Monday, December 7, 2015

Risks

Looking at the rules of our centuries-old game we notice a lot has changed during the last decades. Some changes were heavily criticized but we also realize that many adaptations were necessary to safeguard the future of chess. Many organizers are grateful of being able to use quicker timetcontrols to keep their tournaments not only attractive but also cost-efficient. The organizers of the top-tournament of Zurich even recently asked fide to allow faster controls to be accepted for standard chess.

A daring commercial concept is the millionaire tournament of Las Vegas in which big prizes were given partly sponsored by the high subscriptions. In US the tournament got a lot of publicity also by the mainstream-media so it definitely was a success. Today chess seldom gets positively in the news so maybe it makes sense to elaborate this model. Although I fear this will be more difficult in our conservative Europe.

Popularizing (again) chess to the general public is already for a longtime an objective in chess-politics. Allowing sofia rules and applying them in tournaments, naturally is part of this strategy. Nevertheless despite all the efforts we have no guarantee to see entertaining chess as in the crucial 7th round of the Millionaire tournament there was a lot of controversy after the game Luke McShane - Hikaru Nakamura which ended already after 9 disappointing moves in a repetition.

Chessplayers are very individualistic. I repeat myself but sometimes I have to as the recently published interview with Harika Dronova writes "But all the top players have different skills and I respect them for the hard work they put in it to entertain viewers with beautiful games". It is nonsense to claim that players choose moves to entertain the public. Now the whole interview doesn't please me.

Riskmanagement is a very important facet of chess which simultaneously also restricts players of playing real chess. We already saw an extremely negative example in the earlier mentioned game but it can also be more subtle. In my game against Marc Ghysels I chose for a long theoretical line which ended in a rather dry endgame.

I didn't want to play unprepared the sharpest lines and I just hoped that he didn't know very well this sideline. Marc had played in our previous encounters a Scheveningen, Pirc and French opening so I didn't find it unreasonable to make this small gamble.

It doesn't need to be long theoretical lines to see boring games. In the next interclub-game we left theory very early and still the game never became interesting as none was willing to take risks.

I and Philippe had several opportunities to sharpen the game but we just played it safe and swapped off most pieces. Above games will never entertain the general public.

Players can be convinced to take risks if there is an incentive. A good motivation is when there is a big ratinggap as the highest rated player is obliged to win not to lose many points. In the past I already showed a few examples of this in my article playing ad hominem. More recently I made a remarkable choice in my game of Open Gent against Hendrik Westerweele.

I correctly judged that taking back with the c-pawn was strong but you can clearly see from my next moves that I am not used to play this type of positions. So I am aware that a different game from my opponent could've produced an upset.

This article is not about if risks are healthy or not for your rating. Risks increase the entertainment value. This quality is necessary to please the public and attract sponsors. A big ratinggap only exists in a limited amount of games so for the majority we need extra support. An adapted rewarding mechanism, special tiebrake-systems, beauty-prizes, sofia rules... help but don't bring absolute success. On the other hand we have to avoid that a well fought draw is punished (too hard). Organizers don't have it easy with the very limited goodwill of the participants.

Brabo

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Resigning

Young parents are probably familiar with the concept of triple p. This modern method of education solves problems with a positive attitude. Punishments are avoided as much as possible. I've been immediately fan of this approach but it is not always easy. Besides the older generation often doesn't approve this new philosophy as they used very different techniques.

The future will show us which parents made the best choices. Today I am satisfied with the relation I built up with my children although I sometimes ask myself if we don't make it too comfortable for them. Disappointments are part of life. Today some children miss a strong backbone as demonstrated a recent article of hln.

I believe chess can play an important role for many children to improve the resilience. I use the word "can" as I notice many children are following chess-courses but only few participate in tournaments. In the most recent youth-tournaments my son was the only one of 30 pupils from Deurne to actually participate. Of course there is a connection with the willingness of parents or volunteers but I also notice that many children prefer not to participate at competitions. Playing in tournaments is a difficult and tough experience. The emotions can become so strong for the youngest participants that some tears can't be suppressed anymore.

