notorious statement from Naka that "The main problem is that at the level Iím at, almost all of the top players [in the US] are foreign born. That makes it very difficult, because if you want to study with them, there is a possibility that theyíll go on and show everything to their friends. There arenít really any ďAmericanĒ grandmasters that are really higher rated than me right now. Thatís actually why I still work alone. Itís very hard to trust anybody."

Nakamura's apparent apathy towards chess books is interesting. I suppose that if your father is an accomplished chess coach who works with you up to 2300 elo or so and you have access to computer databases and Fritz analysis, you have less need of reading chess books. Still, I doubt very many other GMs could honestly make such a claim even when talking about their development from 2300+.

I think everyone is a bit puzzled by Nakamura's style and attitude toward chess theory at this point. Still, his practical results seem to indicate that his approach is working so far. It's possible that Nakamura will end up being the first of a new breed of chess player. On the other hand, he could end up being just another player who failed to fully develop his talent and who, as a result, never reaches the very top level.

Gelfand's "we'll have to wait and see" attitude makes a lot of sense to me.

As talented and successful is at this point, Hikaru Nakamura is still in adolescence. Psychologists point out that the human brain doesn't fully mature until about the age of 25, and that the area in charge of judgment is one of the last to complete development. It will be interesting to follow Nakamura's career and see if at some point in the relatively near future his behavior and approach to the game change to reflect this psychological view of human development.

"As talented and successful as he is..."

Many GMs, particularly younger ones and particularly those from the West, are very poorly read in chess. They don't necessarily brag about it. I think it was Norwood who said he had written more chess books than he had read.

It reflects the breakdown of dogma in modern chess. You occasionally hear a GM talking about a Dvoretsky book, but beyond that, what are they supposed to be learning? Most GMs reach master level very young on sheer talent. If you are smashing everybody tactically there's little incentive to work on openings and endgames. And when you need those things a computer is more efficient if you are already strong enough not to need hand-holding and dogma. A young 2400 can synthesize the rules based on what is best, what works.

This ultra-pragmatism inevitably leaves holes, but they are patched very quickly. Note that Mickey Adams was once criticized for his lack of opening and endgame acumen and he was in the top ten! At some point just about every wunderkind hits a plateau that only experience and intuition can traverse. You could make an argument that classical learning should be studied "just because," or because it creates a more complete player.

It's interesting that Bobby Fischer devoured so much chess literature and considered the knowledge he had from that to be one of the main reasons he achieved what he did, while nowadays the top young players don't focus on books. It sounds like chess books are more for those who play at or below master level...those who don't have the innate gift for the game.

Note that Fischer was pre-computer. Wasn't much choice without many chances to play people of his level. Guys on the US scene like Kaidanov, Gulko, et al would certainly have much to teach Nakamura, but if he feels he only needs to learn from playing, maybe they don't.

Mig, I'm pretty sure you are knowledgeable of Argentine GMs being quite lazy and reluctant to study or read chess books... :-)

I don't think I ever saw an Argentine GM or strong player buying books at the (only) specialised chess bookstore in Buenos Aires. The owner used to sell lots, but to amateurs (or Correspondence Chess players).

The biggest Argentine talent since Panno (I'm referring to GM Hugo Spangenberg) was as lazy as there could be a person. He was given a 1-year subscription to the only Argentine chess magazine, and he never ever went to the bokstore (in the center of Buenos Aires city) to pick any of the issues...

Now Spangenberg has been playing competitive backgammon for some years.

Greg, I think that is right for the most part as kids are becoming master level players before they are even literate! Also,all of the top players are using the databases and that is the easiest way to learn. Nakamura actually reads informants as I have discussed a game or two from it with him. Now to a more general thought. As a mere master, even I find that words are not that helpful. Chess is about learning through osmosis. I think one of the biggest mistake non masters make is that they try to focus on words and sayings and principles too much. They feel that one phrase can expain every position when what they really need to do is get dirty with lots of games digging into variations and specific moves. Only then can you get a sense of competing principles and which one dominates a given position. You have to develop a feeling in your gut about the moves. Whenever I analyze with weaker players and they suggest a weak move it springs a natural reaction in my mind--- something like that doesn't look right but I may not be able to express why that is so. I say "no". They say "why?" and I say "just because." It is quite frustrating for both and the same applies to GMs when they analyze with me. A meticulous strong player who is annotating probably has to spend alot of time logically justifying the moves that are just so natural for him.

DP: Your comments about the words not being helpful and chess is learning through osmosis brought into clarity something I have not been able to understand in many years of trying to get better. I am a "weak" player (USCF rating 1652) and no matter how much a read or try to absorb in chess manuals, I am able to carry very little of that learning over into games. Maybe it's like the difference between reading the driver's manual and actually operating the vehicle. I guess the bottom line is that I need to play more.

Mig, you say online play "emphasize(s) objectivity over general principles." It seems to me that what is outlined here is subjectivity over general principles, that is, Nakamura and others seek to find obscure exceptions to rules. Is that what you mean? I'm curious to know more.

Ed Yetman, III

I think by objectivity I mean simply taking each position on its own merits regardless of rules. Watson's "Modern Chess" books talk about how today's players do this much more than previous generations and Nakamura may be the logical conclusion of this evolution away from dogma. Not necessarily superior, because chess success depends on so many factors.

