Thursday, March 27, 2014


Most players do anything to avoid the preparation or superior opening-knowledge of the opponent. Several of those evading-strategies were discussed on this blog:
- play an opening of which no own games are registered in the database: : coincidencesurprise with the Dutcha Dutch gambitBelgian interclubs apotheosis, ...
- deviate quickly from any existing theory: the lucky one

Each of these strategies are based on the assumption that the opponent can be the easiest defeated by not playing the standard repertoire. Now how can one know this in advance as it is very unlikely that having a standard repertoire is useless. An absolute answer obviously doesn't exist but there are means to estimate the chances pretty well. From most (European) players whom reached a certain level, you can find games in the commercial databases. Armed with an openingbook (see article green moves) one can quickly detect if somebody knows a lot or little theory and if he is acquainted with the theory of a certain opening in his first game or only after several games played.

For most local (top-) players i have of course few remaining secrets. I am playing for about 20 years in the chess-circuit and i have played 1 or more games against most Flemish topplayers. Besides by writing this blog everybody gets an open view on how I think and decide my openings so I don't have any illusions. Nevertheless I won't claim that all my opponents are aware about this blog and know me well. No surely for foreign players I am still often unknown which makes that they will much less likely deviate from their standard repertoire.

When playing against a (relative) unknown player, a strong player will try to deduct information from the developments in the game. If you know that the opponent deviates first from his standard repertoire (by screening in advance his games in the commercial databases and while you didn't deviate yet) then you can be pretty sure that the opponent prepared something. On the blog of the Ukrainian grandmaster Igor Smirnov it is justly stated that from competitive perspective in such situation you have to deviate as quickly as possible from the standard repertoire to avoid playing against his computer instead of against the opponent. In his uploaded movie Igor gives an example. Somebody plays exclusively e4 but only for that one game against you he played 1.d4 so it is very clear that he prepared something. Coincidentally I showed on my blog see article chess intuition what happens if you don't deviate in such situation: a scornful defeat. You have to read my article the scientific approach to understand why I didn't deviate.

Beside deviating deliberately it is also possible to deduct from the speed of moving if the opponent is aware or not of important opening-information. In a long game somebody out book, will spend time to find a plan and produce moves. Especially in positions with a tactical character it is important to avoid the knowledge/ preparation of the opponent surely if you didn't study recently (thoroughly) the theory. To avoid this I have applied already a few times camouflage-techniques. I lose on purpose time to let my opponent believe that I am out book.

As expected the opponent does finally deviate from his repertoire but in the meanwhile I have reached what I wanted: a nice advantage in the opening with plenty/ sufficient time on the clock. This is something which is much harder to achieve without camouflage. The camouflage is always a delicate balance-exercise. On one side you want to use as little as possible time to camouflage the knowledge/ preparation as the extra time is useful for the rest of the game. On the other hand you need to spend sufficient time to make the camouflage successful. Another example was against Jan Van Mechelen also in 1999.

Jan smelled a rat and eventually deviated which limited the damage. Maybe I had to spend a bit more time but that is of course difficult to judge. Recently I used the camouflage with success in the Belgian interclubs against the Bulgrarian grandmaster Dejan Bojkov. Surprisingly he not only permitted me to play 22 moves of preparation but also to achieve some opening-advantage. I suspect that my opponent never expected me capable to be so well prepared on this specific variation. It was only the second time in 9 rounds that Dejan played first board and on top he has a broad repertoire.

Despite Dejan had it all once on the board, he also spent a half hour so I assume that he doubted a lot to deviate or not from the theory. Probably he even looked for interesting risk-free alternatives. Anyway I found it remarkable and during the game I had some troubles to hide my joy when I finally got some reward for the often many boring hours of preparation spent at home.

So camouflage can be a weapon in the psychological battle of playing the opening. Now the reversed is also applied by some players. By playing quickly one insinuates that the opening was studied seriously while in reality it isn't. The opponent becomes intimidated and prefers to deviate from this repertoire. Former second Jan Smeets once said about Topalov that Topalov always plays the opening fast. Sometimes it is preparation but sometimes it is just bluff. The opponent never knows (except his seconds). See chessvibes.