Even after many years of playing competitions I never got used to losing games. Maybe it also explains why I still continue playing chess contrary to many contemporaries. Closely related to losing is of course the eternal discussion about when is the appropriate moment to resign. My son, playing in the -8 group, I recommend to play till mate. However experienced players will rarely continue the game in completely lost positions. It is not only a waste of time but it is often also considered as not showing sufficient respect to the opponent.

What is a completely lost position or when is a game resigned normally? To get a more objective answer, I reviewed my last 100 games in which a player resigned or was mated. I used Komodo 8 on my portable to get an evaluation of the final positions. Each score above [9] I capped at [9] to avoid that some games would distort the average too much. I suspect nobody doubts that an advantage of [9] = queen is sufficient for any clubplayer to win the game.
My last 100 games in which a player resigned or was mated.












I was surprised to detect that the average was as high as 7,45 points. I scored 7,46 while my opponents 7,44 so almost exactly the same. I also thought it would be interesting to detect differences between the rating-groups.
Rating/ average score at resigning or mate
 Only a limited number of games are processed but still we see some kind of trend. The lower rated players are resigning more quickly if the rating-difference increases. Possible explanations are that the rating-gap increases the respect of the opponent for the stronger player or that the opponent expects that a future upset will become less likely. I don't dare to say anything about the higher rated players as the number of games is too small.

I deduct from the statistics one important element which is that averagely players continue for a long time to fight in lost positions. In 58 of the 100 games I even recorded a score of 9 or more. So it is a fairy-tale that serious players resign from the moment they have a lost position. As earlier mentioned, chess is above all a pure individual activity in which the public is not taken into account. Most players, myself included, choose to continue playing for quite some time in completely lost positions.

Nevertheless you also have players not willing to drag out lost positions. Especially in open tournaments you can experience that a bunch of kibitzers are watching like vultures to the agony taking place on the board. So I do understand that some players want to avoid this suffering by resigning when there are no more realistic chances anymore for a turnover. When can you resign with a clear conscience? Well if we look at some recent handicap matches between human and machine then it is clear that humans often error with extra material. Each situation is of course different but resigning being less than a piece down, must be considered too early. The earliest I resigned was with a score of 3 (in my disadvantage). Besides I had serious time-trouble and my opponent was rated more than 300 points higher see 1ste game of the article "to shoot a mosquito with a canon".

A couple of months ago I and the other present players of TSM were very surprised when my opponent Raf De Coninck resigned already at a score of 0,77.
White resigned while Komodo only shows -0,77
If you let Komodo calculate longer (10 minutes) then the evaluation drops further as whites position has no real perspective. However everybody except Raf agreed it was too early to resign. Of course it can still be worse as happened last summer in the Politiken cup with the famous Swedish grandmaster Tiger Hillarp Persson resigning in a dead drawn position.
White resigned while it is a dead draw.
The drawing-line was demonstrated on many sites, among them the blog of the Indian IM Sagar Shah. It is definitely not an isolated incident. On the blog of Tim Krabbe you can find a long list of special positions in which a player resigned while there was a hidden win available. Personally I don't think it is bad to force the opponent to show the winning line. Besides you often please the opponent by doing so as it brings satisfaction to execute the final combination on the board.

Brabo

Friday, November 20, 2015

Tactics part 2

When we check our games with a computer then very often we are frightened by the number of missed tactics. For some people this spoils the fun. They prefer not to look anymore at the lines spitted out by the tactical monster. I am on the other hand a real masochist as I would even skip sleep just to get an old fashioned beating (see my article interferences).

Of course I am just joking. In the first place it is my unrestrained curiosity which needs to be temporarily tempered by a quick qualitative analysis. I expect 99% of the chessplayers would be satisfied with these analysis. I on the other hand am only fully content after having evaluated each played move at least 1 minute by my 2 strongest engines, see details in my article analyze with a computer. It partly explains why my games are sometimes only months later published here on the blog. Qualitative analysis needs time especially if chess isn't your profession.

Except pleasure you could ask yourself why to make such thorough analysis of the games. Sure I have a blog and you don't want to appear completely foolish with some sloppy analysis on the internet but what if there would be no blog? Everybody understands the value of analyzing openings as the chance is real to use them in practice but how often the same tactical trick in a middle game will reoccur in practice? If I am objectively looking at my games then I have to admit similar combinations in the middle or end-game are very rare. On the other hand we learn most from our mistakes and we still remember them many years later.

