With only the top players in the World making a good living from playing chess it’s worth asking what it takes to get there. Frankly I’ve found attitudes in the UK to be completely out of step with reality, and it seems that this is not just the case for chess players. Sam and I watched some videos from English junior tennis matches, and although they were good they didn’t look like potential World beaters.
So what does it take? Let’s start with prodigious talent, for example any kid who can get to the top 10 in the World in his age group. After that it’s essential to have a great work ethic and strong character, which probably eliminates over 90% of the original prodigy groupings. And finally let’s factor in a serious amount of support, the kind that allows players to train full time without worrying about money. That pretty much eliminates most Western prodigies unless they are fortunate enough to get long term private sponsorship.
Who does that leave us with? It seems to me that there are a number of Indian players who tick all the boxes, with Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu leading the way. And then in China there is Wei Yi among others. For them everything is in place while everyone else will face massive difficulties in making it to the top.
So will there be an English World Champion within the next few decades? I wouldn’t have thought so…
Here’s another nice Youtube lecture, this time on Bobby Fischer:
For those who didn’t know, here’s a nice explanation on how computers think about chess. The problem really is the ever increasing power of hardware available:
Getting in the right events is vital for chess players who want to improve and/or make a name for themselves. When selection is also involved this issue can become very stressful, from local junior events to national teams.
Chess is fortunate in this regard in that it has ratings. But what if they are not applied with iron consistency or even not used at all? Certainly there are cases in which players who would have been the ‘rating choice’ have been ‘overlooked’.
There can be reasons for selecting a lower rated player. But because of issues such as fairness, cliques and the potential abuse of power, it is better for selections to be made with a standard formula.
What should someone do if they feel they are being unfairly treated? Vigorous complaint can certainly work, though it can get them labelled as a ‘trouble maker’. A more effective response is just to smile and work harder on chess, this will probably translate into a higher rating after which it will be hard for selectors to ignore without looking blatantly unfair.
Here’s a nice and quite substantial video on Boris Spassky, who is now 80 years of age. He has certainly played some wonderful and vibrant games and his classical playing style is a good one to emulate:
A few weeks ago I played in my first rapidplay event since starting to play again, the English Rapidplay Championships. My overall result was OK, I finished in sole fourth place on 6.5/9 with an ECF rating performance of around my last published grade. On the other hand I found the experience ‘challenging’ to say the least.
This makes me wonder what the optimal time limit is for older players, and I would argue that the longer time limits are generally better. Fast time limits lead to serious levels of tension, which young players seem to negotiate better than the ‘oldies’. What may seem exciting and fun when you are young becomes unpleasant and stressful as you get older.
There is another factor that may have an influence, that of stamina for longer games. I guess this may be what influenced Garry Kasparov in his choice of fast time limits when he played again recently. But as he was probably disappointed with the outcome his choice fails to convince. Frankly I think he would do better with classical time limits.
Of course we do not need to guess, it is possible to work it out. There is plenty of data at the FIDE web site that includes the ages of players and their ratings at different time limits. The players can be divided into different age groups and their ratings compared. If I am right the older players should, on average, have lower ratings at the faster time limits.
It’s not always easy for players to continue playing through busy periods in their lives. Going off to tournaments is time consuming in itself, and then there’s the issue of preparation. It’s this latter consideration that I would like to address here.
Players who like playing sharp openings in order to gain an early initiative are going to struggle to find time for maintenance. Opening theory is constantly changing and they will struggle to stay up to date with sharper lines. The obvious solution would be for them to switch to quieter lines when they find themselves with less time. But the problem with switching is twofold. First of all they may not understand the new stuff as well. And it can also be out of tune with their entire approach.
For this reason it can make sense to adopt a more solid approach from the start. Instead of teaching just gambits, tactics and attacks, why not focus on solid openings, strategy and endgames? Many junior coaches will argue that kids find such things boring. I would argue that it depends how they are taught.
One player who seems to have adapted well to a busy lifestyle is GM Jonathan Parker. Playing quiet openings and relying on middle game skill is serving him well in the few games that he plays. Here’s an example from a couple of years back:
Here’s a game of mine from the recent Manchester Open which was very much a strategic affair. I improvised the early 6.Nc3 and 7.Qc2 and fortunately managed to get a strong position in the early middle game.
The decisive moment came when Black played 23…Ng5 rather than 23…Bg5, which allowed me to saddle him with a really bad bishop and lots of light square weaknesses. My king just marched in:
Here is a dramatic game in the Queen’s Gambit Declined Exchange Variation. My Dad showed me this one so I could see the strength of a Black rook on the third rank, both defending the weak pawn on c6 and menacing White’s king. A particularly instructive move was 29…h5 which saves Black’s king from back rank problems and brings up another attacker, if only a pawn.
Many chess enthusiasts know about Frank Marshall’s brilliancy against Livitsky in which he sacrificed his queen, probably because gold coins were then thrown on the board. On the other hand very few people will know of Nicolai Rossolimo’s very similar sacrifice against Paul Reissmann, which was also a better game. Was this because Marshall was better known? Possibly.
Here anyway are the two games so that readers can judge for themselves. One thing is clear though, there was no gold for Rossolimo: