Speelman's Agony #38: The truth or reality

by Jonathan Speelman
1/26/2017 – Using a computer to analyze, while important, needs to be balanced with understanding our limits. A solution or choice that demands we be able to calculate like a computer, in both speed and precision, can lead us to place unrealistic expectations on ourselves. In the following column, Jon Speelman examines the game by Tom Harley, who sends his analysis and computer results, and balances them with choices with what he would play regardless of the 'absolute truth'.

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This week's game is by Tom Harley an American in his mid fifties

He writes: “I am a member of the Westside Church of Christ and work for Johns Hopkins University. I played for the John Overton High School chess team in Nashville. There a team member and soon to be state champion named Curt Jones kept me quite humble. While a student in the 1980's I also played for the Vanderbilt and Princeton chess teams. I want to thank Adam Chrisney for his enormous contribution to the chess community. Adam runs the Arlington VA chess club where the submitted was played. Two years prior to the submitted game, I played Josh Hiban at the 53rd Baltimore Open. On that occasion Josh unleashed another brilliant attack and won.” 

Rather than send me two games one Agony, one Ecstasy, Tom sent me a single one encapsulating many emotions. He analysed it together with an engine and also included a quiz: “Find the best move”. I haven't used this as such but have included many of his comments as TH, counter balancing them with my own as usual as JS.

We wish we could calculate like this for every move, but more practical decisions are sometimes necessary

Josh Hiban vs Tom Harley (annotated by GM Jonathan Speelman)

About the author

Jon was born in 1956 and became a professional player in 1977 after graduating from Worcester College Oxford where he read mathematics. He became an IM in 1977 a GM in 1980 and was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980-2006. Three times British Champion he played twice in the Candidates reaching the semi-final (of what was then a knockout series of matches) in 1989 when he lost 4.5 - 3.5 to Jan Timman. He's twice been a second at the world championship for Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995. He's written the Observer (weekly) since 1993 and The Independent since 1998. With its closure (going online but without Jon on board) he's expanding online activity and is also now offering online tuition. He likes puzzles especially (cryptic) crosswords and killer sudokus. If you'd like to lambast Jon or otherwise he can be contacted via his email

Jonathan Speelman, born in 1956, studied mathematics but became a professional chess player in 1977. He was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980–2006 and three times British Champion. He played twice in Candidates Tournaments, reaching the semi-final in 1989. He twice seconded a World Championship challenger: Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995.


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