Friday, April 9, 2010

Chess, loneliness, books and blunders

Well you can't have a better post title than that!

Chess is, like it or not, analogous to warfare - in particular warfare with infantry. You, as the Commander of the army, need to employ your soldiers effectively. An overall strategy needs to be implemented and this is your responsibility, no-one elses. The loneliness of command and all that. However you are thankfully not in the real life position of having to worry about putting real people into danger, nor do you have to worry about the morale of your troops. In the words of Dr Michael McKernan at the Curtin University of Technology, 20 October 2005 during a Public Lecture:

"The loneliness of command, they call it, and it strikes various leaders in different ways. A military leader treads a fine line between concern for his troops and getting the job done. We look at generals of the First World War and marvel that they could seemingly so blithely contemplate and plan for casualty numbers such as the world had never known or can even now understand".

In a moment (forgive me, I'm prone to rambling  today) I'm going to provide an extract from "Sharpe's Triumph" by Bernard Cornwell - a book that I am currently reading. Not "the" book you understand - it's nice to have different books available, depending on one's mood. Since you ask, I am also ploughing through "Revolution in the Head" - Ian Macdonald's superbly detailed factsheet of each and every Beatle track.

You can see my booklist in the MY CHESS BOOKSHELF widget in the left hand column of this blog. Just before the extract, let me put in a plug for Goodreads as being a marvellous way to not only acquaint your blog readers with your reading material - but also because of the following reasons (in their words):

- Get great book recommendations from people you know.
- Keep track of what you've read and what you'd like to read.
- Form a book club, answer book trivia, collect your favorite quotes.

Well, if you're a bookworm (or you have bookwarm tendencies, or aspire to bookwormery!) I heartily recommend same.

So what's this extract from historical fiction doing here? Well, as I write this I am cogitating over the best move to play as Black in the following position.

No it's not particularly exciting - which is the point. Oh, I can attack his Queen! Great except that this does not yield any great dividends. Oh, he might threaten mate eventually with Ng5 - but that seems easy to defend. Can he play e4 - well, I haven't a clue but it doesn't seem earthshattering. And what do I do, what is my plan?

Well, perhaps the following extract (Page 151) from this very exciting book will provide me with an answer, thus:

"I was thinking, Dodd, that it is no bad thing that we wander so aimlessly."
"It isn't?" Dodd retorted with astonishment.
"Because if we do not know where we are going, then nor will the British, so one day they will march a few miles too far and then we shall pounce on them. Someone will blunder, Dodd, because in war someone always does blunder. It is an imutable rule of war; someone will blunder. We must just have patience."

Yes, that'll do me. Rather than make an unjustified sally into the opposing camp, I'll make a waiting move. This move should hopefully be a developing move, maybe a move which will help the situation at some unspecified point in the future. A move which is not a complete waste of time, but would not satisfy those who demand "action, any action". It's a current game on ChessWorld and I've decided to play h6. Whether you agree or not, I think you might at least concede that these so-called "waiting moves" are the difficult ones to decide on.

Of course we must "never pass (ie make a waiting move) and hope that a move comes to you next time. Every move should strengthen your position somehow" as Terry Chaisson reminds us at "Chess on the Borderline".

UPDATE - after all this, I changed my  mind! Instead of h6, I've played Bd7. I think Terry might approve.  You'll know why I was reluctant to play this move right away I suppose - yes, I didn't want to lose a bishop for a knight after his Ne5. Just shows how we get stuck in a rut! In fact I believe his knight is stronger than my bishop, so I'll be quite happy to swap them. Please refrain from commenting on this move as it's an ongoing match :)

So here is perhaps a better example of a "waiting move" played by none other than by Bobby Fischer in his "Bobby Fischer's Best Games of Chess" (Simon & Schuster). He says that "The refutation of any gambit begins with accepting it. In my opinion the King's Gambit is busted. It loses by force, thus 1 P-K4 P-K4 2 P-KB4 PxP 3 N-KB3 P-Q3! This last move, P-Q3, is the key to a troublesome position, a high-class waiting move". A full treatment of the move can be found at

It's played very early in the game - so if anyone can provide a better example (played a little later on in the game) I would be grateful. Bobby's example is really an opening improvement as much as anything else, I think.

Footnotes (from Chess-Poster):

“The winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake”
(Savielly Tartakover)

“Chess is war over the board. The object is to crush the opponents mind”
(Bobby Fischer)

“The blunders are all there on the board, waiting to be made”
(Savielly Tartakover)

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