Thursday, February 6, 2014

The lucky one

In Flanders we are still waiting for the winter as with maximum temperatures till 10 degrees, it is obviously way too warm for this period of the year. Snow we haven't seen yet so this makes it always more attractive to spend New Year Eve in the much colder Russia with family and friends of my wife. Ufa situates approximately 500km West from Siberia so snow is guaranteed. Dependent of the outside temperatures we often go walking with the children. We were lucky as only when we returned to Belgium the temperature dropped with 20 degrees to -30. This meant that during our stay we were able to let our children play in the snow, slide from the many ice- tracks, enjoy the ice- labyrinth ,... Because somebody requested to put more pictures in my articles, I added one below in which I accompany my children on a pony-trip through the snow.
Visiting Russia automatically includes also distributing presents. As we didn't want to forget anybody, we almost filled up a complete suitcase with Belgium chocolate which was very much appreciated as many already ordered extra for our next visit. Once the suitcase empty it was refilled by gifts which we received. For the children there is Ded Moroz (Grootvadertje vorst) coming with candy and toys so comparable with Sinterklaas or Santa Klaus. During the holidays in our guest apartment we also get visits from family and friends which again leads to exchanging a lot of presents. An aunt of my wife brought for me the most surprising present not particularly in material value but rather because of the very personalized warm message.
Above picture of the object shows a piece of a chessboard with knight, rook and some other toppled pieces so no doubt it is about chess. Looking more attentive, we remark a hoof which indicates a good-luck charm. The inscription is in Russian :"желаю только побед" and says "I wish you only victories". I am not at all superstitious but the fact that somebody spent time and effort in a not ordinary gift, I appreciate very much.

Superstition in Russia is still very much alive. A lot of people do believe that one can influence luck by respecting some invisible powers. It is rather a sensitive subject. Easier and more concrete is to look what we can do ourselves to improve our chances. In this article I will elaborate on this. The subject was already to some extend discussed earlier see e.g. how to win from a stronger player in which I explained the chaos-theory. However this time I am more looking from the stronger player point of view.

Doing the exact opposite of what the weaker player tries to accomplish is a bit too simple. Naturally it helps to sabotage their strategy but there is more what a stronger player can do. A stronger player calculates clearly quicker and more accurate. This can but not necessarily has to be based on a better pattern-recognition. There is surely some benefit in putting more calculation in a game if you are the stronger player with the condition that it doesn't become chaos so big (losing) mistakes can be avoided. If we today also take into account that a superior opening-knowledge is not guaranteed anymore for the stronger player with the available databases and opening-books to everybody then there is serious point to avoid theory as soon as possible.

All very well but how does this work in practice? A comment of Bruno on my article playing the man explains this vision well: "Deviating theory probably can be done easily. However also finding variations which are fitting your playing-style and not leading to dry positions, seems much tougher". It is a good question/ remark which many players for more than a century already in vain tried to answer. Former world-champion Jose Capablance introduced in 1920 already his own variant of chess by adding 2 column and some new pieces. Former world-champion Bobby Fischer introduced a different variant of chess: Chess 960 or Fischer Random Chess which is based on the older shuffle-chess. These solutions start from the position that high level chess has no future anymore and will quietly die from draws. Kasparov laughs with this shortsightedness of Capablanca in his book Garry Kasparov on my Great Predecessors, Part 1 but makes a bit later a similar mistake by stating that today top-level chess only starts after a lot of theory-moves. Differently formulated, there is today after the obligatory theory-moves on top-level only a rather limited (uninteresting) game left in which players have to find moves themselves. I believe that this is the main-reason why a decade ago the decision was made to increase the pace of the games to find again the entertainment value.

In 2004 this book was published by Kasparov and in that era this was indeed the norm. However end 2011 there was becoming a fracture in this conception as clearly was shown in an article on Chessbase. Suddenly contemporary top-players play much less theory than their predecessors. Below graphic shows the depth of the average novelty over time.
Bron Chessbase
The moment of change is of course connected with the raise of Carlsen. Carlsen showed the world that it is still possible to beat any player without relying on dominant opening-knowledge which is very different from his predecessors. I believe after obtaining the world-title even the last unbelievers (see the scientific approach) will now admit that they unfairly criticized his approach as inefficient and based on luck.

