SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
I got back home shortly after noon (Portugal time) and turned on my PC to see what–if anything– was happening in today’s 3rd round game between Anand and Gelfand at the State Tretyakov Gallery. (For those who have not been paying attention, the world championship is taking place there!) It was in the early middlegame and Gelfand had just played 18…Qa5. It was evident that both players wanted to win and mix it up! The position was very complex…
I have to say that at first I was horrified to see that the webpage developers had allowed for three (3!) different versions of the chess-playing engine Houdini to simultaneously analyze the game in progress! If I remember correctly, two of the versions gave an approximately 0.00 evaluation (20-ply or so) and the other boasted a 0.22 evaluation.
I asked myself if I was just a regular spectator and knew little more about chess than the average bloke, what would I gain from the Houdini presence(s)? Or would I simply become confused and then move on to another website?
I think this is an important point. Surely a spectator, if he is to appreciate the game going on–and remember, this is not just ANY game but a world championship game–should be given a chance to think for himself and maybe even try to fathom what is going on in the players’ minds as they slowly make their moves. If this is the case (and in my case it certainly is) then the presence of the Houdini trio takes away from this opportunity: machines can analyze many ply forward in a fraction of a second and are quite good in predicting what will happen , providing , ofcourse, neither player is too human that day and makes a blunder(!).
I think the spectators get short changed with the presence of this chess software! Fortunately, I soon found that it was possible and easy enough to disable the Houdini trio, and then I did not find myself distracted and I could enjoy the comments of gm Jan Timman and the Dutch journalist (and my friend) Dirk Geuzendam. It is instructive and beneficial, I believe, to have commentators who have both the experience of being there (Timman is a many time candidate for the world championship in his younger days) as well as having the awareness of what the spectators want while watching a game.
I found the whole experience quite enjoyable, and I even walked away with some interesting tidbits about how Timman approaches Rook and Pawn endings:
POSITION AFTER 33 MOVES
Timman laughed that , according to Tartakower, all Rook endings are drawn and that the above position–should Anand play–for the sake of argument 34.Rc4–White will most likely find himself a pawn up in most lines BUT the game result would most logically be a draw!
But then Timman clarified the point and explained that –thru his experience and study of endgames–being a Pawn up in a Rook ending is generally not sufficient reason for the defence to lose; that one must also have some additional positional advantage and/or control of the position, which is clearly not the case in today’s game.
In any case, Anand must have agreed with this world class assessment because he rejected the win of a Pawn and allowed Gelfand to repeat the position and therefore save himself several more hours of trying to win a drawn ending!
Returning to the point about Houdini (or other chess software, for that matter) and spectators, I believe that such programs should not be allowed in the spectator hall at all. Machines are an important part of life–and can be very beneficial to us–but we must be careful not to allow them to substitute what is the best part of ourselves: our human-ness. When a player makes a beautiful move, a machine can never appreciate it as we can; we should never allow the machine to gloss over this aspect of being a spectator.