Monday, July 27, 2015

Devilish originality

Resting and relaxing are at least as important than preparing in a tournament of multiple days. This can be difficult especially when you don't have a good answer to a nasty variation. However it surely is a doubtful strategy to prepare each day till midnight and the full morning which I guess Tanguy Ringoir will likely confirm after the past Belgium championship. No I am more sympathizing with the approach of the players from Zottegem. They prepare a few hours for each game but make sure sufficient time is left for having fun together. On the chessforum of Zottegem you can read about their most recent adventures in Dortmund where Glen De Schampheleire managed to stunt by winning the tournament: see final standings SCM (a pity that Schaakfabriek gets no support to write a report about this achievement).

So it is better not to study a (new) opening thoroughly during a tournament. Besides the allotted time is often insufficient in a game-preparation. I spent almost 2 weeks at my analysis of the Fraser-defense which I summarized in the previous article (I anyway had no other games to analyze anymore). Although I worked on a moderate tempo, still I don't believe somebody can execute this work in a half day (10 hours).

Another example of such analysis I made last year about a specific but important line in the Najdorf. I not only reviewed hundreds of otb- and correspondence games but I also verified the different critical lines by my engines. The very short summary can be viewed below.

Indeed this was based on my game against Marc Stuer played in Open Gent 2014. Because of that I decided to wait with the publication after the Open Gent which just finished see results 2015. I don't want to give my potential opponents too easily my conclusions of the many often boring hours of analysis.

Anyway hiding your analysis does not mean that you are protected from surprises even after such extensive research. As end of last year the Georgian grandmaster Gaioz Nigalidze introduced a shocking novelty.

The game was quickly spread via the media see e.g. Chessbase. Playing a new piece-sacrifice in a position known from more than 300 games and tested by the likes of Anand, Svidler, Gelfand and Mamedyarov looks like pure speculation. However winning with it against a strong grandmaster like Yuriy Kuzubov is another cup of tea.

No it is not another example of a deep home-analysis as the winner later explained to the author of the Chessbase-article. Besides my engines consider the sacrifice only as the 21st best move in the position as shown in the screeshot below:
13...Nxe4 only 21st choice by Stockfish 6
Extremely original, isn't it? Well it becomes devilish original if we know that the creative winner was caught cheating only 3 months ago. The news of the reigning champion from Georgia using a smartphone on the toilet gave an enormous shock in the chessworld via the media as can be seen e.g. on

It just proofs how easily any automatic system of detecting cheating can be sidestepped. You play a number of original moves but still you consult a few times a computer. The uncertainty clearly adds a lot to the fact that many players have become paranoia. Players are rightly or wrongly accused as was recently the case with the Romanian WGM Mihaela Sandu. 2 camps diametrically opposed to each other which is shown in the article and reactions on

Even in the past Open Gent I heard a player loudly requesting for extra control (frisking) and restrictions. Well it is not illogical if a player like the French grandmaster Sebastien Feller again participates after his expulsion of 2 years. On the other hand such measures don't fit at all in the atmosphere of the festivities. We have to wait to see how standard chess will survive. Next month Mihaele Sandu will play at Open Brasschaat. I am curious to find out what will happen but naturally I hope everything will run smoothly.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Computers achieve autonomy

In the unofficial world-championship for engines (TCEC) the role of an opening-book has been restricted. The goal of the competition is to measure the pure strength of the algorithms so excluding any influence of manual corrections. A programmed opening-book can assure a significant advantage at least this was the view many shared until recently.

Today this theory is by more and more people questioned. Nowadays so many improvements are discovered in old openingbooks that the decision to early disconnect the engine from the openingbook , becomes increasingly attractive. Programmers start to prefer that the engine finds independently the moves in an opening. So the program plays better without additional human input but not yet without mistakes. To avoid the same errors reoccurring, statistics of the results are stored in a special openingbook. The engine learns autonomously a repertoire.

Nothing new some people will think as this already exists more than a decade. Correct but there is a big difference with the past. This special opening-book was considered only useful for an engine while today I see more and more applications for the otb and correspondence-player. Several current engines play stronger than Magnus Carlsen so it is not optimal anymore to only study the games of the top-grandmasters.

A nice example is the recent theoretical developments of the Fraser defense. The critical move 9.Rg1 which I already mentioned in my previous article, does not pop up in the big database 2015 neither in my correspondence-databases (updates till June 2015). However if we check my database containing a collection of computer-games published on sddfccrl and tcec then it transpires that Rg1 is not a novelty either, at the contrary.
36 computer-games with 9.Rg1
I am a chess-manic in my analysis so I am never satisfied with the number of found games. Therefore the next logical step is to create your own computergames played from a specific position using the available HW and SW. Though such standard games take too long without even thinking about the unattractive energy-bill. By playing shortened games as explained in my article analyze with a computer the process is accelerated. That allows me to achieve 18 games in 6 hours. Not bad but still too slow to my taste. I learned on chesspub from Vass that top-correspondence-players allow their engines to analyze at the speed of 10 seconds per move so I decided to test that strange looking method myself for this specific position. The final-result of several hundreds of games can be viewed below.