To apply such psychological tricks you first have to know a certain amount of theory. I am curious if some readers have similar experiences and are willing to share them here.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014


If we study openings then we obviously look first to what the theory tells us before we do any research ourselves. However what exactly is chess-theory? Wikipedia says that theory refers to what is broadly represented by current literature about openings but that is of course very vague. Besides today with the internet lots of materials are available to everybody which made the definition pretty useless. A better description is to define theory as a public database of quality openings. With this a new question immediately pops up as how do we define today what is sufficient quality to be considered as theory?

A few decades ago this question was easy to answer. The quality of the theory was closely connected to the strength of a player. Today this link is largely broken. We all possess very strong engines which play considerably stronger than the worldchampion. Everybody can with a minimum of chess-knowledge if sufficient time and money is invested, make high quality analysis. I even dare to add that the import of own chess-knowledge to the computer-analysis often decreases the overall quality.

This really stroke me when I compared my analysis of Jan Rooze his game played in Augsburg against Ivan Hausner with Jans analysis of the same game on the website of skdeurne. Qualitatively my analysis were clearly better although I hardly didn't do anything more than just reviewing the game for a couple of hours with an engine. Jan on the other hand, admitted afterwards than he (almost?) exclusively used his own analyzing skills. Besides such analysis have also their charm/ educative value as this way you get a better view on the thought-process of a (strong) player.

Another more extreme example was the Freestyle-victory in 2005 by 2 amateurs Steven Cramton en Zackary Stephen with respectively USCF ratings of 1685 and 1398, see chessbase. The name Freestyle already explains that anything is allowed during the game so also consulting engines. Now still their victory was regarded as an enormous surprise as with the relative slow tempo (1h + 15 seconds extra per move) it was generally expected that the teams with grandmasters and strong HW would win. Afterwards there even was a controversy about the authenticity of the team in which the winners were challenged to see if no strong player had helped them sneakily.

Correspondence is widely regarded as the highest quality one can achieve in chess. When I stopped with it in 2004, see this blog-article I already recorded that it was hard working to add something technical to the engines. Today it certainly didn't become easier which recently once again was proven by the new world-champion Ron Langeveld. He is the first world-champion in correspondence which never was a club-player. It is even more stunning if I tell that in the final the strong Brazilian OTB grandmaster Rafael Leitao participated. Ron explains in an interview that chess-knowledge can even be bad in correspondence-chess as knowledge is never complete. He promptly admits that without the usage of engines it is impossible to maintain the highest levels. This doesn't mean that there is no human involvement anymore but rather that the most important skills for making strong qualitative analysis have been shifted from chess-knowledge to computer-skills.

Despite these facts we still see today that many books sell better with a strong titled player as author (preferably a grandmaster) than without. A possibility to get something published as unknown player  is often to make an agreement with a titled player. The contribution of the titled player is often limited to bringing new ideas and reviewing while the lion-share is done by the unknown player. With the lion-share I mean all administrative duties, working out the details around the layout and text, checking every line with the engines or in a word all the necessary manual labor which are part of a good book. A number of books which I believe were published in this mode, are The Ruy Lopez: a Guide for Black (Sverre Johnsen, GM Leif Erlend Johanessen) ; Win with the Stonewall Dutch (Sverre Johnsen, IM Ivar Bern, GM Simen Agdestein); Grandmaster repertoire 10 The Tarrasch defence (Nikolaos Ntirlis, GM Jacob Aagaard).

Demand and supply so I understand very well why publishers are mainly choosing for authors with at least 1 titled player. However I don't sympathize with critics purely based on the fact that the author is not a titled player. This happened as well on chesscafe as on chesspub with the book Dismantle the Dutch Defense with the Dangerfield Attack written by the unknown player David Rudel.
No also this opening-book I didn't buy (see for another example the article fashion) but I can add based on my experience that an early Bf4 against the Dutch is much more than just a move for amateurs. I get it rarely in practice but if it happens then I always have difficulties to get a comfortable position. I remember my game against Luc Saligo played in Open Gent of 2012 in which I surely experienced some problems in the opening.

