Monday, August 17, 2015

Carlsen Move by Move by Cyrus Lakdawala

Paperback, Figurine Algebraic Notation. Also available in the Kindle edition.


     I admit to being stuck in a time warp when it comes to chess. I have not played over more that a handful of games by players since Kasparov reigned. The problem is I don't understand the games by today's players...30 moves of engine generated opening theory and they break all the beloved principles of strategy I learned from Fine, Pachman, Euwe and others. 
     Plus, I think having hundreds, or is it thousands, of grandmasters in the world has taken some of the prestige from the title. Grandmasters used to be sort of mythical people who lived in far off places and you never actually saw one. I played in a weekend Swiss once and everybody was all excited. Why? The rumor was a master had entered! He finally showed up and he was sporting a 2202 rating. I remember one guy taking his daughter, who looked to be about 5 years old, up to the guy and telling her, “This is a real chess master!” Nowadays you can see them all over the place. I even saw a former U.S. champion at the mall once.
     SO...I bought Cyrus Lakdawala's Carlsen, Move by Move a while back to add to my collection of games by the greats of the past. First, on the downside, I absolutely hate Lakdawala's writing style. I hate Bisguier's, too. Knights and Bishops are just that...Knights and Bishops. They are not steads, horses, cavaliers or prelates. Pawns aren't Infantrymen and Kings aren't Monarchs, etc. Lakdawala is even worse...he writes about the black Queen emitting odd, adenoidal grunting sounds in response to her sister’s intrusion. To me it's neither entertaining nor humorous. It's sophomoric. 
     One feature I did like is Lakadawala challenges the reader to answer questions at critical points thus making the book, in addition to a collection of games, an instructional manual. For example, in this position against Kasparov (Reykjavik Rapid, 2004) it's Carlsen's move.
Carlsen played 15.Rae1 and the reader is presented with a question and answer:

     As for the games, GM Alexey Dreev said Carlsen doesn’t actually play chess and he's not a real player because all he does is wait for his opponent to make a mistake rather than try to outplay him like real chess players do. GM Vladislav Tkachiev said Carlsen isn’t capable of finding new ideas. GM Sosonko explained it that Carlsen is a product of computerization, and inspires no interest whatsoever for writing about him. Anand said in an interview that he couldn’t figure out Carlsen’s style and playing Carlsen was like playing a human computer. One reviewer complained that Lakdawala seems to have over-relied on computer analysis in his annotations and now you know the reason for that.
     I must admit, even though Carlsen is the probably the best player in the world, playing over his games was no where near as enjoyable as playing over those of Alekhine, Tahl or Fischer or a couple of dozen other players you could name. 
     Expect to see more and more players like Carlsen. David Bronstein wrote, “the majority of chess players today know only how to set groups of pieces. They don’t think in a creative way any more. Groups of pieces fight for some square or sector of squares on the board.” It's been happening for a long time though.  Forty years ago GM Rossolimo was complaining that players of his day were no longer interested in the beauty in chess, they only played to rack up points. I understand that though.  Time was when you couldn't make a living at chess, but after Fischer the money got big and now you can make a living at it...but only if you score points.
     Should you buy the book? While it does have some instructional merit, I'd say no. There are better instructional books on the market and there are players whose games are a whole lot more fun to play over.

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