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Speed Wasn't a Bad Movie

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But it's not so great for chess. Rapids are often fun, the lack of time and impact on the rating list allow the players to take creative liberties they might otherwise shy away from. But mostly it's a simple equation of less time to think resulting in inferior moves. Rapid is probably at its best in casual events like the Botvinnik Memorial show that just completed in Moscow. Its worst aspects come out when pressure is added, such as at the World Cup in Moscow. The idea, often touted by Kirsan and others despite decades of evidence to the contrary, that rapid chess is the sponsor-friendly savior of the chess world needed to be buried long ago. FIDE has been trotting out these giant KO circuses since 1997 and their host sites have become increasingly distanced from the real world of commercial sponsorship. Instead of learning, FIDE seems to be saying that if we just cannibalize the sport more, that if we just remove more of what makes chess special, it will become a big deal like tennis or poker.

This, of course, is moronic in both directions. One, chess isn't going to be a big mass-market hit no matter how stupid they try to make it. Two, dumbing down an intellectual pastime to make it more "exciting" is a catastrophe. You push away the people you should be attracting, those who are interested in associating their city, company, or brand with the world's premier mind sport. And you will still never attract a significant number of the mainstream sports fans who have no interest in mind sports. No matter how much Kirsan and his pals try to destroy it, the image of chess is too strong for that. So we may as well make the best of it and go with our strengths. Plus, the huge scholastic push going on worldwide will continue to raise all boats, if slowly.

So, there was some rapid chess in Moscow with the four top-rated players in the world. World champ Anand, whose legendary rapid prowess has taken some blows lately, took clear first place with 4.5/6, though few of the games were gems fit for a crown. To be fair, according to the event description the players were interrupted during the games to talk to the audience about the position. This would be bad enough in classical, but in rapid it's akin to stopping the 200m race after 100m to ask questions of the runners and then starting them off again. "So Mr. Bolt, how do you think the race is shaping up so far?" "Well, pant pant, I got out of the blocks well, pant pant, and was really ready to turn on the jets when, pant pant, I had to stop and talk to you." Of course that's not realistic. Usain Bolt wouldn't be breathing hard after just 100m. But you get my drift, and it was pretty clear the players at the Botvinnik Memorial were in the same boat.

They did play with the great deal of verve and imagination, it's just that such creativity should be tested in the fires of accuracy to make for great chess, and accuracy requires concentration. Aronian's win over Carlsen today involved two speculative exchange sacs and wonderfully sustained pressure on the white position. Great stuff, maybe even brilliant. But had Carlsen played 28.f4, with e5 and f5 to follow, Aronian's plan might have looked quite a bit less brilliant. That was just the start of Mr. Carlsen's Very Bad Day, the first of three losses to go with one on the first day to put the world #1 into a winless last place with 1.5/6. Ouch. The frustrated Carlsen went from bad to worse when he tried to shake Kramnik with 1.Nf3 b5!?. He only succeeded in frustrating his own development and Big Vlad rolled through the black position like a Soviet tank through Czechoslovakia in 1968. I enjoyed the calm rook lift 13.Re3 against Black's unprotected kingside, even though the computer ruins things by pointing out 13.Qa4 won material. 13..Bxc3 14.Bxd7! Nc5 15.Bxc8 Nxa4 16.Bxb7 Rb8 17.bxc3 Rxb7 18.Be7 picks off the exchange. Ta-dah! Not a line that would pass a Turing test, to be sure.

Aronian has had a surprising amount of success bamboozling Anand in tactical assaults in the past, but it didn't work today. Vishy handled everything the Armenian could throw at his king and after a few mutual inaccuracies, collected his second full point from him. Aronian had a last chance to keep things going when Anand blundered with 33.Kf1 instead of the 33.g4. Black had the cool 33..Qxh5 and either a very unbalanced 2R vs Q comes up or the wild fight continues. Carlsen tried desperately to get a win for pride against Anand's Berlin in the final round but only managed to collect his third bagel for the day. In contrast, Aronian did manage to get a little back in the last round against Kramnik. Aronian was at his active best, temporarily giving up a central pawn for development and pulling a pretty king walk across the board in the four-rook endgame. Nice. The win also allowed Aronian to pull even with Kramnik in the standing, leaving both on an even 3/6 score.

