Friday, June 26, 2015


Many have tried but only a few succeed. It isn't easy to transform your hobby into a profession especially if this hobby is chess. Besides your chances drastically diminish when you aren't a worldclass-player. Chesscafe is the most recent example of failures. Recently they switched from free to paying but not even a year later they had to announce a hiatus. It is highly confrontational to discover that almost 20 years of free publications don't guarantee anything commercially.

On this blog I have been regularly criticizing Chessbase (e.g in the article misinformation by chessbase) , but it is beyond any doubts that the company is the most successful one in our chess-domain. A very clever marketing-strategy assured the company more or less a monopoly. They were one of the very first ones to see the connection between frequently reporting about chess-news and selling their own products.

Almost a decade ago Chessvibes (today started to compete reporting chess-news. Initially Chessbase didn't care much. However this changed when they started to feel the consequences of not being anymore market-leader in chess-journalism. To protect the sales of their products they had to improve their model. They introduced finally the option to give direct feedback below the articles instead of the old fashioned, very limited mechanism of emails. However another important change was the involvement of (cheap) young (grand-)masters to comment games like Alejandro Ramirez (Costa Rica) and Shah Sagar (India).

Chessbase clearly has more financial reserves than their competitors which is reflected by their investments. One investment they made is the Let's check development. Let's check is nothing else than a gigantic database of all the collected positions by Chessbase with an evaluation made by an engine. The brilliance of the concept is that all the analysis are made by the users of Let's check while simultaneously the users will have to pay to consult their own analysis in the future. Chessbase only had to develop the interface and make sure enough storage is foreseen for the database (which can become a headache in the future with the large speed the system is growing).

I am astonished how fast this database is growing. The mechanism of awarding points seems to be a very good carrot for quite some users. When Chessbase launched the system I was chuckling but now only 4 years later I have to admit that I am blown away by the amount of data available many times bigger than whatever opening-book. I was pretty shocked recently to find out that a completely insignificant position from my clubchampionship-game against Marcel (see catenaccio) was already analyzed at a depth of 38 plies.
Let's check
Today consulting Let's check has become a fixed part of my analysis-routines. A negative remark which I heard is that the old analysis automatically slowly disappear out of the database. Personally I think this is something positive as it is essential that the analysis are made by the most recent and strongest engines otherwise the value of the database quickly decreases. Besides somebody will more quickly be tempted to connect an engine to the database when few or no analysis are mentioned. Finally it is also a mechanism to keep the size of the database under control. I recommend people interested to know more details about the tool to read the online review from HK5000 (Dutch language).

Although today I am fully convinced about the added value of the Let's check feature, it took me quite a while before I wanted to give it a try. It was only when I bought a couple of months ago Komodo via Chessbase instead of directly from the developers that I finally got access to all the features. Maybe 1 of the better reviews about Komodo has been written on chessbookreviews. I want to add that today I see very little difference between evaluations of Komodo and Stockfish 6 which is pretty much aligned with the result of the final of the 7th TCEC season. On top I also noticed that using very low timecontrols (10 seconds or less per move) that Komodo more often misses something tactically which again was partly confirmed by the CCRL 40/4 rating-list (40 moves in 4 minutes) which Stockfish leads in contrast to CCRL 40/40 rating-list (40 moves in 40 minutes). So if you are not interested in making very deep and extensive analysis then the free engine Stockfish is more than sufficient.

This is something about which Chessbase is also aware of course which explains their strategy to add some nice extras to anyway convince you buying their product. Except Let's check you also get 6 months premium subscription to Playchess and you get the new Fritz 14 interface. The added value of the subscription is evident but it is not clear what to expect from the interface.

Last couple of years I worked with the Fritz 11 interface which was ok for me. Besides a new interface always demands adjustments as some shortcuts change which I like to use (see e.g. using databases). In the beginning this causes a lot of annoyance when I once again use the old shortcut wrongly shutting down the program without saving the analysis. It neither is helpful that Fritz 14 has no manual. Reference is made to the manual of the Fritz 13 interface but I already detected several differences or I still miss certain details. The buyer is a bit left alone.

However there is one thing which let you forget all the previous obstacles. The interface clearly increases the strength of the engines. I compare the same analysis for both interfaces. First a screenshot with the Fritz 11 interface.
Fritz 11 interface
Hereafter a screenshot of the Fritz 14 interface.
Frit 14 interface
Same computer, same engine, same position and same period and still we see a serious difference between both analysis. The version 14 is almost 3 times faster as the version 11 which even gives us a gain of 3 plies. Well don't pin on the 3 plies as surely Stockfish prunes enormously in the tree of variations but undeniable we see a considerable rating-gain. 70 elo seems to be the difference between 1 core and 4 cores for Stockfish looking to CCRL 40/40  in which 1 core corresponds to the Fritz 11 interface while the 4 cores is the Fritz 14 interface.

