Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The horizon

If there is a red line in my chess then it must be that I try to avoid chance as much as possible. This can be seen e.g. in a reaction of Kara in which he expresses his surprise about my depth of preparation. In my article which games to analyze I explain in detail how I try to extract lessons from the analyses. Again I try to arm myself against haphazard repetitions. In my OTB-games you can clearly see an allergy for risks to avoid that the result depends too much on luck. For this I already once received right or wrong critique see Lintons reaction on the article Tactic.

However assuming that I always avoid risks is nonsense as I am e.g. no pragmatic player, see chessintuition part 2 or somebody never daring to play a gambit. Now I do admit that the balance clearly leans to prudence and especially playing economically. Playing economically was already once touched in a reaction of my article my most beautiful move. If I can choose between sacrificing material of which the complications are obscure and between (preferably without spending much reflection-time) a quiet continuation which still permits to maintain a position with some prospects then I choose invariably for the second option.

So it happened in round 5 against the British player Andrew Stone that I after a long reflection anyway didn't sacrifice my knight but preferred to retract it to f6. I imagine MNb will probably be shocked again if he sees that I once more chose for the retracting move but sacrificing somebody else's pieces is always easier.

After the game it took me a lot of effort to verify the piece-sacrifice but now I dare to state that it is fully correct. However I would not mention this if there was nothing special about. When I let the engines Houdini 2 and Stockfish 4 calculate on the critical position then none of them found the key-move even on my fastest PC. Something like that I hadn't encountered before with those programs. Was it still possible as human to find a tactical idea at the board which was beyond the horizon of the best engines?

Via the wikispace of testpositions for chess-engines I tried to find recent examples from the tournament-chess. However I didn't have much luck as everything which I checked was pretty quickly solved by my top-engines. E.g. also the testposition 201 out of  the standard arasan testsuite. This is an extract from the game Hikaru Nakamura - Anish Giri played in the 2012 Fide Grandprix at Londen.

Therefore I also looked at some positions from older games which some testers use. One of them was a critical position of the famous game David Bronstein - Ljubomir Ljubjevic. I recently bumped by accident on this game when reading My great predecessors part 2.

It is naturally not because I can't find immediately examples from the tournament practice which engines can't solve that they don't exist. However from an older blogarticle Shirovs brilliant Bh3 we can deduct that the examples are not widely spread anymore. I am curious if there are readers knowing such specific positions from practice or maybe encountered them when analyzing their own games. At chess problems composers often work several days which permits sometimes still to fool the best engines. An example of such puzzle I found on a forum in which white gives mate in 60 moves !

Of course this is not a normal position anymore but it does show that the human player isn't fully defeated by the engines. In the category of exceptional positions certainly belongs also the position of my game. The temporarily locked bishop on h1 and the preliminary control of the critical square h6 are a funny concurrence which engines today can't handle. To be more precise the HW and SW which I use today can't. Some readers certainly possess stronger equipment which maybe can sufficiently shift the horizon so a different image is created.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014


If you want to see flashing attacking games then this blog is not the right address. I have barely gambits in my repertoire. E.g. the Dutch stonewall demonstrates clearly that I prefer a cautious positional approach. Some people categorize me therefore as a classical player.

The term 'classical chessplayer' originated from the era of Siegbert Tarrasch. The German worldclass-player stressed the importance of a healthy setup and explained this didactically at the public with the aid of many rules. However in doing so he also received a lot of critics as chess is much more than just applying a bunch of rules.

I spoke in my previous article about that I like to discover little rules but at the same time I also realize very well there exists the danger of becoming too dogmatic. Chess is a very concrete game in which the needs of a position often overrule different rules. In the games of the contemporary generation of top-players we see a complete abstention of certain dogma's. A general rule like you should take back with a pawn towards the center, is often broken. Recently Magnus Carlsen wasn't shy to offend against this rule in his game against the Italian top-grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.

So white was punished but the continuation did promise a fantastic fight. I also want to add that Caruana has gained since beginning of August approximately 44 points and now approached the worldchampion at only 20 points. This is an incredible jump on that level of which I wonder if this is just coincidence or we really witness the rise of a player whom can challenge the Mozart of chess.

