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Let’s have some new clichés

One of the challenges of writing about chess is avoiding tedious repetition (as I may have said before…) but there are only so many ways to say: “White has an edge due to his bishop pair.”

So this week’s poll question is: Name your least favourite chess writing cliché.

My candidates are: “The rest is a matter of technique”, “Study-like”, “The bishop is biting on granite”, “Passed pawns must be pushed”, “The threat is stronger than the execution” and “Knight on the rim is dim”.

I know “Other” will be a wide category, but that’s what the comments box is for.

Last week’s poll predicted the European Team Championships will be won by the Russians, who had over twice as many votes as their nearest rivals. They are sitting on three wins out of three so far. The clichéd phrase is: “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.”


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  1. Kassy
    November 16th, 2015 at 19:11 | #1

    If it is a matter of technique, and it is GMs playing, and the technique is so obvious that the annotator doesn’t need to say anything more, than why did it take the losing GM 28 moves to agree the technique was that obvious before he resigned and why did the winning GM use another 78 minutes to make these obvious technical moves?

  2. Nestor
    November 16th, 2015 at 19:37 | #2

    I’ve gone for “Other”, the guilty party being “In this opening, general understanding is more important than concrete variations”. Sadly I believed this for a long time….

  3. James
    November 16th, 2015 at 20:22 | #3

    White/Black has compensation for the pawn. Then there’s no explanation why they do, and author expects us to work it out for ourselves.

  4. The Doctor
    November 16th, 2015 at 21:19 | #4

    Yes the rest is a matter of technique is found a lot in opening books because it’s not the purpose of the book to show endgame technique.?

    If that phrase is in a game collection, then maybe the annotator should explain more?

    Maybe I’m wrong

  5. Steven Carr
    November 16th, 2015 at 21:57 | #5

    The position is unclear, with chances for both sides.

    Black can draw with the computer-like line….. (yes, but you don’t even understand yourself why any of those moves work, and you didn’t find them yourself, did you?)

  6. November 16th, 2015 at 22:07 | #6

    I start rolling my eyes when writers feel they need to spice up their writing by referring to pieces other than by their names, e.g. “Her Majesty” for the queen or, worse, things like “the meddlesome prelate” for the bishop.

    One chess cliché I will never tire of, on the other hand, is “Anyway!”

  7. Todd Bryant
    November 16th, 2015 at 22:42 | #7

    These aren’t exactly clichés, but have always bugged me:

    – “Better is/was…”

    – Tedious synonyms for the pieces: clergyman, monarch, cavalier, springer, lady, etc… (with the exception of calling the queen “bitch,” which I have found hilarious since age 14)

  8. The Lurker
    November 16th, 2015 at 23:40 | #8

    “… gives White/Black a clear advantage.”, not long after which I usually have to turn on my computer to see if/how that “clear advantage” can be converted. What is clear to a grandmaster…

  9. Seth
    November 16th, 2015 at 23:41 | #9

    Another vote for “And the resulting position is unclear.”

  10. Wulfgar
    November 17th, 2015 at 01:11 | #10

    The fact that chess authors think “strategical” is a word.

  11. Shurlock Ventriloquist
    November 17th, 2015 at 03:06 | #11

    “Understanding is more important than memorization of moves.”

  12. Daniel
    November 17th, 2015 at 04:46 | #12

    haha, nice ^^^

    Another version of that is “I explain the ideas behind the moves so heavy memorization is not required.” It’s just gross how much that is used.

  13. Thomas
    November 17th, 2015 at 05:01 | #13

    May favourite: “That book will be out in autumn”….

  14. hilmi
    November 17th, 2015 at 07:22 | #14

    Thomas :
    May favourite: “That book will be out in autumn”….

    🙂 excellent one

  15. k.r.
    November 17th, 2015 at 07:28 | #15

    “Every russian school boy knows that …. ”

    I hate this one.

    I didnt like others, but last two months as Im working on chess on everyday base I like those comments because they push me to “explore” why is that so. And they are really great, because this is also one way to improve because You must find the solution, its not given to You.

  16. November 17th, 2015 at 11:28 | #16

    Even the reviewers are repeating the cliches. How about this from the latest review on CB website on the Pavel Eljanov’s DVD on the Breyer:
    “Talking about complex strategic openings, I believe the Ruy Lopez Breyer is among the top of the list here. The Breyer is a deep strategic variation. It is remarkable that in the Breyer strategic understanding is more important than memorizing forced lines – which is true for players of all levels. Such a feature is attractive, as the opening, once mastered, doesn’t have to be updated regularly, unlike, for instance, a number of variations in the Sicilian.”

  17. November 17th, 2015 at 12:22 | #17

    One I don’t like is “pawns cannot move backwards”.

