Friday, February 26, 2016

Studying openings part 2

In part 1 I tried to prove how much openings influence our results. A logical follow-up is how we can study openings. Despite we can buy many openingbooks, almost no literature exists about how we should study openings optimally. An exception is an article on the Quality Chess Blog of Nikos Ntirilis mentioning a few handy tips.

I agree with him that playing games is doubtless one of the best methods to study openings. However if we want to avoid losing a lot of rating then we better test an opening in competitions not counting for rating. Playing online games like mentioned in my article the (non-) sense of blitz can be a solution. An alternative is to play chess against an engine as Nikos recommends and which I did myself years ago (see my article chesscompositions).

The preparation of games (e.g. by using databases) is a method costing neither ratingpoints but is perceived by a lot of players as less attractive. Nevertheless if you use a proper system of archiving then it is possible to build up a nice repertoire after some time. Of course a nice supplement is reading openingbooks. In that domain Quality Chess played a major role by improving the overall standard of openingbooks compared to a decade ago. Often the quality is so good that you can be considered an expert after reading the openingbook on the condition you are sufficiently motivated and concentrated. An example of a success-story was described in my article an expanded repertoire for black. Obviously ambitions play an important role too.

A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that I haven't bought any openingbooks in decades which doesn't mean that I have no ambitions anymore. I analyze my games thoroughly with the help of engines and summarize those analysis by comments and annotations. Nonetheless I admit that only since a few years I really make a serious effort analyzing the openings methodically. Today I have developed my own methods allowing a much profounder analysis of the openings. I see recently already quite some progress not only related to mistakes but also in creating surprises for my opponents. This method seems to me something interesting to elaborate upon in this article.

If I would be asked to describe my method in 1 sentence then I would tell them that I analyze 100 mastergames of 1 opening with my best engines and complement it with analysis of correspondence-games, engine-games and games I played online with the same line. Some explanation about what I consider mastergames is probably necessary to get a better understanding.

I use as filter that at least one of both colors must have + 2300 elo. I expect some grandmasters find this filter too weak but I often see an interesting opening-idea of a player rated just above 2300 elo. Besides I also get a better picture of what players of 2300 would normally play in that position and 2300 players are an important segment of my regular opponents. On the other hand using a weaker filter would deteriorate enormously the return. I am satisfied with my choice but sometimes I do miss an interesting old mastergame (when ratings didn't exist yet) even if only for the historical background.

A second limitation is to cut off the analysis of the opening at about 100 mastergames. Time simply doesn't permit me to go broader. To process 100 mastergames can easily take a week and each year I want to do dozens of such projects. I select the 100 mastergames counting backwards from the last position popping up simultaneously in my game and a mastergame. An example will probably clarify a lot. At move 28 I played a novelty in my game against Karsten Verhasselt see article  mistakes but I already start the analysis of the opening at blacks 14th move.
100 mastergames
So creating an openingbook is not only handy for a preparation but also to study openings. I do have to admit that it took me a lot longer to create such openingbook than a few years ago as explained in my article green moves. I don't know if this is related to the complexity of the megadatabase 2016 but this time it took 3 full days to build the openingbook. Fortunately I just had to wait for the result as otherwise I surely gave up. The gain in time with the openingbook is enormous. The countless searches during the study are executed instantaneously and you get as bonus an exact overview of which moves are the most interesting ones to analyze deeper.

This brings us to the 3rd filter I use in my openinganalysis. An idea will be ignored if every mastergame scored badly (definitely lost games). I am aware that this sometimes means I miss a good idea but the gain of time largely compensates. By cutting smartly the tree of variations I can optimize the quality and work. A recent example from my practice shows well how this works. We zoom at move 16 of my game against Hendrik Ponnet, played in the Belgium interclub a couple of months ago. I try to find an improvement as I wasn't satisfied about the resulting position out of the opening.

Despite a score of + 60% in more than 100 games so a lot of won games by white, I could not find anything interesting. It doesn't happen often but sometimes I have to return back further. I won't stop stubbornly at the number 100. In such scenario it is absolutely necessary to summarize the analysis afterwards so it can be reused in a preparation of a game as can be seen below.

I do take care that I store the detailed analysis in a separate database so when I want to expand or refresh the analysis that I can continue where I left off earlier. It doesn't make sense to analyze all the mastergames of an opening when you already did 95% of it 1 year ago. If that happens I will just analyze the 5% new games. Old analysis of 10 years ago always have to be redone but at that time I didn't make the analysis so detailed as I do today.

