Friday, February 21, 2020

The expert part 3

Already in 2013 I wrote on this blog that the Dutch is a dubious opening as white has a large choice of possibilities to test black see a dutch gambit part 2. I didn't mean at that time the opening was refuted. Just white has much more options compared with more solid/safe openings to play something dangerous which means you need to study many more different type of lines as black.

However last month Sim Maerevoet wrote in ideas part 2 that nowadays there exist multiple systems against the Dutch which do give an advantage to white so practically closing the opening. You just need to make a serious analysis and black is toasted. Unfortunately I am getting more and more convinced Sim is right. The last couple of months I only was repairing broken lines of the Dutch. Especially by analyzing with the new engine lc0 many persistent problems have occurred in the Dutch. Lc0 continuously finds holes in my old analysis which previously let me believe those lines were playable.

It seems just a matter of time that I will have to stop playing the Dutch opening in standard games. Sim is not yet using lc0 but I do know many other masters already do. Computers achieve autonomy has clearly gained speed again. The Dutch is with the back against the wall but other risky openings are doing even worse. In the interclubs the Belgian FM Frederic Verduyn complained about the bankruptcy of chess due to the engines. I don't want to be so negative but we will have to adopt our play or will lose (a lot of) ratingpoints.

This can be by playing other openings but also by selecting tournaments in which preparations are less likely. Besides I notice many standard tournaments nowadays prefer to play multiple games per day. The time available to prepare is limited to a minimum. This happened for example in the last round of Open Leuven 2019 in which the pairings were announced less than a half hour before the start of the round.

This lack of preparation-time becomes even more clear in rapid or blitz-tournaments. It is very rare that somebody will prepare in such tournaments for somebody specific. This allows you to play some not fully correct openings and get away with it. Sim responded to me that one of the advantages of the Dutch is that finding good moves for black is easy but I don't agree with this assessment. In my first years with the Dutch I experienced multiple miniatures (defeats in less that 20 moves with black). However playing the Dutch non stop for 25 years lets it look to the outside-world that life is simple for black. In the last 2 years I clearly benefited of this advantage in the rapidtournaments which I participated. I only lost 1 game with the Dutch but won countless others even against some titled players like IM Tom Piceu, FM Sim Maerevoet, FM Warre De Waele, FM Sterre Dauw (my student has just climbed above me on the fide-list)....

In part 1 and part 2 I have demonstrated that it is nowadays impossible to compete against a computer-preparation by specializing in 1 opening. In this article I wanted to show the other side of the medal so being an expert isn't fully useless either. Having good knowledge about the pawn-structures is valuable but also knowing the typical piece-maneuvers is, as noticed by Sim in his most recent article. Below attack against the king in the Sicilian Dragon is probably one of the most well-known opening/middlegame themes of chess but there still exist players not familiar with it.
After the game I found in the mega-database the exact same game twice more.

At the other side of the spectrum of known themes stands probably below example which I discovered by analyzing my game against Jan Rogiers and which I published fully already here on this blog see the hyper modern french.
In the rapid-tournament of Gent (24th of November 2019) I didn't miss the chance to execute the same very peculiar theme in my game against Robert Decruyenaere. We played the same opening but a somewhat different line. As the theme pops up very late in the game and the positions are looking totally different, I do wonder if it is just a coincidence. I assume this theme has popped up in other openings too so readers are invited to share if they have encountered something similar already.
So experience exists in different shapes and formats. I am surely not exaggerating that my +25 years of experience with the Dutch is much more than just knowing by heart some opening-moves. That is also why I find it so hard to dish the Dutch. I wrote above that it is a matter of time but I am not in a hurry. Our national youth-coach Arben Dardha said in a recent interview about his son Daniel that time is precious. Indeed time flies for our youth as once they become adults, it will be increasingly difficult to make further progress. Once you are 43 like myself then this isn't an issue anymore. There are still some lines in the Dutch which I like to investigate closer. Only after I did that then I will be mentally ready to close the big book of the Dutch opening.