There is certainly an air of intentional contrariness to moves like 2.Qh5, so a degree of flauting the rules can be imagined. But I think it's less contrived than that overall. For example, Judit Polgar and Alexander Morozevich have different ways of problem solving than most elite players.

Perhaps the ultimate in objectivity in chess is de-emphasizing strategy. This is what computers do and it's hard to argue with their success! Nakamura's "show me" style is computer-like on the surface, but it is also optimally designed for play against humans. Such risky, materialistic, aggressive play would be suicidal against a computer. But putting constant pressure on your human opponent can overcome many theoretical flaws.


DP, I think that you have hit the nail on the head. On another thread, I spoke about how Yudasin's tutelage helped me to improve (highest FIDE rating is 2193), and I also addressed how Yermo's book helped me work through these issues (along with Rowson's "Seven Deadly Chess Sins"). The entire approach to chess must sometimes be altered in order for a player to make any significant progress. I have a friend who loves chess, and I root for him, but it is sad to see him trying so hard to make 2000 with no success for all of these years. When I met him, I was a little short of 1600 USCF, and he was 1900. Now, I am holding steady in the 2100 range or so and he is still 1900! This guy, no matter how I talk to him, can never let go of these maxims, telling me "I'm down a pawn, but I have the two Bishops, so it is only a half-pawn!" He buys every computer program out and updates as soon as the newest version is available, spends countless hours entering EVERY game he has ever played into a database, and still makes no improvement, because he cannot let go of his rigid way of thinking. Hikaru has long since realized that this rigid way of thinking is not to his advantage, which is how he comes up with some mind-bending solutions to the positions he encounters.

With regard to your comment about being able to explain why a certain idea does not appear correct based solely on intuition, I had to tackle this problem when I started coaching scholstic chess. The simplest way to put it is that the idea must be broken down into its greatest simplicity and then built back up into its complex form. We can discuss this more if you would like to.



To the extent that people are suggesting that "book learning" in chess isn't very helpful to the modern master-level player and that many players get to be very strong (say, average GM strength) without it, I don't really believe this. I would guess, for example, that many of the under-40 Russian GMs have, at one time or the other, taking a pretty close book at Botvinnik's annotated games collection. I would also guess that very few players get to GM strength with out spending time with some endgame manuals (or at least getting training in the endgame which has a similar effect).

I think that one of the reasons that the overall level of play seems to have risen over the years is the opportunity for succeeding generations to soak up the wisdom of their predecessors. I would think that reading books, especially well-annotated games collections by top players, is a natural part of this process of accumulating wisdom. I also think that some strong players, in order to exagerrate their talent, claim to have spent less time studying chess literature than they really have.

I think that Nakamura's case is likely to be exceptional. He grew up with a chess coach father who could hand-feed him what he needed to know, and he has a very concrete style which perhaps eliminates some of the need for acquired learning. I don't think that this is the normal approach, although it may be slightly more prevalent in the current generation of rising talents who have had access to strong computer programs for most of their chess career.

That's why I said of the West, where there isn't much tradition. I'm sure Gelfand is horrified. Eastern Europeans are still far more likely to come into contact with serious chess through club play and coaches than with Fritz and the internet. This is slowly changing, but it doesn't surprise that Karjakin plays classical chess. Nakamura's case is exceptional, but only so far. More like him will come.

Geoff, I understand your point that many strong GM's have looked at Bottvinik's game collections. I will probably too and it will probably help me. But this argument is not so strong. First off, if I get anything out of the book, I doubt it will be from Botvinnik's words but from wrestling with his games and moves. You could argue that I am better off getting the games off of chessbase and analyzing them myself with Fritz(or without Fritz). This is quite challenging and exciting as well as helpful. But I am not so strong so I do not want to compare myself to a GM and your claim about Soviet GM's is probably right. But how else were they supposed to work on chess? These days kids are playing online, have access to all the games,old or recent, and even analyses(Mega). In other words, the computer has revolutionized how we these guys do business. There is nothing wrong with reading chess for enjoyment but lets face it if you want to improve fast, you better pick up Fritz and Chessbase and learn how to use them.


Wasn't he brought to the US at the age of two or three? The first few years of one's life are critical for learning skills. Of course, both his biological parents were Japanese so I think it's accurate to say he is Japanese.

Although I don't much like the temprement of Nakamura sometimes, I respect his ability to play. I tried to self-teach myself largely to play chess, and wasn't very effective in doing so.

But I have managed to write a novel about chess using largely self taught skills.

Learning chess by yourself is very hard. With a competent trainer, improving is natural. On your own, you have to work everything out through your own trial and error.

Maybe the US can take some credit for their champion's improvement. Maybe it's OK now to categorise him as an American champion. To an extent he had to do it the American way.

Since when are both his parents Japanese? His mother isn't. The first few years of your life are important for neurological development, but that has little to do with where you live, barring extremes. His chess is obviously a US product.

When I say he is a product of the US I don't mean I credit the US with anything positive. The environment here is a hostile one to chess development. It is exactly that environment that was likely to produce a player like Nakamura, the first natively-produced world-class player in almost two decades.

I suppose you mean Mr. six time. I hear he studied quite a bit. Am I wrong?

I wouldn't casually skip over Benjamin, Christiansen, Seirawan, de Firmian... But they HAD to study, they were pre-internet and pre-computer. That's why things are so different now.


