Thoughts about a Book

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Mark Dvoretsky

There are no hopeless positions; there are only inferior ones that can be saved. There are no drawn positions; there are only equal ones in which you can play for a win. But at the same time, don't forget that there is no such thing as a won position in which it is impossible to lose. ^

Grigory Sanakoev

In all my life I have only played two games by correspondence, and I am unlikely to play any more. Despite this, when I heard about the publication of Third Attempt, a collection of games by Grigory Sanakoev, the twelfth World Correspondence Chess Champion, I immediately acquired a copy. There were several reasons why.

In the first place, I recall that when Grandmaster Vladimir Sima-gin won the USSR Correspondence Championship in the mid-1960s, he spoke with great respect about the class of play of one of his opponents - Grigory Sanakoev. Acquainting myself with the book, I

can state with great pleasure that Simagin was right.

Secondly, as a chess trainer, I am in constant need of fresh, high-quality material. There is no lack of interesting games played in the chess world, but once published — in magazines or Informator — they become familiar not only to a coach but also to his students. However, the world of correspondence chess is almost entirely ignored by over-the-board players — unjustly, for plenty of ideas can be gleaned from it, striking and profound ones, diligently worked out in home analysis.

Books that confine themselves to giving the moves of games with explanatory variations may be instructive but are not very interesting. Happily, the book in question acquaints us not only with some fascinating duels but with the living human being who fought them — his experiences and thoughts, his opinions, his advice. One thing I find particularly impressive about the book is its use of quotations (always relevant, I may add) by famous thinkers of the past. Chess is one of the branches of universal human culture, and we ought not to impoverish ourselves by focusing solely on its narrowly professional aspects.

Contrary to the author's conviction, I am sceptical about the prospects for correspondence chess. The appearance of computers capable of analysing at grandmaster level will inevitably tempt players to use their services to attain good competitive results. We know that many leading over-the-board grandmasters, including the thirteenth World Champion, have succumbed to the temptation and make every possible use of powerful computers for opening analysis. (The adverse effect of this process on the popularity of chess is obvious - after all, the fans are interested in a contest of personalities, not of machines.) And in correspondence chess the computer can be used throughout the entire game.

Yet there is no doubt that Sana-koev has always played independently and always will. What attracts him in chess is first and foremost the creative endeavour, the single combat of intellects; the result is only secondary. A reading of the book conjures up a highly congenial image of the author as a bright, uncompromising, self-confident chess player, a man of wide learning whose thinking is nonetheless original. (I am sure this image is faithful, though I don't know Sana-koev personally — you cannot deceive an experienced reader!)

I could not help beginning by setting down my overall positive impression of Sanakoev's book, but that was not at all the reason why I 'took up my pen' (an outdated cliché in the computer age!). The theme of this chapter lies in certain fundamental problems of chess intelligence which my reading of the book prompted me to think about.

I chose what seemed to me the most notable encounters in the book, and gave them to Grandmaster Vadim Zviagintsev for study. His task was to look at the critical moments of the games and work out the difficult decisions for himself (without moving the pieces on the board, of course) - or sometimes to find the complete sequence of moves in the crucial phase, when the outcome of the game was decided. In many cases the young grandmaster at over-the-board play came to different conclusions from the experienced correspondence player. We singled out these situations for further analysis, discussion and clarification.

Let me state that even the most conscientious analysis, if scrutinized in depth, will prove to contain controversial points, sometimes downright errors - such is the complexity of chess. For that reason, the following critical examination of certain episodes from Sanakoev's games is by no means intended to cast a shadow over his book. I have adopted the same approach before, when writing about excellent works by Jan Timman and John Nunn - which I had used for training purposes with Sergei Dolmatov. Less significant books would simply not have come within the orbit of our attention.

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