Ugly But Effective

The French Lebanese GM, Bachar Kouatly, once commented on how ugly my chess style was. Hopefully it has improved a bit in this respect (especially with my ever greater leaning towards positional play) but there may still be a lot of truth to what he said. I’d like to reply with Nimzovitsch’s remark that the beauty of chess lies not in a move’s appearance but rather the thought behind it, but when you see a game by Capablanca, Rubinstein, Smyslov, Karpov or Kramnik there is often an aesthetic appeal beyond this.

Of course an ugly style of play does not prevent one from being effective, and there may even be a case that ugly chess is MORE effective than the aesthetically pleasing variety because the only reason for playing that way would be the results. I have to say that Lasker played rather ugly chess but he was World Champion for 27 years. And the great Viktor Korchnoi’s games would not win many prizes for grace or elegance.

This observation can be of immediate practical value if a player makes a conscious decision to win won positions in the most sure and certain way rather than attempting to finish an opponent off in style. Very often this will mean converting an attack into a decisive material gain rather than playing for an uncertain mate.

This tends to be what professionals do because they’ve developed the necessary chess discipline, not to mention the fact that victory puts food on the table. Amateurs, by contrast, tend to be very reluctant to abandon thoughts of brilliance and will often find a game getting away from them when the hoped for crowning glory fails to materialise.

Of course someone might argue that they play chess for fun and that professional tactics are not for them. But in my experience most of the players who claim to do so would really like to be more successful. The ‘fun’ only comes into it as a way to rationalise their losses.