Monday, June 13, 2011

Chess960: What is the Chess world doing?

People of Chess do not simply focus on the fact that the FIDE President of Chess meets Gaddafi as if that is the only thing that is wrong with Chess. Yes the FIDE situation is a bit nuts, but please take a look at this sublimely weird address by Kasparov on the Chessbase 25th Birthday. It really is hard to believe that Kasparov can so fundamentally misunderstand what Tigran Petrosian was saying:

"I remember in the late seventies Tigran Petrosian was complaining, he was annoyed about the Chess Informant and all these new magazines, telling us younger players that chess is losing its beauty because there is too much preparation being done, there is so much information you should look for. It was really a different game he used to play twenty years before. And he called my generation the “Chess Informator generation”. And when I look today at the top one hundred list, of the best players, I guess that more than half of the players from that list – the top one hundred list from FIDE rating – they were some of them born, and most of them learned how to play chess after the creation of ChessBase. So I think this generation can be called the “ChessBase generation”." - Kasparov

Kasparov goes on to say how chess databases have helped chess to become more "sophisticated" and advanced. Can he be serious? I shake my head sometimes but also respect how beautifully asleep the chess world is. Tiger Petrosian was not talking about the beauty of Chess being destroyed, but that the beauty of how Chess used to be played is being destroyed. In the early days of Chess, players had to be creative and think through the moves from the start as they played. They also had to be very disciplined and creative in their study as well, because many judgement errors could be made simply in the analysis. But modern readily available database information is washing that "beautiful" way of playing and studying clean away. That was Petrosian's point. That was Bobby Fischer's point as well. When will Kasparov understand that?

Kasparov goes on in a wishy washy fashion about the benefits of "Advanced Chess" which he has been pushing for the last fifteen years. He probably has some idea that teams of kids can play Advanced Chess together and use databases in open competition. I think that is a consistent idea, but what message is it teaching kids? That we have almost complete information to solve the problems of the future world that these kids will inherit?

The problems that these kids will have to face, cannot be solved with databases alone, because they are going to have to deal with many unresolved questions of perception. When we stare into a database we tend to see only what is familiar to us conceptually, no matter how big the information store is. Problems we will have to face right now and in the future will have to be resolved by creative and skeptical thinking, where kids should be taught not to be afraid of the genuine unknown and the complex, but in fact to actually embrace it and be challenged by it. Do Kasparov's ideas to have kids looking up a chess database actually help that?

It is a bit like saying that giving a pocket calculator to a team of children will help them think better. He then concludes with a warning to, which will be perfectly obvious to them already, that if they do not innovate they will go under....

Kasparov simply states the obvious but offers no real ideas. He has been doing this for years. He did it with Chess960 when he offered a solution to play a few Chess960 positions but never followed it through despite that he knows that it has much to offer (just as a very simple example, SP534 is just as deep as SP518). His other idea was to create another chess superstar as he himself was by promoting Magnus Carlsen very openly. But how good an idea was that when you actually think about it?

Kasparov is making an initiative to promote Chess in schools in the European Union by 2013. I applaud him on that but does he understand the extent to which modern computers alter the way that children think in chess? I would say that one of the biggest problems with western education systems is there is insufficient encouragement of creative thinking. Kids are taught systematic ways of thinking, but in this modern world we need creative thinking for a future that will be unfavorable at the outset and that has to be improved with creative thinking. That is the message of Chess960 each and every game. Forget about teaching kids about competitiveness and business acumen. Those skills are already being taught very well in a variety of ways such as team sport. Kasparov is simply doubling up or compounding what is already being done.

I would say a much better idea for Kasparov's EU Chess Foundation is to initially learn the fundamental concepts of Chess, but to matriculate through experience to play Chess960 in teams to solve over the board problems using conceptual thinking that encourages creativity from the very outset. Kids can still learn how to use Chess databases and even Chess engine analysis. I can only hope that Kasparov will incorporate Chess960 into the curriculum for kids in schools. I can only hope that Vishy Anand will do the same with his initiatives in India....

Enjoy 960.

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