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Romantic Chess


  • 24 months ago · Quote · #1

    batgirl

    For the past couple of weeks I've been researching the chess player, Tony Santasiere.  I don't know how familiar he is to most people but in his day he was one of the most popular American chess players (his chess was almost totally confined to the US).  He is said to have been openly gay.  This has nothing to do with anything, but I figured, since any mention of his name would evoke this aspect, I wanted to get it out of the way as a non-issue.

    What I am hoping this topic to be about is Romantic chess.  You see, Santasiere was a loud voice in decrying "safe" and "boring" openings and styles of play.  He even tried to copyright his own version of the Sokolsky Opening (aka, the Polish or Orangutan, i.e.  1.b4) which insisted on 1.Nf3 before playing 2. b4.  He self-named the opening Santasiere's Folly and wrote a book by that name analyzing and defending it.  He also wrote a book on the King's Gambit, published posthumously and a pamphlet on the Wing Gambit in the Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.b4 cxb4 3.c4 ) and the Larsen-Santasiere attack (more commonly called the Sicilian Grand Prix Attack  (1.e4 c5  2.Nc3 Nc6  3.f4!?) and left a manuscript on Tschigorin, later published as My Love Affair with Tschigorin.

    He called the Queen's Gambit, "a peice of dead fish kept overlong on ice" and the King's Gambit "especially apt for talent, for genius, for heroism."

    However Reuben Fine didn't take kindly to Santasiere's ideas and tore apart his beloved Santasiere's Folly in one of his monthly annotations for Chess Review.  In the preface to his annotations, Fine noted: "Now, every master has had his "Morphy period," when he deliberately and regardless of cost steered his games into channels where sacrifices were bound to result.  And yet virtually all have toned down his youthful impetuosity and conducted the game along orthodox positional lines."

    Fine claimed that Romantic attacks are suicidal against modern masters (and this was 70 years ago!), and that, although Santasiere didn't promote that type of Romanticism, but rather one of originality, still it was a style based more on fantasy than reality.  Fine continued: "The more intelligent critics have recognized the indisputable fact that brilliancy is an accident and have instead demanded originality.  Mr. Santasiere falls into this category.  But he makes the mistake of exaggerating the value of novelty in the opening and champions the curious notion that only bizarre moves can produce interesting chess."

    Now, the question I have is: Are the elements that define Romanticism - initiative and creativity vs. pure materialism, really the building blocks for a Lost Cause?  Does a pawn mean so much that giving one up for no tactical or strategic reason other than  to ensure, or create, intiative, is suicidal (in the purest sense)?

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #2

    Shivsky

    Not sure if it comes down to improvements in strategy/positional thinking  and other nuances (well over my head!) over the decades/centuries.

    Nor do I think it is merely people preferring to be pragmatic or more conservative with their choices given the wealth of knowledge (books) or advances in chess theory ...  I think it really has more to do with these things called computers which bring our appreciation of tactical aggression, unsound but bold moves and brilliancies down to a boring "this works, that doesn't" science.

    Monkeys like us faux-kibitz a world championship game in our favorite online server channel and see a 11+ ply shot on their little devices within seconds and start yawning/jumping up and down when the human player is still spending time analyzing lines and not making the "killer move".  

    *That* is what killed romanticism more than anything else for chess, atleast that's my opinion. :)

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #3

    TheGreatOogieBoogie

    I was thinking of the 2.b4 when I read the title!  Though Fine is right about not only bizarre moves producing interesting chess: I posted a Petrosian game that was interesting and a four knights defense, and that opening is the most boring. 

     

    I think you'd like to read de Firmian's view on the King's Gambit.  From MCO: "Golden Ages have a tendency to evaporate upon scrutiny, and the romanticized heyday of the King's Gambit is no exception".  And before that:

    "For more than a hundred years this opening has represented a lost golden age, a nobler past of swashbuckling sacrifice and gung-ho attack, when few players were unsporting enough to defend correctly."

     

    Today such a romantic playing style is simply impractical even at club level because players today know how to defend correctly. 

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #4

    TheGreatOogieBoogie

    Shivsky wrote:

    Not sure if it comes down to improvements in strategy/positional thinking  and other nuances (well over my head!) over the decades/centuries.

    Nor do I think it is merely people preferring to be pragmatic or more conservative with their choices given the wealth of knowledge (books) or advances in chess theory ...  I think it really has more to do with these things called computers which bring our appreciation of tactical aggression, unsound but bold moves and brilliancies down to a boring "this works, that doesn't" science.

    Monkeys like us faux-kibitz a world championship game in our favorite online server channel and see a 11+ ply shot on their little devices within seconds and start yawning/jumping up and down when the human player is still spending time analyzing lines and not making the "killer move".  

    *That* is what killed romanticism more than anything else for chess, atleast that's my opinion. :)

    Romanticism was dying back when Steinitz was engaged in the Ink War, as they accused him of being a "coward" for sound positional play.  Tarrasch even said that the purpose of a gambit is to appear dashing at the cost of losing the game.  Though I agree to a large extent about computers, they're taking so much fun out of chess since they dry it up and will eventually solve it. 

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #5

    batgirl

    I couldn't agree more about computers and chess.  Everyone is a silicon GM, missing the point that the process of searching for the answer is often more worthwhile than having the answer.  Santasiere thought that high level chess lacked a certain essential, beauty.  In the preface to his manuscript, The Romantic King's Gambit, he added : "please don't show it to Larry Evans! (his materialism dogma might be shaken with the beauty)." 
    (One of San's heroes was Frank Marshall)
    Computers can find beautiful moves sometimes, but they seem a sterile beauty, or beauty with heart and no soul.


    Tarrasch was a Romantic player in my book.

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #6

    ViktorHNielsen

    I don't know, but I can remember alot of games from the Anand-Gelfand world championsship 2012 (which is not that old) where pawn sacrifices was made in alot of games.

    Romantic chess was before Steinitz, which said that pawn structure should decide the game (Philidor said it 200 years before him, but Steinitz was the one to really prove it). If the pawn structure says, you should sacrifice pawns and pieces like a mad person, if it doesn't you should not. As I understand (and beware, i'm not very good to Chess history, Famous chess players or english grammar) the romantic chess was sacrificing pawns to get an ¨interesting¨ position. Objectivly extremely bad position, but at the time, defensive chess was not very well. You could sacrifice a piece for a defensive pawn and win, because your opponent concentrated on your king, and not on defending and winning the endgame (with a piece for a pawn).

    Modern masters (Steinitz, Nimzowitch all the way up to Kasparov, Anand, Carlsen (sometimes) and Kramnik) know when to attack, defend and play ¨boring¨. 

    Today, defensive chess is extremely well (look at the Berlin Endgame, where white gets a better pawn structure and something which looks as an initiative, black scores very well if he defends well). A pawn is a pawn. If you don't get compensation, you don't win alot in Grandmaster games.

    Initiative is a positional advantage (which goes away quite fast if you don't use it). Most sound gambits, like the Marshall, hope to use the initiative to either mate white, win some material back or go into a dead-drawn opposite colored bishop ending. But giving a pawn, without enough compensation (tactical and stratical) is suicide in modern top chess, yes.

    Carlsen once played like a real man, trying to mate his opponents, but he stopped when he reached a certain point, where it was not worth it anymore. 4

    I hope you can use this answer.

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #7

    rooperi

    batgirl wrote:

    Tarrasch was a Romantic player in my book.

    Hmm, gonna take a while to get my head around calling the dogmatic Siegbert a romantic....

    For me, Mieses and Yanowski are the "Romantics" that survived into the 20th century.

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #8

    ivandh

    I was expecting wine and candles but ok.

    I think that computers have only exacerbated what is already a natural tendency in us all: to over-analyze, to look back and say "oh this is what I/he/she should have done..." With sharper play there are usually more things that could possibly go wrong, and as our ability to analyze gets stronger there are fewer and fewer moves that we can say are safe, because there is some possible continuation that would go against us.

    I've said before that any sacrifice that works is sound. People do not have the luxury of infinite time or computer processors (hopefully) when they are facing each other on the chessboard. A win is a win, regardless of whether it was by pragmatic materialism or suicidal romanticism.

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #9

    BruceJuice

    I don't believe romanticism is gone. As far as I know romanticism in the opening fails at high levels. This coincides with a quote given by Ludek Pachman, a Chechoslavak grandmaster and author, in his book "Modern Chess Strategy" when he writes:

    "When we maintain that equilibrium can only be upset by a mistake on the part of one player, we do not imply that that one cannot fight to achieve such a change. In order to force an advantage one must create strategical and tactical problems that afford the opponent difficulty. Often in clearly drawn positions it is possible to find a continuation that makes it hard for the opponent to work out the right strategical plan or even one that bamboozles him into making a tactical error.

    The equilibrium cannot, however, be advantageously upset by a sudden attack; that would have the reverse effect for it's initiator. This is one of Steinitz's principles."

    He then sites the game Meek vs Morphy, Mobile 1855:


    Romantic play or gambits tend to be effective later in game rather than the first moves of the opening. Some examples are the Marshall gambit, the Najdorf poison pawn and various pawn sacrifices that are available in the symmetrical English. These are the few examples I know of where grabbing a pawn tends to be avoided altogether. Today you are likely to see sacrifices much later in the game.

    However even if Pachman is correct this is a law that only applies to the highest levels of chess - a level in which all other things are equal and there are no misconceptions on how a proper game should be played. Below the highest levels it simply stands that games are no where near perfect and neither player tends to be able to play well enough for such laws to be always proven true. Usually the game is decided by human error as described by Pachman as bamboozling the opponent.

    And then there were players like Tal that would routinely outcalculate opponents despite their strength.

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #10

    miriskra

    rooperi wrote:
    batgirl wrote:

    Tarrasch was a Romantic player in my book.

    Hmm, gonna take a while to get my head around calling the dogmatic Siegbert a romantic....

    For me, Mieses and Yanowski are the "Romantics" that survived into the 20th century.

