Tuesday, January 26, 2016


If players don't want to take risks then chess will quietly die. In our rich history of chess there were periods in which people feared for this doom-scenario. Fortunately today we see most topplayers show an incredible fighting spirit. Already with the very first moves these players play boldly and aggressively as I showed in my article g4 in the najdorf.

This beauty is of course frequently covered by chess-websites and in magazines. There probably exists no better propaganda for chess and it is at the same time a role-model for many amateurs. However as often there is also danger. Although still some people believe elo-inflation exists, I on the other hand am convinced that today's + 2700 players show the maximum level a human can achieve. It is extremely difficult to fully understand this and therefore it is also often underestimated. It looks all very simple if you look at their games with an engine  (I knew it).

Only at the board things look suddenly much more difficult even if it just concerns following the footsteps of the top-players. Last I witnessed how the French IM Jonathan Dourerassou choked on board 1 against our strong Jan. Jan isn't always following current events so was not aware about Wei Yi's 21st century immortal game. Of course Jonathan hoped to profit.

If the attack is not crashing through then you are simply material down. Still it doesn't seem to scare people of sacrificing in almost every game. I don't just mean gambits but also sacrificing material later to create practical attacking chances. It is often not fully correct but the opponent is put under pressure. A small gamble which always creates fun games and sometimes even a beauty-prize. Who doesn't dare, never wins. That was probably also what my opponent in round 5 of Open Leuven thought. By the way didn't I state in my article "how to win from a stronger player", creating chaos is a clever strategy?

Everybody can sacrifice material but it is not easy to justify this. I expect the number of failures is likely much higher than the amount of success-stories despite the perception created by the news. Even an extremely dangerous attacking player like the American IM Emory Tate who recently deceased, played 2 sorts of games, see the tale of two emory tates. Besides aging only makes things worse. You clearly can see how older attacking players lose quicker ratingpoints compared to equally older more positional players.

Of course there are situations in which a draw and/or rating are unimportant. I don't think we should criticize Anands exchange sacrifice in the 11th and also last game of the world-championship 2015. If you see an opportunity to rectify the matchscore with only 1 game remaining then you should try this.

A similar situation I recently encountered in my last round of Open Leuven. Of course Marc Lacrosse drew lessons from our previous game (see using databases) and therefore tried to surprise me. He succeeded which forced me already early in the game to take risks.

My pawn-sacrifice was too optimistic and you shouldn't give Marc such advantage. So I didn't have to wait anymore for the prize-givings. On the other hand Marc afterwards prolonged his success by achieving a second place in a Spanish tournament for -2300 players with a 2400 rating-performance.

Maybe the best standard for our material is the computer. Engines have become so strong that they can except a few rare cases tell us exactly how a sacrifice can be refuted. It is no coincidence that Nakamura lost against Komodo the only game without getting any material handicap and got instead 4 tempos.


Friday, January 15, 2016

The feel of wood

The variety of topics offered on this blog are of course the product of my insatiable appetite for the most different chess-activities which span more than 2 decades. Without doubt I couldn't have written this blog 10 years ago although I already published now and then some articles for the torrewachters. Anyway of all my chess-activities standard-chess remains for me the most important.

Nowhere else I can feel the same intensity. The tension often already grows before a game (see the sadistic exam) and the emotions often continue to vibrate sometimes long after the game (see e.g. practical endgames and happiness).  During the game I try as well as possible to block anything which can disturb my concentration. I often see players using even ear plugs as it is seldom really quiet in the playing-room but I haven't tried it myself. I do like to use regularly a legal dosis of caffeine in the shape of a cup of coffee to keep my focus optimal.

Therefore I am not surprised that players can show their best creative and technical level during a game. This maximizing of the own skills is something unique. Kibitzing, commenting games, post-mortems or trainings can never stimulate the same. Exactly because of this it is crucial for somebodies development to play often official games. You need to feel the wood (or today also often plastic) as in the love for wood 1979 chess documentary.

In my article distrust I already once referred to this documentary to talk about smoking during chess but this time I want to use a specific fragment with Jan Timman in which he discuss about homework. He tells us that studying openings is important for a professional but he also warns not just to apply uncritically the analysis in a game.  Not rarely he detects at the board something extra which wasn't prepared at home. The pressure of an official game let you sometimes refute several hours of analysis made at home in just a couple of minutes. From my own practice I remember 2 such cases.

In 2001 I played in the Antwerp Handel against Schepers a dubious line of the Spanish which I analyzed a lot at home to make it playable. Surprisingly at the board I improved my own home-analysis made in 1996 by playing g5 instead of c5.

