31.05.2007 I.Zaitsev. THE PHILOSOPHY OF STRATEGY (Part 1)

In my opinion, the extract of knowledge obtained, owing to the peculiarities of our thinking, principally by trial-and-error method, must in all probability be considered exactly the end product which the mankind aspires to in any sphere of its intellectual activities.  In this respect the virtual world of chess is no exception. There, as in the other fields, at every new stage of development the eternal path of self-knowledge is just as thorny, winding and unpredictable.

Hence it follows that, every time we continue with the process of comprehending chess, it is extremely important to choose an initially correct path out of many roads open to us. So what are the approaches to this supertask, how can we untangle the whole knotty mass of problems that have been accumulated to date, which direction should be examined as a principal one?

I suppose that the comparison of the computer play and the human one can give us some clues. In the course of such a comparison it becomes obvious that the main aspect in which man still noticeably excels the machine is multistage strategic planning.

To my way of thinking, strategy is just the universal basis under the roof of which we can accomodate all the modern chess' progress from its opening phase up to a deep endgame. The same strategy, as it has been shown more than once in the chess classics' theoretical works, can well be understood philosophically.  Thus the main subject of all our further discourse can be fit in four words of our heading - THE PHILOSOPHY OF STRATEGY!

But before continuing our reasoning we must define the very meaning of the fundamental conception of strategy. In its substance the game of chess is always a conflict of two opposed sides guided by different strategic doctrines. The stronger party, tapping its every resource, seeks to defeat the opponent, and the weaker one struggles for survival. Hence the chess strategy is in its meaning measures up closely to encyclopedic definition of a military one.

 In fact there are a lot of discordant opinions on the very concept of strategy in the chess environment. Some confuse it with overall manner of conducting a chess duel; others identify strategy with positional methods of play. It is known that inherently at the bottom of every contest there is a program of actions aimed at reinforcement of either offensive or defensive potential.  But whereas we can improve the position of individual pieces by certain tactical or positional methods, strategy is meant to solve the problems of forming and consequently improving the pawn structures, particularly central ones, as a foundation of setup as a whole. Those measures carried out "on the home ground" are reasonably referred to the internal strategy. At the same time it is necessary to spare no efforts in order to hamper the implementation of the opponent's plans on forming corresponding strategic structures that are advantageous for him.

But how (and on what grounds) can we recognize an advantageous structure? In order to solve such a problem a player has, for the time being, to rely on the experience, both his own and his predecessors'. Undoubtedly, any chess pro in time becomes the possessor of not only technical knowledge but also of a huge volume of diverse chess information firmly retained in his memory. However if only associative thinking will be involved into the use of this memory block, then this line of action will, in our opinion, be not productive enough and will not carry one forward. It is obvious that, to increase the efficiency, more universal and more subtle instruments are needed which can be derived from philosophical comprehension of the chess strategy essence.

I doubt whether anyone will challenge the opinion that the creative development of a chessplayer is directly linked to the evolution of his notions about chess position. Therefore in the immense information field one, having fully mobilized all his logical observation powers, should move from the particular to the general. Then after every separate stage of this intelligent work it will be possible to draw certain general conclusions. In prospect after summing those findings up the player will be able to develop his own independent conception. I think that most of the GMs in the world have been keeping this beaten track for the last half a century, but only on individual level, I should say.

However this variegated mosaic of personal ideas today somehow refuses to form into an objective general picture merging all their diversity into a whole. Every condition for the birth of so necessary renewed chess philosophy seems to be met, but still one decade replaces another witnessing no labor pains... Ironically enough, but in the past, when the scope of chess life had been much more modest, everything ran its course, and there was no troubles with that. Let us recall the main stages: the Italian School, then Philidor, Steinitz, hypermodernists – one philosophical interpretation of practical achievements would in proper time come up to replace another.

 The reason for this present-day pause being so impermissibly protracted is quite obvious: a certain demand in the human society is always needed for anything to come to the world. But in the modern society deprived of every romantic illusion the chess culture that includes both the elements of art and game is really in demand only as a sportive competition.

Let us try and examine the drawbacks of such an attitude. Chess as a sport game combined with a scientific approach to its study allows a stratum of pros to earn their livelihood by means of technical skill development. However even such quite a serious approach to it in no way guarantees constant popularity and longevity of chess play itself. It is common knowledge that of all the creative forms only those possessing spiritual components survive. And of many images that are customarily fit on chess – a sport, a science, an art – only art has that incomparable quality. But any kind of art, being a spiritual category, needs a life-giving water of philosophy to prosper, whereas the gaming needs can be fully satisfied by an ingeniously thought-out methodology.

