Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A moral victory

As many millions of chesslovers, I followed curiously the past worldchampionship between Anand and Carlsen. I expected an exciting battle with a decision only in the 12th game. Today we know that the story went differently. Without doubt it is interesting to find out which strategies both players adopted without making the mistake to pretend that we would've made other and better choices as in hindsight it is always easy talking (see e.g. my blogarticle I knew it ). 

Anand afterwards stated in an interview for the online newspaper The First Post that he was surprised that Carlsen so little had changed compared with his usual tournamentplay for this worldchampionship. He found it a sign of courage which reflects his enormous self-confidence. In previous worldchampionships the players always tried to prepare some surprises but Carlsen not. Nevertheless from another interview given to the Indian branch of CNN we can deduct that Anand did take into account this strategy of Carlsen. He stated that his strategy consisted in neutralizing Carlsens play by making him clear that with pure dry technical play you can't score points against a worldchampion. If I understand well then Anand wanted to put pressure on Carlsens nerves so try to force him psychologically play a different type of chess. Afterwards Carlsen indeed admitted to suffer from stress. Just to indicate that there was a logic behind the strategy of Anand. Also it is nice to hear that I am not the only one, having to cope with stress for a game of chess. The first game of the worldchampionship went completely like expected. Carlsen avoided as usual an openingconfontation but was forced very quickly to allow a draw to avoid worse.

Many journalists spoke about an important moral victory, see e.g. chessbase or the Indian newspaper Mid Day. However in the next games no psychological influence could be noticed. Carlsen just kept on adopting his hit and run strategy (for more explanation see my blogarticle tanguy ringoir is champion of Belgium) and in the follow up it became evident that Anands opening-preparation was insufficient to neutralize in each game Carlsens play. In the end we got 10 different opening-variations on the board. We have to return to the worldchampionship between Spassky and Fischer to see the same kind of variety of openings in which coincidence or not, a same kind of strength-difference can be found between challenger and reigning worldchampion. Chess is a complex game. It is surely an enormous accomplishment to have an answer for all critical lines but it is completely impossible even for a worldchampionship-preparation to have a reply ready for all possible openings. I am confident that Carlsen also was aware about that and therefore didn't pay attention to so called moral victories. Anyway a draw with white against the worldchampion is a normal result and not a bad one even for the number 1 in the rankings. 

Eventually only the score counts. It doesn't matter how good your position was as only with signing the scoorsheets we define who gets what. After my debacle with my scoresheet (see the previous article) Steven tried to sheer me up by awarding me the title of moral victor but we both knew that it was nothing more than excusing yourself for the luck received. To receive more than you would expect with your play, is certainly morally pleasant. In round 3 of the Belgian interclub I was hours defending with the back against the wall against the new joung Belgain IM Stef Soors but achieved thanks to persistent defending and some luck the draw.

Such game will be regarded by experienced players as a plus-draw for white but to me it is a bridge to far to consider Stef as moral victor. I am pretty sure that I was more satisfied going home than he. Talking about moral victories seems therefore also more rubbish than based on serious psychological elements.


Addendum 18 december
Grandmaster Hein Donner writes in his book " De koning" : "The real chessplayer plays his game like a game of chance. This also shows in the fact that winning thanks to stupid luck can generate much more joy and satisfaction than winning based on correct play." Thanks to Hypekiller5000 for sending me the hint and Lelystadse schaakvereniging for finding back the quote.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The sadistic exam

Long ago when I studied for engineer, I remember that I had little to no stress before an exam. If you studied well then you knew in advance that you had a good chance to score well. In official chessgames on the other hand I always have a portion of stress. My wife knows me in the meantime well enough so before each game she asks me if I went to the toilet already as she knows that I always struggle with some cramps. Even after almost 20 years of competition, stress is still existing although I must admit it has improved during the years.

Obviously chess is more than just a game for me. I spend a lot of time on chess so it is somehow normal that you care about the results. Now at contrary to a classical exam in school, only 3 results are possible: 100%, 50% or 0%. Besides you don't know in advance what will be asked so preparing is often impossible. 1 wrong answer can be sufficient for a 0. In the book MFTL (which i reviewed in a blogarticle) Willy Hendriks talks about a chessgame as a sadistic exam and I fully agree with him.