I once missed in 2002 a not very difficult tactical combination. After the game I was especially upset not having won the game.

However this summer I got to my great joy a chance to play a similar motive in the last round of Open Gent. Not only I found the combination this time but I had seen it already a few moves earlier.

It really becomes weird when you find out that a similar tactical curiosity happens for a second time in the same game. Last season I missed to my surprise in the final round of the clubchampionship of Deurne a pretty easy win of the queen. Fortunately my chosen move was also winning swiftly as otherwise I would be very ashamed.

Exactly the same motive but in a much more beautiful composition occurred in my game against Ted. Not only it costed me just a few seconds to find the right moves but I also saw the combination already before white captured the pawn on b7 !

It takes more than one swallow to make a summer so these examples don't prove that spending many hours analyzing our games will bring a good return. Personally I think a good book about tactics or one of the many sites on which you can solve tactics (some were mentioned in my article invisible moves) will be more efficient. Solving some puzzles can be fun but doing every day your homework as some (Belgian) topplayers do, must be a monotonous hard labor for which I can't push myself as amateur.

Brabo

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Wandering kings

The strong Georgian grandmaster Jobava Baadur confirmed once more in a recently published two-piece interview on Chessbase that knowing the games of our great ancestors is crucial for the development of any young player. It is a pity that I get this info 20 years too late as back then there was no internet or other source giving me such advice. Only in 1998 via my job I got my first restricted access to the internet.

The last 5 years I try to slowly close this gap. Often I don't manage to read more than 15 minutes a day but in the meanwhile I do get the feeling to know already something about our rich history of chess. I also do learn something technically but I don't expect any gain of rating as too many other components are at least as important.

Maybe the most attractive aspect of studying our classics is discovering connections between today and our past. Recognizing certain recurring themes allows to better understand and appreciate a game. Example there is the theme of the wandering king. The king walks over the board with the objective not to interfere an attack. The insane kings-walk of Navara which was shown in my article g4 in the najdorf is not a good example of this theme.

If we review our classics then it is not a surprise that former worldchampion Tigran Petrosian used this theme several times. His most famous game is probably the one against the German grandmaster Wolfgang Unzicker.

Another impressive example is surely his game against the Spanish grandmaster Jesus Diez del Corral.

Other games of Petrosian with this theme can be found in this collection. Petrosian had an enormous influence on chess with his remarkable style. I already discussed this in my article about prophylaxis but this is also valid for this theme. Very recently we saw a wandering king in the tiebrake of the semi-final of the worldcup by the Russian grandmaster Peter Svidler in his game against the Chinese child-prodigy Wei Yi.

These top players know of course their classics but also closer to home we can detect that our Belgian leading players have spent time on studying them. Some months ago Bart Michiels demonstrated a wandering king in our most recent encounter.

I can well imagine that some players can devise a wandering king themselves without knowing previous examples. However the precious time needed to make such plans isn't always available with the ever faster becoming timecontrols. I often read the old masters thought 40 minutes or more over 1 move but we don't have such luxury anymore.

Brabo

Friday, October 30, 2015

A blessing in disguise

Mistakes exist in all sorts of formats and sizes: small, big, technical, time and fatigue related ones or just silly mistakes. Except a few games we will make in each game mistakes as I demonstrated already in the previous article. To detect mistakes I use extensively my computer but there are of course different methods. A good port-mortem with the opponent can be very enlightening but also a session with a coach and/or stronger player can be educative. Finally if you are sufficient self-critical then it must be possible to find independently already some errors.

By discovering mistakes we realize that some things were missed during the game. The number of mistakes and so also the number of things missed directly correlate with the result of the game. This iron logic explains why many players don't accept luck being part of our game.

However this theory becomes shaky when there exist positions in which we increase our winning chances by missing something. Blundering a piece can never be a good thing, right? Well as you can imagine also here there are exceptions. We start with a recent example from our reigning worldchampion Magnus Carlsen.