Today we are spoiled by toptournaments as the Sinquefield Cup has just finished or we already can follow the Bilbao-masters. Also in that tournament players aren't embarrassed by violating rules. E.g. in the game Pons Vallejo - Levon Aronian again fxg3 at move 11 pops up. It evoked the reaction on schaaksite of the Dutch grandmaster Reinderman that maybe the rule was abolished.

Again fabulous chess but honesty obliges me to confess that black was better in the game. I remember that I was very impressed when an opponent once played such kind of move in my tournament-practice and hereby also created chances. This happened in 2002 by the very strong Belgian player Jakub Filipek from Polish origin. I wonder what happened with this creative player as since 2004 there is no trace anymore from him. I suspect that he just completely stopped with chess as in 2002 he already showed at the board that he was bored and not eager to play.

His 15th move obviously came as a complete surprise. This is sore but I assume most of us have experienced such moments in their practice (as e.g. happened a few days earlier in the Europa Cup, see move 41 game Alexei Shirov - Henk Vedder). The positive side of the lost game is that I learned to also consider more often less logical exchanges and as a consequence also tried to play less dogmatic.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Because of all the commotion around the finished worldcup-football my son became very interested in football. In my youth I played often with some friends of the neighborhood so today I still find it fun to regularly practice with my son. However my son has much more energy and time than I so it is never enough which let me decide to subscribe him in the local football-club. Big was the disappointment when we heard end of August that he was put on a waiting-list and didn't get the chance to start this season. In a newspaper I read that there was a run on the football-clubs, everywhere is a lack of infrastructure and so out of necessity they work with waiting-lists.

I proposed him to choose a different (physical) sport but to my surprise he only wanted to play again chess. Last season he quit somewhere half-way because he lost his interest so I let him repeat twice to be sure that he was serious. Last Sunday we went for the first time to the youth-class. He hadn't played chess for months so I doubted if he still remembered something which we learned last year. During the half hour drive I asked him  how many points is a knight. 3 points was the immediate answer. And the bishop, rook,... My concern was unjust as he gave every time the right answer and in the club he mated immediately twice a 3 year older boy. We have started well.

I learned this point-system long ago from a chess-book of Hans Bouwmeester and I still find it an easy method to quickly explain a beginner what a bad or good exchange is. Of course there are serious limitations on this point-system whereby some people did an effort to refine it. Recently there was a discussion about this on chesspub and more specific about the value of different pawn-formations. As reference was used the publication of Hans Berliner on wikipedia.

I don't consider defining the exact values interesting unless you are a developer of a chessprogram but I do find it useful to know which combinations have a positive or negative influence. I already once mentioned in my article chess-intuition part 2 about Capablanca's advantage, a tandem of queen and knight. In this article I want to discuss a different tandem, the connected rooks. Connected rooks are pretty trivial but when they start to move together then a remarkable collaboration is created.

In the 4th round of Open Gent I proposed a draw to Mehr Hovhanisian which to my big embarrassment happened in a more or less technically lost position. We both possessed about a tandem of rooks but I completely underestimated the difference in mobility and activity between both tandems. Later some spectators asked me if I really had to lose that position but my analysis didn't find any salvation.

I could break the tandem but not without serious defects. It is not an ordinary position but in comparison with what happened in the recent game Adams - Vachier Lagrave it is rather simple.

The extensive chess-trainings in France are making a sharp contrast with the deplorable situation in Belgium (I use on purpose the recent words of the Belgian FM Eldorado). Just before the Olympiad France even had for a short period 4 + 2700 players whom moreover have grown up and so also trained in France.  Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is today the undisputed number 1 in France with a very attractive style. In his game against the British grandmaster Michael Adams, MVL demonstrates his breathtaking mastership. His tandem cross through the complete board.

