Compare the Champions
Right here on the eave of Game One of the long awaited World Chess Championship in Bonn, between WCC Vishy Anand Vladimir Kramnic, seems as good a place as any to highlite an excellent study by Charles Sullivan. Before my quoting much, but not all of the major parts of the article referenced at left, a small word on atribution:
Whether by my own failure to get new updates or simply that Mig Greengard had greatly updated his 'Daily Dirt Chess Blog' significantly is unclear, but all I know is that now Mig has a great site. I used to read it now and again, and find now that it always contains great riches--and with it, probably the smartest chess comments on all the web--never fail to miss it.
In fact, often reading his already excellent blog is but an excuse to then read the comments of his readers, often pointing out things from the side not easily found at chessBase, TWIC, or even chessVibes.com.
And it was there recently at his post, 'Awesome Augury Action' that a reader provided a link )Oct 8, 2008 7:59 AM) to this excellent study. The net result is that it compares the complexity of the games, with the raw error of the moves, and I reproduce the main body of the article here, as it is all said better than I can by it's originator:
'Truechess.com Compares the Champions:
'Who was the greatest chess player of all time? from Truechess.com home.
' For 24 hours a day for 15 months (from February 2007 through May 2008), 12 computing threads (on three Intel quad-core Q6600 computers running at 3.0 GHz) analyzed the games of the World Champions. Entire playing careers were analyzed -- for example, 69,084 positions from 2318 games were analyzed for just one player (Smyslov). In all, 617,446 positions from 18,785 games were processed. (For comparison, a previous analysis of the World Champions by Matej Guid and Ivan Bratko -- that you can read about here -- examined about 37,000 positions.)
'The commercially-available program Rybka [version 2.3.2a], the strongest chess program available at the time, and a modified version of Bob Hyatt's open-source Crafty program [version 20.14] were used in the project.
'Calculating "Raw Error" and "Complexity"
'The first 8 moves in each game were ignored, but each subsequent position was searched three separate times. First, a search for a full six minutes (the average search was 17.4 iterations) by Crafty to determine a score for the best move available. A second search, to the same depth as was reached in the first search, assigned a score to the move played in the game. The difference between the move made and the best move in the position is the "raw error" score. Finally, a third search calculates the "complexity" score for the position.'
'Who Was "The Greatest"?
Here is the short case for -- and against -- each champion:
Paul Morphy (born 1837, died 1884)Although not usually recognized as World Champion, Morphy belongs on this list.
Pro: Morphy was clearly way ahead of his time: the numbers indicate he would easily have beaten Steinitz. Had he kept playing, Morphy surely would have been the strongest player in the world from 1857 until his death at age 47 -- a span of 27 years. Had he lived, he might have been the best player until the beginning of the 20th century!
Con: Judged by today's standards, Morphy's accuracy was just average. Also, his career in top-flight chess lasted only 3 years.
Wilhelm Steinitz (born 1836, died 1900)Steinitz was universally acknowledged to be the first World Champion after defeating Zukertort in 1886.
Pro: Steinitz had a complex style, won a high percentage of games, was successful as a match player, and was probably the best active player for about 20 years (although he was "official" Champion for only 8 years).
Con: Most of Steinitz's numbers place him at the bottom -- nobody else is even close!
Emanuel Lasker (born 1868, died 1941)Lasker was World Champion for a record 27 years.
Pro: Although Lasker played in an era which had relatively few great players, it is still remarkable that he was one of the very top competitors for more than 40 years (he won the strong New York tournament of 1924 by 1½ points over World Champion Capablanca)! According to the numbers, Lasker is the first chessplayer who could have held his own against the great champions of history.
Con: Lasker was absent for years at a time from competition, so it is difficult to get a fully reliable fix on his ability.
José Raúl Capablanca (born 1888, died 1942)Capablanca awed all those who saw him because of his extremely rapid comprehension of the position on the board. Lasker famously said, "I have known many chess players, but only one chess genius, Capablanca."
Pro: Capablanca's numbers are universally excellent. He played with great accuracy, committed relatively few blunders, and won a high proportion of games.
Con: He suffered an unexpected loss to Alekhine in 1927.
Alexander Alekhine (born 1892, died 1946)Alekhine was not born with the Capablanca's natural talent, but he showed what an unparalleled love of chess and a fanatical will to win can do. He played several of the most-admired games of all time.
Pro: He defeated the "invincible" Capablanca in 1927 and decisively defeated the underappreciated Euwe in a match in 1937.
Con: The numbers suggest that Alekhine was not quite as good as his reputation. He also suffered a most surprising defeat to Euwe in 1935.
Max Euwe (born 1901, died 1981)Euwe had a successful life away from the chessboard, which cannot be said for most World Champions.
Pro: He convincingly defeated Alekhine in one of the biggest upsets in chess history. The numbers say that Euwe was better than his reputation.
Con: Euwe's reputation as a player who blundered often is, sadly, richly deserved.
Mikhail Botvinnik (born 1911, died 1995)Botvinnik was so strong that he could have become World Champion as early as 1935. He finally become champion in 1948 and held the title for most of the next 15 years.
Pro: According to the numbers, Botvinnik was probably one of the five best players of all time. In addition, his fighting spirit must have been very resilient -- after losing matches to Smyslov and Tal, he won return matches a year later.
Con: After winning the title in 1948, Botvinnik became simply the first among equals and lost matches to Smyslov, Tal, and Petrosian.
Vasily Smyslov (born 1921)One of those rare players who played almost as well in his sixties as he did in his thirties.
Pro: A player with impressive numbers -- he ranks 2nd behind Capablanca in the 15-Year Rankings (above). In 1984, he reached the Final of the Candidates' Matches in his 63rd year!
Con: There always seemed to be at least one player better (or luckier) than Smyslov: Bronstein, Botvinnik, Tal, Fischer, Kasparov.
Mikhail Tal (born 1936, died 1992)Beloved by most everybody, Tal deserved a better fate: he was plagued by health problems throughout his life.
Pro: He had a sensational rise to the top in the late 1950's and early 1960's. He probably was an objectively better player in the 1970's.
Con: Although he was always among the handful of great players, he could never quite match his achievement of beating Botvinnik in 1960.
Tigran Petrosian (born 1929, died 1984)In many ways, the anti-Tal: solid, possessor of a puzzling style, and widely unappreciated.
Pro: He won the Candidates in 1962 (over such great players as Keres, Geller, Fischer, Korchnoi, and Tal), handily defeated Botvinnik in 1963, and beat the great Spassky in 1966.
Con: His tournament results were usually mediocre and the numbers say he is not one of the greatest Champions.
Boris Spassky (born 1937)World-famous because of his two matches with Fischer, Spassky was probably the best player for most of the 1960's.
Pro: Spassky proved his strength by winning the Candidates' Matches in both 1965 and 1968. He also proved his superiority in the 1966 Piatigorsky Cup where Fischer finished second. The numbers show that Spassky was an impressive player into his mid-forties.
Con: Spassky was not able to sustain the high level of brilliance he evidenced in the 1960's.
Bobby Fischer (born 1943, died 2008)Like Morphy, "The Pride and Sorrow of Chess." Fischer coupled the precocious talent of Morphy and Capablanca with the obsession of Alekhine.
Pro: The sustained level of his play from 1967 through the 1972 match with Spassky is unmatched, as the numbers show.
Con: He quit too soon.
Anatoly Karpov (born 1951)A steely competitor who, unlike most previous champions, was extremely active and competed successfully against the very best players of his time.
Pro: The numbers and the results show that Karpov was the best of his time.
Con: Karpov was not quite as good as either his predecessor or his successor.
Garry Kasparov (born 1963)Kasparov showed that aggression pays on the chessobard. Also, he demonstrated the importance of the computer as a training aid.
Pro: The numbers confirm that Kasparov was one of the greatest players of all time.
Con: His blunder rate (as defined by this project), is surprisingly high. And, almost unbelievably, he lost a match to Kramnik without managing to win a game.
Vladimir Kramnik (born 1975)Kramnik, at his best, is one of the most difficult players to defeat who ever played. He has had some health problems in the last few years.
Pro: In 2000, he defeated the truly great Kasparov (who was at or near his peak strength) in a match by two points without losing a game.
Con: Although he appears to have the talent to be the dominant player of his generation, he seems content to win by attrition. Also, perhaps because of his health issues, his form has been inconsistent.
Vishy Anand (born 1969)As a youth, Anand shocked the chess world with his strong moves that were played at blitz speed. After several years of steady improvement (and learning to curtail his impulsiveness), he became Champion in 2007.
Pro: Anand's numbers have been outstanding in recent years -- his performance in 2006-2007 was almost flawless.
Con: Anand is at the top now, but he needs to sustain his current form for a few more years before he can be mentioned in the same breath with Capablanca, Fischer, and Kasparov.
The Greatest Was ...I think you can reach your own conclusion! And of course, it depends -- what are the necessary qualifications for the world's greatest chess player?'
With a match about to begin, with two of these mighty fifteen chess greats having a showdown, and one of them who wrested the crown from a third among them (Kramnik from Kasparov), this makes the match about to begin in Bonn of potentially great historic importance, not to mention enormous potential chess pleasure, creativity, imagination, and of course beauty.
 Attentive readers know that I also referenced that study here, a little more than a year ago.