Attacking, Aggressive, Calculating, Calm

Assassins are all about controlled aggression. They tend to play sharp openings (especially 1.e4 as white) and look to attack the opponent’s King. But their attacks are not wild or careless – everything is still governed by the objective demands of the position and exact calculation. Assassins tend to play “against the pieces” rather than “against the opponent”. They won’t alter their own play to try to take advantage of the opponent’s psychology.

“All I ever want to do is just play chess.” – Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer (1943-2008), the eleventh World Chess Champion, was one deadly Assassin. One of the most dominant players of all time, the American became a grandmaster at the age of only fifteen and eventually took the world championship in a 1972 match with Boris Spassky. Fischer’s perfect composure, along with accurate calculation and great will to win, caused his opponents to crumble. Fischer’s opening repertoire was very limited, but also very sharp and very well prepared. All in all, Bobby Fischer was a chess machine long before actual chess engines could play at anywhere near that level.

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Attacking, Aggressive, Calculating, Emotional

Barbarians do not mess around. They hunt the opponent’s king from the beginning to the end of the game. They are attacking players who are willing to accept lots of risk, calculating complications and dangers that make their opponents squirm. Barbarians put their heart into the game – a typical Barbarian might get upset if something goes wrong in a tournament and have a disaster, or, on the other hand, ride an unstoppable wave of success when things go right. Barbarians aren’t usually the type to offer draws, and their main goal is to create unusual and complicated situations on the board in which they can out-calculate their opponent.

“From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step.”
― Denis Diderot, Essai sur le mérite et la vertu

Hikaru Nakamura (born 1987), the American grandmaster, exemplifies the typical Barbarian. Constantly seeking complications and fighting to win in every game, the former child prodigy has ranked as high as #3 in the world rankings. Nakamura is a very emotional player, as can be seen just by watching his facial expressions as he plays. He takes losses very hard, but this doesn’t prevent him from taking risks to go for the win in any position. A player with lightning-quick calculating ability and a very wide opening repertoire, his previous use of the extremely brash 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5?! solidifies his position as a chess Barbarian.

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Positional, Aggressive, Intuitive, Emotional

Anacondas may seem peaceful on the exterior, but the Anaconda is always preparing something menacing – a deep positional squeeze, typical of the big snake. Anacondas usually reject obvious and direct play, and instead prefer to build up positional pressure. They tend to be very attached to their own ideas, almost to the point of seeming like the result of the game is secondary. But don’t be fooled: once an Anaconda has you in his grip, you will be very lucky to escape.

“First restrain, next blockade, lastly destroy.” – Aron Nimzowitsch

Aron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935) was one of the best players never to become world champion and was among the leading players in the world for several decades. His legacy, however, is mostly as a theoretician of chess strategy. In his writing (which is still very influential today) he laid out his “system” of chess strategy which emphasizes preventing your opponent’s plans through such concepts as blockade, overprotection, and prophylaxis. In his own play he showed his “Anaconda” style – a positional, indirect aggression, which seeks to further his plans by preventing those of his opponent.

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Positional, Solid, Intuitive, Calm

Technicians are the quietest and calmest chess players. Strategists who rarely attack directly and prefer to quietly exploit positional advantages, Technicians utilize their exceptional intuition to guide their positional play. Rarely losing control, the Technician exploits almost invisible positional weaknesses to win in the endgame. Technicians do not like to take many risks, and therefore rarely lose – but also win less than more aggressive players.

“Every month I look through some ten thousand games, so not as to miss any new ideas and trends.” – Vladimir Kramnik

Vladimir Kramnik (born 1975) of Russia, the fourteenth world champion, is the ultimate Technician. Known for his great endgame skills and excellent opening knowledge, Kramnik became the world champion by defeating Garry Kasparov, who had reigned for fifteen years. Despite being seen as unstoppable, Kasparov was unable to win a single game against Kramnik’s iron play in their London 2000 match, while Kramnik exploited small mistakes to win two games.

