Wednesday, February 25, 2015

An extra move

My 6 year old son loves the chess-lessons on Sunday but he can only attend when I don't have to play myself that day. This means that he miss at least 11 courses in a school-year due to the Belgian interclub. That is a disadvantage compared with children having no parents playing chess. On the other hand I can of course easily compensate at home but that is not so attractive for him. Playing against peers is more fun and in the club things are very playful. Sometimes I even get the impression that it is a bit too casual. If I see children playing bughouse while not even understanding some basics then I worry that this is rather bad than good for the development. It surely is a lot of fun as often the noise is so loud that several times silence must be requested.

My very first steps in a chessclub were 20 years ago but I still remember very well how I also was engaged in many different variants of chess. As a beginner it is often a nice way to ventilate the frustrations often connected with learning the first basics in standard-chess. Bughouse, billiard-chess (bishops can bounce 1 time on the sides), Cylinder-chess (a and h column are joined), Atomic-chess (if a piece is captured then an explosion happens which destroys the pieces on the 8 squares around), Losing-chess are just a few of the variants which I tried out then.

The number of variants on classic chess are unlimited and not seldom I hear once again a new variant is invented. Wikipedia summarizes nicely the most common variants. There exists also a book about 50 chess variants by Adrey Calje. When I met in 1998 on the students-olympiad at Rotterdam, the Swiss Fabrice Liardet, I learned some people didn't consider some chess-variants as informal games of pleasure. Pages were filled with analysis and the first theory was created.

That was for me the sign to quietly say goodbye to the world of chess-variants. The adventurous part quickly disappears and because of the very limited popularity there is no future. In the end specialization in a niche is detriment for your standard-chess. Experience or analysis are very rarely relevant for standard-chess. Maybe an exception is Marseillais-chess which allows a player to move twice on a turn. You don't only get the chance to prepare a threat but you can also execute it. The game is played on a much higher speed and it becomes much more evident what the value is of a tempo. Especially less experienced players have difficulties to value correctly activity.

Now I have to admit that I still often make mistakes too. In my blogarticle optical illusions you can find an example of how crucial an extra move can be in my endgame against Dgebuadze. Much less clear is to value an extra move in the opening but at the same time therefore also more intriguing. Hereby I think firstly at openings introduced originally by black but today also played by white but with an extra tempo. The Sicilian/ English with e5 is doubtless the most famous twin. Further we have the reversed Scandinavian, the reversed Kingsindian, the reversed Phildor (with Jobava a few days ago again winning from a + 2700 player) or even a reversed Fromgambit (this was shown in the article universal systems).

A step further are openings in which white relinquishes on purpose the extra move to claim the black color. This can happen purely for psychological reasons like in the game Ernst Reinderman. White tries to lure black on unfamiliar territory (here the Vienna with reversed colors). In a special case it is done because the position is considered a bit better for black than white (a nice example is a little variation of the Bird which I got with reversed colors on the board and extensively analysed in the article Belgian interclubs apotheosis).

Sometimes white not only gives away a tempo to reverse the colors but because the extra tempo only means a Pyrrhic victory. Undoubtedly the example of the 3rd matchgame Anand-Carlsen played in 2014 is very known. Still during the game some people discovered that the position at move 25 had popped up before in 2 games but with the extra move h3.

The extra move seemed only to weaken h3 so it was rather bad than good. Strange and we surely can't consider this as a general rule. For instance I showed in my article about the Gajewski-variant that the second version without h3 was clearly more interesting for black.

Recently I encountered in my practice again something special which for this article is appropriate. Let us first look to a line of the Open Spanish which was played several times by the strong Egyptian grandmaster Amin Bassem.

Well now I challenge the reader to invent a Spanish variant in which white plays d4 in 2 steps instead of 1 but compared with above line still wins an extra tempo.

It almost looks like the Procession of Echternach. Anyway I found the discovery from my young opponent a very clever way to unbalance me. Coincidence or not but Tamer won recently also the Fischerrandom- tournament in Deurne in which he was only 5th ranked on rating. I played also for the first in more than a decade again a variant of chess. Fun was the dominating ingredient of the tournament and sometimes this is more than sufficient.


Monday, February 16, 2015


A couple of months ago I got extremely annoyed by the behavior of my opponent. Regularly he left the playing room during the game and when he returned at the board played a very strong move. Around move 23 when my position was already delicate, I couldn't keep calm and went searching for him. Initially I couldn't find him anywhere so I decided to wait at the door of the toilets. A bit later he left the toilet just after somebody else. By accompanying him towards our board, I clearly hinted that something bothered me. I don't know if he understood my hint but in any case the long absents from the playing room stopped after this.

