Friday, December 16, 2011

Chess terms: Theory


The term Opening Theory has always bugged me a bit. I guess I carry around a hard science prejudice that holds that a theory is a mathematical model that has been well tested by experiment. Once a hypothesis becomes theory it is rarely overturned, even when contrary evidence is found. The usual result is that the old theory becomes a special case or approximation of the new theory. Newtonian mechanics is still a very good approximation for most of our dealings with reality. Relativity only becomes relevant at high velocities or accelerations. Quantum mechanics only rears its tangled head when dealing with the very small. Both are much too complicated to prove why it is a good idea to keep a kid in a child seat rather than on your lap, but pointing out the equivalent weight of holding that child in an accident is their mass times the deceleration of the crash is much simpler (Newton rules! whoa!)

Opening Theory always seemed much mushier than that to me. More like trial and error, than each move a hypothesis, and each game a complex experiment providing evidence for or against those hypotheses. I doubt the validity of those experiments. I know the games I play are not well designed experiments. And if my fallibility is not enough, there is that dude (or dudette) across the table who I have no control over.

 The advent of computers only makes it worse: database statistics cluttered by widely varying skill levels of players and games decided by middlegame or endgame blunders, computer evaluations of positions based on deep analysis trees that no human could begin to memorize or understand, good novelties discarded because it was played once in a losing game by a patzer in 1987.


Don't fret about it too much. Play openings that often result in positions you understand and are comfortable in. You most likely did not lose because of the opening, but because you made the last mistake. (Unless you are a grandmaster. In which case, why are you reading this patzer's blog anyway?)

Opening Theory Made Easy:

  • Keep your king safe.
  • Fight for control of the center.
  • Develop your pieces.

OTOH, the term Endgame Theory is just silly. Exact endgames are fact. The details of such endgames are computable. 6-piece tablebases exist and memory continues to get cheaper. 7-piece tablebases are only 70 Tbytes so they are just around the corner. The growing cloud will make even more memory available.

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