  18. Andre
    November 17th, 2015 at 13:24 | #18

    One thing I hate – and I’m using this strong word on purpose – is that there seems to be an unwritten law that every chess product made in the US or made for the US market must have the phrase “Bobby Fischer’s favourite [enter topic here]” or a similar reference to the former world champion, even if he played that opening only in a couple of Blitz games. This is routinely followed by no further explanation or by pulling a rather irrelevant example out of their ass. More often than not the connection to Fischer sounds far-fetched.
    Fischer was already old school when Karpov succeeded him. His opening knowledge was hardly 10% of that of a current super-GM, and exactly 0% of it was computer checked. His last major contribution to chess was in 1972. He was a great player and a deserved world champion. I wish chess authors and publishers would let him take his place in chess history, as a WCh of the past. One in a line of outstanding players. Stop using him for cheap marketing. And stop boring me with irrelevant “facts” about a player who stopped playing competitive chess before I was born. Unless Fischer is really the topic, of course.

  19. Johnnyboy
    November 17th, 2015 at 16:11 | #19

    My favourite cop out cliche which adds nothing is ‘natural’ as in “the natural move in this position is…”. What does that mean exactly? I’m none the wiser- it certainly doesn’t come naturally to me and most of my natural moves tend to be weak if you believe Komodo and there is no explanation to why a GM’s natural moves come naturally to him/her. At least a chess engine backs up its assessment with a particular variation (whether this is correct or not)…this cliche has no meaning without context eg “it is natural to move a piece to square x where it has a strong positional influence” or “it is natural to recapture with the pawn towards the centre as it reinforces the strength of the centre pawns” are much more informative.

  20. Soviet School
    November 17th, 2015 at 17:02 | #20

    The Cliche That gets me is not a phrase but report after report on a “Great performance by a n year old”. Where n is less than 16

  21. Soviet School
    November 17th, 2015 at 17:17 | #21

    The thing is we all know some youngsters can play excellent chess, but I want to hear about the top players not those that are good for their age. Tennis reports do not have loads on junior Wimbledon etcetera or football pages on the Youth Team matches.

  22. Ray
    November 17th, 2015 at 17:47 | #22

    My vote goes to ‘a … (quiet, deep, etc.) little move’. It would be nice to have a separate discussion on the marketing cliches on the covers of chess books 🙂

  23. An Ordinary Chessplayer
    November 17th, 2015 at 19:50 | #23

    Other = “The pawns fall like ripe apples” (or just “fruit”).

  24. Ed
    November 18th, 2015 at 09:26 | #24

    There is an author from another publisher who is very prolific in writing books.
    The cliches are becoming more prolific such that I will not buy his books anymore as they become very annoying even though I think his analysis is quite good and I really like the topic the book is about. It is just that the cliches keep rolling out and distract from the subject matter and chess analysis provided which is quite good.

  25. Joeri
    November 18th, 2015 at 11:08 | #25

    @Ed I got exactly the same feeling. A few cliches I can handle, but it is just too much. After this author you can appreciate a certain dryness or just boring annotations from other authors who just get down to chess.

  26. November 18th, 2015 at 11:48 | #26

    @ Andre #18, just wish to point out that Fischer did make a contribution to opening theory in the rematch of 1992 in the Bb5 Anti-Sicilian. Gawain Jones in his book on the Bb5 Anti Sicilian points this out.

  27. Helmut
    November 18th, 2015 at 13:27 | #27

    A certain endgame writer used to use the phrase “… was called for” quite a lot, even when it was uncalled for.

  28. The Doctor
    November 18th, 2015 at 17:33 | #28


    I think I know who you mean and yes he is becoming at tad annoying. I can’t believe the number of books he churns out in such a short space of time!

  29. Ray
    November 18th, 2015 at 20:40 | #29

    @The Doctor
    I think it wouldn’t be too difficult to write an automatic cliche generator. My motto is ‘ a cliche a day keeps the doctor away’ (no pun intended) 🙂

  30. Andre
    November 18th, 2015 at 21:44 | #30

    weng siow :
    @ Andre #18, just wish to point out that Fischer did make a contribution to opening theory in the rematch of 1992 in the Bb5 Anti-Sicilian. Gawain Jones in his book on the Bb5 Anti Sicilian points this out.

    Thanks for the info.

  31. Shurlock Ventriloquist
    November 18th, 2015 at 21:54 | #31

    “I think it wouldn’t be too difficult to write an automatic cliche generator. My motto is ‘ a cliche a day keeps the doctor away’ (no pun intended)”

    Mission accomplished … no pun has been detected.

  32. Seth
    November 19th, 2015 at 00:10 | #32

    “The [—] square beckons.”

    No it doesn’t. Squares can’t talk or gesture.

    “With play for both sides.”