To win games, you need to put pressure on the opponent (which even works in world-championships). Carlsen shows today that you can be at least successful (and that is likely even an under-statement) by applying a less big but longer pressure. The pressure is less big as it is not based on super-human openings (today mainly created in advance by intensive use of engines) but is rather based on the own playing skills. However by deviating much earlier from theory and on top by choosing for positions which contain lots of possibilities, the opponent is forced to do much more thinking on the board. If instead of from move 20, you need to think from move 10 then in an average game there is a 50% increase of the number of moves you need to devise yourself.

So a stronger player will easier make the difference if more thinking at the board must be done. However due to our existing playing-tempo there is still a second aspect playing an important role in the success of this approach. The time for reflection doesn't depend on the number of moves one must devise. In other words, with this approach more classical oriented players are forced to think differently compared with their usual slower reflection method if time-trouble has to be avoided. They say that Carlsen plays faster than his opponents but in reality he just better takes into account that his type of play consists of making more decisions. Hereby we shouldn't forget that this strategy is even enforced if you also are technical stronger than the opponent. The stronger player can in (much) less reflection time still calculate as much as the weaker opponent using more reflection time.

Carlsen's first victory in the world-championship demonstrates this philosophy pretty well. Already at move 10 Carlsen manages to introduce an unknown queen-move which certainly doesn't refute black's position but nevertheless guarantees an open fight. The reactions on twitter are self-explaining: : "This will not be a short draw." and "This looks like spectacularly unimpressive opening preparation from team Carlsen".
[Event "Anand-Carlsen World Championship"] [Site "Chennai IND"] [Date "2013.11.15"] [Round "5"] [White "Magnus Carlsen"] [Black "Viswanathan Anand"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D31"] [PlyCount "115"] 1. c4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 c6 4. e4 {(The Dutch grandmaster Anish Giri tells on twitter that this move never was played before on a world-championship.)} dxe4 5. Nxe4 Bb4 6. Nc3 {(The main-line continues with Bd2 but Carlsen likes to leave the theory a.s.a.p.)} c5 7. a3 Ba5 8. Nf3 Nf6 9. Be3 Nc6 10. Qd3 {(Only 1 game I still found with this move in which white, a 2000 rated player lost so Carlsen managed to bring Anand out of book in only 10 moves. White has no advantage but neither black can force immediately a draw.)} cxd4 11. Nxd4 Ng4 12. O-O-O Nxe3 13. fxe3 Bc7 14. Nxc6 bxc6 15. Qxd8 Bxd8 16. Be2 Ke7 17. Bf3 Bd7 18. Ne4 Bb6 19. c5 f5 20. cxb6 fxe4 21. b7 Rab8 22. Bxe4 Rxb7 23. Rhf1 Rb5 24. Rf4 g5 25. Rf3 h5 26. Rdf1 Be8 27. Bc2 Rc5 28. Rf6 h4 29. e4 a5 30. Kd2 Rb5 31. b3 Bh5 32. Kc3 Rc5 33. Kb2 Rd8 34. R1f2 Rd4 35. Rh6 Bd1 36. Bb1 Rb5 37. Kc3 c5 38. Rb2 e5 39. Rg6 a4 40. Rxg5 Rxb3 41. Rxb3 Bxb3 42. Rxe5 Kd6 43. Rh5 Rd1 44. e5 Kd5 45. Bh7 Rc1 46. Kb2 Rg1 47. Bg8 Kc6 48. Rh6 Kd7 49. Bxb3 axb3 50. Kxb3 Rxg2 51. Rxh4 Ke6 52. a4 Kxe5 53. a5 Kd6 54. Rh7 Kd5 55. a6 c4 56. Kc3 Ra2 57. a7 Kc5 58. h4 1-0
An outsider sees mistakes from Anand which he in a normal situation will never make and thinks wrongly Carlsen was lucky. The Scottish grandmaster Jonathan Rowson describes the phenomenon on chessbase as if Carlsen manages magically to let disappear the talents of his opponent.