It seems to me no coincidence that in both examples the defense fails due to a lack of counterplay. So the success of the moving tandem mainly depends how well the opponent can interfere. Personally I find discovering such little rules fun and useful. Players only looking to the evaluation of their engine will surely miss this kind of lessons.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Over the years I've seen many players taking a break or even stopping completely with playing chess. Everybody has their own reasons but a crucial role plays surely the diminishing or even the disappearing of the game fun. I am convinced if somebody really likes to play chess then this is always possible in a moderate format on the condition that priority is given. So game fun is very important and that also is valid for myself despite the fact that I adopt a scientific approach

Winning is fun but losing is often very painful. Earlier I wrote in my article practical endgames that I was devastated after my loss against Bart. So chess is full of emotions for real adepts. Emotions aren't only present after the game but also before (remember the stomach-problems which I described in my article the sadistic exam) and especially during the game. 

Of course while playing it is smart to ignore emotions so full concentration can be given to the position but this is easier said than done. Especially when players get into time-trouble and on top have a difficult position on the board then some weird tics are seen. Swarming on the chair, stamping on the floor, clicking with the pen,... are undeniable signs of tension. Calmly leaning backwards in the chair shows the player has everything under control. A red turning face on the other hand indicates the player likely made a mistake.

Myself I am surely not immune for this but I do try as good as possible to hide my emotions so no useful information is shown to my opponent. So when I blunder then I pretend that it is part of the big plan as last in my simul-game against Niels Geryl so not to give my opponent a boost of self-confidence. By the way that time my poker-face didn't work as Niels skillfully finished the job. Sometimes I do salvage an extra half point like in my game against Marc Moors mentioned in the article the favourite has hundreds of points more.

Showing signals or not possibly influences opponents. Rick Lahaye wrote an interesting article on chessbase about how we can manipulate the focus of the opponent. You look deliberately to the wrong side of the board to let the opponent believe there is the action. This mainly works against much weaker opponents as they often assume that the much stronger opponent surely understands the position much better. An other familiar sign is to glare so that the opponent feels uncomfortable and as consequence can't concentrate properly. Very unsportsmanlike is to fake a blunder so the opponent fells in a trap. However I have to admit that online I dare to be less mister nice guy as this faking of a blunder i regularly apply with amusement if I can play my spectacular novelty in the Kan. I explain as I expect readers are wondering how it is possible to fake a blunder in online-chess while you can't see each other.

Playing with the reflection time was already once covered in the article camouflage but this time I didn't hide a preparation but tried to provoke a blunder. The border-line between psychological war-fare and disturbing the opponent is vague which also became clear from the comments on an article of schaaksite.

Recently I encountered a debatable experience. In the second round of Open Gent I played against Martijn Maddens. We jump at move 29 at the moment that Martijn proposed a draw.

It is normal that I was shocked by my "stupid" blunder but my emotional reaction was too strong and therefore doubtful. Martijn even started to laugh when I kept on shaking my head. Afterwards he told me that he was misguided by my reaction. Martijn believed that I was disappointed because the draw was inevitable and not because I missed the direct win (which I urgently wanted to show him after the game). Possibly Martijn played because of this less concentrated as in the follow-up the position was spoiled despite the big time-advantage and the clear drawing-chances.

I suppose many readers would've also missed the winning combination when being short of time so do find my reaction exaggerated irrespective of the ethical aspect. However one should not forget that in the past I was involved in chess-compositions. The mate-pattern is a very known theme in chess- compositions namely the starflight of which I made a composition 21 years ago myself.
White mates in 2
The king can only escape in the solution to the diagonal neighbouring squares so like a star. The missed combination was only a 3/4 starflight so normally easier to calculate. When the king can only escape to the horizontal neigbouring squares then we talk about a crossflight. An example of a crossflight was covered in the earlier referred article chess-compositions.


Solution Star-theme:

1. Ke2
1. ... Kd4 2. Nf3#
1. ... Kd6 2. Nf7#
1. ... Kf4 2. Nd3#
1. ... Kf6 2. Nd7#

Monday, September 1, 2014


The new rules introduced by fide also generated a lot of discussions in Belgium. The hot potato was of course the mobile-ban in tournaments which many considered as a privacy violation. Now accidentally yesterday I read that it still can become worse as in the college of Rotterdam students aren't allowed anymore to wear watches, see hln article. If mobiles and watches are forbidden then also contact-lenses (Bionic_contact_lens), spectacles (Google Glass), pens (pen computer) ... must be forbidden.