    That helps.

    “One wonders why White/Black plays on.”

    Because he doesn’t want to lose, duh.

    “The knight on the rim is dim.”

    Did someone turns the lights down?

  33. Dennis M
    November 19th, 2015 at 00:54 | #33

    Two cliches/peeves. First, the clumsy “Better is…” instead of “…is better.” (Compare: “Hotter is Las Vegas”, or “Taller is Shaquille O’Neal.”) Second, the misuse of “blundered” as a synonym for “overlooked”. (This seems to be a Russian specialty. Maybe it works in Russian, but it doesn’t in English.) All blunders involve overlooking something, but to say that one implies the other doesn’t make them identical, especially since one can overlook something without its being a blunder.

  34. Dennis M
    November 19th, 2015 at 00:58 | #34

    To elaborate slightly on the last point, for non-native English readers: let’s say I fall for Scholar’s Mate like so: 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nc6 3.Qh5 Nf6?? 4.Qxf7#. In this case I didn’t “blunder” 4.Qxf7#, but I did overlook it. My blunder was the move 3…Nf6. Saying I “blundered 4.Qxf7#” isn’t correct English.
    (/pedantry off)

  35. November 19th, 2015 at 01:49 | #35

    @Dennis M
    1. This seems to come from a reluctance to begin a sentence with a move, a reluctance that I have never completely understood.

    2. I used to rail against this too, but I have seen “blunder” used in this sense so often in the last few years by top players that I have come to accept that it is just part of modern chess jargon. (I would never use the word in that way myself in a million years, though.)

  36. Phille
    November 19th, 2015 at 14:02 | #36

    The “I blundered move xy” took me aback a while ago, but now I’m pretty used to it. What I dislike is rather “I forgot about move xy”, which to me seems to imply “Of course I saw everything, but then I forgot move xy, silly me.”.

  37. Dr Bob
    November 19th, 2015 at 22:52 | #37

    I think Informator symbolic notation is to blame for ‘better is…’
    e.g. Nd2 (semicircle) Nc3 obviously the correct order in the game score.
    Now what do we say semicircle means in the multilingual key?

  38. k.r.
    November 20th, 2015 at 13:53 | #38

    Im from slavic language region and dont understand difference between blundering and overlooking something. I use overlooking because its more natural to me because its direct trqnslate from my native lqnguqge.

  39. Dennis M
    November 20th, 2015 at 16:08 | #39

    @k.r. The difference is very simple: the move is a blunder, and the *reason* it’s a blunder is because the player overlooked something. (3…Nf6 is the blunder in my example above, 4.Qxh5# is what was overlooked. The player didn’t “blunder” 4.Qxh5#.) The oversight is the cause or explanation of the blunder.

    A parallel case: I fell down the stairs because of gravity. We wouldn’t write that I “gravitied” down the stairs (“gravitied” isn’t even a word), except as a sort of joke.

  40. Dennis M
    November 20th, 2015 at 16:16 | #40

    @Dr Bob

    I think you’re correct that it comes from the Informant. It’s fine to keep the translation the same in the Informant’s multilingual key (though correcting it to say “is better” instead of “better is” doesn’t seem like a particularly drastic bit of linguistic reform), but why should we be constrained by that when writing text annotations? Only chess players who learned their English from Yoda will be confused. (“Confusing is this ‘is better’ locution, yes? Backwards talking do I prefer. Clearer it is.”)

  41. TonyRo
    November 20th, 2015 at 16:47 | #41

    Man, @DennisM is right, and I never even thought about it. I looked it up – in my book I say “better is” 11 times, which is actually about 11 times less than I thought I did. So a moral victory. 😉

  42. JS
    November 21st, 2015 at 05:28 | #42

    @TonyRo Which is your book?

  43. Steve
    November 21st, 2015 at 09:26 | #43

    The cliches I find most annoying are references to Ostap Bender in books translated from Russian. I really have no idea what they are on about and explanatory footnotes don’t really help; nor do they encourage me to find out more.

  44. Andre
    November 21st, 2015 at 10:06 | #44

    I don’t remember why Ostap Bender is a cultural phenomenon, but I fondly remember Mel Brooks’ movie about him.

  45. An Ordinary Chessplayer
    November 23rd, 2015 at 17:01 | #45

    There must be an editorial reason why better is is better than is better. We have just forgotten why.

  46. Jacob Aagaard
    November 23rd, 2015 at 18:47 | #46

    The 12 Chairs, Russian satirical novel from the 1920s. There is a chess scene in it. Mel Brooks did indeed adapt it, but I think unsuccessfully.

  47. Pinpon
    January 5th, 2019 at 20:01 | #47

    Could we have an extract of “ A matter of technique “ by Jacob ?
    Even with clichés 😋

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