You Are to Be a Good Designer if You Want to Play Well

You Are to Be a Good Designer if You Want to Play Well

RoaringPawn
RoaringPawn
Oct 6, 2018, 3:21 AM |
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DESIGN = FORM + FUNCTION

When you play a game of chess it is like designing something or constructing a mechanism of some kind by which you win or lose (Marcel Duchamp).

To design is to decide upon the look, or form, and functioning of a building, car, or software. As Duchamp explained above, that is exactly what you do when you move your chessmen across the board.

During a game of chess, you build up position trying to set up your pieces harmoniously and purposefully. As the legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright put it, form is function, and function is form. They should be one, joined in a spiritual union. In chess terms, your position dictates the best possible plan and course of action. On the other hand, if you have a good plan, you change/adjust position so as to best serve your strategy.

Good design, that is an efficient arrangement of forces, will bring stability to position. On one hand, its strength will oppose external, disruptive forces. On the other hand, positional advantages will likely be accumulating (typically by using “small tactics,” =the building blocks of strategy) to the critical point when positional superiority becomes decisive, and “big tactics” is typically called to settle the matters.

This process of constructing the position is a domain of strategy. It resembles producing the finest design — you are to be a good designer, if you want to play good chess.

Alpha & Omega, art by Juta Policja and Mareks Gureckis

Alpha & Omega, art by Juta Policja and Mareks Gureckis

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Chess design leads to planning for harmonious arrangement of pieces, “a main principle throughout” (Capablanca), in such a way as best to accomplish a particular intended purpose you set out on the board.

Yet, chess design is great art, a mysterious gift from Caissa. It is not easy to understand a quest for harmony, unity and beauty. And design is not science, something you can study and learn. If every designer understood more about the math of attraction, and what is pleasing for the eye, all design, from houses and cars to chess positions, could all look good and be good for us. But only one is Capablanca.

BEAUTY IN CHESS

Design form and function are highly related to beauty. Designing always requires two components: the functional and aesthetic dimensions of the design object and design process. As a (chess) architect, you arrive at a solution that is not only safe and operational, but also delightful and beautiful.

Nature is not just functional. It is also unquestionably beautiful. Every human being possesses an innate sense of beauty. Beauty literally moves us. Our innate sense of good and bad and our innate sense of beauty are inseparably tied to each other.

Here is Bronstein's view on the beautiful in chess. He had a keen sense of beauty and harmony of pieces; once he said:

Even those who don’t understand chess can tell whether the player’s position is good or bad. How could that be possible? Very simple, it’s about how pleasing to the eye the chess pieces on the board are really set up. — David Bronstein

So here are a couple of positions to put your sense of beauty to the test. Can you tell which side is winning just by looking at the positions, letting your senses decide which side has a more aesthetically attractive piece set up? (you might want to write in the comments the number of the position you find aesthetically most pleasing).

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TEST YOURSELF

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Capablanca-Marshall 1909

(1)

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Smyslov-Bronstein 1953

(2)

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Spassky-Bronstein 1953

(3)

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Botvinnik-Tal 1960

(4)

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Euwe-Flohr 1939

(5)

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Gligoric-Smyslov 1971

(6)

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In all positions, the side looking more attractive to the eye reached the critical point where big tactics could be used to launch a decisive attack, where great design, its beauty and functionality all shine together as one sparkling light. A place where magic works.

#1 Capablanca-Marshall 1909. “White’s pieces are all beautifully posted, while Black’s forces have wretchedly small scope. Nevertheless, Black’s position gives an appearance of defensive solidity which is rudely dispelled by the following fine move,” (Fred Reinfeld, The Immortal Games of Capablanca):
27.Qf3! Bxf5 28.gxf5 Rd6 29.Qh5 Ra7 30.Qg6 Nfh6 31.Rxh6 gxh6 32.Bxh6+ Ke7 33.Qg7+ Ke8 34.Qxg8+ Kd7 35.Qh7+ Qe7 36.Bf8 Qxh7 37.Rxh7+ Ke8 38.Rxa7 Kxf8 39.Kf3 1-0

#2 Smyslov-Bronstein. Bronstein was disappointed to play 27…f4. “Having written the winning move 27…Rae8 down on my score-sheet, and with my hand already reaching for the rook, I changed my mind at the last moment, and spent the rest of the game regretting this lost opportunity,” Bronstein, Zurich 1953.

#3 Spassky-Bronstein 1960. 16.Nxf7! exf1=Q+ 17.Rxf1 Bf5 18.Qxf5 Qd7 19.Qf4 Bf6 20.N3e5 Qe7 21.Bb3 Bxe5 22.Nxe5+ Kh7 23.Qe4+ 1-0. This game was used for the chess scene in the 1963 James Bond movie From Russia with Love.

#4 Borvinnik-Tal 1960. In this position Tal played 21…Nf4 in his characteristic style and won at move 46

#5 Euwe-Flohr 1939. 22.Rc5! Qxa2 23.Rh5! winning at move 39.

#6 Gligoric-Smyslov 1971. The last move by Black placed White in zugzwang 42.Rc1 [42.Kh2 Rxf3 43.Qxf3 Bxe4, or 42.Qe1 Qf6 and White cannot defend his c3 and f3 pawns, or 42.Rd2 Bxe4 43.Rxd3 cxd3] 42…Qf6 43.Be1 Qf4 0-1