Monday, July 28, 2014

Food and drinks

I switch on the computer. A few moments later I am playing blitz on Playches with a long expired account (sorry for the players willing to chat because I don't want to pay for that). Almost every 5 minutes I get another opponent. German, Spanish, French, American, Russian ,.... are the nationalities of my opponents. After some time I log off and I quickly review the most interesting games with an engine. The web-server automatically saves all the played games in a personal database on my PC which I can consult with a few clicks afterwards.

This is how I regularly have fun while at the same time also practice my chess. What a big difference with the 90-ties when one was obliged to go to a chessclub to play blitz. In my student-years I often played blitz on Friday-evenings in the KGSRL. I looked around in the club and challenged the strongest player(s). At that time quite some strong players hang around: Schalkx, Abolianin, Deleyn, Goormachtigh, Van der Stricht,... All players of 2300 elo or more and also capable to put up a serious fight in blitz as many (all?) names pop up in the hall of fame of the disappeared 24 hours blitz-tournament the Kameleon.

In the first encounters I got beaten up and had to be happy when scoring an occasional point. Now I am not the person to give up easily. At home I checked the systems of my opponents with my very first PC and slowly the tide turned. After some time I surely was a match for the strongest players. During playing blitz a lot of alcohol was consumed by most of the players so regularly those blitz-evenings transformed in exuberant parties till the early morning hours. I remember a lovely anecdote.

Very late in the evening Geert Van der Stricht arrived in the club when there was already a lot of ambiance. Geert wanted to play a few games so we organized a small blitz all-round tournament with 4 players. Last place would mean that you had to treat the others some drink. Easy free drink must have thought Geert as he was the only one still sober but it went pretty differently. In our mutual game my hyper-aggression was initially well thwarted as I was quickly 3 pawns down. However with the missing pawns also a lot of tactics were popping up in the position. Geert missed something and suddenly was mated spectacularly. Schalkx managed to trick him in a similar fashion so the final round wasn't important anymore and Geert had very reluctantly to treat us drinks.

Afterwards I started to believe that maybe it is good to consume some alcohol (moderately of course) for some blitz-games. I experimented with this in the also disappeared international blitz-tournament of Blankenberge. In the middle of the tournament i had 1,5 points more than my closest pursuers but after having some beers in the break, I still managed to not win the tournament. I still got the winning positions with the hyper-aggressive chess but the finishing touch was lacking. The crucial last round of that tournament can be replayed below which I afterwards published as a curiosity on 1 of the very first forums.

So we can state that it is dubious if drinking a bit alcohol is favorable for playing good blitz. I did however in the past regularly drink 1 beer before an official game to become more relaxed. In my article the sadistic exam I earlier already recorded that I have often quite some stress and alcohol helps to calm down. Today I normally try to avoid alcohol during a tournament. I can more easily relativize which decreases the stress and I also feel quicker the negative effects of alcohol compared with 20 years ago when I was still a student. Alcohol quicker tires, it makes the calculations slower and it also influences the much needed night's rest + important game-preparations. In a foreign tournament in which one is often isolated, the temptation is big as beer and/or wine lover but Strong Jan managed to stoically concentrate on the chess, see schaakfabriek. Also our world-champion Magnus Carlsen considers alcohol even a day before a game completely irresponsible, see the guardian.

Not drinking any alcohol doesn't mean drinking nothing at all. Surely when games last more than 3 hours, it is very important to drink. It is something which I dare sometimes to neglect if I only have an eye for the position. Terrible headache after a game is something which I experienced already a few times even in such a degree that I was forced to take a painkiller like 'dafalgan'. Bringing a bottle of water to the tournament-hall is surely not redundant but some organizers don't permit this.

Also paying attention to nutrition becomes more and more important when becoming older. I sometimes hear teams eating copiously in a restaurant just before an interclub-match but I am pretty sure this influences the results. The concentration fades and also the toilet must be visited more regularly during the game. By the way with the prevailing mistrust to cheating I almost don't dare anymore to go to the toilet. This fear is not completely unfair as recently was proven, see schaaksite. Currently I only eat lightly before a game which does mean that I need to eat when a game lasts long.