Despite being vitally interested in attaching ourselves to the roots of art as fast as possible we are forced to state that nowadays chess for some absurd reason dissociates itself from it more and more, sometimes getting itself up in excessively calculating attire of professional sport, and sometimes even allowing itself to wear a fool's cap of various shows. Everyone can see it by the way the time control becomes tougher and tougher, time limits for competitions get more and more compressed (although everybody agrees with the Poet, that "in serving Muses one should keep from fussing"!), finally by over-emphasizing of purely formal aspects of the game rules, even to the detriment of elementary ethics, etc.

That is why it is no coincidence that in the West (which, to my mind, unlike the East, worships almost in every aspect not the Truth but only the rational sense) all kinds of methodological books have become quite popular, that seek to substitute the philosophy of the chess strategy for some simplified methodology based on taking into account purely superficial factors. Nobody cares that, as a result of questionable reasoning, the reader gets a distorted notion of the position at that. It is much more important for a publisher that such a superficial sketch should suit the consumer masses.   

For the same reason, namely the lacking philosophy of the renewed strategy, more often than not the substitution of concepts happens. Thus the theory of chess, that is meant to be a universal guide for action, is somehow understood as a never-ceasing stream of various published opening studies. But you must admit that in fact those monographs should be considered only as workbooks of the answers to the questions of playing practical, actual, but still particular positions. The unforgettable David Bronstein was first to draw the attention to this obvious semantic juggling as far back as in the middle of the last century.

From any aspect of dealing with key issues of modern chess it becomes evident that the reason for those problems is to be sought first of all in the above-mentioned lack of the renewed philosophy that should be shedding the light on the inner nature of chess. 

However, following the correct choice of the object – the philosophy of strategy – there inevitably arises the question of constant adjustment of the whole study process in the necessary direction. Fortunately the Art of Chess has in a sense been lucky as it has its own criterion of trustworthiness for any chess assertions available. Both chess analysis and practice come out in a united front in the capacity of such an unfailing polygraph. Only this instrument can determine whether a correct solution is suggested to us or this is an erroneous one that is sometimes imposed on us. And this demarcation is, perhaps, put in effect most distinctly when we consider combination outcomes, for specifics operates with obvious and indisputable facts. This remark looks especially true in respect of our times, as after modern computer programs have become currently used by chess pros the controlling tactical function of this sui generis "Chamber of Accounts" became much stronger. More difficult by far is the matter with finding the flaws in estimates and general statements, which can later become foundations for dubious positional postulates. To overcome subjectivism and to achieve the desirable methodological uniformity in those aspects is immeasurably more complicated. And, nevertheless, while gradually advancing to the chess truth and perfecting our views, it is necessary to regularly cleanse the chess environment of such wrong judgments, whatever authority might they have belonged to.  It is known that the available stock of chess knowledge forms the modern style, described by the prevalence of quite definite, most effective for the given chess epoch, technical and creative methods and devices, by means of which every problem of step-by-step planning is solved during the game.

But at the same time even the resources of such an advanced strategy are far from being unlimited, being strictly determined by the level of modern chess comprehension.  Time adds colors to no-one; thus there are no doubts whatsoever that in the future our still better-informed and sophisticated descendants will be able in their turn to point out some bottlenecks in the reasoning of our contemporaries, and then, in their turn again, will be corrected by the following generations. This is the way the spiral of historical development unwinds.

To clearly see how cardinally the interpretation of the same positions changes with the years, we do not have to burden ourselves with long search. It will be enough to choose, practically at random, any game played in one of the past chess epochs, say, in the beginning or in the middle of the last century – to say nothing of the earlier chess duels.

Thus, the readers must still remember the about-face that has happened during several decades in the well-known variation of Nimzowitsch Defense (Е-35) 1.d4 ¤f6 2.c4 e6 3.¤c3 Ґb4 4.Јс2 d5 5.cd еd 6.Ґg5 h6 7.Ґh4 c5. It proceeded from the first Black's triumphs (Keres – Botvinnik, 1941) to almost complete rehabilitation for White because of 8.dc! (Kasparov –Korchnoi, 1989, Kasparov – Spassky 1990, Kasparov – Short 1993). At some stage 5...ed has been ousted from practice by 5...Ј:d5. But then another reappraisal of values, another phase of development had come, and now in double-edged complications after 8.dcg5 9.Ґg3 ¤e4  Black managed to re-establish status quo.

Due to the fact that absolutely every chess variation and system has to undergo its round of tests during which it is sometimes seen from the most unexpected angle, it is highly probable that this will be accompanied by some significant high-level theoretical findings. All the above-listed fits into a customary development pattern of the opening knowledge and is quite explainable by the results of the normal opening evolution. (We speak only about evolution so far and will deal with revolution later).

The development of the measured evolution is inherently caused by the fact that every following game played in the same theoretical variation adds certain newness to the problem.  That is why we should relate the re-interpretation of the above-mentioned popular Nimzowitsch Defense variation to the phenomena of the same kind. The progress in this variation would be achieved due to considerable strengthening and development of earlier ideas, but it had never directly affected the fundamental principles of our conceptual chess notions, which is what the revolutionary opening transformations shoot at in the first place.