Monday, February 3, 2020

Ideas part 2

A month ago I wrote an article about which games to analyze and because it received some positive reactions, I decided to write a second one. Some people asked me what exactly I meant with openingideas which I casually mentioned in my previous article.

So in this article I will explain my working-method and share a few secret opening-ideas (well obviously not so secret anymore as otherwise I wouldn't discuss them here). I did doubt a bit about writing this article as Brabo told me that his own articles are used to prepare against him. Therefore I only share ideas of openings which I don't play or stopped playing a while ago. In this article I make a split between opening-ideas for myself and opening-ideas which I use as starting coach. 

Opening-ideas for myself

When I search for opening-ideas then I try to look for new type of positions or at least less played positions which my opponent likely didn't study deeply. Those positions often have their own specific pawnstructure but I also like it when a different plan must be executed. Below I give an example of such idea. I summarized the different lines so you could play it if you are interested in it. The idea is 6.Nd2 which is only the 5th most popular move but before you look at this idea, try first to check which type of positions arise in the mainline. Normally I study this mainline much deeper so this can be useful for you to do at home as this will improve your understanding of the opening.
Such opening-idea doesn't occur randomly. Often I use chessbase 14 to find interesting moves which are less popular but still contain poison. In the picture below you can see how such search looks like in chessbase 14. In the upper-window on the left you see a list of the different moves played in the position on the board with their respective popularity and score. Below you immediately find a list of games played by top-grandmasters with the chosen position. In the upper-window on the right you can find the evaluation of the engine for the 3 best moves.

Positions which I like, are stored to investigate more closely. Often I start the search without an engine but I always check it afterward with an engine to see if it is not refuted. I still use Stockfich 10 as I didn't download yet leela. It often takes 2 hours to find an idea and then I still need to work out the details. Sometimes I also just look at recent games and bump against something fresh and interesting. However important is when building a repertoire that you put special effort into the different transpositions and move-sequences. I wasn't ready to play against the different types of the stonewall as you need to have an idea prepared for all of them. 1 of the more clever systems is the triangle in which black is offering to play the noteboom and if white avoids this then he should take into account a stonewall or a semi-slav. This is of course annoying and generates a lot of extra work. I could of course try to study the complexities of the noteboom but that is against my ideology of the openings. After some research I encountered the idea below.

Opening-idea 2 is about 8.Qb1 in the triangle, this idea I discovered as I wanted to play myself the noteboom which I find one of the most interesting openings in chess. My main-book for the triangle recommended a very nasty position for black against 8.Qb1 which the engine also doesn't understand very well. So I considered this side-line to be very interesting for a practical game of chess.

Unfortunately I don't have enough flexibility in my repertoire to give you ideas for black. Still I can recommend you to look for such ideas in the games of FM Arno Sterck. He is one of the most underrated players in Belgium but he is one of the main reasons of the success Bruges is experiencing in the interclubs. One of his most recent victims was against the team of eurochess. So his opening-ideas are definitely worth a look!

Opening-ideas for my students

I don't have yet permanent students but I do sometimes give some classes to young players often rated between 1500-1900. At tournaments I also often help 3 players to prepare for their games (I am still looking for some children in the Belgium youth-championship so if you are interested please contact me). I also have rearranged my opening-ideas recently for them. Today I find it more important to use ideas in which you know what to do. This is something which is important for any level of play. I have learned this from the very experienced and excellent coach, FM Roel Hamblok. This is however contradictory to what my own coach Bruno Luyckx (the most motivated chess-coach I have ever met and it would definitely be interesting to write once an article about just him) has taught me. Despite I practically accept anything of Bruno, I do prefer to understand positions above creating chaos. So I will try always to look at openings or ideas with a limited number of pawnstructures. Pawnstructures are in fact the base of any opening and more broadly of chess itself. Below you can find an idea (which I found by using chessbase independently) against the caro-kan for white. It is nothing special but it is very easy to play for white. Ideal for a young student!
To conclude I want to add that openings aren't the only thing we should study but it is the domain which allows you to master rather easily with the current strength of engines and database. It allows you to ask annoying questions to the opponent from the start. An idea doesn't need to be a refutation. The most important is to take your opponent out of his comfortzone by letting him play non-standard pawnstructures of which you are pretty sure that it wasn't studied yet in detail.

