Are You Ready For The Future Of Chess?

Are You Ready For The Future Of Chess?‎

Gserper
GM Gserper
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115 | Other

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, many people considered it mostly a nuisance that would be gone sooner rather than later. These days, popular opinion has shifted to another extreme. Life will never be quite the same even when the pandemic is finally gone. Indeed, it looks like many companies (especially tech firms) will keep their employees working from home on a permanent basis due to numerous financial and other benefits. It is a sign of times that mighty Microsoft is going to permanently close its retail stores. 

A similar situation happened to most tournament chess players. At first, we thought that the migration online was just a temporary thing in order to weather the storm, but by now, it is quite clear that internet chess is our new reality. GM Sosonko even wrote an interesting article on this topic on a popular Russian website. The title of the article is quite telling: "The End?" So, whether we like it or not, internet chess is our future, and we need to adapt. The goal of this article is to underline the major difference between over-the-board (OTB) play and online chess.

Internet chess is our future, and we need to adapt.

An uninitiated person might say "Internet, shminternet... it is all chess." It is more like comparing a seahorse to a horse. They are totally different animals who still have some similarities. They both have a pair of eyes, don't they? Let's start our comparison of chess and internet chess with the most obvious one.

The internet connection

Internet chess allows players from all around the world to play for free in big tournaments and against the best players. It is much cheaper to run many events online, BUT in order to play online, you need to have an internet connection (or should I say a stable internet connection?). Ask GM Ding Liren how it felt when he got disconnected in a recent game vs. Magnus Carlsen and lost what should have been a draw. 

The internet chess player's bane. An unstable internet connection.

In recent scholastic tournaments, I observed many games that were lost due to problems with the connection. I would hate to be in the shoes of the parents who had to deliver the bad news to their seven-year-old kid: "You've just lost due to disconnection, but that's OK, honey, it's just a game."

This special feature of internet chess leads to another phenomenon: People don't resign, and they keep playing completely lost positions until checkmate. It reminds me of an old story that happened some 50 years ago. A master adjourned a completely lost position, and the next day he came to the chess club to resume the game. When his opponent greeted him at the board, the master immediately resigned the game. A friend asked him why he didn't resign the game the day before and save some time. The master's response was quite unexpected: "Well, I just wanted to make sure that my opponent didn't have a car accident or a heart attack. You never know. When I saw him today in good health, I resigned." Players who play until checkmate hoping that their opponent may get disconnected remind me of that master. Of course, I am talking here only about advanced players. Beginners should never resign as I explained in this article.

The lack of an arbiter's supervision

Justice in online chess is blind. The chess server doesn't care if you are a grandmaster or a beginner, all rulings are the same, however, there is also no human to whom you can raise complaints.

When you play an over-the-board (OTB) game, and you have a concern or a claim, you have an arbiter to talk to. Here is a simple example. In my last article, we discussed a weird case in which two super-grandmasters played an endgame of kings and rooks for 32 moves. Well, people learn from their chess idols, so I wasn't surprised to see the following game only two weeks after the grandmasters' game:

Sometimes arbiters are even more important than normal...

In this article, I am going to remove all the names of non-professional chess players and instead use their rating as an indication of their strength. When the same endgame happened in this game, my student had about 1 minute left (the time control was 30+0), and had it been a regular tournament, she would have claimed insufficient winning chances. In this case, the game would be either declared a draw right away, or an arbiter would provide a clock with a time delay. This used to be a standard USChess procedure some 20 years ago when many people still used an analog clock. In a case of such a claim, you forfeit half of your remaining time, but you get a digital clock with a time delay. In either case, this would be a sure draw in an OTB tournament. My advice here is quite simple: either play with an increment or... see the next topic.

Premoves

Bullet chess (and even hyperbullet) and insane blitz time scrambles are too chaotic for most in the real world, but they are a staple of online chess, as is their core mechanism—the premove.

