Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Book Review and ...I Swear This Isn't Erotic...

...but I really love chess. I've had many loves (other than people) in my order, I think they were baseball, classical cello, Magic: the Gathering (because I was a big nerd 7th-1oth grade), rugby, Korean martial arts (Hapkido primarily), Judo, and now chess. The big ones were music, Judo, and chess. I got pretty good at the first two, and I'm improving at the third. What I love about chess is the way intricate, detailed calculation combines with fantasy to produce beautiful ideas. Chess is no different than anything else: to really appreciate the beauty of it, you have to be somewhat good at it. You have to give enough time and effort to it to understand its subtleties. Once you do understand them, they become beautiful. The better I get, the more positions I understand, the deeper I can calculate, the more I love the works of great chess artists like Fischer and Tal, Capablanca and Kasparov. The different ways in which they weave masterpieces are as unique as fingerprints. The simplicity and directness of Fischer and Capa, the imagination of Tal, the naked aggression of Kasparov. I really love them all. I strive to create the same beauty in my games, though at best I only play one or two beautiful moves every 20 games or so, and I still haven't played a truly beautiful game. I'm not good enough, and neither are my opponents in most cases. We make too many errors. A truly sublime chess game should be close to error free, and what errors there are should be subtle.

It is funny what people think makes a beautiful game. As I implied before, I think it's a combination of exacting calculation (i.e. chess 'truth') and fantasy. An unexpected and original idea supported by valid analysis is the recipe for beauty. It's not necessarily a brilliant attack or a deep combination, though those can be beautiful. Many attacks can be formulaic even if they involve multiple sacrifices. The beauty for me lies in the originality of the conceptions involved. That's why Tal's games are so pretty. Not because he sacrifices material, but rather the way he sacrifices material. The positions in which he does so, the unorthodox (but so often exceptional) compensation he recieves. Anyone can sacrifice. To do so in a position where no one else would even consider it but yet it's still valid is where the beauty lies. Another player whose games I am astonished by is Petrosian. He had as much appreciation for the possibilities of a position as Tal did, but rather than exploiting them directly he prevented his opponent from taking advantage of them. Playing through some Petrosian games is like watching Shaq play one on one versus Vern Troyer. He doesn't have to hurry and he doesn't seem to work particularly hard, because his opponent can do absolutely nothing to stop him from doing whatever he wants.

After that extended soliloquy, here's a game I just played which is not beautiful in the least, though it's an example of reasonably good play by both sides. Note to everyone: I hate the black side of the French. Really. Hate. It.


There you go. And now for a book review.

Forcing Chess Moves: the Key to Better Calculation, Charles Hertan

So this book won the Book of the Year prize for 2008. After getting it, I'm not surprised. This is an excellent educational tactics manual, which is a pretty hard thing to do. This tome goes beyond the standard review of a few typical combinative themes followed by problems. Way beyond.

Well, 'way beyond' may be an exaggeration. The chapters do consist primarily of many examples of tactics, followed by a set of exercises. I suppose it seems so different from a standard tactics book because it's so much better. I haven't seen any of the combinations before, and writing is enthusiastic, and then of course you have COMPUTER EYES.

I wrote the phrase in all caps because that is how it appears throughout the book. Just so you know, computer eyes is the phrase Hertan uses to describe the search for non-obvious but forcing, winning moves. Other reviewers have complained that it's a silly term repeated too often in the book, but I happen to find it a very useful concept. As I believe repetition is the mother of learning, I also think it's good that Hertan repeats it over and over. Truly, the idea of looking at forcing moves first even if they don't look initially promising is worth remembering. You can probably tell I really like this book, and I recommend it to anyone. I would add that if you're under ~1700, don't expect to get the exercises right. The examples will still help you though, and the idea of examining all forcing moves will probably raise your rating anyway if you apply it consistently.

New tourney at Boca starts Friday. Peace.


CHESSX said...

Very nice post.

I am a fan of Petrosian and his games,i think he was very mis-understood.
When he played 5 minute chess he was tacticly as good as Tal and Fischer.
But in long games he had a "i will bore my opponent to death"
He played safe and seemed to do just enough no more to win a tournament.

The book looks good i will have to look into this.

The game position looks to me like it could go either way due to who messes up the position first,i know because i have had this sort of thing so many times myself.

Caeruleum Canis said...

Glad you liked the post. I actually don't think Petrosian was boring anyone to death, but rather actively preventing them from doing anything. If you study his games the positions aren't dry (in my opinion), just very positional. One mistake by either side could still mean a loss, it just wouldn't be an immediate loss. You simply wouldn't know it was the losing move until Petrosian won the ending 50 moves later, and he told you so. That kind of deep, long term chess is what I find really beautiful.

CHESSX said...

But to the mass chess public they dont want that kind of chess,they want alekhine/kasparov blowing people away in 20 moves.
Playing Petrosian must have been like walking a tight rope,any second you could fall.

Actively preventing them from doing anything.

I will always think of Petrosians play in that way from now on, well said.