Sim Maerevoet

Friday, January 17, 2020

Papua New Guinea

Millenials take it for granted but older generations still remember the time when there was no internet at all. I only started to use it at the age of 22 in 1998. It was the year when I started to work a couple of months after I graduated as an engineer. At my job I got an email-address so I was able to share and receive information from my new colleagues.

In the next couple of months some of those colleagues discovered a way to use the mailserver as a medium to correspond with newsgroups. I was pleasantly surprised to find out also chess was available among them. For me it was the very beginning of using the internet also for chess. The newsgroups and were a source of joy to me. I spent many hours at it reading and writing posts. In those early days of the internet those newsgroups were very active. You can still consult them today and it is even possible to track some of my messages from 1999-2003 (when I wasn't using yet a nickname).

I can't remember exactly when but I guess it must have been 1999 when we as employers got access to the www (world wide web) and got the possibility to visit different sites. As it was all very new and management wasn't sure what the impact would be on the performances, people's behavior on the internet was monitored very closely. Each month the employers having visited the most number of non work-related sites, were summoned and warned for sanctions. Playing online chess was no option for me although some sites already were offering this.

Only a bit later around my 25th birthday when my parents afforded a modem, I played my first games of chess online. Yahoo offered a large scale of online games and chess was one of them. I never played much online at that time as I could only play when I was visiting my parents (I live at more than 100km distance). Beside using the internet was quite expensive as you paid a fee per minute as they had no monthly unlimited subscription. Anyway from that time onward online chess became something I always was interested in.

Yahoo was one of the very first providers of online games on the market. For chess it was a very simple platform but also free which did attract unfortunately also a huge number of poor sportsmanship players. Slowly other and better alternatives became available which were offering more features and started to check cheating, behavior,... Consequently Yahoo lost more and more users and in 2016 they logically pulled out the plug of their platform. In parallel there also has been from the beginning premium platforms like ICC so for which you pay but get a much better service. Nevertheless I always refused to pay for playing some mediocre blitz online.

It was only in 2007 when I finally took an internetsubscription at home. I had married my Russian girlfriend some months earlier so obviously the internet would become for her something very useful to communicate with her family far away. Meanwhile I also discovered that the internet brought for me too quite some interesting new possibilities. It was the start of my very active online chess-career. My preferred platform became Playchess despite it was not for free. However that doesn't mean I was  paying for it as Playchess allows any newcomer to test their platform for some time without charge. Each time the trail-period ended, I created a new account. This way I played 10-thousands of games. After a while Playchess found out about it and blocked for some time my IP-address but I didn't care. A break was often very welcome as playing online can become very addictive.

A decade past by and Playchess didn't change much till 2017 when I started to notice changes in the population on the server. I needed to wait longer and longer to find an opponent rated same or higher than myself. I also noticed that fewer and fewer Belgian (sub-) toppers were online. Nowadays it is even very exceptional to still meet somebody. I understand we are all more busy than ever so getting less free time to play online but where is the youth (see below screenshot from 13th of January at 8 PM)?
Peakhour at Playchess with only 9 Belgian players, only 1200 players online in the mainroom and only 4 higher rated players than myself online.
The reason is of course that Playchess has lost their dominant position as alternatives have become available which are not only free but are also supporting a large scale of features which aren't inferior to what Playchess offers. As always people will not pay for something they can get for free somewhere else. We all want to save our money. We also see that the most popular sites like lichess and attract respectively 5x - 10x more users currently than Playchess. This is surely also due to the influence of our world-champion Magnus Carlsen as he has promoted both platforms multiple times. Young players like to follow their idol.

