Saturday, August 11, 2007

Tacticus maximus!

Please welcome the newest Knight Errant, Glenn. Welcome to the tactical fray, Glenn. I'm dubbing him 'Tacticus Maximus' in my sidebar.

He starts out with a post that MDLM would surely applaud, analyzing one of our FAQs. From our FAQ:
14. This seems like a very narrow approach to chess. Isn't there more to chess than tactics?
This is the most common criticism of the Circles. Jeremy Silman voices it quite stridently in a review of de la Maza's book here. Clearly, chess is more than just tactics. Strategy, opening theory, and the endgame are important aspects of the game.
Glenn's response to this FGA (frequently given answer) follows:
A common misconception, in my view. Chess is not more than tactics. Chess is tactics. If we could calculate tactics perfectly, instantly to any depth there would not be any talk of "strategy." Strategy is the application of an accumulated common experience as a (poor) substitute for perfect tactical skill. The same is true of opening theory.

That said, we still work on strategy and opening theory and endgames. But they are not in any way superior to tactics -- they are a poor substitute for tactics. We work on those areas and concepts because as mere humans with limited tactical skill it helps us create favorable positions. Favorable for what? Tactics that benefit us, of course!
A provocative first post as a Knight! Is Glenn right? If so, should the FAQ be reworded? If so, how? I'll write more in the comments in a day or two after chewin' on such things.

Note, before you attack Glenn as a patzer for such heresy, you might check out his rating history. Even if he is wrong, that is an ad hominem which would be especially inapt in this case (though such ad hominem, while common in the blogosphere, is always an inapt, lazy, boring, conversation-stopping diversion).


Blogger dinomike said...

Hmmm... I think that Glenn is correct in the ultimate sense.

I have seen a lot of talk of chess as "art". But, what does this really mean? Of course, the top GMs play requires creativity. I think this is because humans don't play the same way as computers do (in terms of tactics).

Of course, any time that visual scope is limited for tactics (which it is even for computers), the other things help immensely.

I think that certain aspects are memorized tactics which use standard patterns so you can recognize them, such as some of the pawn endings.

Oh yea, you have to get a load of this trick someone used on me yesterday:

1. d4 d5
2. Nc3 e6 (a standard move against d4 openings)
3. e4

Somehow we went from playing a d4 opening into the French. The sad part was I thought we were still playing a d4 opening, even though I used to play the French. Ended up playing the Rubinstein French :-0. I guess 2. Nc3 is a pretty tricky move. You would think it would be illegal to transpose into the French from 1. d4.

8/11/2007 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger XY said...

I think he's wrong and uses his own definition of tactics (using it as a synonym for calculation).

He says:

If we could calculate tactics perfectly, instantly to any depth there would not be any talk of "strategy."

The above would be true if it was about calculation. However, tactics is generally (and correctly, in my opinion) taken to mean a certain subset of calculation (moves that involves double-threat and the like.) So for example the starting position includes no tactics at all.

Though of course if you redefine "tactics" to include all calculation...

This seems like a discussion of definitions.

8/11/2007 05:36:00 PM  
Blogger David Glickman said...

dinomike - As someone who plays the French. I would always respond to 1.d4 d5 2.Nc3 with 2...e6! (happily). Of course, if you don't want to play the French, 2...Nf6 will do the trick. It's called the Veresov if you want to look it up.

8/11/2007 09:16:00 PM  
Blogger Loomis said...

I agree with DG that 1. d4 d5 2. Nc3 is an odd way to try to trick someone into playing the French. With so many people playing 1. d4 Nf6, it's just not going to work.

But I think we're off topic and have hijacked BDK's blog at this point.

8/12/2007 12:21:00 AM  
Blogger Loomis said...

There is a place to disagree with Glenn without arguing about definitions.

Let's assume that it's possible to calculate to infinite depth with perfect accuracy, i.e. chess is solved. One likely possibility is that chess is a draw. If this is the case, white surely can draw with a variety of opening moves. In fact, since doing nothing is also a draw, even 1. a3 is probably a draw.

Working under these assumptions, white can choose from multiple opening moves that are "tactically" equivalent. For example, 1. e4 and 1. a3 can both force draws, so tactically there is no difference. But, if you wish to have the best chance at winning, i.e., give your opponent the best chance to lose the draw, then there may be a difference between these two moves. So strategically, 1. e4 and 1. a3 are not the same, even though they are equivalent tactically.

Even though the example is contrived, it bears some resemblance to the distinction between tactics and strategy in the games we play. If we can calculate a concrete advantage, we call that tactics. If we make moves to improve our chances of finding concrete advantages, we call that strategy.

8/12/2007 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Loomis: excellent points.

8/12/2007 06:51:00 PM  
Blogger Pale Morning Dun - Errant Knight de la Maza said...

Tacticus Maximus has got STYLE baby. Don't beat around the bush. Go for the throat. TACTICS! TACTICS! TACTICS!

Sorry for the outburst, been awhile ;)

8/12/2007 08:53:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Right on, PMD. Great to see you back with a post!

8/12/2007 09:21:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

I'm thinking about changing the FAQ from "Clearly, chess is more than just tactics"


"In practice, chess is clearly more than just tactics."

To make the point that in human-human games, the extra-tactical features are fruitful objects of study.

8/12/2007 09:26:00 PM  
Blogger Grandpatzer said...

As a scientist, I don't find his comment heretical.

In the sciences, there's a progression from something as solid as math (1+1=2, to physics (Newton's "laws", which it turns out don't hold true for the super-small (quantum mechanics) and the super-fast (relativity), to chemistry (You can oxidize an alkene using a Sharpless Asymmetric Dihydroxylation, except here and here and here and, hmm, I'm not sure it works here...I'd have to run the experiment) to even fuzzier subjects such as animal behavior, sociology and economics.

As you progress from the concrete to abstract, you're guided less by reliable laws and more by theories. These theories can range from pretty damn solid (gravity, relativity, evolution) to fairly flimsy (trickle-down economics? wtf?)

Endgame strategy, middle game strategy, pawn structures, minor piece imbalances...these are all really cop-outs that acknowledge that we can't analyze out to the horizon, but need guiding principles to increase the odds that our moves turn out well for us.

8/14/2007 02:18:00 PM  
Blogger Glenn Wilson said...

Wow! Thank you for saying so clearly what I was not able to articulate.

Comments here and on my blog have caused me to rethink how to express this thought. I'm sure that I can not do better than GP but I'll go ahead and add what I was going to say:

Strategy is what (attack on the k-side; queen a pawn; block the k-side, etc). Tactics is how. Every move, therefore, is tactics.

8/15/2007 07:08:00 AM  

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