I was lucky to have the opportunity to visit the recently finished match between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana at The College, in London’s Holborn armed with Stockfish.
Watching the games where they take place is a unique experience.
This was even more so for the World Championship match because I was not alone watching the games – there were a lot of strong players around me with whom I could share opinions and discuss variations.
The main feeling I had while following the games was one of uncertainty. I was never certain what was happening on the board. Yes, I did have an idea of what is probably going on, but there never was certainty.
Quite similar to playing a game myself. And this feeling was shared with the distinguished Grandmasters who were also present.
Stockfish – the answer?
Having to use one’s own brain to figure things out is extremely difficult. The players who are better at this are the better players.
Following the game from home is quite a different story. The whole difference can be summed up in one word – Stockfish. The engine is the answer to all questions, even the ones I didn’t know I wanted to ask.
I switch the engine on and everything is clear. I understand why a move was played in an instant. There are no doubts, everything is easy.
— Fabiano Caruana (@FabianoCaruana) November 28, 2018
The moment I switch the engine off the fog of uncertainty encompasses me immediately. Even if I remember the engine’s recommendations, it’s all unclear why a move should be played and why not another one. It’s back to having to figure out things by myself and this is tough.
Becoming aware of this distinction made me appreciate how strong the best players are. This was most evident when I followed the games with the commentary from Svidler and Grischuk (and later Giri).
Hoping for useful tweets for R11. pic.twitter.com/XWmi2IYiMw
— Magnus Carlsen (@MagnusCarlsen) November 23, 2018
The most fascinating thing was to observe how these guys were constantly finding clarity in the mess in front of them by using their brains only. The moves they were suggesting were natural, strong and were never blunders.
And they did this very quickly. Compared to me, they were like engines.
A better understanding
Things weren’t always clear to them, but their lack of clarity was less than mine. It was on a different level. If Stockfish made us equal in understanding everything when turned on, without it these guys were understanding much more than me.
Clarity is what makes chess players strong. The bigger the clarity, the better the understanding of the position, what move needs to be played and why, the stronger a player is.
And how to obtain clarity? Alas, no shortcuts here – the usual chess work of calculation, analysis of classical games, study of openings and endgames cannot be substituted.
The engine can help too, as it gives you the answer to any question, just try not to rely on it too much. When you sit to play your own game it is your brain that needs to be in shape, not the finger pressing the space bar.