Now if a worldclass-player like Aronian picks up the system in his repertoire (ok first Nf3 and only then Bf4) then the critics become silent. Last Wijk aan Zee tournament was won by Aronian (see e.g chessvibes) and he considered his game played in the last round against Loek Van Wely the most interesting one with naturally  this system.

Agreed it didn't end well but this had nothing to do with the virtues of the opening. Fact that Aronian in the meantime already played it against Kamsky, Carlsen and Ponomariov makes it evident that he sees more value in it than purely a weapon to surprise.

We all realize this but still we see often today that an idea/ concept is thrown in the paper-basket purely because of the person. Pity as because of this we do miss chances to evaluate the real value of an idea. To conclude I want to quote the British top-grandmaster Mickey Adams which I found on qualitychess blog: "I look in all books which are sent to me for reviewing as even in Everyman books there is always something which I can use."


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sofia rules

Most chess-tournaments exist by the goodwill of volunteers. This time (a first) nobody was willing to organize the Belgian championship. It has not much sense to search for the culprit as eventually this is a shared responsibility of all the players. Now to anyway appoint a Belgian champion, an agreement was made with the organizers of the Open summer-tournament of Charleroi, see e.g schaakfabriek. Better this than nothing at all of course. B.t.w. I already once played in Charleroi and I can recommend the tournament. 

Surprisingly the announcement states that Sofia-rules will be applied. These rules are already in vogue in several foreign tournaments (or in a lighter format for the first x-moves) but to my knowledge this is the first for Belgium. Now I just got informed that the tournament rules are talking about no draw offers under 20 moves or 1 hour of play so this is a very soft version of the sofia rules. Nevertheless I believe it has sense to write an article about this subject. What are the advantages and disadvantages of those rules?

First let me look to the advantages. A game can be stopped at any moment when both players agree. This permits to stop when you consider all life has disappeared from the position. You don't have to search for a repetition of moves or wait till the 50 moves rule becomes active. Next draw-offers can also be an enrichment of the game. An offer can be considered as an extra question to the opponent which will often lead to spending extra time. It can also have a psychological purpose by trying to seduce the opponent for a reckless attack.

On the site of the torrewachters I recently read a remarkable report of Bert Feys, whom deservedly was very proud of his very clever tournament-victory in Fenain
Bert Feys
I never heard about this classic tournament but in 2012 Belgian champion Tanguy Ringoir won the edition so it certainly already has some reputation. I mention this story as he describes himself how cunningly he proposed draws in the 2 last crucial rounds. This way he managed to destabilize the opponents to some extend and ultimately scored the very important points. Bert was so kind to send me his last round-game and even added some light comments to lift out this aspect for which I am of course very thankful. 

Maybe these psychological draw-offers influenced the result but finally you still need to play sufficient good moves yourself. It is silly to attribute the tournament-victory solely to the psychological part.

Further there are also situations in which the players lost interest in chess so don't want to continue playing anymore. They don't feel in good shape, their thoughts are more with the friends at the bar,... With sofia-rules there is the obligation to continue playing even against their own will which can surely be not a propaganda for chess. 

The other side of the medal exists too of course. You get short pointless draws. Neither the sponsors, neither the organizers, neither the potential spectators enjoy those games which can only create negative propaganda for chess. Also early draw-offers can often be disturbing. The line between a psychological offer and a disturbing offer is often unclear. Bert acknowledges that he proposed draws of which he knew in advance that the opponent would refuse. You could wonder if this is still appropriate. On Quality chess blog somebody stated that 1 wrong draw-offer can already be disturbing. Now personally I find this a bit exaggerated as it is only a game. Often players don't even realize that they disturb the opponent. Personally I do try to follow some guidelines when proposing draws. I don't propose a draw if I have a strong suspicion that the opponent will not accept (e.g. if we both know that I have the inferior position). Proposing draws against higher rated players (100 points and more) also have little sense as they only accept when they are worse which makes it a pity to propose. Higher rated players decide for themselves when it is time to stop their winning attempts in an equal position.

