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Hungarian Patience

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Okay, so the nachos were pretty stale after all. It would have been surprising to get anything else I suppose, but it does highlight Leko's choice of opponent. Perhaps he just wanted to add the match scalp of a former world champion and living legend, however aged, to his career achievement list? He duly achieved this by drawing games 7 and 8 to win the Miskolc Rapid match 4.5-3.5. One win and seven draws with lots of dry endgame play. Again, no surprise. It was a match between two premier technicians, both deservedly known for being less than aggressive and prone to avoiding risk and tactical adventures.

The last two games today again reflected this, although game seven had a sort of anti-excitement excitement. I'm not sure I can recall a game with a blockade starting on move 24 and lasting the next 40 moves. Karpov gave up queen for rook and bishop and held on for dear life to draw. Inspired, if tragically so. Karpov also suffered in game eight, and although he turned the tables in time trouble there were few serious winning chances throughout. If this had been a classical time control event it would have been of more interest to endgame fanatics, but rapid chess precision is something of an oxymoron.


He chooses the opponent??

"Perhaps he just wanted to add the match scalp of a former world champion and living legend, however aged, to his career achievement list?"

Leko the legend-killer. LK0!

My understanding is that he is "consulted" regarding the opponent. I don't know if they came to him with the idea of Karpov or the other way around. The former seems more likely. I've asked for more info.

in my opinion this match was actually higher quality than anand-radjabov for example. karpov played well but he lacks the opening novelties to beat a leko.

On a very literal level that may be true in that there were fewer mistakes. Anand-Radjabov was pretty low quality. But you don't have many mistakes when you swap all the pieces and play technical positions, especially at this level. The decision-making of Leko and Karpov is fundamentally different than that of Radjabov, not to mention the openings. Two top technical players playing technical positions aren't going to make many mistakes, but I'm not happy calling it quality because it entails so little risk. It's like one Olympic diver doing perfect swan dive after perfect swan dive while another diver makes a mistake on a triple flip with a quadruple twist.

Perhaps rather than the frankly tedious moralising over aesthetic preferences, a more relevant criterion to look at would be the live audience and the internet viewing figures (I am assuming this was live on the internet). Anyone ever release those for any events?

It seems to be more or less entirely an American thing, this complaining about draws. I don't see it anywhere else but this blog. Of course, here in Europe we tend to think that the US public is uniquely unreceptive to sporting events that end in draws - which is why they can't cope with decent games like cricket and football and have to put up with crap like basketball, ice hockey, rounders and whatever that other game is they play over there. Maybe we're right?

Online stats become difficult to track because of time zones and other scheduling differences - weekends, etc. Also trouble with relay quality. But you can ballpark things by looking at the broadcast audiences on the major servers. At least you can always tell which game is most popular on a given day. I used to track these stats at KC in the old days.

I've been hearing complaints about dry and boring draws since, oh, 1920. Or at least reading about them. It undoubtedly predates Capablanca's "death of chess" comments. It's hardly the invention of this blog or Americans. (Hockey and American football can end in draws, btw.) Mostly we complain about short, worthless draws and discuss ways to eliminate them.

Personally I thought the match was quite interesting. These were not short, unfought draws. They were only agreed drawn, for the most part, in simplified equal endgames that followed many moves of complex technical play. It's impressive that Karpov, after all these years, can still hold his own with such a strong opponent. A narrow loss that there is no shame at all in.

When Kamsky plays like this against player of a lower techinical level and wins, we all cheer!
I think that Kamsky deserves the applause, but so do these two players. And Karpov's sac of queen and pawn for rook and minor piece was brilliant, if a very passive species of brilliance. That is a significant material disadvantage to take on so early with so much material left. Karpov is still a defensive genius!

Come now, Mig, like the man says these weren’t unfought draws at all and you’re still having a go. They just weren’t your sort of chess.

I thought ice hockey and basketball had some sort of overtime sudden-death thang to avoid draws, at least in local US events. No?

A reviewer's presence onsite undoubtedly adds to the interest he finds in the games.

Chessbase found much to enjoy in Leko-Karpov; Mig found little.

The players' reputations also impact the way their games are viewed. A and B's drawn games take on interest because A and B are playing them. C and D's drawn games are assumed dull unless proven otherwise.

We need more onsite reviewers and we need blind taste-testing. Don't tell the reviewer who's playing the games.

rdh, why do you call ice hockey and basketball crap? what do you know about these games? and those games r at least equally popular here in europe.. cricket and baseball might be crap but basket and hockey surely arent!!

