Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The sequence

A lot of older players have difficulties to adapt themselves to the many changes that we saw during last 20 years in chess. New rules were created with clockwork regularity and the rapid development of electronics made that quite some players have dropped the game or are considering it as indicated in a comment on my blog.

The impact of openings certainly played a key-role in this story. First the computer learned us that much more types of positions are playable than we originally thought as discussed in my article revolution in the millennium. Next also preparation on our opponents and which openings to choose, has been drastically influenced. On that aspect I already spent a few articles: the game-preparationan expanded repertoire for blackgreen moves,...  Finally studying openings in particular for professionals/ strong amateurs became very voluminous.

I remember when I started to play chess so in the pre-computer-era that with a limited amount of chess-books it was enough to build a repertoire. I bought in those first years 1 book of each big opening which I encountered on the board: Spanish (white/black), Sicilian (white), Dutch (black), Pirc (white), French (white), Caro-Cann (white) and Aljechin (white). If you read my article the scientific approach then it is no coincidence that these openings are still part of my repertoire 20 years later. For a student with no financial support from the parents (something which I already briefly mentioned in chesscompositions) these purchases were not evident.

Although these books were surely sufficient to start. I quickly realized that they became out of date as theory develops very rapidly. However buying new expensive books was not an option for me so I searched for alternatives. With the fall of the the wall a lot of very cheap known chess-books arrived in the 90ties from the Eastern Block via smugglers to West-Europe. Trunks full of new books which you could buy for a fraction of the price in the local store were dragged to the interested players. Despite the very dubious origin it was very attractive and it was rather my timidity than my ethics which held me back. It is a logical step that I chose to work myself on my repertoire by using the always stronger becoming engines instead of using external help.

On the one hand I use(d) opening-books attached for free to engines or created from databases (see green moves). On the other hand I prepare(d) quite some opening-analysis myself based on my own games. Initially I was quite satisfied with the results but this slowly changed as I was more and more surprised in the openings by new systems. Now by starting to play abroad and against stronger opponents, this can be expected but it doesn't fully explain everything. As described in my article revolution in the millennium there was in the last decade an explosion of new systems which made that it became simply impossible without external help (especially for an amateur) to keep track of everything. It goes so fast that my club- and team-mate Daniel Sadkowski (2300 elo) already told me a few years ago that he couldn't keep his level if he kept on playing/ studying openings as before.

I am not worrying about it as today my priorities lay somewhere else (only 11 games for fide and 13 games for Belgian rating are forecasted this year) but if this ever would change than I do know where to find help. One or even several coaches, I can certainly recommend but with a more restricted budget one can accomplish also a lot via self-training. Today a lot of excellent material is available in book-format or online (see e.g the excellent site: chesspublishing.com). You get easily access to analyses of countless grandmasters. I even dare to make a step further by stating that an ambitious player optimally reads everything available about the openings in his repertoire. This lesson was also learned the hard way by Magnus Carlsen in 2010. Luke Mc Shane chose in 2010 a variation out of the book Grandmaster repertoire volume 5 van Michael Marin of which the number 1 was not familiar with. Luke scored with it a sensational victory.

Now even if you have sufficient time to read everything then still I expect only a minority has the financial means to buy all the stuff. Of course it helps if you are a British top-grandmaster like Michael Adams and you get regularly books for reviewing as mentioned briefly on Quality Chess. For the less fortunate people, there is often nothing left than illegal downloading from the internet. I understand people don't want to curtail their ambitions by lack of money but I don't approve it as it is theft.

Collecting as much material as possible is one thing but you still have to memorize everything. Mostly I succeed to study the moves pretty well but the difficulty is mainly in remembering the exact sequence. Often I still remember the moves which I have to play but start to doubt which move had to be played first. If I have some extra time for studying then I always try to introduce some mnemonic devices to avoid this problem. Again chess-books can play an important role in this process if except analyses also place is reserved for prose. In fact recently I even learned something new in a sequence of the Spanish opening which I already play for 2 decades thanks to the book Garry Kasparov on my Great Predecessors, Part 1 (that I scheduled this book, was already announced in my comment on the article a moral victory).

