A chess grand master can literally see the future.
Last updated 07:36 25/02/2012
It’s not crystal-ball gazing; no fortune- telling hokum. What a chess grand master sees, spread out in the mind’s eye, is simultaneous visualisations of what’s going to happen on the chess board if this piece moves here, that piece moves there, then another piece shifts somewhere else. It’s a different logic chain for every move, every piece on the board.
New Zealand’s correspondence chess grand master and across-the- board Fide master Mark Noble says the skill for any chess player to learn is to foresee what’s going to happen, regardless of what move is made.
“It’s complicated. At the beginning of every game, the opening move, white has 20 possible moves. Black then has 20 possible replies. So that’s 20 times 20 possible combinations just in those first two moves.
“Second move and reply, it’s up to 30 possibilities for each colour. Keep that up, and you’re suddenly looking at a lot of zeroes, very quickly.”
A lot of possible moves are quickly eliminated, but Noble works 10 or 12 moves in advance in his mind, knowing what will happen if any piece anywhere moves in any order. It’s about recognising patterns, having a plan, and being able to rapidly change that plan if something goes against you.
He tries to set up what he calls his “pet lines” – game strategies where his moves drive the other player into a mistake, or into the trap he’s setting.
“If you can make the game move along one of those lines, you know the strategy, you know all the tactics for it. You’re playing to a logical conclusion. And if your opponent doesn’t know what you’re doing, they have to make the perfect move every time to evade the trap.”
But chess is too complicated, with too many variables, to ensure these pet lines happen every move, every time. There’s always potential for surprise, for being out- visualised and out-thought.
Noble’s the first correspondence chess grand master in New Zealand history. He won the rank in 2010, after playing chess for 36 years. Murray Chandler was the first Kiwi over-the-board or face- to-face grand master, who won the rank in 1982, playing for England. Both got their start at the Pencarrow Chess Club in Wainuiomata, coached by Brian Foster, who ran Sunday afternoon junior classes.
“I’m 49, Murray’s several years older than me. He was already New Zealand champion when I started playing . . . he went to England and played over-the-board for England for 30 years, got his grand mastership there. New Zealand’s really too small to have enough competition at the top level.”
Noble started chess at intermediate school, and the game was useful therapy for what happened next. Aged 13, he was hit by a car and his left leg was severely damaged. He was in hospital for months, underwent a series of operations, and he actually won the Pencarrow club’s C-grade competition from his hospital bed. It gave him a taste for correspondence chess – a good sport for a lad who loved lots of sports, but who walked with a limp. Chess also further honed his photographic memory; he can recall pretty much every game of chess he’s ever played, move by move.
“It helps if I write the moves down in a chess book; the writing helps me remember it better. But I’m hopeless with names, I could meet you down the street next week and I’ll look at you blankly, sorry.”
He says computer technology and the internet have revolutionised correspondence chess.
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