Players can leave watches and mobiles at home but this can't be demanded for contact-lenses, spectacles,... Personally I find that the battle against cheating is done the wrong way. The measurements largely miss their target as when 1 or 2 players really want to cheat then they always find new methods. On the other hand every honest player is the victim of the new bans. Today I use as mobile the Nokia 108 which you can buy for only 25 euro. It is a basic model which I use for calling and sporadically sending sms. I can't make an internet-connection with it but also this model I am not allowed anymore to bring to the tournament-hall. The ban feels therefore unreasonable and out of proportions. I last read on chesscafe that this opinion is shared on the recent fide congress at Tromso in which was plead for more flexibility so maybe an adaption of the rules will happen.

In the past Open Gent such flexibility was already applicable as the mobile was allowed in the tournament-room as long it was placed next to the board. As I possess only an old very cheap mobile, I used this flexibility. However most players didn't have any mobile laying next to their board while after their games many were quickly using mobiles. So I guess many players had sneakily their mobile in their pockets. There was no serious inspection ( frisk/ metal-detector) and even the arbiter told me afterwards that carrying mobiles was tolerated as long he didn't see the players having the mobile in their hands while playing. Maybe I should also use this less legal path as twice after the game I had to return to the tournament-hall to pick up my forgotten mobile.

Besides the new rules to fight cheating, we also see a much bigger focus in recent years on procedures. Hereby the arbiter gets an always increasing role which we for example could read in my article mate ends the game or not. Our home-arbiter Peter Beeckmans summarized on his blog the latest changes, see article but the chapter about irregularities is incomplete. There is mentioned that article 7.4 a becomes 7.5 a but not that the new version includes an important change of which I was not aware till a recent incident at the Open Charleroi.

To understand the impact of the new element, we best return to the famous game in the 12th round at the candidate-finales between Carlsen and Ivanchuk played in London 2013. Ivanchuk promoted at move 86 the h-pawn but left the pawn on the promotion-square to manage pressing the clock just in time.
Ivanchuk played at move 86 : h2-h1 without defining the piece
Carlsen did not protest, captured the pawn and lost the game. An elaborated article with strong comments can be read on schaaksite about this topic. There is even a picture in the article which shows clearly how Ivanchuk promoted wrongly. The picture I don't dare to reuse because of copyright.

Since first of July 2014 the article 7.5 a says: "If het player has moved a pawn to the furthest distant rank, pressed the clock, but not replaced the pawn with a new piece, the move is illegal. The pawn shall be replaced by a queen of the same colour as the pawn." Or in other words Ivanchuk loses the option to choose another piece except the queen for promotion if we don't consider for a moment the consequences of the illegal move. Some readers will consider this a detail. Probably unless you create stalemate via the wrong promotion as happened in a game of one of my club-fellows. This is very painful if you intended to make a minor-promotion. An example of such position is below.
White plays c7-c8 without defining the piece.
I don't see myself making immediately such wrong promotion but I do find such details interesting to know. By the way my compliments to the help-arbiter Luc Cornet whom acted correctly in this difficult situation.

Minor-promotions are of course the domain of chess-compositions. Hereby the Babson task is considered as the holy grail. A summary can be found on the site of Tim Krabbe. I made 21 years ago a very modest try on the promotion-theme, see below.
White mates in 3 moves.
With the 2 pair same-colored bishops this problem doesn't compete for an honorable spot but I do find it still charming.


..., Rh1 2. Bc5 en 3. Qa3#
..., h1(Q) 2. Bb4 en 3. Qa3#
..., h1(R) 2. Bb4 en 3. Qa3#
..., h1(N) 2. Bad6 en 3. Qa3#
..., h1(B) 2. Bf8 en 3. Qa3#