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Modern Ideas in Chess by Richard Rèti

1. Combination

We perceive after a careful consideration of the evolution of the chess mind that such evolution has gone on, in general, in a way quite similar to that in which it goes on with the individual chess player, only with the latter more rapidly.

The earliest books on the game as played today go back no further than the commencement of modern times. They are written by masters of that period, and, from the beautiful combinations contained in them, we recognise, quite distinctly, the chess talent of the particular authors. But on the whole they were groping in the dark, for the gross and glaring errors that occur in those works lead us to the conclusion that to obtain an accurate grasp of a position, or “sight” of the board, meant as much trouble to the experienced player of that time as it does to the beginner of today.

A chess player in his early stages, who for the first time plays over the games of those masters, experiences unbounded delight in the combinations to be found in them, more especially those involving sacrifices. The other parts of the game seem to have but little interest to him. On those lines was chess played until the middle of the nineteenth century, practically until Morphy appeared upon the scene.*(An exception was the great Chess Philosopher, A.D. Philidor (died 1795), who was too much in advance of his time to be properly understood.) During that period, quite at the beginning of the game a player tried to work out combinations quickly, with the conviction that they were much the most valuable factors in the game.

The chess hero of that epoch, with whose name, for most players, is associated the first grasp of the limitless beauties of our game, was Adolph Anderssen (1818-1878). One of his most beautiful and best known combinations is the following:

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If we ask ourselves what there is in this particular combination or, for a matter of that, in any combination, that compels our admiration, the reply will be that in the game just quoted it is the quiet inconspicuous introductory move (1. Rad1) which just by reason for its inconspicuousness operates with such great charm. A strong and more strikingly attacking move could have been made without any regard as to what was to follow. But it is the choice by Anderssen of the less obvious move, whose meaning only becomes clear later on, that focus us to the appreciation of the deep working of his brain.

It is the same with a sacrifice. A combination composed of a sacrifice has a more immediate effect upon the person playing over the game in which it occurs than another combination, because the apparent senselessness of the sacrifice is a convincing proof of the design of the player offering it. Hence it comes that the risk of material, and the victory of the weaker material over the stronger material, gives the impression of a symbol of the mastery of mind over matter.

Now we see wherein lies the pleasure to be derived from a chess combination. It lies in the feeling that a human mind is behind the game dominating the inanimate pieces with which the game is carried on, and giving them the breath of life. We may regard it as an intellectual delight, equal to that afforded us by the knowledge that behind so many apparently disconnected and seemingly chance happenings in the physical world lies the one great ruling spirit - the law of Nature.