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David Bronstein, Georgy Smolian. "Chess of the Third Millennium" (1978)

David Bronstein, Georgy Smolian. "Chess of the Third Millennium" (1978)

Spektrowski
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From the little-known book "The Beautiful and Fierce World. Subjective Essays on Modern Chess". Among other things, Bronstein and his co-author even predicted chess streams!

CHESS OF THE THIRD MILLENNIUM

So, we have tried to look at chess from various sides, explore individual aspects of this unique phenomenon, we searched for the keys to chess creativity. But our way to chess knowledge only starts today. What waits for us tomorrow?

The answer to this question is important to us chess players. A person always wants to know that the future civilization would accept a part of their individual creativity, that his work and his talent wouldn't be thrown away from the "board" of progress like an unneeded chess pawn. And we want to look at the main paths of chess development, think about possible new forms the game could take, interest it could attract, what role - and that's the most important thing - it would play in a harmoniuos and happy world.

The authors, of course, love chess boundlessly, and they believe that in the year 2000, or maybe even before that, chess would become more humane and take up more and more kind features, slowly losing everything else - temporary, superficial, alien, opportunistic, opposing to the ideals of humanism.

Speaking of the future, we, of course, can't help but use some fantastic elements. And maybe this intrusion of imagination makes the constructed pictures of the future especially attractive. Let's start with one thing: the needs of our own, not the computer's, intellectual development should result in the substantial growth of interest towards chess. If today's children are taught elementary logical concepts and relationships through empirical observations of living nature, in the world of the third millennium, the children would already learn logical concepts in their infancy through visual chess diagrams. Everyone will understand that the beautiful chess thought is pulsing in the three-dimensional space of kids' blocks and pyramids. With the coloured pieces, we'd be able to represent the whole gamut of chess players' thoughts and feelings, representing even the most complex of them with several basic symbols, visible or palpable.

With a pride for chess, we should say that while simple mathematical theorems aren't always a good fit for earthly or cosmic communications, the arsenal of chess technique and simple combinations would be easily understandable by any human being in the third millennium - and any aliens as well. If we were among those sending light signals into the vastness of space, we would have used both Pythagoras' theorem and elementary "schoolboy's mate" among the symbols. We think that the concepts of forward, back, up, down, left, right, together, separately, from corner to corner, attack, defence, late, early, reality, illusion, bravery, cowardice, fast, slow, risk, calculation, generosity, avarice, elementary, vlugar, beautiful, ugly, stupid, clever, and some others can be represented with chess symbols, because the number of combinations of six pieces of two colours and pawns are incalculable. Of course, despite our impetuosity, the authors do understand that this isn't going to happen even in the next century, but, to say the truth, if we, in our unstoppable quest for knowledge, want to try to find a "common language" with dolphins, why don't we learn to talk to each other with a 64-square board and 32 pieces? Humans can do everything!

Today, the masterpieces of architecture and art, music and poetry, achievements in sports and in life help the young generation to develop the best traits of the humans of the future. And what about chess? Doesn't it bear the emotional colouring of personal involvement in each chess action, doesn't it expand the limits of our mind to a hundred years ago and a hundred years in the future in just a second? In search for a solution, our mind is constantly flouncing in time and space, trying to unite the knowledge and experience of chess players, many of which are long gone or are currently on the other side of the planet, trying to anticipate and predict the future thought. Every chess game doesn't just keep a part of everyone's knowledge inside it - it's an indelible personal micro-memory for the participants. Mixing with the other multi-coloured events of human life, these memories form a kind of caleidoscope, amplifying some memories and moving them to the forefront, silencing and pushing others behind, rewarding the memory or punishing it. There's a certain narcotic element in all that, and in the future, chess will probably be used to regulate mental illness, but even now, chess creates an illusion of adulthood for the young and an illusion of continuing growth for the elderly.

