The Holiday season offers meagre opportunity for games, so I had to make do with replaying another master game. I happened upon the game Botvinnik – Capablanca, Amsterdam 1938, one of the best chess games ever played as it turns out. In his in-depth annotation, A. J. Goldsby comments that:
The fact that Botvinnik may not have been able to fully calculate this line from beginning to end, does not detract from this game at all. To me it actually adds luster to the game. Botvinnik had to rely on his great genius and instincts, and have faith in his abilities to play this great and wonderful game of chess. Perhaps one of the “All-Time Ten Best” games of chess ever played.
On the point of calculation, it bears noting that while playing through the game, I felt very much like a cheat. At various points, I was hardly able to conjure up a plan for White, let alone calculate lines. I was also deliberately lazy — or, to use a euphemism, “pragmatic” — in my calculations: unless I could spot an immediate straight-forward response by Black, I didn’t bother losing myself in the variation jungle. I am aware that such an approach fosters a bad habit, but on the other hand I’ve got a lurking suspicion that this is how high-calibre calculation works, too: better players simply need less brute-force calculation because they spot candidate moves more easily. Why should I bother with assessing potential positions if I don’t have the toolbox to assess such positions even if they were right in front of me? Or maybe I’m just looking for a patzer-cop out ;)
As for “lessons” from the game: there’s really only one that stuck out to me, and perhaps it’s too abstract to be useful, but here goes, anyway. I’m going to call it “Centre Pawn Against the King”. We know that pawns can be used as rams to open up a position. Yet we should also ask ourselves: which part of the board do we want to open up? Centre pawns most often break up the centre, but this needn’t be so. Rather than opening up the centre, we can push the centre pawn to open up the enemy kingside; the push may have the further benefit of locking up the centre, making it more difficult for enemy pieces to run to the king’s defence (according to the old adage, “If you’re attacked on the flank, strike back in the centre”, or, from the point of view of the attacker, “lock down the centre before you launch your flank attack”). Botvinnik employed this idea in his kingside attack against Capablanca once he had lured the Black pieces to the other side of the board with a pawn bait:
As I said, the idea may be too abstract, but I’m rather clueless about plans involving pawns, I even struggle with basic pawn storms or “preemptive” pawn moves against pawn storms. I would hope that chunks such as this might be valuable additions to my pawn-move toolkit.
If nothing else, the game beautifully demonstrates how to gauge attacking potential by simply looking at how much territory you have for your attack, how (in)accessible that territory is for the defender, or by simply counting the attacking and the defending pieces and observing the accord between the attackers versus the disharmony among the defenders. A magnificent work of chess art!
Addendum: recommended reading (on the topic of calculation and thought process) by The Prodigal Pawn, Getting Better in Chess and LinuxGuy_on_Fics #1 and #2.