Monday, March 05, 2007

Playing to Win

Yesterday we pondered the nature of chess.

In Playing to Win, Plaskett considers whether chess might be art, science or sport or perhaps some combination of all three.

In fact, science and art are dismissed fairly swiftly. In the case of the former, chess is considered too trivial to qualify. As far as the players who claim to be artists go... well Plaskett cites the inherent competitive nature of the game and suggests any artistic value occurs as a secondary outcome. He also points to the low proportion of any games that might qualify as artistic.

Plaskett gives sport more consideration. Although he rejects the traditional arguments against chess being considered a sport (insufficiently competitive or physical) ultimately he too comes down against the notion of chess as sport. For Plaskett, the growing importance of opening theory (and remember he was writing in the late 1980s prior to ubiquitous use of computers) negates any claims for chess as sport.

His argument is roughly as follows. One side, particularly if they have a "Decisive Opening Innovation" up their sleeve, may start with a theoretical advantage that means the other player is not taking part in an equal contest. According to Plaskett, this is different to the technical advantages possessed by certain teams in Yachting or Formula 1 although I have to confess the reasons why this should be so escape me. In any event, the argument runs, because chess doesn't always start as a fair fight it can't be considered a sport.

I wonder how Plaskett’s views have changed over the past 20 years. In particular, what does he make of the idea of “mind sport” or this petition?

Getting back to Plaskett’s book, after his essay on chess he publishes 15 of his own games. My favourite is the one he played against Short in the Banja Luka tournament of 1985. Look out for the Knight sac on move 14. In the notes, Jimbo says, “Two pawns, a1 – h8 diagonal, central armada ready to roll … looked good to me, but it was only after a fair deal of post mortem analysis that Short’s skepticism abated.”


Anonymous said...

nice game haven't heard of this player before (alexey hurricane)

Tom Chivers said...

I'm even more skeptical over Plaskett's theory about chess than over his sacrifice in that game.