Friday, January 15, 2016

The feel of wood

The variety of topics offered on this blog are of course the product of my insatiable appetite for the most different chess-activities which span more than 2 decades. Without doubt I couldn't have written this blog 10 years ago although I already published now and then some articles for the torrewachters. Anyway of all my chess-activities standard-chess remains for me the most important.

Nowhere else I can feel the same intensity. The tension often already grows before a game (see the sadistic exam) and the emotions often continue to vibrate sometimes long after the game (see e.g. practical endgames and happiness).  During the game I try as well as possible to block anything which can disturb my concentration. I often see players using even ear plugs as it is seldom really quiet in the playing-room but I haven't tried it myself. I do like to use regularly a legal dosis of caffeine in the shape of a cup of coffee to keep my focus optimal.

Therefore I am not surprised that players can show their best creative and technical level during a game. This maximizing of the own skills is something unique. Kibitzing, commenting games, post-mortems or trainings can never stimulate the same. Exactly because of this it is crucial for somebodies development to play often official games. You need to feel the wood (or today also often plastic) as in the love for wood 1979 chess documentary.

In my article distrust I already once referred to this documentary to talk about smoking during chess but this time I want to use a specific fragment with Jan Timman in which he discuss about homework. He tells us that studying openings is important for a professional but he also warns not just to apply uncritically the analysis in a game.  Not rarely he detects at the board something extra which wasn't prepared at home. The pressure of an official game let you sometimes refute several hours of analysis made at home in just a couple of minutes. From my own practice I remember 2 such cases.

In 2001 I played in the Antwerp Handel against Schepers a dubious line of the Spanish which I analyzed a lot at home to make it playable. Surprisingly at the board I improved my own home-analysis made in 1996 by playing g5 instead of c5.

Recently I encountered something similar in the first round of Open Leuven. My opponent played a rare line against my Spanish but wasn't successful as I already met this line in a standard game of 1997. Initially I followed my old analysis but I deviated when I realized things aren't that rosy as predicted.

Both analysis stem already from 20 years ago which definitely plays a role in this story. That is 20 years later than the earlier mentioned documentary but analysis of engines contained still many holes. It was the era that only a supercomputer Deep Blue was able to beat the worldchampion narrowly in a match. I made my analysis with Fritz4, still several hundred of points below the supercomputer.

Today the battleground has changed drastically. I admit that I never improve anymore my more recent analysis on the board as engines became a lot stronger. In the book My Great Predecessors part 4 Kasparov also admits that today it is perfectly possible with an engine to make very accurate and elaborated analysis. The American topgrandmaster Hikaru Nakamura discovered just recently how strong our current top-engines are in a handicap-match.

So the race with the machine is for sure finished. Engines can tell us in a nano-second which moves are the best and "feeling wood" won't make any difference. Nevertheless there remain some advantages of "feeling wood". Some are building up resilience, absorbing much better new knowledge, enjoying the process of discovering something independently,.. In short our game is much more than just playing correct moves.


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