I never would have imagined that I would use the term premove during my chess lessons, but it is the reality of the new world we live in. Premoving is a skill any Internet chess player should be proficient in. It is not just about the technique of doing it. It is also about when you should use it and when you shouldn't in order to avoid something like the following popular bullet trap:

Mouseslips

Online chess requires precision. There are no knocked over pieces, pieces placed on half a square, or players smashing pieces into each other in a blitz time scramble. Sometimes though, the unforgiving internet can enforce a move that you clearly did not intend. If you have been playing on the internet for awhile, you have definitely had your share of mouse slips. No one is immune against them. Here is a recent example:

This is another reason some people never resign and play until checkmate. Here is a good example from a scholastic game. White showed a very good technique in the endgame king and queen vs. king, but when the moment of triumph was close, disaster happened:

By the way, here White broke the well-known "Chepukaitis rule": In blitz, play short moves since it saves time. Therefore, White should have moved his queen to c8, d8, or e8 which would have also eliminated the danger of a stalemate due to a mouse slip.

Cheating

Unfortunately, cheating is an elephant in the room that should be addressed. Let me show you the following game:

What a smooth game from Black. If you are wondering if all players rated 700 play like this, I must disappoint you. Here is an over-the-board game played by kids with comparable ratings:

In this game, played by two sub-1000 rated players, you can see all the typical mistakes that players of this level make. We discussed many of them in this article. Of course, I am not even talking about the basics of chess strategy since this is too advanced a topic for players of this level. Indeed, when every other move is a bad blunder, who cares about weak squares or backward pawns? Meanwhile, the player rated 700, who played black in the previous game, was quite different. In the whole game, he made no blunders whatsoever (just like in the whole tournament!), plus his strategical skills were quite impressive. "No blunders?" you may ask, "but what about 14...Nh5?" I know, most players would prefer to protect the pawn with 14...Nd7 or just trade it with 14...exd4. Don't worry, 14...Nh5 is not a blunder but a positional pawn sacrifice that chess engines actually like.

My student ended the tournament with 6 points out of 7 games, and this was his only loss. Chesskid.com later closed this players' account. In fact, Chess.com closed over 10,000 accounts for fair-play violations last month, but the damage is still done.

Cheating may be a concern in OTB chess, but it is MUCH more of an issue in online chess.

Many people compare cheating to theft. In my opinion, cheating is much worse. If somebody stole $20 from you, you would be definitely upset about the financial loss and maybe even more by the injustice because you worked hard to earn this $20, and somebody just stole it from you. But I doubt that the theft will alter your life in any significant way. Now compare it to the situation where a kid worked very hard to become a state champion, and the title was literarily stolen from him. It is quite possible that a very young kid becomes so frustrated by this injustice that he can even drop out of chess! I am sure that if more people understood this aspect of cheating, we would have less cases like this. Unfortunately, many players (especially kids) see using a chess engine during a game as some sort of internet trolling without a clear realization that it is completely different. Also, people who consider using chess engines during their games should remember that experienced players can detect cheating quite easily by many direct and indirect hints. In my opinion, it is the duty of chess coaches to explain it to their students. 

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that there is no point in discussing if internet chess is "better" or "worse" than regular chess. It is just different. Here is what FIDE's general director GM Sutovsky wrote on his Facebook page regarding the mouse slip in the game Lagno vs. Hou Yifan:

Online play is obviously not a real sport. But since it is a mix of a sport and a show, the element of unpredictability is quite good here.

Here is a relevant piece of history for you. The Ford company unveiled its signature Model-T in 1908. Many buggy whip manufacturers probably complained that cars are very dangerous, they would lead to accidents and thousands of people would die. But some of them saw a new opportunity. The famous automaker Studebaker was originally a producer of wagons, buggies and carriages but managed to adopt and became quite successful in the new field.  Similarly, tournament chess players should adopt to the new reality... at least till the quarantine ends

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