It is a golden era for online chess with the many variants of free and stable platforms but I also see some important disadvantages. Lichess,, chess24, Fide Online Arenagameknot are just some of the possibilities so we clearly have a diaspora of players. A platform like would love to create champions with the same status and generating the same magnitude of publicity like we see in standard chess but this won't happen in this fragmented online-world. It is also much harder for amateurs to find a friend which you know from standard chess unless everybody subscribes on multiple sites like theunknownone on chess24theunknownonex on and TheUnknownOnex on lichess.

However the biggest disadvantage of the current generation of free platforms is that your own games are stored online contrary to Playchess. I am not talking about the rather small effort which is needed to download your own games but rather that other people can look at your own games while you don't even know about it. People can use it to prepare against you. I wrote an article in 2017 that one should use a nickname at Playchess even if the other one can only see the games you mutually played. Naturally the danger is here 100x bigger.

Nonetheless last year in Open Brasschaat it took me little time to find hundreds sometimes even thousands of online games from 5 of my 9 opponents. It is incredible while everybody tries as much as possible to avoid publication of their games (see e.g. password). How can this be possible? This was also the question of 1 of my 5 victims after our game had finished.

He had used just like the others a nickname which should normally be sufficient to stay anonymous. However I have detected many players don't take into account a security-leak which is caused by the friend-requests. Once you know 1 player of a group of friends then it is often very simple to reveal the identity of the others. I want to show 1 very funny example which I encountered some time ago as it is not everyday that you can find a Belgian player hiding himself under the flag of Papua New Guinea (which explains the title of this article !).

In the 4th round of the most recent edition of Open Leuven I played against the Belgian expert William Boudry. Before I had a couple of hours to prepare. Nowadays I always start with a quick check via google and search & name/first name. If the profile is not well protected then I can already find their online games. This was the case here see jr-boetje but unfortunately the last activity dated from 2012 so it was useless for me. Next I switch to lichess where I often use as starting profile the one of FM Warre De Waele as with 44 followers he has one of the better networks in Flanders see warredw/followers. One of his friends attracted immediately my attention as he had a special nickname and was using the flag of Papua New Guinea see: WBoe3.
Thanks to the TV-serie W817 which was on the air around the year 2000, I was familiar with writing words by a combination of letters and numbers. So W817 = W-acht een-s even (wait a moment). It isn't hard anymore to see that WBoe3 can mean William Boudry. A check of the online played lichess games against the most recent games of William in the mega-database confirmed my suspicion. I was almost sure that I had the right online and active profile found of my opponent. This is gold for the preparation of a game.

On the other hand getting your hands on hundreds of even thousands of games creates also additional stress. It is impossible to check all the content seriously in just a couple of hours. I had to be pragmatic. My best chance was to focus at the most recently played games which proved to be the right decision. Below game played a couple of days before we played against each other in Open Leuven, was crucial.
I already once covered this opening on this blog see the hyper modern french but in our new game I experienced theory has evolved again in the last 2 years enormously. Anyway I wasn't familiar with the sub-variant popping up on the board so logically I played something safer but less critical.
It is not a success to score only a half point but looking at the final position this is the maximum which I could hope for. This example also shows how relatively unimportant open online games can be. It is doubtful to spend (lots) of time at searching and checking online games from an opponent. It is also doubtful to defriend players and to play exclusively anonymously. Anyway nobody can't say anymore after this article that I didn't warn them in advance.


Sunday, January 5, 2020


In the beginning there was nothing. And then Paul Rudolf von Bilguer said: "So let there be opening-theory!" And there was opening-theory: And that happened on the first day and von Bilguer rested, as he was worth it.
The second day he said: "White will open with 1.e4 or 1.d4 and black will have to think about his reply." That was the second day.
The 3rd day he stated: "Black will answer 1.e4 with e5 or c5. D4 he will answer with d5 or Nc6:" That was quite something for the third day.
On the fourth day von Bilguer got excited about 1.e4 e5. These will be called the "open games" as the other openings I will call them "closed games": White should answer preferably with 2.Nf3 and black has the reply 2...Nc6"
On the fifth day von Bilguer worked less and only made the discovery that after 1.d4 d5 or 1...Nf6 white's strongest move is c4.
On the sixth day Paul did some detailed analysis of only the Prussian opening.
On the seventh day von Bilguer was tired and said:" so now let von der Lasa fill in the remaining pieces of the theory".

