Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Chess (SMYSLOV) and music (OPERA)

Vasily Smyslov's ability in opera-singing once again reinforces the link between music and chess, as we are reminded in the Guardian article which records his recent sad death. Here is their first paragraph:

"Vasily Smyslov, who has died aged 89, was world chess champion for a year in 1957-58 and among the game's best players for more than two decades. At his peak, Smyslov was renowned for his strategic and end- game play, and more recently he set new achievement records for a grandmaster in old age, reaching the world title semi-finals at 63 and maintaining his strength into his 70s. Yet chess was only his second career option, after he failed to become a singer with the Bolshoi Theatre."

We note that the article refers to his "belief that smooth interplay of the pieces was the key to practical success" - and links this belief to the title of his autobiography "In Search of Harmony". You can hear him singing here.

I originally wanted to base this game on a fantastic game he played against Tal for which "kingcrusher" at ChessWorld provides an excellent commentary on a YouTube video . To play through the moves alongside a vigorous debate of all the variations you can also go to ChessGames.

OK, so Tal is busy "being Tal" in that game, whilst Smyslov, the purist, searches for the harmony and perfection that we should perhaps all aspire to in our player. I say "perhaps", dear Reader, for I know you secretly yearn to play your "Wonder Game" in which you dazzle us with your brilliant sacrificial combination! But that's another story.

So I'll pay homage to the ex-World Champ in a different way. Nothing profound, because in trying to dredge up some ideas I once had about harmony, I am now only able to come up with something you may feel is a little trite. If you know something about music you may want to postpone reading any further until you've looked at the diagram in the left-hand column of the blog, to see if you can puzzle out what I'm doing without any explanation. Yes, it's the pretty picture, based on a chessboard.

I'll make a link between musical chords and a chessboard. It's to do with the chords you make on the white keys of a piano, using your thumb, middle and little finger (or "pinkie"). So we are playing the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes in a sequence of five adjacent notes. Start with middle C and you have the C major chord, C E G, thus:

C E G = C major

D F A = D minor

E G B = E minor

F A C = F major

G B D = G major

A C E = A minor

B D F = B minor diminished

If you extend the 1-3-5 pattern for the G major chord to 1-3-5-7 then you have G major seventh. If this chord is used in a song alongside F major and C major then you have enough to play the famous "12 bar blues" sequence (root, sub-dominant and dominant).

Anyway, I just started to think about the basic scale of C ie C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. After all, it's 8 notes and a chessboard is 8x8 - so why not write all of these (1st) notes on the board, joined to the corresponding 3rd and 5th notes to make some sort of pattern? It looks like a flower if I colour the major chords a different colour from the minor ones. The result of all my machinations looks like this:

If you get interested in this then you can investigate the "Chord Wheel". Sadly it shows how the internet has degraded so much that the concept has been eagerly transmogrified into a saleable item, as you can see by googling. The "Chord Wheel" is a standard part of musical theory. The best I can do is a PDF file which you can get from Marty Jourard's article in Gig magazine.

If you would prefer a broad view of music theory you might like to investigate Edly's Music Theory for Practical People.

So that's my homage to Vasily Vasiliyevich Smyslov, chess grandmaster (world chess champion 1957-58) who died on 26 March 2010. I shall call it "The Lily of Vasily".

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