Monday, November 24, 2014

Kasparov on Kasparov part 3

The newest book of Kasparov arrived and... it is a small disappointment. Pity that I have to start the review in this way, but I really was expecting him to discuss the worlchampionships after the Karpov-area and now it seems there are barely 10 pages per WC (Short, Anand and Kramnik). Kasparov went in such depth in his games with Karpov that I assumed a similar approach would be used for his other WC-matches. Kasparov managed to make the long string of draws in the first match to look interesting. But about each non-Karpov match only 2 games are shown, e.g. of the match with Kramnik only 2 games and 2 fragments. And that while - a.f.a.i.k. - the match against Short was the most spectacular of all the matches which he played. Beautiful openings and middlegames, a Western challenger, some arguing outside the playingroom, a good coverage by the BBC, in brief finally a match with some spirit - a big contrast with the matches against Karpov which mainly took place on the board and produced marvelous chess. The attractiveness of those matches was solely depending of Kasparov.

A global minus-point is that the book only counts 3 + 1 chapter. For a book of 501 pages this is too little. The first chapter (pages 7 - 170) treats immediately already “Short, Anand and Las Palmas”, which is a reflection of the brief coverage of those WC-matches (Short 24 pages, Anand 17 pages). This is a gigantic cut compared with the attention given to the matches from 1986 and 1987 against Karpov ( a full book!) and a forecast of the mix WC/ tournament-chess in this and the next chapter. This mix isn't good for the structure of the book - it would have been much better if the World-championships were covered in separate chapters and in between the often very successful tournament-results. With the chosen approach the chapters are too big and they don't form a unit in time nor theme. So why was this classification chosen? At the end of chapter 1 Kasparov calls the tournament of Las Palmas 1996 the modern variant of the AVRO-tournament of 1938 - the new and old topplayer (Aljechin/ Kasparov and Capablanca/Karpov) against the youth. The end of an era - since then Kasparov plays against the new generation. It is a valid argument (which does not absolve that the chapter was better split in several smaller parts). 

Chapter 2 (Second Peak) covers Linares 1997 (page 171) till the lost match with Kramnik (page 330). Also here I can agree with the end of the chapter but not with the size.

Chapter 3 (Life after Death, pages 331-460) lasts till his final tournament-game (against Topalov in Linares 2005). Also logical. That chapter 4, the fourth wheel on a tricycle is pity, but it is what it is.

What I notice at the content is that it looks he could only prepare well on Karpov in a match-situation. Short and Kramnik surprised him completely with their openings and also by extra chess-worries those matches clearly kept a bad aftertaste in Kasparov's mouth. This also generates the impression that Kasparov poorly prepared himself and that it was not him steering the situation but the opponents. Here not "Kasparov the Great" was playing but just Kasparov the super-grandmaster. About those moments he clearly doesn't like to write. Fortunately for the match with Kramnik we can use the detailed description of Bareev in the book “From London to Elista” (no idea if books of such level are available about the Short and Anand match).

On the other hand it is only a semi-disappointment as the tournament-chess which he played since 1993, is very well explained. Not fantastically but good till very good. Good because the keygames are well covered and now explained by the analysis of "the master". Kasparov played so many model-games that even summarizing them in this short review is a bit too much.

My personal favorite is Shirov-Kasparov (a model-example for everybody playing the Svechnikov with black), but this time I use the opportunity to show a "normal"game of Kasparov. Nikolic was for a long period just not top 10, but he was a regular customer in top-tournaments in the 90-ties. Nevertheless Kasparov scored 13,5/16 against Nikolic. In this game Kasparov sacrifices temporarily a knight to complicate Nikolic's task but Nikolic plays well. As a consequence this is in fact a very high class game, the analysis can easily resist the engines of today. Only due to timetrouble-errors black lost the game. The game is covered over 6 pages with comments - not only moves - i copied the comments of Kasparov on move 9, 13 and 15. The annotations are from Kasparov.

It becomes clear from the analyses that Kasparov refreshed the analysis with an engine afterwards. At move 16 he shows an improvement on his analysis by using a computer in 2012. The level of the analysis is high and gives a good image of the rest of the games in the book (comparable with the analysis of the other books). The next game (Kasparov-Shirov from the same tournament in Horgen 1994) is by the way once called " the game of the 21st century". Kasparovs rook-sacrifice against the bishop of b7 is still not found by engines today (see a previous article on this site). If the analysis are of excellent quality and readable (not a jungle as Hubner) then the attached comments are often colored. If Kasparov wins then it was almost against all odds. If he loses then he was a bit sick, his mind absent or just a bad day. Apparently a healthy Kasparov never lost.

