Saturday, May 12, 2007

Part III: Fox or Hedgehog the Tolstoy question & Part IV: wide/shallow or narrow/deep chess analysis following play of many fast or fewer slower games

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.
(7th-century b.c.e.)

After Adam Smith I just knew it was time to bring in the ultimate master of portraits in human character writ large--Count Tolstoy, author of no less than both War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Whether at a future time this of course means I would need to escalate to Dante, Goethe, Homer, and then of course up to Confucius or Lao Tzu, must remain a question for another day. For as long as I could remember, I have wanted to read War and Peace, for no less a reason than to be able to read the great Russian philosopher of the history of ideas Isaiah Berlin's canonical book, The Fox and the Hedgehog where he explicates the conflict inherent in Tolstoy's identity, whereby it is conjectured that he was a fox who wanted to be hedgehog, that is to say, be able to take his preternatural yearnings or tendency towards the infinite centripetal multiplicity of the soul and channel into the singularity of the more contained orthodoxy or centrifugal primacy of a specific all embracing or unifying idea.

Berlin while Russian was able to latter teach at Oxford and even did some work in Washington D.C., so of course not totally foreign to a wider occidental perspective. He was close friends with Logical Positivist philospher Ayer, the great British logician and logician in the era following Russel, Whitehead, and Wittgenstein.

His seminal book by that name, The Fox and the Hedgehog, while a fairly unlengthy work, was nevertheless thought of as to be so significant as to warrant mention as to make it to "number 65 in the National Review's article on "The 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of the [20th] Century." To quote on article then onto "real chess", or, to be more specific "real chess analysis":

"Basically, human beings are categorized as either "hedgehogs" or "foxes". Hedgehogs' lives are embodiment of a single, central vision of reality according to which they "feel", breathe, experience and think - "system addicts", in short. Examples include Plato, Dante, Proust and Nietzsche. Foxes live centrifugal than centripetal lives, pursuing many divergent ends and, generally, possess a sense of reality that prevents them from formulating a definite grand system of "everything", simply because they "know" that life is too complex to be squeezed into any Procrustean unitary scheme. Montaigne, Balzac, Goethe and Shakespeare are, in various degrees, foxes. Arvan Harvat personal correspondence, June 2004"

Secondly, for those so inclined and so as not to bury the citation in a tiny link for such a grand theme, let us have Mr. Berlin have the last word, and in so doing place the conflict between many and few into sharp resolution, then chess:

"Of course, like all over-simple classifications of this type, the dichotomy becomes, if pressed, artificial, scholastic, and ultimately absurd. But if it is not an aid to serious criticism, neither should it be rejected as being merely superficial or frivolous; like all distinctions which embody any degree of truth, it offers a point of view from which to look and compare, a starting-point for genuine investigation.

"Thus we have no doubt about the violence of the contrast between Pushkin and Dostoevsky; and Dostoevsky's celebrated speech about Pushkin has, for all its eloquence and depth of feeling, seldom been considered by any perceptive reader to cast light on the genius of Pushkin, but rather on that of Dostoevsky himself, precisely because it perversely represents Pushkin-an arch-fox, the greatest in the nineteenth century-as a being similar to Dostoevsky who is nothing if not a hedgehog; and thereby transforms, indeed distorts, Pushkin into a dedicated prophet, a bearer of a single, universal message which was indeed the centre of Dostoevsky's own universe, but exceedingly remote from the many varied provinces of Pushkin's protean genius.

"Indeed, it would not be absurd to say that Russian literature is spanned by these gigantic figures-at one pole Pushkin, at the other Dostoevsky; and that the characteristics of the other Russian writers can, by those who find it useful or enjoyable to ask that kind of question, to some degree be determined in relation to these great opposites. To ask of Gogol', Turgenev, Chekhov, Blok how they stand in relation to Pushkin and to Dostoevsky leads-or, at any rate, has lead-to fruitful and illuminating criticism.

