Reports | July 12, 2008 21:00

Beauty in chess

The Chess Players by Jacques de Cessoles, 14th centuryWelcome to a new column which I very much hope you will enjoy. Our topic, short, simple and yet grandiose: beauty in chess.

I suppose that many of you, dear readers, have read Jonathan Rowson's excellent article "Beautiful!" in New in Chess Magazine 2008/4. For those who haven't, let me just give you a very short summary.

Rowson reviews the book Secrets of Spectacular Chess by Jonathan Levitt and David Friedgood (which I haven't read yet, but I certainly will) and, as usual, uses the occasion to make some general remarks on the topic. He starts by telling us about an interview he gave to the BBC at the start of last year's British Championship. When asked about the reason why he played chess, Rowson gave the strikingly simple answer: because chess is beautiful.

The Scottish grandmaster's main concern is that people outside the chess world find it difficult to appreciate chess beauty. I won't reiterate all his clever considerations about this problem, however, since I want to address chess players. I would just like to repeat a statement which is contained in the reviewed book and with which Rowson agrees: "chess aesthetics are not merely a bonus to a competitive board game but rather the heart and soul of chess's appeal". Rowson goes on to wonder "why we don't make this case more explicit".

Funnily enough, this is exactly what I had decided to do just the day before I received my copy of the NiC magazine. When Peter Doggers wrote that he was looking for people willing to write for ChessVibes, I decided to simply tell him about my vision and I now feel delighted (as well as slighthly nervous) that he gave me the opportunity to realize it.

Just a few quick words about myself: My name is Michael Schwerteck and I'm a 27-year-old law student from Germany with a deep love for chess. My playing strength is very mediocre (around 2150), but I don't think this is an inconvenience for this column since I don't want to provide high-class analysis but just to publish some beautiful chess games. This is essentially a column written by an amateur for amateurs. "Amateur" in the word's original meaning: "lover". English is obviously not my native language, but I hope I can express myself decently enough not to ruin your pleasure.

Let me explain my vision a bit more concretely. Siegbert Tarrasch famously said: "Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy". And what exactly is it that makes us happy? You may have guessed it: chess's beauty. But then, why don't we focus much more on this aspect?

To my personal taste, chess journalism in general tends to be a bit one-sided: they focus on the super tournaments, they report the results, name the winners, calcute the rating changes, show a few important games etc. There's nothing wrong with that at all, but for me it's not quite enough.

What attracts me to chess, mainly, is the sheer beauty of the game. I care less about the result of a tournament or the rating performance of the players than about the chess itself, about deep, original and aesthetic play. The artistic aspect of chess is the most important one for me. And the great thing is that almost any player can create a piece of art.

You don't need to be a top GM or even a titled player to do so. As Victor Bologan once put it, there are many more than ten people who know how to play chess (not least Bologan himself, but who pays attention to his games?) Then why not make the search for attractive chess a goal in its own right, irrespective of the players?¢‚ǨÀú ratings? When I look at the games which are published in magazines or on the web, I usually feel interested and instructed, but there is only a small number of games which make me really happy because of their beauty. It makes me slightly sad to know that, on the other hand, there's a great number of beautiful games that I miss.

Every day fantastic games are played with hardly anyone noticing, just because they weren't played in a top tournament or by a well-known GM or because they didn't contain an important theoretical novelty. These games are certainly much more fascinating than, say, 25 moves of Marshall theory, quickly followed by a draw agreement, even if played by 2700s. I'll give you an example of the former kind of game below. Just imagine that I had never had the opportunity to present it. It would have been like a beautiful symphony that nobody ever listens to. Wouldn't that be a great pity?

So what I would like to do here is to look for particularly beautiful games which would normally go more or less unnoticed and present them to the public. Not with the ambition to provide high-class analysis but to convey the beauty of our game which simply isn't a sport like any other. I have never done this before and I don't know yet how difficult this will be nor how much time it will take. As I have a lot of other obligations, I'm not sure either how frequently I can write. I could certainly do with some help. So if you spot a particularly beautiful game somewhere (or play one yourself, because you can all do it!) just point out where I can find it or send a PGN-file to michael.schwerteck(at)gmx(dot)de. I would like to concentrate mainly on recent games, although this is not a must. Thanks in advance for your support.

So let me now give an example of the kind of game I would like to present. It was played in a relatively unimportant tournament by relatively unimportant players, and still, I consider it a great piece of art. GM Zigurds Lanka, who happened to be present that day, even called it more beautiful than Gufeld's famous "Mona Lisa".

A quick presentation of the players: On the white side, we have a talented junior who is trained by Lanka. The black pieces are commanded by a friend of mine, an FM who usually plays very solidly, but shows incredible outbursts of aggression and brilliance from time to time. The tournament had gone badly for him up to this game, so he decided to uncork an opening he hadn't played for ages and play as aggressively as possible. This is how it turned out:


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Martien's picture

I think Na2 on move 29 is much better than Bh6, ..., Na2+ 30. Kd1, Nxc3 31. Bxc3, Bg4 32. Ke1, Re4+ 33. Kf1, Bh3+ 34. Kg1, Rxc3

SonofPearl's picture

Nice article, Michael. I look forward to reading your column in the future.

I would say, however, that beauty in chess, as in life, can come in many forms and is often in the eye of the beholder. Naiditsch's 19.Qd2!! against Kramnik in Dortmund shows that beauty can be found in any game, whatever opening - even the Petroff! :)

ThomasW's picture

Very good article. I hope you find enough time to write and publish regularly.

Michael's picture

@ the chess player: I meant it is mediocre for someone who writes about chess.

@ MrBurger: Thanks a lot. For some reason I overlooked this game when searching the database.

Arthur's picture

Bravoooo Michael!!!!!!! Aplausesss!!!!! OLALA!

Is true that the beauty in chess can be find everywhere,depends on your own taste,but I found this article and this magnific game as the fantastic 'Beauty in chess' and another reason for my OLALACHESS message to the world!
Michael just proved a great sence for harmony and big bravo to Mr. Honsch that did it in the olala way to Make all his pieces smile! :-)
GM Kogan Arthur

P.S And please: engines off guys! open your eyes and use your natural sences,before you will lose them...
Sometimes is still so nice to close the computer and Just go the the nature, smell the trees and the flowers,listen to the birds...

Rrogers's picture

A good strart for this new colomn
Nice to see it with reference to Rowson and on the same page of the olala chess lesson

the chess player's picture

What's so mediocre about a 2000+ chess rating? Personally, i think it's admirrable.

Michael's picture

@ Martien: Yes, "unfortunately" 29...Na2+ seems to be strong but I like the thematic 29...Bh6, nicely activating the Dragon bishop.

@ Felix: Please keep the computer lines for the rybkachess forum. Perhaps you should also reread my comment after Black's 23rd move.

Felix's picture

I just checked with the latest Rybka I got (2.3.2e13) and she finds Qxc3 - after less than 1 second!

[-0.39] d=17 16...Qxc3 17.bxc3 Nxe4 18.Qg2 Nxc3 19.Kc1 Nxa2 20.Kd2 Rac8 21.Ke1 Bc6 22.Qf1 Rxc2 23.Bd4 (0:03.29)
[=/-0.36] d=16 16...Qxc3 17.bxc3 Nxe4 18.Qg2 Nxc3 19.Kc1 Nxa2 20.Kd2 Rac8 21.Ke1 Bc6 22.Qf1 Rxc2 23.Bd4 (0:01.21)
[-0.13] d=15 16...Qxc3 17.bxc3 Nxe4 18.Qg2 Nxc3 19.Kc1 Nxa2 20.Kd2 Rac8 21.Ke1 Bc6 22.Qg1 Rxc2 23.Nd4 (0:00.37)
[-0.02] d=13 16...Qxc3 17.bxc3 Nxe4 18.Qg2 Nxc3 19.Kc1 Nxa2 20.Kd2 Rac8 21.Ke1 Bc6 22.Qg1 Rxc2 23.Bd4 (0:00.12)
[+0.09] d=12 16...Qxc3 17.bxc3 Nxe4 18.Qg2 Nxc3 19.Kc1 Nxa2 20.Kd2 Rac8 21.Qxb7 Bxg4 22.Ke1 Bxd1 23.Kxd1 (0:00.06)
[+0.08] d=10 16...Qxc3 17.bxc3 Nxe4 18.Qg2 Nxc3 19.Kc1 Nxa2 20.Kd2 Rac8 21.Qxb7 Bxg4 22.Ke1 Bxd1 23.Kxd1 (0:00.03)
[-0.02] d=9 16...Qxc3 17.bxc3 Nxe4 18.Qg2 Nxc3 19.Kc1 Nxa2 20.Kd2 Rac8 21.Ke1 (0:00.01)
[+0.15] d=8 16...Qxc3 17.bxc3 Nxe4 18.Qg2 Nxc3 19.Kc1 Nxa2 20.Kd2 Nb4 (0:00.00)
[+0.15] d=7 16...Qxc3 17.bxc3 Nxe4 18.Qg2 Nxc3 19.Kc1 Nxa2 20.Kd2 (0:00.00)
[+0.42] d=6 16...Qxc3 17.bxc3 Nxe4 18.Qg2 Nxc3 19.Kc1 (0:00.00)
[?Ǭ?/+0.32] d=5 16...Qxc3 17.bxc3 Nxe4 (0:00.00)
[+0.61] d=5 16...Qxc3 (0:00.00)
[+1.14] d=5 16...Qe6 17.f5 (0:00.00)
[+1.01] d=4 16...Qe6 (0:00.00)
[+1.18] d=4 16...Nxe4 (0:00.00)
[?Ǭ?/+0.94] d=3 16...Nxe4 (0:00.00)
[?Ǭ?/+0.95] d=3 16...Qe6 (0:00.00)
[+0.46] d=3 16...Qe6 (0:00.00)
[+0.06] d=2 16...Qe6 (0:00.00)

I wonder if any other engines find that move. It's really a nice game, but it would be nice e.g. if you give some analysis after Kd2, since I want to see some concrete lines why something is too dangerous without having to start Rybka :)

MrBurger's picture

Very nice game.
The queen sacrifice has been played in same position before, though. In Hamberger-Habibi, Austrian team-ch 1997 Black didn't find 23...Rac8 and instead took the perpetual check.

JP's picture

Well, the game demonstrates the power of dragon.

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