Actually, as of last season, National Hockey League games in the U.S. can no longer end in draws. If the score is tied at the end of regulation play, 5 minute, 4 on 4, sudden death overtimes are played until there is a win.

I don't think it's a uniquely American thing to dislike draws. Anyway, Chessbase is a feel-good site and rarely criticizes, whereas Mig criticizes a fair bit, and not just quick draws.

My guess is that Leko needed a punching bag after his setbacks in the tournaments.

Just the way they strike me. Basketball’s fun to play but to watch it’s garbage: no aesthetic to it, no midfield play, lots of samey, sweaty ducking and diving in a confined space, then either the ball drops in or not. Ice hockey much the same really, but with the added defect that the players are swaddled up and thus more or less devoid of personality.

Baseball’s actually not bad; obviously inferior to cricket – lacks the variety, principally - but about on the level of the one-day hit ‘n’ giggles.

Yah, although college and international basketball are better than the ultra-athletic NBA game. More team, more passing, more strategy. If you like dunks and speed the NBA is a fun show, but it barely qualifies as a team sport.

As for the Karpov-Leko match, if y'all read what I wrote you'll see I wasn't criticizing blindly or just for fun. I wasn't even criticizing the players. "Hard fought" isn't the same as interesting. By mutual consent of the players, almost all the games quickly reached positions that were technical instead of dynamic. They played some taut and technically interesting positions, but winning chances were always extremely thin, as could be expected between two excellent technical players in such positions.

Both Karpov and Leko are well known to prefer low-risk play with minimal counterplay for their opponent. This stereotype was accurate except for the lone 1.e4 game and the start of game six (which boiled down to sterility after over-cautious play). You can always find something interesting to look at in a chess game, any chess game. That doesn't mean some aren't more interesting than others, or that risk-averse play is to be commended.

Even if you want to make an equivalency argument and say every game is great to someone depending on stylistic preferences - which is dubious - my own preferences have never been disguised. I don't blame players for their styles, but I feel free to express my boredom. ChessBase has an obligation to look on the brighter side, and I generally do this in my own unsigned ChessBase items. It's not on opinion site. It is also invited to events, as was the case of Miskolc, and there's no reason to possibly antagonize organizers with editorializing. Everything has a time and place. For example, sometimes event sites want an engaging and opinionated voice. Sometimes they want straight, neutral reporting that highlights the positive and largely ignores even hints of negative. I've provided plenty of both over the years, occasionally butting heads with organizers, occasionally making dubious decisions.


NBA barely qualifies as a team sport? That's really a shocking statement either motivated by sarcasm or lack of basketball understanding. It may look like five players with individual talent and "ultra-athleticism" are just doing their thing, but behind those high-flying dunks and guys getting beat off the dribble, are the intricacies of the game... the angle cuts, the screen-and-rolls, the positioning, the help defense, the blockouts, the picks... it's all there and beautiful to watch. Just as chess is beautiful to watch the more you understand the intricacies, so is basketball.

Being a Chicago native (southside) and Chicago Bulls fan, I thought all Michael Jordan (six-time NBA champion) did was use his athleticism to dominate until I heard him talk basketball philosophy. His understanding of basketball is so deep. He was Kasparov on the basketball court... an assassin... and saw so much faster than others! He (and players like Magic and Bird) remade basketball as a team concept. Today Dwyane Wade (Chicago native) is the new breed of a team player, but not quite as smart... yet.

On a chess note, I honestly think that it is harder to understand a Leko-Karpov game than another GM matchup. How many of us would understand the subtleties of that type of game? I would bet that most of us can understand a Kasparov game, not because he crushes people so directly, but because his ideas have so much passion and touch the soul. Of course looking at Kasparov's analysis boggles the mind. Leko and Karpov (of today) do not play with as much passion.

My first study was Karpov and I'm indebted to him for teaching me early to keep my pieces coordinated... bishops side-by-side, knights side-by-side and rooks side-by-side. He seemed to do that as a young player and got crushing attacks. His earlier game has passion. Today both he and Leko plod along in a style that is neither appetizing nor impressionable. Karpov is older now... I don't know what Leko's excuse is.

I'm quite familiar with the NBA and don't expect my every blatant exaggeration to be taken as gospel. I grew up watching the NBA (if the scrappy Warriors could be called NBA (Purvis Short, Sleepy Floyd!), especially the Lakers-Celtics rivalry. But I then spent many years watching the international game. It's comparable to the difference between men's and women's tennis. Watching guys trade 140mph aces is impressive but it's not exactly artful as a sport despite the breathtaking athleticism and power.