On chess.com Magnus admitted that he was incredibly lucky not to lose after missing Qb7. I still remember from my practice one such oddity of a blessing in disguise.


I completely missed the fork after capturing the c6 pawn but I was thrilled to discover that I got tremendous compensation. I assume my opponent was also surprised by the developments as how else can we explain his meltdown which followed.

Last in the past Open Gent I experienced again such peculiarity but this time I was the victim. Hereby I do have to applaud for the behavior of my opponent Bart Michiels as without his confession I would've never known luck played a role. I expect few players would admit that their winning move was actually based on blundering a piece.

Well it is not pleasant of course to lose your chances of making a top-ranking this way. On the other hand you do realize on such moments that professional chess must be very tough. True such extreme hiccups are fortunately very rare. Anyway I don't recommend anybody to give away pieces and assume some hidden win will pop up later or you could be very disappointed.

Brabo

Friday, October 23, 2015

Mistakes

The news-articles which Chess.com every day brings are maybe not that topnotch as in the days of its predecessor chessvibes (as HK5000 earlier wrote in the article computerchess), the new blogs on chess.com which I got to know, surely largely compensate. On chess.com everybody can start its own blog which means a lot of garbage must be disregarded before finding the goodies. A nice selection is the one proposed by chess.com : recent top-articles. If you still have some extra spare time then I recommend to follow also the blog of the Australian grandmaster David Smerdon

The added value of the blogarticles for chess.com shouldn't be underestimated. A well written article can easily achieve 10.000 views. I consider this a lot for an article not covering a running top-tournament although I immediately have to admit that reading good blogs can be pretty addictive. Besides if you know a good chess-blog which I didn't earlier refer to then you can definitely do me a favor by writing it down below in a reaction.

The subjects treated on chess.com are very diverse so everybody will find something interesting. There are educational articles (with e.g the famous trainers IM Silman and Bruce Pandolfini), historical articles (the house-specialist is without doubt Batgirl), thematic articles, stories and even cartoons (only Jose Diaz).   Staff-member Pete has a reputation of publishing regularly posts creating controversy. Recently he challenged the reader to criticize the choice of the jury, having awarded a beauty-price out of a huge amount of submitted copies of games played in Millionaire chess open at Las Vegas. The beauty-price has the value of an entry-ticket to next's edition which isn't small if you notice the amounts payed by players for this year's edition.

As the winner contained a huge number of mistakes, many readers were disappointed. White already blunders early in the game his queen but fights back and even wins eventually the game. It is this fighting spirit which mainly pleased the jury. However in a reaction this so called fighting spirit was minimized as white only continued the game to avoid his game being published in some magazine as a miniature. On the other hand perfect play isn't the equivalence of beauty. I played in 19 of my last 100 games without any mistake (if we consider the standard explained in my article annotations)  and none of them can be considered special. I win often games punishing the mistakes of my opponents by simple technical means. I also have a couple of perfect drawn games in which both sides played super cautious and after exchanging most pieces achieved a dry endgame. The couple of short draws neither convince and the few games which do look bright are almost completely based on thorough preparations as in the recent game below.

The novelty arrived at move 28. By the way this is an improvement of my old record covered in my article copycats. Besides I already had seen the novelty at home on my computer and the rest of the game isn't that difficult. No I prefer watching a game with mistakes if this is within certain boundaries of course. Personally I think blundering a queen is too much but which mistakes are acceptable? Let us first have a look of which kind of mistakes exist. I consider 3 categories of mistakes: technical mistakes (linked to the strength of the player), forced errors (mistakes made in time-trouble, fatigue so avoidable in normal circumstances) and concentration mistakes (inexplicable blunders). It is interesting to find out which mistakes are occurring most frequently. For this I again use my personal database (as done before in my article to study openings). Contrary to a commercial database, my games are analyzed and on top also contain lots of background-information about e.g. time-consumption,.. To execute the work in a couple of hours, I only processed my most recent 100 played games.
Chessmistakes details last 100 games played by Brabo
Chessmistakes overview last 100 games played by Brabo
Despite the small-scale study I believe we do see some clear trends. My rating was more or less stable over the 100 games and I played a very evenly spread of player's strength.
1) Concentration mistakes are rare for experienced clubplayers and can't be linked to a rating. Remember my article grandmasternorm for stefan docx in which a double concentration blunder of Stefan was shown.
2) I don't make a distinction between the magnitude of the mistakes but it is not at all a surprise that the number of technical mistakes declines when the rating of a player increases.
3) It is neither a surprise that I commit more technical mistakes against higher rated players as the problems become more complex to be solved. An exception is  the lowest rating-slice which probably can be explained as the result of  playing regularly a sub-optimal move to avoid any complex position. I also want to remark that the actual methods to detect cheating insufficiently take this aspect into account.
4) Maybe the most stunning is the drastic increase of the forced errors in the highest rating-slice for both sides. In this slice my opponent is higher rated so more willing to take risks contrary to my more careful approach against lower rated players. An other explanation is that the problems which need to be solved in the highest rating-slice anyway take more time.