Recently I encountered something similar in the first round of Open Leuven. My opponent played a rare line against my Spanish but wasn't successful as I already met this line in a standard game of 1997. Initially I followed my old analysis but I deviated when I realized things aren't that rosy as predicted.

Both analysis stem already from 20 years ago which definitely plays a role in this story. That is 20 years later than the earlier mentioned documentary but analysis of engines contained still many holes. It was the era that only a supercomputer Deep Blue was able to beat the worldchampion narrowly in a match. I made my analysis with Fritz4, still several hundred of points below the supercomputer.

Today the battleground has changed drastically. I admit that I never improve anymore my more recent analysis on the board as engines became a lot stronger. In the book My Great Predecessors part 4 Kasparov also admits that today it is perfectly possible with an engine to make very accurate and elaborated analysis. The American topgrandmaster Hikaru Nakamura discovered just recently how strong our current top-engines are in a handicap-match.

So the race with the machine is for sure finished. Engines can tell us in a nano-second which moves are the best and "feeling wood" won't make any difference. Nevertheless there remain some advantages of "feeling wood". Some are building up resilience, absorbing much better new knowledge, enjoying the process of discovering something independently,.. In short our game is much more than just playing correct moves.


Monday, January 11, 2016

Crazy rooks

10 years ago my Russian parents-in-law visited for the first time Belgium to attend the wedding of their daughter and me. Of course there was also time to do some sightseeing but the trip to our cold North Sea gave them without doubt the most pleasure. Normally my parents-in-law are very quiet people but they couldn't hide their emotions when seeing the see. Without possessing swimsuits , they took off their upper clothes and ran into the sea. They danced and laughed in the water for some time while I smiled on the beach viewing this peculiar picture. The most nearby sea for Ufa, where my parents-in-law are living, is the Kaspian Sea and that is still 17 hours driving by car so not something easy to do.

Now the other way around it also happens that my parents-in-law smile when we Belgians react super enthusiastic for some very ordinary stuff in Russia. In the past Christmas holidays we organised a real hunt for stalactites. What? Well while here in Belgium the temperature was around +10 degrees, we had in the second week temperatures around -20 degrees. The cold let grew everywhere stalactites with amazing speed. Most are hanging intangible. Besides you better stay away from them as it can hurt you a lot when such stalactite breaks off. I was told that each year some people die being hit by them when ice starts to melt. Fortunately we can also find some closer to the ground. Nonetheless we asked our children not to touch parked cars as otherwise their alarm could go off. Below a picture of my daughter proudly posing with one of her catches.
Gloves aren't redundant when holding such stalactite as they are really extremely cold.

With this unorthodox introduction I bring up a complex theme: fun. You can find it in the most unimportant things but it is for everybody different as it among other things depends a lot of the surprise-element. The importance of seeking and finding fun can't be underestimated as it is the engine of happiness.

Chessplayers tend sometimes to forget having fun due to their addiction of ratingpoints. Last I got from HK5000 a link to a training-program to help a 2200 become an IM in only 2 years. It looked at first glance professional and probably it is a successful formula but I miss any fun. Suppose you followed the program meticulously and achieve the IM-titel, what is next? 3 model-students are presented on the site: Vladimir EvelevArthur Gabrielian and Nikolai Kurenkov but 2 of them already stopped playing competitions years ago.

No I am convinced that having fun is crucial to keep the chess-microbe in your veins otherwise you quit as so many others. On schaaksite the Dutch grandmaster Dimitri Reinderman asks oneself in an article about comic chess-moves  ,what would make a chess-mother smile. First some complex ideas were proposed in which also my articles excelsiorproblem movesinterferencesthe horizon,... can be categorized but likely this won't create much excitement for a novice. Clear simple themes are to be recommended in this case. I remember from my youth that I got a lot of pleasure from the serie better playing chess. Each book discuss simple themes around 1 piece but I believe the serie didn't get further than queen and king (which I both possess). Besides I noticed a couple of weeks ago by accident an advertising on schaaksite for a new serie about the chess pieces but I expect it is rather for advanced players this time.

What are simple themes? The titel already gives it away as a crazy rook definitely belongs to this category. For any player with some experience this is child's play. I even found a club in Belgium calling themselves the crazy rook. Anyway we already longtime forgot how we reacted the first time meeting this theme. I did the test with my son Hugo, as a 6 years old making his first moves in our chessworld  see eg Christmas tournament in Deurne and yes his shining eyes betrayed that he liked the crazy rook once he understood the mechanism.

This doesn't mean that more experienced players can't enjoy anymore crazy rooks. The famous Dutch Tim Krabbe spent quite some time to elaborate this theme in much more complex variations. Below beautiful example from the problem-world is strong evidence.

