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World Championship G4 reflections – it's the computers!

5/16/2012 – Two exciting games, two rather dull efforts, and a scoreboard that shows 2-2 with four consecutive draws. Some chess fans are starting to feel disappointed and searching for someone or something to blame. The shortness of the match contributes to the problem, by making the players especially cautious. But the main problem lies elsewhere, as Steve Giddins boldly proposes. Food for thought.
 

The World Chess Championship 2012 is being staged in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, between the current World Champion Viswanathan Anand of India and the winner of the Candidates tournament Boris Gelfand of Israel. The match is over twelve games and lasts from May 11 to 30. The prize fund is US $2.55 million, the winner getting $1.53 million (60%), the loser $1,02 million (40%).

Before we come to Steve Giddins' musings here the official press release (and pictures) sent to us by the organisers after round four of the World Championship:

The opponents continued their Slav Defence duel that started in the second game of the match. White was the first to deviate from the previous game and managed to get the so-called two-bishop advantage in the middlegame. After a series of exchanges, the game transformed into an ending with somewhat better chances for White. In the resulting technical position, the game could have had either of two results: a draw or a victory for White. It turned out, however, that the white pieces were not sufficiently well coordinated and that the bishop’s advantage over the knight was not enough for a win: with precise play, Viswanathan Anand built a “fortress” and deflected all threats. A draw on the 34th move.


Fighting for the tiniest advantage: challenger Boris Gelfand

During the press conference, Boris Gelfand noted that there were no critical moments in the game as such, but the question was whether White would manage to gain an advantage or Black would find a clear way to equalise. The opponents considered the possibility of going into a knight against bishop endgame after 32. Rc6, but concluded that the white king lacked the tempo to occupy square d4, so White’s chances in this variation were also minimal.

The challenger showed the position after 18…h6, which produced a great aesthetic impression on him. At that moment, each square on the d-file was occupied by black and white pieces, Black’s rooks were on squares c8 and e8, and the whole array resembled a T-shaped figure that is rarely seen on a chessboard.


Still trying each other out – World Champion Vishy Anand

Assessing the situation in the match after the first four games, the world champion said the match was just developing and the rivals were still trying each other out. “You don’t really want to start doing evaluations, but so far it’s a pretty tough match,” commented Viswanathan Anand. Boris Gelfand refused to give any assessment of individual parts of the match and stressed that any analysis was pointless until after the 12th game.

Asked by a journalist what scenario the players would have preferred during the game and if something had gone wrong at some point, Gelfand answered jokingly: “Well, of course I would have loved my opponent to choose some doubtful variation that I know well. Then I would have used a strong novelty and won the game, say, by the 20th move. I would be too naïve to count on that, however, so of course one has to be ready for any course of events.”


<img data-cke-saved-src="http://en.chessbase.com/portals/4/files/news/2011/giddins09.jpg" src="http://en.chessbase.com/portals/4/files/news/2011/giddins09.jpg" style="float: left; margin-right: 10px; margin-bottom: 5px; width=" 200"="" height="216" align="left">Round four reflections – it's the computers!

By Steve Giddins

Several friends have reacted to my blog post regarding the tedium of events in Moscow. A brief flurry of excitement on Monday was followed by another bore-draw on Tuesday.

I should perhaps make clear that I am not blaming the players. They are just reacting to the circumstances they find themselves in, and are doing what they think they have to do, to have the best chance of winning the match. Likewise, nor do I give any credence to the claim that all would be rosy, if only the match organisers had imposed the infamous "Sofia rules", to prevent early draw agreements. Having Sofia rules in place for the first two games in Moscow would have forced the players to play another 20 or so moves, before agreeing a draw, but all that would have meant was two largely contentless 40-move games, instead of two largely contentless 20-move games.

It is true that the shortness of the match contributes to the problem, by making the players even more cautious than they would otherwise be. With so few games, a player cannot afford to risk even one loss. Therein lies part of the problem. But even that is only a small factor. The real problem lies elsewhere.

That problem is that computers are killing the game. They have already killed correspondence chess, in all but name, and now classical chess is heading down the same twilight path to oblivion. The computer is now so powerful, that it becomes impossible to out-prepare another top player in the opening. In pre-computer days, Kasparov could analyse so much better than the other top GMs that he could routinely uncork novelties that refuted entire opening variations. Nowadays, though, that is just impossible – everybody is analysing the same opening lines, using the same powerful computers and programs. As a result, everybody is coming to the board, with much the same opening preparation, with the result that nobody can get a serious opening advantage any more.

Imagine the following experiment. Lock Anand and myself in separate flats, for a week, on our own, to analyse a certain opening variation. Even if I work every bit as hard as Anand, or even harder, at the end of the week, he will have analysed the line much better than me – he sees tactics faster, his positional judgement is better, etc. There will be a large gap in the quality of the analysis we each produce.

But now repeat the experiment, only this time, give each of us a powerful laptop and the latest version of Rybka. By the end of the week, Anand's analysis will still be better than mine, but I can assure you that the gap will be very much smaller, especially if the line we are analysing is something fairly sharp and tactical. Despite the enormous disparity in talent and ability between myself and Anand, if I put in the work and use the computer fully, he is not going to be able to out-analyse me to any huge extent, thanks to the levelling effect of the computer.

And this is the crux of the problem in world championship matches. There, we are talking about a very small disparity in strength between the players, which makes the problem even greater. Against me, even if Anand gets nothing from the opening, he will still be able to outplay me over the board, and win. But he cannot do that to a top-class GM, who is only marginally weaker than himself anyway. If he gets nothing from the opening, he will have huge trouble beating a player like Gelfand, and vice versa. The result is a whole series of effectively contentless games, where the players are just checking each other's computer-aided preparation. Once in a while, they will hit on a gap, and get some advantage, but most of the time, there will just be what we have already seen in Moscow – 15-20 moves of preparation, 4-5 more accurate moves, a dead position, and a draw.

So, what is the solution? Sadly, I don't think there is one, at least not without abandoning traditional chess, in favour of Fischer-Random, and I hardly know anyone in the chess world who wants to see that (I certainly don't). It grieves me to say it, but I think classical chess is in its last days.

Source: Steve Giddins' Chess Blog

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