Friday, March 7, 2008

Why Study Chess?

I found a PDF copy of Kasparov’s 1986 book “Kasparov Teaches Chess” (B.T. Batsford Ltd, 1986) and just read through the first few pages. I thought this was a really cool little glimpse into the soul of the greatest chess player ever, so I’ll provide it in full for your reading pleasure (emphasis mine). Keep in mind that he wrote this in the mid-eighties so his comment on computers is a little outdated :)

"The proposal by Sport in the USSR magazine to conduct a series of correspondence study sessions for their readers came as a surprise to me because I am still studying the subtleties of chess myself.

After some consideration I decided that to write about my understanding and interpretation of chess basics would also be useful for me.

I love chess. I have been in love with the game for many years and this love is for life. I study chess all the time and very thoroughly; nevertheless, while analyzing what I have done and in planning for the future I cannot help but be amazed at the inexhaustibility of chess and I am becoming even more convinced about its unpredictability. Judge for yourself; millions of games have been played , thousands have been written on various aspects of the game, yet there is no chess formula or method which can guarantee victory, there are no mathematically justified criteria for evaluating even a single move, let alone a position. Chess experts do not doubt that in most situations there is no more than one strong continuation and everyone chooses his own 'strongest' move guided by his own experience, evaluation abilities, even his own character. The possibility of using computers as consultants does not seem very serious at present since no algorithm of the game of chess has been found and there is no program which can deal reliably with complications. Why talk about details, situations and stages of the game at a time when there is no answer to the question 'What is the game of chess? Is it a sport? Or is it a science? Or an art?'

Some say: 'Chess players participate in tournaments and matches, they fight to win, the result is important for them - this means that chess is sport. It develops will power and helps strengthen oneself.'

How can one convince others of the correctness of the opinion of those who are amazed at the beauty of combinations and the logic of chess tactics; for whom a smart sacrifice of the queen in a lost game is a source of pleasure while a dull, forced game leaves them indifferent. For them chess is an art that brings happiness and makes leisure meaningful.

At the same time there are many chess enthusiasts who can spend night after night trying to solve one problem: 'Why did Black move the rook to d8 instead of the knight to c6? Why is Black's position better?' For them chess is mainly a science of logical thinking.

I love chess even more for its versatility and manysidedness. It was the beauty and brilliance of tactical blows that captivated me in early childhood. First, it was the admiration of this brilliance, then the search for it in my own games, later it was an attempt to play a beautiful game - these were the stages of my growth as a captive of the art of chess. But the time came when I began to compete with others, to take part in tournament after tournament, and this meant that I had set out on the path of sporting chess. I still enjoy playing beautiful games but I am not indifferent to whether I beat my opponents or end up way down in the standings.

I want to win, I want to beat everyone, but I want to do it in style, in an honest sporting battle. The former world champion Mikhail Botvinnik, whom I consider my chess teacher, is a chess academic, whose work helped to make chess a scientific subject. He developed my love for chess research and for solving innumerable problems. In my preparations for competitions, during my game analysis of openings, I suddenly discovered that I was trying to study thoroughly and methodically with a persistence which is typical of a researcher. I am convinced today that my affection for all aspects of chess will help preserve my love for it for the rest of my life.

My parents taught me the moves of the pieces when I was only five, and I was fascinated by them. One year later I was taken to a chess group at the Young Pioneer Club in Baku where I thought I found myself in a kingdom of chess players. Our instructor in his desire to convince the novices of the paradoxical character of chess set the following position on the board at one of the first sessions.

The position, where the small pawns were victorious over the enemy, was so surprising that it seemed like a fairy tale and I was unable to live without chess after seeing it. I have admired this position ever since.

I have loved to attack since childhood. I still like to be on the offensive. But it took a lot of time to study the basics, which do not seem to have any direct bearing on the game itself. I am convinced that it is necessary for both grandmaster and an amateur who wants to improve his game and get some pleasure from his play in tournaments. To achieve this high standard of play the grandmaster has spent thousands of hours studying hundreds of games. His talent would not have developed without this amount of work. If you like to play chess but do not have enough time for an independent study of it, but want to beat your friends, you will have to spend dozens of hours over the chessboard."

What do you think?


Glenn Wilson said...

Kasparov saw that position when he was six years old and remembered it for the rest of his life? Wow. But can he remember where he left his keys?

Chessaholic said...

lol... he might not remember where he left his keys, but chesswise the guy is just incredible. I've watched a number of different Chessbase training DVD's from different GM's, but none has left me speechless like Kasparov's DVD on the Queen's Gambit. The amount of information he's got stored in his head is insane.

nemo said...

If you read his book, he talks about walking into some kind of reception where there was atleast a dozen or so random positions set up on different boards... Someone asked Kasparov to name the two players of the games, the event, and the year. Funny thing was, he did it from his chair(which was far from the table) in a matter of seconds. Amazing memory.

Chessaholic said...

nemo: that's some crazy stuff... maybe he should go on a game show with those skills :)i

It also fits with what I mention in my previous comment. If you watch that DVD, you see him rattle off countless lines, who played them when and where, innovations, etc... just mind-boggling.

Polly said...

Very interesting essay. Kasparov has a wonderful way of describing what chess is all about. When people ask me about my fascination for the game I have tried to articulate my feelings. Somehow they don't come out with quite the same elequance as Kasparov's words. Maybe now I can express it better.