An interclub-game can last in Belgium maximally 6 hours so I always take some sandwiches and fruit in case the game drags beyond 18h or 4 hours play. At the beginning some of my team-mates were surprised when I unpacked my food but today I see more and more team-mates following my example as often locally there is little or nothing to buy. Marcel I once gave a sandwich when he was looking very hungry.

For the last round of the interclubs I had a dilemma. The club organized the same evening of the playing-round a feast at which everybody was strongly insisted to participate. Normally I am the first one to subscribe to such parties but I smelled a rat. To bring food myself and eat this at 18h would spoil my appetite. Besides the menu was already fixed and you had to pay in advance so barely eating anything would be really pity. Finally the party would start already at 18h so what if you as only player had to continue till 20h. In the end I let myself persuade to participate and hoped for the best but it went of course very wrong.

The position evaluated at home as equal, to stumble after playing for a win in our previous mutual gamethe fresh grandmaster-title for Bart, lacking any food, the starting festivities,... will surely all have played a role in my behavior of forcing at all costs the draw. A draw was of course much easier to achieve without haste. That young players make such mistake is easier to understand as recently happened in the open championship of Asia.

Again an easy avoidable defeat  in which the less experienced player was too eager to draw.

Finally I want to share that I was in the end also the only player having to continue playing till almost 8h. That is not a big surprise as with my average of almost 53 moves per game, I was also by far the most active player. This is fully aligned with my article sofia rules. When I eventually went to the dinner my team-mates already finished and left home. In the French interclub we also had regularly dinners but we always waited till the last player finished with his game. Some members of the board realized that the situation was not correct and sacrificed themselves so I did not have to eat alone which I very much appreciate but I will anyway make some conclusions for the future.

At home I also got support from my wife, cheering me up by telling that I have again a special story for my blog. Yes if you look at it in that way then every disadvantage has an advantage.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014


If we don't consider the psychological aspects in chess then only the theoretical evaluation of the moves remains. The move of which we expect it is crucial for the theoretical evaluation of a position, is considered in chess-jargon as critical. I always spend a lot of time searching the critical moves which has been covered many times already on this blog: correspondence-chess, green moves,...

I don't know if it was a critic, astonishment or simply a remark, fact is that Bart obviously was right to state afterwards that with 8.Be2 in our mutual game I didn't choose for a critical continuation. Keeping in mind that I was already aware about this in advance of the game, probably some readers will consider this in-consequent with my earlier article the scientific approach. Even Kara wrote in a reaction that he would've chosen for a different and from theoretical perspective more interesting move.

I don't have to take up responsibility for my opening-choice but I do want to clarify a few things as I believe it also includes some interesting elements for other players. First a critical move is not always the best practical move. A critical move puts maybe more pressure on the opponent but also often on yourself . In my previous mutual game with Bart I chose the critical move in the endgame instead of going for a secure drawn-endgame with a pawn less. In the end I got punished for this audacity as I made the first mistake myself.

In a lot of openings with a solid reputation (like the Marshallgambit, the Berlin,...) it is often also very tough to pinpoint the critical move (exactly because nobody was able to show a clear advantage). Besides often the most interesting lines are also the ones which the opponent has analyzed. A recent nice example in which we detect those risks, is the crucial game of the rapid world-championship on board 1 between Anand and Caruana in yes once more the Modern French.

Anand survived with a scare. However this example neither proves that choosing a critical opening is nonsense. I only state that a proper judgement must be made of the risks. With sufficient training, study in advance choosing a critical continuation is most likely ok. Now I am not quickly scared of taking (too) big risks in an opening (see e.g. chess intuition part 2). However playing something complex like 8.a3 without training, study or being sure it is a critical line and that against a player rated 200 points higher, I consider too much and neither scientific.