That one can't remember the sequence of a rare variation is understandable but I can imagine that for very popular variations (as here above) this is strange. Kasparov's comment about the specific sequence sounds in this frame rather more nice to know than really usable. Nevertheless I show below 2 examples of openings in which the players commit a serious error in the sequence despite the very popular character. These aren't mistakes by a memory-gap but are caused by playing too fast so a lack of concentration. First I give an example from my practice in which a wrong sequence originates from pure automatism after which I was lucky to control the damage.

The second example is from my game in round 4 of Open Leuven. My opponent is the young promising Belgian player Nicola Capone whom defeated a round earlier the Swedish grandmaster Ralf Akesson. As he feared a preparation (Correct as I showed him afterwards, see comments in the game), he chose to experiment with a fashionable Spanish variation. However while blitzing the opening-moves he unconsciously mixed the sequence which immediately permitted black to have a very nice position.

It would be incorrect to state that the defeat is solely due to the wrong sequence. However nor can we claim there was no influence at all on the result. More important is to learn what we can do to avoid something similar in the future. Practice is of course a good school as after my warning against Eric Aerts, I never made the mistake again as I always made sure to play c6 before Be7. Now better is never to make such mistake. Knowing why each move has to played in that specific position is surely preferable. Besides strong players are asking such question continuously which sometimes permits them to trap an opponent with an unexpected and weird sequence. An example was recently shown by the the winner in Wijk aan Zee: Aronian in his game against Filipino top-grandmaster Wesley So.

If you don't know this sometimes very well hidden information then you are extra vulnerable. Spending a few extra seconds sounds to me in such scenario not a pointless investment to reduce the number of finger-mistakes.

Brabo

Addendum 8 Februari
On chessbase was recently a remarkable anecdote published in which both players didn't notice that the moves were altered: http://en.chessbase.com/post/huffington-chess-triumphs-and-blunders

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Excelsior

Even after a lot of years playing chess, the game still surprises me with lovely maneuvers and beautiful combinations. Regularly I try to write about it on this blog like in the articles problemmoves or de paardenlokker. This time I want to show a nice fragment which I recently met in one of my games.

In my game against the Danish player Jens Frederiksen I calculated a nice variation in the middlegame in which I promoted a pawn thanks to some sacrifices. Often a pawn is promoted in the endgame (especially if the opponent doesn't resign quickly as in my article open with the f-pawn) but it is rather rare that this happens early in a game. If the promotion is executed after a meaningful combination of moves then we can speak about the Excelsior-theme. The name is obviously known from the problem-world in which strict rules are applied. Arves indicates that we can only talk about an Excelsior-theme when in the solution a pawn promotes from the starting-position (2nd/ 7th row) on his own column. Now I even believe my fragment fulfills these strict requirements, see below.

It is a bit sad that it only concerned a variation and didn't pop up in the game. The game likely could have gone differently as afterwards when I asked my opponent if he also noticed the promotion then he didn't understand what I want trying to ask. Now probably some people will claim this is no pure Excelsior as some necessary non-pawn moves were interposed. Arves doesn't speak about forbidding such non-pawn moves but there exists discussion about this subject. Tim Krabbe believes that it is permitted and of course he also wrote something about this theme, see this article. Now there is not only a discussion about the interposing of non-pawn moves. Some people consider also that a promotion doesn't have to be on the column of the pawn. For others it is even not necessary to start with the pawn from the starting position. An everywhere approved terminology isn't known to me so just like the naming of the Turton-Bristol (which I used in my article problemmoves) we better accept the fact that more than one description of the theme is used.

If we use a more broad description of the excelsior-theme then we can find a nice collection of games in the databases. The very active internet-user Domdaniel even made a full webpage of double excelsiors which exists of taking pieces. One of them I selected in which the famous Polish/ French grandmaster Savielly Tartakower nicely won with black.

For more pretty stuff please click on the link but lots of examples are using the same opening which decreases the value. As we are now talking about the Excelsior I find it appropriate also to show once more the first problem of this theme built by one of the pioneers of chess-problems: Samuel Loyd. Besides a nice story is connected to this problem.