I am perplexed by this idea that serious chess study entails delving into books for long periods of time. I told Hikaru yesterday that his 2. Qh5 was being discussed in a park in Harlem, and he was quite amused, saying "The game just happened in Denmark, and it's in Harlem already!" Not only do games make it to today's enthusiasts and players in real time, but so does analysis of the game find its way to our eyes by nightfall or the next day. When my friend Jen was playing in the US Championship in 2002, I recall studying her game against Dmitry Schneider without having to move a piece or open a book, as it was already annotated by IM Jeremy Silman by the time I checked the website. Thus, it stands to illustrate that information is accessible in many different forms, and it is accessible immediately, long before a book can hope to be published on the matter. Although I have read "My System" by Nimzovich and have spent good time studying Capablanca games, I also realize that the laptop I am writing on can provide me with these Capablanca games a lot faster than that book could. If I have a base of understanding, I can go through these games for the purpose of seeing how players try to gain an advantage and come away a better player for it. It is not always necessary to read the annotations of the players, which have often been found to be filled with too much dogma and mistaken evaluation. (I recall a game which identified the Benoni setup as a mistake for black.) I also note that Capa was not a player known for critical confrontations in the opening and also one who did not dedicate much time to studying in any form, not even bringing a chess set with him as he departed for one of his World Championship matches. So much for classical approaches.



Never in my life I have read an instructional chess book. All I had when I was young was a few books - collections of games of Alekhine, Keres, Larsen and Fischer.
If Hikaru studies the same games on the computer instead of taking then from the books - what's the difference? If he never saw a single game from the 1960's - so what? The ideas discovered then can be found in modern games, which Hikaru does look at.
I think this whole thing about "new revolutionaty approach" is a sales pitch. Lots of good players I know learned the game through countless blitz games - nothing new there.
Good luck to Hikaru. I hope he kicks some 2700+ ass soon.
BTW, Gelfand's "Karjakin is a classical player" really cracked me up.

I wouldn't call it anything revolutary, but evolutionary for sure. It's dependent on locale and the continuation of a process that has been in motion since Greco, or at least Nimzo. But it's not unreasonable to postulate that Nakamura may be the first player of his caliber where it is so noticeable to this degree. Anand caused considerable consternation when he was coming up. He played quickly and pragmatically ("only for tricks" in the words of Korchnoi) and had great results.

Hello Mig,
It seems to me that we have seen this before. Tal's tactical talent allowed him to rise above the constraints of "rational" chess; Kasparov also seemed to be too strong tactically for "objective" rules. I'm not so sure we are seeing here an abolition of chess axioms; we are probably seeing a re-evaluation of those axioms. Computers can eliminate human fatigue and probe complexities that human beings cannot; but all those tactical plans are predicated upon general rules. I think that if Watson's view is correct then all values would cease to exist; if that were true, chess would not be playable.

So I suspect that at bottom we will find new axioms, or, to paraphrase Nietzsche, we will revalue all values.

Ed Yetman, III

I still would like to understand how Gelfand would explain Hikaru's torching of Karjakin in that Mexico match. Gelfand lauds Karjakin, Harikrishna, and Volokitin (all different type of players) makes a veiled criticism at Hikaru's methods. He praises Karjakin but may have forgotten about that match result. Maybe Gelfand is looking for an answer. He states,

"As I understand, at some point such a player stops progressing and it is already late to learn again."

Where does he get this rationale??

Hello Mig,
I think I can clarify my earlier comments. It seems to me that this is a discussion about the epistemology of chess. What do we know about chess? Only what we can derive from games played. This derived information creates patterns, and from those patterns we derive axioms. But the axioms are not airtight.

There are two ideas that intersect here. One is inchoate in philosophy. For lack of an agreed term, I will call it "irreducible inefficiency." This is not just the idea of thermodynamics (Law of Entropy, all ordered systems tend to disorder over time) or ideas like Godel's Indeterminacy or Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. It is the idea that all systems, natural or man-made, are inefficient to begin with. Over time they become more inefficient and fail when not maintained.

The other idea is from Thomas Carlyle's "On Heroes, Heroism, and Hero-Worship in History." Carlyle opines that metaphysical detrius builds up over time. Eventually a heroic figure appears like lightning from the sky, burning away the detrius. When the fire is gone, the detrius begins to build up again.

This may be what is going with Nakamura and his generation, just as it did with Anderssen, Alekhine, Tal, Fischer, and Kasparov. The chess world falls into a slough from not pushing the boundaries of the axioms. Detrius builds up. Suddenly one player, gifted in some way, finds that he can exploit this laziness, this metaphysical detrius, and win game after game. He sets the chess world on fire.

But the world rouses from its slumber, the wins don't come so easily anymore, and the hero's powers erode. Then the world falls into a slough again as everyone goes back to the easier way.

I think this cycle is happening faster now as the internet increases both the detrius and the reaction to the revolutionary player.

I know this is a bit metaphysical, but I hope you can see my point.

Ed Yetman, III

Mr. Yetman...

We've already discussed the epistemology issue on the "Nakamura 2.Qh5" thread. Certainly, this is about epistomology, but I am not sure that players here are understanding this view. In your esoteric prose lies some interesting points.

I once wrote an article titled, "Metaphysics of the Chess Mind" which covered a few of these philosophical points. I wrote another titled, "The Dynamics of Critical Thinking" which deals with thought inquiry. I won't put the link here because it will create a tangent in the discussion, but if you Google the titles, you ought to find them if you're interested.