Chess is simple visually, but its depth is inexhaustible. Today, we still don't know of any chess players, even world champions, who, after making the first move, could tell, at least on tape, about all possible variations and how he sees them. But if the best players in the world went to battle with microphones in their hands, everyone would have heard how beautiful their thoughts are. However, FIDE doesn't even realize that by organizing tournaments of talking grandmasters, the federations would have gotten millions of grateful spectators. (And then, you wouldn't be able to hide your helplessness behind others' moves.) In such tournaments, masters would talk to their listeners in the language of chess symbols. Such games, among other things, would take the sheen of inadequacy away from the players, because the public often thinks that if they didn't expect a move, then the grandmaster wouldn't expect it too. If the contact was closer, the audience would fantasize less for themselves and knew more about the high-qualified, creative thinking. As you may see, the future is linked closely to the past...

Also, nobody would spend five hours on sitting in the playing hall - in this time, you may fly from Moscow to Yerevan or take a swim in the Black Sea. In a fast, dynamic, visually exciting play, the most important thing in chess art will be born - improvisation, finding in minutes or even seconds that best past that leads from one situation to the other. And the artist will be leading the watchers and the listeners along that way.

Bronstein essentially predicted chess streams, with grandmasters playing speed chess explaining their moves to watchers!

It's possible that some publishing house would release a game called Chess Tests. There would be certain positions shown in the window, and a timer would show your score according to the time you spent on solving it. The authors know that B. S. Gershunsky, teacher in the Kiev Radiotechnical College, built and tested such a machine for chess fun.

Bronstein also predicted chess.com's Tactics Trainer and Puzzle Rush. How's that for 1978?

And still, the authors see the future of chess art somewhat differently.

Let's imagine that in the near future, there'll be chess theaters opening in our country, and then abroad. (Bronstein already discussed a similar idea ten years before this essay.) They almost exist... in Yugoslavia, where tourist firms have made chess into a tourist attractions and gladly sponsor chess competitions to get noticed by big press and potential tourists. In these chess theaters, you could stage shows on any theme and depict the creative portraits of chess players. There was so much material created in the last 200 years that an experienced director, together with a composer, would create new shows for 1000 years. And if some new authors emerge, or old authors rework their feuilletons - be honest, have you ever heard or seen a purely chess-themed feuilleton from the stage (the musical Chess would be staged only in 1984, six years after this essay) - there'd be a lot of actors willing to play Paul Morphy, Mikhail Botvinnik, Howard Staunton or Henrique Mecking.

In such a theatre, you could synchronously broadcast the most interesting games of the day, receiving moves by cable or TV. You could broadcast matches from other cities, played on 20, 40 or 100 boards. You could hold quizzes and problem-composing contests. Chess players, if they get a huge Chess House instead of a small mansion on the Gogolevsky boulevard, can come up with many things.

In such a House, there'd be a publishing house and special schools for all ages, there'd be a cinema hall to screen the best examples of chess creativity and a chronicle hall, where you can see Capablanca smile. You can even build a hall to hold simultaneous displays against a human grandmaster or computer. (The authors understand that fantastic projects can simultaneously arise in the heads of many people. And we are very glad to find Nikolai Nosov, the author of Dunno in the Suntown, among our supporters.)

There would be a shop with coloured videos with the greatest games played by world champions. They would be voiced, so you could listen to the comments by players or experts.

Bronstein essentially describes a modern chess site, such as chess.com. Instead of physical rooms, there are site pages, but the principles are the same.

There would be portable chess computers with all important chess data recorded in their memories. The chess players would use this data during tournament games as well, to avoid overloading their memory and saving their strength for true creativity.

Studying computer databases is indeed a large part of preparation for any modern player. Bronstein saw it as a good thing, to reduce the load on the brain and become more creative. However, instead of passive databases, chess computers are active players, and using that kind of computer help is obviously cheating. Back in Bronstein's day, chess engine defeating an actual human player in a tournament game was still a very new thing, and he probably didn't expect portable computers to be able to achieve grandmaster strength.