Loyd had a friend whom claimed to always be able to indicate which piece would deliver mate on the board. As a joke Loyd created a position and proposed a bet to his friend that he would not be able to show a piece which could not deliver mate in a main-line. His friend accepted and pointed to the pawn on b2 which let him lose the bet. Later the assignment connected with the problem became that white has to deliver mate in 5 with the least likely piece or pawn.

The problem went around the world and the name Excelsior always stuck to this remarkable theme. Did you see recently something funny or extraordinary and are you willing to share then this blog is available.

Brabo

Monday, January 13, 2014

The fake truth

The first years that I played chess, I was convinced that my analysis were faultless as I used at that time HW and SW which was considered modern and very strong. Besides as mentioned in my previous article, I analysed in this earliest period already much more compared with the average amateur. Repeating the analysis I would only do to memorize the lines. Later this vision slowly crumbled away when I learned new skills but especially due to the big developments of HW and SW which refuted many old analysis. Even in my correspondence-analysis I found afterwards improvements which you can read about in my article correspondencechess.

Eventually I realized that an expiry-date exists for my analysis and I better regularly recheck my work and repair if necessary. It is also the reason why I never talked in my previous article about the absolute evaluation but only about an objective evaluation. Chess is a very complex game so finding the truth is often impossible. However it is a fact that the more time you spend analyzing, the closer you approach the truth. A well-known joke between correspondence-players is that the one going latest to bed, wins the game.

Because we as amateurs only have a fraction of the time which prof-players can spend to chess, preparation is often a tool to work on the repertoire. In the past I already showed some samples of this (see e.g the game against Inkiov which I discussed in the article how to win from a stronger player). Nevertheless I anyway want to present a beautiful attacking-game because the well-known player from Bruges FM Tom Piceu won with it a special prize for most beautiful game and wrote in his analysis on the site of the Dutch chessfederation that he found the opening-idea 3 years already ago which he afterwards further tuned and sharpened.

Besides it is not the first time that Tom wins such prize as I already mentioned earlier in my article a Dutch gambit. At that time I was the victim of his craft work.

It is evident that game preparations are a strong motivator for quite some players to analyse but if we really want to study seriously openings then also work needs to be done on other moments. In my article which games to analyze I indicated that approximately 80% of my analysis are done on my own games. These analyses I synthesize and if possible I use them in new games. On this blog I already showed several examples (see e.g. Dutch steps in the English opening). However this time I want to present 2 games in which a new synthesis refutes (partly) an older one. In other words the truth of a position sometimes changes. The first game dates from 2012 against the young player from Bruges Wouter Gryson (a fragment of this game was already used in my article endgames with an exchange extra) in which I use an idea which I discovered after my game played in 2006 against the Dutch player Henk Temminck.

Despite that I came well through the opening and I eventually won the game, I concluded that blacks opening was ok and I better try next time 8.Nd5 instead of Na2 for an opening-advantage. Last in the first round of  Open Leuven I got the change to implement this new truth.

Again despite the quick win, I have to admit after my synthesis that black is ok after 13..,d5 instead of 13...Re7? So again the truth changes for me and in a next encounter with this opening I will again play something different.

This jumping from one truth to another is also something strong prof-players experience. In a fascinating lecture (of which I already mentioned earlier the youtube-movie, see chessintuition part 2) Anand also admitted that he now and then had totally different judgements about some specific positions in just a time-frame of a few years. However he also shared the encouraging message that it doesn't have to be a problem for the practical player as  we just need sufficient confidence to play a position.

In my article about tablebases I informed about the milestone of the 7 piece-endgames which is still only a fraction of the possible positions. Analyzing is a method of approximation which unavoidably creates mistakes. Even the strongest players make mistakes in their analysis which I already showed in my article the influence on openings by worldchampions. Therefore it surely is no shame to believe or even announce a fake truth as long the person keeps the eyes open for new elements.

Brabo

Monday, January 6, 2014

Annotations

The majority of players play their game of chess, afterwards sometimes have a chat about it and the scoresheet is thrown in the wastepaper basket.  Only the more ambitious players also make an analysis at home of their games. I already started very early with analyzing and commenting my own games. Even before I participated in competitions so middle of the 90 ties, I already made analysis on paper of my games played against computers. At that time I didn't have any contact with stronger players to help me so I used the same chessengines on their highest level to detect mistakes.