Speaking of rapid brilliancies, I missed Bacrot's cavalcade of sacs against Filippov in the tiebreaks yesterday. White's position was already pretty dubious, but Bacrot toss at least three pieces during fireworks that lasted 15 moves, starting with 22..Rxe2. Great fun, unless you're Filippov.


Personally I think the main problem with stopping the games mid-way was probably just that most viewers couldn't follow what the players were saying in Russian (and the non-Russian speakers couldn't say too much because of translation problems). So here's what they said :)


I'm not convinced it made the games any worse than normal rapid games - it's also quite possible it was the opposite. An extra 5-10 minutes to think over a position might have improved the subsequent play (hard to see how you could you assess it).

Here, HERE! I concur with your astute assessment of the sordid situation.


In terms of language, let's not forget that the event was organized to honor a famous Russian player, and the commentary was in the first instance for the local audience. It's much appreciated that they shared it with the rest of the world, so is - as always - your translation service.

It may be roughly comparable to football (soccer) players answering questions during halftime, when there's a well-established traditional break anyway. In running, of course it wouldn't make sense to interrupt a sprint, but conceivably one could interrupt a marathon. This actually happens (e.g. for the London Marathon) - but only amateur runners are interviewed who don't care about every single second or minute, and whether they finish 1002nd or 1028th ... ,:) .

Rapidchess has always had its place and people have been playing with fast time-controls since before the invention of the steam-engine.

I think Blitz has its role in chess to help one find tactics to find the best move as quickly as possible. Chess has always been a game of pure intellectual strength, which includes speed.

Personally, I can't tell you how many times I've ended losing a regular time-control game against an IM or GM even though I was far ahead material or position. Playing Blitz has helped me improve my speed on regular games at tournaments.

Blitz Chess, like most things in life is a tool that can be used for both good and bad. In moderation it can help you improve your speed while maintaining accuracy. I also believe blitz (and bughouse chess, variants etc) is an exciting gateway drug to get kids to try the real thing, even if in large quantities Blitz is bad for experienced players and for the purist image of the game.

I do agree that people trying to make everything Blitz to make chess more exciting. Chess is chess, nothing more nothing less. When I see a certain GM (*cough Maurice Ashley) commentate on a live chess game as if it was a football game it makes me cringe. (Go YouTube the consultation match between Carlsen and Kasparov, it's not for the faint of heart)

Thanks for another great article.

Will Stewart

This one really is vintage MIG !
Especially I love the twist on Turing.

Thanks for making chess even more fun.

The full and very long Kramnik interview at WhyChess has now been published. If you read the first half you might want to scroll down to "The Future". The second half's not actually about chess, though it's not every day you get to hear Kramnik talking about his (former) party lifestyle :)


Why are the FIDE Live ratings not up to date? The website doesn't list the World Cup games at all and says last update on August 18th?

Why are the FIDE Live ratings not up to date? The website doesn't list the World Cup games at all and says last update on August 18th?

If there's one person in the chess world who sympathizes with Vlad Kramnik's former party lifestyle, it might be Vlad Tkachiev ... ,:)

Mig, if you bothered to look up the videos on Russian chess fed. site you would see how great actually the whole thing was. Stopping was weird but they did it after one of the players made a move, basically-right after the opening, so both had 17-18 minutes on the clock. Never anything akin stopping a 200m race after 100m. And some of the comments were great (Kramnik spilling 10 chessbase dvd-worth knowledge in 3 minutes).

RCh Fed. live videos with commentary are excellent. Obv., they have hundreds of very-strong gms and several chess journals/websites, so they pair up a host (a Russian Mig!) and a GM. During WCh candidates it was Glukhovsky+Rublevsky and it made the best chess commentary I have ever seen, the only thing that has been better so far was London after-game session with the players. In this event, if was Makaritchev as a host who is I think a GM and has a chess program on sports channel + Bareev. It was nowhere the quality of the Glukhovsky+Rublevsky because Bareev's sole purpose was to be cynical about the moves, the players, the evals, but most of all-just poke on the host. It was hilarious sometimes because this Makaritchev guy was clearly annoyed. It was great.

