Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Revolution in the millennium part 3

Last month I put a lot of effort in setting up the Belgian online chessclub. I created a bi-lingual website for it and steered several meetings to work out a calendar of activities to entertain and attract new members. Nonetheless I still managed in parallel to continue working on a number of mini-analysis projects. Those projects are analysis of openings which I have carefully selected from blitz games that I have played in the past 2 years. In less than 3 months, I have meanwhile finished already 22 of such projects. It is an incredibly interesting work. In the first place because now also openings are treated which maybe would never be studied as I consider the probability very low that those openings will ever occur in one of my standard games. Especially now as almost all chess is played online, it makes sense to look also at openings which are popular at blitz or rapid.  I notice that many of them aren't so innocent as I thought they were. Very often I have been playing those "little" openings wrongly already for decades.

Large openings or main lines are of course also on the menu. First I try to unravel the critical lines. Not infrequently I improve the analysis in my chess books or offered by chesspub. However, at least as important in this research is discovering alternative variants which are playable. I am already looking forward to chess after corona, so when we return to playing standard chess on a real board. For that kind of chess it is very useful to possess a repertoire in which one can choose between several playable alternatives. This makes preparing for my opponents a lot more difficult (more than ever I will take this into account now that we are all putting a lot of information about our repertoire online) and it also creates more flexibility in one's own game strategy.

Finally, studying those critical lines is always a test of the repertoire. The last thing you want to discover is that you have to throw an opening overboard in which you built up tons of experience and earned you loads of points in the past. I know some players close their eyes when they find something so painful but I don't think you're doing yourself a favor with this. Yes it is quite possible that you will outsmart many more opponents because they do not know the weakness of the opening, but this also means that you will never be able to break a certain ceiling. A strong player (master) has a nose to find the weaknesses in a repertoire and nowadays it is a piece of cake with a strong engine to punish such gap.

Indeed in one my mini-projects I encountered this dilemma. An opening which is already 20 years part of my repertoire, got into troubles after I couldn't find a good response to a concept which was played in one of my online blitzgames.
[Event "Hourly SuperBlitz Arena"] [Site "https://lichess.org/hj59Fas9"] [Date "2020.08.29"] [Round "?"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "quarantine_for_all"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B84"] [WhiteElo "2423"] [BlackElo "2524"] [PlyCount "70"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 e6 7. O-O Be7 8. f4 O-O 9. Be3 e5 {(The 2 step of the e-pawn is a familiar theme in the Scheveningen but here it is weird. I don't think it is a slip of the mouse but such type of moves aren't played easily.)} 10. Nf5 exf4 {(This is a blunder so I don't know if my opponent used an engine in this game. Some strong moves look not very human but it is no real proof. For sure my opponent plays moves without assistance of an engine too as he was only caught some months later.)} 11. Nxe7+ Qxe7 12. Bxf4 Nxe4 13. Nxe4 Qxe4 14. Bxd6 Rd8 15. Qd2 Nc6 16. Rad1 Bf5 17. c3 Rac8 18. Bf3 Qe6 19. Qf4 Qg6 20. Bc7 Rxd1 21. Rxd1 h5 22. Rd6 f6 23. Bd5+ Kh8 24. Bb6 Re8 25. h4 Bd3 26. Kh2 Re2 27. Rd7 Be4 28. Bxe4 Rxe4 29. Qf2 Rg4 30. Rxb7 Ne5 31. Bc7 Nd3 32. Qf3 Rxh4+ 33. Kg1 Kh7 34. Bg3 Rg4 35. Bf2 Nxf2 {(I lost on time as otherwise I would've continued the game.)} 0-1
At the beginning of last year I successfully played this opening with white in Cappelle La Grande and in 2004 I scored my very first victory with it in a standard game against a grandmaster. So I have many nice memories of that opening. On the other hand, if everyone starts to play this new concept, then I don't think that there will be much fun left in playing this opening. At the same time, however, there is something very strange going on here. This opening has already been played in more than 1000 master games (+2300 elo). A number of former world champions: Alexander Alekhin, Mikhail Tal, Tigran Petrosian, Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov and Viswanathan Anand have played that opening at least once in their career with black, but no one has ever played this concept.
So in a blitz game someone not only played a new concept but hereby overhauled 100 years of opening theory built up by at least 7 world champions. Coincidence or is there more to it? My experience has taught me that coincidence is very unlikely in such situations and that finally brings us to the core of this article. What I feared beforehand became reality when I checked the profile of my opponent.
So my opponent's account was blocked because he violated the terms of service and that almost always means that the person used the assistance of an engine while playing online.

It is a serious problem online and of course it is a recurring item on the agenda of the Belgian online chess club. However, I don't think there exists a good solution. It is a choice between draconian measures to slow down cheaters, but which for most players will spoil their fun of playing online chess or accept that there are cheaters. I choose the latter with as consequence that we should never award titles or prizes to online chess.

I digress because I have yet to explain what the link is to the title of this article. Well, I suspect you won't be surprised when I tell you that the concept with e5 is the first choice of our current top engines such as Stockfish and Leela. In part 1 I wrote about how engines revolutionized the openings by showing alternatives in well-trodden paths that no human would have dared to think about. In part 2 I wrote about how the new neural networks have learned us that king-security should be evaluated differently so refuting more than 100 years of undisputed chess knowledge. In this 3rd part I show that the current engines now also succeed in completely overhauling main-lines. So more than ever it appears that we still know very little about chess despite libraries full of opening books.

Some may think that I am exaggerating with my assessment of the e5 concept but then I subtly refer those non-believers to some quotes on chesspublishing.com by Israeli grandmaster Michael Roiz: "I have to admit, that it looks really good so far" and "Undoubtedly, ... e5 !? should also be tested in human games."

Again, it is not surprising that the concept has already been tested in correspondence chess because computers are allowed at iccf. In this niche of extremely high quality chess games, we see that the concept holds up very well. At the highest level, black neatly draws and against slighter gods has even achieved a plus score in recent years.
[Event "WC36/ct02"] [Site "ICCF"] [Date "2016.09.20"] [Round "?"] [White "Casabona, Claudio"] [Black "Tleptsok, Ruslan Aslanovich"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B85"] [WhiteElo "2586"] [BlackElo "2532"] [PlyCount "60"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e6 7. Be2 Be7 8. f4 O-O 9. O-O e5 10. Nf5 Bxf5 11. exf5 Nc6 12. Bf3 Rc8 13. Nd5 exf4 14. Nxf4 Re8 15. Kh1 Qd7 16. c3 h6 17. Bg1 Ne5 18. Bd4 Bd8 19. Nd5 Nxf3 20. Bxf6 Nxh2 21. Kxh2 Bxf6 22. Nb6 Qb5 23. Nxc8 Rxc8 24. Qd2 Rc4 25. g3 Rg4 26. Rae1 Be5 27. Rf3 Qc4 28. b3 Rh4+ 29. Kg2 Qg4 30. Rxe5 Qh3+ (30... Qh3+ 31. Kf2 Qh2+ 32. Ke3 Qg1+ 33. Qf2 Qc1+ 34. Qd2 Qg1+ 35. Kd3 Qb1+ 36. Ke3 Qg1+ $11) 1/2-1/2
Maybe if I don't share this story I could keep the opening in my repertoire longer. On the other hand, every master works with very strong engines today, so sooner or later I would come across it in a standard game. Then I prefer to spend my time on games with openings that are more relevant to my development. Ultimately, broadening one's horizons is also ideal to keep the chess hunger alive.