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Comparing players from different eras

  • #1

    Some quotes from a very good review by John Watson of John Nunn's Chess Puzzle Book, where Nunn compares Karlsbad 1911 with Biel 1993:

    Nunn: "I reasoned that a good way to eliminate differences resulting from 80 years' advance in chess theory was only to look for really serious errors"

    Watson: Notice this important step. I'm always hearing (and reading) that "If the players of yesteryear could only catch up with opening theory, they'd be as good or better than today's players"

    Nunn: "I was quite surprised by the results. To summarize, the old players were much worse than I expected. The blunders thrown up by Fritz were so awful that I looked at a considerable number of complete games 'by hand', wondering if the Fritz results really reflected the general standard of play. They did."

    Nunn: "In order to be more specific about Karlsbad, take one player: Hugo Süchting (1874-1916). At Karlsbad he scored 11.5/13.5 or 'minus 2', as they say these days - a perfectly respectable score. Having played over all his games at Karlsbad I think that I can confidently state that his playing strength was not greater than Elo 2100 (BCF 187) - and that was on a good day and with a following wind. Here are a couple of examples of his play"

    Watson: You have to get the book to see these examples of Süchting's horrendous mistakes and misunderstandings. Nunn also has talks about more positions, and then includes a section of 30 Karlsbad "puzzles", representing all of the players. The positional mistakes by the top players are particularly telling.

    Nunn: "Returning then to the question as to how Süchting scored 11.5 points, the answer is simply that the other players were not much better. If we assume Süchting as 2100, then his score implies an average rating for the tournament of 2129 - it would not even be assigned a category today."

    Nunn: "It is quite clear that the Karlsbad players were far more prone to severe errors than contemporary players. Even the leading players made fairly frequent blunders. Rubinstein, for example, who was then at virtually the peak of his career (1912 was his best year) failed to win with a clear extra rook against Tartakower ... He also allowed a knight fork of king and rook in an ending against Kostic..."

    Nunn: "The second problem area was an inclination to adopt totally the wrong plan...[examples follow]..."

    Nunn: "The third main problem area was that of endgame play...[horrendous examples of elementary blown endgames follow]..."

    Nunn: "Doubtless, some will respond by searching through contemporary tournaments and finding errors just as serious as those presented here. However, a couple of words of caution. Remember that all the examples given here were played in one tournament. Of course, it is easy to present a player as an idiot by listing the very worst blunders from his (or her) entire career"

    http://www.chess.co.uk/twic/jwatsonbkrev82.html

    The time limits were of course much more generous a century ago than they are today. Maybe Nunn exaggerates a bit, but it could also be added that the mentioned Süchting was a decent player for his day. In Prague 1908 he drew not only Rubinstein, but Maroczy, Marshall, Vidmar, Teichmann and Spielmann and scored -2 in 19 games. In Düsseldorf the same year he drew Marshall and Spielmann and had scored +1 after the 15 rounds. He drew the three games he played against Rubinstein 1908-11.

  • #2
    RoseQueen1985 wrote:

    Keep in mind also, that chess has advanced A LOT over the last 100 years. 


    Yes, I think people often underestimate this. Great players of the past are known through masterpieces that are reprinted in game anthologies. If people had followed every single game they played they would notice how uneven they were compared to players of today.

    When Grischuk has two minutes for a dozen moves in a very complicated position he can blitz out 7-8 perfect moves. Then in the rare occasion when he makes a mistake this is what is noticed. A hundred years ago Burn could in the same situation light his pipe and think for 30 minutes, play a few moves, and then analyse the position for hours during an adjournment, and still play a similar move sequence worse than Grischuk. And if he did make a losing mistake no one would remember or care, because it would be one of all those games that aren't reprinted or discussed.

    I haven't got Nunn's book but looking at a few games from the tournament he mentioned I just noticed this example where Burn (then a top 25 player) is up against Fahrni. Burn with black is to move, and is trying to find a way to save the draw:

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    White is threatening the immediately winning Ra5 but black has a simple draw with Rxa7 followed by Kxa7 g4 Rb4 Kd5 Rxg4 e4 etc. But Burn plays g4. This is of course followed by Ra5 (Rb1+ Ka6 1-0). Maybe a time trouble mistake? No, he had lots of time with a time control just passed. Maybe temporary chess blindness? No, Burn annotated the game in the tournament book, and concludes that white is winning in the position in the diagram.

    I like the old masters, and many were far from chess professionals. As someone said, many were madly in love with the chess goddess, while Lasker had an absent minded affair with her in between pursuing his real interests. The old masters were great for their day, I just think people shouldn't compare their actual playing level with that of today's top players.

  • #3
    RoseQueen1985 wrote:

    ^ I have always had a feeling that, with rare exceptions, most of the players of yesteryear weren't too good. Take a look at Capablanca, the chess playing machine. Many of his endings contain serious erros. Also, I have seen many Capablanca games where he destroyed players that were supposed to be of GM strengh but played horrible games that look like they were played by an 8 year old who learnend last week.

