Rising Stars #3: @JMurakami
The usual series thumbnail.

Rising Stars #3: @JMurakami


    Before we get started, I want to talk a little bit about my last post. The mistakes I made in writing it are well-documented: I answered about ten different comments on that topic, and felt bad through all of them. In reviewing @FangBo's blog, I lost my humility: I thought I could teach, but discovered that I couldn't, and that even if I could it's better just to help.

    Today I'm taking steps to make sure that doesn't happen, and that means reviewing a series of three posts instead of just one, reviewing posts with a lot of chess content, and reviewing posts with an element of chess history so there are better and more important things for me to do than nitpick the writing. It's just better that way.

    Before you start, may I suggest opening the post in a new tab? It makes reading these much more enjoyable.

    You already know @JMurakami. You know him for his instructive forum posts. You know him as a strong and classy player. You know him from one or possibly more of the "quarrels" he "picks up every now and then". If nothing else, you know him because I've name-dropped him twice before.

    And if you don’t know him, that’s because he didn’t know Top Blogger status existed until I told him three months ago.

@JMurakami's Approach to Chess

null    I met @JMurakami somewhere... Where was it? Was it somewhere in this thread, under one of his Caro-Kann miniatures? Was it under one of his game analyses on the forums? Was it somewhere else entirely? All I know is that in one of his posts, I see all of his other posts: an indescribable classicism runs through them all.

    @JMurakami's blog is like everything else he posts on the site. The same class and influences that seem to have shaped him as a player carry over into his blogs, and his approach to chess has a lot to do with that.

    You could call his breakdown of everything in chess into material, time, activity and coordination a few things, none of which adequately describe it. It could be a modernized Nimzowitsch approach, but it doesn't concern itself with blockades and overprotection. You could call it a new list of Steinitz elements, but it's somehow even more fundamental than a study of weak squares, passed pawns and open files.

    Whatever it is, it makes so much sense that I couldn't not like it if I wanted to.

     In this post, Murakami goes over the classic game Capablanca-Treybal, Karlsbad 1929. The game itself is a brilliant example of how to use a space advantage, but the highlight is his introduction, where he makes the important points that a space advantage is primarily a tool to increase the activity of your pieces and decrease the activity of your opponent's and that a space advantage by itself has no meaning.

    He talks about how games featuring a space advantage are typically won in the same way: the attacker uses the extra piece activity to force Black's pieces to constantly defend against different threats and to create new weaknesses: i.e. creating a hole by forcing Black to push a pawn.

   But here, especially, his abstract approach bears fruit. All you have to do is reach out and grab it. With these same sentences, among other things, you can try to explain hypermodernism: one reason why White's space advantage doesn't simply squeeze Black to death could be because Black has too many options to obtain good squares for their pieces.

   In this post, his first, he analyzes an OTB game played by @BronsteinPawn. The game was relatively clean - no big mistakes were made - but what makes @JMurakami's comments on the game such a clear reflection of his approach to chess is the abundance of soft moves and the way in which he comments on them.

    There are a few important moments in this game, but the highlight for me is @JMurakami's note under 13... Bf5?!
    What I make of it is this: f5 seems to be a good square for the Bishop, but on f5 it doesn't actually control any important squares, and it doesn't cooperate with its army. After ... Be6, ... f6 and ... Bf7, however, Black has gained additional control over the important squares d5 and e5 and made White play a pawn move they may or may not want to play (b2-b3).
    This betrays what I think is the most interesting part of @JMurakami's annotations, and what makes them so instructive. He doesn't just look for moves with a purpose - he looks for moves with the purpose, which really and truly work to satisfy the requirements of the position.
 @JMurakami's Blog
    You could call it an instructive column. Every post is a lesson unto itself, marked with one of three rating levels: Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced, and more than any game or move, @JMurakami talks about the building blocks of chess improvement themselves - positional play. Calculation. Planning. Opening understanding. His blog has all the hallmarks of an instructive column, and it's written in that kind of style to boot.
    You could call it that. Or you could call it what I think it is: the place where all of his chess culture and knowledge collects and becomes something more. As I (and someone else) put it in a forum rant some months ago, we don't respect strong players just because their rating starts with a 2. We respect them because every time they open their mouth, we all become better players, and to me, that, not anything actually written on the page, is the defining feature of his blog.
    That brings me to @JMurakami's most recent post. It has everything that I've talked about here - he talks about positional play as tactics seen from afar, outlines the basic principles of positional play, how strong players manage to positionally outplay opponents who object to their accumulation of small advantages and more, all in his trademark style.
    And the organization of all of these different parts is striking. There are no tables, charts or graphs: just a paragraph for each "topic", but in that simple format he manages to create an entire course on positional play, which starts with the fundamental idea of positional play as preparation for tactics and progresses to more advanced concepts like value and using small tactics to force positional concessions.
    If there's any weakness, it's that the topic of the post ("positional play") is vast, encompassing (by my rough estimate) at least a quarter of all chess literature, and yet there's only one game in the post and nothing under it. In his laying out of the fundamentals, @JMurakami covers all the bases, but it feels like no matter how he annotates the sole game, it will never be able to show everything at the same time, and it seems the post can't decide if it's a comprehensive course or just a tutorial.
    If it's a course, an example of times when the superior side can switch from positional play to tactical play, the use of small tactics to force positional concessions and demonstrating the concept of value would be a welcome addition.
    If it's a tutorial, the game itself could be more prominent, and could be annotated or arranged so as to span the whole post or to intentionally and specifically highlight moments which relate to the concepts already discussed - if it's the only material you have, you have to make it count.
    @JMurakami does a lot of things right - as a cultured CM-elect, "doing things right" in chess is just what he does. His blog is only the latest example of this. Barring Chess.com taking issue with his thumbnails or walls of text that get just a little too big, Top Blogger should be easily within reach.  
    P.S. Join Blogosphere. No, seriously, join Blogosphere! We're far and away the biggest blogging community on Chess.com, and we get more and better bloggers (the current count is 44 bloggers and 8 Top Bloggers) and cooler stuff every day.