The opening-theory has grown historically as people like von Bilguer considered it interesting, to learn from the best players how they start their games. Despite the strongest players knew how to play good moves in the opening (see for this the excellent enjoyable "Chess Secrets I learned from the Masters of Ed Lasker"), there was also a lot of personal flavor added. Often they got away with some silly ideas as they were strategically or tactically much better than "non-masters". Steinitz for example often chose some cramped positions but his opponents often didn't find any good plan to profit from it.

Was opening-theory in the beginning something simple, just a way to reach a certain middlegame, then it grew continuously till a monster in chess. People looking at games from the previous century see a very limited repertoire (Spanish, Queensgambit) which were ruling the top-tournaments. It doesn't mean there were no experiments with weird openings - the Budapest-gambit dates from around 1916, and was explored by Abonyi, Barasz and Breyer (indeed, the guy from the big Spanish opening-variant), which also explains the name. The white counterpart of the BDG, the Tennison-gambit was already played before 1900.

This crossroad remained: "real" players play mainlines but at the lower levels you will find many passionate players choosing their own creations. We think about Otto Tennison, Hugh Myers, Stefan Bücker, Gerard Welling, Blackmar and Diemer, Smith and Morra, Maurits Wind (breeze), Michael Basman Van Geet, …

But gradually the ideas are infiltrating from one side to the other side. Just think about the game Karpov - Miles, in which the Englishman won with 1...a6. Or the Benko-gambit, which was originally also just a wild idea from 1 single player. And recently Alpha Zero made a number of shocking discoveries for our game. The move h2-h4 was in the years 80 a very common move in ... games between engines, because the algorithms tried to give the rooks activity already early in the middle-game. More wasn't accomplished - the engine was "happy" that the rooks had more squares. Recently Alpha Zero demonstrated that the pawn can be used as battering ram to make weaknesses on the long term in the position of the enemy.

Everything is playable, there are many examples (e.g. weird opening-moves). Recently I saw at Quality Chess the book playing the Najdorf by David_Vigorito. It seems a fine book based on the excerpt which you can download on the site. I immediately noticed his recommendation against the English attack: after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 h5! There he is: the Alpha Zero move. Now, it is not illogical as white wants to play g2-g4 so black avoids it with h7-h5. Didn't think anybody else about this move before? That is not the case as already in "The English Attack" of the Firmian and Fedorowicz (Batsford, 2004) this move is mentioned, just only in a different position but with the same goal.   

That reminds me also about another little move a3 in the Pirc. Often the Austrian attack starts with : 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4 Bg7 5. Nf3 c5 6.dxc5 Qa5 and black wins back the pawn. The idea behind a3 in those type of positions is to be able to respond with b4 and black can forget about winning back his pawn.

So everything is playable - and opening-theory becomes redundant? Not completely of course, there are always better and less strong moves. But that is another crossroad in chess: scientific ("most correct chess") against sportive ("most result efficient chess") versus artistic ("the most beautiful chess"). Brabo is an adept of the scientific approach and that is his good right. But players like Lasker and Kortchnoi always tried to play against the opponent - and often tried to provoke just to avoid a draw. It does't mean you will always be successful by using some crazy idea (just think about the game Twyble-Sugden, the ultimate Van Geet game). But it does question too much focus on the opening-theory. Finally chess is a game about flexibility and solidness (make sure you have options) as knowing a lot of theory doesn't guarantee any success if your opponent decides with his 4x4 after move 5 to enter high pastures.