And still I can't call the collection of games fantastic as a number of games are only fragments - sometimes of only 1 move. Then it is a bit of a delusion to announce the book as a collection of 100 best games after the matches with Karpov. I expect at least 100 complete games. And I am sure that Kasparov can present more stuff, considering his oeuvre - it would improve a lot the empathy with the covered tournaments.

For sake of clarity, there are more than 100 games, but the + 100 games are in chapter 4 with the simul-games, rapid and blitzgames. This chapter goes through the complete chronology (which is a bit pity - it is a missed chance to get some variety with the 440 pages of Kasparov the Great), but it is nothing more than a collection "best of" less important games. The games in that chapter averagely get 2 pages - a clear difference with the "real" games of the first 3 chapters.

Kasparov touches very briefly his usage of the first Chessbase release - again a half missed opportunity to discuss this. Kasparov also chose not to show any tournament-tables which saves space but it interrupts less the text. It is one big, long text - and the number of anecdotes fall a bit short too - apparently Kasparov doesn't like to gossip about colleagues. He does discuss the incident in Linares with Polgar, when he did/ didn't release the piece and made another move with the knight. According to Kasparov nothing happened - or what did you expect?

At the end he hints clearly that no WC-match is granted anymore to him (probably because of his political ambitions in Russia) but also the other players treat him more like a has-been, somebody to free space to the new generation. Remark that Kasparov till the end of his career was the number 1 at the world-ranking! Personally I think that he stopped far too early; the fact that he still pops up at large events clearly indicates that he will never give up chess. His losses are not only against the world-top, but now also against lesser gods (e.g. Huzman). However Kasparov does show generosity by commenting his last official game (a loss against Topalov in Linares).

Once I made the remark that Kasparov after his predecessors and his own chess-biography could also write about his successors (see bookreview). However now that I read this book, I hope he doesn't. It became clear to me that for Kasparov it is only about himself. He seems not capable of writing in objective praise about what happened after him in chess.

On one side too bad, it would be interesting to get his view about the 10 years after his departure - of tournament chess to be understood (on chess-politics I don't have any illusions - and his criticism that chess is now hidden in remote places like Khanty-Mansyisk or Elista, instead of the forefront like London or New York is very justified). Especially the break-through of the new generation, which Kasparov barely knew (Carlsen, Caruana, Nakamura) would be interesting to get his views upon. However taking into account my previous critiques, namely Kasparov considering himself as the culminating point of chess-evolution, the chances are that his comments won't be so objective.

Maybe the game hasn't changed much since Kasparov and we had to wait till Carlsen won everything, often without sophisticated openings, the trademark (but later also the self-created weakness) of Kasparov. But chess is now more than ever alive, only unfortunately without Kasparov as he could have continued surely 10 years at the top. However the pain of the lost image was too big and in fact he stopped just like Fischer (and Judit Polgar) when he was still at his best. It is not a coincidence  that he often mentions the total-score against other top-players - which are often heavily in his favor. Only Kramnik, Lautier (only standard chess) and Gulko (3/8) have a plus-score (over multiple games) against Kasparov. Probably very few players can show such dominance.

And now that we are talking about engines - almost not a word about the games and matches Kasparov played. Deep Blue gets a half line (!), the other matches are not even mentioned at all and I could not find the game against the world - for sure a gap in the mixed bag of chapter 4.

I conclude that Kasparov better split the book in 2 to at least discuss the WC-matches completely, to expand the fragments to full games and to protect the chronology (the only reason to put rapid and simul-games in chapter 4 seems to be that the 100 best games since 1993 should be together). This would also offer the chance to get the book more organized.

Why is it not done? Tiredness of the project or was 5 books predecessors, 4 books Karpov and 3 books about himself sufficient?

Finally some small remarks. A glance at the index behind - which seems a bit mangled (the alphabetic ordered references to the games are neither time-ordered, neither page-ordered) - shows that Kasparov was mainly playing against the world-top - his preparation against familiar opponents was half of the work. That is why the book consists of 90% games against approximately the top 10 players of the world and only rarely against a lesser god. A remarkable name of these "lesser gods" is by the way our Russian-Belgian player Chuchelov, which Kasparov promotes as a good grandmaster (he is now by the way the second of Caruana). Concerning chapter 4, this is a little minuspoint: other opponents or shorter time-controls produce often interesting games too. And the linguistic mistake "an historic tournament" keeps popping up as in his previous books.

