"Knowledge" & chaos in Fischer Chess 960
David C. and Sputnik visited the yollah-perch yesterday. He and I ate curried chook-legs while his naughty little boy ambled about on gangly puppy-legs, looking innocent. We talked about Life before settling down to the equally unmanageable subject of chess. So I've now had it from 2 sources that Peter gave him serious trouble in their game last Saturday. Well done, Peter! Not just for playing well, either, but also for playing tenaciously, and more consistently. And perhaps even more than any of that, it is so good to hear that your game now includes flashes of assertiveness, or aggression.
But are life and chess both so chaotic for me? Does the "knowledge" of my title need rabbit's ears? Even if there are "unknown unknowns" lurking in every corner of my particular existence, my own private Iraq, surely there are things I can claim to know!? Well, yes & yes & yes. If, for instance, we were to have the round-robin competition which Branko has suggested, then I have very clear expectations of the hierarchy that would be revealed. But I don't always know how to play chess, or Fischer Chess 960, and I don't always know how to teach it.
Over lunch, David spoke of watching our members respond to what I teach. From the times they first joined up with us, David Stokes, Ilan Arnon and John Clark showed playing-styles which were already rounded, balanced & "sound"; but otherwise none of our group have had training in chess, formal or otherwise. Some had long-established patterns of (for example) bringing a queen out early in an opening, or of pushing many pawns. These patterns are disturbed when I show how quickly they can lose a game. Some of our group have at first refused to accept or acquire the principles of classical openings. For David himself, the issue has been different: he has never liked playing in any conservative or defensive way. His notion of the game has been one of all-out attack and sharp tactical ideas. Strategies and pawn-structures have bored him; end-games have been anathema, a cause for a kind of despair. Playing a game without queens on the board was a sign of "failure to be brave enough to win or lose earlier in the game". In his ability to express it this way, he shows that he is reinventing himself now.
He then said something which I found very interesting. "Whenever anyone learns something new, their life falls apart for a while before it gets better. In chess, your feeling for the game vanishes, along with your confidence, and you just get hung up on criticising every idea you have...."
...not David's words, but a bit like 'em. He was more forceful, more colourful. I wanted to object, to say yes, maybe sometimes, or for some people; but what about... I can see that it could be true for David and for Branko. Both began with us as purely attacking players with idiosyncratic styles; and their cleverness with those styles had made them successful. Perhaps they hadn't wanted to change. And David Stokes: yes, I can see that perhaps his loss of confidence or ease hasn't been offset by a new fluency with new information. But still I wanted to disagree with David. I wanted to say, "What about her, or him? Now, there's someone who has learned without losing something valuable." For instance, it seems to me that both Jeddah and Ilan have gone from strength to strength.
But David's thoughts and words had already moved on; I struggled to keep up with him. In conversation with him, I often feel I'm dealing with Coleridge's ancient mariner, or with the poet himself, a restless intelligence building ornate stone edifices which hang in the air, confoundingly solid & beautiful & true. I thought of various members of our group, and could conjecture about how true his words might be of one of us, but perhaps not so of another, or only partially so.
Any thoughts, anyone, about how you might sit in relation to this schema? And do you have any auncient marineres in your life?
Now, I am currently playing a Chess 960 game, a game of Bobby Fischer chess, where the back rank is all mixed up. My opponent lives in Toad Suck, Arkansas, or so my computer tells me. At least I can be sure of one thing: his statistical record shows he is a better player than I, so we both of us know a fair bit about chess. He too is probably a chess-obsessive, or has been at some time in his life. But we are both of us making a complete balls-up of this particular 960 game. It is hard. When you're playing 960, the centuries of knowledge and theory about the openings of proper chess seem to be suddenly almost useless.
Peter Tchessaikovsky says, "Fischer chess has a wild-west vibe." Yes, I like that idea. It's as if I am new in this town, and I can't really know which pieces are civilised, and which ones behave unpredictably. Conversation in the saloon is stilted, the fans revolve, and you behave unnaturally. The only thing that seems real is the sudden outbursts of violence. Somebody goes on a bender and shoots up all the glass-ware. One chess-piece becomes tremendously powerful, and an advantage is gained or lost. In Fischer Chess 960, it is more often the case that I don't know which of my opponent's pieces will turn out to be the villain, or the psychopath. David is right, sod him! Trying to learn something new, here in this sinister though beautiful saloon-bar, my own chess style does indeed turn to mush. As is shown in this following game:
I find it amazing that two people who work hard at chess can make such a mess. Look at all the pawn moves we make! Look at how long it takes us to get pieces out! Look at all the inviting holes I make for white's knights to inhabit! And how I scramble to stop up these holes with more pawn moves! Truly appalling.
So yes: my problems with this game could be described in terms of David's scheme.
- I try to use classical opening theory. (My opponent lives in Toad Suck, Arkansas. He & I both try valiantly to get our knights out early to useful positions.)
- I'm caught between this "knowledge" and the tactical imperatives of a a game which is in so many ways just too much for me.
But still. All the same. As black in the above position, I have come out on top through a little more attentiveness to classical opening theory. My knights gained better squares, with fewer moves. Both my bishops were usefully placed. My queen is centralised. The result is that the tactical flurry just ended has black clearly ahead. Black now has a supported past pawn and considerable control of space. White has little mobility for any pieces at all. Getting to this position hasn't been pretty, though! Very poorly played, I suspect, by both me and my opponent. I wonder what a computer might tell us about the game?!