20 February 2013

A robust and deep insight on playing style

I finally tracked down the original reference from Playing Styles Deconstructed that underpinned what I termed the impracticality of pursuing a chess "style" for improving players.  The following is from GM Alex Yermolinsky's The Road To Chess Improvement (Gambit 1999).
...One strong GM once told me that during the game we (he meant World Top 100 or so) may happen to know, able to calculate, or in any other way find the best move in approximately 90 percent of positions.  This means that, if an average game lasts 50 moves, there will be 5 times during the game when we won't know what to do!  There comes the most interesting, yet difficult part.  He also said that these moments are very characteristic for a chess-player's style and personality.
I find this to be a robust and deep insight.  In the linked post, the primary lesson I took away was that attempting to conform to some idealized type of playing style ("tactical" or "positional" or whatever), especially at the Class level, would be an impediment to the improving player. What we really need to do instead, along the lines of the above quote, is focus on reducing the number of positions where we don't know what to do!

Another important aspect to the above-quoted idea is the concept that it is normal to have differing opinions over positions, even at the top level and to the point where you do not in fact understand all aspects of the position.  It's been remarkable to me how often the very top-rated players will candidly express this during interviews or in post-game analysis, for example in How Kramnik makes us feel better about chess.  I have seen Carlsen and Anand be similarly self-effacing and the lack of ego in the top ranks these days is very refreshing, as well as motivational for me to see.

A final comment on style: assuming the idea above is broadly true, our personal style will naturally shine through as part of a game's development, giving scope for creativity and individuality.  But  that does not excuse us from increasing our efforts at objective investigation and understanding of truth on the chessboard.

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