Once at home this distrust only became stronger when I noticed that by coincidence his moves corresponded till move 23 each time with the first choice of my engines while my opponent surely was out book since move 10. Inevitably you think about cheating. However I also realized very well that the proof was very light. On you can find many examples of analysis how much games overlap with the choices of engines. I even found of myself a game in which I scored 99,22%. I challenge the reader to find of himself a game which scores even better.
Chess-db Game analysis
In my article Swiss gambit I discussed this game and mentioned that till move 17 it was preparation. Of the remaining moves many can be played automatically. So despite the huge score there was no cheating at all. Therefore I am reluctant to openly accuse somebody of cheating. It is also the reason why I removed any reference to the person or situation. 

However some other people are not so prudent and aren't afraid to accuse with the smallest distrust. E.g. last I played online a bulletgame against a Hungarian player.

If you check this game with an engine that you see many moves aren't approved but still I got a very special thanks after the game from my opponent.

Of course "Good comp" should be interpreted as an accusation of cheating by using assistance of an engine.

Now besides the overlapping with the choices of the engines, there is still that my opponent left regularly the playing room. I didn't count the number of times but the number was sufficiently high to attract attention and to irritate. Maybe my opponent had a medical problem so needed often the toilet. Some will surely remember the bathroom controversy which in the WC of 2006 between Topalov and Kramnik even caused a default of the 5th game in Topalovs advantage. Topalovs team accurately kept track of how much time Kramnik spent in the bathroom. In other words I am certainly not the first one whom gets suspicious about multiple toilet-visits. Besides that is not so crazy as last year somebody was even caught with his smartphone on the toilet, see eg. schaaksite.

In the end I boldly asked my opponent what exactly was going on. Of course he wasn't happy about such question but he also realized that he better answered before it got out of control. He mentioned that he liked smoking so when he had to wait for this turn then he often went outside for a smoke. I didn't think about that as I didn't smell anything at all. I am not a smoker so I probably don't realize that not much smell sticks on the clothes when smoking is done in the open air.

Again I am not the first person to be irritated by smoking-breaks of the opponent. We had some years ago the well known incident between Mamedyarov - Kurnosov whereby white accused openly black of cheating and filled an official complaint.

A 2700 doesn't lose every day in 21 moves with white from a 100 lower rated player so I do understand the frustrations. On the other hand I do have to add that Kurnosov was an exceptionally talented player. I say "was" as he tragically died in a car accident 2 years ago.

Personally I don't think those breaks for smoking are still acceptable today. We have always stricter rules to fight against cheating but we still allow players to leave the playing room to smoke outside. There is little or no control outside. Even if the opponent doesn't do anything wrong then still it is difficult to concentrate at the board.

A return of smoking at the board is of course not an option anymore. I warmly recommend people to watch the love for wood 1979 chess documentary which illustrates very well how terrible the conditions were in those times went smoking at the board was still possible. Pure nostalgia for some but I still remember how after coming home from the chessclub I first had to undress myself of my (upper) clothes before I could further enter the parental house as everything smelled horribly. No smoking should only be allowed before or after the game. Easy talking for a non-smoker  but I am willing to make a compromise. Smoking can happen once after the time-control of move 40. Next year the pace of the game will be accelerated in the Belgium interclub so this look certainly feasible. Can we put this as an action-point for fide?


Monday, February 9, 2015


It is very rare that we play a game without mistakes. Always there is something to comment. Therefore it is weird to hear a player telling he is (fully) satisfied about his game or tournament. It is a normal process for every ambitious player to extract lessons. However I can imagine that some of those lessons sound like triflers. Critics can easily deteriorate into irritations as last happened on schaakfabriek

It is neither easy to say something meaningful without irritating anybody. When a microphone is put in front of your face then there is not time to come up with a perfect answer. Carlsen mentioned e.g. in a recent interview that he only realized afterwards how badly he annoyed some people by complaining while still winning games.

Those dissatisfactions are often intensified as we take victories as something for granted. The unfortunately stopped blog of Alina L'Ami described this subject briefly but powerfully. You worked hard so it is natural that you won. Or the opponent just played too bad which made the win unavoidable. The danger is real that we sink in a spiral of negative emotions which spoils every pleasure of playing chess.

So can we never be really happy in chess? I suspect everybody experienced a seldom moment of an extraordinary good fortune. You didn't expect at all the result but fate was favorable. At one glance you forget all the misfortunes as you are ecstatic. The British Grandmaster Nigel Short recorded recently that he was so happy after winning  in Myanmar that he was jumping up and down in his room. In the game he didn't exit well the opening but his much younger opponent lost the track in the complications.

For the analysis I refer to the first Chessbasereport of this tournament.