I already cleaned up the analysis so it became readable but anyway I am very satisfied of the results for this specific analysis. I used Stockfish 6 supported by the Fritz 14 interface. A further automation of the analysis is possible with the tool Aquarium already 5 years available on the market. That tool allows to execute several projects automatically in a parallel or sequential mode and automatically structures the analysed positions. Another important feature is that no limitation exists in the number of lines you want to analyze as opposed to the old "deep position analysis" mode of the Fritz 14 interface.

So computers achieve more and more autonomy for which we again pay a price. This price is paid e.g. in correspondence-chess as top-players due to the influence of the engines don't succeed anymore to win games.
The wc-finale which ended in 2002 and was won by Gert-Jan Timmerman

  Compare with the still running wc-finale which started end of 2013.
The still running wc-finale which started end 2013.

In 1 decade the drawing-rate went up till almost 100%. We should ask ourselves if such championships still make sense. The former worldclass-player Nikolai Papenin is the only player not performing as expected likely because of an early drop out. Recently the strong German correspondence-grandmaster Arno Nickel published an article on chessbase to get attention for this problem.

We are today entering a phase in which engines neutralize creativity by extensive analysis which can detect the risks in time. On the Utrecht chess-forum in the thread about Norway Chess  the Dutch programmer and fide-master Vincent Diepeveen rightly remarked that he can today in most endgames or advanced middle-game positions tell which moves are the best after a couple of hours extensive plugging on the computer.

Fortunately we aren't allowed to use engines at the chessboard so we should not fear the dead of chess by draws in standard-chess. Neither will our game be solved in the nearby future. However further progression of the understanding of chess will be managed increasingly by autonomous computers.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

14x SOS

Deurne didn't manage to excel in the last interclub-season. Some luck was needed (as I got a forfeit against the descending team Oude God which seriously influenced the final rankings) to maintain our position in the middle of the group. I also take the responsibility for this average result as I lost 3 times (see my articles identityharakiri and  surprises). The last round of the interclubs against KOSK was for me the last chance to improve my personal score but naturally my opponent former world-champion correspondence Gert-Jan Timmerman was not so eager to cooperate.

The smallest detail of an opening is studied in correspondence-chess but Gert-Jan also knows this gives no guarantees in standard-chess. The analysis in correspondence-chess are often very lengthily and made sometimes many years ago so there is a big chance that we don't manage to remember everything without any external help in a standard game. Today openings develop so fast that we are obliged to regularly update and remake the analysis. Finally an opponent can very well prepare in advance which lines to avoid by consulting a correspondence-chess-database.

In our previous mutual game of 2010 Gert-Jan selected his back-up system instead of the Schliemanngambit but that was insufficient to avoid my preparation. He told me after the game that he extracted a lesson from that experience. Therefore this time he experimented with some very exotic line of which he was confident that I hadn't studied it before. The SOS-books give a fantastic support to such approach. The series of NIC exist of 14 numbers. Each of them is a collection of early deviations in the theory and which have proven already many times their surprise-value in practice. Besides they can be learned in a very short time-frame. Gert-Jan probably only needed the train journey between his home to the playing hall to pick up the Spanish Bird.

A half point is again no fantastic result but to press for a win would've been certainly not without serious risks. Afterwards Gert-Jan cheered me up by referring to our new Belgium grandmaster Tanguy Ringoir having lost a game some years ago against this variation.

If we look at my comments of the game then we detect that the concept isn't waterproof against a detailed analysis. White has several paths to play for an advantage but needs to play exact and aggressive chess. This kind of chess I will seldom play if I am on unknown territory. Well the name SOS already explains to us that the system is mainly based on the element of surprise and the fact that normal moves only lead to exactly the kind of positions in which the strength of the system is hidden.

I read on the internet that some players therefore regularly change lines by jumping from one SOS number to another so the element of surprise is kept. After 14 numbers the Dutch IM Jeroen Bosch stopped with the series albeit to the displeasure of quite some fans. There is surely still a demand for new numbers but I understand everything comes to an end. 7 years is already a long time in our hectic society.

Stopping the publication of new numbers doesn't mean that Jeroen suddenly started to play only mainlines. His appetite for exotic lines still exists. Often he is successful but now and then it goes horribly wrong. Such bad experience happened with a Ponziani experiment. The Ponziani was tried a few years ago successfully by Magnus Carlsen but it nevertheless remains an unknown opening. Despite a fixed repertoire I only met the Ponziani once in almost 800 standard games.

The Fraser-defense was picked up by Peter on a chessforum. The variation is critical today for the Ponziani (something which I will discuss more extensively in a next article). Instead of surprising Peter, Jeroen was surprised himself. Here we see the flip-side of most exotic openings. Often there exist several different counter-systems (remember my remark about green moves in my article a Dutch gambit part 2). If the opponent has by chance checked your surprise-system then likely you will be surprised instead. Now by regularly changing lines and carefully selecting the opportunity it must surely be possible to minimize these type of accidents and have a lot of fun playing SOS openings.