More Benefits of Studying the Classics

Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just like a punch, a kick just like a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick no longer a kick. Now that I’ve understood the art, a punch is just like a punch, a kick just like a kick.

~Bruce Lee

I’ve written before about the importance of studying the games of the old masters (as have many chess writers). One of the benefits of doing this is that we can often see some of the essential strategic and tactical elements of chess in a very pure or perhaps primitive form.

As modern chess theory and the general knowledge of chess players developed and improved through the decades, some of the building blocks of chess have become buried in complexity. The initial purpose of a move originally played in the 19th or 20th century gets obscured as computer analysis and scores of chess masters analyze complications and tactical divergences to a degree that beginning and intermediate players are no longer aware of the fundamental purpose of specific moves. They play the move because their chess book or database says it is a good move.

Of course, good opening chess books, videos, and coaches hopefully can help in this matter. However, one enjoyable way is to study the earliest incarnations of these moves, as played by masters who paved the way.

When Magnus Carlsen or Wesley So plays a move, they have the advantage of having seen the first 15 or 20 moves in dozens (or hundreds) of games played by masters over the years. The early masters such as Lasker, Capablanca, and Alekhine were building on very new theory – much of which they created themselves! This is not to discredit the modern elite player, who have to both remember, understand, and synthesize these mass amounts of theory to compete at the highest levels. However, it is both pleasing and fruitful to understand the problem of a chess position from the eyes of a master who is seeing it for the first time, or perhaps only a few times before.

So don’t neglect your study of the early masters.

Here is an example from a classic game between Edgar Colle (well-known for his opening for the White pieces) and Ernst Gruenfeld (also well-known for his origination of the defense that bears his name – although it is not featured in this game). This game features many instructive points, particularly if you find joy in a beautiful attack.

Bryan Castro

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About Bryan Castro

Bryan Castro is a businessman and writer from Buffalo, NY. When he's not spending time with his family or working, he can be found playing chess or practicing martial arts. He combines his interests of personal development and chess on his site Better Chess Training (betterchesstraining.com).