Once the choice made not to search further for a critical variation it is still good to have an alternative prepared. To choose a dubious opening-line is a solution which a lot of amateurs (even strong ones) do. I don't like it as it is not only risky but also completely against my scientific approach. Vary with an opening not part of the repertoire is another possibility which is rather easy when playing white. It is less risky that the previous solution but an opening-advantage is unlikely obtained and it is neither scientific. Finally you can also choose to play the standard repertoire but insert sufficient ideas. With ideas I don't mean "killer" - novelties which are important for the theoretical evaluation of the position. The purpose of an idea is mainly to win time on the clock and to reach a position in which one feels comfortable. Such ideas are rather useless in correspondence-chess but have proven many times their advantage in OTB-chess.

This strategy of interweaving a standard repertoire with ideas is nothing new and is already used since long by top-grandmasters. I still remember very well how Anand in 2007 conquered the world-title in Mexico by applying 4 different ideas against the invincible Marshall. I already touched the story in my article Tanguy Ringoir is Belgian champion but this time I do want to show also the concrete games.

Anand was not interested in refuting the Marshall which probably is anyway not possible but created each time new unknown problems on the board for this opponents. Not every game will be won with this method but a return of 75% is surely not bad for Anand. There are some big advantages with this approach. First you still are in the comfort-zone of the standard repertoire so even if black diverts with something less solid then you are normally not immediately out of book. Despite that the idea doesn't guarantee any theoretical advantage, you will surely not be worse either. The biggest asset of course is that you studied the idea already at home with the engines while the opponent most likely didn't.

The big disadvantage of using ideas, is that most often they can only be used once in a serious game. After publication the potential opponents will quickly find an anti-dote with the engine. So once an idea has been consumed, you have to look for something new. This is impractical for most amateurs, will many think but in fact it is not that difficult. Finding an idea can be done in a fraction of the time compared with a killer-novelty as there exist some handy tools. MNb indicated that I am pretty good in it but I believe after reading my tips that the reader must be able to do the same.

1) Copy ideas from recent OTB-games which stayed under the radar of the international news. A lot of players are aware what top 2700 players play in their repertoire but also players in the segment 2300-2700 often bring interesting new ideas. It is also important that the games were recently played so the chance is small that the opponent met the idea in the previous years by accident.
2) Copy ideas from correspondence-games even it was only a draw for white. Very few players consult those games. Besides problems can be solvable in correspondence but in OTB it can be very difficult.
3) Let the engine check multiple lines. Sometimes the 2nd or 3rd best move presents an interesting idea. My favorite button is the letter 'y' , see Fritz manual for more info. I force the program with this button to ignore his favorite choice and look to the next best move. The big advantage compared with calculating multiple lines is that you get much quicker results. This is not only because less must be calculated but also because no time is lost due to switching between multiple lines.

So with a minimum of time and efforts everybody can successfully implement ideas. Next to the element of surprise it also can be used as patches till more time is available to work seriously at the repertoire. I am convinced this is for amateur as prof an excellent tool for competitive tournament-chess.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The subtilities of a pawn-storm

When I was still playing e4, I was striving for a complete repertoire. I tried to have prepared an answer for each black move in the opening. After the switch to 1.d4 I didn't manage anymore. It was and is too much. Because of that I chose a more experimental approach. I knew more or less the mainlines but the more subtle and not so subtle details would be investigated in the games. Of course this was risky. More than once I had with white! after 10, 12 moves a worse position and had to work hard for weeks even months to get a half point out of the game. Admittedly , those were very instructive experiences. But such was not the purpose. For a good result it is necessary to create with white winning chances.

So I bought the necessary books, of which a few repertoire-books. The pros and cons are known. I don't want to discuss this here. This time I want to tell about a recommendation which I don't really know how to judge properly. The recommendation is from GM Schandorff. His two books got good reviews and I must confess that he understands more about chess than I. It concerns the Old-Indian opening.

But what I have to think exactly of the Sämisch against the Old-Indian opening is still not clear to me. Next time I will just try it again.

For the ambitious beginner I can recommend 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f3 (I don't care if this is imprecise) Lg7 5.Le3 O-O 6.Dd2 c6 7.O-O-O to play as I did for years. Without the experience I likely didn't win that game. Therefore I want to end with a light rapid-game, once again against a stronger opponent:

Black didn't understand the difference between the Pirc and the Kings-Indian.

Mark Nieuweboer