Sunday, August 16, 2015

Invisible moves

Puzzle champion, a cycling certificate, a medal for best runner... My children become quickly attached to grades, certificates, titles... That is not necessarily bad in the society we live but wicked businesspeople will try to take profit from this too. Also fide has already discovered some time ago that they can earn money by assigning titles. An exclusivity is transformed in a cash cow. Today we have approximately 1500 grandmasters and this number still grows as each year the new ones surpass many times the deceased ones.

Obviously discussions about the value of the titles and the different ways to achieve a title, occur regularly. An ex-fide official stated on his blog that he was comfortable with the current system. Personally I think titles are no guarantee anymore for quality so I started to use an additional nuance in my articles. I use the simple name grandmaster till 2600 elo. A strong grandmaster is between 2600 and 2700 and from 2700 I call the player a top-grandmaster.

Standard chess is not the only chess-domain in which you can earn titles. Many online sites have today their own reward-model to keep players. The value of the obtained decorations is often very limited or non-existing outside those sites. However titles attributed by ICCF are recognized by a much larger public. Unfortunately also here we see the exclusivity crumble away despite this is a niche.

A much smaller niche is solving chess. There are only 28 grandmasters including our Eddy Van Beers. Pity that his title in 2009 got so little attention. From experience I know that it is a very bright accomplishment which only can be achieved by many years of dedication and a lot of talent. Maybe the most exclusive and most respected grandmaster-title is in chess compositions. You can only earn every 3 years points for the title which means it often takes many years. Some months ago on the Israelite Yochanan Afek got compliments for his new title as one of the 7 living grandmasters. Although in fairness there exists no special title for only endgame-compositions. There only exists a title for compositions so more than just endgames. The full list is therefore longer than just 7 if you check wfcc which anyway doesn't harm the magnificent performance on which Afek has worked 48 years !

I am not going to discuss his many beautiful endgame studies as anybody interested can buy the database of Harold van der Heijden. I prefer to discuss the topic of one of his books: Invisible moves and which is naturally connected to his other work.

First we need to agree about what are invisible moves. If you watch live-broadcasts then you quickly notice players often disagree about what is easy/ difficult. I don't speak about just the inexperienced kibitzers solely relying on the evaluation of their engines but also commentators often wrongly predict what the top-player will or will not discover. The degree of difficulty can be more accurately defined in special solving-seances. Several tactic servers assign ratings to the problems based on earlier results: chesstempochessbasects, ...

The disadvantage of such sessions just like with training-books is that this doesn't copy tournament conditions. It is much easier to find a strong move if somebody tells you in advance there is one hidden (see my article my most beautiful move). Therefore I want to concentrate in this article on special positions in which not only several players but also the majority didn't find the 'clear' best move in a standard game.

Middlegames and endgames almost immediately are disregarded as they almost never pop up 2 times in practice without even considering the same mistake was made. So only openings remain. Of course players learn from the history so it is not easy to find positions which fully qualify. The first one which does is the position below popping up in 3 games of the Big Database 2015. In none of them the critical move was played.

Readers following my blog for some time probably recognized the position from my article Belgian interclub apotheosis as there I annotated my game against Glen De Schampheleire. By the way later Glen told me in a comment on the blog that the combination was played in an almost identical position by the Italian grandmaster Axel Rombaldoni. Almost identical is not identical so I don't take it into account.

A second much more frequently occurring position which I show is already known from 1892. In 178 games only 23 times the best move was played and probably almost exclusively by players having studied the position before.

Grandmasters Kevin Spragett, Alonso Zapata and even Anatoly Karpov missed the best move. Kevin Spragett missed the move even twice. It just shows that not everybody agrees with me to analyze all your own games in detail like I wrote in my article which games to analyze. Former world-champion Alexander Alekhine played the first time the correct move but varied in a second encounter. Sure some tactical lines must be calculated but isn't that exactly the specialty of Alekhine? Of course I also didn't play the move when I met it the first time. However online I was in the meantime able to play Kf1 40 times already totally surprising my blitz-opponents.

A 3rd and last example is copied from the excellent but now sleeping curiosity-site of Tim Krabbe. The position occurs less frequently than the previous one as only 41 times but seems to be a much harder nut to crack as 0 times the winning move was played in standard chess.

The Philipinian grandmaster Eugenio Torre is the most famous player having missed the incredible Ke2.

Can we consider the last move as the most invisible move or do you prefer the previous one? Maybe you know a more difficult move from your repertoire with openingtraps. Let us know in the comments which move/ position has given you already many easy wins.