"But when we come to Count Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy, and ask this of him - ask whether he belongs to the first category or the second, whether he is a monist or a pluralist, whether his vision is of one or of many, whether he is of a single substance or compounded of heterogeneous elements, there is no clear or immediate answer. The question does not, somehow, seem wholly appropriate; it seems to breed more darkness than it dispels. Yet it is not lack of information that makes us pause: Tolstoy has told us more about himself and his views and attitudes than any other Russian, more, almost than any other European writer; nor can his art be called obscure in any normal sense; his universe has no dark corners, his stories are luminous with the light of day; he has explained them and himself, and argued about them and the methods by which they are constructed, more articulately and with greater force and sanity and articulately and with greater force and sanity and lucidity than any other writer.

"Is he a fox or a hedgehog? What are we to say? Why is the answer so curiously difficult to find? Does he resemble Shakespeare or Pushkin more than Dante or Dostoevsky? Or is he wholly unlike either, and is the question therefore unanswerable because it is absurd? What is the mysterious obstacle with which our inquiry seems faced?"

Will Durant in his famous book the story of philosophy--which one college professor who had taught and read his most formidable highness Immanuel Kant (the Kasparov of philosophy if you will) said that he had not really understood Kant until after reading erudite but still lay philosopher Durant's chapter on Kant, as I recall, and as the latter said of Kant, "he proudly presented his categories: 'quantity, quality, relation and modality, each have three sub-categories, forming a typical example of a twelvefold, architectonic pattern'".

So in tandem, I move on from Part III, The Wealth of Bullets: Fast versus Slow to the Many and the Few, part IV to follow shortly... probably continued below instead of at a new post, so as to not to bait and switch readers above.

Part IV, Wide/Shallow or Narrow/Deep Chess analysis following play of many fast games, versus fewer slower games: assets versus.

Now for the chess part after above prefatory exegesis. But let me warn the kind reader first--I don't have many ready made answers, but rather intend to inquire into these questions and above concerns. One last related digression: I am east, visiting my Mother for Mothers Day.

Early in my visit, my sister and I walked through what was once one of the last pieces of farmland outside New York City, and needless to say, there is now being put in roadwork infrastructure, and water/sewer hookup amenities for what will soon enough to be large, palatial Toll Brothers like "McMansions", to use her term. While of course we have similar in Seattle, not quite on this scale or pervasiveness--lock, stock, and barrel--since this is a bedroom community for what is one of the planets greatest cities. I had heard this term and hereby adopt it. So those seeking McChess perhaps can move onto more cathectically oriented blogs designed to produce immediate gratification.

From 2002 to 2005, as I have said now and again, I spent three years slowly going through 941 Grandmaster games, which I had very copiously rendered or copied into pgn format. These were not annotated, and my goal in the first pass was to try to apprehend the entire board, understand possible plans, and sense tactical threats, and thereby attempt to guess the next best move, that is to say, sit on the games. This amounted to roughly one game a day, but since I tended to cluster the work, it was more like two per day at most with apt pauses along the way. Even when I was tired from work, I always tried to do even ten or twelve moves, etc, rather than none, and so feel the vital pulse of Lasker, Tal, Pillsbury, and other pedigree.

When that was done, I started over, taking the best third, and planed to then attempt to annotate the games myself, by hand--no Fritz, no ChessMaster, no ChessBase9 nor Chess Assistant--laboriously like a Medieval Archivist, page after page. To start, I set out to go through one of the very finest chess books ever compiled for the non-master, again, as I have said many, many times, Irving Chernev's The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played. Someone at Amazon in a review once said that this book lacked tactically interested games. Yes, if you want that, then Igor Stohls far richer Instructive Modern Chess Masterpieces is one of those, and is the last part of the 341, games 292-341. But you have to walk before you can run. I spent six months on the first game. Were there many stops? Yes, of course. But by the end, I had gone through the famous Capablanca-Tartakower game, where C. sacrifices the central pawn and flanks his king up to the f6 and g6 area, and takes a mighty pawn to promotion. Genius. And bold, and dazzlingly confident.

