Dogmatism in chess
Today I would like to talk about a topic that I think is really important for any chess player to consider. It goes far beyond chess.
Dogmatic thinking in chess goes way back. For the most obvious example, you can take Tarrasch's view on the new "hypermodern" playing strategies of Nimzowitsch, reti, and other chess players who were creating new ideas in chess, such as: "The center can be controlled or occupied with pieces instead of pawns". Many of their ideas were quite revolutionary and you can imagine the players who already felt there was an established way of playing chess did not believe in these new ideas. Tarrasch called it "blasphemy".
In any chess player's career, he will be constantly re-evaluating situations that occur in his games and the games he views. For instance,
capablanca said that to a beginner, the knight is very powerful, because it is
mysterious. Yet as a player increases in strength, the bishop seems to become
more and more powerful to him.
In my chess dealings I have dealt with dogmatic players many times. For instance,
arguments will often be used like "I did not want to do that because I get an
isolated pawn" - note that that was the end of their analysis.
The isolated pawn is one very common subject that players get dogmatic about.
Many, many chess players feel that having an isolated pawn is a pure disadvantage.
Their analysis rarely has to do with the dynamics of an isolated pawn. Their
analysis is not based on a fundamental understanding of isolated pawn positions
and how they can become good and bad and what the plans are for both sides.
They are not familiar with botvinnik's work on isolated pawns, haven't read
any books about the topic, or listened to any lectures.
Now it may be that you do not prefer to play with an isolated pawn. But if
you can get a real advantage by entering into a *favorable* isolated pawn
position, wouldn't you want to do that? In a game of war, would you rather
have a commander that thought outside of the box, and used whatever situation
that popped up for him to get an advantage for his side? A player who refuses
on principle to ever enter an isolated pawn position is not using every means
available to gain an advantage.
On isolated pawns, I'm not sure how this dogmatism gets started. I don't know
of any prominent chess authors who claim that just having an isolated pawn
is 'bad'. Surely, it is a weakness. Yet every well-reviewed chess author I've
ever read will point out the positives and negatives of such positions so that
the student can get a balanced view on them. Yet many people insist that
isolated pawn positions are a disadvantage, and refuse to ever enter the positions.
Where did they learn this? Did they have a coach who told them "don't get an
isolated pawn". Did they play a few games in which they had an isolated pawn
and lost? Or did they read some terrible chess author who is trying to make a
quick buck by simplifying fascinating complexities into simple golden rules that you
should never follow or break?
Isolated pawns of course aren't the only topic that can be thought about dogmatically.
Almost anything you can think about can be given an erroneous negative or
positive evaluation based on a player's prejudices. Hanging pawns, isolated
pawns, blockading knights, closed positions, open positions, threatening moves,
checks, discovered attacks, kingside attacks, sacrifices, fianchettoes, piece
trades, exchange sacrifices, you name it someone always does it or never does
it according to his personal prejudice.
One of the biggest dogmatic thinking example is castling and development. To
many of you reading this I am sure you think quickly developing all your pieces
and castling are 2 fundamental things that must be done every game. Then why
do many grandmasters seem to flout this fundamental principle? Why do masters
leave their king uncastled for many moves, why do they move their knights to
the side of the board, or go on long tours with a single piece while their
opponent is developing?
I think the book "secrets of modern chess strategy: advances since nimzowitsch" is a book
any chess player should read, if only to get the idea out of their heads that
there is a formula for playing chess. For example, in chapter 2 he shows some
examples of 'rule indepence', showing positions in which a player takes a backwards
pawn, double isolated pawns, goes pawn hunting in the opening, etc.
And here is one of my favorite examples, where a player flouts the rule of development
yet wins the game. Here is an excerpt from the book:
Here soltis comments: "It doesn't take long to conclude that White has a very
strong game. He has developed nearly all of his pieces while Black's only
developed piece, his king's bishop, bites on granite. Black's queenside is
full of holes on dark squares and he has just locked in his queen's bishop.
A quick mating attack is assured, you might conclude. And you'd be right:
Yes, Black delivered the mate. And in less than 20 moves from the diagram".
So what I'd like you to consider is a re-evaluation of all the things you learned
about chess so far (besides obvious things like mates in 2). As any chess player's
development continues, re-evaluating things he held dear should and will lead
him to a better understanding of the game. Yet, I'm sure in 30 years, I'll still
be watching senior chess players teach their young kids: "Never move a piece
twice in the opening, develop your pieces and castle right away, don't make your
pawns doubled, isolated, or backwards, and don't develop your queen early".