Ok all very well but we are no Carlsen. Bruno's comment: "I have few doubts Carlsen works enormously on his openings, if just to find a good way to divert from theory." I disagree partly. It is much easier to find something playable in a side-variation than studying critical continuations. Ok still some work must be done but is not anymore necessary to study the huge amounts of theory. A player adopting this strategy successfully is the strong Armenian player IM Mher Hovhanisian (living in Belgium). That Mher isn't interested in theoretical debates, can be read already in my article an extended black repertoire.

Variate in the same way with white existing openings as with black existing openings, has much less effect. Black largely defines which opening pops up on the board. It is the most important reason why preparing with black for me in general goes much faster than with white. However an advantage of having the white color is that you have more freedom in choosing moves. I mean that a slightly inferior move, doesn't lead necessarily to a difficult position. Mher also showed this in round 5 of Open Leuven in our mutual game. We were the only 2 left with 4/4 so we would decide between us 2 who would continue the tournament as leader. There was little time to prepare but that was not really necessary as after checking the database it became quickly evident that I would never be able to predict Mhers choice. Besides Mher didn't do any preparation at all in advance. In the game Mher already started to think deeply at move 2, produced the aggressive b4 and threw me out of book. After 4 moves already an original interesting position was put on the board with lots of possibilities.
[Event "Open Leuven 5de ronde"] [Date "2013"] [White "Hovhanisian, M."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A04"] [WhiteElo "2508"] [BlackElo "2347"] [PlyCount "69"] 1. Nf3 f5 2. b4 {(I knew in advance that preparing had few chances for success which here is once again proven by throwing me at move 2 out of book. Anyway more surprising is afterwards to find out that white scores with it 70 percent in my opening-book which again shows how clever Mher makes his opening-choices.)} Nf6 $5 {(In the Dutch opening it is standard to play first Nf6 to keep maximum flexibility but here there is a case for e6 before Nf6 to avoid whites plan executed in the game. However I immediately have to add that it is completely unclear if white gains something with this extra option.)} 3. c4 e6 4. Qb3 $5 {(The black move-order permits white to leave out a3 so to win a tempo but the queen also delivers black clues to play optimally so it is not easy to make an exact evaluation. In any case we have after 4 moves a completely unknown and interesting position which is rather a special achievement in these modern times of large amounts of opening-theory.)} Be7 $5 {(Here I thought long to find a playable setup. The white expansion on the queen-side brought me out of my comfort-zone from the standard-schemes which I know pretty well which was obviously the purpose of Mhers opening-choice. Next to Be7, b6 and Nc6 are looking the most interesting alternatives. B.t.w. we also notice that after Nc6, b5 is less efficient as Na5 wins a tempo on the queen which demonstrates one of the disadvantages of Qb3. A stonewall is rather risky as white did not fianchet the king-bishop.)} 5. g3 $5 {(Also to consider is a scheme with d4-e3-Be2 for white.)} O-O $5 {(Black has here a lot of interesting possibilities : b6, Nc6, d5 as white did fianchet and even the eccentric pawn-sacrifice b5 )} (5... b5 $5 {(A pawn-sacrifice trying to exploit the position of the white queen.)} 6. cxb5 a6 7. bxa6 Nxa6 8. b5 Nc5 9. Qc2 Bb7 10. Bg2 $13) 6. Bg2 d6 $5 {(Eventually I chose for the old-Dutch opening which I started to play since last year. Despite that I do not find a refutation of my choice, I still get the feeling that white has the better long term perspectives thanks to the extra space on the queen-side. Maybe the alternatives Nc6 and d5 are better practical choices.)} 7. O-O $5 {(I feared above all d4 after which we can not recommend black to play via the usual schemes in the old-Dutch opening.)} (7. d4 $5 c5 $5 {(Not a standard-move in the old-Dutch but engines have no difficulty with this type of cool moves. In the same category is d5 which seems playable as Nc3 can be answered by a5!)