Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Chess Style

Chess style Some players seem to be consistently aggressive, some positional, some play in a classical way, others are more hypermodern, some are scientific. These characteristics are classified as a chess player's style. Player's obtain these tendencies based on personality, experience, and coaching.

In the former Soviet Union the Botvinnik chess school had a very effective way of educating players that was unsurpassed anywhere else in the world. The distribution of grandmasters in each country 20 years ago had the Soviet Union leading with 100'ds of GM's. As players started to leave the Soviet Union, many coming to the USA, they spread their good chess coaching techniques to other parts of the world. The reason why there are so many good very very young players in the US today relates in most part to these émigrés’ great coaching. Germany has the most chessplayers in the world but only 1/3 of the grandmasters that Russia has.

One émigré and coach, Master Jacob Rasin,

says that style accounts for 5% to 10% of a differentiator between one individual and another because in order to be a good chess player tactics and positional understanding must be mastered and those two elements constitute most of a person's chess knowledge.


I think given Jacob's personal experience, having originated in the Soviet Union, he would be correct for the Soviet playing population and his argument on style would also encompass formally trained US chess players of the last 15 years, especially all very young US players who are also teaching themselves by rubbing elbows with Botvinnik's progeny.


Interestingly I think that US players that became strong BEFORE the soviet émigré influx, by basically teaching themselves, have styles/approaches to chess that are more individualistic and unique than players that came after the 1980's. Examples like Bobby Fischer, Larry Christiansen and Nick de Firmian, Jackie Peters, Arthur Bisguier, Reubin Fine all had to figure much of chess out on their own and have distinct non-Russian approaches to the game. While US coach Jack Collins did train several good players like: Robert Byrne, Bobby Fischer and William Lombardy, these players had unique styles before they got coaching. And while it was common for strong US players to be mentored by someone, the approach was unorganized. In my team chess college days of the early 1970's Boston had a reputation of being the center of wildly aggressive players having Harry Lyman as a key instructor. In addition being the home of Weaver Adams, Harlow Daly, and Harry Nelson Pillsbury who all were initiative junkies. Then the swashbuckling / coffeehouse style was tempered by improved defensive technique plus humans training on computers (that never make a tactical error) causing intimidation.

John Curdo is the person whose career was probably hurt the most by émigrés.The young players of today are so much better trained in fundamentals and have learned so much at earlier stages in their cognitive development obtaining an understanding, consistency, and potential that was rare 25 years ago but common today.

The real question remains will these young lions continue to participate in OTB as adults? Do you think chess style is a minor component when compared with strategy and tactics? Do you think pre 1980 us players had more unique styles than today's players?

Please Comment. Mike Griffin 04/15/2008

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