What Hikaru has apparently pioneered (but not invented) is an interesting epistemological method which amounts to an efficient, real-time knowledge system. This is what business managers try so hard to obtain since business cycles have accelerated rapidly (as has chess theory).

I believe Kasparov may have made some mention of this in his HBR article titled, "Strategic Intensity" at ChessBase.com. He also talked of the risk-taker CEO versus the micromanager CEO. Players like Nakamura have proved to be risk-takers, but his knowledge system appears to be more efficient at adapting to change.

Here's an example...

As you can go out and play 100 games on the Internet in half a day, you are running live simulations to improve your knowledge system. As a manager, you can't run 100 "live" business simulations in half a day. If business managers can implement Hikaru's method of building a "real time" knowledge system, they would be able to respond to the competition on the fly... as Hikaru may be able to do in chess. They are trying but managers are overwhelmed with data and the process is inefficient.

It is interesting how one game starting with 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 can cause all of this discussion! Hikaru has done chess a great service.

Mr Yetman I do not understand your use of the term objective, as in this sentence "Kasparov also seemed to be too strong tactically for "objective" rules."

Modern grandmasters play for the most part each position as objectively as they can, using concrete analysis of lines(and intuition built from experience). Are you suggesting that there is/could be some hidden axioms that underpin each and every position of chess?

Hello Mr. Shabazz and Mango,
I have to lecture in the morning, but I'll try to reply tomorrow. Thanks for the thoughtful questions.

Ed Yetman, III

Daaim Shabazz wrote: "I still would like to understand how Gelfand would explain Hikaru's torching of Karjakin in that Mexico match."

Nakamura is two years older :-) Are you convinced that if Nakamura was 15 and Karjakin 17 the result would be the same? (That is my explanation - not Gelfand's)

I'm not sure what age difference would have to do with that match. Besides, Karjakin became a GM before Hikaru did. Seventeen year-old Hikaru is the #1 player in the US... explain what age has to do with that?

I hate to be condescending, but a chessplayer who follows international chess would not make such an argument... not in 2005. I'm assuming you follow international chess as most of us here do.

Hi Daaim, thanks for reply.

My point is that Mr. Gelfand was talking rather about the players' potential. I say (once again sorry for my English) that a 15 year person has much more space to improve than 17 year old in any area, including chess, and most players are expected to be more developed in 17 than in 15 fifteen. I guess that Mr. Nakamura was no exception to this and is now a stronger player than two years ago....maybe Karjakin will be weaker? I do not know.

All I wanted to say is one cannot draw conclusions from a match between 15 and 17 year old as the space for further development is different.

....yes Nakamura is No.1 in US but you wouldn't expect a 17 year old guy to be the world's no.1, would you?


Indeed, I concur with Daaim. What kind of argument is "but see, Hikaru is older!" when what we are comparing is chess strength? Karjakin is a 2600 GM, and Hikaru basically took his belt off on him in Mexico, and you say that the reason is age?! Karjakin is a GM, so he must, by default, have an understanding of the game that defies age consideration, as most people older than he will never understand the game at this level. Also, Karjakin has worked with the likes of Ponomariov and has played in the Olympiad, and so he actually has much more chess life experience than Hikaru does. Just state the obvious: Hikaru crushed Karjakin because Hikaru is stronger. The match score indicated that it wasn't even so close a difference in strength, and that is the matter to be debated. We can debate whether or not the final score was indicative of the difference in strength, but not whether it indicates that there is one in favor of Hikaru. Furthermore, we must stop hiding behind simplistic arguments such as "but this one is older than that one", for this argument makes absolutely no sense, especially considering the experience that each player has. If anything, such experience should favor Karjakin.




Horacio is a noted chess scholar and his point is not unreasonable.

At what age do these young rascals really start cranking it up? If at twelve, then HN, at 17 has had nearly twice as much time to develop as Karajkin at 15. In any case, with two players so young two years can make a huge difference. How much better will Karajkin be at 17 than he was at 15? How far has Nakamura progressed between the ages of 15 and 17?

A greater accessibility to GM tournaments may have had something to do with Karajkin's achieving his GM title before, or at an earlier age, than HN. I don't know.

Hi Maliq, thanks for your determined reaction.

Finally, I managed to get some attention here. I agree that Nakamura is stronger than Karjakin. I also prefer to judge this based on head to head matches...Nakamura destroyed Karjakin, ok..

But I am not talking about their current strength. I am talking about potential. Does the match tell me anything about their potential? Not really. If, tommorow a top five guy beats Nakamura, does it tell me anything about Nakamura's potential? One can learn a lot in his teens.

All I want to say, is let's wait where these two reach their plateaus and how they deal with it. Than we can start comparing.


It seems that the world community always has this fierce desire to compare up-and-coming talents in any area to those who have passed before them and to their contemporaries, and so we end up with this blatantly bogus idea of linear improvement. We say that LeBron James will be a basketball player of this caliber because he is at his current level at only 20 years old. We say that Alex Rodriguez will become the best baseball player ever because he is at his current level at age 29. Here, we talk of Hikaru vs. Karjakin as some age contest, somehow imagining that the two years of Hikaru's life are responsible for the difference in strength instead of the fact that his mind just simply works differently than Karjakin's. I find this contention absurd, because, first of all, there is not a dramatic difference between cognitive skills of 15 year olds and 17 year olds. There is some difference, yes, but it is not reasonable to suggest that this difference (which varies from person to person) is the reason for difference in chess strength. Second, what Karjakin does not have in years is certainly afforded to him in experience, and I don't hear anybody crying for the lack of experience that Hikaru has gotten. Third, there was a point at which Karjakin could reasonably claim to be the better player. Hikaru improves in leaps and bounds, not on a linear scale, as can be evidenced by the huge leaps in his ELO throughout his rating history. He made one of these improvements to surpass Karjakin and take his place ahead of him on the rating scale and in actual strength. To suggest that Karjakin will, by sheer force of maturation, improve in such a way is a weak argument. Finally, people all over talk about which young player is the best of them today, and if Karjakin's name is mentioned, then let us not pretend that everyone is talking about where he will be ten years from now. We compare Karjakin's game now to Hikaru's game now, and some come to a conclusion that Karjakin's is the more "classical" game, yet are unable to account for the fact that Hikaru smashed him. Their styles may change as time goes on, and so sans crystal ball, there is no way to claim that Karjakin will be in two years even as strong as Hikaru is today. Improvement is just not linear that way, and we should stop imagining that it is.



Hi Maliq, thanks for a free lecture :-)

I will keep my views anyway.

The conclusion of my recent observation is not very surprising - Eastern guys like Karjakin, Americans like Nakamura :-)


Horacio, it is not about preferring somebody because he is a fellow national, although I do root for Hikaru partially because he is a friend of mine. One of the players I have followed closely is Carlsen, as I enjoy his dynamic style and aim to win. He has fallen on hard times, but it is part of the growing process for him, not because of his age, but because of his level of experience. I consider myself to be an advocate for breaking the mold in whatever field one is in, and, as a sociologist, I tire of repetition and social norms which go unquestioned for generations at a time, which makes Hikaru's style a refreshing one. Add to this the fact that he makes the defeat of other GMs look so easy (look at his matches with Aleksandrov and Lastin, for example), and it is easy to see why people wonder how high he can go if he wants to. He basically beat those two GMs like children, giving both mercy draws so that he could advance in the tournament when they were in such terrible positions. Was that one of the Top 50 in the world down a ROOK?! I believe that Hikaru is the leader of a new generation of chess thinkers if he decides that he wants to continue his career or even if he doesn't, and this is why I advocate for him over Karjakin. I believe that Karjakin will break 2700 at some point in his life, but I also believe that he will fall into line and be one of many strong GMs. Hikaru, however, brings a different type of game, and he has the potential to pull some Anand-type move, frustrating players as he breaks the mold of the classical player on the way to the top.



I've read a lot of bad, uninstructive chess books, and a few good ones (My 60 Memorable Games, Simple Chess, Endgame Strategy, How to Reassess your Chess, and collections by Anand and Karpov) that actually helped me play better. One of the things I really don't like is having to set the position up on the board, and either 'playing through' variations (shorter ones, with no sub-variations) or 'seeing through' them (the ones I can handle). I recently completed Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual (fantastic, btw) on CD, and the difference was mind-blowing - I could click through the variations, and the material was first-rate. So it's not like books and technology are mutually exclusive, but the books themselves may have to change - with training positions and problems added for computer use, perhaps. Some books, like My 60 Memorable Games, or Simple Chess, are art works in their own right, but in general players want tools to get better, and so they're going to use the best tools at hand.


Based on your last post I better understand your previous comment. You merely prefer Karjakin.

You would know that this discussion on age has nothing to do with who we like as a player. You state that Western players prefer Nakamura over Karjakin, but the Nakamura-Karjakin match result is what we are discussing. Whether you like Karjakin or not, Nakamura still showed he is the stronger of the two... at this point in time.

I believe Maliq was pointing out that growth and development in chess do not happen at fixed rates based on age. We are comparing the strength of the two players at present (Karjakin at 15 and Nakamura at 17), not Karjakin at age 17 with Nakamura at age 17. That's impossible to do and is not a serious debate.

I am a fan of both Nakamura and Karjakin, and I don't think it's entirely clear that Nakamura is presently much stronger than Karjakin. It would be unwise, IMO, to draw too many conclusions from a single match, or the personal score between the two players. Chess history is replete with examples of one player dominating another of similar strength in their personal games as a result of stylistic or psychological factors.

Karjakin seems to have "on" and "off" events. His performance in Calvia 2004, for example, arguably equaled or even exceeded anything Nakamura has done against players of that level. Of course this doesn't mean Karjakin is stronger than Nakamura, but I do think that it is dangerous to consider the results in a single match as dispositive. Particularly with two such talented young players who can experience leaps in strength at any moment. Maybe the most objective approach would be to simply go by elo, and say that Nakamura seems to be a little stronger than Karjakin at the moment (2657 elo to 2635 elo) but that the gap is not really that statistically significant.

I take Gelfand's point to be that Karjakin is developing well as a complete all-round player, and I would think that Gelfand's opinion is probably entitled to some weight on such matters. Gelfand's opinion about Nakamura's development is also interesting and he doesn't claim to know what the end result will be.

On a different subject, I am a little dismayed by the attitude of some of the American posters take toward Nakamura, that he can do no wrong or that any negative behavior by him should be excused or overlooked. (I am not referring to anyone in particular here, but rather to the general tenor of a number of posts from various sources.) I too am an American, and I personally hope that Nakamura continues to improve and will outperform the other talented youngsters that he is in competition with. I think it would be a very good thing for American chess to have a homegrown top player, and Nakamura is currently the top candidate for that position.

