What Makes a Chess Game Brilliant?
Searching for Consensus
A hot discussion in social media about a spectacular game from the recent Lorca International caught my interest. The game in question is between grandmasters Mark Narciso and Vitaly Bernadskiy:
gm Narciso,M – gm Bernadskiy,V
29.12.2019 Lorca (0-1)
The concluding phase of the game certainly contains some dramatic and spectacular moves by Black, but the question is whether the game should be considered ‘brilliant’ or ‘immortal’?
Here is a sample of comments from social media:
- ”A cracker, I will analyse this game in the @Telegraph chess column next week.” — wrote the journalist Malcolm Pein
- ”That’s one amazing game!” — wrote the journalist Tarjei Svensen
- ”Won brilliantly by the 25-year-old Vitaliy Bernadskiy, it can rightly be dubbed as the new “Ukrainian Immortal.” — wrote the journalist Olimpiu Urcan
The popular internet commentator IM Lawrence Trent even dedicated a video to the game, as I am certain others will also do.
But not all of the comments were so unreservedly glowing as to the game’s exceptional brilliance. The well known English IM, chess author and businessman Ali Mortazavi was less impressed:
”Sorry to be a spoil sport. This game is nice but it’s a bog standard crash bang wallop in the KID. Nothing immortal here.”
Where do I stand on this issue? After White’s weak 18th move (Nh1) Black demonstrated a very pretty, neat and precisely calculated forced win.
I would think that none of Black’s elegant sacrifices are really sacrifices in the true sense of the word. I would call Black’s demolition of White’s position more of a combination : there was never any risk or doubt or uncertainty about the outcome.
In our chess world we commonly use the word ‘sacrifice’ and ‘combination’ interchangeably, even though there is a real distinction between them. A sacrifice must have some element of uncertainty of the outcome.
As pretty as Bernadskiy’s victory is, I believe any player over 2400 elo would have found his final moves. Therefore, the game is certainly not brilliant or immortal.
On the other hand, the game is very beautiful, and stands out from tens of thousands of other well played games in this exact sense. And I really appreciate a game filled with beautiful moves…thankyou both Mark and Vitaly for this effort!
On Being a Spectator in Chess Today
While on this topic of what makes a game brilliant, I would like to briefly touch upon the difficulties of chess as a spectator sport in today’s world.
I think that the advent of cheap and strong chess apps has taken a lot of the fun out of chess spectating. (Not that chess could ever compete with big time sporting attractions, but Fischer – Spassky 1972 showed that there was room for growth.)
Now, however, the computer has wrecked things irreversibly. While we wait for the player to make his next move, for example, there is no longer any need to guess the next move. The computer gives you the best line(s) in a fraction of a second.
Gone is the anticipation of the next move. Gone is the element of surprise. How can there be any excitement generated under these conditions? Isn’t that why people spectate in the first place?
The only doubt is whether the players will actually find the moves. If they do, then so what? And if they don’t, the spectators often just laugh at the players.
No, I think that chess as a spectator sport — in the sense that football or tennis is a spectator sport — is finished. I admire the efforts of those in the online chess community to try to keep it alive with animated and colourful commentary, pretty girls and humor, but the low numbers of spectators tells the whole story. The horse has fled the barn, and now everyone drives a car…
The advent of technology has hurt chess more than helped it.
The Good Old Days before Computers
I will give you an example of the kind of excitement that chess spectators have lost. Let’s take the 10th game of the Fischer vs Spassky match in Iceland for the World Championship.
Fischer – Spassky
Iceland Game 10