Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Evolution

The big news of last month was of course the comeback of Garry Kasparov. He played again a tournament for rating while his previous one dated from 2005. Well as a matter of fact it was only for rapid and blitz ratings which even didn't exist back in 2005.

Of course I was also curious about how Kasparov would fare. So I started to follow the broadcasting attentively. However my interest very quickly faded away from the event. The combination of the late starting-hour (they played in Saint Louis/ US), the many mistakes specific to the quick tempo (rapid/ blitz) and probably also the lack of excitement in the fight for the first place made that I only saw a limited number of games. Rapid/ blitz never really interested me (I still didn't play any fide rated game at that tempo) and the mimics of Kasparov see kasparov what went wrong didn't compensate for the tragic suffering of the once so feared monster of Bakoe.

In his best years this tournament would've been catastrophic for Kasparov. He wasn't satisfied himself with today the 13th place in the world for rapid and the 9th place in the world for blitz while he was used for many years to be the number 1. Afterwards there was a lot of debate about what went wrong. Probably his age 54 years old plays a role but much more important was his absurd time-consumption which doesn't have at all a link with age. A good explanation of why can be found in the article Why was Kasparov deep thinking? If you play regularly then you make some decisions automatically. However if you haven't played for a long time any competitions then this automatism has disappeared and you try to compensate that by extra calculations which burn precious time.

I already described those dangers in my article inactivity. You need to play a minimum of games to maintain the game-level. It is the reason why I subscribed for the maneblusserstornooi of Mechelen. The playing days and the tempo are not optimal but sometimes you need to make compromises. The club-championship of Deurne is this year even weaker than last year see the list of participants. It does not fulfill again my minimum-criteria (which many already consider very low).

On the other hand the hyped circus also generated unrealistic expectations of Kasparov. Besides despite some hard counter-proof still many believe elo inflation exists so people consider today's topplayers ready to be butchered by Kasparov. In other words it was very hard to get a proper preview of what the results would be also because his comeback was something very unique in the chess-world. After the tournament it all became much more clear. Now we understand much better which impossible mission Kasparov had started. If we look today objectively to his results then we should admit that he did in fact very well considering the exceptional conditions.

He demonstrated that he is still dangerous for any top-player and his opening-repertoire is still top-notch. In most games he got fine out of the opening with some strong modern chess. It seemed he never quit studying openings and he very well adapted himself to the most recent evolutions. Kasparov definitely didn't make the error to stick to some old likely obsolete analysis.

Last I experienced how dangerous it is to use some old theory which was even played in a world-championship. In 2006 I scored a nice victory in this line see the influence of world-championships at openings but it is again the Belgian IM Stefan Docx showing me that I still have a lot of work to do at my repertoire (see for earlier examples to Dutch steps in the English opening and grandmaster-norm for Stefan Docx).
I am for sure not the only player making sometimes this error. Besides here we see a clear difference of approach between young and older players. Young players build up their repertoire upon hyper-modern systems which are today considered critical. However older players often keep on playing what they learned in their youth and don't follow so much the latest trends. The 67 year old Robert Schuermans definitely fulfills above description of an older player. He likes to play old and long forgotten systems of Fischer, Karpov and other old grandmasters especially against young players. Not seldom he scores because these young players don't know the classics.

However in Open Brasschaat it went completely wrong against the 15 year old Sterre Dauwe rated 200 points lower. Robert had really bad luck this time. Sterre is one of my best students in KMSK and 2 weeks ago I showed at the onjk (where we met each other) my analysis of my game against Stefan Docx. It is really a coincidence that Robert played exactly this line so permitting Sterre to extract very easily an advantage from the opening.
In my articles old wine in new skins part 1 and part 2 I showed a couple of examples in which old openings were successful. However this new article demonstrates that when the surprise-element is missing, things become much more dangerous. Even copying something played in a world-championship analyzed before and afterwards by some of the best players, doesn't guarantee a good opening. Openings are evolving and today even quicker than before with the ever stronger becoming engines. Every top-player works very hard to keep track of all those evolutions and even add something extra to it themselves. Otherwise you are doomed to be horribly out-dated like probably most amateurs.

