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.
[Event "H.V. K.H.W.T - Alcatel"] [Date "2001"] [White "Schepers, M."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C70"] [WhiteElo "2100"] [BlackElo "2272"] [PlyCount "64"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 b5 5. Bb3 Na5 6. Nxe5 Nxb3 7. axb3 Qg5 8. d4 Qxg2 9. Qf3 Qxf3 10. Nxf3 Bb7 11. Nbd2 f5 12. e5 g5 $146 {(I forgot already longtime ago my analysis made in 1996 but I believe this even improves upon. Black has now a clear advantage. In 1998 I once met 11.0-0 but also that gave black quickly an advantage.)} 13. Rg1 $5 {(Castling with the open g-file is not attractive anymore.)} h6 14. Ke2 $5 Ne7 15. Nf1 $5 {(Another plan is Ne1-d3 to fortify the center. In both lines black keeps the advantage.)} Bg7 $6 {(More accurate is d6 immediately as white can now play Nf1-g3-h5 winning some time. After d6 white obviously can not hold the center which means black has an advantage.)} 16. Bd2 $2 {(White has no time for quiet logical developing moves. Much stronger is Ng3. Although black is still better, white gets some counterplay on the king-side.)} d6 17. Ng3 Rf8 $5 {(Bf3: wins of course a pawn but I did not want to relinquish the pair of bishops and give white some counterplay on the e-file.)} 18. Rge1 $6 {(White hopes to keep the center but that is just an illusion. Better were Ng5 but after h4 I have to admit that white also has small chances to survive.)} Kd7 19. Nh5 Bh8 20. c4 $5 {(It is difficult to recommend something for white. Maybe h4 is the best try to complicate but black should be able to win after accurate play.)} bxc4 $5 {(Bf3: followed up with Nc6 wins immediately material but I prefer to keep the pair of bishops.)} 21. bxc4 Ng6 22. Ra3 Rae8 23. Bb4 {(White tries desperately to hold the center but this fails tactically. Kd1 is objectively the strongest but with a pawn less and black having the pair of bishops there is not much doubt about the result.)} g4 24. Nd2 c5 25. dxc5 dxc5 26. Ba5 { (It is clear that Bxc5 loses a piece after Re5:.)} Rxe5 27. Kd1 f4 28. Rd3 Ke6 29. Rxe5 Nxe5 30. Rb3 Bc6 31. Rb6 Rf5 32. Bc3 Kd7 {(And white resigned maybe a lit bit early although the position is surely won for black. White had less than 2 minutes on the clock remaining so he found it futile to continue.)} 0-1
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.
[Event "Open Leuven 1ste ronde"] [Date "2015"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Peers, W."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C65"] [WhiteElo "2271"] [BlackElo "1740"] [PlyCount "43"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Bc5 5. c3 Nxe4 6. Qe2 {(In 1997 I played in Open Gent against M.Jansen once Bxc6. In my former analysis I recommended Qe2 which I remembered in this game. Today I think it is still a good choice but it is unclear if it guarantees any advantage for white. Therefore I also spent time to some new analysis based on the very interesting d4. D4 is a pure positional gambit which gives white a lot of space and development but no concrete threats immediately. So also after d4 it is not clear if white can get an advantage.)} Bxf2 7. Kh1 {(My old analysis considers Rxf2 to be better but the current engines do not agree. On the other hand it is neither clear if Kh1 is really better than Rxf2.)} Ng3 $2 {(My opponent complained that he did not know the theory but there only exist a couple of games in the database with this position. Anyway Ng3 is too early here.)} (7... d5 $1 {(This creates big complications of which I think black must be more careful than white.)} 8. d3 $5 {(C4 was played in a recent correspondence game and is also interesting.)} Ng3 9. hxg3 Bxg3 10. Bg5 $5 f6 11. Bh4 $5 Bxh4 12. Nxh4 $5 O-O 13. Bxc6 bxc6 14. Nd2 $5 (14. Nf5 $5 Ba6 15. Qe3 $5 g6 16. Nh6 Kg7 $1 17. Ng4 e4 18. c4 Qd7 $1 19. Qh6 Kh8 20. Rf4 $13) 14... a5 15. Qe3 $5 a4 16. Kg1 f5 $1 17. Nhf3 e4 18. dxe4 dxe4 $13) 8. hxg3 Bxg3 9. d4 O-O 10. Ng5 h6 11. Qd3 hxg5 $6 {(F5 was more stubborn. After hxg5 blacks position goes quickly downhill.) } (11... f5 $1 12. dxe5 Bxe5 13. Bc4 d5 14. Qxd5 Kh8 15. Qxd8 Nxd8 16. Nf3 Bg3 17. Bd2 $16) 12. Qxg3 e4 13. Bxg5 f6 14. Bh6 Rf7 15. Nd2 d5 16. Nxe4 dxe4 17. Bc4 Kh8 18. Bxf7 gxh6 19. Rxf6 Bg4 20. Rxh6 Kg7 21. Qxg4 Kxf7 22. Rh7 1-0
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.


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