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# Theoretical vs objective assessment

• #1

I have sometimes come across chess annotations in which comments have suggested a difference between the theoretical and objective assessment of a certain position. For example, I've heard IM Andrew Martin make a comment "this position may be theoretically better for white, but is objectively more playable for black" (or something like that).

I am really confused. I thought that a theoretical assessment would be the same as an objective assessment. I hope someone can shed some light on the use of these terms.

• #2

Theoretical analysis is saying: White has an advantage with best play for both parts.

Objectivly (I don't like this word, I prefer Practical) it's easier to play as black.

Lets take the Smith-Morra Gambit. Theoretically, black has a slight edge (or equal game), but practically it's perfectly playable for white. If black makes one mistake, hes toast. If he doesn't, he'll have a pawn. But avoiding making a mistake for around 20-25 moves, while defending and analysing sacs on d5 and e6 is VERY difficult. If black misses a finer point about the Bd5, he'll get mated. If white miss it, he can probably find another sac in 2-4 moves.

That is what I understand of Theoretical vs Objectively.

• #3

"Objectively" and "Theoretically," are generally used synonymously, for better or worse, when referring to a chess advantage. It's talking about who is better not in practical terms, so not considering how easy a position is to play.

Personally, I often don't buy it when people say "it's equal, but easier for side x to play." Maybe if you have a certain style of play, but if a position is truly equal, either neither side is under a lot of pressure, or one side is under more pressure but there is a compensating factor (like material) -- so comfort level of each position should be even too. So it totally depends on the playing style of the individual, which varies a lot.

In the smith morra example, I would say the fact that black's center pawns block out some of the white activity, and the fact that he can give up a pawn to relieve the pressure without being down in material, and the fact that his position tends to get better the longer the game goes, make black's position at least as pleasant as white's, assuming a universal style.

If of course one side prefers to attack rather than to consolidate, then they may prefer to play white. At the same time, some players may enjoy the gradual process of consolidation, and would prefer to play as black. I argue that "ease to play" is very relative -- you can't say absolutely that one side is easier to play.

• #4
Elubas wrote:

"Objectively" and "Theoretically," are generally used synonymously, for better or worse, when referring to a chess advantage. It's talking about who is better not in practical terms, so not considering how easy a position is to play.

Personally, I often don't buy it when people say "it's equal, but easier for side x to play." Maybe if you have a certain style of play, but if a position is truly equal, either neither side is under a lot of pressure, or one side is under more pressure but there is a compensating factor (like material) -- so comfort level of each position should be even too. So it totally depends on the playing style of the individual, which varies a lot.

In the smith morra example, I would say the fact that black's center pawns block out some of the white activity, and the fact that he can give up a pawn to relieve the pressure without being down in material, and the fact that his position tends to get better the longer the game goes, make black's position at least as pleasant as white's, assuming a universal style.

If of course one side prefers to attack rather than to consolidate, then they may prefer to play white. At the same time, some players may enjoy the gradual process of consolidation, and would prefer to play as black. I argue that "ease to play" is very relative -- you can't say absolutely that one side is easier to play.

Q vs R pawnless endgame.  Objectively a win, easier to draw or win though?

I'm sure there are countless others, opening, middlegame, endgame.

• #5

Something about that example seems fishy. I'm talking about an equal position; not a winning position vs. a "more winning position." In a truly equal position, a person can only have a greater feel of ease for one of the positions based on a different playing style.

[This part deleted as I was talking about a different position than you were referring to.]

• #6

Oh haha, for some reason I thought you meant queen vs king, compared to how easy rook vs king would be -- not sure why, guess I'm just reading too quickly.

Well, queen vs rook's difficulty -- this is relative as well. If you ask a super GM, maybe not so hard -- if you ask me, I'd say pretty challenging.

• #7

Like the other posters, I would prefer to draw a distinction between "theoretical" and "practical", not between "theoretical" and "objective".

A position might be better for White in theory, while Black's correct moves might still be far easier to find for a player actually sitting at the board.

• #8

@ Elubas
So you agree some wins are more difficult than others, but think that all draws are equally easy?  I'm not convinced super GMs are better than regular GMs in the endgame.  But if you have to ask a super proficient player how hard an endgame is how objective are you really being?

Ok, so take the B+R vs R pawnless draw that even super GMs have been known to screw up and compare to any number of drawn endgames.

I think this can be extended to the other phases, regardless of style some positions just require more technique for one side than the other.  But I see your point that the annotation "white is comfortable" can sometimes be a matter of preference.

• #9

Again, depends on the kind of player white is. If white is a subtle player he might not have a problem. Or maybe he just finds white's strategy pleasaing in some way.

And most of the time, what we call a clear plan is what makes a position better in the first place . If one side has more improving moves he has yet to make, while the other side can't improve as easily, the former side is probably going to have a more active position once all of those moves have been made, and so could be said to have had a superior position all along.

• #10

If a player goes on from the starting position to have a better position once all of the moves have been made, could he (or she) be said to have had a superior position all along?

Naturally there is some overlap between a good position and the possibility of getting a better one, but it is very helpful to have language to refer to a possibly good position (where one has to find just the right moves) versus a currently good position (where one may easily find moves that maintain or increase their advantages).

