On Chess and Objectivity


“Chess, first of all, teaches you to be objective.”

– Alexander Alekhine

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Magician


Attacking, Aggressive, Intuitive, Emotional

Magicians are the ultimate attackers. Magicians don’t care too much if their play is objectively correct – they prefer to follow their intuition and fancy, creating complications and confusing their opponent. A Magician sees chess as a creative art, and creative art cannot be held captive by stern and fixed principles. Magicians can calculate well, but they sometimes do so quickly and carelessly, using their calculation to support what their intuition tells them. Magicians enjoy the unusual and spectacular, and can often become bored by slow manoeuvring.

“You must take your opponent into a deep dark forest where 2+2=5, and the path leading out is only wide enough for one.” – Mikhail Tal

Mikhail Tal (1936-1992), the eighth world champion, was known as the Magician of Riga. Tal was famous for his unpredictable, intuitive sacrifices – many of which were scarcely believable. Nevertheless, he set so many traps and problems for his opponents that they often worked in practice. Indeed, he once said: “There are two types of sacrifices: correct ones, and mine.” His play was all about creating complications and unusual situations. Although he sought sharp, crazy positions, he typically didn’t out-calculate his opponents, but rather out-imagined them.

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Mad Scientist


Positional, Solid, Calculating, Emotional

Mad Scientists believe in justice and principles in chess, and use passion and calculating ability to prove their beliefs. The Mad Scientist is capable of carrying out brilliant attacks, but will only do so when he believes it is the right way – he won’t normally play speculatively. More often that not the Mad Scientist is the one facing an attack, and he is willing to do that if he believes the attack is not objectively correct. Mad Scientists are also experimenters, trying different ways to expand the horizons in chess.

“Unfortunately, many regard the critic as an enemy, instead of seeing him as a guide to the truth.” – Wilhelm Steinitz

Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900), the first World Champion, was a Mad Scientist. Beginning as an attacking player specializing in gambits (as was the style at the time), Steinitz eventually realized that chess obeys certain rules and principles, and that a player – regardless of how brilliant – could not circumvent those rules and force through a winning combination if his game was not well-founded. Steinitz’s style changed into a positional and defensive one, in which he often accepted extremely passive positions to defend his theories, but also showed that brilliant results could be produced. His contemporaries initially didn’t understand his play, seeing it as bizarre or even cowardly, but later his principles were accepted, and he is regarded as the father of modern chess theory.

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Mastermind


Attacking, Solid, Calculating, Calm

Masterminds seek to master both their own emotions and to impose their reality on the chessboard. A Mastermind always seeks the right move, and believes that attacking is the right way. Typically choosing sharp openings, Masterminds win with fantastically deep calculations, producing combinations which are deeply hidden in correctly built-up positions. Masterminds thrive in complicated positions, where their accurate calculating ability and iron nerves give them the advantage.

“Through chess I developed my character. Chess first of all teaches you to be objective. You can become a big master in chess only if you see your mistakes and short-comings. Exactly the same as in life itself.” – Alexander Alekhine

Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946), the fourth world champion, was a true Mastermind. One of the greatest attacking players ever, Alekhine could produce spectacular combinations from positions which seemed to promise no such thing. His calculation ability was phenomenal, and his combinations often included deadly and unexpected surprises at the end of a series of obvious moves: the famous “sting of the scorpion’s tail”. Most important was his ability to build up an attacking position and create complications without taking undue risks himself. Alekhine held the world championship from 1927 until 1935, when he lost a match to the Dutch Grandmaster Max Euwe, and then from 1937 (after beating Euwe in the return match) until his death in 1946.

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Natural


Attacking, Solid, Intuitive, Calm

Naturals are well-rounded players who seek a healthy initiative, remain in control of their emotions and follow their intuition rather than constantly looking for exceptions to the rules of chess. A Natural seeks healthy openings and healthy positions. They don’t usually win by trickery, but once they obtain an advantage they are all but unstoppable. Naturals place a high value on remaining calm and rarely get into time pressure or uncontrollable situations.

“Nowadays, when you’re not a grandmaster at 14, you can forget about it.” – Viswanathan Anand

Viswanathan Anand (born 1969), the classical world champion from 2007 to 2013, is a typical Natural player. Utilizing his intuitive feel for the game, early in his career Anand would sometimes defeat grandmasters while using only a few minutes on the clock. A player who is very much in control of his emotions, Anand seeks well-founded attacking play based on his intuitive understanding of the game.

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Grinder


Positional, Aggressive, Intuitive, Calm

Grinders are players with an unassuming style that can hide just how intent they are on winning. They don’t need to know opening theory to beat you. They don’t need to have an advantage to beat you. They don’t even need to have an equal position to beat you. Grinders have good positional skills, and are usually most at home in endgames. They are attuned to their opponents’ weaknesses which they use against them. On the other hand, they often know their own strengths and limitations pretty objectively, and will make good practical decisions. It’s hard to take advantage of a Grinder’s weaknesses, and you won’t have much luck getting errors out of them by applying pressure.

“The boy doesn’t have a clue about chess, and there’s no future at all for him in this profession.” – Mikhail Botvinnik, on Anatoly Karpov

Anatoly Karpov (born 1951), the twelfth World Champion and superb positional player, is one of the most successful Grinders of all time. Not only did he hold the world title for 10 years, but in order to prove himself after Fischer disappeared, he played in as many tournaments as he could and amassed the most impressive win total and tournament resume of any player in history. During his prime, Karpov was famous for declining draws in worse positions, confident that he would play well enough to never lose them – all while giving his opponents ample opportunity to blow the game as they got ground down by the long game and his intense will to win.

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Genius


Positional, Solid, Intuitive, Emotional

Geniuses seem to decide their moves by pure divination. With little or no calculation, they decide where to put their pieces and then simply put them there. The Genius just feels the pulse of the position. His combinations are usually short, simple, but transform the game in a deadly way. The Genius does not seek complications and thus draws quite a few games, but rarely loses. Sometimes he seems to get bored of chess, but this is actually an illusion – he cares about it more than anything.

“I have known many chess players, but among them there has been only one genius…” – Emanuel Lasker

Jose Raul Capablanca (1888-1942) of Cuba, the third world champion, was a prototypical Genius. Preferring solid, positional play and excelling in endgames, Capablanca had a simple, clear style and chose his moves largely by intuition. Capablanca was so hard to beat that he only lost 34 serious games as an adult and was undefeated from 1916 until 1924.

See other: Chess Personalities