Dennis M's Chess Site

This is a blog for chess fans by a chess fan. I enjoy winning as much as anyone else, and I've had a reasonable amount of success as a competitor, but what keeps me coming back to the game is its beauty. And that, primarily, is what this site will be about! All material copyrighted.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Chess Patterns, Beauty and Humor

An important part of becoming a strong player is developing one's pattern recognition. Whether it's recognizing a tactical theme or understanding what plans are available in a given pawn structure, the more patterns you know, all things being equal, the stronger you're going to be.

Yet although it's "officially" chess patterns that players specialize in and value, I think we have a soft spot in our heart of aesthetic hearts for "civilian" patterns on the chessboard as well. Look, for example, at how the board is set up: nice neat rows of pawns, while behind them, with the tall king and queen in the middle, sloping down in height to the stubby rooks at each end.

Interestingly, though, when patterns which are attractive in a non-chess-specific sense arise in the course of a game, I think most players don't find it beautiful so much as they find it amusing. The presence of one sort of beauty outside of its normal context is unusual and unexpected, and leads to irony rather than a sense of the sublime.

To illustrate, here are a couple of examples. The first offers a vertical, pawnless traffic jam (hat-tip to Brian Karen), while the second, classic game presents what has come to be known as the Alterman Wall:

Gruengard - Dobkin,I [C15]
Tel Aviv, 1946

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 dxe4 6.Qg4 Nf6 7.Qxg7 Rg8 8.Qh6 c5 9.Ne2 Nc6 10.dxc5 Rg6 11.Qe3 Qa5 12.Bd2 e5 13.Ng3 Ng4 14.Qxe4 Qxc5 15.Qe2 f5 16.f3 Nf6 17.Qf2 Qd5 18.Rd1 Qg8 19.Bd3 e4 20.fxe4 fxe4 21.Nxe4 Nxe4 22.Bxe4 Re6 23.Qf3 Ne5 24.Qe2 Qg4 25.Rf1 Qh4+ 26.g3 Qe7 27.Be3

27...Bd7 28.Bf5 Rc6 29.Bxd7+ Nxd7 30.Bg5 Qxe2+ 31.Kxe2 Rxc3 32.Kd2 Rc5 33.Rde1+ Ne5 34.Rf5 1-0

Alterman,Boris (2564) - Comp Deep Fritz [A03]
KC Human-Machine KasparovChess INT (9), 15.11.2000

1.f4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 g6 4.Be2 Bg7 5.d4 0-0 6.c3 Bf5 7.Nbd2 e6 8.h3 Ne4 9.g4 Ng3 10.Rg1 Nxe2 11.Kxe2 Be4 12.Ng5 Na6 13.b4 c6 14.Bb2 Qe7 15.Ndxe4 dxe4 16.Nxe4 Rad8 17.Qb3 Qh4 18.Rh1 Rfe8 19.Rag1 f6 20.Nd2 Nc7 21.Nf3 Qh6 22.h4 Rf8 23.Bc1 Rde8 24.a4 Nd5 25.c4 Nb6 26.e4

26...f5 27.g5 Qh5 28.e5 Rf7 29.Be3 Rd7 30.Kf2 Red8 31.Rd1 Na8 32.b5 Bf8 33.a5 Be7 34.b6 axb6 35.axb6 Kg7 36.c5 Kf7 37.Ra1 Rb8 38.Qc4 Bd8 39.Nd2 Bxb6 40.cxb6 Nxb6 41.Qe2 Qxe2+ 42.Kxe2 Kg7 43.h5 Nd5 44.Ra7 Rbd8 45.Nb3 b6 46.hxg6 hxg6 47.Rha1 Kf7 48.Nd2 Ke7 49.Nc4 Rxa7 50.Rxa7+ Rd7 51.Ra1 Nxf4+ 52.Kf3 Nd5 53.Bc1 Nb4 54.Nd6 Nc2 55.Ra8 Rd8 56.Ra7+ Rd7 57.Ra8 Rd8 58.Rxd8 Kxd8 59.Bb2 Kd7 60.Nf7 Ke8 61.Nh8 Ne1+ 62.Ke2 Ng2 63.Bc1 Kf8 64.Nxg6+ Kf7 65.Nf4 Nh4 66.Kf2 Ng6 67.Nxg6 Kxg6 68.Bd2 Kh5 69.Kg3 Kg6 70.Kh4 b5 71.Bb4 f4 72.Kg4 f3 73.Kxf3 Kxg5 74.Be1 Kf5 75.Bb4 Kg5 76.Bc5 Kf5 77.Be7 Kg6 78.Kg4 Kh6 79.Bg5+ Kg6 80.Bd2 Kf7 81.Kg5 Kg7 82.Bb4 Kf7 83.Kh6 Kg8 84.Kg6 Kh8 85.Kf6 Kg8 86.Kxe6 Kh7 87.Kd7 1-0

Several days ago I mentioned the Humor Tourney for Endgame Studies and my own preference for the second-prize winner over the first. (You can find both here: the second-prize winner is presented in entry 276; the first-prize winner in entry 281. The can also be replayed in the Palview board on the left side of that page.) Maybe the reason the first prize-winning entry won was that White's material was used more efficiently in that study than it was in the second prize-winner's (the pawn on h4 and knight on a8 play no role in the final position), but with respect to the humor elements alone, I think the runner-up was superior.

The primary mechanism of the winning entry, wherein its humor lies, is a staircasing maneuver. The problem, however, is twofold: (1) staircase maneuvers are fairly common motifs in problems, and (2) staircasing maneuvers are common in ordinary chess games - especially in queen endings. The dual knight-hopping mechanism of the runner-up isn't unheard of, but in my admittedly limited experience with studies, it's rarer than staircasing; most importantly, though, from the humor perspective, it never happens in real games (or if it does, it's exceedingly rare - certainly I've never seen it or even heard about it).

If the primary feature of humor in chess is the presence of visually attractive non-chess-specific patters in an unusual, unexpected chess context, then I think that unless the efficiency criteria won out in the Humor Tourney, the wrong entrant won. But perhaps there is another element of chess humor I'm failing to take into consideration? If so, I reiterate my request from the previous post on the Tourney: rescue me from philistinism!


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