This isn't just me talking, listen to Coach K, or even Larry Brown (who knows a few things about the NBA) and how they compare NBA ball to the international and US college games. That's why they went to a college coach this time. The NBA is mostly one on one or two on two with picks and cuts. If there are more than two passes on a possession the commentators feel obliged to mention it. The shot clock is set to accelerate things almost beyond recognition. You have to pass constantly and move constantly to break down a zone. (Ironically, USA lost to Greece because they couldn't defend the pick and roll, an NBA standard.)

Magic Johnson and John Stockton were the symbols of the ailing passing game. It's still appreciated by fans, and it can still win games, but it's waning because we have guys who are ever-faster and ever-bigger and who constantly go to the rim, which is located in a 3-second lane so narrow it may as well not exist. The influx of European (and Chinese, etc.) players into the NBA isn't because they are stronger or faster than American players. It's because they can shoot and pass better. Why? Because they practice shooting and passing. NBA general managers are going to go with what wins games, and a few coaches still try to focus on these things. But one or two stars can win an NBA championship and as long as that's true, things will continue to move in that direction. Big names who can score 30 or 40 sell tickets. Passing, not so much.

Again getting back to Karpov-Leko, the comprehension element is definitely part of it. Many fans are guided through GM games largely by their computers and computers don't help much in technical middlegame positions with eval fluctuation between 0.30 and -0.30.

Sharpness is also a major factor in what I define as interesting chess. If you go through all eight games you won't find more than a handful of positions – barring recaptures and other forced moves – in which a slight mistake could lead to disaster, or even a decisive advantage. Leko and Karpov prefer to win by accumulating small advantages, exploiting many imprecisions. When facing an opponent who doesn't make them, they draw. This isn't incomprehensible mystery chess, it's just very different from the chess guys like Morozevich and Polgar play, constantly trying to sharpen and unbalance the position. Tactics, mistakes, kings under fire, sacrifices, that sort of thing.

The vast majority of fans who find Moro and Polgar more entertaining than Karpov and Leko aren't unsophisticated or weak. (And I agree that finding beauty in technical positions and endgames requires much more work by the annotator and the reader. I'm a fan of studies and endgames myself.) Imperfect triple flips are more interesting than perfect swan dives.

I'm disappointed Leko has largely reverted to v1.0. These close calls in Morelia and Dortmund seem to be making him more conservative, not the hoped-for opposite.

Well put Mig. I hope for the upcoming Kramnik-Topalov match, that Topa will get an "early lead". Forcing Kramnik to take some more chances. In that case we can expect to see some very interesting games, while if Kramnik is in the lead we might unfortunatley get some very "dry" games. And just for the record, I really don't care who wins as long as the games are interesting.


I agree with much of what you've said. Refreshing to see how sports have similarities. Sleepy Floyd... goodness. That's going waaay back!

In terms of Coach K, I'm not sure they went with him because they needed a different philosophy or they wanted to merely try someone new. Larry Brown has been in a rut and ruined the Knicks and was bad in the Olympics.

The only reason why the college game appears to have more team work is because the talent is because players' weaknesses have to be minimized through ultimate teamwork. It's a different game even due to the audience. The WNBA also applies more teamwork because the weaknesses are glaring... poor shooting, but good passing and lots of layups. You're right... one or two stars (or no stars) can win an NBA Championships, but those role players have to fit into a team concept.

Enough! Enough!

Actually, some of the plodding games I like. I went through a phase in my chess development where all I wanted to do was put my opponent in zugzwang in the middlegame. I started playing positional, but found beauty in that style of play. One of the most fulfilling things in chess is to make your opponent immobile... without moves. However, nature resurfaced and I went back to my diet of Polgar slashing games and gambit tendencies. I agree... Leko v2.0 was a lot more exciting, but he started to take a lot more losses too. That is not even to mention Kramnik's 1.e4 experiment.

Rdh, soccer is a boring game to watch. There are too many 0-0 draws and games decided by penalty shots (and the players act like pansies, rolling around on the field after a tap on the ankle). In America, as well as Canada and Australia, a game generally needs to have action to draw a crowd.

Jim Foster,

Certainly rdh is uninformed about American sports, but my earlier point...

A sport may be boring to watch only if one doesn't understand the intracacies. People think chess is boring because they see people sitting there, but that is not where the action is... it's on the board.

