How the Internet has improved Chess

This article addresses, discusses or answers the following questions:

  1. In general, does the internet mean progress or regress for our society?
  2. How is chess an example for improved learning in the internet?
  3. What is a Grandmaster in chess and why did their number inflate?
  4. What are the major internet chess channels?
  5. Where to find the World Champion Carlsen
  6. What are the best educational channels (Agadmator, Smirnov and Finegold)?
  7. What elements are there to be learned in chess?
  8. How to separate fun and learning?

Because of the commonly felt cultural digress, many people have expressed disbelief in the internet. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all framed as tools that dumb down society. In fact, many recent studies show that smartphones and I-pads reduce the intelligence of the younger generations (for scientific resources see my notes on the impact of smartphones). Nevertheless, in my view, the usefulness of the internet depends on the user. In recent years, for example, the number of young grand-masters has increased (see further down below) and also the theory of chess advanced. In this article I will argue that this is because the access to high quality content was made possible by the internet.

Interesting Fact: Contrary to the achievements of recent years, Donald Trump claimed in 2016 that the US has no grand-masters in chess anymore. Motivated by a general fear that the USA is recently not winning, he produced this misleading statement (see also the problem with lies and misleading statements).

The facts are different: “Currently, the United States has 90 grand-masters, counting both men and women.” While “Russia, a longtime chess powerhouse, ranks first with 234 grand-masters,” the US is third in chess. As a German, it is interesting that “Germany ranks second with 91, just one more [grand-master] than the United States”. Overall, there are about 1300 grand-masters around the world (source: wikipedia).

How strong is a Grandmaster (GM)?

In terms of the distribution we can say that a chess master belongs to the top 2 percent of all tournament players, while a GM belongs to the top 0.02 percent.

Why did the Number of Grandmasters inflate?

1972 there were 88 GMs in the world. Is it easier to become a GM now? There are some factors that we have to consider: worldwide and cheaper air travel made “chess more accessible to globe-trotting chess professionals”. Today players of the former Soviet Union enjoy the freedom of movement compared to the 1990s ( see chess.com). Moreover, there are more tournaments. All of this means that there are more opportunities to fulfill so-called GM-norms. Nevertheless, before Grand-masters were considered as serious contenders for the world-championship. For that reason, Nigel Short has suggested that we should introduce the title of Elite Grand-master.

But did Grand-masters become better?

I recently talked with an older acquaintance. He denied any of my statements for why the internet is helping us in research. His major argument was that their generation also produced quality articles and research back then. They only needed a bit more time to find the adequate resources. I consider this view as naive. For their time, they obviously produced well done research, but while technology was progressing, knowledge of chess improved. Especially, the quick access to research data is key for improvement. So my claim is that the inflation of Grand-masters can be explained by our access to more knowledge in chess in a shorter period of time.

When I once wanted to find reliable chess books in the Pittsburgh Public Library, I could only find books that were more than 20 years and older. The beginner’s books they offered were hopelessly superficial and some didn’t even have a modern notation. They were so old-fashioned that not even older friends knew their forgotten form of chess notation.

We could argue that the content of these books is still valuable. Of course, it is true that I can still learn a lot from a Grand-master of that time, but new books have tremendously improved with regard to their didactic qualities and also with regard to the specificity of content. They press more content on a smaller amount of pages and make it more understandable, at the same time. Overall, it just saves me time for approaching modern chess theory today.

Another factor is that search-fatigue induced by library-rides with a particular purpose is tremendous and though it might not weigh highly for one book, 20 searches daily on the internet cannot be accomplished with 20 library rides. We have to take into account that equally to the stock-market a 5 percent interest rate pays off tremendously in the long-run. Speeding up the process of research is key. For my field of publication (philosophy), I can say that articles nowadays have tremendously improved compared with articles from 20 years ago. So while there was a lot of mental energy wasted on older formats, it is now about a couple of clicks.

How can we enhance our chess skills today?

I wish in my youth when I used to play chess, I could have watched a classical-, rapid-, and Blitz-world-champion coming out of the shower and sharing his expert knowledge on bananas with me.

