The Inherent Risk In Chess

Is This a “Serious” Game?
IM Pavlov, Sergey (2470) – GM Brodsky, Michail (2556)
18th Voronezh Master Open 2014 Voronezh RUS (4.9), 2014.06.15
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 Ng4 7.Bc1 Nf6 8.Be3 Ng4 9.Bc1 ½-½
What about this one?
Fedorov, Alexei – Khalifman, Alexander
18th Voronezh Master Open 2014 Voronezh RUS (9.1), 2014.06.21
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 O-O 9.h3 Bb7 10.d4 Re8 11.Ng5 Rf8 12.Nf3 Re8 13.Ng5 Rf8 ½-½
The Discman sent me two responses to my previous post, “What Constitutes a “Serious Game?” ( These are the words of the Discman:
“6 moves? 1 move? 15 moves that are all main line theory? 30 moves that the 2 players have played before in a previous encounter? They are all the same in my book as they require no thought from the players and do not constitute a competition.
Your scenario where the Super Bowl teams agree to a draw after the 1st quarter would indeed be terrible but it could not happen, as it is not within the rules. The Super Bowl cannot (by rule) end in a tie. It’s one of the advantages the game of football has over chess.
Hockey and soccer shoot-outs are ridiculous methods of breaking a tie, as a shoot-out has nothing to do with the way the game is played. It would be like breaking a draw in chess by arm-wrestling, or seeing who could recite all the World Champions in correct order the fastest, or seeing who could throw their King into the air the highest.”
The next one:
“I hear what you’re saying but the nature of chess is such that a significant percentage of high-level games at slow time controls will end in draws.
That being the case, there are times when a draw will be beneficial (or at least will not damage) a player’s standing in an event.
If you forced GM’s not to take draws prior to move 30 or 40, they could easily do this, as opening theory extends past move 30 in many lines of the more well-trodden openings.
GM’s could simply play out one of those lines that ends in a “=” after move 35 and agree to a draw.
It is not uncommon for GM’s to play 20 or 25 moves that have all been played many times and then agree to a draw; it would be easy enough for them to extend this to move 30.
The only way I can think of to discourage draws is to award different point values for wins and draws as White vs. Black. This has been suggested by many, going back many years.
For example, 1.1 for a win as Black and .9 for White and .55 for a draw as Black and .45 for White.
Now all of a sudden that last-round quick draw to split the 1st & 2nd prize pool no longer works as planned.
This introduces all kinds of additional issues (e.g. what if there are an odd number of rounds in a tournament – is it then actually an advantage to have 3 Blacks and only 2 Whites?).”
Chris made me reflect on something I read in the stupendous book, “From London to Elista,” by Evgeny Bareev & Ilya Levitov. The fifth match game for the World Championship between Peter Leko and Vladimir Kramnik began with the moves, 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 d5 3. c4 e6 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bf4 O-O 6. e3 c5 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8. cxd5 Nxd5 9. Nxd5 exd5 10. a3 Nc6 11. Bd3 Bb6 12. O-O Bg4 13. h3 Bh5 14. b4 Re8 15. Rc1 a6 16. Bxa6.
Imagine these same moves having been played by an IM versus a GM in an Open event. The GM, who had been out late drinking and carousing the previous evening knowing he would be paired down the next day, has been making routine moves in an opening he knows well. His opponent’s move startles him, and he is immediately awakened from his stupor. “Damn,” he thinks to himself, “I knew I should have stopped after knocking back that second Jagermiester!” He sits surveying the board thinking, “I know this position. Anand managed to hold a draw against Karpov at Moscow, 2002, but Leko ground down Kramnik after making him suffer in the match for the World Championship.” As he sits racking his brain for the next moves the thought occurs, “Why don’t I offer this lowly IM a draw? That way I can go back to the room and sober up.” Deciding that is the only course of action, he moves his hand toward the Rook in order to take the Bishop and as he touches the Rook he is struck by a spasm. His hand now holding the Rook displaces several pieces. “Ja’doube; Ja’doube!” he says, while desperately putting the pieces back in place. He then looks at his opponent to offer a draw, but before he can do so he is struck by the thought, “What if he does NOT ACCEPT?!” Meekly and plaintively he manages to mutter, “Draw?”
Kramnik blundered horribly, and instructively, in the WC game. Since he had won the first game, this brought the score to even, at 2 1/2 apiece. The next game turned out to be the most critical of the match. The subtitle of this game in the book is: “A HUNGARIAN WITH NO HUNGER”
Leko-Kramnik, WC match game #6
1.e4 e5 2.f3 c6 3.b5 a6 4.a4 f6 5.O-O e7 6.e1 b5 7.b3 O-O 8.h3 b7 9.d3 d6 10.a3 a5 11.a2 c5 12.bd2 c6 13.c3 d7 14.f1 d5 15.g5 dxe4 16.dxe4 c4 17.e3 fd8 18.f5 e6 19.e2 f8 20.b1 h6 1/2-1/2
At the end of the game it is written, “While making this move, Leko offered a draw-probably prematurely.” After providing some variations we have, “Possibly Peter reckoned that a moral victory in the opening debate was fully satisfactory for him. And most probably he was simply following the plan he had decided upon after Game 1. Match score: 3-3.” This concluded the annotations of the game.
