An unexamined life is not worth living.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Complexity vs. simplicity – a story about Lilienthal and Flohr

A director of a chess club in Moscow (who was also sometimes coaching me how to drop pieces less frequently) once told me a story about how chess players with different styles approach the same position. Back in the seventies – there were no computers, so to analyse a position one would have to spend hours looking for possible ideas, plans, and there tactical implications. A friendly grandmaster’s help would always be appreciated.

Salo Flohr and Andre Lilienthal both had interesting biographies, and at some point in the lives they were both Soviet citizens, and lived in Moscow. During that time my coach, who was on friendly terms with both with them, would sometimes ask them both to analyze the same position. A day later each would come back with the same assessment: the position is winning for White. Lilienthal would bring several pieces of paper with written variations proving his conclusion. Flohr would instead say a couple of sentences along the lines of “White wins by transferring the rook to the seventh rank via the c file. If Black attempts to cover all invasion squares, White breaks through on the kingside where his pawns are further advanced”.

That was matching their playing styles – Lilienthal was the one who defeated Capablanca with a queen sacrifices, and Botvinnik used to say that all Soviet masters should study Flohr`s games to improve their positional understanding. Variations are crucial for proving your point, but summarizing a position`s essence with a clear verbal assessment is also extremely valuable.

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