    Don't get me wrong, I respect all of our past players and champions. In particular, I have a deep respect for Morphy and Stenitz. Most of their games  are clean and they rarely commited obvious positional blunders. 

    To me, chess got really sophisticated when Alekhine came around. To me, he was the first of the "Modern" masters, his games show a level of understanding far greater than what his opponents knew at the time. 

    Keep in mind also, that chess has advanced A LOT over the last 100 years. Keep in mind, that Bobby Fischer was the first person to break the 2700 barrier, and that was over 30 years ago. If you are rated around 2300 today, and could go back in time 100 years, you would probably be a world champion contender, or at the very least, you would be known as a great master. Today, a rating of 2300 just makes you a master. An incredible achievement of course, but defenetly no world champion contender.

    Check out the game Reti vs Capablanca, Berlin,1928. Reti plays like a total patzer.


    All players sometimes play like total patzers. The best players just dont do so very often . I recall Kramnik recently overlooking a mate in one , we don't expect the best players in the world to do such things (and they rarely do ) but they are also only human. 

  • #4
    Even I easily solved that one doesn't say much for that player
  • #5
    fabelhaft wrote:
    RoseQueen1985 wrote:

    Keep in mind also, that chess has advanced A LOT over the last 100 years. 


    Yes, I think people often underestimate this. Great players of the past are known through masterpieces that are reprinted in game anthologies. If people had followed every single game they played they would notice how uneven they were compared to players of today.

    When Grischuk has two minutes for a dozen moves in a very complicated position he can blitz out 7-8 perfect moves. Then in the rare occasion when he makes a mistake this is what is noticed. A hundred years ago Burn could in the same situation light his pipe and think for 30 minutes, play a few moves, and then analyse the position for hours during an adjournment, and still play a similar move sequence worse than Grischuk. And if he did make a losing mistake no one would remember or care, because it would be one of all those games that aren't reprinted or discussed.

    I haven't got Nunn's book but looking at a few games from the tournament he mentioned I just noticed this example where Burn (then a top 25 player) is up against Fahrni. Burn with black is to move, and is trying to find a way to save the draw:

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    White is threatening the immediately winning Ra5 but black has a simple draw with Rxa7 followed by Kxa7 g4 Rb4 Kd5 Rxg4 e4 etc. But Burn plays g4. This is of course followed by Ra5 (Rb1+ Ka6 1-0). Maybe a time trouble mistake? No, he had lots of time with a time control just passed. Maybe temporary chess blindness? No, Burn annotated the game in the tournament book, and concludes that white is winning in the position in the diagram.

    I like the old masters, and many were far from chess professionals. As someone said, many were madly in love with the chess goddess, while Lasker had an absent minded affair with her in between pursuing his real interests. The old masters were great for their day, I just think people shouldn't compare their actual playing level with that of today's top players.


     I was curious about Fabelhaft and Rosequeen's playing strength. Since you feel these guys played so badly how would you have done if you had been able to play at Carlsbad 1911?  I am curious as to how you feel you would finished at Carlsbad 1911.

    Would you have ended up in the top half of the tournament or the middle, or the bottom without winning or drawing a single game.

    Let us not forget Nunn had a state of the art computer program checking the moves of this hundred year old tournament.  Remember what computers did to Kasparov, Kramnik, Adams, Anand and every other elite GM in recent memory.

  • #6

    You cannot argue by specific examples as mistakes are always being made in top level chess. Nunn has approached this scientifically and gathered statistics which are hard to refute. But you must remember statistics are not individual games. Its like saying this old man smoked heavilly for sixty years and never got cancer of the lung.

    I notice he was surprized by the results in other words he expected the old masters to be as good as the new I wonder why he thought that?

    I expect we all have strong opinions that are not based on fact; we do need to try to be open-minded about these things.

  • #7
    raul72 wrote:
     I was curious about Fabelhaft and Rosequeen's playing strength. Since you feel these guys played so badly how would you have done if you had been able to play at Carlsbad 1911?  I am curious as to how you feel you would finished at Carlsbad 1911.

    The discussion isn't about anyone claiming to be better than Burn, it's about comparing elite level chess then and now. People often say that if Player X could study modern opening theory for a while he could beat anyone today, but the differences are quite big, as Nunn shows. Obviously not so big that an average amateur of today would do better than a player like Burn, ranked by Chessmetrics as one of the hundred greatest players ever. 

    As Nunn says, it's easy to cherry pick and make any player look bad, that's why he studied all the games from one top tournament. Fahrni and Burn have the same world ranking at Chessmetrics as Shirov and Wang Yue have on today's live rating list, so they were comparatively strong players for their time. Burn won against Alekhine and first placed Teichmann in the tournament, but there were for example some types of endgames he didn't understand as well as modern top players. He played many great games, but now and then, just a little too often, comes these types of mistakes that make it clear that the playing level is well below that of today's top events. I wonder if Nunn isn't too harsh when he declares Süchting to be 2100 at most though.