A variation of the same idea of the same author can be found here. But also in standard practice we can find some nice examples. A collection can be found on this site. I selected the last one which is amazingly a game between engines.

Computers are today so strong that they often surprise us and even can make us happy. Anyway I enjoyed a lot HK5000 previous article which ones more showed how absurdly strong the tablebases are.

It is fortunately also possible to get regularly surprised by the little things happening around us. You just need to keep your eyes open. A couple of months ago I witnessed the end of a game in Open Leuven which surprised me and made me smile.

Many games of chess have been played so maybe a crazy rook against rook instead of king has happened before but to me this was something refreshing and new. Anyway it looks like a cute theme to build a study or problem around it but maybe this will again diminish the x-factor.

Keeping the eyes open is maybe a little to simple to make such discoveries as my wife often asks me why I once more am smiling. Often only after explaining her the point, she can also enjoy. Previously Tim Krabbe with his chess curiosities made sure we don't miss anything juicy. Today such single point of contact doesn't exist anymore. Anyway if I see something special then I will share this on the blog.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Lomonosov 7 men tablebases

Thanks to Vladimir Makhnychev and Victor Zakharov there are since july 2012 the 7 men tablebases (tbs) on a computer of the state-university of Moscow. This university was founded by Mikhail Lomonosov, the founder of science in Russia and a scientist of many domains. Approximately 140 TB of data (500.000 billion unique positions - without mirroring or rotations) are necessary to house this, such capacity hosting is today only possible for the big boys.

Fortunately access is online available for the customers of Convekta (people having bought Houdini 5 Aquarium (Pro) or Chess Assistant 14 Pro). For non-customers it is sufficient to pay 20 USD. The reason is that this is the only place in the world where the tbs are stored. If 2 million players want to check an endgame, or worse, an engine is calculating with the tbs then the internet-traffic is unsustainable. So that explains the threshold.

But chessok claims that there is also free access for people with an Android-gsm. That is true, although I got occasionally "connection failed" messages. In this article I give a few examples of my own experiences with this app (on the Internet you find some more; if you click on above link on "shared" then you see what VIP members have shared online; this section also already contains some interesting positions).

Picture 1
In the first example (see picture 1) you see how 4 pawns can win from a rook (mate in 45). White starts with Kd3 (normal as pawn e3 is attacked). The menu-buttons "White" till "Play" can be swapped by the optimal route for the win, or by a summary of the moves with their distance till mate (or a conversion to an endgame with less pieces which also wins).

But one of the best features is the button below the black cross. You can use this to move the pieces on the board, but if you select the button and stay on the piece by keeping your finger on the touchscreen, then it shows all the other squares where that piece can stand with the evaluation of the position. In the picture 1 I have clicked on the pawn f5. You see that if the pawn is on f5 then white mates in 45 ("45" on field f5). If the pawn in on f4 then it is a draw "=", if it is on b5 then mate in 23 and on g7 it is mate in 1 (because white has the move and will play g8Q#).

Picture 2
You can do this for each piece, so let us test what will be the result for pawn e3 - see picture 2. Here we notice the value of the pawnchain: white can still easily lose if the e-pawn becomes a double f-pawn (except f6 as then there follows fxe7). Or he loses or he only makes a draw if it is an another file on the second or third row. Even on a6 or h6 it still is only a draw. Besides this endgame pops up more frequently than you would think. Kasparov once got it on the board against Ye see Olympiade of 2002; Jakovenko, Bareev, Karjakin, Naiditsch and Leko also encountered it at least once; Megabase 2016 gives more than 500 games of 4 pawns or more against a rook.

OK - another example which better illustrates the power of the tablebases. Honestly who is interested in K+R+R versus K+B+B+N? In the Megadatabase 2016 there is only 1 game with this material imbalance see Furlan-Sale (1996), in which quickly exchanges happened to draw. So the study of that endgame is not really practical. But before you can create the endgame of K+3p vs K+2p, you first need to create the tablebases of KRR-KBBN. The cute pawnendgames of K+3p vs K+2p are now finally available. I toyed a bit with a pawnendgame, put the kings on not so standard positions to get a long mate and the result can be seen in the pictures 3 and 4. It is mate in 24 and white wins the quickest with 1.h5. Now if you let Stockfish and Komodo analyze this position then they also solve this fast (Stockfish initially shows mate in 42 with 1.Kd5; even after 10 minutes it sticks with Kd5 (and mate in 29). But that is not the point, with this app you can see what happens if you put the piece on another square.