Recently I managed to set a new sad record in terms of most painful blunder ever in an official game with classical tempo. Already quite an achievement as I already managed to do some exploits. I remember that I once permitted mate in 1 while 2 moves earlier I was still 3 pawns up without compensation or how I spoiled a completely won endgame of rook against knight by putting the rook an a square after which my opponent could fork it with my king. This time I managed to lose on time not only in a totally won position but also with an increment of 30 seconds per move. 
Final position Geirnaert - Brabo
Losing with an increment of 30 seconds, sounds like I was sleeping on the board which could have been  possible ,considering the position and the time late in the evening. However if I explain that I let on purpose run the time out then clearly there was something else going on. Before the game we agreed between the two of us, to play with 90 min for 40 moves and 15 min extra for the rest with 30 seconds increment from move 1. The fide-regulations tell us that with such tempo of 30 seconds increment that we are always obliged to record the moves (see article 8.4). This means that the players always know how many moves are exactly played. Once move 40 played, I chose to relax and quietly study the position. In the previous moves some blunders were made due to stress so it looked appropriate to take a small break. Naturally I was shocked when Steven claimed the win on time once my time was set to 0 and told me that I hadn't played yet my 40th move. My first reaction was that he joked but after checking my scoresheet, I noticed to my horror that he was bloody-serious.
My scoresheet
Line 30 below column 1 was left open which caused me 10 moves later wrongly to assume that move 40 was played. Initially I thought the scoresheet was partly responsible as 30 moves per column is not something I use standard. However even more recent I made a similar mistake in my game against Luc Winants while using the more classical scoresheet with 20 moves per column. Fortunately that time I was still able to correct. It seems therefore more correct to admit that I was simply not attentive enough. I already longtime ago learned to accept defeats as it is inherent to chess but to these kind of disasters I never get used. It is no surprise that afterwards I couldn't catch my sleep and instead played mindless bulletchess till late at night without success.

After the game one of the kibitzers told me that he would've agreed to a draw in such situation but I find this nonsense. In my blogarticle about fairness I stated that giving presents has nothing to do with being sportsmanship and is even often a source for conflicts. I remember a polemic some years ago in the Belgium championship correspondence chess. Yen Peeren made a serious analyzing error by inattention of setting up the pieces. Once Yen discovered that he analyzed the wrong position, the position was already beyond repair but the opponent had mercy and accepted anyway the draw-proposal. A heavy debate arose when this was made public on schaakfabriek especially as the present played an important role in defining the champion.

Correspondence is of course another discipline than otb. On the other hand correspondence chess can be considered as an open book exam in which you have access to all kind of tools so I don't see any serious reason to be suddenly gentler than otb.

Let us return to the fact that i lost on time as I still want to add something to the story. Afterwards I realized that I could have deducted from the digital clock that I didn't play 40 moves as the extra 15 minutes are added automatically once the 40 moves are played. Even more astonishing is that the helpful Austin Apemiye showed in advance how the specially selected clock works. However during the hectic final phase I completely forget about it and just thought the clock works as usual so only adding time for a new period when the remaining time of the previous period was fully consumed (and the number of mandatory moves was achieved). To wait with adding time when a clock first shows 0 is preferred if one doesn't want to give information about the number of moves already played. Before, waiting with adding time was propagandized by fide, see e.g. dgt 2010 time correction in option 21 with move counter. In Germany the DGT2000 is even forbidden to use, see e.g dgt 2000 nicht fuer fischer modus geeignet.

Today however I hear other sounds on the internet after some surfing. In his monthly article of August 2012 Geurt Gijssen writes that he understands the problem but a serious answer is missing. His reference that a lot of tournaments are using screens on which live games are shown, is nonsense as there exist no regulations about how such projection should be done (remember the commotion last year in the Belgian interclubs). Also he mentions that arbiters can't share the number of moves played as they can make errors hereby completely ignoring that an electronic clock also easily can show a wrong move-counter.

Our regulations are clearly lagging with the technological developments. It is not wishful to have several clocks behaving differently. Today I recommend not to trust the move-counter of a clock as we don't know in advance when time will be added for the next period. Taking care of a proper recording is the most wisest choice but this seems easier for me said than done.


Addendum 10 december
Yesterday once more was proven that our regulations are lagging with the technological developments. It is sad that Ivanov Borislav can make a comeback see e.g. chessvibes as we are one year further compared to my blogarticle cheating and no progress has been made.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

How to win from a stronger player?