My analysis was not very profound, but the effort so see WITHOUT A BOARD, as Silman says to do in HTIYC, move by move, one variation at a time, is the main value. The key is to ATTEMPT EVALUATION. Thereafter, in learning how to learn or what Mind and Brain researcher and husband to Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson called "type III learning", in his Mind and Nature book, and Steps to an Ecology of Mind, referenced nicely in Dr. James Paul Gustafson, Chair of the Psychiatry Department at the University of Madison Wisconsin ( often conducting client therapy on the campus lawn, sitting in folding lawn chairs :)), and Harvard MD, in his book Brief Versus Long Psychotherapy, or his Self Delight in a Harsh World. I corresponded with the latter, writing him, and evidentially I was the only person to write him about the latter in TEN years. Dr. G. was no slouch, and wrote a Tolstoy scholar in Italy IN ITALIAN mentioning me, and what he learned from my letter--never mind his Russian. So there is that persistent Tolstoy nuministic shadow brushing me again in synergy. Am I many or few? Am I a polymath and polyhistor, combining pantheons of pantheistic Hindu gods with nutrition, stock market, and game theory, or I a monist and integrator compressing with deep UV ultrastepers lasers onto tiny silica wafers?

My plan was to continue Chernev, but then I discovered CTS, and thereafter CT-Art 3.0, and after buying a new Dual Core desktop computer and delighting on an extra copy of Fritz8 gifted to me, then latter RAPTURING on a copy of ChessBase 9 gifted to me, I was toast. I did the first 13 games, and somehow exhausted. My plan was to do all 62 games, then the 30 Nunn Understanding Chess Move By Move book, then the 24 Jan Timman selections in The Art of Chess Analysis, then the 55 games from Romero's Creative Chess Strategy, 50 Stohl, etc. The third step which awaits is to take MY ANALYSIS and then COMPARE IT TO THE AUTHORS ANALYSIS, but only then, and see what I had missed! Himm? Job? Girlfriend? Meditation? Trading markets? Low fat food prep? Running? Alpine mountaineering? Blogspot??? When???????? Himmmmm. Deep organization!

Then after my injuries, I played those 1250 bullet games, with about 300 rapids between late November and mid April, and with some large pauses during that term--if you picture the video commercial Girls Gone Wild--really played about twenty games a day, or more, or what I like to call ChessPlayer Gone Wild (just imagine the graphic, men taking tops off).

I quickly realized that I could NEVER get through those 1250 bullet games (while I realistically and sincerely have not given up the thought or ambition or desire to review, even for a moment, like some crazed two month deep UV dig in a cleanroom wearing gloves and gown); so I set out to analyze those 300 rapids, which I did the first half of.

Here is the rub: when I study those game, I feel pain. It is so hard. How much easier it is to play more games! But as many a GM has said, or as Bruce Pandolfini so well articulates: "you really are not gonna get any better until you find out what it is you are doing wrong". I like to jibe wormwood at times (usually privately but not always), probably because he has so much raw talent and, for mine, substantial genuine practical raw intelligence bar none among us, and "only the worthy are worth criticizing". But mark my words, his 239 correspondence games is a most impressive feat. Not thirty slow games. Not 1250 bullets in four months. But 239 postal games in two years, maybe ten minutes at a time (I can figure this out, but for literary purposes, let me postulate that provisionally), combined with 84,407 CTS tries. This is perfect balance. Bravo!

Back to my mainline discussion: It was once said that the world top 100 GM Psakhis became a grandmaster BY ONLY studying ONLY 200 GM games from Informator THOROUGHLY, EVERY MOVE, EVERY VARIATION, EVERY ENDING, EVERY OPENING. I also met a bright young man once who was a terribly wicked 3/0 bullet player who as a raw beginner was told by a candidate IM he met at the downtown Seattle Public Library, with the usual semi-homeless, near genius unshaved contingent of persons, that to get really good at chess, he needed to study Alekhines Games, whereby Eliot "only got as far as thirty games", or so, I think it was, he told me, but boy did he study THEM! The master who suggest this told him to not move onto the next move until he had examined all the possibilities.

So there it is--the crux of the matter, after Tolstoy, Type III Learning, and Alekhine:

If we study many games, we exhaust ourselves for such time as when we play chess but necessarily loose decidedly in depth.

If we study fewer games, we save some energy, and allow more energy for such time as when we play chess but necessarily loose in breadth.