Pictures 3 and 4
Further you also have some "fun" buttons like the 4 buttons on the top-right (see below the arrow to the right and the arrow to the left). With those buttons can move all pieces to the right, left, up or down (if there is sufficient margin of course). That is not something which goes quickly in the Fritz or Chessbase interface, no?

The second picture above (picture 4) I already checked where the pawn c7 can stand, to hold the position for black. Rather astonishing is that black can keep the position with the pawn on d6, e7 and e6 (so you give white the most distanced pawn!). That is not something you would expect immediately... As you see from the picture I had some problems with the connection at that time but as I stored the position as a favorite on my gsm, it still remembered all my earlier actions. Nice feature.

Also something nice, which maybe can be expanded in the future (to 4-men tbs): all the 3-piece tbs are immediately stored on your gsm. So you can always check how it exactly was with K vs K+p or make a bet with your friends in how many moves it is mate with K vs K+Q or R. Another extra is the endgame K+Q vs K+R which is useful for training.

But probably the most useful part of the Lomonsov tablebases are likely the endgames with rook or other light piece and 2 versus 1 pawn. The richness of those endgames is enormous. Let us have a look at below position which does not pop up in the Megadatabase 2016 (I didn't check the database of Harold van der Heijden). I could represent this as my own study but I don't want to push it. In the world of endgame-compositions this is a sensitive topic: using such databases would not only be anymore about searching beauty but a composer would have enough with an introduction, to end the study with a tablebase which wins. A better use of the tablebases is to control studies with maximum 7 pieces as John Nunn already did 3 times: to write a book about such positions which explain the process in human language.

Picture 5
The position: white wins in 95 moves with Rf8-a8+ (the numbers give the win/ loss moves if the white king is on different squares.) Again we see here classic logic: white wins if he is in front of the black pawn and loses if he is behind the pawn. It becomes a draw if he is too far away (right side of the board). Personally I find the square f5 interesting. Why is there still a win on f5 but not on the squares e6, f6, g6 or g5? Why is there so big difference between d1 and e1? Is it because white can exchange the rooks and he is in the quadrant with his king? Here it is obvious that it matters who is moving first. If white is in check (by the rook or b-file) then the win is vanished and black holds a draw. All this can be learned without moving a piece in the position.

Pictures 6 and 7
Another example. Can a knight and bishop win against 3 pawns. In the position on the left we see that it's a draw with white to move as the king stands on a8. Only if the king is on a7 it is also a draw. As long the king doesn't block the bishop (pawn a2 is promoting so white must start with Bh2-e5) and it is not check with a pawn (that would be an illegal position but this knowledge is not in the tbs) then white wins. Also Kg5 is forbidden as after 1.Be5 there is 1....f6+ followed up with 2...fxe5. I didn't check why exactly only a8 and a7 are draws but I assume it is because otherwise the king is too late to neutralize the pawns on the other wing.

Still a quick check where the pawn g7 can stand and how this influences the result: again no surprise. The more the pawn advanced on the king-side, the better for black, the closer to the white king, the better for white.

Picture 8
We are almost done with our examples: if KNN wins against King and pawn, how about KNN vs Kppp? An example which I found very surprising is that the place of the knight on h1 matters a lot. Only a few squares give a win. It also shows how small the path is to a win. In practice I see white trying to win this endgame, but most likely pull the emergency break (sacrificing the knights) when the black pawns can't be stopped anymore.

Pictures 9 and 10

But the app offers also other advantages than just checking positions. First you can also have classes (see pictures on the right). They are arranged via theme and contain some nice exercises. It is nice also to have an indication of the estimated elo-level each time so you know how hard the problem is. This indicator is often reliable but sometimes they contain some small errors. The position White: Kb8,b5; black Ka8, Bb1, Bh6, Nc2, Ng5 - white plays and wins, is definitely easier than 2500 elo.

You can also store positions in your favorite folder (in pgn or epd) or even share, store in dropbox or send via mail. There is even a possibility to save the testposition in  the ChessKing training-program so you can still work with it later on your PC.

Conclusion: a very handy app (if you have access to the server), which surely improves the knowledge of endgames. Besides there is even already a manual for the app see Manual for "7-piece Chess Endgame Training". Personally I don't understand why the free consultation of the 7-men tbs is allowed via the app, but not via the website. Market logic I assume...

People already satisfied with the 6-men tbs, can consult online them on the site of Shredder or the one of ChessOK itself or just download them (like at kirill-kryukov).


Monday, January 4, 2016


People over 60 ask me sometimes why I don't play more often. In their best years they played chess in the same weekend on Fridayevening, Saturday and Sunday. My response that I have young children is always countered by stating that I have a wife for taking care of them. The emancipation of the woman in the Western world hasn't stopped in the last decade which I strongly support. Besides I really like spending time with my children so I don't complain.

