Chess and Baseball

8/2/2005 -

    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 slump.

    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.





Vladimir Kramnik - Chess Reporter
Hikaru Nakamura - Chess Reporter

Kramnik's loss to Topalov - round 2 Corus 2005 -
Kramnik's comments- not seeing the board -
Kramnik devaluating his title - Chess Reporter

Replay Kramnik vs. Topalov at 2005 Corus -

Nakamura vs. Gelfand - 2005 Biel -

Pelletier vs. Nakamura - 2005 Biel -

Chess base report final round of Biel -

Chess and Sports - Chess Reporter

Jason Giambi - Base Ball Stats -
Jason Giambi's batting slump -
Wade Boggs - Hall of Famer -