All in all I would give this book 3 out of 5 - it is maybe the worst from the series. This sounds negative, but the other books were also of a very high quality.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Commenting games

Often the winner in top-tournaments is invited to explain his game in front of the camera. This gives the spectators the opportunity to get a glimpse of what the top-grandmaster saw during the game and which emotions he experienced. Personally I find those post-mortems the most interesting and entertaining part of the complete broadcast. Nobody except the players are able to provide those insights so it also logical that a game is best commented by one of both players.

If I demand in my previous article live boards for a commentator then I also realize that this task should not be taken lightly.  Providing good comments on a game which you don't/ didn't play is not easy. I often catch oneself that I am so annoyed by the live comments that I switch off the sound and only look to the variations and evaluations of the engines. So I do understand HK5000 in his last article.

You won't find many detailed comments on my blog about games which I didn't play. Many of the published games from other players have the sole function to illustrate a certain theme. To dissect a game I almost exclusively do when I was involved myself in it. My article which games to analyze explains that I sift to the bottom all my own games. Hereby I imply the 2nd main reason why I often don't comment so deeply games from others. Somebody a bit active as player already has sufficient work with analyzing his own played games. To create high quality analysis needs a lot of time as explained in my article to analyze with an engine.

Of course time is a relative notion as motivation is closely connected. I also notice this behavior on my blog. Most reactions happen by players noticing their own name in the article. To abstain from commenting is much harder in such case which does not mean that I don't want to see comments, at contrary. The delicate balance between time/ motivation was also the reason why I refused polity a few times in the past to contribute at some analysis (e.g. for the praised book of the Tarrasch defense). 

Today anybody can create decent analysis with engines, see article theory. You search in the germane databases for the important games and you scrutinize the moves. Which databases to use and which games are important was covered in my article improvisation. To only prepare your own repertoire is already a gigantic task or maybe simply impossible. It is clear that only a thorough opening-study is made if you are pretty sure that you will reuse this later.

Commenting a game played by others and moreover with an opening completely outside of your own repertoire is no fun. I often read comments which are completely wrong. 2 examples of the internet on which I could not resist to react : schaaksitechessbase. In the book My Great Predecessor Part 2 I even caught Kasparov committing a serious shortcoming in the analysis. It regards the game Bronstein - Ljubojevic of which I already covered a fragment in my article the horizon.

The analysis explains us that 10.Nf3 is the best move but I have serious doubts about that especially because Kasparov admits later that he is not sure if which can obtain some advantage with this move. Besides the critical move 10.d6 is not mentioned at all. Although the move is already known from 1976 so several decades before the book was written. I played 1 standard game in this line.

Of course we ask ourselves what happens if black takes the rook on h1. Online I've won already countless blitz and bulletgames in this variation. A short summary can be viewed below.

I don't reproach anything Kasparov as it is an opening which he never played with any of the colors and probably never studied. By the way the other games of which he does possess opening-knowledge, largely compensate. I do have problems when a commentator hides on purpose elements because it does not fit the story or because it would show some own shortcomings. Unfortunately there are many of such type. Honesty is at my opinion the main asset to captivate the reader or spectator.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Computer chess

Today the internet provides us an abundance of information. If you follow Chessbase (and I don't mention on purpose Chessvibes, which after the acquisition by only remains a shadow of the initial site) then you know what I mean. There are not only the toptournaments which are successive but there are also national and local events, twic and many other blogs and sites. I forget the DVD's, chessmagazines, books which have some more or less some lasting value.

Currently the 7th season of TCEC is ongoing, and the games can be watched live. For people not yet familiar with TCEC, it is the unofficial WC for engines in tournament-chess. In the previous years this format earned credibility, the tournaments run smoothly and the site is exemplary. With the worldchampionship ahead (I wrote this article on 6-7th of November), it will be a difficult choice. In the previous WC between Anand and Carlen I did follow some games live (this was possible considering the time-difference with India as it was after office hours) and I really enjoyed it. Especially the game in which Carlsen in a rook-endgame sacrificed 2 pawns to challenge Anand with the advanced king and pawn made live a big impression. Running an engine in the background allows the kibitzer to easily understand the ongoing events. This is the big asset of live watching grandmaster-games.

