As previously mentioned, we are taking a good look at this fascinating and important new book over the next few blog posts.
It is a big book (over 400 pages) but it really is a case of all killer, no filler.
I want to jump straight into the action to present a snippet from the section entitled Reducing the mobility of the opponent’s forces to create opportunities. This was a characteristic of the great World Champions Tigran Petrosian and Anatoly Karpov and I was intrigued to see how AlphaZero would set about the task.
In this position, AlphaZero is Black against Stockfish 8. The authors comment: ‘Already having some experience of AlphaZero’s play, I was expecting AlphaZero to exchange off its dark-squared bishop for the knight on d4 and play on the weakness of the fixed a2-pawn. That probably wasn’t a bad plan, but AlphaZero’s creative strategy took me completely by surprise.’
After the further moves 31 …c5 32 Nc2 g5 something remarkable is happening. ‘Giving away the a3-pawn, which to my eyes was one of Black’s strongest assets! However, AlphaZero is trading this asset for a series of other dynamic plusses.’ I don’t know how many humans would be happy to give up the advanced a-pawn in this position. We are used to seeing pawns being sacrificed for a middlegame attack or as a decoy deep into a clearer ending, but obviously AlphaZero is seeing much further into the potential future than the rest of us are able to do. Furthermore, chess computers were formerly very materialistic. What, exactly, does AlphaZero have in mind?
33 Nxa3 g4 34 Kg1 g3
‘With this manoeuvre, Black has gained space on the kingside and severely restricted the freedom of the white king and dark-squared bishop. By sacrificing the a3-pawn, Black has gained a new potential channel for entry into the White position: the a-file.’
Despite the position still offering apparent chances for White, ‘AlphaZero just seems to have it all under control and will first absorb White’s current temporary activity before proceeding to push White back and reclaim all that White has gained.’ This is precisely what happened and AlphaZero won on move 57.
It makes me wonder if Petrosian or Karpov, in their prime, would have considered the restrictive plan chosen by AlphaZero. They wouldn’t have been able to see so far ahead, but would their instincts have given them the idea?
Next time we will take a look at AlphaZero’s attacking skill. Stay tuned!