Social movements but also a bigger flexibility requested by the employers, a much larger choice of leisure activities,... make our schedule very hectic. I assume that the closed double round championship of the Roeselaarse Torrewachters is a likely winner for being proclaimed the largest living dinosaur in Belgium. 12 players in the highest class are battling for 22 rounds on a slow interclubtempo (compared with the tempo used in most tournaments). The lower groups even use a slower tempo of 2 hours for 40 moves and 1 hour K.O. It is not a coincidence that only (?) youth, retired or (eternal) bachelors are participating.

10 years ago when I got acquainted with the faster fide tempo (1h30 minutes with 30 seconds increment) in the Bruges masters, people were still questioning the seriousness of such quick games. Today the question is rather how we can save further time. Double rounds on play-days are getting more and more popular. The new initiative of Wachtebeke pushes this to the limit by scheduling both rounds in the afternoon. The disadvantage of this format is that after a play-day players need to drive home in the middle of the night which can be dangerous.

The initiative launched by the organizers of the Zurich Chess Challenge organisatoren may have as goal to make professional chess more attractive but their solution can also help amateurs with their shrinking leisure time. However further speeding up the pace also contains certain dangers. The faster the tempo, the more we get closer to chess played online. Playing online avoids the (long) (noctural) drives. You don't have to wait to start a new game. You avoid the big jumps in ratings of opponents which is standard in a lot of Suisse tournaments as you can select yourself the opponent. So I am not surprised when I see clubplayers cancelling their subscription because they find online chess much easier and more attractive.

The only missing aspect of online chess is maybe a reliable rating. In fide-tournaments we have a much better control about the identity of our opponents. A funny recent anecdote was fides decision to gather the players on 1 location for the 1st fide world online ladies blitz championship. A first price of 3000$ is of course much more than what we see normally at stake for online chess.

Anyway few players really care about a reliable online rating. The quicker pace generates big osculations in the rating and chess is reduced to mainly a game. Fide has created more than 3 years ago official rapid and blitz ratings but a majority of the Belgian players still has none.
Ratings standard/rapid/blitz
We see a big difference between the top 20 players and the others. 12 of the top 20 have a rapidrating and 14 of the top 20 have a blitzrating. If we look at the top 100 then only 33 have a rapidrating and only 39 have a blitzrating. A topplayer wins of course easier prizes so that maybe explains why they are more interested.

Rapid and blitz tournaments are today only sporadically sent to fide for elo-calculation but that does not explain why a majority still has no rapid/ blitz rating after 3 years. If people were really interested then it is not difficult to find and play a tournament with rating-calculations. Even ignoring the rating-calculation I see little rapid or blitz activities in the clubs. In Deurne only 7 players played in the last couple of months more than 3 clubdays out of 13 in the Deurnse superblitzer while 21 participants played already 6 official games in the clubchampionship.

Maybe the most democratic system is TSM Open. Players can choose the tempo and are paired accordingly. Except the (slower) fide-tempo we can also choose for 1 hour K.O. However of the 14 players still 8 players preferred the (slower) fide tempo, 4 players didn't have any preference and only 2 players chose a quicker (newer) 1 hour K.O. system.

Everybody understands that quicker means losing quality of play. I fear if organizers will switch solely to a quicker tempo (let us assume fide allows those quick games for standard elo-calculation ) then a drop of memberships can be expected. Players are visiting the clubs to play a game of which afterwards can be stated that luck didn't play a role and creativity could be shown. So I believe a quicker tempo can only be an expansion of the supply and not a firm solution to solve the lack of time.

Even a game of 1 hour K.O. per player is already a different type of chess compared of what we play today in the interclub. This doesn't mean that there won't be funny games as some players will use the reduced time to take extra risks. This season I played in Open TSM a sharp game with 1 hour K.O. We were only able to start our game after 9 PM because of the annual meeting and I was not willing to play till 2 AM as I had to get up already at 7 AM.

Jan had some bad luck as I knew a few things about this Goringgambiet. Anyway I don't have the impression that he took the game as serious as in our other official games. Therefore I do think we need this extra competitiveness to keep the games interesting.  I rather miss that element when playing rapid or blitzchess. This was once more confirmed when I simply logged off my PC just before the finale tiebreak rapids between Magnus and Maxime. Even topplayers don't seem to care much about such games as can be detected in a funny response of Anand published on Chessbase: "I wake up in the morning and read about it." You can call me (us) old and conservative but I am not interested in quicker.