Friday, August 7, 2015

Quitting chess

Quitting chess: Karel Van der Weide and others

Players quitting chess - it is a recurrent theme. Some become insane (or evolve psychologically in such way that it is not possible to function anymore as the majority of the people), like Torre or Rubinstein and maybe you can also add Fischer. Chessplayers are just humans and this subset of the society contains also less beautiful aspects. Suicide (Oll and many others), alcoholism (Tal, Stahlberg), criminals (Norman Whitaker), illegal use of engines (many), hustlers (Gufeld), many passions (Aleister Crowley), are also showing up between chessplayers. But I won't talk about those aspects in this article.

Karel Van der Weide
Recently Karel Van der Weide (already known from “Chess for housewives” - see picture) presented his new book in Gent. It is rather a collection of articles which he wrote earlier and now bundled as some sort of personal chess-testament. The book is easy reading and the games are excellent. Van der Weide was an attacking player and this book is surely top in that area. Lay-out and illustrations could be slightly improved but the young publishing house Thinkers’ Publishing has just started so will surely improve. At the presentation he analyzed casually 2 beautiful games of which especially his win against Piket stuck (not captured in the book).

Of course the conversation turned to the topic why he quit chess. It was very recognizable: no progression anymore, a too difficult living of chess, too little support from the federation, no social status of the profession. In the book Van der Weide also elaborates on some characteristics which enlighten his decision to quit. E.g. when he enjoyed resting in his hotel-room instead of joining the closure-banquet of a tournament or when he prefers the order and silence of a tournament in Austria instead of the half-drunk atmosphere of the Open Gent. Such characteristics are not necessary linked to quitting chess but it is part of the personality (I also prefer a good book above moderate company or a meaningless conversation) which does point to this direction. If the essence of the motivation disappears then all the other side-activities (travelling, ceremonies, absence from home, irrelevant comments, bad conditions...) which are whether or not obligatory, become suddenly annoying and stimulate the decision to quit.

I can well imagine that KVDW is strict for himself and put the bar high as chessplayer. Once you can't obtain a certain level anymore then other aspects of the way of living are not out-weighted anymore by the joy of playing chess. Again I find this very recognizable and more or less was the reason why I stopped (I don't want to compare my strength at all with KVDW). It is not really because I gradually decline but more that I more and more often mess up well played games with blunders. You can be beaten by an equal or stronger player but to throw points away against weaker players is something very different. You can compare this with a 1500 meter runner increasingly losing won races because he is not able anymore to tie his shoes properly. Only the very passionate chessplayers are in such conditions able to continue playing.

The number of former-chessplayers is large - much larger than the number of active ones, which always shrinks. Known former-players there are plenty - and I don't mean the retired player trying to make some extras on top of his pension by writing (Hans Ree and Genna Sosonko are respectable examples, still contributing literature to the chessculture). I talk about people left the game behind and built up another career. Somebody like Kenneth Rogoff by example, IGM but now PhD and professor economics. Even Josh Waitzkin, famous from the chessmovie Searching for Bobby Fischer, became later still (in 2004) Worldchampion Tai Chi. The recently passed away Richard Von Weisz√§cker (see Schachbund and chessbase) was surely also a good player, but will be remembered by something very different. Locally I also know some good clubplayers having continued their academic career in USA and quit chess as a hobby. You can't tell them they were wrong when they achieve a much higher level professionally than chess ever could offer.

Besides there are also topplayers more or less forced to quit. It seems Danailov, manager of Topalov has played a role in the short career of Valeri Salov. Topalov met with Salov an opponent with an intangible positional style. Danailov appears to put pressure on the organizers so if Topalov participated, Salov would not be invited. Seems, appears,... in any case if somebody tries to google Valeri Salov then you find nothing anymore after his career. He said himself in an interview of 2009 that his criticism on Kasparov stopped invitations for top-tournaments. I can well imagine that the youth of today does not know very well Salov - in the end his career was relatively short. To get acquainted with him I recommend the exciting game against Karpov from Rotterdam 1989 - maybe no absolute top-game, but part of the legendary 0/3 by which Karpov threw away an almost guaranteed tournament-victory (and maybe even the win in the World Cup).

His most beautiful victory was probably the Polugaevskytournament in Buenos Aires 1994, in which the Sicilian was mandatory - Salov didn't even have 1.e4 in his repertoire !

The most famous and recent example of the voluntary exit is surely Gata Kamsky, once arrived in America (after his lost Worldchampionship-finale in 1996 against Karpov) stopped playing chess to study medicines and law. He made a successful comeback from 2004 which even impressed Kasparov. Kamsky has stated earlier to retire from chess if he will be 40 but he passed that point and he still continues maybe because of new challenges posed by Nakamura, So and Caruana. Enrique Mecking, a worldclass-player, stopped when we was seriously ill, but also he came eventually back - a good but not a brilliant comeback.