    Rudolf Spielmann was a true romantic in his era.

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #11

    batgirl

    miriskra wrote:
    rooperi wrote:
    batgirl wrote:

    Tarrasch was a Romantic player in my book.

    Hmm, gonna take a while to get my head around calling the dogmatic Siegbert a romantic....

    For me, Mieses and Yanowski are the "Romantics" that survived into the 20th century.

    Rudolf Spielmann was a true romantic in his era.

    And Frank Marshall.

    Tarrasch, though he played gambits, certainly didn't embrace them, but I still view him as a Romantic because of his insistance on beauty over pragmatism. One might view the Steinitz-Tschigorin matches as the ultimate Romaticist/Positional battles, but I'd consider the Lasker/Tarrasch as the ultimate Romantic/Pragmatic battle.  People talk about Tarrasch's dogmatism.  If he was dogmatic in his instructional writings, he was far less so in his games and playing style. He criticized gambits, but played gambits; he played hypermodern openings against his own dictum.

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #12

    ivandh

    I guess I should add that romanticism in the opening is dead for the simple reason that we've already explored pretty much every line that is remotely worth considering. It was easy to be daring in Morphy's day when anything other than 1. e4 (excuse the anachronism) was unorthodox. But by now, at the top levels anyway, all the lines are already played out and we already know what is good or bad. The only "daring" lines that are left are the ones that aren't great. Even so, for most people these are still completely usable; as white I exclusively play the Bongcloud and win quite a few games with it. So I say again, don't over-analyze and say that it could have gone badly or that at GM levels it wouldn't work, because in reality you're probably not playing a GM, nor does your opponent have a computer or opening book at hand. These unorthodox openings put you in the fascinating part of thinking of moves entirely by yourself, which is the soul of chess after all.

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #13

    miriskra

    All Tarrasch's dogmatism talk was about controlling centre. Tarrasch strongly believe pawns are better for controlling centre while hypermoderns believe that center can be and should be controlled by pieces. Nimzowitsch, Reti was against Tarrasch's dogmatic principles about controlling centre. Nowadays, it is more clear that both school were right.

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #14

    batgirl

    Tarrasch wasn't Reti for hypermodernism.

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #15

    Estragon

    Santasiere was a true Romantic (at least in the chess sense, I know nothing of his personal life).  He used to contribute articles to Ken Smith's Chess Digest back in the '60s and '70s illustrating not only games from the Golden Age of Romantic Chess (pre-Morphy), but also from the modern era. 

    His main point was that Romantic attacking chess is exciting and fun, and the initiative puts pressure on the opponent.  All of which is true enough, but as ivandh notes above, virtually all of the Romantic opening gambits has been analyzed to the point of solution and if Black defends well, he is just a pawn up at least.

    The spirit is still alive, and the principle of the initiative isn't a matter of "schools of chess" but of human nature - it is easier to attack than to defend, both technically and psychologically.


    Incidentally, Santasiere's idea of playing b2-b4 only after Nf3 is a pretty sound one.  Black will seldom play 1 ...e6 and cannot play 1 ...e5, so b4 can be played without immediately allowing its capture.  It's a positionally sounder way of playing the Polish, discovered and championed by a self-described Romantic.

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #16

    batgirl

    Well put Estragon.  San was a close friend of Ken Smith, who owned Chess digest. He left Smith all his unpublished chess manuscripts, many of which Chess Digest published.   By day, Santasiere was a middle shcool math teacher, but on his own time, he was a self-styled artist, poet and muscian with the romantic refelctive view of himself as a man in pursuit of beauty.  His verses were so-so, as were his abstact paintings.  He studied music at Julliard and was considered a talented amateur pianist. But it's his strong chess that set him apart from the average man and his view of chess that set him apart from his peers.

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #17

    konhidras

    I wonder what happened to the Evans- Santasiere chess columns tiff?

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #18

    Razdomillie

    When 'romantic' moves become the best options in a game I'll become the most romantic player out there. If that doesn't happen; nothing anyone can say will make me throw away a pawn for unsound complications.

    The best moves win regardless of style, it's as simple as that.

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #19

    bronsteinitz

    I am very romantic in my play. When I find a beautiful move, I play it. Have lost quite a bit of games that way, but won also a lot in much nicer ways than looking for 'the best' move.

    I do not feel obliged to try to win all the time. The guys in my club have come to terms with it. They had to... Laughing

  • 24 months ago · Quote · #20

    Ubik42

    Tal once said that, earlier in his career, he played not to win, but to sacrifice. I have sometimes been tempted to play a long series of online games where my only goal was to make some sort of reasonable sacrifice, win or lose.

    I have read some of the Evans/Santasiere stuff, though, and I was definetly on Evan's side. I thought Santasiere sounded a bit ridiculous. And calling out Reschevsky for having never invented an opening, "no, not even a humble variation."...well, so what? Reschevsky wasnt really an opening guys, first of all, and secondly, lots of players don't have openings named after them. Like Bobby Fischer and me. Though, at the present time, my prospects of getting an opening named after me are slightly better than Fischer's...


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