Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Strength of Players Past and Present

dk at the always fascinating Chess Improvement has a post that quotes extensively from this John Watson review where Watson quotes extensively from John Nunn's Chess Puzzle Book to the effect that, well, the Old Masters (as in Nunn's analysis of Karlsbad 1911) were pretty weak players.

Did you follow that?

Okay, here is a key quote so that you don't have to:

"In order to be more specific about Karlsbad, take one player: Hugo Süchting (1874-1916). At Karlsbad he scored 11.5/13.5 or 'minus 2', as they say these days - a perfectly respectable score. Having played over all his games at Karlsbad I think that I can confidently state that his playing strength was not greater than Elo 2100 (BCF 187) - and that was on a good day and with a following wind. Here are a couple of examples of his play:"...

[Watson: You have to get the book to see these examples of Süchting's horrendous mistakes and misunderstandings. Nunn also has talks about more positions, and then includes a section of 30 Karlsbad "puzzles", representing all of the players. The positional mistakes by the top players are particularly telling.]

"How, then, did Süchting manage to score 11.5 points in such company? Well, he did have a couple of slices of luck - Duz- Khotimirsky overstepped the time limit while two pawns up in a completely winning rook ending and Alapin agreed a draw in a position where he could win a piece straight away. However, there were some games where Süchting might have hoped for more; he certainly had Levenfish on the ropes (see puzzle 184), and he agreed a draw in the following position against E. Cohn:" [Diagram follows] "It is hard to understand this decision, as with a clear extra pawn Black certainly has very good winning chances and could proceed without the slightest element of risk."...

"Returning then to the question as to how Süchting scored 11.5 points, the answer is simply that the other players were not much better. If we assume Süchting as 2100, then his score implies an average rating for the tournament of 2129 - it would not even be assigned a category today. Based on the above, readers will not be surprised when I say that my general impression of the play at Karlsbad was quite poor, but the main flaws did not show up in the areas I expected..."

And here is my comment over at Chess Improvement:

A CONTRARY POINT OF VIEW

(Watson, asked for it, but you're getting it dk!)

Of course the players are a lot better today; it would be ridiculous to think that they shouldn't be. Are the football players of today better than those of 1927--no doubt, they're bigger, faster and more skilled, because they've built upon the experience of players and coaches and trainers, year after year, every year, for 80 years!

Chess has gone through the same process, as how could it not? Botvinnk and Fine studied Lasker deeply, took what they could use and improved on it; Fischer studied them, and Kasparov studied him, and so on...this is the nature of any human endeavor, math or science, running a mile, etc. Isaac Newton referred to it as having "stood on the shoulders of giants." Computers have accelerated this improvement process, as well.

One more point, it is not a matter of "ratings," which only measure results. Alekhine was indeed a 2700+ player, whatever his score might be against Kramnik if you transported him through time.

To sum up, let me put it this way--instead of silly statements about brushing up on openings, I say that if you took 5-year-old Morphy or Capablanca, time traveled them to today and gave them a computer and a trainer they would be GMs at 13-14 and fighting Kramnik or Anand for the championship at 21-25.

Anyone disagree?

I usually don't turn comments into separate posts but in this case the subject really interests me, and it really chaps me a bit when guys get down on chess in the old days by comparing it to current standards. Jim Thorpe wouldn't last a game in today's NFL but so frickin' what? He kicked ass, and will be remembered as a Great, forever, just as will Rubinstein and Lasker.

4 comments:

transformation said...

:) nicely done.

I like this Robert, the new Wahrheit 3.0 with teeth.

does it also still include the drivers and manuals in CD, or does it use the web application Wahrhpedia only?

Love, dk

Wahrheit said...

Heh, :) you've been instrumental in getting me to write more straight-from-the-heart, dk, for which I thank you.

transformation said...

if i meet a normal woman to settle down for life, i will have her thank you in kind, as we work towards each other, as i get off my ufo for the rotary society and pick up the kids or bible study or discuss mulching at home depot. :)

honestly, thank you.

in all seriousness, once all the money, power, and position is gone, all that there is, is "no BS".

not rudeness, but not to waste anyones time.

im glad to have you as a compatriot here. when and if i post a summary BDK dialoques essay (im thinking about it, after likeForest, reAssembler, chessPawn, etc), i plan to write more about you as the most evolving interpersonally and psychically here.

love dk

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