Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Fine Art of Annotation (Part I)

After some serious vacation time I'm back to the chess blog! I won my first round game in the Reno CC June Swiss, but as promised below it's time for a little something different from me, me, me--I'll get a brief description of last Thursday's game up tomorrow.

What I'd like to pontificate on now are annotations, the good, the bad and the ugly (a nod to this by my friend The Sage in the Tower).

I believe that one can learn a good deal by studying unannotated master games, but quality annotations by strong players add a lot of valuable information, especially when the annotator is one of the players of the game in question. He or she is able to put context, color and psychological considerations into the notes, if they so choose, that even a super-GM who wasn't present can't really understand. But some writers are superb annotators of both their own and other's games, while others, even World Champions, don't always hit the mark.

I have a few 'must haves' that need to be present in order to consider the notes to a game of to be excellent, and also a laundry list of 'annotating blunders (?)' that are for me, as a critic, inexcusable. Here they are, with examples:

Must Haves

First and foremost, every decisive game must have a question mark attached to at least one of the loser's moves. Just about every chessplayer (with Weaver Adams and Hans Berliner [see also here] as notable exceptions) strongly believes that if both sides make nothing but good moves, a game will end in a draw. Sure, White has some advantage, as the approximately 56-44 percent edge over several million master games shows, but it's not enough to win if Black makes no bad move. So it really annoys me when I play over a decisive game and the annotator doesn't identify the 'losing move' or moves. If not, what good are they? I vividly recall a Karpov game he annotated in Chess Life against some poor IM, where K went through the first 17 moves with brief, innocuous comments, gave his move 18 a (!) and implied that the other guy was already lost, or almost lost. Okay, Tolya, then where was the question mark?! Of course, he was 'protecting' his opening 'secrets,' but if that was a concern he never should have chosen to publish anything on this game in the first place.

The other thing that is required for me to consider annotations good is at least some mimimal commentary in words. I'm playing over the game for enjoyment, as well as for the practical goal of improving my playing strength. So the famous Informant-style notes, with nothing but variations and symbols, have never excited me much. But that's just me, I suppose. To a professional ploughing through hundreds of games for purely practical reasons, perhaps words are just a waste of time. I recall one game by a Polgar sister where the all notes went something like '32. f4 h5 33. Bc5 h4 34. Bxe7 Qxe7 (...Bxe7 35. Ng5 wins) 35. Qc3 Qf6 36. Qxc7 wins.' Only they were mostly 8 or more moves long...and all the 'wins' happened to be for the annotator. While Susan writes some very instructive material for us amateurs these days, whichever Polgar this was seemed basically to be saying 'I saw everything, every move, and this poor 2450 fish never had a chance.' Probably they didn't mean it that way, but to this reader it seemed to have that tone.

I'm going on so long here I think I'll make this a two-part post. Next, more pet peeves, some specific writers that I especially admire, and some that I don't like very much.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No, you are not alone. I fully agree with you. Humans communicate thru words, and (although we cannot say we do not need variant moves) a verbal (written) assessment / evaluation of the position (or played move) add a fantastic value to any annotation. I personally get very very discouraged to go thru any annotation when I don't see words included.
Additionally I want to congratulate you for you victory in thw Swiss. Good luck from Brazil.