About that we should thank Carlsen as he brought chess back from the Kasparov-highway to the meadow of Carlsen. Kasparov played chess based on memorizing long lines combined with his tactical skills. Carlsen returned the game to the basics: a battle from opening till endgame in which you are tested in all aspects of the game also the physical part of the 6th hour. 

Another topic which Brabo touched is to be critical about exotic openings: engines are nowadays starting to refute openings like the Grob (and likely also Sokolsky, the Vulture, the Borg).  

Do I have a game to illustrate this article? Let me see... some years ago there existed a computer which defeated everybody in blitz with the moves 1.e3 2.Ke2 3.Kf3 4.g3 5.Kg2, but even those jokers stopped with it. Even Chessbase was fooled (the third coming of bobby fischer)… but it nicely proves my point. Nakamura also once opened a serious game against Sasikirian with 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 (and lost, see Danvers Opening).   

So as a tribute to the crazy side of chess, see below how Kasparov "made" a draw against 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 played by Hollywoodster Woody Harrelson (source: hans48)


Thursday, December 26, 2019

Which games to analyze? part 3

I promised some time ago to Helmut that I would write an article for this blog when I would have some free time. In November Helmut wrote a great article about which games he analyzes and to which sense it helps us to become a stronger player. So I thought it could be an interesting idea once to explain my method of working at chess. Helmut writes that I am not sufficiently analyzing my own games and I agree with him. I often only look at my games with the engine on my smartphone and only when I forgot something of the opening, I will spend some time at rechecking the theory. I should do more analysis of my games as I do realize that only checking them this way for maximum a half hour isn't sufficient.

However I also think it is at least as interesting to analyze games from somebody else. So when I work at chess, I rather prefer to look at many games of top-players (not only world-top but also Belgian top players) instead of my own games. I try to follow every tournament in which the best players of the world are participating and practically every day I try to select one of those games which I try to study more deeply (approximately 1 hour). Beside this daily work I also check the games of the best Belgian players (normally the 3 highest boards of the Belgian interclub). Finally I also have the habit to monitor a few Belgian players whom are rapidly making progress. Last year this was the youth-player Dries Van Malder giving me many interesting ideas to study. As he is playing less regularly chess this year, I switched my focus to the fresh IM:  Rein Verstraeten

So for this article I selected a few games from Rein which I think are his very best. Please have a look at how I analyzed those games. The first one starts with a Najdorf from Rein. Rein is an expert in the opening and it is definitely one of the best played Najdorf games I've ever seen.
Game number 2 is an analysis which I received from Rein himself. I want to share it as I think it is a very clever piece of opening-analysis and Rein also displays a very good technique. I like to read analysis of strong(er) players as it learns you a lot about chess very quickly.
The last game brought Rein the title of international master. Congratulations Rein !
At the beginning of this article I tried to demonstrate to the reader how I approach the middle-game. So I check a lot of games and analyze them briefly. I also first look at the games without an engine and do only afterwards a quick blunder-check with an engine.

For the openings I have worked out myself completely a repertoire with chessbase-files about each opening. However many ideas which I use, are stolen from the most recent book I found about that particular opening. It takes a lot of time to build those files but I think it is important work as it gives you a good idea about which positions you will get on the board. I think it is also very useful to know in advance you get only positions which you like to play. Personally I like to fight for the initiative so I will always try to avoid openings in which I need to defend.

As an amateur I believe it is also important to keep the amount of theory under control. So I prefer to select interesting side-lines instead of playing main-lines. This way I only need to check my files once a game is played with my side-lines. If it is an interesting idea then I make an update otherwise I ignore it. It is a piece of advice which I got myself from a player varying continuously between 7 openings. Some people will consider this is too much change and probably this is indeed the case for an amateur. It is the reason why I prefer to stick with one big opening and only vary of lines instead.

I am curious to read about in how you think analyzing games of other players is more important than analyzing your own games. I also think quantity will teach you more than quality. Wesley So once said that he has difficulties not getting too excited about analyzing just one position. You need to manage your time properly and spend to every part of your repertoire sufficient time.

