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Monday, July 31, 2017

Deep in His Heart Every Player Believes He Is a Master

     1957 was the year I learned to play chess. Smyslov was World Champion and Reshevsky was the US Champion although later in the year he would lose it to the same 14-year-old kid who had captured first in the US Open that year. For how Bobby Fischer won the US Open see my post Hey Art! Give Back That Trophy!  The USSR Champ was Tahl. 
     Of all the events that escaped notice that year one of the least noticed was Hafnarfirdi in Iceland. Few games survive and the order of finish is not known, but the participants were Pal Benko, Fridrik Olafsson, Herman Pilnik, Jon Palsson, Sigurgeir Gislason and A. Finsson. 
   Benko was born in Amiens, France on July 14, 1928, but was raised in Hungary and at the age of 20 won the Hungarian Championship. He emigrated to the United States in 1958 after defecting following the World Student Team Championship in Reykjavík 1957. FIDE awarded him the GM title in 1958. 

     His opponent, Sigurgeir Gislason (June 17, 1925 – April 9, 2003), was an Icelandic Master. 
     It has always amazed me at the huge gap in ability that exists even in the chess elite, IMs and GMs. 

 In this game Benko, even though he didn't actually have the GM title until the next year, makes winning against his opponent look so easy! 
     What is the difference between an IM and a GM? According to Jeremy Silman the answer is, quite simply, tactical ability. Silman explains that Experts (2000-2199) calculate badly and have a very poor understanding of positional chess. He also wrote that among Masters (2200-2399) some are just a tad better than experts while others possess reasonable calculation skills and positional understanding. According to Silman, they aren't really good, but can play well enough that they stand out. 
     Strong Masters around the 2400 level have added other things such as a better understanding of positions and their openings a better, but there are still major flaws in their play. IMs and GMs have mastered tens of thousands of chess patterns and it might take them only a glace to instantly know the essence of a position. I can confirm this from personal observation and have blogged anecdotes about watching guys like Jim Tarjan, Miguel Quinteros and Tony Miles analyzing. 
     Weaker GMs are not far above some IMs while elite GMs have great positional skills, super calculation abilities and a knowledge of openings and endings that others don't possess. 
     Not to offend his readers, Silman added that some people in any rating group are better than their rating and a Class A rating (1800 – 1999) is a high rating and players in this group are very strong, adding that it’s a big accomplishment to earn such a rating. 
     If we are being honest most of us believe, whatever our rating is, we are better than our rating would indicate. US Senior Master Eliot Hearst once defined the term “Master” as every player's secret appraisal of his own ability.
     In this game Benko, as mentioned, makes it look easy. The position after 30.Nd2 in the notes is a good one to set up on a board and try to see your way through all the lines. 

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