Baffling Decisions (1)

Article written before game 12 of World Chess Championship from New York.

There is no doubt in my mind the chess World is watching with interest these days the World Chess Championship match from New York. It is of course much easier for North and South Americans given the time zone; still when you hear during the press conference after game 11 that over 200,000 people in Norway are also watching it closely, that is an impressive number! The experience of watching it online (live or afterwards) has improved a lot. Things are more refined, there are lots of sites to choose from, some being for pay and many others for free. On the vast majority of the sites, there is a chat area where people watching it live can interact during the game, as well as more chat areas where top Grand Masters are sharing their thoughts move by move; in the same time people can see engines running in the background and displaying evaluations of each position plus possible continuations.

Chess has been changed decisively by engines in my opinion. The sheer calculation power of any engine today can be overwhelming and in the same time misleading. The regular chat area is an interesting case on itself. There are lots of people who just post everything and anything, literally spamming and disturbing everyone else; in a way I see them like people in the stands at a match of any sort in a stadium: some cheer, others laugh and talk loud, some get drunk and fight, others watch it normally, probably what you would expect from a crowd. Looking at it this way the baffling decision to behave like this by anyone is disappointing. The next group of people is those who think they know a bit of chess and believe seeing the engines evaluations and choices makes them equal to the players involved. What is up with that, eh? Does seeing the evaluation and choices of an engine makes you all of a sudden equal or better than Magnus or Sergey? What’s up with spamming the chat area, repeating with strong conviction the engine choices shown or predicting the score over and over again because the evaluation displayed on your monitor has changed from 50-50 to 58-42 on one side or another? Do you really have any clue what is going on or what those percentages mean? One would expect chess, an intellectual activity for sure, to attract a more refined type of crowd in general. Yes, every Tom, Dick or Harry can learn alone how the pieces move and play online to their level; however just doing that should mean they are different from mindless hooligans who attend a sports event just to get drunk, fight and destroy to satisfy some primary urges. Why behave like that? Is it only because you are not present there live and could hide behind a monitor? Is this also the reason why the use of nicknames and false identities is so spread, IMO the Achile’s heel of this wonderful tool called the internet? I am just shaking my head and do not understand it at all.

For me the chess played by Magnus and Sergey is quite often hard to understand. The first thing coming to mind is the match strategy and closely related to it their opening choices. Have the top players today reached the point where one cannot play but what we see? OK, Kramnik chose the Berlin versus Kasparov and from that point on a lot of others have followed. To me this does a disservice to chess; nobody expects gambits all the time (most of them have been refuted or proven speculative and wrong by the engines anyway), but watching a Berlin defence game or the paint dry is sadly about the same… It is maybe not surprising with such options available to both players, the opening repertoire for the match on both sides is what we see. I never thought I would see Colle-Zukertort used at this high level like in game 8:

Is this all Magnus and his seconds can come up with as match strategy to get an edge on Sergey? It is understandable the World Champion wants to show he can play anything, anytime and against anybody; still to me this choice is baffling. I would venture saying Caissa was not impressed either and as the game went on she favoured Sergey all the way to victory; that opening choice almost ruined the match for Magnus.

It became quite apparent as the match went on, Magnus would try to surprise Sergey and then grind him down. Sergey on his part has shown incedible resilience in defending very difficult positions like in games 3 and 4. I still can’t believe Magnus did not win either one of them. GM Yasser Seirawan has a fantastic analysis of game 3 at Chessbase, while GM Dorian Rogozenko does a similar high level analysis of game 4 in the same place. It is possible those 2 games gave Sergey and his team confidence he can compete head to head with Magnus; in the same time it might have put him in a defensive frame of mind and what is a better display than the famous game 10 decisions by both? I simply could not believe my eyes when I saw live 19.Bxe6!? … (go and read GM Wesley So excellent analysis of it on Chessbase):

Lots has been written about it by players much better than me. All I have to say, the regular player would better stay away from such moves and choose the normal and strong 19.Nd2! … Yes, Magnus won the game in the end; however this is one of the baffling choices he made during the game. Soon after Sergey obliged by not playing 20… Nxf2:

Here it is possible Sergey’s defensive frame of mind did not help. The choice is clearly aggressive, looking bluntly to achieve maximum efficiency by getting a quick draw with 2 games to go and maintaining a 1 point lead. This feels like a glorious moment to take advantage of a huge opportunity. They say your brain wires itself differently based on how you think: you are a positive person, your brain is wired different than if you are a negative one; all you have to do is look back at different moments in your life and possibly you would agree. Sergey looks wired toward defending stubbornly to the last bullet.

What do we learn out of this? First of all even Magnus and Sergey are human. They make baffling decisions like any of us. Secondly both play at a different level than only a few. Judging their play based on engines evaluation and choices is ridiculous and teaches those who do it nothing. Challenge yourselves to behave accordingly and do your best to be open minded toward learning what is happening chesswise in that match. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian

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About Valer Eugen Demian

The player - my first serious chess tournament was back in 1974, a little bit late for today's standards. Over the years I have had the opportunity to play all forms of chess from OTB to postal, email and server chess. The journey as a player brought me a lot of experience and a few titles along the way: FIDE CM (2012), ICCF IM (2001) and one ICCF SIM norm (2004). The instructor - my career as a chess teacher and coach started in 1994 and continues strong. I have been awarded the FIDE Instructor title (2007) for my work and have been blessed with great students reaching the highest levels (CYCC, NAYCCC, Pan-Am, WYCC). I am very proud of them! See my website for more information. I have developed my own chess curriculum on 6 levels based on my overall chess knowledge and hands-on experience. A glimpse of it can be seen in my first chess app: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/chessessentials/id593013634?mt=8 I can help you learn chess the proper way if this is what you seek!