The current state of the game and world of chess

The enormous influence of powerful personal computers and readily available chess software on chess has brought changes so that many recognize that is now “a different game”. For instance, Vladimir Kramnik states:

“I don’t know whether computers are improving the style of play, I know they are changing it. Chess has become a different game, one could say that computers have changed the world of chess.”

All phases of the game have been affected, resulting on widespread access to material and a much improved availability of training resources and an improved general level of play. While on the middle-game and endgame study the general view is that this influence has been positive (even if some have expressed worries about the unfavourable impact on the creative aspects of chess), on the opening phase it has been generally considered at best a mixed blessing, or downright worrying, as we will show later from comments and opinions expressed by outspoken top players. Few are as expressive as that of Viswanathan Anand in an interview in 2013:

In a sense, computers have killed the opening phase. (…) So if anything can be done, it is to rebalance the game. That can only happen by concentrating on the middle and end game

The influence of the powerful personal computers has exacerbated the problem that had arisen with the profound study of the opening since the 70’s. This well-known problem that has been salient for several decades now has many ramifications, among them:

  1. excessive emphasis of preparation on the opening over the other two phases of the game
  2. excessive role of rote memorisation of opening variants, in particular computer-prepared lines

However, I believe that the core issue at the heart of many of the symptoms of this “computer malaise” is that real OTB (“over the board”) play begins later and later in the game at top-level chess (and generally at all strong levels), sometimes at more than 20 full moves. This is the real issue that affects the game and that overrides any complacent view of the state of chess. My own view is that the decline in OTB ratio (fraction of the game that is “out-of-book”, i.e. thought out or “discovered” by the players during actual playing time) is an unambiguously negative development. This view finds support in both the modern perspective of chess as an organized sport (see the history of chess in [Eales]), and also in diverse references on the satisfaction of the spectators and the players themselves.


“Neoclassical Chess: a Bright Future for the Game”, by Gabriel F. Bobadilla

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