One could argue that focusing on these banal, human surroundings of chess does not improve our knowledge of chess. Yet, it motivates to dive deeper into the knowledge that chess can offer. Of course, Carlsen also instructs us with more educational videos. In my youth, I was so thirsty for little hints from the current world-champion. Today, I can consume them on a daily basis. More than this, there are many channels that give you valuable lessons that merely focus on education. In the following paragraphs, I would like to give you a list of my favorite resources for education and entertainment that we can approach in chess nowadays.

Watch an American bullet-chess-legend solving Puzzle Rush

The probably more entertaining and insightful videos are streamed by Hikaru Nakamura, former Number 2 of the world and Bullet-Chess-Legend. Here are some of my Top-Five-Videos from Nakamura.

  1. One of the most interesting videos is on Nakamura’s attempts to solve Puzzle-Rush. In Puzzle-Rush you are constantly presented with new puzzles. You have 5 minutes to solve as many puzzles as possible. Nakamura’s vision in solving these puzzles is astonishing and easily demonstrates the difference between a SuperGM and an average player. Sometimes, it is unbelievable that he can recognize a position that quickly.

2. The second amazing video is watching Nakamura playing Bullet Chess. In a so-called speed-run, he starts with a rating of 1200 rating-points and tries to develop as quickly as possible until he reaches a super-GM rating of 3000 (each time you win, you gain points from your opponent based on the probability of how likely it was that you beat her).

3. Beyond standard chess, Nakamura also plays matches with disadvantages and unusual material. In the following video, he has to beat his opponent with 8 knights.

4. No Nakamura is not always nice. In his match with Danya, he shows some nerves and complains about his opponent though he also has proven to to be not always the fairest player. Still it is interesting to watch two GMs hyperbulleting against each other (each player has only 30 seconds).

5. Besides these fun games, it is also interesting to see how Nakamura analyzes a game between the strongest chess engines there are (Stockfish against AlphaZero).

All of these examples are not necessarily teaching us the depths of chess, but channels as Agadmator reveal in-depth-analysis of chess-positions. Agadmators initial “hello everyone” is known by everyone, even though he is not in the Top of the world chess players. In the following video, we can see how Agadmator (as better average player) loses against Carlsen in an alternate game of Chess.

Agadmator’s analysis of the games of AlphaZero are probably some of his best analyses.

Agadmator’s shows are short but always give insight in the history of chess and some interesting points of analysis. Now, you might say, however, this is like watching somebody in the Gym doing a workout. Well, as always, it is a bit up to you. On Chess.com you can make good friends in order to improve. It is also up to you how good you are in maintaining social relationships via the internet. Besides this, however, for more systematic studies you can also watch the humorous Ben Finegold. In his beginner’s lessons, you learn the basics.

Of course, you can also pimp your opening knowledge. The Ginger GM has many lectures on the managable London System

Opening knowledge is not everything. Who wants to systematically study with good didactics might want to search for GM Smirnov

 In in all these senses, the internet helps you but it depends on you how you use your Youtube-Channel. If you use your channel for sharing beauty secrets and studying the art of looking better you might fall behind and identify yourself with people becoming a merely superficial surface of who they want to be. If get into this question, you will get occupied with people who are constantly discussing this question and thus they will establish certain norms. In this context, it is often claimed that we are the average of the 5 people who are closest to us, but in fact it is even worse (see my notes on the influence of social networks): you are the average of all your broader networks of friends. Nowadays, we might expand this theory to the question of the internet and our social contacts. How much does your facebook-network determine your personality?

What is the take-away from this article? If you ask yourself the following questions, it might increase your learning curve:

  1. Does the internet mean progress or regress for our society?
  2. What can you learn in the internet?
  3. What can we learn in the internet with respect to chess?
  4. How did chess progress with the rise of the internet?
  5. Who are Carlsen, Nakamura, Agadmator, Smirnov and Finegold
  6. How Grand-masters are there?
  7. Did the number inflate?
  8. How strong is a Grand-master?
  9. Are we the average of the 5 people who are closest to us?



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