TITLE: Curiosity on the Chessboard AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: January 28, 2017 8:10 AM DESC: ----- BODY: I found a great story from Lubomir Kavalek in his recent column, Chess Champions and Their Queens. Many years ago, Kavalek was talking with Berry Withuis, a Dutch journalist, about Rashid Nezhmedtinov, who had played two brilliant queen sacrifices in the span of five years. The conversation reminded Withuis of a question he once asked of grandmaster David Bronstein:
"Is the Queen stronger than two light pieces?"
(The bishop and knight are minor, or "light", pieces.)
The former challenger for the world title took the question seriously. "I don't know," he said. "But I will tell you later."
That evening Bronstein played a simultaneous exhibition in Amsterdam and whenever he could, he sacrificed his Queen for two minor pieces. "Now I know," he told Withuis afterwards. "The Queen is stronger."
How is that for an empirical mind? Most chessplayers would have immediately answered "yes" to Withuis's question. But Bronstein -- one of the greatest players never to be world champion and author of perhaps the best book of tournament analysis in history -- didn't know for sure. So he ran an experiment! We should all be so curious. And humble. I wondered for a while if Bronstein could have improved his experiment by channeling Kent Beck's Three Bears pattern. (I'm a big fan of this learning technique and mention it occasionally here, most recently last summer.) This would require him to play many games from the other side of the sacrifice as well, with a queen against his opponents' two minor pieces. Then I realized that he would have a hard time convincing any of his opponents to sacrifice their queens so readily! This may be the sort of experiment that you can only conduct from one side, though in the era of chess computers we could perhaps find, or configure, willing collaborators. -----