That having been said, I don't think it is either necessary or even healthy for Nakamura to ignore incidents of "acting out" such as his apparently primadonnish behavior in the incident at the Supernationals. Of course the teenage years can be difficult, almost every teenager "acts out" to some extent now and then, and Nakamura is probably subject to more pressures than most. So it would be both unfair and unwise to condemn Nakamura based on single incident or even a number of incidents. And I have read and heard from various sources that Nakamura can be very nice in person and he should be commended for that.

Nevertheless, one of the "civilizing" forces on teenagers is the feedback that they receive from others. Particularly in the case of someone as successful as Nakamura who receives a great deal of ego-stroking and admiration from others, there is nothing wrong with criticizing specific instances of misbehavior as long as you don't condemn the person. Teenagers like Nakamura who are still forming as individuals are to some extent dependent on such criticism to guide them in proper behavior. And IMO constructive criticism, in the long run, is more beneficial to the recipient than an entirely uncritical devotion.

I personally have high hopes for Nakamura both as a player and as a sportsman and personal representative of the U.S. in the chess world.

Just my opinion.

Your comment earlier about how a move that is suicidal against a computer may be highly successful against a human reminds me of a Chess Life article from several months ago. I'm sure that someone will pipe in and tell us who the author was, but the semi-joking suggestion was for the chess world to adopt a new annotation symbol--a smiley face. The point was that a professional chess player's chief objective is to win games and make money. They are not after chess truth or perfection, but effective ways to win. The author describes the potential use of the :) as noting where a great move was made toward the defeat of an opponent although a more perfect move may have been available.

That was a well-articulated post.

First of all, on the other thread we learned that the rumour of incident at the SuperNationals was innuendo and not an accurate account. However, it goes without saying (and interviews confirm) that Hikaru realizes that he is a chess icon now, but making that adjustment will take time.

Secondly, in terms of the match... you're right. For example, Korchnoi used to beat Tal consistently (12-4) and perhaps it is a matter of style. Hikaru has style that may be hard to play against because he takes risks and has an indomitable will to win. On the other hand, Karjakin's performance in Spain was magnificent as he destroyed one opponent after another. I was there in Spain to witness it and his posture revealed high confidence.

I would have to concur that it may be presumptuous draw concrete conclusions from the one match, but the fact remains that if we are comparing the two players, the match is the most direct evidence we have at the time... in addition to the FIDE ratings. We can look at other results (Karjakin's Olympiad... Nakamura's FIDE Ch result), but then you have to look at other tournaments, common opponents and who had the most opportunities to play top flight competition. There are too many uncontrollable factors to deal with.

Thirdly, who's to say that they BOTH aren't developing into an all-around players? "Developing" is relative and indicates progression. I believe it is fair to say that both are fine players but they have used different paths to get to their current lofty positions in chess. Gelfand's argument is stating that he prefers Karjakin and wonders whether Nakamura can sustain his progress with his diet of ICC chess. Interesting question indeed.

I am not sure how important age is in this race(are there some (young enough)ages that are better for chess development then others?) But one thing that is certainly important is chess age:i.e. how long each has been in the game. In that sense I don't think that Hikaru is older than Karjakin and the youngest must be Magnus Carlsen.

By the way on the ACP site there are many more interviews not just of Gelfand but also of Dreev, Nigel Short, Michael Adams and all are asked about the next generation and all pointed to Karjakin. The most biting was Radjabov's comments. The guy has a sharp wit.
http://chess players.org/eng/news/viewarticle.html?id=344

Hello Mr. Shabazz,
My point about epistemology is this: chess cannot be reduced to sheer tactical calculation because the values of a chess game are mutuable, but not infinitely mutuable. If a player calculates a line or variation of a line, then draws a conclusion at the end, he does so by assuming certain values as constant or near-constant. If, as Watson seems to allege, it is all tactics now, then I assert that the conclusions would all be meaningless. Certain positional and strategic values intersect with tactical values in ways that remain beyond definition. If this were not so then all tactical analysis would end, ultimately, in indecision.

I'm rambling a bit here, so I hope my point is a little clearer. I'll try again later.

Ed Yetman, III

Hello Mango,
Yes, I am asserting that there must be something immutable underneath the phenomenological appearance of chess. For example, Edward Lasker once said that Emanuel Lasker told him that chess was a mathematical game; if you contro more than 32 squares you are winning. This would seem to be a permanent maxim or axiom; but is it true? If it is not true, why is it not true (if it is true then the truth is in the statement itself)?

The problem of determining the underlying truth of chess is constantly vexed by the human variable. Let loose a Tal or a Kasparov and the evidence becomes confused as this individual seems to confound the rules. After a time this comet comes down to earth, and we return to the older ways. I doubt that computers will help at all as they only serve to magnify our powers, not our understanding. If we tell a computer "calculate this variation" the computer can do so only by following the programming it is given. How do we get a program to tactically adapt when the position changes?

I hope that clears things up a bit.

Ed Yetman,III

It's interesting that Hikaru is mentioned once by Radjabov. These players are correct in saying Karjakin has a bright future. No question. However, I also believe that they don't know enough about Hikaru because he's been on the elite scene for a short while. His play is also hard to characterize. In addition, people may be looking at the mild-mannered Karjakin differently from the revolutionary Nakamura.

It is unfortunate that the GMs didn't comment on that match because we could learn something. Was Hikaru's victory over Karjakin due to better play, better nerves, or better preparation? This would get back to Gelfand's question.