Aronian won a marvelous game against off-form Carlsen by a double exchange sac. Maybe was the only game where Bareev was serious about the comments.

Regarding rapid vs classical - I don't know about the sponsorship, but clearly rapid has several clear advantages.

1) It is possible to actually follow the games, because they take 30 minutes to an hour instead of 4-6 hours
2) It has a much lower rate of draws
3) The role of opening preparation is not that much of a deciding factor. You can actually play a weird opening with black and try to win.

There is a strong correlation between strength of top players in rapid and classical chess. I would say the expected outcome is the same, but there is much more variance. Variance is good, drama is good. Have you seen the video of Grischuk-Aronian rapid last game where down to seconds Aronian tries to keep a poker face after blundering, but Grischuk nevertheless finds the win with seconds left for himself?

Rapid is cool.

mishanp ... that was such a lovely read. Thank you very much.

Mig - it wasnt too long ago that carlsen won the rapid in Amber and you sounded mighty pleased.

Here he gets taken to the cleaners and rapid aint that impressive anymore. Talk straight for one!

Interesting post. Everything I read about Bareev indicates that he is a bitter, bitter man!! Is it just his personality or where did he get that chip on his shoulder?

The only thing bad about the event was that Carlsen placed last. Switch Carlsen and Anand in the table with the same games and same moves, and it becomes a brilliant event, with the ingenious innovation to interview players in the middle that increases viewer interest tremendously.

This rapid tournament was not different than other rapid tournaments in the past, except that here the top 4 players played and was the strongest chess event ever. The difference is that now with computers, people rated 2000 can find "inaccuracies" and complain about low quality of play. It would be perfectly understandable given that this was rapid, with the pressure of playing the literally the best players in the world, if the wonderboy won. But since the old guy won and the wonderboy failed miserably, the event becomes bad.

Agreed. Almost every round when he has been leader of the Russian team it's "X was unprepared as always", "Y couldn't even beat an African", "Z is the weak link of the team" etc. Even other Russian players commented on how much he hates Nepo (something he hasn't been hiding in interviews). Can't be easy for Nepo to play in the Russian team with such a leader. Good he resigned from his post last month, that will make it easier to like the Russian team again as far as I am concerned.

Yep Carlsen's result probably played a role. I wouldn't call it a miserable failure, nor would I draw too strong conclusions from Anand's result which was, of course, great. But next time these four players meet (at whichever time control) it might be all different. For example it's been a while that Anand beat Aronian ... who knows if it happens again next times they meet - this year in Sao Paulo/Bilbao, moscow again (Tal Memorial) and London.

But Mig also grabs ANY opportunity for anti-Kirsan and, to some extent, anti-Russian rants. The World Cup has Russian sponsors, apparently this doesn't count because Russia isn't part of the real world?! The reason it's held in Khanty-Mansiysk has probably less to do with rapid tiebreaks, but rather with the composition of the field including an "excess" of Russian and 'Soviet' players - but that's what it's like at the extended world top. Western organizers and sponsors rather have full control over the field to invite their favorite world top players along with some local players. And they want that all participants play the entire event, rather than being eliminated at an early stage.

It is not a matter of "drawing conclusions" or predicting the future. The four strongest players played a high-profile rapid event and the results are what the are. The results ARE the conclusion. The future can be and will be different, of course.

I dislike Kirsan as much as the next guy, but that has nothing to do with this. Rapid will have more randomness than regular chess, and blitz will have even more. I am not aware of any proposal to replace all chess with rapid. If there is, that would be stupid, regardless of who proposed it. Rapid can and should exist along with regular and other forms of chess.

This event is not any worse than other big tournaments like Amber. If anything, it was better because only the top players played. When was the last time you saw the top 4 in the world play each other, without any weaker guys to beat up on?

The only reason some are saying that this was a bad tournament, was that Carlson was hammered (no wins with last place, 1.5/6, that is pretty much hammered). Once you have a conscious or subconscious dislike because of the result, it is a matter of finding excuses as to why it was bad. "Kirsan is evil" is a bad excuse, even though the statement itself is correct. "Players were interviewed in the middle " is a bad excuse. "Players made mistakes" is also a bad excuse.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on September 3, 2011 10:53 PM.

    Botvinnik Memorial 2011 was the previous entry in this blog.

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