Soccer, or international football remains the most popular sport in the world and having played, I would assure you that the players are no pansies. They are also among the most fit athletes in the world.

Tap on the ankle?? Have you ever been kicked in the ankle with spikes?

It's clear that rdh doesn't understand one bit about basketball. He simplifies it by saying the ball drops in or out. The same is true is soccer... either the ball goes in the net or not, but's that's really a simplistic analysis of sport.

It is ridiculous to say baseball is inferior to cricket just as it would be to say chess is inferior to shogi or rugby is inferior to American football. I would encourage both you to seek more understanding in sports that you are ridiculing and you will find that all of them are rich in possibilities and are exciting without comparing them to others.

Daaim, I didn't say that soccer players are pansies, I said that they act like pansies. Which they often do after a tap on the ankle (not a kick) in an obvious attempt to draw a penalty. You can tell that it is tap and an act because of the over-reaction followed by the remarkable recovery. I guess that sort of thing happens because penalties are so important in a game where scoring opportunities are rare.

I'm only going by what I've seen of the World Cup.


A "tap" on the bony ankle with spikes still hurts like crazy. There is no way you can be running and only tap someone's ankle, but I see your point.

ALL sport has its own set of theatrics... even chess! It's called a "flop" in basketball. In soccer, you can be penalized for faking an injury. You can be given an expulsion for "diving," or falling on purpose to draw a penalty. So soccer players do those things at their own risk.

On soccer... it probably has the most similarities to chess than any other sport. The positioning of players, the tactics, the defense setups, the slow build-up, attacks, etc. It's good you watched the World Cup. The level is very high so it is like chess between two GMs... it may be hard to understand (or see) the subtleties.


ever hit your thumb with a hammer while trying to put a nail in? If you did, you probably remember that you performed all kind of "theatrics" right after, which did NOT seem like theatrics at all at that time, but a means to cope with that sudden stab of intense pain. That pain goes away to a quite easy-to-cope-with throbbing after a minute or so. Just minutes after you ran over your wifes roses, howling with pain, you finish that nail.

Would you feel rightly accused by your wife of overreacting to a mere tap on the finger (that it is only a tap, your wife explains, is shown by the remarkably fast recovery...)?

Of course it is mostly theatrics in soccer. Why else do the Portuguese fall every few minutes bawling like babies, when the Dutch keep on playing, all with the same 'taps' on the ankle?

you must be joking. All the Dutch did was fall over and squabble between themselves.


Actually, I never did finish that nail. "Easy-to-cope-with throbbing?" Speak for yourself.

I know a shot on the ankle can hurt without disabling a guy. But you can just grab you ankle and swear a bit, you don't have to roll around like you're on fire. Some of those soccer players in the World Cup would grab their heads too, as if the psychic pain of their "injury" was just as bad.

Of course, quite of few of the "injuries", probably most of them, seemed to be nothing that should have stopped the "victims" from getting right up and back into the play. Sure, the camera can be deceiving but how often? Tell me that you yourself didn't think that there was a lot of phony injuries during the World Cup (I assume that you watched some of it). And tell me that there weren't too many 0-0 and 1-0 games.

Reminds me of the discussion on draws and/or boring chess.

Is a 1-0 or 0-0 game in football necessarily boring? If you only go by the score then that may appear to be the case, but that doesn't mean there was not incredible action throughout the game. People who do not understand soccer will only wait for goals and miss the beauty in the build up... the midfield play, the tackles, the ball movement, the flow.

There are INJURIES in the World Cup, but there is also acting to draw favorable calls... no doubt. I remember in the 2004 Olympics seeing Brazil's Rivaldo get a ball thrown into his stomach. He grabbed his face and crumpled to the ground in apparent agony. The offender got a red card and ejected. It's part of the tactic of working the referees and getting an advantage. In baseball, managers work the umps for calls... pitchers glare at umpires when they miss a call. It happens in most sports.

I think American culture is too steeped in a "highlight mentality" where fans only want to see scoring and lots of it. It doesn't matter if the game was low quality and shoddy skill, but they want to see scoring... like a 6-5 game in the World Cup. Kind of like seeing an error-filled tactical melee in chess.

Back to chess... would we want to see a drawn out game between Smyslov-Botvinnik or a slugfest in Fischer-Spassky? It depends... both games have inherent quality and beauty. Positional games require a deeper insight where tactical games are more direct and clear (unless you're Tal). Any average player can play an nice tactical game, but how many can play a nice positional game? Most people don't have the patience for it, so we complain.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on September 3, 2006 6:30 PM.

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