Since the arrival of the PC (my first dates from 1996) I obviously work with databases instead of paper. Correcting, researching, adding, saving... is many times easier with a database. Recently I noticed on chesspub the interesting question if Chessbase is mandatory or it is sufficient to work with the much cheaper Fritz Gui. Well I use exclusively the Fritz Gui and after almost 700 commented games I can safely state that I don't have the feeling to miss something critical. A rare case as in my blogarticles problemmoves (existence of special knightmoves in the corner) or the scientific approach (record long castling) I have to call help via my blog but these are only nice things to know which you surely don't need to improve at playing chess.

Naturally an ambitious player will make these analysis to learn from the mistakes made and wants to avoid them in a next confrontation. It is an individual learning-curve in which each player adopts its own approach conform best return. For a lot of players this approach doesn't go beyond using one of the automatic tools which Chessbase presents to us. Blunder-checking and full analysis already exist more than a decade (see the manual on chesscafe). Today we also have modern applications:  Lets check and Cloud Engines which use the internet. However all these automatic tools have some serious disadvantages. The output is in a very unfriendly reading format. Also the analysis often are limited to the direct mistakes which an engine can detect. The engine doesn't take into account what the player finds interesting. In other words if you want to have more than what the automatic tools present then you need to help.

I already explained extensively in my blogarticle analyzing with an engine how I help so I don't want to discuss this here anymore. What I do want to explain, is how I afterwards consolidate these analysis. In below screenshot you can see how the end result of the analysis look of my game against Soors.
Draft analyse Soors - Brabo

If we compare above screenshot with the publication of the same game in my previous blogarticle a moral victory then we notice a complete metamorphose. The labyrinth of variations has been replaced by prose and reduced to some key-variations (selected by myself). Also this process largely happens via strict guidelines which I follow already for some years. Now what is the purpose to explain this in an article? I admit that as long a game with analysis and comments isn't shared with others, it is not important how you syntheses. A different story it becomes when you publish stuff as you need to make it correctly and easily readable for others. That this isn't always easy, can be found in reactions of even + 2300 players see below my blogarticles:  een minithematornooibelgische interclubs apotheose.

In the literature there is very little information about how you best comment for an audience, likely as few players have done this. Besides an author can have very different reasons to publish a game. Sometimes he just wants to show a nice fragment. In another case it fits in a larger story. If I announce in advance that the game has only some light comments ( or you see few comments and analysis) then you may assume that I am rather telling some story (mainly for all the games which I didn't play myself). I believe only a minority of the publications (so anything available and not restricted to my blog) does include some serious analysis of complete games as it is very time-consuming and often leading to disputes. Commenting is criticizing which unavoidably creates conflicts. However a conflict doesn't need to be something bad as it often can be a catalyst for new refreshing views.

The British grandmaster John Nunn and the German grandmaster Robert Huebner have tried in the past to explain how they work with using annotations for commenting games as can be read on Wikipedia. Unfortunately we can't reuse this as today it is still impossible for +99% of the positions to make an exact evaluation. Just because it is so difficult to make an exact evaluation, an analysis remains for a big part subjective. As I try to stress as much as possible the scientific part in the analysis (just like in my games, see the scientific approach) I developed a method to eliminate as much as possible this subjective aspect.

The trick is to replace myself by engines when an evaluation of the positions and adding the annotations needs to be done.  Engines are today many times stronger than ourselves so it sounds to me perfectly acceptable to prefer their evaluations above our own incomplete and subjective assessments. On top we get as big advantage that every chessplayer can achieve the same results if same HW and SW is used. Now I immediately have to add that defining the right engine-evaluation and according annotation is a bit more complicated than something we just read from the screen. Some further explanation to better understand is therefore necessary.

Today we notice that each engine shows next to an evaluation based on hundredths of a pawn also an evaluation-sign.