Maybe some people will consider evaluating a position with a single number too simplistic for chess but for many modest players - and I am one of them- this evaluation plays the role of a grandmaster-commentator.
Recently - in fact still ongoing- I am following the 7th season of TCEC. We are now in stage 2 and I catch myself that I daily do a quick check how the ongoing game is folding out. The tournament is extremely strong - Carlsen would not have any chance as all engines are stronger than him. E.g. the average calculation-depth is 25-30 plies and it often happens that at the end of a main-line we have an endgame on the board, while the opening isn't finished yet. Another example: Chiron announced against Naum mate in 93 moves. It is not a record (in the Lomonosov database there are mate-sequences of more than 500 moves), but still it is impressive how deep chess-software gets. The fun part is that they play this time without real openings - engines have to invent theory themselves and try to achieve nice positions (engines better have to use some early middlegame-knowledge which otherwise is only necessary if the opponent leaves book early).

The 4 top-engines (Komodo, Stockfish, Houdini and newcomer Gull) have their own characteristics. Especially Komodo's analysis of his game against Houdini impressed me a lot.

Komodo sacrificed a pawn for permanent pressure on the whites position and you could notice that Houdini never would escape out of it unless returning the material. Here Komodo showed constantly a minimal plus for white (despite the pawn extra for white) and kept this evaluation stable( the position did not change during 30 moves). Houdini evaluated the positions bit differently, although nothing substantially changed. It was clear that Komode made a much more 'human' evaluation of the position and surpassed the pure calculations of (in this case useless) small advantages. In the end Komodo broke through. I don't really care if this had to do with a better evaluation or a better calculation. Anyway Komodo evaluated the position more accurate and therefore deservedly won the game. Such improvement is a big advantage for each player and this is exactly the main asset of using Komodo for analysis.

This was only 1 example in favor of Komodo. In Komodo - Protector, the engine punished superbly an inferior queen-move in the endgame ( I wonder if somebody like Carlsen or Caruana would notice such opportunity). At move 54 Protector plays Qd7 instead of the anticipated Qb8 by Komodo. What follows is a long line in which black gets out of balance (Komodo's evaluation raises to maximally 0,85) but the advantage is not large enough to win as insufficient material remains on the board. So immediately also a counter-example but nevertheless a very instructive and epic game.

A second remarkable aspect which I noticed for Komodo, is that the program starts to calculate faster when the game proceeds. No other engine shows such behavior. In the game against Houdini Komodo starts at 17.000 knps and finishes at 40.000 knps – Houdini stayed for a very long time just below 30.000 knps during the complete game. It seems Komodo is programmed in such way that the number of parameters to be calculated are decreased in the endgame without a negative impact on the playing-strength. If you add a very clever searching-algorithm (Komodo often calculates much deeper than the other engines which calculate faster) then apparently you have a top-engine. Often a new engine is promoted as indispensable or a big step forwards but in the last years we can count the game changers on one hand:Fruit, Rybka, Houdini and maybe now also Komodo. In a world in which we can easily analyze with free engines, it is maybe again worth buying Komodo.

Stockfish has become less extreme in his evaluation, but at the moment of writing Komodo was still the only engine unbeaten. I am a fan of Stockfish, if only because it is a freeware project - an example of the force of cooperation on the internet. Besides it was the first program considered as stronger than Houdini on the CCRL-site. Cheng (nbr 46 on the CCRL-list) almost lost childishly in their mutual game -only 34 moves which is a bit like grandmaster against amateur.

Houdini is a known force but we don't see any big improvements anymore. The engine made moderate progression since version 1.5 and misses the consistent small steps of improvement which the Komodo-team demonstrates already in several releases (late Don Daily mentioned before his dead that he still had several ideas to improve the engine). Nonetheless the engine still plays super-human and almost wins every time against weaker engines. An occasional loss against an almost equivalent opponent (Komodo, Chiron) seems to be the price which must be paid. If people think that on a level of +3000 that combinations are not possible and a win/loss is only bad programming, must surely replay the game Naum - Houdini in which Houdini plays the temporarily exchange-sacrifice 19...Rxb3. It wins the white queen for the 2 rooks, shatters the white pawns and finally picks them up one by one.

The 3 engines split the final places of the previous TCEC seasons - over their supremacy there is no discussion.

Gull is the new star - on CCRL40 (probably the most reliable reference for defining the strength of engines), it was already positioned at spot 4 - but here it seems to confirm. Some games it seems to win with luck but engine-chess exactly distinguishes from "human" chess that luck is absent (no bad day, no chess-blindness, no tiredness). Personally I don't know the engine well but it is surely has potential and maybe it can still bring surprises in the next steps (it is allowed to introduce a newer release in the later tournament-phases).

