Monday, December 7, 2015


Looking at the rules of our centuries-old game we notice a lot has changed during the last decades. Some changes were heavily criticized but we also realize that many adaptations were necessary to safeguard the future of chess. Many organizers are grateful of being able to use quicker timetcontrols to keep their tournaments not only attractive but also cost-efficient. The organizers of the top-tournament of Zurich even recently asked fide to allow faster controls to be accepted for standard chess.

A daring commercial concept is the millionaire tournament of Las Vegas in which big prizes were given partly sponsored by the high subscriptions. In US the tournament got a lot of publicity also by the mainstream-media so it definitely was a success. Today chess seldom gets positively in the news so maybe it makes sense to elaborate this model. Although I fear this will be more difficult in our conservative Europe.

Popularizing (again) chess to the general public is already for a longtime an objective in chess-politics. Allowing sofia rules and applying them in tournaments, naturally is part of this strategy. Nevertheless despite all the efforts we have no guarantee to see entertaining chess as in the crucial 7th round of the Millionaire tournament there was a lot of controversy after the game Luke McShane - Hikaru Nakamura which ended already after 9 disappointing moves in a repetition.

Chessplayers are very individualistic. I repeat myself but sometimes I have to as the recently published interview with Harika Dronova writes "But all the top players have different skills and I respect them for the hard work they put in it to entertain viewers with beautiful games". It is nonsense to claim that players choose moves to entertain the public. Now the whole interview doesn't please me.

Riskmanagement is a very important facet of chess which simultaneously also restricts players of playing real chess. We already saw an extremely negative example in the earlier mentioned game but it can also be more subtle. In my game against Marc Ghysels I chose for a long theoretical line which ended in a rather dry endgame.

I didn't want to play unprepared the sharpest lines and I just hoped that he didn't know very well this sideline. Marc had played in our previous encounters a Scheveningen, Pirc and French opening so I didn't find it unreasonable to make this small gamble.

It doesn't need to be long theoretical lines to see boring games. In the next interclub-game we left theory very early and still the game never became interesting as none was willing to take risks.

I and Philippe had several opportunities to sharpen the game but we just played it safe and swapped off most pieces. Above games will never entertain the general public.

Players can be convinced to take risks if there is an incentive. A good motivation is when there is a big ratinggap as the highest rated player is obliged to win not to lose many points. In the past I already showed a few examples of this in my article playing ad hominem. More recently I made a remarkable choice in my game of Open Gent against Hendrik Westerweele.

I correctly judged that taking back with the c-pawn was strong but you can clearly see from my next moves that I am not used to play this type of positions. So I am aware that a different game from my opponent could've produced an upset.

This article is not about if risks are healthy or not for your rating. Risks increase the entertainment value. This quality is necessary to please the public and attract sponsors. A big ratinggap only exists in a limited amount of games so for the majority we need extra support. An adapted rewarding mechanism, special tiebrake-systems, beauty-prizes, sofia rules... help but don't bring absolute success. On the other hand we have to avoid that a well fought draw is punished (too hard). Organizers don't have it easy with the very limited goodwill of the participants.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Young parents are probably familiar with the concept of triple p. This modern method of education solves problems with a positive attitude. Punishments are avoided as much as possible. I've been immediately fan of this approach but it is not always easy. Besides the older generation often doesn't approve this new philosophy as they used very different techniques.

The future will show us which parents made the best choices. Today I am satisfied with the relation I built up with my children although I sometimes ask myself if we don't make it too comfortable for them. Disappointments are part of life. Today some children miss a strong backbone as demonstrated a recent article of hln.

I believe chess can play an important role for many children to improve the resilience. I use the word "can" as I notice many children are following chess-courses but only few participate in tournaments. In the most recent youth-tournaments my son was the only one of 30 pupils from Deurne to actually participate. Of course there is a connection with the willingness of parents or volunteers but I also notice that many children prefer not to participate at competitions. Playing in tournaments is a difficult and tough experience. The emotions can become so strong for the youngest participants that some tears can't be suppressed anymore.

Even after many years of playing competitions I never got used to losing games. Maybe it also explains why I still continue playing chess contrary to many contemporaries. Closely related to losing is of course the eternal discussion about when is the appropriate moment to resign. My son, playing in the -8 group, I recommend to play till mate. However experienced players will rarely continue the game in completely lost positions. It is not only a waste of time but it is often also considered as not showing sufficient respect to the opponent.

What is a completely lost position or when is a game resigned normally? To get a more objective answer, I reviewed my last 100 games in which a player resigned or was mated. I used Komodo 8 on my portable to get an evaluation of the final positions. Each score above [9] I capped at [9] to avoid that some games would distort the average too much. I suspect nobody doubts that an advantage of [9] = queen is sufficient for any clubplayer to win the game.
My last 100 games in which a player resigned or was mated.

I was surprised to detect that the average was as high as 7,45 points. I scored 7,46 while my opponents 7,44 so almost exactly the same. I also thought it would be interesting to detect differences between the rating-groups.
Rating/ average score at resigning or mate
 Only a limited number of games are processed but still we see some kind of trend. The lower rated players are resigning more quickly if the rating-difference increases. Possible explanations are that the rating-gap increases the respect of the opponent for the stronger player or that the opponent expects that a future upset will become less likely. I don't dare to say anything about the higher rated players as the number of games is too small.

I deduct from the statistics one important element which is that averagely players continue for a long time to fight in lost positions. In 58 of the 100 games I even recorded a score of 9 or more. So it is a fairy-tale that serious players resign from the moment they have a lost position. As earlier mentioned, chess is above all a pure individual activity in which the public is not taken into account. Most players, myself included, choose to continue playing for quite some time in completely lost positions.

Nevertheless you also have players not willing to drag out lost positions. Especially in open tournaments you can experience that a bunch of kibitzers are watching like vultures to the agony taking place on the board. So I do understand that some players want to avoid this suffering by resigning when there are no more realistic chances anymore for a turnover. When can you resign with a clear conscience? Well if we look at some recent handicap matches between human and machine then it is clear that humans often error with extra material. Each situation is of course different but resigning being less than a piece down, must be considered too early. The earliest I resigned was with a score of 3 (in my disadvantage). Besides I had serious time-trouble and my opponent was rated more than 300 points higher see 1ste game of the article "to shoot a mosquito with a canon".

A couple of months ago I and the other present players of TSM were very surprised when my opponent Raf De Coninck resigned already at a score of 0,77.
White resigned while Komodo only shows -0,77
If you let Komodo calculate longer (10 minutes) then the evaluation drops further as whites position has no real perspective. However everybody except Raf agreed it was too early to resign. Of course it can still be worse as happened last summer in the Politiken cup with the famous Swedish grandmaster Tiger Hillarp Persson resigning in a dead drawn position.
White resigned while it is a dead draw.
The drawing-line was demonstrated on many sites, among them the blog of the Indian IM Sagar Shah. It is definitely not an isolated incident. On the blog of Tim Krabbe you can find a long list of special positions in which a player resigned while there was a hidden win available. Personally I don't think it is bad to force the opponent to show the winning line. Besides you often please the opponent by doing so as it brings satisfaction to execute the final combination on the board.