In another essay from the same book, Bronstein printed that historical game, between Mac Hack Six and a 1510 amateur player:

Bronstein quoted a 1975 survey by Literaturnaya Gazeta among six surviving ex-world champions (Fischer was still the champion at that point): "Will an electronic grandmaster ever be created? The opinions of the ex-champions, of course, were divided. Botvinnik, ever the optimist, said with his authority of doctor of engineering: yes, there will be an electronic grandmaster! Another technical specialist (a professional mathematician in his youth), Max Euwe, admitted that computers became stronger and even regretted that fact, but avoided a direct answer. Our others grandmasters are humanitarians, so, of course, their answere were vague. Spassky immediately said that he was not competent in these matters and declined to answer at all. Smyslov gave a negative answer, saying that only a human could think truly originally. Petrosian was skeptical, but, probably remembering the first machine championship in summer 1974, said that he wouldn't rule out further machine competitions and, of course, man versus machine competitions. And, finally, Tal just hoped that there wouldn't be an electronic grandmaster, because after that, a number of chess fans would quickly drop, because nobody would be interested in a game entirely devoid of mistakes."

Bronstein was also weirdly prescient in his predictions of the future chess engines' Elo strength.

"There is maybe another way to strengthen a chess program: consultative playing, with humans in the role of machine's helpers. We turned the familiar formula on its head just for sake of convenience, of course. In that way, the chess player would have used a machine for an extended and crafty analysis of lines chosen based on their knowledge and intuition, to check the strategic ideas, to control the mistakes. This would have increased their playing strength by at least 500 Elo points." The current 3300-strength engines say hello.

Sorry for digressing, let's continue with the actual article now.

...Kids will be listening to the explanatory texts for the games like they're now listening to fairytales about Ivanushka the Fool. The modern examples of chess art, which we are still sometimes get excited about, would create mistrust, and our mistakes would look like terribly stupid moves to them, because they would know all those old, naive, ancient moves. But they will also know that even the best chess players didn't play to their full potential if their techniques, their playing, their ideas brought them success. That's why it makes no sense to discuss the hypthetical matches such as Morphy - Karpov, Capablanca - Andersen, Philidor - Tal. Both in the past and in the present, everyone is training only to be as strong as it's necessary to win.

This is a very valid point, especially for today, where there are some ways to compare the playing strength in various eras, such as chess.com's CAPS. The modern players' advantage in their move strength is caused precisely by the factors Bronstein described - in the days of, say, Lasker, it was enough for him to utterly dominate the field even with all the mistakes the modern computers point out. Any champion is only as strong as the competitors he has to beat to get the title.

There's another element too: it's dangerous to go too far if the critics don't understand the player. World champions usually inhabit this frontier. They don't explain how they win, not willing to reveal their secrets. And so, we have a certain gap between the new techniques of complex problem solving and their interpretation by journalists and commentators. It's unlikely that chess became more complicated. If the number of masters is growing at a staggering rate, isn't it too easy to play chess? Aren't we fooling ourselves and the public? Every activity is interesting if exactly enough time is devoted to it. If dozens of grandmasters and hundreds of masters can play a great game in just a five minutes, this means that they have some ready-made schemes for most happenstances up their sleeves - any person can quickly navigate even some situations that are completely new. They say that there's no time to calculate all the lines. But is calculating lines chess? Reuben Fine thinks that the strength of great champions is in the fact that they could create very complicated, rich situations which are impossible to calculate precisely, and then managed to find a way out, while their competitors didn't.

Another digression - a bullet game played by Bronstein and Spassky. "This game took... one minute to play! It was played during a recess in the USSR Chess Federation in 1961. Boris Spassky kindly permitted me to publish it. So, there it is.

A pure mate in the style of Czech problem school! And we had just 1-3 seconds per move...

This microflash of mutual fantasy brought much joy to the grandmasters, and Spassky, who lost the game, gladly showed the final position to his friends."

What more would happen in chess of the future? Chess theaters will be inviting the extra-class grandmasters on tours. They will show their extra class in the speed of problem-solving, they'd be similar to intellectual magicians. They'd show wonders in intuition and logical work of the brain, they'd be admired, but won't feel any negative emotions - their work would be respected as it is, regardless of the results. The spectators would greet them as they would musical performers, rather than a winner and a loser.

This, again, looks like modern entertaining chess streams, such as Hikaru's channel or the Adopt-a-Danny show.

The current format of tournaments and matches would become a thing of the past. Only occasionally, as a curiosity, there would be "picnic" competitions, with spectators allowed to behave "like in good old times", the participants would come to the games without knowing what opening did their partner prepare and what kind of discussion awaits them, the pieces themselves would be hidden from view by huge chess clocks, the games would be demonstrated with the help of long poles, hanging pieces on nails on the huge boards, and all this carnival would be just a lesson on history of the chess art.

