Nuggets From My Mailbag

Nuggets From My Mailbag

IM Silman
32 | Other

panning.jpgHere are several “nuggets” that might be gold or might be rabbit pellets. You decide.

member AnlamK asked:

In your books THE AMATEUR’S MIND and HOW TO REASSESS YOUR CHESS 4th edition, you write about the importance of ignoring the opponents’ (phantom) threats and pushing your own agenda.

I have taken your psychological insight to a whole new level. Not only do I ignore my opponent’s threat, but I also spit on the opponent’s piece that’s making such a threat before I make my move. What do you think of this display of machismo? Have I been able to emulate the lessons from your books?

Dear AnlamK:

Yes indeed, you’ve outdone yourself! I’ve already made arrangements for you to go on a lecture tour (I think a split of 98% for me and 2% for you is fair, don’t you agree?) where you will not only push home my chess philosophies, but also demonstrate the proper spitting technique required for not splattering the opponent’s non-threatening pieces.


member Hassanbahaa insisted:

For God’s sake, change your profile picture!

Dear Hassanbahaa:

That photo is quite recent – I had just ingested 5 pints of ice cream, 15 pieces of fried chicken, 2 bottles of bootlegged Swiss absinthe, and a whole apple pie (not necessarily in that order). Clearly, I wasn’t at my best. Nevertheless, I feel that some of the Silman charm is still shining through. Thus, I’ll keep that photo until my next binge.


member Mf92 asked:

Hi, I was just wondering (I know that there’s no way of knowing) whether the old masters (Philidor, Lopez, Steinitz, Chigorin, Lasker, Capablanca, etc.) would stand a chance against today’s top players, since theoretical knowledge advanced a lot, and new “superior” styles appeared. If so, on what strength level would they play today?

Dear Mf92:

I think your list of old-timers, given 6 months to prepare (with databases), would wipe out any and all grandmasters of today.


member JeffreyLi asked:

My friend and I were playing a game of chess, we both were beginners. Then he was losing. Then he took his queen and threw it across the board at my king and said “FIESTY MAMA GO!” I said it wasn’t a move but he says it was. It’s not a move, right?

Dear JeffreyLi:

OF COURSE “feisty mama go” is a move (actually there’s an ongoing argument whether this is a move or a maneuver). In fact, it’s the single most brutal move/maneuver in chess. FMG (as it’s referred to in knowledgeable circles) was originated in 1590 by Greco, who used it whenever an opponent was getting the better of him – that’s why he doesn’t have any losses on record. As a result, this move/maneuver was outlawed in 1621, which resulted in Greco retiring from active play (though he continued to analyze openings from time to time). It’s still quite illegal, which is why your opponent should have been forfeited. If your opponent tries it again, you can make use of my favorite maneuver, FTN1 (Fist to Nose one).


member Arthur978 asked:

Saidy had it right when he was fed up with Fischer and chess in 1972.

Now I’m upset – should I sell my books and never play again? CHESS CAN SUCK when you have some bad results! At 70, I’m making stupid blunders and losing to people I should beat. No cure for this Jeremy!

Dear Arthur978:

After reading your letter I immediately called IM Saidy and asked if he really said that. His answer: “No.”

Personally, I feel one should play if the actual rush of competition is energizing and fun. Yes, one’s results really fragment as one ages. Some players quit when they lose their strength (Kasparov quit while the quitting was good), while others fight to the bitter end because they love the battle – Karpov, who now regularly loses to vastly inferior players is one example of this, Smyslov played far beyond his expiration date, and Korchnoi (who will turn 80 on March 23) still trucks on despite many losses to players who don’t possess half his skill and knowledge.

Saidy told me the following little tale: “Samuel Reshevsky, who was one of the two or three strongest players in the world in his prime, was over 70 when he played in his last tournament – he finished with a minus score. Right after this event, I was talking to Fischer about it and said, ‘Sammy shouldn’t play anymore … it’s not good. It’s time for him to retire.’ Fischer said, ‘He should play! If he wants to play, then play.’”

Mr. Arthur978, if you want to play because you love the competition and the opportunity to demonstrate your chess creativity, then play. If you decide that the result overshadows the actual competition, then don’t play. In short: once it’s no longer fun, then you need to look for something else that is.


member Mf92 asked:

Hi, I was just wondering (I know that there’s no way of knowing) whether the old masters (Philidor, Lopez, Steinitz, Chigorin, Lasker, Capablanca, etc.) would stand a chance against today’s top players, since theoretical knowledge advanced a lot, and new “superior” styles appeared. If so, on what strength level would they play today?

Dear Mf92:

Okay, my earlier answer was a lie designed to send some readers into spasms of anti-Silman hatred, while other readers might have gone into a state of rapture at the thought of the old, old, old guard being better than the modern whippersnappers. Hey, one has to get his jollies in any way possible. Here’s my honest answer:

I’ve often asked a similar question myself! I’ve asked Saidy, Benko, Susan Polgar, Seirawan, and many, many others. My question is usually posed in the following manner: We have the following two teams (of 10 players) going face to face (each individual match consists of 6 games) –

Keep in mind that ALL players would be in their primes, and the old team would have a year to go over all known theory, books, databases, etc.

Board one: Kasparov vs. Fischer

Board two: Karpov vs. Petrosian

Board three: Anand vs. Spassky

Board four: Carlsen vs. Korchnoi

Board five: Kramnik vs. Botvinnik

Board six: Topalov vs. Tal

Board seven: Aronian vs. Smyslov

Board eight: Ivanchuk vs. Geller

Board nine: Grischuk vs. Keres

Board ten: Svidler vs. Larsen

I’ve found that the older players I ask tend to think that the old team would beat the new one, while the younger players I ask tend to go for the modern dudes. Since I’m an old, old man, I always vote for the old team!

Another fun match would feature a prime team of Fischer, Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Spassky, Petrosian, Korchnoi, and Keres (vs. the modern players mentioned above). Also, I left out Nakamura and Karjakin from the new team since they haven’t reached their primes yet (who knows how good they will get). And, of course, one could toss in names like Bronstein, Reshevsky, Euwe, Rubinstein, and Gligoric if we wanted to expand the old team.

Since any list of past players wouldn’t stand up to modern theory, you have to be fair and give them the same theoretical/strategic knowledge that today’s players have (use of a database for a couple years would suffice). Of the players you mentioned, I don’t see Philidor or Lopez being a lock for the grandmaster title. Chigorin, Tarrasch, Steinitz, and Rubinstein would certainly become strong grandmasters, and Steinitz and Rubinstein would have a good chance of cracking the top 10. Geniuses like Morphy, Lasker, Capablanca, and Alekhine would be fighting for the World Championship right now (or at any time, past, present, and future).

As with all pie in the sky questions/answers, this is just my opinion, and others will have very different (and no less valid) opinions of their own.

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