I believe Karjakin fits the mold of a "traditional" world champion and has played a steady diet of 2700s. He has the storybook background coming from powerhouse Ukraine, a world record for youngest GM and an Olympic gold medal. Of course, tradition is changing.

I'm sure everyone read about the young, untitled Chinese player who won the GM tournament recently. Well... there are several Chinese boys like him. No one has talked much about the 15-year old GM from Vietnam either. He's no Karjakin, but there is a story there.

Part of the reason these GMs mention those few players because they don't pay attention to the rest of the world. The chess media primarily focuses on North America and European nations. Alejandro Ramirez was not discovered until he drew with Morozevich in the Olympiad.

Karjakin will be an elite 2700 player, but it's possible someone will rise as quickly and pass both he and Hikaru. Chess development is certainly not linear. Fischer is an example of that.

It's interesting that Hikaru is mentioned once by Radjabov. These players are correct in saying Karjakin has a bright future. No question. However, I also believe that they don't know enough about Hikaru because he's been on the elite scene for a short while. His play is also hard to characterize. In addition, people may be looking at the mild-mannered Karjakin differently from the revolutionary Nakamura.

It is unfortunate that the GMs didn't comment on that match because we could learn something. Was Hikaru's victory over Karjakin due to better play, better nerves, or better preparation? This would get back to Gelfand's question.

I believe Karjakin fits the mold of a "traditional" world champion and has played a steady diet of 2700s. He has the storybook background coming from powerhouse Ukraine, a world record for youngest GM and an Olympic gold medal. Of course, tradition is changing.

I'm sure everyone read about the young, untitled Chinese player who won the GM tournament recently. Well... there are several Chinese boys like him. No one has talked much about the 15-year old GM from Vietnam either. He's no Karjakin, but there is a story there.

Part of the reason these GMs mention those few players because they don't pay attention to the rest of the world. The chess media primarily focuses on North America and European nations. Alejandro Ramirez was not discovered until he drew with Morozevich in the Olympiad.

Karjakin will be an elite 2700 player, but it's possible someone will rise as quickly and pass both he and Hikaru. Chess development is certainly not linear. Fischer is an example of that.


Daaim, I am so flattered that you have taken to my argument about non-linear improvement. I feel good when PhDs champion my arguments! As my brother (a future PhD who is studying cognitive psychology at Indiana University) indicated this afternoon, an even greater example of how linear improvement stands as a misconception is Ponomariov. Pono ascended very quickly, and he made un unpredictable leap during the FIDE Championship in 2001, culminating with his thrashing of Ivanchuk for the title, and peaked at about 2750 at the age of 18. Linear theory would reason that Pono would be a lot stronger now, because he was that strong at only 18, but such conceptions do not account for the possibility that a player is not truly at his or her level or that the player may regress, as he has in falling back below 2700 and as Magnus Carlsen has recently. I have seen countless publications proclaiming that some young player here in the US will be at this or that level in no time, only to see the player fall backward dramatically. I have also seen cases in which the player did not regress, but rather suddenly started progressing at a much slower rate or else hit a plateau altogether. As a friend of mine told me when I hit 2100, there is more resistance as you go up!



Sorry about the double post everyone. Mig will get it. (smile)

Peace Maliq...

Well... you know I'm humbled by your comments, but I'm just another chess player giving an reasonably informed opinion. Running a chess site forces me to stay current. However, I'm an professor, so this subject of growth and learning patterns appeals to me.

Ponomariov is an interesting story. When he shot onto the scene, I certainly jumped on his bandwagon and cheered him all the way to his victory as I covered that tournament. However, I didn't like the way he was treated as FIDE champ and I honestly believe that this problem in the Prague had disenchanted him.

As I mentioned earlier I was at the Olympiad in Spain where Karjakin was terrorizing his opposition in the reserve spot. On the other hand, Ponomariov was in the press room every time I looked up from my laptop. Frederic Friedel of ChessBase (sitting across from me) said to him, "What's going on? Every time I see you, you're not playing."

Ponomariov didn't seem to be focused at all. I asked him what happened to his website and he gave an incoherent answer. I don't know what happened with his management, but he is not the same. Both Volokitin and Moissenko are on his heels as well as Karjakin.

When I saw that Agdestein put out the book about Carlsen, I thought it was too early to put that much pressure on him. I really don't like the "boy wonder" persona they built for him. Karjakin avoided that marketing ploy and I believe he was fortunate to do so. They should let these young players develop some consistency first. I look at Bu Xiangzhi now and he is at the same 2600 level as he was shortly after breaking the GM age record. Interesting.