The opposite of the early 'quitters' are the dinosaurs of chess. Kortchnoi, Reshevsky, Najdorf, Smyslov, Lasker, Mieses… kept playing at a very high age on a respectable level. Nakamura already declared that he doesn't consider a good example of professionalism to play at a high age like Kortchnoi even in a wheelchair. Besides young players get this way a chance to play against a living legend. This last aspect always fascinated me - contact with the past. To play against somebody who has known people you only know from books or databases. Afek wrote once in an issue of New in Chess (year 2000) about his (far) familymember I.M. Vistanieckis, still active at a very high age (he was the oldest I.M. in the world) and defeating young players in Israel - but also played in the years 20-30 of the previous century against people like Mikenas.

Conclusion: quitting early chess is part of life - also other sports have their quitters (without being negative about it). Life goes on and everybody makes choices. I believe the interest for chess often stays (a bit like a smoker having quit smoking), but it is suppressed till the moment is ripe again. The most beautiful example is of course the congenial Jan Rooze, one of the biggest talents of his generation in Belgium but he chose for a professional career instead. Only after his retirement he again picked up chess and managed to excel by achieving an European title and the IM-title. Maybe he is the example the quitters need to follow?


Monday, August 3, 2015


They still exist, players not using any engine/ computer. At the Open of Gent an FM even told me that he is such dinosaur. The kind is slowly extinguishing as any young ambitious player works nowadays with Chessbase. I even noted on the site of go for grandmaster that special courses were given to learn how to work with Chessbase.

Most players know in the meanwhile how to ask an engine what the best move-sequence is in a position. You put the engine in "infinite analysis" mode (you can use for this the shortcut ALT+F2) and each time an evaluation becomes more or less stable you press the spacebar. Automatically this command selects and plays on the board the first choice of the engine. "Let's check" which I talked about in my article interfaces, also uses the first choice of the engine.

Pressing the spacebar isn't only extremely simple but also very quick and efficient. In an open tournament there is often very little time to prepare but thanks to the spacebar you can check quite a number of critical lines. Today we see regularly the use of the new term spacebarring by the new generation of players as e.g. in the chessbase article: You've just been spacebarred. The strongest engines are today playing hundreds of points better than the world-champion so it logical to use this during the preparations in a legal way to your advantage.

This sounds very nice but once playing a (much) higher level we start to notice that our opponent finds exactly the same critical moves which just neutralizes our study-advantage. Of course the opponent also has a computer and possess the same top-engines. To out-prepare such player we need to make an extra effort by using once in a while not the spacebar. I explain by using an example which I developed a few months ago for my game against the Russian grandmaster Vyacheslav Ikonnikov.

In my article surprises I wrote that I checked his 400 games played with black after 1.e4. This means I also looked at his recent games of 2014 against Alexander Seyb and of 2012 against Yuri Solodovnichenko despite it only concerned his back-up system for the Kalashnikov.

It is a very modern line which became mainly popular by the efforts of the American top-grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura. In the meanwhile we see many strong players following this new fashion in the French. Even the young Belgian FM Thibaut Maenhout won a nice little game with this opening in the past Belgian interclubs.

First thing which I do when preparing a system to which I am unfamiliar with, is to check what correspondence-chess tells us (see my article using databases).  Often the most difficult questions are solved by those games. Naturally we shouldn't forget to look at the slightly weaker alternatives for which our spacebar is very useful. The result below is not bad at all.

Even if the opponent has made a perfect homework then still you have an endgame which is slightly better for white but likely defensible with some accurate play by black. I assume most players will be satisfied with such result against a 200 points higher rated opponent. Well naturally this is sufficient to achieve a good result but I prefer to search still something extra. Wouldn't it be fantastic to find a concept which can't be discovered by spacebarring, which never was tried before and forces the opponent to find a long string of very difficult engine-moves?

The opponent believes he will obtain a draw via a slightly inferior but tenable endgame but instead finds himself in a minefield in which 1 sub-optimal move immediately means a disadvantage/ loss. Objectively Qf4 isn't better than Rb8 as it only leads to full equality. However without serious study the idea is in practical chess much more dangerous.

World-class players use this technique continuously as can be seen in e.g. my articles iccf or harakiri. However using twice the same idea is often senseless unless you play for a draw with white against a stronger opponent. Such deploring behavior we last saw in the game Samuel L Shankland - Peter Leko.

Recently in the penultimate round of Open Gent I had a dilemma for my game-preparation against Bart Michiels. Should I play the very sharp line of Burak Firat which I published in detail in the article switching colors part 2 and of which the mainline ends in a perpetual check or should I play something else with unclear complications? What if Bart read my article, still remembers the mainline, approved the analysis and decides not to avoid the draw because it is too risky. I am just an amateur trying to implement in each game something scientific so I considered it rather silly to miss a chance playing a real game with a grandmaster. As a consequence I decided to play something different and of course I lost once again. Well the loss wasn't so obligatory but that is something for another article.