SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
ARE TODAY’S CHESS YOUTH
THE SACRIFICIAL LAMBS
Like many vibrant aspects of human culture, chess has traditionally been handed down from one generation to the next generation. Not only thru an accumulated chess literature (that began somewhere in abouts the 15th century–curiously, some of the first books published were chess books) and by way of examples of the play by leading players of the day, but especially thru the development and spread of new ideas. Each successive generation built on the previous generations’ best efforts.
In this way chess culture and chess knowledge has attained a firm historical point of reference; and has witnessed, parallel to this, an impressive growth of relevant information, both horizontally and vertically. Chess has more books and magazines written about it than all other games combined!
Generations of players were brought up learning the great moves, games and successes of Morphy, Lasker, Alekhine, Capablanca and others who moved chess forward into the modern times. When I first learned chess, for example, I centred my chess formation around their teachings, their ideas and their best and most instructive games.
Some generations have been more outstanding than others: the generation of post-World War II Soviet Union will likely never be equalled: almost a dozen World Champion-quality players, including Tal, Spassky, Petrosian, Korchnoi, Geller ,Smyslov and Bronstein. Together they extended and enlarged Opening Theory to unprecedented reaches, so much so that even today their contribution is as vital as it was 50 years ago.
By comparison, the generation of Karpov, and then Kasparov, were relatively lean times. Much of their decades-long dominance was due to a void not being filled to replace the fading post-World War II generation. Then came another great generation: Shirov, Ivanchuk, Gelfand, Kramnik, Kamsky, Salov, Khalifman, Svidler and a few others. Even today they dominate chess as they did 20 years ago when they first appeared!
But strange as it may seem, today’s generation of young players ( just under 20 years of age) no longer is as much shaped by the traditional ‘hand me down’ process of one generation to the next: instead, today’s generation is strongly influenced by hi-tech, or more precisely, by the short-cuts that hi-tech sometimes provides. The youth of today have put their faith in the manipulation of information to solve their problems.
Today’s chess youth do not first learn the fundamentals thru games of Alekhine or Fischer, or even Kasparov. When advised that they should study the games of these great players–the classics– they reply cynically ”Why? I will never have to play any of them!”
Today’s generation might be called the PC generation, for their dependence on chess-databases, chess engines and the internet for their ideas, as opposed to going back to the basic fundamentals for inspiration and growth; ignoring the historical debates that advanced the game and brought it out of the coffee shops of Europe.
They first study the nameless statistics that differentiate one opening line from another and then often next shape the rest of their chess formation by merely jumping from one line to another, all in search of a winning formula. The only names of players that are of interest to them are their next round opponents….
Something tells me that they are missing the best part of the game; that they have lost something that I was very fortunate to acquire: a historical perspective of the modern game and a rich understanding of the legacy of our greatest players, regardless of when or where they were playing. Ofcourse, I am not talking about chess strength or general level of playing skill: talent, hard work and the proper tools (including coaching) can improve this in your own room without ever having to leave!
I am talking about chess culture and chess knowledge, not colourless information or nameless statistics from ever larger databases, much of the content of which is being produced by relatively weak players with little or no experience! I fear for the future of such players…and I am not alone here. They have no point of reference with respect to the game–except their own limited experiences.
Many of the finest trainers and coaches in the world are beginning to notice that the present generation is different from any previous generation.
Kramnik recently conducted a series of training sessions , including lectures sponsored by the Russian Chess Federation (RCF). He subsequently gave an interview that was published on the RCF site and excerpts of which were translated at WhyChess?
QUESTION: What sort of impression did the talented young players make on you? Are they well-read children or “children of the computer”?
”… it seemed to me that the kids, including the girls, are definitely very talented and mentally alert. But when it comes to knowledge… It seems to me that at their age our generation knew more about chess than they do.
They need to gain knowledge… It seemed to me, however, that we were keener on working… They all see tactics well, but …they’ve got some problems with positional play.”
Where will chess be in 20 years time? I hope not back into the coffee shops …
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS