Sunday, January 11, 2009

Soviet Equalizing Goats?

In the past 30+ years, many grandmasters have emmigrated to the U.S. wreaking the periodic amount of havoc on the swiss-system chess scene. They would have their successes, pocket a serious number of tournament payouts and have the other GMs grumbling, for a year or perhaps two. But then they would be figured out, lose their intensity or just plain succomb to the distractions of the diverse american culture (there is just too much good TV, I tell you) and relax on the chess study like a normal person here. GM Joel Benjamin touches upon those days in his book, "American Grandmaster" and others certainly recount verbal tales as well. The tradition started in the mid-seventies with GMs Shamkovich, Dzindzichashvili and Lev Alburt, continuing through GMs Gulko, Yermolinsky and Onischuk.

The earliest Russian GMs would apply a win with white, draw with black philosophy that, while working so well in the round-robin era, would have to come up short in the must-play-for-win-with-black mentality of the swiss-system. Uncompromising chess with black began with Fischer it seemed - and shaped the american landscape. If you wanted to play for a win with white against a former eastern-bloc GM, you had your hands full. Russian GMs were known to suffocate white's winning chances at every opportunity, breaking many of the unspoken swiss system rules of even trying to play for a win by generating counter-play. It almost wasn't fair.

Today, the Soviet equalizing goat philosophy with black has subsided. Students of the game can still learn from it though. Many new players often forget about the possibility of just playing solid chess with black and waiting for your opportunities. Playing good chess should be our first and formost goal when we start learning to master the game, but many times this goal is blurred by visions and dreams of success. Often coaches and parents emphasize winning and trophies, by putting too much emphasis on openings for example, rather than rewarding the practice of having their own ideas has behind the moves. In the last Columbia Grammar tournament I saw a strong young fellow lose with his coaches openings, rather than testing and learning from the validity of his own ideas. He agreed when asked, "those weren't my moves" he said "It was a terrible opening and I didn't know what to do."

Play well today, with moves full of ideas. Play to learn from your mistakes and adjust your understanding with the help of the school of hard knocks. We can be told, but there is no substitute for playing and seeing.
-John MacArthur

No comments: