Unpredictability and chess Chess
With Errol Tiwari
Stabroek News
April 8, 2007

Related Links: Articles on chess
Letters Menu Archival Menu

Schoolchildren battle each other over the chess board during the February Mashra-mani tournament at the Oasis Cafe. That tournament was sponsored by Mrs Nisa Walker, Manager of the Oasis Cafe. The Kei-Shar's seven-round, swiss-system chess tournament wi

Life at court is a serious, melancholy game of chess, which requires us to draw up our pieces and batteries, form a plan, pursue it, parry that of our adversary. Sometimes, however, it is better to take risks and play the most capricious, unpredictable move.

Jean de La Bruyere, 1645-1696

The great masters of the past have taught us that we should never play the predictable moves in chess. Rather we should keep our opponents guessing, and commit ourselves only at the last moment.

Bobby Fischer understood this fundamental principle of the game very well, both on the chess board and off it, and employed these ta-ctics aggressively to dethrone world champion Boris Spassky. Everything he did for the championship match was an attempt to confuse his opponent, deceive him and keep him off-balance. Long before the match got started, Fischer concluded that Spassky played on his opponent's predictability, and defeated him at his own game.

This concept of predictability applies not only to chess but to everyday situations as well. People are always trying to read the motives behind your actions and use your predictability against you. Throw in a completely inexplicable move and you put them on the defensive. They become unnerved.

Chess contains the concentrated essence of life. You have to be supremely patient and farseeing to win. The game is built on patterns - whole sequences of moves that have been played before and will be played again with slight alterations in any one match.

Your opponent analyzes the patterns you are playing and uses them to try and foresee your moves. Allowing him nothing predictable to base his strategy on gives you a big advantage. In chess as in life, when people cannot figure out what you are doing, they are kept waiting, uncertain, confused.

The strategy of chess was employed in the court of Louis X1V (1628-1715). We are told that when the nobles at court were finished debating an issue, the two different sides would present their cases to the King and seek his opinion on the matter. Instead of committing himself either to the 'for' camp or the 'against,' the King would utter three words for which he is famous:"I shall see." It was one of the foundations of his power.

No one knew exactly where he stood, or could predict his reactions, because he did not commit himself to one side or the other. No one could try to deceive him by saying what they thought he wanted to hear, because no one knew what he wanted to hear. The nobles would know his thinking on the matter when he had decided and was ready to act.

Likewise in chess, a grandmaster's intention may be to fix a pawn on the g4 square, and he can do so immediately with one pawn push, g2-g4. But the grandmaster does not signal his intention to his opponent by jumping to g4. He places the pawn at g3 instead, thereby confusing his opponent, who cannot read whether he intends to remain at g3, or whether he will go to g4.

In serious tournament chess, there is nothing more terrifying than the sudden and unpredictable move. As humans, we are frightened by earthquakes and tornadoes because we do not know when they will strike. After one has occurred, we wait in terror for the next one. To a lesser degree, this is the effect that unpredictable human play over the chess board has on us.

Unpredictability is a device the powerful have used for centuries. Filippo Maria, the last of the Visconti dukes of Milan in fifteenth-century Italy, consciously did the opposite of what everyone expected of him. He might suddenly shower a courtier with attention, and then, once the man had come to expect a promotion to higher office, he would ignore him. Confused , the man might leave the court, when the duke would suddenly recall him and treat him well again.

Doubly confused, the courtier would wonder whether his assumption that he would be promoted had become obvious and offensive to the duke, and he would start to behave as if he no longer expected such honour. The duke would rebuke him for his lack of ambition and send him away.

I guess the lesson to be learnt here and over the chess board is never presume to know what the master wants, and what your opponent would do. Just wait and see.

Today the Kei-Shar sponsored, seven-round, swiss-system Chess Tournament begins at 10 am at Kei-Shar's staff club in Hadfield Street. The time limit is 15 minutes per player per game. Each game, therefore, must be completed in half an hour. Manager of Ke-Shar's Gift Shop Shiv Nandalall is offering special incentives for the best student chess player and the best female player. Participants are requested to bring along their chess sets and clocks.

Kramnik v Topalov

This game is taken from the Kramnik-Topalov match, 2006.Vladimir Kramnik is the Classical World Chess champion by virtue of defeating Garry Kasparov in London, 2000. He defended his title successfully in 2004.

Veselin Topalov was the FIDE World Chess champion by virtue of winning the FIDE-sanctioned World Championship tournament in 2005.

Game 16: Topalov played 44...Rxc5?? losing the rook, the game and the match.

Just as in the second tiebreak game, Kramnik displayed his skill in positions where the queens have been exchanged. Topalov's small inaccuracy on move 20 was punished by a precise sequence of moves from Kramnik, which eventually won him a pawn. In an extremely difficult position, Topalov made one final blunder, and the match was over.




Semi-Slav Defence

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 dxc4 7. Bxc4 b5 8. Be2 Bb7 9. O-O Be7 10. e4 b4 11. e5 bxc3 12. exf6 Bxf6 13. bxc3 c5 14. dxc5 Nxc5 15. Bb5+ Kf8 16. Qxd8+ Rxd8 17. Ba3 Rc8 18. Nd4 Be7 19. Rfd1 a6!? 20. Bf1 Na4?! 20...Ne4 was better. 21. Rab1! Be4 22. Rb3! Bxa3 23. Rxa3 Nc5 24. Nb3! Ke7 25. Rd4! Bg6 26. c4 Rc6 27. Nxc5 Rxc5 28. Rxa6 Rb8 29. Rd1 Rb2 30. Ra7+ Kf6 31. Ra1 Rf5 32.f3 Re5 33. Ra3 Rc2 34. Rb3 Ra5 35. a4 Ke7 36. Rb5 Ra7 37. a5 Kd6 38. a6 Kc7 39. c5 Rc3 40. Raa5 Rc1 41. Rb3 Kc6 42. Rb6+ Kc7 43. Kf2 Rc2+ 44. Ke3(DIAGRAM) Rxc5?? 45. Rb7+ Black Resigns!! 1-0, since 45...Rxb7 46.Rxc5+ Kb6 47.axb7 and Black cannot recapture the rook without allowing White's pawn to promote.

Topalov's 44. ... Rxc5?? cost him the game, 1/2 million US $ and the title. However, in a post-match interview, Kramnik claimed that he had a decisive advantage even before Topalov's blunder. According to Australian GM Ian Rogers in Chess Life Online, White should still win against the superior defence 44...e5 with 45.Rab5.