Brabo

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Royal forks

The summer-holidays are again behind us. For many it was a period to recharge the batteries and play little or no chess. Others contrary were (very active). Any news about them was shattered all over the web as there exists no general platform where the local news is published. It is a shame as some of our youngsters performed excellently and this deserved much more recognition. First there was the 10 year old Enrico Follesa playing for Temse and gaining in 1 month 276 elo which very likely is a Belgian record. It is definitely not a world-record as the Slovanian FM Jergus Pechac managed in april 2015 to gain 426 points in 1 month.

Another Belgian record got smashed by the 11 year old Daniel Dardha playing for Hoboken. He just won the -12 youth-championship of the European Chessfederation which took place in Czechia. This makes him the youngest FM ever in Belgium. Besides now that I am closely involved at youth-chess, I also learned that there are 3 different types of youth-championships of Europe in which standard chess is played. So 1 for the European chess-federation, 1 for the European Union which happened beginning of August in Austria and 1 for the European countries which started yesterday in Romania.

Those exceptional results of these very young players didn't happen by accident. Not only their own efforts play a role but at least as important are the selfless sacrifices of their parents. I really liked the beautiful tribute of Daniel on his facebook to his father. With their permission I copied it here.
Behind any youthchampion there is a sweating coach and supporting parent 
Few realize how big the efforts of the parents are to allow their children achieve that kind of success. If you just wait to get support from the club, federation then I fear this can take forever. In the article How much time do you spend at chess I already showed a glimpse of how I support my son. Last year I accompanied my son 25 full days and this year it will probably be double. This summer Hugo played his first big tournaments with some success. He won the Open Dutch champion -8 and made a very nice performance in the very enjoyable mastertournament of Bruges by which he was rewarded by a very nice first 1474 fide elo.

Of course it is a matter of setting priorities to spend 25 full days or more as parent to support your child to his activities. You can't demand something like that from anybody. Besides it is often very boring waiting. Some parents are staring for hours at the door where their child should pop up after having finished their game. A fantastic article about the sacrifices chess-parents make can be read here. For me it is easier as chess is my own biotope. Even during the Brugse meesters where very few other chess-parents were, I didn't have the feeling of getting bored at all.

More and more often I take my laptop to the tournaments to continue analyzing my own games. After the Open Gent I had 9 freshly played games at which I spent together approximately 1 month. Regularly people are surprised hearing how much time I spend at the analysis. What is the fun of all that or is there really so much to learn from a couple of games. Well I am not only looking at the evaluation of the moves. Sometimes I also discover some truly beautiful treasures. See example a fragment of my analysis of my game against the Bulgarian grandmaster Boris Chatalbashev (the complete game was covered already in my previous article).
This is an unavoidable deflection of the king by a full queen-sacrifice followed up by a royal fork. I've been googling for some similar examples and it seems something quite unique. A very famous example of it are the missed chances in a worldchampionship-game between Alexander Alekhine and Max Euwe played in 1937.
Not less famous is another example again from a worldchampionship-game but this time between Tigran Petrosian and Boris Spassky.
Tigran is probably the only player whom got it twice on the board see his game against Vladimir Simagin although there is a little difference here as the royal fork can be avoided by black.

At the collection-site of royal forks there are many other beautiful examples but except the ones already mentioned in this article none fully fulfill at all my strict conditions. Many are without a queen-sacrifice or are not pure as some material is captured while sacrificing. In others we don't see a deflection of the king. Finally there are also many were the royal fork was not forced and could be avoided however often leading to a quick mate.

Discovering these little cute things are what makes analyzing something I enjoy. For sure this relieves the task of the chess-parent as the waiting becomes much easier. In the meanwhile I have finished the analysis of all my games of Gent so it is time to play some games myself and to experience new adventures on the board.

Brabo

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Openingstrategy

My previous article described how little time many players put at studying openings. A reader reacted that it is not so important for 2000 rated players as they anyway throw away often half or even full points in the middle- and endgame. He has a point of course. If you want to improve then you better look where the most progression can be made. It will rarely be the opening for any amateur so you better work at other domains of chess. On the other hand I want to add that it is still better to do something than nothing at all. In other words studying openings will not be completely useless for weaker players.

In this article we will go to the next level of opening-strategy so this is a warning for the readers. As average amateur you will not very often encounter what I will describe in this article. That is not only because a lack of opening-knowledge but especially because the strategy is based upon the repertoire of the opponent. Most amateurs have very few games in the databases which makes a preparation rather hard or even impossible. Only above 2200 elo we see that the number of games in the database is sufficient to tell us something of the repertoire of a player see the list of strength.

A basic opening-strategy consists of defining an answer upon all possible openings the opponent has played in his games which can be found in the database. I developed my own method for this see archiving and using databases but I know by experience that only very few (masters) do something similar. Most competitive players are satisfied by much simpler receipts which are rather based upon finding playable positions while the critical sharp lines are avoided. The Welsh grandmaster Nigel Davies recently wrote at his multi-blog that his comeback went smoothly as he limited himself to a very simplified opening-strategy.

Nowadays we will see that the strongest amateurs/ professional players will use an even more sophisticated opening-strategy. Contrary to most amateurs (I am one of them), they learn multiple opening-repertoires. I play exclusively 1.e4 but higher rated players will more likely play 4 different first moves like 1.e4, 1.d4, 1.Nf3 and 1.c4. This not only makes it harder for the opponents to prepare against them see again my article the list of strength but it also makes it easier to steer the opening to the preferred positions.

This last part seems to be an enormous asset when you don't have much time to prepare or you don't know much about the opponent. In theory you don't even need a chess-engine for that. E.g. at chess.db you can get already a profile-analysis of the opponent so you have a good picture of his/ her opening-repertoire. You know in a couple of seconds what can/ will happen in the different opening-repertoires. With this information you can make a best estimate of the rate of success for each of the repertoires and select the best one.

Some of my opponents at Open Gent used this advanced opening-strategy against me. In my game against the Bulgarian grandmaster Boris Chatalbashev (also winner of the tournament) this was probably the most clear. The game started already at the preparation. We got only an hour from the organisation so I immediately started to look at the games of Boris. I quickly discovered that Boris likes to play 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7. I answered this with 3.Nf3 and 3.Nc3 in the past. After 3.Nf3 Boris answers normally with 3...d6 and sometimes with 3...c5.
Games Boris Chatalbashev starting with 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nf3
After 3.Nc3 it appeared that Boris not only plays 3...d6 but also sometimes 3...c6
Games Boris Chatalbashev starting with 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3
Currently I slightly prefer 3.Nf3 but I liked also the fact that I would avoid 3...c6 after 3.Nf3. That is not because I do not like to play against the 3...c6 variation but it was good to cut the lines as 1 hour preparation isn't enough to look at everything properly. Besides Boris also plays the Sicilian Dragon and I noticed that after 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nf3 c5 that I would transpose with 4.Nc3 cxd4 5.Nxd4.

Of course I got a cold shower as after I played 3.Nf3 Boris surprised me by playing anyway 3...c6. After the game I asked him why as in the database his earlier games didn't continue with 3...c6. Boris laughed. He told me that normally indeed he doesn't answer with 3...c6 after 3.Nf3 because of 4.c4. However he noticed by checking my profile that I only opened with 1.e4. So he knew in advance that I wouldn't try 4.c4 as I have no experience at all with the Kings-Indian. On the other hand he did like the positions after 3.Nc3 as he had studied them only recently.
It is not because the opening-strategy works that you automatically win the game. I deviated from my earlier games in this opening see correspondence-chess. It was a modest try to surprise but mainly an idea that I wanted to give a shot in a standard game. I couldn't remember exactly my analysis as last time that I checked the line was beginning of this year for my preparation against the Belgian expert Ward Van Eetvelde.

It is probably not the best example to explain this advanced opening-strategy but definitely one where there is no doubt that the grandmaster let his choice depend on my repertoire. This is for most average club-players no option as it demands many years of study and training to use such strategy successfully. Besides I guess you also need an universal style for this strategy. I mean you need to be an all-round player able to compete at all the domains so positionally, tactically,... Our world-top are all models for this strategy.

Brabo

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The open games

If you watch the games of our youngest players then you notice a lot of Italian four knights. That is of course because many teachers use this opening in their classes. The opening is very solid and for beginners there are enough possibilities to play an interesting game. It is perfect to make your first steps at chess and develop yourself. Besides it only takes a few minutes to teach and learn the opening so more important aspects of chess like tactics can get more attention.

A couple of individuals at youth-tournaments try to profit from this by using some home-studied traps. It are often very sharp gambits which are very efficient as normal developing moves don't work as defense and exact knowledge of the opening is mandatory. When I found out that my son Hugo lost some crucial games in the tournaments due to that strategy so not because of inferior skills, I realized that I needed to help him.

I am a specialist of the open games so I know very well what enormous amount of theory exists today of the open games. Further I don't think it is ideal to force a child to play like I do see the scientific approach. Therefore Hugo switched from 1.e4 e5 to 1.e4 c6. With white we started to play exchange-variations of the Spanish see my article bjk. So theoretically these openings aren't the most critical ones but this way he does get each time positions which allow him to play a long game of chess.

It is not only the choice for the open games of trainers which I question. I am also often surprised how it is possible that stronger/ more experienced players choose open games while it is evident that they know barely any theory. 3 times in the past Open Gent I encountered a lack of basic theory-knowledge in the play of my opponents. Let us have a look to my first round against nonetheless a player of +1800. If you play the Ponziani then I expect that you are at least aware of the Fraser-defense.
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On my blog I wrote 2 articles about the opening see 14 x sos and computers achieve autonomy but just like my opponent of the previous article, he didn't read it. Maybe my opponent doesn't know this blog but I don't find that a good excuse as the Fraser-defense is basic-knowledge for any Ponziani-player.

Besides I also consider basic-knowledge the classical mainline of the Spanish: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 etc... However my opponent in round 3 managed to mix up the order of the next moves by playing 8.h3 instead of c3. I took advantage of this by using the same idea which I showed earlier in my articles the sequence and familychess part 2.
It is remarkable that this inaccuracy popped up in 300 mastergames while 2 out of 3 just transposed back to the mainlines. The difference of evaluation is small but can be noticed when you look at black's score which is clearly better with Na5.

A much larger difference of evaluation after mixing up the right sequence is my 3rd example. Also here we see my opponent choosing for an open game while not being versed too much by knowledge.
In my database there are 32 mastergames with the same mistake. Online I already got it 19 times on the board. I mean the examples are definitely not isolated cases.

It is especially stunning that these are very elementary positions of the open games which are misplayed by many players. So we are not talking about missing a new strong novelty somewhere deep into theory. I can only deduct that many players like to play intuitively and are not willing to study properly the openings. In open games this will regularly lead to disasters if the opponent is booked up. I believe switching to less demanding openings is absolutely necessary for those "lazy" players.

Brabo

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Matches

Last week there was breaking international chess-news by the announcement of Magnus Carlsen playing the world-cup in September. Not only Magnus likes the format of the tournament contrary to many of his (older) colleagues but his unexpected participation also creates complications. The world-cup is a qualification-tournament for the candidates-tournament but it is not totally clear who will qualify if Magnus finishes at a qualification-spot.

Many players consider the world-cup a pure lottery but Magnus knows very well that the format is fitting him. It will be a matter of not losing at standard chess against the strongest opponents as in the tie-break he has very good chances. The tie-break consists exclusively out of rapid and blitz and he excels in those disciplines as the undisputed number 1. The rating-differences with the other leading players is often more than 100 points see 2700chess. Briefly financially- and publicity-wise his participation is a very well calculated gamble.

Doubtless the world-cup will get much more attention of the media than usual. A world-champion upgrades a tournament immediately. I expect many fans will again want to follow Magnus's games live. On the other hand it is still just a big circus and the participation of Magnus doesn't change that. Matches of only 2 standard games can't be considered as a serious test between players. You need much more games to define who is the better player. However rarely there is money and time available for such longer matches.