This prediction certainly didn't come true. The over-the-board tournaments are still very much a thing and probably will become a thing again after the current pandemic subsides.

The people of the future will be frugal in spending their "I" and their personal time, Emanuel Lasker said in his chess learning book. So, in chess theaters, there would be chess concerts in the evenings, or in the omrnings, or even in the nights. The programmes will be declared beforehand, and everyone would come to see and study whatever theme they deem interesting. Those who want to play against a grandmaster would not be playing against living partners - a computer would replace them. But they would play only for fun, in the atmosphere of hints and banter. There would be "mystery" simultaneous displays - with spectators trying to guess which grandmaster played. Something similar happened at the Nice chess olympiad, when master Philibert, wearing an automaton's costume, walked around the chessboards. But in the future, there would be a real automaton; they would load a cassette into it, making the automaton imitate the grandmaster in question - "thinking" quickly or slowly in critical moments, sacrifice or snatch pieces and pawns, go for the endgame or avoid it. Such a cassette would make computers more lively and creative. Who will recreate the playing of Tal, Botvinnik or Karpov for the program? This work will be done by other special computers, it's impossible for humans.

To my knowledge, "computer modeling" of human grandmasters' playing has not been tried even now. Though this might really be fun - instead of playing "Computer 1" or "Computer 20", play "Stockvinnik", "Stocktal" or "Stockfischer"...

The Chess House would have a Central Automatic Service, and you would be able to connect to a computer through your phone line and play against it - maybe your entire family can, if you'd like. After the game, the computer will send you a copy of the game together with energy bill. You would be able to create a collection out of several games, and, comparing it with the grandfather's game collection, you'd be glad that while the grandson is still playing worse, the computers are still progressing. Because the computer championships would be as natural as horse races today, and the machine experience would be in public domain.

Instead of "chess by phone", we, again, have chess sites (a pity that Bronstein didn't anticipate the Internet, but he admits that he's too grounded in his present in the very next paragraph). And computer championships with published games have indeed become a thing.

There are distinct features of the present seen in our effort to look into the future. This is inevitable, we understand it, and maybe our emotions have mixed these features too much. Please be lenient with us, readers.

In the future, there would be probably new forms of chess game. We're looking only at classical chess here, how are they "formalized" today; we wouldn't be telling you about dozens varieties of this game developed by enthusiasts, even though we do understand the legitimacy of many chances. (He didn't even mention his own "Bronstein chess"!) However, we'll make one exception out of respect for Albert Einstein, who forty years ago proposed to give a third dimension to chess. Sadly, this innovation was never tested in practice. It would be fascinating to organize a grandmaster tournament in Paris, in the Albert Einstein Institute. If some pieces could go into the third dimension, the game would have been really captivaing, the audience could sit anywhere they wanted, and to demonstrate the games, we'd need machinery similar to those used in the planetariums.

I don't exactly understand what Bronstein meant here. Chess in a VR environment has been done, most famously by Kasparov, there are 3D variants of chess as well... did he propose to combine the two and create "3D chess in VR environment"?

On the other hand, chess itself needs at least some kind of unification: chess sets in different countries have different colours, size, form, weight, square sizes, etc. We need international unification. The Chess Informant publishers have managed to create an international chess language in less than a year. This is a rarity, and the language itself has no logical foundation, but the games are published and read in that language. People pick up on easy reading, not thinking too much on squares and circles that have nothing in common with the high symbols we discussed at the start of the chapter.

The thing that should change first is the new ways of transferring the moves to demonstration boards. 20 or so years ago, an unknown inventor who lived in an obscure German village invented a simple magnet machine to automatically demonstrate moves on a big demonstration screen. But neither this invention nor the other ones concerned with synchronicity of move demonstration and time measuring entered common usage. Enthusiasts from Perm University created an electronic demonstration board; a great, but only one existing example now graces the Central Chess Club hall. It seems that chess federations cannot afford it.

In the future, this will change drastically. In the theaters, there will be huge coloured demonstration board. Beside them, there would be smaller boards where grandmasters demonstrate their plans, helping the spectators to understand and experience the games. The pieces and pawns would be slowly flowing from one square to the other...