Short draws are often in tournaments also a tool to achieve averagely a higher final score. You can rest more often and also you get often a bit easier opponents which is obviously not a sportive advantage compared with players playing each game at 100%. Sofia rules are also sometimes glorified to get more decisive games so lowering the drawing%. Certainly the higher levels can generate very high drawing% in such amount that there is very little separation between the players (see chessbase ) and decisive games are always more appealing for the public.
Bron: Chessbase

About the effect of the Sofia-rules exists a lot of discussion so I do think it is interesting to elaborate on this subject. From the megadatabase it is difficult or even impossible to deduct something as nowhere is mentioned if the game was played with or without Sofia-rules. However thanks to my personal games which are well stored and commented, we can draw some careful conclusions. Below is a table in which I show over the years how many serious games (with a slow time-control) were played, how many draws and how many of those draws were prematurely agreed by a mutual consensus (in comparison with Sofia rules). The numbers weren't dressed up so are directly the result from my personal database as I did previously in my article studying openings.

I am clearly not averse from making a (too) quick draw as I earlier wrote on this blog: early draw proposals in the intercluba short draw in the last roundlars schandorff, ... If we look attentively to the data then we see for the years before 2005 a lot less draws, played conform Sofia rules compared with the years after 2005. The reason is not a strongly changed playing-strength as my rating stayed within an interval of 100 points. Neither do I believe that my way of playing drastically changed as in my article fashion I mentioned that my openings are already fixed for approximately 20 years. No the reason is rather that I simply started to realize that losing isn't so bad at all and I enjoy more to continue playing. That endgames are my cup of tea, see e.g.  endgames bishop against knightendgames knight against knightendgames with an exchange extra,... also naturally helps to make the decision to continue playing. However immediate conclusions can't be drawn from above table as it gives no indication of the opposition. There are years in which I encountered very strong opposition by playing interclub in first division but also more weaker by participating in the local club-championship. The draw% and in lesser extend also playing on a position, naturally largely depends on the opposition. The second table nicely presents the differences again fully based on my own games.

This data permits us for each year to calculate what the average draw% linked to the rating-opposition must be and the average % of draws not fully played out with the sofia rules. The tool which I used, is of course to use for each game the excel-function VLOOKUP.
The total from the draw% and the not fully played out draw% with sofia rules are matching so we can trust the calculations. This finally permits us to make a comparison and some conclusions. As the year 2014 is still too early, I remove that one from the list. The comparison is made between the first 9 years: 1996-2004 and the last 9 years: 2005-2013.
So without considering the opposition you get with a 51% (36,36% to 74,63%) decrease of the not fully played out draws conform the sofia rules, a decrease of almost 20% (30,65% to 38,07%) draws. Including the effect of the opposition, we get for a 34% (51% corrected with the values 62,94% and 50,69%) decrease of the not fully played out draws conform Sofia rules, a decrease of at least 20% (20% corrected with the values 34,52% and 34,93%) draws.

I surely don't want with those calculations insinuate that this result will be for each player the same. However for me it is evident that applying sofia-rules will generate a substantial higher amount of decisive games. In other words sofia rules will create more tension which surely can't be bad. If not accepting early draws also improves the rating, is not clear from the TPR which I calculated each year. The last years I only played 30-35 serious games/ year which is of course not enough to make progression. Now I do have the strong feeling that by continue playing instead of quick drawing, in the end makes yourself a stronger better resistant player.

Sofia-rules have undeniable some clear advantages. An obligation for professional chess sounds to me not bad. However for amateurs I prefer to keep the choice to the players and try to convince them rather with arguments instead of rules. The fact that we today have a world-champion which almost always plays on till the final chance, will certainly help.