To make complete the picture of the spontaneous struggle of these two tendencies – on the one hand, the incessant growth of the number of novelties, which is evolution, and on the other hand, the partial but paradoxical efforts to discredit the old paradigms, which is revolution, - it would be useful, even proceeding from the formal matter, to detect in the difference of those two principles the echo of the same dissimilarity that in the art is inherent accordingly in such creative tendencies as modernism and avant-gardism.

 Sporadic discovery of previously unknown fresh strategic ideas that dwell, as a rule, on the earliest opening stages of the game, can form a properly real ground for emergence of fundamental opening changes. Only those introductory mobilization plans and setups are able to ensure a breakthrough and to give us a whole class of unexplored original positions. 

The first chess revolution that had been occurring practically simultaneously with the titanic social shocks in the beginning of the 20th century – the coincidence that does not seem in the least strange to us – went off, as it had been mentioned more than once in many publications, under the slogans of finding an alternative strategy of struggling for control over the center of the chessboard.

Of no small importance is the fact that at the same time, as if to confirm the appropriateness of such a revision of our ideas, a whole number of examples indicating the excessive severity and rigor of the previous conceptions ordering the strict ubiquity of their use, have been drawn from the funds of practice.

At that time quite a small, at the face of it, addition was suggested to this wise ancient saying - he who possesses the center possesses the whole world - that had suited the fundamental chess strategy so perfectly. But this addition, should it be justified by practice, would have allowed the players to use this modified strategy on a much broader scale. In short, according to the innovation, after the words "possessing the center" the following semantically equal in rights addition to the maxim was recommended: "or is able to influence the center effectively". As we see the revolution does not wholly reject the old axiomatics, but only imparts a dual interpretation to it, reducing the dogma to the level of an uninhibited palliative.

Of course, it took time for the chess world to apprehend and appreciate this super idea; in fact, it took years for the most influential persons in chess to initial it cautiously at first, and then to ratify it gladly. During several decades following its emergence this super idea was making great successes in its development having turned into a powerful strategic ideology.

Thus it turns out that for all the seeming fortuity of explorers managing to hit on the new theoretical phenomena, those discoveries do not happen just like that at all. They are always preceded by a complex of fundamental ideas that is notable for its fundamentally novel approach, being formed in the minds of creatively thinking chessplayers, who can be called philosophizing chess intellectuals after a fashion.

The situation was quite the same in times of hypermodernism (chess neo-romanticism) birth, when the pleiad of the new opening systems would shine on the chess skies: the Nimzowitsch Defense, the Queen's Indian Defense, the Reti Opening, the Gruenfeld Indian Defense and perhaps the brightest illustration of this novel approach – the Alekhine Defense. The very appearance of them had, for the most part, been anticipated by introductory theoretical publications by the inventors of those fundamentally novel setups (A. Nimzowitsch's article "Does Dr. Tarrasch's "modern chess game" conform to the modern understanding of the game" dated 1913, R. Reti's brochure "New Ideas In Chess" dated 1922 etc.).

All this also concurs with development stages of the theoretical thought in modern science. Albert Einstein said about this:"Now it is known that science cannot grow on the ground of the experience only and that, while building science, we have to resort to freely created concepts, the adequacy of which can be further proved empirically. Those circumstances escaped the attention of the previous generations that had thought it possible to build the theory in purely inductive way without resorting to free creative making of concepts".

Thus, weaving a buffer circle of the newest conceptions necessary for precise reflection of avant-garde strategy propositions, the philosophy of chess penetrates the leading masters' minds on this level; later they gradually begin to operate with those novel concepts in their everyday chess practice. Of particular importance is the fact that this terminological veil is being talked over repeatedly in the process of intensive subconscious dialogue, i.e. when a player in the course of struggle convinces himself somehow of the correctness of his decision.

However the further campaigning for ideological reasons in the cause of historical expansion of the opening arsenal seems superfluous. You cannot seriously think it pure accident that in 1920s the whole cascade of new opening ideas with conceptually common platform has begun to gush as if by magic.

Of course, those novel ideas will, after passing through the crucible of chess analysis and practice, also turn orthodox. They can stagnate with time as well, becoming a brake on the chess progress, as no speculative scheme can reflect the real state of affairs; in exactly the same way there will never be invented a theoretical model that would once and for all pronounce a final sentence on every problem arising on the chessboard. If it would, it will be the end of the Art of Chess.

But the Providence of God that had bestowed this art upon us, intended it to be eternal, having provided for the game's perpetual renewal and enlivening due to constant creative efforts that can every time be crowned with the birth of new ideas. Perhaps this is why the reason of every (and not only chess) crisis is always linked to a deficit of fresh strategic ideas.

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