Electronic demonstration boards indeed became a thing (I omitted a small paragraph with description of animation).

The new forms and style of "active" demonstration would turn the tournament halls into fantastic venues. The spectators would dive into chess completely, they would stop perceiving time and space, their predictions would get a century ahead, and each move on the stage would be associated with the chess champions and chess artists of the past. That's the difference between chess and any other activity where we feel sympathy for the participants. Because this is also a process of collective creativity that often reaches the stage of collective ecstasy: the whole hall is burning with excitement, working like a unified, huge human computer. It's a pity that this collective computer has swallowed about a couple of dozens move, pushing the boundary where the true creativity begins further away.

This is basically a description of a cybersport event. The authors did anticipate that in principle, but couldn't predict the advent of videogames.

In the future, there wouldn't be such a thing as a press bureau, which is completely alien to chess. This amateur organization quietly appropriated the right to arrogantly criticize any idea, plan, move, attack, defense by the playing grandmasters. When an important match is played, dozens of grandmasters and hundreds of journalists swoop down on it. They aren't just watching the game - they're excitedly playing themselves, moving pieces and pawns on dozens of secondary boards, trying to feel their way to the end of some combination. And then the readers get sentences such as, "Everyone in the press center saw that a different move should be made." And, of course, it sometimes happens that this international brain trust, gathered in a small room, does defeat the grandmasters on the stage. It's so good that the spectators aren't let into the press center - they would've lost all respect for the living champions, forgetting that they are constantly thinking in positions that aren't present on the tables or demonstration board, because the art of chess is the art of prognostication, not palpation. If even three spectators would combine their thinking forces on a pocket board, they would easily equal the thinking strength of the grandmasters on stage. (Vote Chess matches show that this is not always the case!) We should think about this phenomenon. We occasionally read about some boy in the tournament hall who was very happy after guessing Tal's move... The press bureau occasionally guesses the moves too. It would be funny to see betting in the press bureau...

The "press bureau" has now mostly changed into online broadcasts with engine analysis, so, in a sense, the spectators were "let into the press center", and they now see all the missed lines, engine evaluation changes and all that. Even the "guess the move" feature now exists on chess.com and probably other sites as well.

Still, these problems exist. Especially considering the sporting tension of the games, the brutal intellectual beating, considering that the grandmasters have to endure a brainstorm at a critical point three or six days a week, and then find some ways to quickly restore the functions of their organisms - and also to normally live their non-chess parts of life. Not everyone handles this equally well: some fall into depression, others become too giddy, still others start throwing stones at the glass house where they flourished only recently themselves. However, the percentage of such deviations is around 10% - a norm for any well-paid and dangerous human activity. Still, everything will change for the better in the future, because envy and enmity will become a thing of the past, and there wouldn't be any need for pity or charitable laudatory feedback that we love so much. There's another aspect as well.

Such imperturbably chess players as Karpov, who don't react to the audience too much - "I'm not interested in public" - retain their high work rate for a longer time than their less steady partners. Or Fischer: he is fascinated by the public, but he found an armor - he limited his opening repertoire, which helps him to solve complicated problems with simple means. Karpov also plays simply in the opening and then builds his playing around technical conversion of positional plusses. As we see, the best sporting successes come to players who have talent, great health, nerves of steel and willpower.

Another problem concerns the playing methods. The theoreticians should come up with tomorrow's strategy based on the fact that 99 percent of today's games are a cardiogram of struggle, cardiogram of a person's efforts to cope with the hardship of the position, with themselves, with the clock, with the noise, etc. We see no forward movement here - and this bothers all chess fans. Looking like Morphy is one thing, but it's even better to anticipate the 22nd-century strategy and win like Morphy himself won, rightly guessing the game's progress for a century ahead.

Kasparov anticipated the "21st-century strategy" in 1980s and 1990s by actively using computers (at least computer databases) in his preparation.

One needs bravery and passion, the will and ability to go for the unclear goal, and only this creates brilliant positions and deep, dynamics-rich situations. Here, everyone - based on their life experience - gets chess emotions that create new chess ideas, expressed in plans and moves. With such passion, dry, academically correct lines short in execution are left behind, but this is the beauty of true creativity: to take the burden of barely visible, long series of subtle moves that will show the player's vision to the spectators in a short time.

