Friday, November 2, 2007

Obsession for Patzers

As a follow-up to my Smoke article and in the spirit of chessloser’s new shirt venture, I’m going to launch a new perfume called Obsession for Patzers. The scent will be a mixture of cigarette smoke and stale sweat collected from fellow chess players in the heat of the battle of the weekend swiss tournament. Anybody know where I can buy a brick of whale puke? Ebay seems to be all out of raw ambergris.

My father always tried to get me interested in golf. I could outdrive him by far, but my short game really, really sucked. I’m talking next to the green in regulation and then four or five chips and putts to get in the hole. I would occasionally play with him, but I never really got the bug. He often told me that the way to get good was to really go crazy about golf. But I guess I never did, so my golf game never improved.

Chris Harrington wrote about the endgame being the neighborhood mutt of chess. This was a reaction to a lower rated player’s seeming indifference to the endgame. Alekhine boasted, “To win against me, you must beat me three times: in the opening, the middlegame and the endgame.” To be a complete chess player, you have to know the endgame. For various reasons such as fear, laziness, and indifference, the endgame really is neglected. Neglecting the endgame in chess is like neglecting the short game in golf.

The endgame is where the truth of chess is revealed. In the opening, the endpoint of opening analysis is usually whether a variation is favorable or equal. Blunders and traps occasionally lead to middlegame positions that are winning or losing, but players still need the technique to make the 20-40 more moves that lead to checkmate. Opening fashions come and go, but the endgame is a timeless classic. Nowadays, the endgame tablebases tell you how many moves to checkmate with best play from both sides. If that isn’t blinding truth in chess, then I don’t know what is. Wouldn’t it be the ultimate chess taunt to say to your opponent, “Mate in 35 moves” and really mean it? The truth of the endgame is laid bare in whether one side can promote a pawn or not.

I used to be fearful and lazy and inept at the ending. Early in my chess career, I became obsessed with understanding how bishop and knight mate the king. But more than a decade passed until I got serious about studying endings in an orderly fashion. The triggering event was a couple years ago when I turned a win into a draw. While going over this particular endgame, I found so many twists and turns, I was hooked. This move draws, but this move wins. And the moves were so crazy yet so beautiful in the economy of things they accomplished. Zugzwang, opposition, corresponding squares, key squares, waiting moves, only moves, good-looking moves that were bad, bad-looking moves that were good, moves that seemed to accomplish nothing but were absolutely necessary. I became obsessed with understanding these beautifully bizarre moves. I’m here to preach that the endgame is NOT boring or useless.

I can still blunder badly in endgames, but as a result of the obsession sessions, I don’t think I’m lazy or fearful about them any more (except for knight endings). At some point, I had an idea to publish my own endgame book full of the esoteric stuff I’ve researched. Stay tuned for some excepts of it here. Maybe I’ll try to get ChessBase to come visit and see if they’d back an eBook.

If you’re anxious for a taste of the bizarre, often in endings, one of my favorite sites to visit is Tim Krabbe’s Chess Curiosities.


Wahrheit said...

I want to see some of your favorite positions! Especially the ones from the game that got you into this.

Ernest Hong said...

Thanks for the feedback, Wahrheit. I suspect my audience has dwindled down to just you and Eric, but I have resolved to ignore the empty auditorium and continue blogging for my own benefit. It has given my game a new energy and my studying is temporarily a little more disciplined.

Wahrheit said...

You need to get that Sitemeter installed and then the secrets of every visitor will be revealed! There may be a lot of lurkers out there...

Naisortep said...

I'm lurking ;).