I also use the same logic with some important adaptations. First I replace always = by unclear unless we have a tablebase or another 100% draw-position. I want to make a clear distinction between a balanced position and a real draw. Next as I use always 2 engines (see e.g. my blogarticle analyzing with an engine) , I use a calibrated choice between both. I mean if both programs show a different evaluation-sign for the same position then I always follow the evaluation-sign which is closest to unclear. In my blogarticle about stockfish I mentioned that the evaluations shown are often optimistic which means today I mainly use the more classical evaluation of houdini (most exceptions are not surprisingly in the endgame). My feeling is that a more conservative evaluation better corresponds with the real winning chances in chess but I've no strong evidence to proof this. By the way recently I noted that also other players prefer to read a more calibrated evaluation of their engines which is exactly one of the newest features advertised today by Chessbase for Houdini. Finally I always correct the winning evaluation to big advantage in an endgame (maximum 4 pieces excluding kings) when it is clear that a shoot-out of the position doesn't lead to a win. It regularly happens that an engine doesn't succeed to increase the advantage above 5 points in a shoot-out despite an initial advantage above 1,4 points.

Assigning the annotations once the evaluations are fixed, is easy. A worse move causing a drop of 1 step on the evaluation-ladder gets ?! Examples are from +/- to +/= for white or from unclear to +/= for black. A worse move which drops 2 steps in the evaluation-ladder gets ? Examples are unclear to -/+ for white or -+ to =/+ for black. Finally all worse moves in which a drop of 3 or more steps on the evaluation-ladder happens, get ?? Examples of this are +- to unclear for white or -/+ to +/- for black. Further I assign !? to moves which I want to stress that they are interesting in this specific position. I am not using the ! anymore for some years already as it is too subjective (I share the approach of the German grandmaster Robert Huebner whom also avoids emotions in contrary with former world-champion Garry Kasparov whom loves using exlamationmarks in his books). Nevertheless I do use the ! to stress some computermoves which are only moves and have been missed earlier by a player or engine (so when only 1 of the 2 engines shows the correct move).

Thanks to these strict self applied rules, we get a very objective analysis of the game. However there are also some disadvantages connected with this method. In a rare case it can happen that a mistake of 1 hundredth of a pawn is already punished by ?! as we just drop 1 step on the evaluation-ladder. If we compare with drops which are 100 times bigger but not punished by a negative annotation (as the position is still considered winning) then I can imagine that some people find this unfair. Now ?! should in such case rather be seen as a signal that we pass a threshold instead of a mistake in the classical sense. Sometimes it is very hard even after elaborated analysis to define which worse move exactly had an impact on the final score.

Today it happens rarely that we disagree about an evaluation of a certain position as we have become all very dependent from engines. Nevertheless there was a small discussion on my blog  about my last interclub-game played last season, see below position.
Rab1 !? or ?!
I didn't comment this position as I didn't notice a drop of the evaluation. Anyway I put less time in analyzing alternatives once we are not anymore in the opening as otherwise an analysis would take too much time. Now I do agree with Glen that after the game-continuation white mainly plays for a draw while after b5 the 3 results rather remain available. B.t.w. recently somebody asked on Quality Chess Blog if it is possible for a top-engine like Komodo whom recently became worldchampion,  to choose moves which avoid the draw (so playing for 3 results). Larry Kaufman answered that the priority of the program was to play the moves which were best conform the algorithm used and not what could provide the best winning chances (there is no direct link between both). I just mention this to illustrate that Glens vision of how to play chess is shared by lot of (most? ) players.

A similar critic on my analysis is that I sometimes take not enough into account that in a game of chess there is more than just the strength of the moves. Kara earlier already rightly claimed that I don't note all the practical chances with my annotations. Now I do think that I multiple times have shown on my blog that I am aware that there is more in chess than just playing correctly, see e.g. playing the person. Especially in the games which I played, i try as much as possible to compensate with prose what is left out by the annotations.

There are still a few smaller things which can be explained but I do believe that the article should largely suffice to better understand in the future how to make the right interpretation of my analysis. I welcome players to use the same or a similar methodology but of course anybody is free to act as they wish. A large advantage of the diversity in publications is that you can get different interesting views of the same game.

Brabo