About thirty years ago, Reuben Fine, a big fan of blindfold chess, especialy speed blindfold chess - 10 seconds per move, and 10 games in row like that. Fine says that it's difficult, but interesting; that the ability to play blindfolded is a measure of the chess player's intelligence. Philidor, who played three simultaneous games blindfolded, was featured in the Encyclopedia Britannica; today's world record is 52, belonging to Janos Flesch. What waits for us in the future? We have computers, whose job is to free people from routine work and free up the brainpower for creative operations. In these conditions, there's no need to train your brain to remember all the kaleidoscopic chess positions, so the blindfold chess is unlikely to get any new impulses - of course, if circuses don't get interested in that kind of thing.

Blindfold chess is still around, but there's no record blindfold simuls anymore.

Fine's considerations have been justified in another regard. There's now a feeling of subtler positional evaluation, which, at the first glance, don't give any basis for playing for a win or beautiful combinations. The best chess players in the world - Karpov, Fischer, Larsen, Spassky, Tal - don't give blindfolded simultaneous displays, but they are able to see far ahead of the visible position. The hardest thing is to withstand this long journey, like an endurance racer, not losing your bravery and strength, stay on your path despite the opponent's fierce resistance.

However, modern tournaments are often win by those who don't build any kinds of long-term plans, but just fight move-by-move. Such players have no disappointments because they don't strive for a maximum - if we don't count the maximum of processed chess information. This is rationalism. The players are ready to go for known position if they bring success.

If you want to possess knowledge of mechanisms that lead to a win, you should understand what the fight is for, what's the direction of defense and what's the object of attack. But it's not enough. You need the flame, fantasy, willpower, search, the will to find a true solution in competition with another person. A chess genius is someone who has everything. Morphy played easily, beautifully, quickly. He understood the position - he felt the relationship between all of its part. But he highly valued the fire of imagination, the initiative. On this path, Morphy was unbeatable, but he was also unheppy because he had nobody to share his happiness of discovery with, nobody understood the deeper sources of his playing, his creaive fire. Now we have a public which is able to understand and value the discovery in chess. But chess players don't play for the public. Today, there's a never-ending competition. You may win today, but you'd still have to pass a test tomorrow... a test for your health and performance of your talent. Exactly!

...The authors believe that in the third millennium, chess would become a vital need for humans, on par with reading classic poems and listening to music...

Perhaps people will devote just a minute of their life to chess, but we'll be proud even of this achievement; we think that a condensed minute of the future would be equal in volume and depth to today's century or even more.

In the future, the world will probably divide not into just men and women - it would divide into humans and machines as well. If you want to objectively evaluate the progress of chess in the last 100 years, just look through magazines and old newspapers. A real chess "revolution" happened: from a primitive level, we progressed to the heights of intellect. However, we also see that the dream of an unbeatable chess player is impossible. Only the machines can achieve it, because the number of reasonable chess positions, which are reached by reasonable ways, is huge, but limited, and it can be researched and systematized. But we would still like to see how the former Moscow Conservatory building (the 1940 USSR Chess Championship was held there), now a chess theater, is approached by computers - moving on wheels or hovercraft; they enter the building slowly, hand over their mobility devices and sit down according to their rankings. Such a chess event will surely be held: the computers would also like to look at the playing of their living competitors, share experience, criticize them, get to know each other, creating some kind of friendly working relationships. They would blink with their lamps, move tumblers and buttons, have fun, and then make small talk as they leave the theater. You see how poor is human fantasy - we're seeing everything in our fasihion. Perhaps we'd be asking the most famous computers for autographs or some pieces of details as souvenirs... Still, the machines wouldn't be able to imitate the playing of living people in the nearest future, and the creative life of living champions would still shine, helping to know the mysteries of chess.

As the authors finish their book, they ask the readers not to be upsed by hyperboles and harsh evaluations of the present day. This topic is difficult. There are people who deny that chess is an art; there are also those who denounce art as a whole. Don't judge them; let's instead take a pity to those who are blind and deaf to the beautiful world of chess.