  • #8

     Any human player can and will make terrible moves. Examples: Karpov lost to Christiansen overlooking a simple queen move that attacked two pieces; Fischer gave his bishop away to Spassky first game of first match; Reshevsky hung his queen against Savon in the 1973 interzonal, etc. Humans are not computers. The flip side of this is that if you only look at the best games of a player you get a skewed view of their strength. Humans are humans and I think the main advantage that modern players have over players like Lasker and Capablanca are computers. I don't believe that players like Anad or Kramnik are intrinsically stronger than the Laskers, Alekhines, and Capablancas. In fact I think they are weaker. Many will disagree with me.

  • #9
    fabelhaft wrote:
    raul72 wrote:
     I was curious about Fabelhaft and Rosequeen's playing strength. Since you feel these guys played so badly how would you have done if you had been able to play at Carlsbad 1911?  I am curious as to how you feel you would finished at Carlsbad 1911.

    The discussion isn't about anyone claiming to be better than Burn, it's about comparing elite level chess then and now. People often say that if Player X could study modern opening theory for a while he could beat anyone today, but the differences are quite big, as Nunn shows. Obviously not so big that an average amateur of today would do better than a player like Burn, ranked by Chessmetrics as one of the hundred greatest players ever. 

    As Nunn says, it's easy to cherry pick and make any player look bad, that's why he studied all the games from one top tournament. Fahrni and Burn have the same world ranking at Chessmetrics as Shirov and Wang Yue have on today's live rating list, so they were comparatively strong players for their time. Burn won against Alekhine and first placed Teichmann in the tournament, but there were for example some types of endgames he didn't understand as well as modern top players. He played many great games, but now and then, just a little too often, comes these types of mistakes that make it clear that the playing level is well below that of today's top events. I wonder if Nunn isn't too harsh when he declares Süchting to be 2100 at most though.


     I think most people will agree that masters are stronger now than 1911. But how much stronger?  It seems to me that some people are out to trash the old masters.  Nunn says the average rating of players in the 1911 tournament was 2100. Nunn is calling these guys patzers. Teichmann, Rubinstein, Schlechter, Marshall, Nimzovitch, Tartakower etc. were all patzers.

    Nunn says Suchting played at the 2100 level and finished in the middle of the standings.  Jeremy Gaige says he played at the 2450 level and Chessmetrics says he played at 2662 for this tournament. Which leads me to believe he played at a higher level than 2100. 

    I am willing to accept the fact that modern day players are superior but I am unwilling to concede that Capa, Lasker, Rubinstein, Teichmann, Schlechter would get their butts kicked on chess.com

  • #10
    raul72 wrote:
    fabelhaft wrote:
    raul72 wrote:
     I was curious about Fabelhaft and Rosequeen's playing strength. Since you feel these guys played so badly how would you have done if you had been able to play at Carlsbad 1911?  I am curious as to how you feel you would finished at Carlsbad 1911.

    The discussion isn't about anyone claiming to be better than Burn, it's about comparing elite level chess then and now. People often say that if Player X could study modern opening theory for a while he could beat anyone today, but the differences are quite big, as Nunn shows. Obviously not so big that an average amateur of today would do better than a player like Burn, ranked by Chessmetrics as one of the hundred greatest players ever. 

    As Nunn says, it's easy to cherry pick and make any player look bad, that's why he studied all the games from one top tournament. Fahrni and Burn have the same world ranking at Chessmetrics as Shirov and Wang Yue have on today's live rating list, so they were comparatively strong players for their time. Burn won against Alekhine and first placed Teichmann in the tournament, but there were for example some types of endgames he didn't understand as well as modern top players. He played many great games, but now and then, just a little too often, comes these types of mistakes that make it clear that the playing level is well below that of today's top events. I wonder if Nunn isn't too harsh when he declares Süchting to be 2100 at most though.


     I think most people will agree that masters are stronger now than 1911. But how much stronger?  It seems to me that some people are out to trash the old masters.  Nunn says the average rating of players in the 1911 tournament was 2100. Nunn is calling these guys patzers. Teichmann, Rubinstein, Schlechter, Marshall, Nimzovitch, Tartakower etc. were all patzers.

    Nunn says Suchting played at the 2100 level and finished in the middle of the standings.  Jeremy Gaige says he played at the 2450 level and Chessmetrics says he played at 2662 for this tournament. Which leads me to believe he played at a higher level than 2100. 

    I am willing to accept the fact that modern day players are superior but I am unwilling to concede that Capa, Lasker, Rubinstein, Teichmann, Schlechter and Alekhine would get their butts kicked on chess.com


  • #11
    RoseQueen1985 wrote:
    ^ a 2100 player is hardly a patzer. And Capa would easily destroy people from chess.com

     Rosequeen, when you are talking about the likes of Teichmann, Schlechter, Lasker, Alekhine, Rubinstein etc, Then 2100 would be a patzer, a duffer, a woodpusher, a fish, a weakie.

    Didn't you just say you could outplay these guys in the openings? If you could do that then these great players would indeed be ---WOODPUSHERS.

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