We are very eager to acquire a new version of an engine but the interface is sometimes forgotten. Komodo 9 wins only 24 ratingpoints compared with version 8 conform the most recent tests. I will surely better follow up new developments on the interfaces in the future.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Using databases part 2

It is already longtime no surprise anymore for me how sometimes very strong players prepare their games very poorly. It is really not only amateurs as described in my article password whom don't optimally prepare. Previous article is a model  example of how one should not prepare. You are an international master and you play a closed grandmaster-norm-tournament in Czech. The pairings are known well in advance and you only have to play one game each day. Still you manage to miss an important game of your opponent played over 1 year ago. Although this game was inserted in any commercial database.

Funny or rather sad is a Chessbase article published a few months earlier. In this article the British grandmaster Daniel Gormally explains how he despite preparing well with chessprograms (databases and engines), lost against a 300 points lower rated opponent. However his preparation didn't take into account one very important element. His opponent was a very experienced and strong correspondence-chess-player: the British Senior International Master John Anderson.

By pure coincidence I was aware about this fact as I won against him in 1998 a beautiful correspondence-game of which I am still proud today.

Now it is clear that Daniels opening-choice wasn't very smart. Choosing a sharp opening as the stronger player is already risky (see my article how to win from a stronger player). If you combine this against a player with loads of correspondence-chess experience then all ingredients are there for a very nasty surprise.

Daniel did't have the chance to play before a correspondence-game against John will surely be an excuse some readers will use to defend Daniel. I don't accept such excuse. In my article using databases I explain how to use the correspondence-database to extract the optimal moves in a variation but that is not the only reason why to use that database. In my preparation I will often check if my opponent doesn't play correspondence-chess. By doing so I found out that not only former world champion correspondence Gert-Jan Timmerman playing for KOSK, but also Rene Beniest plays correspondence-chess which could've played an important role in the interclubmatch against SK Oude God

Solely looking to the correspondence-database to define if somebody is an (active) correspondence-player isn't fully safe. I played 20 correspondence-games in my career and only 1 fragment of a game can be found in the database so I can imagine many correspondence-players are not even mentioned. Therefore it is not redundant to check some sites like ICCFIECCFICGS in which I encountered the for me unfamiliar Belgian topplayer Jeroen Van Assche recently made the transfer to ICCF. This transfer is no surprise as ICCF is the place to be in correspondence-chess.

I also want to honor our Belgian correspondence-federation still each month publishing a free open and nice magazine of which we can only dream about in standard chess especially after the recent general annual meeting. Scrolling through the current list of correspondence-members I remark our Belgian topplayer Francois Godart. Maybe he joined after being inspired by our Dutch neighbors where several strong youth-players started with correspondence-chess:  Etienne GoudriaanTwan Burg. In any case I believe that a few years correspondence-chess can be useful for standard-chess as you learn how to work properly with databases and engines which after reading above article surely can't be considered anymore as a luxury.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Switching colors part 2

The publishment of a book mostly depends if a reasonable sale can be expected. Chessbooks are therefore mainly written for the average player. This chessplayer expects of openingbooks some ideas immediately ready for implementation in his tournament-games. So an author will often brighten up the analysis to comfort the readers. The Australian grandmaster David Smerdon on his blog believes this is acceptable as standard chess is something very different from top-correspondencechess.

I am often claiming to always seek the truth and play scientific chess but despite all good intentions I also realize that some subjectivity remains. I often catch myself looking a tad harder for improvements for the color which I would like to play. I don't want to throw away an opening for the smallest problem if I built up already quite some experience. Besides another opening doesn't mean necessarily less problems. A similar sound can be heard in an interview with Michael Adams at Shamkir a few months ago.  Introducing ideas can be an elegant method to bypass these little problems.

However from my previous article you can deduct such experimenting with new ideas doesn't always bring relieve. I tried in the meanwhile already 4 different systems in standard games against the modern french but still no satisfying results. Maybe it is time to try a very different approach by deploying a strategy covered in an older article switching colors. What can't be refuted is maybe better joined and played. Easier said than done as I am not eager to start playing the French in my repertoire. MNb rightfully remarked that the cure could be worse than the disease.

For this problem I believe to have found a solution as e.g. in the Modern French. Let somebody else switch colors so you don't have to take risks and learn from his games. The reader is probably confused as how can you force somebody to switch colors. Well naturally we can't force somebody but by checking the database we can sometimes find a strong player willing to play both sides of a position. Surely you won't find such type of player always but I had luck in the Modern French with the young strong Turkish IM Burak Firat.
Maybe some very attentive readers still remember this name from my article the modern french part 2 but I guess most people are completely unfamiliar with this player.

The Turkish chess-federation was a decade ago very small but last years they made fantastic progress which many other federations can only dream of (like our Belgian federation). In 2006 suddenly 1,1 million euro was injected in Turkish chess and this didn't stop. A massive recruiting campaign started which at beginning of 2014 already gathered more than 350.000 members. Even more astonishing is that 1/3 are women. I understand a number of schools have introduced chess courses and this naturally drastically influenced the figures. We notice that the youth is getting the highest priority by the authorities as was reflected e.g. at the Olympiad with ages of teamaverages descending from 23 years to only 8 years old.

