31 July 2011

The Truth

Truth in chess and in life

As a follow-up question to my remark that all grandmasters naturally play more logical and therefore more beautiful and more truthful chess than me, this month's central question is: what are some things I used to see as truth in chess when I was younger, but now we are further in time, I have changed my mind on?

Maybe I am not far enough developed to give a real answer. There simply are too many things on the chessboard I believed in back then, that I still believe to be true. Maybe one thing that I changed my mind on, is that Chess can only be used as a tool to search for truth in something else; for myself I use it as a tool to search for truth in reality; ...whatever "real truth" may contain, even if it isn't so terribly relevant. Searching for the ultimate truth in Chess itself may very well lead to a disappointment, even when some of it is found. Hopefully though, the associated truths in reality will lead to more peace of mind and a better experience of life. :) One mistaken assumption that I've made too easily myself, is that improving one's dexterity in chess simultaneously improves one's agility (analytical skill, problem solving, think-before-you-act...) in a different environment in a similar way; while during the time spent playing all that chess, all other things are on hold instead. :)

A few basic examples that I can give of changed - purely technical - opinions in chess for myself are some considerations in the opening phase of the game: the first example that I can give is that I used to believe that the Danish gambit is a pretty nice way of developing all white force in a nearly optimal way. However, with normal black play (i.e. just the known old mainline) it leads to an at least slightly advantageous endgame for black, and there are other options to neutralize the whole white initiative early on. I guess that's the way with all openings once you exhaust them too much... too much objectivity leads to unpleasant positions. :) I am not at all saying the whole gambit is altogether refuted - just that I have seen enough of the resulting positions to choose for other things in the opening phase. (i.e. right now I would play the Evans gambit instead, but it's not altogether sound either, when you play it too much)

I can also say that I am simply too stubborn for my own good; too rejective when it comes to other people giving me well-intended advice. This refusal to learn - also a refusal to learn from previous experiences - is something that is holding me back in chess, and in life as well. Advice could be given to me by someone "weaker", someone about as strong as me, or by someone stronger in chess (or life!).

Advice from a weaker player: Pfft, your rating is xxx, hahaha, you think you can tell me what to do? What do you know about me? What do you know?
Equal strength: look where it took you, this proposed modus operandi didn't take you too far either, did it? :p
Stronger: yeah yeah, of course, since you are stronger, it's only logical that you have put in more positive effort than me and that you are comfortable in more openings and play more sound and flexible games than me, that's why you have a higher rating and why you get more satisfaction out of the games you play, duuuh, do you have anything else to say?

In the end, my actions are nothing different compared to before receiving the golden advice. This altogether reluctant attitude is decreasing others' willingness to work with me and share ideas with me - which is one of the most important aspects to improve in any field.

Another thing I can say is that ALL is true that is said to beginners, but for me it's altogether more subtle and nuanced than when I read it when I was the p1200 Heinzk. I.e. a rule of thumb such as "develop knights before bishops" has a more subtle meaning than its blunt appearance as a one-liner. It is better to leave a bishop sitting on its home square, just waiting for the right new square to announce itself, keeping out of reach of the opponent's knights and not wasting any tempo. You leave them on f1/c1 just to keep the bishop pair even if they haven't done anything positive in the position yet. Supposedly it's advantageous.

One old positional consideration may very well save your life in the future. On the other hand, forgetting about one old positional consideration may very well unnecessarily kill your position.

You have to apply all the factors and elements that have passed during the years (there are so many) in the current position without losing the thread - the current position that is more important than anything else until the moment you have made the decision which piece to move where... after which this position becomes irrelevant again.

And at the same time there's a factor "opponent" you have to consider, a guy who is having all those thoughts at the same time but who has opposite preferences for what the resulting position should look like...

It's hard to admit, but when I think about this infinity in chess, it still scares me as some sort of fear of the unknown. There are so many chess positions, and, considering that all those positions could be displayed in thousands of ways on my computer screen, apparently I could see any and all of them at any given moment: and I can perceive any position in multiple ways too. This means that my own imagination, located somewhere in my infinitely small head, must be of "infinite" proportions as well (even further as from one position I can make all kinds of associations). And I know I should be careful with what I imagine, as before you know it, this imagination could become something tangible in reality. And that's only on an 8x8 board shown on a computer screen. In the wider world, billions of chessgames on miniature scale per every squared kilometer are moving semi-randomly without giving any attention to any sort of FIDE rules they should be abiding. Frightening!! How can I survive in such an unpredictable environment with infinite amounts of mouseslips going on, effecting others and, most importantly, effecting ME each single second of my life...? Scary!!! At the same time, I try to reassure myself by thinking that I will only ever have to consider just that ONE position out of that - apparently infinite (...while actually not so much is going on at all in there...) - pool of self-pitying misery in my brain, apply some logic to that position and make the corresponding move of my liking. That's all there is to it. It's quite within the width of my grasp. Horsie moves like an L. :)

"Develop all your pieces" is another general rule that I used to misinterpret. It does not necessarily mean you have to actually move all your pieces. A rook on h8 can be fully developed, being worth its full five development points, if it just contributes to the position in one way or another. Moving it may very well lead to it being less effective than it was on its home square. I thought I had to "wake up" all pieces by moving them from their home squares (I still do it like that quite regularly). It was even worse when I started out: when I was at the end of theoretical lines, I used to fancy moving all pieces to my own preferred squares instead of the squares they landed on, after my knowledge of the "theoretical line" had reached its end.

Also it is important to know that you don't have to reach the "perfect position" with the move you are going to make every time; it just has to be the "perfect reaction" to the move that your opponent has just played, the perfect continuation in the situation that you and your opponent have created together, i.e. covering and countering all your opponent's threats and ideas - both tactically and strategically - and simultaneously making positive progress in your own position. In day to day life, I try to give the "perfect reaction" in all situations that I am involved in, both in tolerance and good spirits, while my passive wait-and-see attitude - quite suitable for chess ;) - can be considered as lazy and indifferent. (which it might well be)

All in all it's all quite nuanced and not so crystal-clear as we would like to pretend it to be.


  1. Mediocre deadline work!

  2. It's a common theme that when we become more advanced in a particular subject (whatever that might be), we perceive it as more complex and less certain. This is because we are closer to the truth. This is sometimes disappointing, for example I am disappointed that I knew almost everything about the world as a teenager and am much more ignorant about it now after having learned a great deal more. However, that's the truth for you.

    Chess-wise, I am a little tired of seeing all of the old general rules be discounted by people who generally do it to make themselves look like they're experts and cool by flouting said rules. No, they don't always work, but they're pretty good to start with and it takes some real knowledge to explain why they don't apply in a particular position.

    So, good observations on the knight vs. bishop development (a knight is not capable of much on its original square, unlike a bishop) and on the rook development without moving. Plenty of games see the h-file opened and the rook "developed" that way.

  3. I always like to think of chess as a picture that is very out of focus. As I study and get more experience, the picture becomes slightly more in focus. It's a gradual process, but also sometimes you are playing a game and you suddenly realize you can see something that you never saw before, some part of the picture that was too blurry to make out before but has now come into focus. It's very exciting.

  4. Thanks Kyle M. and ChessAdmin for the pointers into the right direction, I have now added a few paragraphs to stress that this article had been intended as something more "philosophical"(?) indeed.