If we play many games, it makes it harder and harder to ACTUALLY go back and look at them--the acid test of becoming a really, really good, a really, really SOLID CHESS PLAYER who has been forged at the table of analysis off the scrapes of battle. Conversely, it amplifies our base of "real chess" experience--even if not of the best reference quality.

If we play lesser games, it makes it more feasible to METABOLIZE them--the ne plus ultra gold standard of learning what we need to learn. But conversely, it diminishes our ability to test or practice live the many types of endings, at once sharpen and amplify our opening repertoire, and sample the many types of styles of play among those outranking us one class, not to mention the swarms adjacent to us in rank, of which, by definition, there are many!
Whether it be Fritz Perls of the Human Potential Movement, Arnold Toynbee and Oswald Spengler or Fernand Braudel of the total school of historiography, or whether alternately it be therapy, marital therapy, and facing addiction and grief work, whether it be Karl Poper's Open Society and Its Enemies with his urgent prehitler era critique of fascism versus democracy and the city states era of Plato's Republic and Aristotle, or lastly whether it be Korchnoi or Ivanchuk each of which restlessly globetrotted and competed in myriads of chess tournaments (or still play for his age in an usual number of events per year in the latter), or alternately the elegant monastic numesmatically precise few games of Robert J. Fischer who sometimes only played 13 games in two years was it (but what what games they were, rampages of pent up missing father figure rage directed at his usually outclassed opponents), seeing what few other could at that time understood... all cases, in all instances here we have the same problem again and again, the problem of growth: what to keep, what to revisit, what to see, what to discard, the work of a lifetime for all ages, in an inexplicable dance of soul, self, society, and mind. As someone once: "Chess is War", and as Kasparov once said: "Chess is Mental Torture". And we all here love its beauty and elegant cogent reduction of chaos, compressed like carbon diamond into dense richness of unimaginable scope and imagination.

Warm Regards, David


Blogger likesforests said...

What other chess blog could I open on a Sunday morning and find a thought-provoking discussion of Tolstoy and various philosophies? Not only that, but you find a way to relate them to bullet chess! Good post. I'll comment more after the fourth installment.

Sun May 13, 09:45:00 AM PDT  
Blogger The Rise and Shine Good Knight said...

That was quite a post :)

Mon May 14, 08:01:00 AM PDT  
Blogger likesforests said...

GM Paskhis presumably spent at most a month per game on average as he was a world-class player by age 23. You have studied many games deeply and broadly. What do you think separates him from yourself? Is it starting young, superb talent, or another aspect of his training?

I just played a correspondence game and don't think it helps me much. Games are won and lost based on strategic ideas more than tactical or endgame errors, which is quite the opposite of OTB games. At least at my level of play. At yours it's probably different.

I like the idea of writing out all the variations as you study a position. I just did that with Pandolfini's 111 chess endgame puzzles and it revealed many errors in my calculations. At times I found the right move but missed good defensive lines, which Pandolfini rightly punishes in the scoring!

Anyway, for now I'm focusing on the PCT endgame modules--they cover a variety of precise positions. I'm also reviewing the relevant parts of Dvoretsky for the techniques since studying positions is not enough to be a good endgame player. I just need to be careful not to lose my tactical sharpness.

Mon May 14, 09:44:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

Interesting that the character of the Fried Fox attack and the Hedgehog defense matches with Isiah Berlin's idea's.

Tue May 15, 02:48:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous chessloser said... are a crazy genius. and the chessblog community is way better for having you in it.

Thu May 17, 06:28:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Wahrheit said...

Two words:

Golden Mean

A wonderful, thought-provoking post.

Thu May 17, 01:05:00 PM PDT  
Blogger transformation said...

i wish to reply to all in kind, but after so many words, let others speak, is my thought. thank you all. concerted responses after all is agrregated.

Thu May 17, 03:02:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Could you put that in bumper-sticker form, please?

Interesting to see the unique struggles of someone who just finished an insane bout of bullet games. Where is the golden mean between being one of those guys with 10000 games who is still rated 1200, and having played 100 games over 10 years with tons of book knowledge, but still rated 1200?

Could it be the DK method?

I predict Kant would have sucked at chess because he would have been thinking too much about whether the rules of chess are part of the noumena or phenomena.

Tue May 22, 06:58:00 PM PDT  

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