Junior is the number 5 - the program has a big collection of world-titles (although we can argue that some titles were obtained while not all top-engines were present). It also played a few fine games, in which his evaluation (which I always considered as very neutral - a bit like Komodo today) was often more accurate. A striking example was Junior-Chiron, in which the h-file (and the weak position of the black king) was of a higher importance than the 2 connected black pawns in the center.

Engine-chess boring? Well it won't be covered in detail in the chess-history but as it is represented on TCEC, it surely is enjoyable. And as all games are downloadable in the analysis-section (pretty redundant as the site already provides the service to replay them) it completes the fun. With this we arrived at the beginning: computer-chess-sites generate hundreds of extra games daily - games of a (very) high quality. Again an extra source to check materials for games ...


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Live boards

This year in the Dutch interclub the time limit is for the first time 40 moves in 90 minutes and 30 minutes for the remaining moves with an increment of 30 seconds for each move. Earlier this month this time control was also inconspicuously approved for the Belgain interclub. It is unclear to me if this is a necessary improvement for Belgian chess. Anyway many players do like the new time control. The role of the arbiters is reduced to a minimum and a game is averagely shortened with an hour. My teammate Thierry proposed even to also advance the starting hour to 13h like in the Dutch interclubs so the Sundayevening would become free. Personally I find the loss in quality due to the reduced duration of the game more important than a free sundayevening. If I want to play quick then I prefer to play blitz in a cafe or on the internet but of course preferences and priorities differ.

In tournaments with a strict schedule of 2 games per day like Open Gent or Open Leuven, an increment is not an option. Only 1 game must last longer than 100 moves and the organisation has to deal with delays. Because of that those tournaments still choose for the old K.O formula. In 2 hours for the whole game it is still possible to play till move 30 reasonable standard chess. After move 30 the cadence accelerates from rapid to blitz or even bullet. The regulations tell us if we have less than 5 minutes remaining that no more recording of the moves is necessary and that happens regularly when more than 40 moves are played. If a game continues to move 80 or 100 then it is often impossible to rebuild the game afterwards. My teammate Daniel reacted unperturbed when I mentioned him this issue. Analyzing rapid, blitz or bullet is brainless and time-trouble-errors are only a joke.

This is a dry practical view about chess. However I apply a scientific approach so I also like to know  the truth of the final phase. This edition I was lucky that all my games in Open Gent were live broadcasted. It is a fantastic service of the organisation. This way chessplayers but also friends or family (like my father-in-law sitting in Ufa) can follow my moves live. In a neighboring room of the tournament the organisation set up a gigantic screen on which the top 16 games were live projected. Every visitor was free to give comments and at the same time enjoy a drink or some food.
Neighboring room with gigantic screen in Open Gent (photographer: Dirk Gregoir)
Eventually all the involved players got afterwards a complete recording of their games as when players stop then the program still continues. I find it extraordinary how today the equipment succeeds doing this job with such high level of accuracy as in the final phase the pieces are often not nicely put on their squares.

For rebuilding 3 of my own games I used the recording of the live boards. The first time was in round 2 against Martijn Maddens. I already covered a piece of that game in my article starflights. Below is the dramatic conclusion of the game.

The second game was against Andrew Brown of which I already showed the conclusion in the article bricks. The 3rd game was my 100 moves-game against the Hungarian IM Adam Szeberenyi whom kept on playing a totally drawn-endgame as I had only 5 minutes against his 30 minutes. He pushed till the limit and even over it as on one moment I suddenly got an unique winning-possibility which I unfortunately missed as I was running out of time.

So long games are invariably part of my practice which probably makes that I am averagely more active than the normal chessplayer (as earlier claimed in my article food and drinks). However the price for longest game of the tournament was not for me as it went to the dramatic game in round 7 between the Swedish grandmaster Thomas Ernst and our Belgian top-player Mehr Hovhanisian which lasted 108 moves. 

In fact I can recommend every organisation to install and use live boards. It is a small investment but the return is certainly huge via publicity and entertainment. Possibly still some improvements are possible. In Open Leuven not only a recording of the moves happens but also of the time-consumption per move. Personally I find this information very useful not only to understand better the game but also to make some conclusions as involved player later. Finally an organisation could also add a commentator in the room where a big screen is installed which projects the live games. This can quickly become expensive but I believe a 2200 player can already do the job for a broad audience. Cheating is surely a disadvantage of the technological advancements but there are a lot of advantages.