During the game, a player has to make judgments often based on very little information. It makes that an uncertainty is created on the quality and eventually also the result. The elo-system takes into account this uncertainty as it makes a prognosis for each game based on an extensive statistical research depending on the difference in playing-strength between the 2 players. In 2011 there was a competition to develop a rating-system which provides a more precise prognosis, see the deloitte fide chess rating challenge. A lot of teams succeeded in presenting a clearly better performing mechanism as you can notice on the leaderboard. Still an adaption of the existing elo-system didn't happen by fide. I was not involved in the internal discussions but I can imagine some good reasons: 
  • The better performing mechanisms are based on complex formulas which have to rely heavily on computers.
  • To replace the current rating-system by a new one signifies extra costs. 
  • The rating-system has as primary function to define the playing-strength of a player. To prepare a prognosis for a single game is of minor interest. It is why the current rating-system is sufficient.

The disadvantage of defining a prognosis is that they can often be intimidating for the lower rated player. If you have 200 points less than your opponent that the expectancy score is only 24%. Intimidation is not a good adviser. Often you see players playing passively against stronger players to avoid big errors while it is exactly this policy that makes them lose without a chance. As there is little mentioned in literature about maximizing your chances as underdog, I thought it would be interesting to write an article about it.

First i have to admit that as lower rated player that you can't do much if the difference is 300 points or more. The opponent is then so much stronger on every domain that each of your plans will be sabotaged long before you even thought about it. An example of such scenario can be found in my blog-article met een kanon op een mug schieten. If the difference is smaller than 200 points then there are more chances to create resistance as weaker player. The strategy mentioned e.g. on the blog of the Ukrainian grandmaster Igor Smirnov is probably the best known one. If you play against a stronger player then play as bold as possible and complicate even if it costs material. The principle is based on the earlier mentioned uncertainties which pop up during a game. If we would have a game of 100% uncertainties then we can assume that the result will be random so the prognosis will be 50%. The bigger the complexity, the more uncertainties, the more interesting for the lower rated player as his expectancy score will improve. Somebody you don't need to tell him twice to complicate, is my clubpresident and teamcaptain Robert Schuermans. In 2006 Robert made a sensational exploit by beating with black in a sharp game the Ukrainian grandmaster Stanislav Savchenko.

The game is a nice example of how a grandmaster completely lost control over the game and eventually made the first big error. Despite that I see clear rewards on this chaos-strategy, I also have some critics if this method is really the best for everybody. Exists there no risk that you as weaker player won't create complications which mainly will backfire so leading to just extra mistakes solely for yourself? In my blogarticle tactic I wrote that I don't like to take risks so I doubt playing against your own style is the most clever strategy. Therefore I don't find it redundant to look if other strategies exist which can improve your chances as the weaker player.

I remember last year that the Dutch expert Danny De Ruiter defeated in 2 weeks time, the well-known grandmasters Ivan Sokolov and Jan Timman.  This article explains how Danny spent 3 weeks to prepare different variations for his game against Sokolov and in the end was fully rewarded for it. The game-preparation is an important weapon for the lower rated player. As described in my blog-article de sterktelijst the available materials for studying your opponent increase seriously with his rating. Myself I remember 1 victory on the Bulgarian grandmaster Ventzislav Inkiov based on a successful game-preparation.

Now it is a delusion to think that it is always that easy to get an advantage out of the opening against a grandmaster. I believe my Bulgarian opponent likely never suspected that I could prepare myself sufficiently in 1 hour( time between announcing the pairings and the start of the game) on a system which I had little to no experience (I had no games in the database) with. As described in another blogarticle of Igor Smirnov most grandmasters will deviate from their standard repertoire from the moment they sense some danger. A fast playing opponent in a for him unfamiliar opening is surely a warning signal which the professional won't ignore.

An approach which I like a lot, is to find positions which maybe don't guarantee an advantage but are easily playable. Besides studying openings also psychology plays herein a role. The higher rated player will feel obliged to play for the win but the type of positions will require disproportional risks. Already in the first round of the new Belgian interclubseason I showed the merits of this approach.

My teammate Daniel Sadkowski summarized well afterwards by stating that I chose the easier playing side of the board. Loyal readers will surely still remember my blog-article green moves in which I discussed the usage of openingbooks for engines. Well if you would check the opening with a recent openingbook then you would quickly discover that I regularly didn't follow the most popular/ critical continuation but instead chose the best scoring in practice continuation. We all know that statistics have their limitations but concerning practical chances for a boardgame they are pretty useful.

Purely playing the man without taking into account your own strong points, seems to me wrong. Above examples show that we can create optimal chances by starting from our own strengths: chaos for the sharp tactical player, opening-knowledge for the player willing to spend lots of time in the preparation and study, positional play for the more positional player,... Therefore I recommend to choose a strategy against stronger players based on self-confidence and your own trumps instead of fear (to lose).