Monday, January 19, 2015

Optical illusions

Endgames often hide their beauty. Their treasure is sometimes only detected in the analysis as during the game there is no time or stress dominates. A deceptive easy looking position not seldom demands a lot of extra research compared with what we initially believed.

In positions with a very limited amount of material it is evident that the king plays a major role. The king doesn't wait anymore in a corner but is actively participating in the battle. In some endgames you get the feeling that the king does the job all alone. Recently I studied a few of those endgames and once again I was surprised how complex and beautiful chess can be.

After my very fortunate victory in round 3 of Open Leuven on Iuliia Morozova, I had to play the same evening still against the Belgian grandmaster Alexander Dgebuadze. I didn't play well the opening which forced me to spend a lot of time avoiding an immediate defeat. Later in the game I managed to fight back but in the end I run out of time. Short of time I blundered and got a lost endgame on the board after which the flag rescued me of further suffering. At least that was how we both evaluated the game till I discovered with an engine that the endgame wasn't lost at all.

The illusion is that black easily wins with his fast passed pawn and this fast bishop prevents any counter-promotion. However the truth is that the slow king is sufficiently fast to support the pawns and simultaneously slow down the passed pawn. A remarkable performance which reminds me of the famous Reti-study.

A second example of an illusion I met in the book From London to Elista which I read during my holidays in Russia. I discovered the existence of the book a few month ago by accident and I immediately decided to buy it. The book is easy readable with more shortened analysis than Kasparovs books of his matches with Karpov. The book wasn't written by Kramnik but is a project of the for me unknown Russian amateur Ilya Levitov which relied for the analytic part on the strong Russian grandmaster Evgeny Bareev. This brings a special dynamic in the book with sometimes good but also less good chapters. Especially when Ilya tries to make statements about some technical aspects then I am a bit annoyed by the ignorance. In the book after the missed winning chances by Kasparov of the 8th match-game a reference is made to the strange resignation in the game Kramnik Svidler, played in Wijk aan Zee 2004. Svidler resigned in apparently a drawn position which Ilyia unjustly classifies as a beginners-mistake.

The resignation has nothing to do with being ignorant about the basic rule of 3 columns between 2 passed pawns in an oppositie coloured endgame as Ilya claims. On the contrary, it is because Svidler knows this rule that he resigned as he had the optical illusion that such lost position was unavoidable.

A third and last example of an optical illusion which I want to show here, is an endgame which I met a few years ago in an analysis. Again I was surprised that my engine immediately showed a win while I thought on first glance that it should be an easy draw. Later I tried to compose an endgame-study out of it with an introduction but I must admit that I didn't get further than a rough diamond.

Except for the funny king-walks, I find it extraordinary how white still managed to get black into zugzwang. Anybody with time and energy is free to rework the study into something looking better.

Despite the small steps, the king is often not weaker than a piece but this only becomes clear in the endgame when the king can join the action. Besides the mobility of the king is more difficult to grasp as it can reach a square via several routes in the same number of moves but optically the distance looks each time different. Maybe this is simple for somebody like Ivanchuk. When Yasser Seirawan asked him why Jobava resigned after the first round of the still ongoing Wijk aan Zee , then he replied "It is not so difficult for a good grandmaster". However for us ordinary mortals such optical illusions are much tougher to see through.


Monday, January 12, 2015


Some time ago Daniel Sadkowski asked my opinion about Negi's new book. He assumed by default that I bought the book as it largely overlaps with my repertoire. However I shocked him by replying that I don't have it. I haven't bought any openingbook anymore the last 20 years. In the post-mortem after my game in Opwijk somebody asked me how I can have often a better knowledge of openings without possessing books than my opponents have.

In my article using databases I explain how in a quick efficient way to get results. The results are more than sufficient for a player of my rating but it would be a big mistake to deduct that we always will be successful. I frequently use correspondence-games in my preparation but correspondence is very different from standard-chess. The same remark can be made for standard-chess compared with blitz. It is not because an opening is fully playable on a certain tempo that the same results will be achieved on a different tempo. An example I mentioned in my article Achilles.

We shouldn't forget that in standard-chess we don't have access to engines (if we don't cheat of course) neither have the time nor the means to inspect all the details. So the danger is real that a player at the board gets into nasty problems if you just follow without serious study a correspondence-game. Something like that happened in my game of the 3rd round Open Leuven. I had no experience with the Chinese dragon so I tried to patch this gap by memorizing some critical lines of correspondence-games. The correspondence-game which I followed, was Delizia, Costantino - Silva, Marcus Antonio Roli played in 2012.

As expected, Iuliia deviated from the game at move 17 because d5 is obviously not a standard move which a human will think about in this type of positions. Unfortunately I quickly realized that the resulting position was not simple at all to play. The position is very rich and many details influence the evaluation. Naturally inaccuracies and even blunders became quickly unavoidable. Below the game with some comments.

I was of course ironic with "some comments" as I spent a lot of time analyzing the opening. Besides I don't call this studying an opening but rather researching an opening. Obviously something you learn but eventually the return is low. In standard-chess it is not necessary to know this depth of details. Besides I believe few or no opening-books contain such detailed analyses. Vass on chesspub indicated that opening-books are written for tournament-players and little or nothing is relevant for correspondence-chess.