The world-championship-finals are the last remainders of our rich match-history. As they only consist of maximum 12 standard games, often this doesn't suffice to define  a winner so a tie-break is needed. It is a sad but necessary evolution in our today's society. I still need a couple of months to finish the book H.E. Bird written by Hans Renette but it already stroke me that chess in the 19th century was very different compared to how we play nowadays. Matches were most common as in that era the very first tournaments were only starting to appear. In other words chess before 1900 mainly happened by challenging a player for a match or accepting matches. Besides when we talk about a match then it is not just a couple of games. Henry Bird played not less than 4 matches in 1873 against the former British champion John Wisker which corresponds to a total of 58 games. That is even more than the famous aborted match between Karpov - Kasparov played in 1984/85.

I played a couple of matches myself but solely against engines see (gambits and chesskids). A match against a strong local player was something I welcomed 4 years ago here on the blog (see this reaction) but nothing came out of it as usual. The only thing which looks a bit similar are my individual head to head scores. The chess-world is very small so you always bump against the same opponents in the different tournaments. Nevertheless the number of players against whom I played more than 5 standard games is very limited.
Players against I played at least 5 times a long game
Despite a chess-career of more than 20 years this is a very short list. I assume a similar list of Tom Piceu will contain much bigger matches and will also be much longer. His annotations of a game played against Thibaut Maenhout  "game eleventhirty" clearly tells us that he meets some players very regularly. The reason of my short list is simple. I play not so much. Tom is a couple of years younger than me and has 1104 Belgian rated games. I only have 478.

The first player of my list is an old friend: the Belgian expert Pascal Bauwe playing for the West-Flemish chessclub Kortrijk. End of the 90's I met him often when I was still playing for de Roeselaarse Torrewachters but afterwards we lost contact. He is a very solid player and very difficult to beat as he has a couple of decades experience.
Source: https://www.facebook.com/torrewachters/
Our 4 earlier confrontations were draws but I don't find them interesting enough to publish here. The last one dates already from 1999 so in the recent Open Gent I was eager to finally open the score. I am not anymore the player of 20 years ago so I wanted to demonstrate that on the board. It was maybe my best game of the tournament as I didn't make any clear mistakes.

Pascal told me after the game that he was aware of my blog but as many doesn't read the articles carefully. His opening-gamble backfired which he could have knows if he read my article creating a repertoire. It once more proofs my proposition made in the article password.

Such sort of matches spread over many years are of course not the same as played over only a couple of days/ weeks. A player evolves technically as by his openingchoices. Nevertheless some characteristics won't change. If somebody doesn't like to prepare games 20 years ago then likely he won't prepare today either. An attacker will rarely transform to a positional player and vice versa.

Today we have all ratings so those head to head scores have little to no value for the public. However for the related players it often feels differently. It is no coincidence that a derby always gets extra attention. The games between the Belgian international masters Stefan Docx and Geert Van der Stricht create always extra tension. For each game there is a cup at stake which the winner can take home. The cup is provided by the winner of their last encounter. If it is a draw then the cup remains in the hands of the winner of their last encounter. I find this a very funny and creative method to generate an extra dimension to their lifelong match.

Brabo

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Grabbing material

Sacrificing pieces is something very common in our games. Gambits remain very popular at amateur-chess but even in top-games we see little respect for material. A couple of days ago Kramnik played a brilliant game filled with sacrifices against the strong German grandmaster Matthias Bluebaum see e.g. here. Or what to think about the Chinese grandmaster Wei Yi beating a week earlier the Russian top-grandmaster Vladimir Malakhov with an ingenious exchange-sacrifice see e.g. the newsreport at chess.com.

Technically and psychologically the task of the defense is difficult so it often pays to sacrifice material even if it is not fully correct. A theme which is closely related to this is grabbing material. I don't speak just about answering gambits offered by the opponent but rather when you discover that pressure/ initiative can be converted into a material-gain. Will you choose to get the dividends by grabbing the material? Or will you wait and hope for more by playing double or nothing?