Many words have been written about what could have possibly movitated Peter Leko to not press his advantage, not only in this game, but in the match, since he now had the “momentum.” What struck me is what was written next.
“But no one will ever prove to me that some kind of basic match strategy or overall general plan exists that is able-even in the name of a Grand Plan to become World Champion-to justify a withdrawal from the Struggle, going against the very essence and profound spirit of The Great Game which doesn’t recognise compromise and conciliationa and demands wholehearted devotion and passionate fanaticism, but lavishly rewards the chosen madmen who acknowledge and accept the Rules.”
In all my decades of reading about the Royal game those words are some of the most powerful and profound ever written. It goes to the heart of the matter. It is the answer to the question of why we play this game, or any game, for that matter. It is simply incomprehensible to believe Bobby Fischer would have even considered offering a draw to World Champion Boris Spassky in their 1972 match for the title in the exact same position Peter Leko found himself in his match. The same could be said for current World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who is undisputely the best human player on the planet.
Peter Leko lost the match, and his chance to become World Chess Champion. He has the rest of his life to answer the question. I hope is not a weak-minded person, because obsessing over “What might have been” has been known to have driven people insane.
The book, “The Magic Tactics of Mikhail Tal,” by Karsten Muller & Raymond Stolze, contains a prologue, “Knowledge? Intuition? Risk?” written by Tal. It is borrowed from issue #1/1991 of the ‘Zeitschrift fur wissenschaftlich-literarische Beitrage zum Schachspiel’.
“What then can be considered a risk in chess? Does a chess player intentionally take a risk?
If we identify the concept of ‘knowledge’ with a sort of scientific approach to chess, if we place intuition in the realms of art, then to continue with the allegory risk should be linked to sport. It can even be expressed in the terms of the proverb: ‘Whoever does not take any risks never wins anything’. I should like to add to this that in my opinion a chess player is not really taking a risk till he knows what he is risking.”
“A chess player has sacrificed a piece for an attack although that was not strictly necessary. Does that mean he is taking a risk? There is no doubt about that because his attack can be beaten off and his opponent’s extra piece comes back at him like a boomerang.
Fine then, but what about the position of the player who has accepted the sacrifice (although he should decline it) and in doing so reckons that he can beat off the attack? Is he risking something? Of course he is! After all, the attack may be successful.
Who then is taking the risk? There are no scales which are able to determine this.”
I can only add to this my feeling that any player who offers, or agrees to split the point without playing a serious game is someone who plays without risking anything. If that is the case, what then is the point of playing the game?
For the record I give the complete game score of the 5th match game for the World Championship between Peter Leko and Vladimir Kramnik.
Leko,Peter (2741) – Kramnik,Vladimir (2770) [D37]
World Championship Brissago (5), 02.10.2004
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 0–0 6.e3 c5 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Nxd5 exd5 10.a3 Nc6 11.Bd3 Bb6 12.0–0 Bg4 13.h3 Bh5 14.b4 Re8 15.Rc1 a6 16.Bxa6 Rxa6 17.b5 Rxa3 18.bxc6 bxc6 19.Rxc6 Ra7 20.Rd6 Rd7 21.Qxd5 Rxd6 22.Qxd6 Qxd6 23.Bxd6 Bxf3 24.gxf3 Bd8 25.Rb1 Bf6 26.Kg2 g6 27.f4 Kg7 28.Rb7 Re6 29.Rd7 Re8 30.Ra7 Re6 31.Bc5 Rc6 32.Ra5 Bc3 33.Rb5 Ra6 34.Rb3 Bf6 35.Rb8 h5 36.Rb5 Bc3 37.Rb3 Bf6 38.e4 Ra5 39.Be3 Ra4 40.e5 Be7 41.Rb7 Kf8 42.Rb8+ Kg7 43.Kf3 Rc4 44.Ke2 Ra4 45.Kd3 Bh4 46.Bd4 Ra3+ 47.Kc2 Ra2+ 48.Kd3 Ra3+ 49.Kc4 Ra4+ 50.Kd5 Ra5+ 51.Kc6 Ra4 52.Kc5 Be7+ 53.Kd5 Ra5+ 54.Ke4 Ra4 55.Rc8 Bh4 56.e6+ Bf6 57.e7 Rxd4+ 58.Ke3 Bxe7 59.Kxd4 Bh4 60.f3 f5 61.Rc7+ Kf6 62.Kd5 Bg3 63.Rc6+ Kg7 64.Ke5 h4 65.Rc7+ Kh6 66.Rc4 Kg7 67.Ke6 Bh2 68.Rc7+ Kh6 69.Kf7 1–0


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