Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sixty Memorable Annotations

#6: Botvinnik - Szilagyi, Amsterdam 1966

27 Kg2
White’s control of the position is so great that he could inscribe his initials on the board with his king if he wanted.

Michael Stean, Simple Chess (Faber and Faber 1978)

What were you doing a year ago today? That’s not a question anybody can usually answer with any accuracy, but, I can tell you exactly what I was up to on 30th May, 2011.

As it happens, I was winning a chess tournament. That’s the sort of thing that we remember, isn't it? Especially if our previous congress victory – the only other one, if truth be told – had come ten years, six months and twenty-seven days earlier.

Anyhoo, for reasons that I'll leave for another day, the 2011 Sunningdale Major and the issue of luck in chess have always been bound together for me. Most recently, it was the seven games I played at that event that first came to mind when I read Ed Smith's book on luck in sport.

For Smith, you may remember, there is no such thing as fortune (good or otherwise) in chess. To be fair he was making a comparison with backgammon, and chance is always going play a bigger part in games that involve dice than those that don't, but still, I find it impossible to agree with him that luck has a "negligible" role to play in our favourite game.

If Smith doesn't quite get it, at least he has the excuse of not being especially familiar with chess. What of the rest of us? The more I think about it the more it seems to me that what chessers typically refer to as 'luck' is nothing of the sort whilst the times that chance has a truly significant impact on our chess usually sneak past without any comment at all.

Another tournament victory this side of December 2021?

Consider the game below, played a year ago yesterday morning. By move 25 White had achieved no less dominating a position than Comrade Botters got against Szilagyi, but Black not only escaped, he actually went on to win. Is that luck?

What about if I tell you that the eventual winner of the game was your humble scribe and White was the guy who would eventually finish the tournament in second place just half a point behind me? Does that change your mind?

I'll leave you those questions to ponder, but personally I don't consider luck to have anything to do with the result here. I was fortunate at Sunningdale, in all manner of ways, but it seems to me that my fourth-round game is just what we call 'playing chess'.

Chess, luck and Sunningdale. I will tell you about it one day. For now though I intend to rest on my laurel and enjoy the memory. It's going to be quite a while, after all, before it happens again.

Sixty Memorable Annotations Index


Tom Chivers said...

Using king moves to write. My new ambition in chess.

Anonymous said...

What should you call it when the opponent miscalculates and gets his queen trapped?

Jonathan B said...

Well, my anonymous friend, you can call it whatever you want. However, if you're asking *me* ...

Generally, I'd call my opponent miscalculating and getting his queen trapped: "opponent plays badly" - and if they play badly, or at least worse than me, they're going to lose.

Specifically, in this game there are are a number of things I can say that very possibly lead in to the blundering of the queen. I'll come back to these at some point in the future, but for now I'll just say that I don't think my opponent miscalculated. I think he stopped calculating too early - and that was caused by a mistake he was making for the second of three times in the game. Not luck - a pattern.

Anyhoo, end of the day: I saw that if he took the exchange he'd end up losing his queen and he didn't.

As I say, it's what we call playing chess

Ilkley Chess said...

Here's my take on the matter

ps Ed Smith is a fool.

Jonathan B said...

Well Smith's view of the role of chance in chess is certainly foolish. I think it comes from not really having a feel for the game.

Still, I think his 'luck hypothesis' is worth exploring further ... and even if it isn't, I'm going to.

John Cox said...

Gosh, this anti-robot thing is irritating. Do you really have a big problem with robots posting on your blog?!

Anyway, non-chessers of course always imagine there's no luck in the game. They can't all be fools; we should pity rather than blame them.

The better view is of course Donner's; the most attractive thing about chess is that it's largely a matter of luck.

As to what exactly that luck consists in, I'll look forward to your musings.

Two observations though. One, some players are 'luckier' than others beond what can be statistically accounted for, no question. Two, it's all very well to say you saw Nxf7+ lost and your opponent didn't, but it's not as though you had any other option. If this resource hadn't existed, your opponent would never have had this golden opportunity to play badly, he would simply have won the exchange and you'd have lost miserably, although no doubt your opponent's tendency to stop calculating too soon would have betrayed him on some later occasion(s). It's hard to know what to call that but luck.

ejh said...

Robots, no, but halfwits yes, so we have to have comment moderation on. The actual form that moderation takes is indisputably a pain in the behind, but is beyond our control. Sorry about that.

some players are 'luckier' than others beond what can be statistically accounted for, no question.

You think so? How would that work?

John Cox said...

Well, it wouldn't work, of course. Hence the inverted commas in 'luckier'. I was intending obliquely to agree with Jonathan's observation - not all luck is luck. But it's not always easy to know which bits.