Sim Maerevoet

Note Brabo: 
Sim Maerevoet had in December 2015 a fide-elo of 1687. Exact 4 years later at the age of 18 years old he has now 2413. So we talk here about a gain of 726 elo in a rather short time-frame and achieved without external help (no trainings from IMs/ GMs as far as I know). I am delighted that Sim wants to share on this blog his method of working as I am convinced it will inspire many other (young) players. The article also shows another more pragmatic approach to chess compared with my own more theoretical articles. Chess has many facets. I would like other (strong but not necessarily) players would stand up and come here to explain their experiences. It is something we can all learn from it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

My most beautiful move part 4

Almost 8 years I am running this blog (I started in Dutch and after 1,5 years also translated the articles to English). Only last year in June I had for the first time no inspiration but normally there is always something which I bump against worth to share on this blog. I rarely get feedback about my articles but the statistics of my blog tell me that there seems to be a quite large loyal reader-audience. Sometimes a player tells me that they used something from my blog successfully in their games see chesslinks. Nonetheless I can definitely use some motivation as I spent for sure at least 1000 hours already at writing articles for this blog.

However recently I met the negative side of blogging. Many Flemish players know meanwhile that I maintain a blog. Also more and more people start to realize that I am actually playing the lines about which I write. So in the last year I experienced an exponential growth of opponents using the content of the blog against myself. Thanks to my article Dutch steps in the English opening part 2Belgian FM Adrian Roos could anticipate my switch from the Stonewall to the Leningrad Dutch against the English in our interclub-game of last season. Belgian FM Roel Hamblok admit that he read in my article killer novelties that I don't answer 1.d4 f5 2.Nc3 anymore with 2...d5 but that I recently switched to 2...Nf6. Besides he told me that thanks to my article leela lc0 he was not only able to install the engine on his computer but he also used it intensively to prepare our game.

Even against non titled players I am not safe anymore. John Weynen, 1584 fide confessed after our game that thanks to my article cats that he was aware about the winning piece-sacrifice on e5 against the lion which of course he avoided. I wasn't able to check with Marie Dgebuadze, 1915 fide but it seemed a too big coincidence that Marie played at move 15 in a very rare line exactly the recommendation I gave for white in my article the scientific approach part 2. Each of the examples mentioned were played solely in 2019 and probably I am still missing some.

Belgian FM Warre De Waele made some time ago the remark that I share a lot of information about myself on my blog. He didn't say that I was stupid but I also realize that speaking is silver and silence is gold. The Dutch blogger Maaike Keetman even got explicitly the choice between her blog or a national selection to EK/WK from her coach Zhaoqin Peng, a Dutch grandmaster. She chose to play so stopped blogging since 2015.

No, this is not a prelude to the end of this blog. I think this blog has more value than the few ratingpoints I lose. Besides the losses shouldn't be exaggerated. The openings only had a limited impact on the results of my games. Also many articles needed research and interesting analysis which I probably would've never made otherwise.

Sometimes I also discover some unexpected positive side-effects from this blog. In tournaments I am sometimes addressed by total strangers for me, following my blog already for years. In the last open of Leuven I noticed that the tie-breaking system was changed from TPR to Bucholtz. Last year I wrote in my article byes that TPR isn't fair when byes are allowed. Maybe it is coincidence but I guess somebody of the organization read my article and liked my comment. However the best initiative must be a reaction on my article "my most beautiful move part 3" by Marcel Van Herck, reading my blog already for many years. He used the theme of the article to organize a study-competition. In the 12th ARVES Jenever tournament 2019 the participants had to create a study in which a piece is captured by black with check. White can recapture but prefers instead to interpose a piece to stop the check. The winner was the Russian grandmaster (compositions) Oleg Pervakov with below magnificent study.
The jury praised the composition because it wasn't only economically (they mean that only few pieces were used on the board) but also that no less than 4 queen-sacrifices were inserted into the solution. The other studies are definitely also worth a look. Please see the link above to check them.

