I don't mean disagreeing on which move should be played, but why the chosen move was played. The reason why I ask is because if I study a game and read the annotater's explanation, I tend to ask myself if other grandmasters annotating the game would say the same thing or not, or perhaps agree partly but add more important explanations that were not mentioned. Has anyone encountered this before? The only reason why I haven't is because I've always only had one annotater to read from regarding a specific move when studying a game (I mean verbal commentary), so I don't get a chance to compare.

For example, one grandmaster says "Played to protect the weak square on e5", and then another says "The piece moves out of the way so that a2-a4 can be played and launch a minority attack.", so they are really saying different things on what the primary purpose on the move was. Perhaps the first annotater said what he said because the minority attack (or a2-a4 even) was never actually played due to change in circumstances, while the second annotater saw that the minority attack was the original plan but it was changed shortly. Or perhaps the second annotator was wrong about the move's primary intention (perhaps the minority attack was just a secondary possibility) and it really was meant to protect the e5-square, and that is why a2-a4 was never played. I just made up that hypothetical example of course. You can imagine similar "arguments" between grandmasters.


4 Answers 4


The short answer is "Yes, they most certainly do". Not only that but they often disagree on whether the move is a good move or a bad move! This kind of thing comes from players and annotators having preconceived ideas about the players whose games they are annotating rather than because they are trying to deceive possible future opponents or keep important analysis secret. Players who still have such secrets to keep rarely if ever annotate games and if they do will be mostly bland and just follow the kind of analysis you would get from a computer.

Here is a concrete example of some very explicit disagreement from John Nunn's latest book "John Nunn's Chess Course". It's worth quickly saying that it's not really a chess course. Rather it is an excuse for John Nunn to publish very detailed analyses of some of Lasker's games disguised as a chess course ;-).

The second example is from much later in Lasker's career ...

It shows how once a narrative is accepted, the analysis is then shoehorned into being consistent with it and objectivity is thrown out of the window. The numerous spurious improvements for Black bear witness to the power of the consensus and only serve to obscure the real point that Lasker skillfully led the game into a deceptive position that appeared much better for Black but was not.

This time the references are to Why Lasker Matters by Soltis (Batsford, 2005) and Emanuel Lasker Games 1904 - 1940 by Soloviov (Chess Stars, 1998). ... This is another game which has been considered little more than a swindle, and it's interesting to see how Soltis and Soloviov jump through all sorts of analytical hoops in order to keep the narrative intact.

There then follows a detailed analysis of the game interspersed with criticism for Soltis and Soloviov for just getting the analysis wrong. Nunn clearly has a very high opinion of the longest reigning world champion and believes that critics have often done Lasker an injustice which he puts right.

Note that the analysis that Nunn takes issue with is relatively modern. It is not that computers weren't available in 1998 and 2005 for Soloviov and Soltis to use to check their analyses rather that they neglected to use them because they had already made up their minds!

  • So take comments by grandmasters with a grain of salt always then (unless more than one grandmaster comment on a move and they all appear to agree on the ideas behind the move)?
    – prestokeys
    Mar 1, 2015 at 16:14
  • 3
    @prestokeys I think it also depends on the grandmaster. John Nunn is very good partly because he makes very good use of computer analysis. Kasparov after he retired was also very good as much as anything because he was an excellent player and no longer had anything to hide. Both of these GMs have their own strong characters whereby they don't take anybody else's word for it. They check themselves, make up their own mind and tell it like it is.
    – Brian Towers
    Mar 1, 2015 at 16:54

Indeed there are! You can find the most of these cases in Mikhail Tal's games... Many people considered his sacrifices as a wrong move on more than 1 occasion. In fact there's even a funny quote from one of Tal's games:

"""When I asked Fischer why he had not played a certain move in our game, he replied: 'Well, you laughed when I wrote it down'."""

Chess is more opinion based than you think. There are different styles and methods of approach. So yes, even today grandmasters disagree on moves.


As others have said, the answer is yes, but John Watson, author of the excellent book, Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy, might go further, and argue that in many cases, there is no "explanation" for a move other than "it works".

Watson is critical of what he calls "rules" (a more accurate term would be "heuristics" because Watson is not referring to rules such as "checkmate ends the game") for how to play chess: "don't move a piece twice in the opening," "a knight on the rim is dim," etc. Watson argues that such heuristics are overgeneralizations, and although they may be useful for helping beginners get some foothold on the game, they always have exceptions. Modern grandmasters always place a premium on concrete calculation. If explicit calculation shows that a move leads to an advantageous position, then it's good, and if it doesn't, then it's not.

In extreme cases, there really may be no "explanation" for a move other than "the computer says it's good." Endgame tablebases are full of long, complicated maneuvers which are completely inscrutable to a mere mortal, or even to a top chess engine that doesn't have the tablebases loaded. Some endings take over 500 moves to win, and if you play through the moves, you will find many cases where there is only one move that wins, but it is essentially impossible to "explain" why it is the only move, other than by listing thousands of variations.

Of course, a 500-move ending is an extreme case. In most positions, there are brief verbal "explanations" of moves which can be given to help you improve your thought process and play better chess. But you should recognize that usually, qualitative explanations are just rough guidelines to help you make sense of the position. Concrete variations are the ultimate truth in chess, and the decision as to how to "explain" a move is a matter of taste and style; de gustibus non est disputandum.


GMs do disagree on what move to make, but the reason for making it is likely to be how they chose to tell us what the move did for our edification more than any major disagreement on that move itself, other than would it have been their first choice.

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