As non-correspondence-player why would somebody make such analysis. The answer is simple. I find it fascinating. I understand most people are indifferent by seeing details and rather prefer watching a battle on the board with mistakes but I can also enjoy a lot discovering small nuances in a certain type of position. This time I even found some ideas which probably are useful in correspondence-chess. In fairness I have to admit that with engines becoming ever stronger, it is not so unusual to find ameliorations on older correspondence-games.

Such research takes time, a lot of time. During 2 weeks each day I worked with my notebook which I only gave a break at night to cool down. This cooling is no luxury as despite I bought the new notebook only a few months ago, it produces (probably the fan) more and more noise.

In my previous article I mentioned time is scarce for me but last Christmas-holidays I had much spare time available. Just like previous year (see article the lucky one) I was again in Russia. Naturally there were the New Year festivities, visits and excursions but in the end most of the time is spent in the apartment of the parents-in-law. To entertain small children isn't always easy (especially as they don't understand sufficiently the Russian language). I had the splendid idea to bring along the first book of the the chess-steps but after 1 lesson my youngest already gave up. Boring and if you check below video then you understand that my son prefers something more active.

By the way not only children are enjoying the ice-slide but also many adults dared a ride. Big fun of course only for the parents watching attentively - ready to help when something goes wrong- it was pretty cold. No this kind of daredevilry is not for me. I rather prefer an interesting chess-opening which I can investigate quietly in a warm and cozy environment.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Although I have less and less spare time, I can really enjoy kibitzing. Following live games as spectator is a very different experience. There is no stress and you can jump unlimited to any game. As today often games are broadcast via a server, it is possible to get at any moment a pretty accurate verdict of the position.

If we exclude pseudo-kibitzing while playing - as that is often nothing more than glancing to the positions of competition or friends - today 99% of kibitzing happens at home from the arm chair. Arranging bus-transport to visit the tournament of Wijk aan Zee - as chessclub Oude God Mortsel already did a few times, is a rare exception. In most tournament you see barely any spectators resulting often in a special allotted room for the audience remaining completely empty.

Only for top-level-chess between professionals we notice on the internet many kibitzers. However it is too optimistic to state that every player is also a potential kibitzer. While chatting with players, I remark that many of them never follow live any game from top-tournaments or even the world-championship. I even have the impression that only a minority of players kibitz on regular base games from other players.

I wrote the introduction to proof what we already in fact know. Chess is an individual affair. Some fans exist but you play for yourself. Besides I am also convinced that we play chess in first instance to win. A loss can be surely an interesting experience but nobody keeps playing if he loses every game. The decisions we make in a game are always connected with the goal of winning the game. So I consider the reaction of the Anonymous IM a bit too simplified as there are 3 types of players: sportsmen, artists and scientists. Except some strange cases, nobody will choose for a beautiful but complicated queen-sacrifice when another simple move can win the game at once. Nobody will choose a complex win if there is a more simple win just to shorten the game with a few moves and play more scientifically.

There exist no different styles? Of course there are but in different domains. First every player will try to exploit its assets and camouflage their weaknesses. Somebody knowing a lot of an opening (learned from books, analysis or practice) will use this knowledge in his games. Somebody discovering easily good moves in unorthodox positions will exactly try to strive for such positions (e.g.  the flamboyant Dutch IM Manuel Bosboom). Somebody calculating quickly and accurately will try to strive for positions full of tactics. Finally somebody strong in the endgame will agree quicker to exchanges.

Maybe some choices seem artistic or scientific but in reality the sporting aspect is always dominant. Now this doesn't end the story as besides conscious choices also character plays a role of which we have little control. I am often astonished how different people impulsively react on certain risks. While one player sees all kind of big dangers, another player thinks everything is under control. Such difference in style was magnified in my games against Lacrosse and Beukema.

After the move-order mistake at move 20 Marc told me afterwards that he already contemplated resignation. The position is indeed not pleasant for black but resigning is too pessimistic as the position is surely still defensible.

A big difference with Stefan which afterwards told me that he felt the whole game was more or less balanced while objectively he often stood worse than Marc was in our mutual game. Even about the final position in which Stefan is still worse, Stefan remarked that he could've won if I avoided the repetition of moves.

The evaluation-profiles for both games show objectively well how similar the size of the advantage was in both games for me and so how big the gap in perception was between both opponents. Readers interested in knowing more about evaluation profiles, must read the article on Chessbase from Roger Vermeir.
Evaluation profile game Brabo - Lacrosse since move 20

Evaluation profile game Brabo - Beukema since move 18
Of course a valid remark is that a similar judgement of the same engine in totally different positions may not automatically let us conclude that similar practical chances are existing. I am not making such silly claim. However what I do demonstrate with the evaluation-profiles is that Marc was too pessimistic while Stefan too optimistic. Maybe this was a coincidence for those specific games but I have a strong feeling that you will find this behavior also in their other games.

The behavior of both players neither is exceptional. I often detect players with a strong tendency to pessimism or optimism. Without willing to call names but in my club we have a player always believing after the opening that we will win with a big margin, only to be surprised by the much lower score after the match ended. Some of those optimists are also active in other domains in which luck plays a bigger role: poker, gambling in a casino,...

I personally find those different styles making chess more appealing. By the way if we look to the different former-worldchampions then it seems that different styles are possible for getting excellent results. Forcing upon yourself some style, doesn't sound to me the right solution.