Chess-compositions are the ideal playing-ground for themes which we rarely or never see in standard tournament-practice. Exceptions confirm the rule as I recently bumped by coincidence against below game while analyzing the opening of my game against the Dutch FM Joey Grochal with exactly our theme.
I suspect the theme is so rare that we miss it when it occurs on the board in a game. Especially nowadays when play is much faster, we see many players trying to play some quick moves which at first sight look forced. Only afterwards we discover with an engine that the automatic move wasn't forced at all.

Writing a blog brings a mix of positive and negative emotions. I would like to see more positive reactions here and ask for some abstention of people using my blog against myself. Of course I am 100% responsible for what is published here but my motivation to continue will ultimately depend if there exists an acceptable balance.


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The initiative

Older players will likely still remember the time when we could beat the best engines available. I never experienced that myself. I started to play regularly chess at the age of 14 and while I quickly improved, I never could catch up in the 90ties with the engines. From 2000 onward only topgrandmasters could still challenge a computer but around 2006 this also ended. After that the engines kept on improving at a steady pace. For an amateur it became increasingly difficult to detect the differences between the engines. Nowadays I see many chessplayers don't search anymore for the best engine and are satisfied with an engine of which they know that it can beat any human in the world.

It is indeed irrelevant to have the best of the best for just a blunder-check. Only a few will also try to discover the little nuances in a game. Today the top-engines have become so strong that they can find in the most complex positions very quickly the right track and beside can not only maintain an initiative stubbornly but also increase it methodically. Last summer I had multiple favorable positions in the Open Brasschaat of which I had no clue about what I should do. A first example is against the 15 year-old Marie Dgebuadze. After a small mistake of Marie I obtained a very nice position but then I didn't push through. The engine demonstrates with accurate play that I hesitated too long which allowed Marie to neutralize my initiative.

I couldn't achieve more than a draw at the end. However int he second example it went even more sore. If you check the rating of the 25 year-old Yago De Cuyper then you find out that I should win easily as +500 difference is a massive gap. Nevertheless during the game this wasn't the case at all. Again I get the upper-hand in the middlegame but also here I hesitate which allows my opponent to counter-attack. I was shocked especially when the engine showed me how a few moves were needed to convert my initiative into a clear advantage.

It was a miracle that I still won the final position but this has no relation with the initiative so would only digress us. More interesting is to check if there are some symptoms in my game which explain these failures. Why can't I maintain the initiative against these "weaker" players?

The question was raised to me if I don't practice sufficiently tactics. I did miss some hidden motives which caused me to not consider some moves. On the other hand at I maintain for some time already a 3100 rating which puts me at the top of the Belgian players so I don't think I am worse in tactics than others. I also got the advice to study more Dutch games so I get acquainted to common combinations in this opening. I have more than 20 years experience with the Dutch so I think that I can consider myself an expert in the Dutch. Therefore I do dare to claim that the examples shown are not standard at all.

No in both examples I hesitated to push my pawns on the king-side as there are always risks connected to it. I couldn't properly evaluate it so I chose to wait. Very often the apple falls from the tree by itself or you get a better and easier opportunity. In above games it didn't happen this time so I spoiled the advantage.

By the way I am definitely not the only one having this problem. Recently I was at the other side of the board sitting. The Belgian FM Roel Hamblok got a winning initiative in the interclub against me with a clever game-preparation but it wasn't trivial to convert it into a win. White hesitated to sacrifice any material and just chose normal developing moves which allowed me to fight back in the game.

I earlier warned in my article sacrificing for the dangers of it. You often are left empty handed when the attack doesn't win immediately. Correct sacrifices demand a high degree of precision to make them work. So I understand perfectly why Roel preferred to slowly build up his position instead of making some gambles. It did however let the initiative fade away.

The volatile character of an initiative only leaves a window of opportunity open for a limited time. Between 2300 and 2800 there is a big gap of playing strength. How you manage an initiative is definitely a key-element of it. Some books learn players to think out of the box and to look beyond the risks but likely talent has the final word.