Sunday, 15 September 2013

Chess Reviews: 224

Best Play
By Alexander Shashin
401 pages
Subtitled ''A New Method for Discovering the Strongest Move'' (despite what the original cover - above - shows), ''Best Move'' purports to guide readers into playing better chess by means of a new formula. As the blurb puts it:

''Have you ever wished for a “formula” to help you decide what move to make in any given chess position? In this ambitious and groundbreaking work, physicist and chess master Alexander Shashin presents the fruit of three decades of research into the elements of the game.''

Grandmaster Morozevich sets the scene with his intriguing foreword. In 2002 his rating started slipping badly. ''I hardly knew what to do next. Fate had it that I should then meet this amazing person, coach, and physicist by training (and perhaps by calling): San Sanych Shashin, as I freely started to call him.''

Morozevich does not stint in his praise of the author. ''It is difficult to overestimate the amount of support he gave me. Our many hours of kitchen-table conversations brought me back to life as both a chessplayer and a human being.'' Indeed, he credits him as an important factor in being able to reignite his interest in the game. ''Thanks to his patience and his extraordinary level of native intelligence, San Sanych succeeded not only in renewing my appetite for chess, but also in showing me those edges of life which until then – as a result of my age and the pecularities of my character – I had steadfastly ignored.''

Praise indeed. So what does ''Best Play'' offer lesser mortals? Being naturally suspicious of formulas and the like - at least, when applied to ''proving'' something in chess - I was interested to find out if this book was offering something genuinely helpful.

The author states: ''Our ultimate goal in chess [...] is a universal method for discovering the strongest chess move.  More than that, a method that works in all possible chess positions, without exception. All of them!''

The material is split into two parts:

PART I: A Universal Method for Discovering the Strongest Move

Chapter 1. An Overview of Part I

Chapter 2. Tal’s Algorithm, or the Algorithm for Attacking Material Chess Targets

Chapter 3. Capablanca’s Algorithm, or the Algorithm for the Strongest Strategic Move

Chapter 4. Petrosian’s Algorithm, or the Defensive Algorithm

Chapter 5. Mixed Algorithms, or the TC, CP, and TCP Algorithms for Discovering the Strongest Move

Chapter 6. The Algorithm Drift Chart and the Search for the Strongest Move

PART II: A Universal Method for Discovering the Strongest Move, in Practice

Chapter 1. Simple Examples

Chapter 2. Medium-Difficulty Examples

Chapter 3. Complex Examples

Chapter 4. The Second-Pass Evaluation

Chapter 5. Selected Examples

Chapter 6. Positions for Self-Study

World Champions Tal, Capablanca and Petrosian are used as model examples in the respective worlds of attacking, manoeuvring and defending. Their initials - ''T'', ''C'' and ''P'', form part of an algorithm devised to help readers correctly assess a position and to find the best move. 

Things are deep from very early on. ''You may have already come across the relevant page and had your first exposure to the Algorithm Drift Chart...What does it mean? What do you see there? There, you will see three 'zones,' located along the 't' axis. Then too, there are five parameters - from 'm' to ∆(move). Two original 'baskets' of information...''

That's a lot to take in already. The theory and method are both outlined in detail and then it's straight into the illustrative games to link the theory to over-the-board practice. 

It's very difficult stuff. Club and average tournament players will be alienated and even very strong and highly experienced players will have to invest an uncommon amount of time in trying to get to grips with what is on offer here.

I found a game with which I was already very familiar and picked a point at random to see the author's appraisal of the position.
Spassky - Petrosian
World Championship (7), Moscow 1966
A well known game. Petrosian went on to show real class as he outplayed Spassky in a beautiful positional masterclass. A snapshot from the annotations of this encounter should provide a flavour of what to expect from this book.

Spassky played:

19 Kh1

The notes are quite unlike anything one is likely to see in any other chess book.

''What does Black have? m > 1, t = 33/35 = ~0.94, a small '+' in the safety factor, ∆k > 0, and ∆(19. Kh1) = ~0.10. Diagnosis: 'Capablanca'? TC Algorithm?

Note how the position has hanged radically in just two moves. Black's progress in the second, third, fourth, and fifth factors is obvious (in the position after 17 a4, ∆k = ~0.00 and ∆(17 a4) = ~0.11).

Need we comment on these irrefutable facts? I don't think so...''

Anyway, the move Petrosian played was 19 ...Rdg8 and he won after 42 moves.

At this point I couldn't help feeling like Tony Hancock in The Bedsitter, as he tries to digest Human Knowledge: It's Scope and Limits by Bertrand Russell, only to find he has to consult a dictionary every few seconds, muttering, ''Well if that's what they mean, why don't they say so?'' before eventually running up the white flag and reaching for some light fiction (''Ah, that's more like it; Lady Don't Fall Backwards!'').

OK, I admit it; algorithms and the like leave me cold and I doubt very much that the material in this book is accessible enough to help many people find the strongest chess move. It just strikes me as far too complicated and the massive switch in thinking techniques required to try and make it all work is way beyond the powers of the vast majority of players.

The author has obviously put a lot of time and effort into the project but I'm left wondering what sort of person would get the most of it. Very strong players with a professional interest in computer programming, maybe?

Now, where did I leave my copy of Lady Don't Fall Backwards...?

No comments: