They say Botvinnik had 'scientific' approach to chess and Fischer's style was crystal-clear.

What does it mean?

Could you please enunciate about the styles of these masters in a more lucid way?

  • Part of Botvinnik's approach was that his openings relied more on concrete analyses than general principles. – Dag Oskar Madsen Aug 18 '15 at 10:45

Botvinnik believed in peer review. He would write up annotations for his games, and publish them hoping for feedback from other players. He also recommended to his students that they annotate their losses, and also look for mistakes in the games they won. These elements are all part of his 'scientific' approach.

Fischer always kept the endgame in mind, preferred bishops over knights, grabbed pawns if he thought he could get away with it. Mikhail Tal would wait until the time control drew near, and then suddenly start to complicate the position, trying to induce his opponent into blundering. Fischer was much more straightforward, playing the board more than the man, not indulging in psychological ploys as much (at the board anyway). After the game was over, his opponent would look at Fischer's moves, and think they looked obvious in retrospect. These are the factors that make his style 'crystal clear.'

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I wouldn't read too much into these descriptions. We like to make up adjectives to describe great people all the time - these are not always rooted in any kind of quantifiable fact. It is not likely that you would become as good as Botvinnik by "copying his style", if that even means something more than "play the same openings".

Having said that, I believe that Botvinnik was, in addition to a great chess player, also a great computer scientist. He was one of the pioneers in using computers to analyze chess positions - hence a possible clue as to where the "scientific" angle comes from. I doubt that his chess ability was somehow contingent on this work - I think he would have been a great chess player even if he was an accountant or historian.

As for "crystal-clear", that sounds to me like the typical thing you would say if you are looking to praise a man of great skill without committing yourself to what you are actually saying. I mean, it's not like you can somehow disprove it.

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  • Well, Tal definitely didn't have a "crystal-clear" style. The words may be fuzzy, but they still describe existing qualities. – BlindKungFuMaster Aug 18 '15 at 7:24
  • Sure, I'm not claiming there are no styles, but I am trying to answer the question. "Scientific" and "crystal clear" are not really styles in the sense that you can expand on it and somehow learn from it. Early Tal had a style based on aggressive tactics, complication and sacrifice - maybe he considered it crystal clear too. – firtydank Aug 18 '15 at 7:27
  • Wikipedia says Botvinnik retired from competitive chess in 1970. I suspect whether chess programs at that time were sophisticated enough to help him analyse the game to any merit. Also, in the book "How Life Imitates Chess", his student Kasparov remembers that Botvinnik never saw his ideas coming to life in his time. – Vivekanand P V Aug 18 '15 at 13:17
  • Yeah, Botvinnik thought a lot about computer chess programs and had some interesting ideas (see his book Computers, Chess and Long-Range Planning), but they didn't really come to anything. At the time most people (including him) thought that strong computer programs would have to calculate and plan like humans rather than perform the relatively complete search they do today. – dfan Sep 17 '15 at 13:41

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