I don't doubt that the number of mistakes also largely depends on the type of player. However I would be surprised if no similar trends can be discovered. If we connect beauty at quality and combativeness then we first need to look at the games between top-players. However the definition of beauty isn't the same for everybody as different accents can be added. So I do understand that a sensational turnaround can be so wonderful that mistakes are just considered as beauty marks.

Brabo

Friday, October 16, 2015

To disarm

The new generation of young players possess today a wide range of tools to improve of which I could only dream about in my starting years. Live broadcasts with comments from grandmasters, countless high quality books, extremely strong engines, online training-facilities... it is for everybody affordable with a minimum budget.

The negative side of the big stream of information is that it became even for top grandmasters impossible to keep track of everything. So you need to filter but how and what depends of a lot of factors. The entertainment value should not be neglected but more relevant is of course the educative part. In the past the rule was first to work on the weak points as that is where the most progression is possible. Today however there are increasingly doubts about this old rule. Something you do good is often also something you like to do. As a consequence it often takes much less time and effort to work on the strong points. Eventually some recent studies proofed a considerable gain in profit by working on the strong points instead of the weak points. A book about the Kings gambit will be very easy to read through for an attacking player and will surely show quickly dividends in practice.  However forcing the same attacking player to read a book about the Dutch stonewall could be even damaging the results.

So it is not all bad to specialize to some extend in chess. Nonetheless I won't deny there are dangers too. Playing the man is something which you need to take into account especially when the opponent knows your strong points. The success largely depends how successful you can avoid the disarmament of your strong points. A clash of different styles often caused lively discussions in our rich history of chess. We all remember how Botvinnik lost his fist match against Tal but was able to reverse the tables in the returnmatch. We don't even need to go back in time or look to the very strongest players to witness such interesting duels. I noticed end of last year a game played at the Antwerp Liga between Marcel Van Herck and Robert Schuermans in which Marcel outfoxed Robert by simplifying the position and win soberly the endgame.

I couldn't stop smiling when Robert took a week later already revenge again with the black colour. This time Marcel didn't manage to neutralize the chaos.

Robert is for everybody extremely dangerous if he can obtain his favorite type of attacking chess on the board. I also once lost by not finding the right answers in the complications created by Robert or maybe the reader still remembers my article how to win from a stronger player.

From my own practice I remember a recent special case of successful disarmament. A couple of months ago I managed to draw in Open Gent against the surprising tournament-winner, the Russian grandmaster Alexei Gavrilov, while the biggest part of the game I was a pawn down and temporarily even 2. In my preparations I had noticed that my opponent was very dangerous once he had the initiative by employing tactics which is in below example nicely demonstrated.



In our mutual game I didn't hesitate sacrificing a pawn to avoid the positions in which he excells. I even sacrificed a second one when new threats were popping up.

The positional pawn-sacrifices are maybe objectively not completely correct but in practice it worked. My opponent was very disappointed after the game about the result but I don't think that I didn't merit a half point.

How successful you disarm somebody, influences without a doubt heavily the final result. If you don't succeed to neutralize somebodies strong points several times on a row then there exists the danger of creating an angstgegner or also called black beast. It explains a.f.a.i.k partly why some players have mutual scores which strongly deviate from the prognoses made by elo.

Brabo