} 8. dxc5 $5 dxc5 9. b5 Nbd7 $1 10. O-O e5 $1 11. Ng5 Nb6 12. a4 $5 a5 $1 13. bxa6 Rxa6 $13) 7... e5 8. Nc3 Kh8 9. d3 Qe8 10. a4 Nc6 { (Criticized by Mher after the game but black has nothing really better than the classical plan in the old-Dutch. Furthermore black is not really worse with this move if I can trust the evaluation of the engines.)} 11. b5 Nd8 12. a5 Qh5 $6 {(This seems afterwards a bit too aggressive as now Nd5 becomes really attractive. More accurate is a6 to slow down whites initiative on the queen-side.)} 13. a6 $6 {(Logical but Nd5 is still a bit stronger after which black has difficulties to harmonize the pieces.)} f4 $6 {(Instinctively played as the complications are impossible to calculate correctly for me. However I do agree with the engines that Ne6 is here more accurate with a better coordination.)} 14. axb7 $6 {(More or less played a tempo just like the previous moves but again Nd5 looks better here.)} (14. Nd5 $1 Nxd5 15. cxd5 bxa6 16. bxa6 Bd7 17. Bd2 $1 g5 $5 18. Rfc1 $1 Rc8 19. Bc3 $14 {(In this sharp position white likely has the better chances.)}) 14... Nxb7 15. Nd5 Nc5 16. Qc2 Nxd5 17. cxd5 fxg3 $6 {(An inconspicuous error as here Bb7 is recommended to maintain the balance.) } 18. fxg3 $6 {(Also this move Mher played a tempo while he only had used till now a bit more than half an hour in this nevertheless complicated and unusual position. This modern practical method of quick playing has of course as purpose to put pressure on the opponent. This certainly contains risks which here can be observed as the clever idea of Houdini was completely missed.)} (18. hxg3 $1 Bb7 19. Nh2 $1 {(An ingenious idea which even causes Stockfisch problems to evaluate correctly.)} Qf7 20. Ba3 Bxd5 21. Bxc5 $1 dxc5 22. Bxd5 Qxd5 23. Nf3 $5 Rfb8 $14 {(White has terrific play for the sacrificed pawn.)}) 18... Bd7 19. Ra5 Nb7 20. Ra3 Nc5 21. Qa2 e4 $6 {(As expected white avoids the offered repetition. Black now has to make an important decision for which I spent 22 minutes. After this I dangerously had only 17 minutes left. Here I already had seen the feigned sacrifice on move 26 but I have to admit that the recommendation of the computer: Rae8 is anyway more accurate. Rae8 has also the idea to play e4 but generates more activity for the black pieces. That black can lose hereby the a- and c- pawns is something an engine has few emotional problems with.)} 22. dxe4 {(Again played without much reflection while I had spent a considerable amount of time on d4 with very obscure complications. Mher afterwards confessed that he completely missed that possibility. However lucky for him as black has after d4, the super beautiful winning move Nd3 which engines instantly spot.)} Bxb5 23. Nd4 Rxf1 24. Bxf1 Bd7 25. Rxa7 Rc8 26. Bg2 {(Mher was not satisfied about this move as he missed my reply but the alternatives also do not generate clear better chances for white.)} Nxe4 27. Bxe4 Qe5 28. Bf3 $6 {(A little more accurate is Nc6 with an identical position as in the game but with the black queen on the little less dominant square e5 instead of d4.)} Qxd4 29. Kg2 Bf6 30. Ra8 Qb6 $4 {(With only 7 minutes remaining again a blunder pops up as in our previous mutual game which immediately decides the game. Valery Maes was of the opinion that Mher was lucky but I rather believe that Mher just created his own luck by playing continuously fast and putting pressure. Here Rg8 and Qe5 are playable for black although i have to admit that white keeps a more pleasant position.)} 31. Rxc8 Bxc8 32. Qa4 c6 33. dxc6 h6 34. c7 Kh7 35. Qe8 1-0
Afterwards Valery Maes commented that Mher was lucky but I look differently to his victory. I made indeed a blunder which I likely easily avoid in a quiet situation but it is his merit to play quicker and more efficient. Besides if I would not have made the error then still I estimate the chance high that later another error would be made under the continuous pressure. So the lucky one has made his own luck which in fact tells us that we can barely talk about luck.

Finally a move like 2.b4 doesn't demand lots of preparations. It also has little sense as black has too many options and the chance to play this regularly is also rather slim. Discovering such moves is just a matter of keeping the eyes open for the non usual things. You can for example detect in an opening-book for engines that white scores 70% with b4 in 38 earlier played (master-)games. With an open mind, a reasonable memory and mainly guts there is already much to gain.


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