Besides loads of medals at youth-championships for Turkey today we also start to discover the first players achieving norms and titles like Burak. Burak is only 22 years old and he is seriously working to get the necessary norms for the grandmaster-title as we see e.g. in a closed grandmaster-tournament at Moscow. This should be sufficient as introduction of the player so time to see how he manages to switch sides as it is something very natural.

Firat games
So in total there are 17 games of which he took 11 times white and 6 times black. In his most recent games he demonstrates that it little matters which color he plays to win. I don't exaggerate if we look to his last game played with black.

Even more impressive is his last white game against the Spanish international master Daniel Garcia Roman which he blows away in only 22 moves with mate!

The games of players playing regularly both sides in an opening are often a very good reference to check if you have any problems. Those players know from experience what can be annoying for the other color.

How do we find those type of players? Well I don't know any program that automatically detects this but a visual screening of the games from strong players often is sufficient to discover if any name pops up playing both colors. Some hints how to make an automatic process of this are welcome but I fear that my chances are low without possessing the extensive Chessbase database.


Thursday, June 4, 2015


I still remember 2 decades ago how people were making jokes about Kamsky having learned by heart the complete informator as preparation for his worldchampionship-finale against Karpov of 1996.  Today such complete study of theory is absolutely impossible. It can be pretty astonishing what the theoretical baggage some players have but it remains fragmented and nobody can protect themselves from the countless novelties discovered each day by engines. In a videoconference after the game Kramnik - Anand London 2014, Anand jokingly said but at the same time containing some truth that computers have a lot of time.

So nobody has a waterproof shield in the opening. Everybody is vulnerable for surprises. We don't have to exaggerate this risk for most players as shown by my article password. On the other hand when you play against the 1% best players then ignoring the risk can quickly backfire which was demonstrated in my article harikiri. It is impossible to tell in advance when exactly you better deviate or can rely solely on your experience. Finding out information about your opponent before the game will surely improve your chances to make the right decisions but in the end it remains an estimated guess so partly instinctive.

Sometimes there are very clear signs which hint there is danger. An opponent won't deviate from his standard repertoire to help you gaining a head-start in the opening. Almost always this indicates the opponent is well prepared and has some surprise in store to gain an advantage. Such advantage doesn't need to be a refutation of your favorite opening as often it is sufficient to show a new equivalent or even an old forgotten idea to win a lot of time on the clock.

If you see these signals then it is often wise to deviate too from your repertoire surely if the position can quickly become tactical. There are limits to a specific game-preparation. I mean even spending hours of preparation will only permit to analyze x number of lines as mentioned earlier in my article the list of strength. Most openings consist of many more options than the x-variations which can be checked in a preparation.

A first example which shows this strategy, is from my own recent interclub-practice. I played in the second round of the past Belgium interclub against the ambitious leader of Opwijk, Arno Bomans surprising me by following my game against Glen De Schampheleire. However before he can show his improvement and can use his engine-analysis, I already deviate myself from my game to restore the chances.

We see here a nasty side-effect of this strategy. When both players have to play unprepared a position which they don't like and they fear each other then sometimes a quick draw is chosen. Sofia rules could surely avoid this behavior.

The second example which I want to discuss, does not show this side-effect mainly due to the big ratinggap between both players. Maybe the Russian grandmaster Vyacheslav Ikonnikov wanted me to pay for the article an arranged result in open gent or not as from the opening it was immediately clear that nothing was left up to chance. I was well prepared as I checked his 400 black-games with 1.e4 but Vyacheslav chose to play something new to avoid any of my preparation. Nonetheless neither did I wait for his preparation and countered his surprise fittingly with my own.

A nervous battle with some mistakes on both sides which is normal when both players are playing a position on sight. In the end the strongest player wins merited and deserved which can only be positive propaganda for chess.

Sometimes it can become funny when both players try to surprise each other in such way that they suddenly play an important theoretical variation which they aren't familiar with. This happened a few months ago in the 2nd game of the worldchampionship-finale Muzychuk and Pogonina with a novelty only at move 18 but on which 17 minutes was spent so surely no preparation.

Such games won't have much value for theorists but spectators are enjoying the big drama on the board.

Previous game was played between players of 2500 elo but this is also happening on + 2800 level. Let us have a look and enjoy a recent game between worldchampion Carlsen and the French supergrandmaster Vachier Lagrave both known not to be afraid of original creative chess.

The dead of chess by boring draws looks faraway when we check above games (and players don't fear to lose). I even believe that the abundance of information rather gave the game a boost as players continuously try to surprise. Competitive chess has a bright future on the condition we find a solution for the ever growing distrust as to cheating.