Saturday, February 02, 2008

How Much Land Does Tolstoy's Man Need, or scope of GM game study

Great Russian author Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy--cum master psychologist of human nature--once wrote a great essay called 'How Much Land Does a Man Need?', and I reproduce some short characterizations of this fine tale:

"(Russian: Много ли человеку земли нужно?, Mnogo li cheloveku zemli nuzhno) is an 1886 short story by Leo Tolstoy about a man who, in his lust for land, forfeits everything, including his own life. Late in life, James Joyce called it the greatest short story ever written" Although it is set in Russia, it is about the greed that many people had at the time and the outcome of that greed", and

"There was once a Russian peasant who worked hard. The earth never failed to feed him and his family. His life was quiet and secure but he was never satisfied and happy. 'We have too little land. If we had more land, I would fear nothing and no one.' He borrowed money and bought twenty-five acres of land. 'Now he was his own master. The grain stood tall. He had a bountiful harvest, and he made a handsome profit at market. He was able to repay all his debts. There was peace and happiness under his roof.'

"But unfortunately, it did not last for long. He wanted more land so that he could become rich. Over and over again he moved his family, so that he could buy more and more land. One day a traveler told the peasant about good and fertile land in the faraway country of Bashkir. There, for one thousand rubles, a man could have as much land as he could walk around in one day, and:

"Leo Tolstoy's short story about a man's consumption by greed. Honest, hardworking sharecropper Buck believes that a piece of land to call his own will make him truly happy. He and his wife eventually procure some acreage, but when Buck learns that other farmers have more than he does, he becomes obsessed with improving his lot. A never-ending quest to acquire still more land leads him to make a deal that will test his greed and his physical strength like never before. He literally dies trying to claim a huge parcel of territory and ultimately ends up with 'as much land as he'll ever need -- six feet from his head to his heels.'

"[The main character] lives in a commune and some of the people have begun to buy their own tracts of land. He sees this and decides that it would be a good idea if he did the same thing. He was worried that if he didn’t act soon, he would miss his chance. He wouldn’t have to pay any fines and could keep all the money he makes. The more people heard about it, the more they wanted it for themselves.

"The night before he had a dream that the devil was sitting over his dead body laughing. He dismisses it and goes back to sleep. The next day he starts out to stake his claim. He is trying so hard to get as much as possible that he miss judges how far he has gone and begins to have problems walking. He is tired, hot, and hurt. He has to start running to make it back in time... begins to realize that he should not have been so greedy, as it is taking it’s toll on him. He barely makes it back on time, and alive" and

"Right as he gets to the finish, he sees the Chief sitting and laughing, just like the devil in his dream. He collapses and dies right as he finishes. He is buried right there. 'His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for [him] to lie in, and buried him in it". And, again: "Six feet from his head to his heels was all he need."

What does THIS have to do with the study of classic GM games, and, as such, necessarily first the selection and collection of those games? Let me explain:

One of the leading Israli chess Grandmasters, Psakhis is reputed to have attained mastery of chess by only and exclusively studying 200 games from the Chess Informant publication. On the other hand, Silman used to say (during one of his live commentaries to the 2002 U.S. Chess Championship in Seattle) that he used to look at something like one hundred games per day (I am not endorsing this, but worthy for comparisons sake)!

By the way. as long as we are talking about the heart of life as it relates to potentially unchecked vast ambition, I sent GM Seirawan (along with a few other close friends of ours), a copy of a classic song I had heard at work: "Lay Lady, Lay", and it struck me so much, I dug it up, not realizing that it was sung by none other than Bob Dylan. I sent a bcc to Jeremy Silman, and he promptly wrote me back, saying that he 'listened to it, all the time', and knew it well;

In putting the finishing touches on my classic GM game database, it struck me at a certain point that I just didn't need any more games, and almost got stuck in endlessly trying to add one more set of games here, one more set of games there, to the already capaciously large and ample and abundant database. At this point, as I am often want to say to any of my many correspondents now, who write asking for a copy of the cbv file (which I always gladly email to all who ask for it, freely--with nothing asked in return save a simple acknowledgement of it's recept), often remarking, like JFK:

"Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country", remark to them, "don't ask me what is IN the game file, but, rather ask me what is NOT in the game file!" 3,274 games, outlined here, with an emphasis on complete books first, only with missing individual games distinctly second in importance.

To quickly recapitulate, I spent 2.5 years slowly chewing on the first 941 games, from the three main Chernev game collections, through the two early Nunn collections, Timman, Burgess, Stohl, the two classic Nimzovitch books, Fischer, Bronstein, and finally Romero's book.

Then I added the game from the ICC classic chess game collection, evidentally compiled by Tim Krabbe, and now also posted at his fine professional blog, Open Chess Diary (surely, never be be missed by any chess fans whatsoever)! Then I added his 110 Most Fantastic Moves ever played, and his Over 250 Unsual, Funny, and Beautiful Games file. And finally, some snippets from his endgame collection--a small file, in that instance.

Then why stop there? I added GM-Ram, Soltis Greatest Games of the Twentieth Century, and finally then Reti's, Masters of the Chessboard. At that point, I was cleaning up my games from 2007, that is to say games viewed in contemporary chess praxis, and realized that I had best add the games from the best of Informant, both from chessCafe, Chess Brilliancy by Damsky, and 640 Golden Games. Opposing this very modern contribution, I finally rounded out the classics by laboriously adding Alekhines 107 Great Chess Battles 1935-1942 and Tartakowers 100 Master Games (updates from 500 Master Games, but after WWII), and Fines very, very, fine (no pun intended) World's Great Chess Games.

And, let me remind the kind reader that I do not drink alcohol or do drugs. I do not play golf or go shopping or have--at this time--a girlfriend, but I do have a cat. I need a digital photo of him very badly for you all! May God please help me!

As I proceded, I found that there was great convergence. I found that it was becoming rarer and rarer for anyone to mention a great classic GM game that was NOT in my database, and in those rare cases where they were not, forthwith added them promptly.

It seems to me that two thousand or fifteen hundred games, to truly absorb is plenty. No worries, ok, I have three-thousand plus+. I am almost done viewing the second unit, games 942 to 1,735. Once I get to there (I am at number 1,486 so don't have far to go), I aim to take a break, and for the remaining 1,200 games or so (there are necessarily some duplicates, so less than or right at 3,000 actually), will click through them fairly quickly.

My plan is to drill in more deeply in the first 1,500 or so, with diminishing returns on the next 1,500 (1,501-3,000+).

So like the man who set out to scribe as much land as he could walk in a day, only to die of exhaustion, so too here, I must prudently stop, and see that my 'value chain' consists in going deeper into these same games in the collection while not being enjoined to add to it (or viewing more and more new games), so that the knowledge would have to become a blur instead of true recognition of things already known or famiar.

Most of all, my yearning is to spend about half a year on the next 50 or so games from Chernev's The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played, when I had already annotated the first twelve or so, to great profit and learning.

In closing, as a small parenthetic thought, might I suggest that the kind reader NOT miss this very, very endearing 'in depth' video of video of Magnus Carlsen trainer, Simen Agdestein, from, about twenty-seven minutes long and very descriptive about his chess training, vertical ascent as a younger chess player, and Agdesteins various non-chess periginations.

Warmest, dk


Anonymous said...

DK - great post.

After you listen to Dylan's version a few times, get a copy of the remake by speed metal group Ministry. It's hilarious.

Mon Feb 04, 06:41:00 AM PST  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

Greed has many desguises and can even adopt the innocent form of a chessdatabase. Just saying hi.

Mon Feb 04, 03:41:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello DK,

Are you sharing your big file of games with your readers?

If so I would live a copy. iwijetunge [at] yahoo [dot] com

When do hope to play USCF again?

Perhaps we could play on FICS, my handle is ivanw

Thsnk you

Getting to 2000

Tue Feb 05, 11:38:00 AM PST  
Blogger transformation said...

good question.

BTW, file sent to you, then resent with 'big keys' re-added (needed to enable again, after adding games, so 2nd cc).

i would love to get a USCF rating again, from my old one at 1973!

my job has a very eratic schedule, if not very hard to predict, not to mention whimsicale edits out of my normal once per month weekend or following sunday off.

i am waiting till i get a new job, and also likely work monday to friday. until then, its just to darn upstream to join the USCF. yes, i can play you at FICS and will look for you.

we know you will win, but just for fun. blitz please, increment only.

moreover, my retail job is draining, so i work training in as i can: it is a lot to ask someone to read such a long comment, but the text to the comment at my last post explains my limits as to 'nerves' at last post, 'Running All the Horses, Literally'.

Tue Feb 05, 04:53:00 PM PST  
Blogger Wahrheit said...

Yes, your work on this is done for now friend, rest and renew, absorb the wonders of the games you have and please accept our thanks job a job well done!

Wed Feb 06, 04:48:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi - I would love a copy of your annotated game compilation at venkat dot krishnamurthy at gmail dot com.

Thank you.

Wed May 02, 03:47:00 AM PDT  

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