An initiative is often temporarily. If you don't succeed to transform it into something tangible like material or structure then you risk staying empty handed. However a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush isn't always so unambiguous in chess. I experienced this a couple of months ago. The game against Frederic Verduyn was already covered in the article chesspub but this time I only look at the phase where I decided to pick up a pawn.
         
In hindsight it was probably more clever to not go for the pawn and just maintain the positional-advantage. However there are no guarantees here because if you don't understand how the advantage should be nurtured then it can quickly go downhill.

Another example of this theme popped up in my most recent interclub-game against David Roos. Also that game was already published here see scholar's-mate. I zoom at move 18 when I decided to grab an exchange.
 
In the end it probably didn't matter much. Fact is that after winning the exchange that the win is not easy if white doesn't blunder. Waiting with picking up the material looks more efficient and is also practically much stronger.

In my most recent rated game I managed to overcome my materialistic demons. I ignored one material gain after the other (including even a piece) and scored my most convincing win ever against Robert Schuermans. I am pretty happy about that as I had to win with black to become club-champion of Deurne.
 
At the end of the game I was up so much material that I could afford to sacrifice an exchange to force resignation. Beside Robert had no time left anymore while I still had a half hour. In the game we see all the advantages of waiting to grab material and adding systematically pressure.

The opponent loses a lot of time to find solutions for the ever growing problems. Often we see that there is much more material to collect. Practically this strategy is very efficient but in practice it is not so frequently used in comparison to gambits. Psychologically there exists today wrongly a large difference of perception between sacrificing material and not grabbing material for the same less visible advantages.

Brabo

Friday, July 7, 2017

Pawn structures

Each of my students has its own repertoire. In my lessons I don't try to persuade them to learn other openings. I only made 1 exception when we discussed the theme "material and time". Using a very interesting and unknown idea in the mainline of the Evans-gambit I tried to stimulate my students to get less attached to material and focus more at keeping the initiative.

So normally I don't teach about openings. There are enough good opening-books in which you can study something quickly which is sufficient for playing a nice game as clubplayer. Besides specializing into an opening is very time-consuming and it makes no sense without using the best engines (see studying openings part 2).

Nevertheless it is good not to restrict yourself solely to looking at games within your own repertoire. Not seldom an idea of another opening can be used in your own openings. Many openings have similar pawn-structures so same ideas can pop up. The American grandmaster Grigory Serper wrote recently 2 inspiring articles how to study master chess games and more lessons from master games. Another big step forwards is Chess structures A grandmaster guide written by the Chilean grandmaster Mauricio Flores Rios and published in 2015.
In 22 chapters the author described the most important pawn-structures and the standard-plans connected to them. Maurio tells us in the introduction that he missed this book when growing up as player to grandmaster. So he found it about time to change this. It is no bragging as I read at chessexpress.blogspot that also other players were for many years searching for such type of book.

I expect that the book is most interesting for players between 2000 - 2300 elo. In that segment you should build up a more serious repertoire so the knowledge of the different pawn-structures becomes valuable. But also for higher rated players there is still something to learn. I agree with the review at New in Chess from the strong British grandmaster Matthew Sadler that the chapter about the Hedghog from white's perspective is very informative. I already scored some good results from having learned the attacking-scheme with Qc1 see below online blitzgame.

So we can detect in our openings many connections. Strong players will often be able to adopt ideas in an opening which they saw from another opening. However it is not always that simple. A couple of years ago I met with white a Caro Cann. Black only 1700 elo knew the standard pawn-sacrifice of this pawn-structure and got a good game.

Only recently I discovered while analyzing one of my games that I could have played the same type of pawn-sacrifice but in a completely different opening: the Ilyin-Geneveky variation. The move I played wasn't bad but for sure b5 was more critical. The resulting position is very sharp especially for white.

I never thought about this concept in the game. In the meanwhile I did apply the same theme already successfully a couple of times in similar positions of the Ilyin-Geneveky variation online.

It is often necessary to learn long strings of moves to survive an opening. However not less important are knowing the big schemes of the most common pawn-structures. Many players have no clue what they need to play after the opening. " Chess Structures" won't offer always an answer of course but it is today the best medicine to improve the chances by spending little time.

Brabo