Indeed, there are more factors to the heights one achieves than simple study of chess. The Ponomariov case illustrates just such a thing. It is possible that a player who had more time to establish a solid reputation on the international scene might have thumbed his nose at the FIDE controversy, as Kasparov did, and respond in a more composed manner. It is one of the disadvantages of youth that experience can only go so far to amend. Youngsters have to consider other life options which are available and may be just as appealing, and there are also other major changes associated with growing up which may cause one to abandon a chess career. Note that Waitzkin no longer plays, Shaked no longer plays, Igor Schliperman went into the business world rather than pursuing a GM title, and Lev Milman is not certain about how much he will play once he gets to college, although he will certainly have opportunity to play at Duke University. (Man, that is a hell of a collegiate unit they will have down there! If only it would have worked out for me, but I digress...) Before we talk about what young players will accomplish, we must consider that they must pass these hurdles in addition to those which they encounter during the course of their over-the-board development. The intervening variables are too numerous for me to consider right now, but they are all significant in that each of them has the potential to disrupt an otherwise promising chess career, for the better or for the worse of the player.



from Radjabov (too funny) "Kasparov himself proclaimed Carlsen, Nakamura and Karjakin to be his successors. Itís quite embarrassing for me to announce the list because until recently (till Linares 2003) Kasparov considered me to be promising. Probably I played very poorly against him in Linares Ė I hung the knight Ė and my name was driven out of the list of the promising. This is a good lesson for the young players: donít offer the pieces to Kasparov, and especially, donít sacrifice them in no circumstances, and then your name will be in the list for a long time."

Hi Daaim, Maliq,

my last post on this - yes, I ran out of arguments :-)

In fact, I agree with the most that both you said. I agree that Nakamura is stronger than Karjakin at present based on their recent match. However, I did not explicitly state that I think that people develop lineary. Indeed, I strongly second the opinion that one of the biggest test is around the age of 18 when people start facing "real life" (college, job) and that can a difficult for many chessplayers (or other sportsmen)to stay focused.
My initial comment was that Nakamura - Karjakin should not be overestimated as Nakamura is 17 and Karjakin 15 as my understanding is that between 15 and, people are more likely to improve than deteriorate.

You named several well known examples of extremelly non-linear development of chess players and I checked the Jeff Sonas's site for you:

15y0m 2588
17y0m 2677

15y0m 2578
17y0m 2611

15y0m 2614
17y0m 2702

I like both Nakamura and Karjakin and look forward to many spectacular battles between these two in coming years...

Well done, Horacio. And I'm sure you could have posted many, many additional examples.


Thanks for the data. Interesting figures.

I mentioned Alejandro Ramirez. When he was one move from beating Morozevich in the 2002 Olympiad, people finally took notice and at 15, he became a GM in 2003, the first in Central America. However, he reached 2550+ a year ago and is now at 2483. So I'm not so sure that you can say between 15 and 17 he has improved... at least not in terms of ELO.

However, in his case there are many factors. In Central America, he does not have much competition to strengthen his chess, so he has to travel quite a bit. I believe he played in Corus (B) recently. Traveling may be exciting, but the issue is adjusting to being around mature and married adults... some with very bad habits. That can make it very lonely for a teenager at these tournaments. I remember Sunil Weeramantry (Hikaru's stepfather) sharing that insight with me.

I believe Karjakin's mother has traveled with him a lot and I'm sure that helps. What I am saying is that there are so many factors that will determine success in a young player and talent is only one of many factors. Carlsen is struggling now and who knows why? He has clearly shown talent, but is there something else?

Dear Daaim Shabazz and all friends,

I noted your posts regarding these teenage prodigies and the emotional setbacks they encountered at their age. Being a teenager myself, I shared their sentiments. Guys like Nakamura, Karjakin, Carlsen and Radjabov definitely are talented but time will tell whether they can all reach the top ten and stay there. Of course, it's a wondrous thing to have accomplished so much when you're still very young but that would also mean carrying an assortment of heavy responsibilities.

In an interesting interview,(cannot remeber the source, sorry!), I discovered that when Kasparov won the World Championship in 1985 at the young age of 22, he described his jubilance as being "on top of the world", friends and family all congratulated him heartily except Reena Petrosian (I'm not sure if her romanized first name is spelt correctly, pardon me if I'm wrong), the widowed wife of the deceased Tigran Petrosian lamented to the young Garry, "Garri, I feel sorry for you as from now on, your life won't be the same as it was". Kasparov was blissfully surprised at her remark but discovered the wise philosophy of the her words later on as he strived with Karpov for the supreme title for almost half a decade. In his own words, Kasparov mentioned that without Karpov as his nemesis, he won't be as successful and dominating as he was.

Moreover, in the book "Endgame", which gave a journalistic and humorous view of the 1993 PCA breakaway match, Kasparov mentioned that owning to the enormous pressure he faced from his mother and his mentors to reach the apex of chess since a young age, he lost his childhood and sensed that he must 'fight' vigorously to win his every games as compensation. He regarded himself as powerfully self-driven and feared by his opponents for his extravagant gestures, which he said are essential for him to stay focused. Kasparov knew very well of the hostility he sometimes displayed during playing and explained that due to the lack of pleasant memories of his childhood and growing up too quickly, having to deal with the KGB and the Soviet authorities, he somehow lost the compassionate side of himself and has to consciously remind himself perpetually of not being too 'cruel' to the people surrounding him in the real world.

As for the teenage talents that I mentioned above, they are definitely not Kasparov and each one of them, being separated from one another in different countries, will lead lifes independent and distinct from one another. One, two, or perhaps fortunately all will be accomplished top GMs one day, only time can tell, but for the time being, they must strive hard and stay determined, just as how Kasparov was for all his childhood and adult years. Without passion, it'll be very hard to succeed.



From the computer point of view there are question marks but no exclamation marks. There is no aesthetics in chess. The game is actually no different from cracking numbers.

I'm afraid that if the historical perspective, strategy and other empirics are taken out of the game it will eventually be left devoid of any beauty.

Petrosian's widow first name is Rona Yakovlevna Petrosian.
Yakovlevna means that her father's first name was Yakov.

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