• #11
Elubas wrote:

Again, depends on the kind of player white is. If white is a subtle player he might not have a problem. Or maybe he just finds white's strategy pleasaing in some way.

And most of the time, what we call a clear plan is what makes a position better in the first place . If one side has more improving moves he has yet to make, while the other side can't improve as easily, the former side is probably going to have a more active position once all of those moves have been made, and so could be said to have had a superior position all along.

Umm, not if the position is equal to being with :p

What I think of as an easier position to play is one where fundamental strategic ideas can be used to find good moves.  These moves are called natural or easy.  The other side has moves that are just as good, but because of the way we learned chess they're not as intuitive, or even bizarre looking.

Even strong GMs can invent over the board.  You can never have a reference for all types of positions.  So I think it can legitimately be said that some positions are easier to play even if with best play it's equal.

• #12

No, I personally don't think all draws are equally easy; the point is that different people consider different things difficult. Some people may consider Q vs R hard, others not -- I don't know how good super GMs are in endgames -- that's not really my main point.

So if a book says "this is equal but easier to play as white" this will only hold true for some people. For others, the statement "this is equal but easier to play as black" will hold true.

In the case of Queen vs Rook: The statement "This is a draw but hard to win" may hold true for some people, but for others it may be false.

• #13

Wafflemaster, in the red text, I wasn't talking about an equal position. I was responding to bleemu.

"So I think it can legitimately be said that some positions are easier to play even if with best play it's equal."

This general statement I don't disagree with, but it depends on your playing style. Playing style A may find white easier to play, while playing style B may find black easier to play. Playing style C may have no preference for either side (this tends to be me ).

• #14

You seem to be focusing on some technicality of the language somewhere...

Different people consider different things difficult?  Sure.  And when the set of people that consider a certain position easy are all highly skilled, with decades of practice, then that position is not an easy position to play.  You can't fault the annotator for that.  So you're saying they should technically be saying "the skill required to play this position well is hard to come by"  Ok, great point

It's like saying the poisoned pawn najdorf is easy to draw with perfect play.  Well of course, but then the perfect play is the hard part.

• #15
Elubas wrote:

Wafflemaster, in the red text, I wasn't talking about an equal position. I was responding to bleemu.

"So I think it can legitimately be said that some positions are easier to play even if with best play it's equal."

This general statement I don't disagree with, but it depends on your playing style. Playing style A may find white easier to play, while playing style B may find black easier to play. Playing style C may have no preference for either side (this tends to be me ).

Yeah, there are also positions where preference comes into play.  Do you liked cramped positions, or do you need to be attacking or whatever.  I think people often duly qualify these as such.  When I think of a positions that are harder for one side than the other I'm thinking of positions where one side has a range of decent and intuitive moves to choose from while the other will need to string together a number of only moves just to survive.

• #16

"regardless of style some positions just require more technique for one side than the other"

It's not easy to accurately define technique though. Is technique measured in the number of moves it takes or something else? Is it how much you need to memorize out of an endgame manual?

• #17

So you're saying technique doesn't exist, it's just a matter of style?  (What is your point?)

Even within an individual style some positions require more technique than others.  I may love to attack, but find certain attacking positions harrowing.  I may hate endgames but because of the difficulty in the attack I prefer to trade into certain endgame positions I know how to navigate.

• #18

"You can't fault the annotator for that."

Oh, but I am!

Seriously though, it is a pet peeve of mine. When I see things like this I think "don't tell me what position I would prefer; you don't know me!"

It's probably because I really don't tend to have preferences for either side when the position is equal. I am generally as comfortable trying to justify a pawn sacrifice as I am consolidating the extra pawn, as long as, of course, I have sufficient compensation for the pawn, which I would in an equal position.

• #19
waffllemaster wrote:

When I think of a positions that are harder for one side than the other I'm thinking of positions where one side has a range of decent and intuitive moves to choose from while the other will need to string together a number of only moves just to survive.

But again, preference and temperment come into play. A player who is a poor strategist but a tactical wizard might find it easier to find and play a series of "only" moves than to judge between several alternatives, all of which look superficially playable.

• #20
Elubas wrote:

"You can't fault the annotator for that."

Oh, but I am!

Seriously though, it is a pet peeve of mine. When I see things like this I think "don't tell me what position I would prefer; you don't know me!"

It's probably because I really don't tend to have preferences for either side when the position is equal. I am generally as comfortable trying to justify a pawn sacrifice as I am consolidating the extra pawn, as long as, of course, I have sufficient compensation for the pawn, which I would in an equal position.

Haha, I can relate to that.  I think that's just the combative chess personality (if you're anything like me that is).  Even in a post mortem if someone passes by and comments on a move "you can play that" I instantly want to find a way to show it works.  Maybe subliminally I imagine a game as trying to prove your point all the while your opponent is saying you're wrong.  "I'll show you why Nc6 is the wrong way to go" and "I'll show you why it's right" lol.

If the annotator is commenting on style, then I agree, you can fault them for that.  But I think there are legitimately difficult positions to play.  Not in terms of compensation, but number and non-intuitive-ness of moves necessary to maintain the evaluation.

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