Monday, January 12, 2009

To Blindly Go ... ?!

So many years ago I stressed so often to a young Marc Arnold that any opening move is only as good as the strength and potential of the idea(s) behind it. Unfortunately many average players follow 'known' memorized theory as blindly as do computers, only to be dropped into a rich pool of complexity and forced to swim, suddenly, for themselves. Many players have been guilty of sleepwalking through the opening but the strongest player ever to fall into such a naive hole was no less than the greatest player in the history of the game, Gary Kasparov! But he went with his eyes apparently wide open.

Years ago in 1997, Kasparov attempted to capitalize on this 'known' computer weakness (following opening theory blindly, then waking up in a strange position) against Deep Blue, only to be tossed on his ear by a grandmaster team of assistants to the programmers led by GM Joel Benjamin. Kasparov's opening preparation was apparently based on the statistics of many lesser computers sacrificing a piece in a known variation of the caro-kann, then being unable to stitch together the necessary attacking compensation for the piece. Deep Blue did not drop the ball in the sixth and final game of the match, but ran with it and sent Kasparov crying...

Former World-Champion Mikhail Tal once spent the afternoon taking a bath while perusing the latest Russian issue of 'Chess Bulletin' ... at one point coming across an amazing sacrifice of a knight on e6 in a popular sicilian variation. The sacrifice appeared promising in all aspects and ... lost in thought and contemplation, a knock on the door reminded Tal that it was time for that day's round. His game that evening took the form of the same sicilian variation and Tal couldn't believe his good fortune. Following a bit of a dramatic pause, Tal sacrificed his knight on e6 confidently. His opponent sank deep into thought, occasionally glancing up at Tal in disbelief. Eventually, Tal's opponent shrugged his shoulders, accepted the knight and threaded his way through the complications to win the game.
Once concluded, the grandmaster asked of Tal, "Haven't you seen the refutation of this move in the latest issue of 'Chess Bulletin'?" Tal, upon returning to his room, turned the page of that issue to find his knight sacrifice disected and difused just as he'd experienced it.

Every day we follow advice of one sort or another without true understanding. Certainly there is something to be said for having faith or trust in the judgement of others. After all, we stand on the shoulders of giants in many popular variations, but at the same time these are not the only paths worth traveling.

Study widely, keep your eyes and mind open and be constantly on the alert for an overlooked or underestimated idea that you can call your own.

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