Now that baseball is into its serious pennant race part of the
season, itís a good time to talk about chess and baseball. I discussed the
similarities that chess has with its close cousins tennis and boxing. I even
compared football with chess. But we never talked about chess and baseball.
I am not sure chess and baseball compare really well, but they do have one
thing in common.
With Baseball itís the hitting part of the game that compares well with
chess. I think that the two hardest things to do in the world of sports are
to hit a baseball really well and to play a high level game of winning
chess. We all know chess is a mano a mano sport. Baseball becomes a mano a
mano sport when the hitter goes to bat against the pitcher. Just like with
chess, there is strategy involved in an at bat. You could say that the
scouting reports of the pitcher and batter are the opening theory. Now this
theory doesnít compare with the depth of theory that chess has, but it does
contain good strategic information.
The at bat phase of the game is an intense mano a mano
struggle. Itís a game with in a game. Itís this inner game that compares
well with chess. When a batter is hitting well, he says he sees the ball
really well. Recently elected hall of famer, Wade Boggs had 20-12
vision. He could see the spin of the ball when it left the pitchers hand.
With this knowledge he could decide if the pitch was a fast ball or a curve
ball. This ability allowed Boggs to get over 3000 hits. In chess good
board vision allows players to find game winning tactics. When a batter is in a slump, he doesnít see the ball well.
This is true in chess as well. I recall the 14th World Champion
Vladimir Kramnik saying, after his loss to Topalov in the 2nd round of
Corus, that he just didnít see well. He said ď I saw virtually
nothing in my game against Topalov." Kramnik lost that game in 20 moves
with the white pieces. I think Kramnik is mired in a long Jason Giambi like
Since the world champion narrowly retained his title against
Peter Leko in October 2004, Kramnik has not won a tournament. In fact he has
finished in the bottom half of most of the tournaments heís played in.
Yankee first basemen Jason Giambi was able to break a year and a half long
slump this July. Giambi is really starting to tear into the baseball now.
Right before the slump ended, Giambi said he was really starting to see the
ball well. Now, he is leading the league in on base percentage. Lets hope
that Kramnik starts seeing the board well too. Giambi broke his slump by taking
extra batting practice with hitting coach Don Mattingly. Maybe Kramnik
should find himself a chess coach.
After his loss to Topalov, Kramnik said he should have played a
few blitz games to get the calculating portion of his mind going. Baseball
players need to do the same kind of thing. Every February and March,
baseball players report for spring training. They basically work on getting
into shape and getting their timing back. I think Kramnik needs to go to
chess spring training, so he can recapture his timing and form. Lets hope
Kramnik finds his chess swing, just like Jason Giambi found his swing.
There are other reasons for batting slumps. You can be too
aggressive at the plate. You can go into a slump by trying to hit home runs.
Recently Hikaru Nakamura ran into this problem at Biel. While leading the
tournament, he tried to hit home runs and it back fired. In a game against
Pelletier, Nakamura from the black side of the board won the exchange.
However he allowed his opponent the bishop pair on an open board. This
decision proved fatal and Nakamura lost in 31 moves. He went into a three
game slump which cost him first place. But Nakamura is a home run hitter. He
will find his swing again.