Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Nice work if you can get it

Dominic Lawson had a will-this-do piece in the last New In Chess. Here's a gobbet.

Uh huh. Well, that looks all very reasonable, doesn't it?

Or maybe it doesn't.

Let us think this through, as the author possibly did not. For instance, let us suppose we were to begin a paragraph with the following words.
And abuse is the right word.
Would we be altogether wise to end it with these?
who clearly needs help of a non-chess nature.
We would not, would we? Because that last phrase constitutes abuse, and abuse rather lower than the abuse it complains of.

Second point. The author wagers that the internet poster of whom he complains

doesn't understand the Vančura position. Well, more than that, indeed, that she or he understands "none of this".

Maybe. It might be true. But the evidence we have in front of us doesn't allow us to make any judgement either way.

I say "the evidence in front of us" referring to the thread to which the author refers. The thing is, it provides us with precisely no information whatsoever to judge the playing strength and endgame proficiency of the author's not-very-important-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things target. Any assumption we make on the basis of what we read there is no more than that - an assumption, or if you prefer, a prejudice. We can surmise what we want. We may even surmise that the poster is trolling, and does not for one moment genuinely believe that Carlsen is actually "weak". But we don't have any evidence on which to judge how well they play.

We do, however, have some evidence that they may be aware of Vančura - the fact that a reference to it does actually appear slightly highly up the thread.

It doesn't follow that our "punk" commentor saw it, or that if they saw it, they either understood it at the time or made acquaintance with its principles later on. But still, it's a poor basis on which to confidently make a claim of ignorance.

Well, so what, you may ask - does it really matter what silly remark some commentor made on Chessgames, or whether Dominic Lawson's assessment of that commentor was accurate? No, it doesn't, not very much. But precisely for that reason, why bring it up in the first place? God knows I'm no great fan of Chessgames, which commits greater sins than having the occasional silly comment on the outcome of a rook endgame. (One of them, for instance, is acting as an outlet for Ray Keene, about which I am not expecting to see his friend complain in New In Chess.) But silly remarks on its comments threads are not important - and picking one out and pretending it to be so is simple nutpicking. The fact that it is not a particularly good example merely highlights this.

You know, if I made part of my living writing why-oh-why pieces for the Daily Mail, I'd be hesitant to make too much of what happens below-the-line on other websites, given that the comments boxes at the Mail have a reputation for being among the most unpleasant places in the English-speaking world. But it's also strange to use that particular thread to highlight what Lawson is complaining of, which is the use of computer analysis by people following top-level grandmaster chess games, and the alleged tendency of such people to underestimate the skill of top players as a result. (If you want to follow his argument in detail you'll have to buy the magazine, something I won't be doing much longer if it carries many more pieces like this. Or this.) Strange, not least because it's not even clear that the target of his ire has been following computer evaluations!

Still, his might be a defensible argument were it not for the likelihood that most players are very well aware that chess is an extremely difficult game, that even the greatest of players can't compete with the computer and that their capacity to play the best moves even some of the time is evidence of their greatness. For instance, from the thread that so exercises Lawson:

Why this should be less representative of the commentariat than the comment to which Lawson takes exception is unclear.

Truth is that just about everybody who has them uses computers - because they inform. Our commentary usually comes without them, true:

but I tell you what, I will wager that even Lawson's friend Nigel uses computers when it suits him, because they're useful things to have.

Sometimes, it's instructive to do without them. Sometimes though, they just help you follow. That's easy enough to understand. Unless you have a tendentious piece of why-oh-why to write.

There's a certain amount of stupid here. But it's not necessarily at the pointy end of Dominic Lawson's finger.

[Dominic Lawson index]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kibitzer - someone who interferes or offers unwanted advice. Sounds like the definition of a journalist.But seriously I can't wait for the next World Championship - "AlexandraThess" v Carlsen.