The tournament of Leuven I finished also with a bang. I defeated the Swedish grandmaster Ralf Akesson and got with 6/7 one of the main-prizes. Fate favored me. It already started with the preparation. Normally there is no time to prepare for the last round but I guessed correctly in advance the pairing. Ralf was still playing against Stefan Docx but I expected this would be a draw. Hovhanisian as the highest rated player would be paired upwards against Dgebuadze. I had the previous round black just like Stefan so the most logical was that I would have white and Ralf as opponent what also happened. As my previous game finished rather early ( see previous article) I still had a half hour to check a view things. In the end what I reviewed. also popped up at the board. An exchausted Ralf due to the marathon with Stefan was eventually not so invincible anymore for me.

The mood was afterwards of course excellent. With a TPR of approximately 2500 and 500 prize money I don't go home everyday. I couldn't suppress a smile and a clenched fist. Maybe some people consider such behavior inappropriate and insulting for the opponent but if you are ecstatic then you anyway don't think properly. In any case I immediately asked for a tasty Leffe (beer) after the game after 4 days of abstention (only one as I still had to drive by car).

As a player you cherish such special moments but I wouldn't wait for it as it can take a long time before such thing happens. I also try to enjoy the many other small things which make chess so beautiful. On my blog you can find countless examples:  interferencesexcelsior,.. With some good will every player must be able to find something which he enjoys. With about 180 articles this blog is probably a good place to browse around and to realize how rich our game is.


Sunday, February 1, 2015


A casual chessplayer is referred to a chessclub if he wishes to play more than just sporadically. In Belgium we have a wide range of clubs as I count 148 in our KBSB and I even don't include the many not affiliated clubs (schools, handel, ...). 

Till approximately a rating of 1800, most clubs can offer sufficient challenges but once you cross this barrier you are more or less forced to play somewhere else too. Open tournaments, liga-championships and interclub are the new competitions at which you participate to make further progression. In Belgium the distances are small so for most people logistics aren't difficult to solve.

However once the rating exceeds 2100-2200, it becomes tougher to find sufficient challenges if you have ambitions. We have here in Belgium only 100 + 2200 players of which almost 20% plays seldom or never. Playing solely in Belgium with a rating above 2300 is not an option anymore for somebody ambitious. Optimal for improvement, is playing against players with 100 or 200 points more. On the other hand 300 points is too much as I described in my article to shoot a mosquito with a cannon.

Somebody whom doesn't like travelling or simply doesn't have the means, has a problem. The British grandmaster Nigel Davies warned on his blog that it can even be dangerous to become a strong player: "Can you improve too much?". It is something which I experienced myself. Till 2007 I often played abroad but after the birth of my daughter I erased any foreign competition from the menu. Though finding sufficient challenges in Belgium is always a quest as I discussed in my article inactivity. Besides big thumbs up for the initiative of  Steven Geirnaert whom organized for players of his region an interesting expert tournament . I can warmly recommend the lovely site built by Frederik Decoster. I just find it a bit pity that the games are password protected while we are no professionals. The tournament is/ was unfortunately not feasible for me (Saturdays I drive half of day around to buy the weekly groceries, bring children to their activities without considering that Bruges isn't close either) otherwise I surely wished to participate.

Today I am already happy when I can play once in a while against a stronger player. In the Open of Leuven I got recently the chance to play against the only Belgium grandmaster which I hadn't met before on the board:  Alexander Dgebuadze. Against Vladimir Chuchelov I played once an instructive stonewall in the Open Gent of 2000. My games with Bart Michiels were covered in several articles like the modern french part 2 and last year I also played a game against Luc Winants (this game will probably be treated in a later article).

Alexander chose as expected his favorite little known system in the French but I couldn't profit from this as with only 15 minutes for preparing, it is not possible to extract much if you didn't study this properly before.

Probably a typical evening-game on a day with a double round as some moves rather look superficial. On the other hand it is an instructive game as next time I will be able to better combat this remarkable pawn-structure.

Last 2 interclub-seasons I was lucky to play in first division on first or second board. Not only was this an enormous challenge about which I many times reported but it also gave my repertoire a serious boost. Because I spent a lot of time preparing, I not only learned a lot from the games but also from the preparation. The new acquired knowledge is now often useful as the 6th round of Open Leuven proofed.

My opponent Jonas Van Cappellen decided to surprise me with a little side-line of the Dutch but I was able to counter with a preparation which I made against the strong German FM Marcel Becker playing for Eynatten as he played the same variation already in 2012.

It took me a lot of time to reconstruct the old preparation but in the end I succeeded and achieved a sharp position on the board in which I could play for the win. Personally I think this was my best game of the tournament.

To search new challenges is an important ingredient to progress. This doesn't mean that chess is only about challenges. Many players keep playing in a club not because they absolutely want to improve but just to have some fun. Fun seems an alien concept but it is without doubt the best prescription to stay interested instead of always setting the priority on higher ratings and titles.