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Positional, Aggressive, Calculating, Calm

Surgeons are tricky, practical players who use positional play to fight for a win in all positions. They don’t usually gain big advantages early in the game, and sometimes even get worse positions; but the Surgeon is clever and knows how to fight. With great nerves and calculating ability, a Surgeon will uncover every hidden resource available to bring the game to a favourable conclusion.

“Without error there can be no brilliancy.” – Emanuel Lasker

Emanuel Lasker (1868-1941), the second world champion, was one of the most successful Surgeons. The longest reigning world champion (27 years), Lasker’s style was mysterious to his contemporaries. He was described as having a “psychological” style of play, which confused his opponents. But in fact he was simply ahead of them in his understanding of the dynamics of chess. Lasker understood how to create counterplay, how to change the theatre of battle when one part of the board was weak, and how to transform advantages. His defensive and endgame technique were the key to his great results.

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Attacking, Solid, Intuitive, Emotional

Romantics are full of good ideas. These ideas might be either positional or attacking, but they are always unusual and unique. The Romantic doesn’t usually win by out-calculating his opponent, but rather finds some unexpected and unusual concept that his opponent didn’t expect. Romantic players are very emotional and therefore can be very distraught when they lose, but their moodiness also means that when things are going well, they can be unstoppably brilliant.

“I have seen him [Vassily Ivanchuk] totally drunk and singing Ukrainian poetry and then the next day I have seen him give an impressive talk.”
Viswanathan Anand

Vassily Ivanchuk, the Ukrainian grandmaster, is a good example of a modern-day Romantic. A moody, brilliant genius, Ivanchuk is capable of beating anybody on the right day, but his results can be erratic. Ivanchuk’s play is typified by its great humanity, and many call him one of the most talented players ever, ranking as high as #2 in the world at one point. Anand said of him: “You never know which mood he is going to be in. Some days he will treat you like his long-lost brother. The next day he ignores you completely. His playing style is unpredictable and highly original, making him more dangerous but sometimes leading to quick losses as well.”

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Attacking, Aggressive, Intuitive, Calm

Prodigies play aggressively and fight for the win from the beginning to the end, but place the highest value on maintaining emotional control and utilizing every opportunity that comes their way. Prodigies are not out to prove any kinds of theories, or to create great works of art (though that often happens anyway); for Prodigies winning is everything.

“I get more upset at losing at other things than chess. I always get upset when I lose at Monopoly.” – Magnus Carlsen

The Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen exemplifies the Prodigy. A universal player with an intuitive grasp of chess, much of Carlsen’s success can be explained by his psychology which is completely unencumbered by fear. He rarely makes any kind of blunders, and plays on forever to try to win positions with the smallest advantage, or even equal ones. His endgame play is superb, and his constant pressing in every position eventually drives his opponents to make errors.

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Positional, Solid, Calculating, Calm

Professionals are strategists who place a high value on the exactness of their game and rarely let their emotions get out of hand. Professionals like to keep things under control – they don’t like to take undue risks, either by attacking the opponent or allowing themselves to be attacked. Instead, Professionals like to exploit long-term weaknesses. While they deal with long-term strategic and positional factors, they don’t rely on vague, intuitive judgements – for the Professional, chess is an exact, calculated science.

“Yes, I have played a blitz game once. It was on a train, in 1929.” – Mikhail Botvinnik

Mikhail Botvinnik, the sixth world champion, was a clear example of the Professional. Botvinnik was the first top player to develop in the Soviet Union, and was thus considered to be the patriarch of Soviet chess. Botvinnik was one of the first to take a professional approach to preparing for competitions, which included a big emphasis on physical exercise, opening preparation, and deep analysis of his own and his opponent’s games. Botvinnik took chess very seriously, but ironically considered himself not to be a full chess professional and worked as an engineer as well.

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