Once the mastergames are processed, I will also analyse correspondence games played with the same opening which are often very valuable. A bit less relevant are games played by engines but as their current level is so strong you can't ignore them anymore as I explained in my article computers achieve autonomy. Finally I also have a look at my own online games. Scientifically they are not important but they have often a practical value to know which human errors occur often. I try to avoid my own errors while I learn the sometimes difficult engine refutations of the mistakes of my opponents.

I admit that despite the shortcuts which I use, a project is not something which most players will enjoy. Besides you don't need such analysis at all to play at the level I do (2300 elo). It is neither very practical as the number of projects is limited so big gaps remain in my repertoire. My motive is to analyze with a scientific approach. A nice bonus is to have some fun with the mistakes from recently published openingbooks (e.g Lars Schandorff) or new correspondencegames.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Only 6 games (interclub) I have scheduled in 6 months. I mean standard chess. I am not happy with it as I love to play more but I can't find interesting games in the neighborhood which are easy to plan. I can't get rid of the ghost inactivity which makes any progression impossible.

However as often each disadvantage has also an advantage. By playing very few games myself, I can much easier accompany my son to the youth-tournaments in which he participates. The last couple of months we were in GentZottegemDeurneBrasschaat and Geel. He clearly got hooked up as this weekend he wanted to participate in the krokus-tournament of Gent despite he knew very well that we had planned his birthday-party.

He doesn't like much solving exercises out of the Steps Method. Nevertheless he realizes that luck isn't defining his performance but rather the step already achieved. A player of step 3 will most likely win from a player of step 2 while a player of step 2 will in most cases win from a step 1 player. In short the books allow each player to learn the basics at their preferred pace.

This tempo is heavily influenced by my help at home as I can check his answers. That is an enormous luxury which was confirmed by a mother of a talented boy complaining about slow and late corrections of his teacher. Because I do the reviewing of his responses, I get a good picture of the didactic value of the books. Each chapter talks about a different theme: double attacks, mate in 2, removing the defender,... which is followed up is by dozens of exercises.

Reviewing the homework is for somebody of 2300 rating child-play although in a rare case I need to think longer as in the problem below from Step 2, page 31. It is not redundant for some teachers to possess also the book containing the answers.
1) Put a white rook and white knight on the board so black is mated
Later I asked myself how such position can occur in practice without taking into account that white still has a king somewhere on the board. Mate happened with the knight without doubt but what was black last move? It must have been a pawn-move but why did black not capture the rook? To reconstruct a game is something typical in retros which is a very small special niche in chess which has nothing to do with the step-method. Readers willing to taste a real retro can try to solve below problem. What was blacks last move and why? An additional condition is that nothing was captured while giving mate.
2) What was black last move and why?
We deviate from our topic as I want to discuss the value of the step-books. Sure there are some special ones between the tasks but in general they are very well chosen and in practice often immediately reusable. An example from Step 2, page 30.
3) White plays and wins
I already showed this theme in my article tactics part 2 and surprisingly I met it recently again in my standardgame against the Dutch IM Miguoel Admiraal.
4) Is it a good idea to capture the pawn on d6?
The books are containing lots of patterns which we meet often in practice. Another one from Step2, page 35.
5) White mates in 2.
We see again the same pattern in the final position of the game Anna Muzychuk - Laurent Fressinet played 2 weeks ago in Gibraltar.
Black has no response anymore against g6 followed up with Rf7# so resigned.
By solving the exercises step by step the basic tactics are learned. Age probably also plays a role as it is similar to learning languages. The younger you are, the better you will master something. A trap I try to avoid as parent, is to push my son making too many exercises at once. It is why I avoid bringing any book to the courses at Sunday in our club so I am guaranteed he can play and have fun.


1) White rook on b5, white knight on c3
2) The last move must be Rf2#. If the rook was before on the f-file then white must have captured a piece. However it was said that we are not allowed to capture a piece while giving mate. So the rook must have been on the second row: d2, e2, g2 or h2. But where was blacks king then standing? It looks like stalemate. Still there is a solution.
The black rook was on d2, the black king on f2 seems to be double checked, at first glance. However the position is mirrored. Blacks king in the initial position was not on f2 but on c7! The only solution to solve this riddle is to put a white pawn on d7 which promoted on e8 to knight while capturing a black piece. So the solution is 1.d7xe8 (P)+, Kc7-c8 2.Re7-c7# 
3) 1. Rd8+ Rxd8 2. Qxc5 (Theme removing the defender)
4) No because of 1. Qxd6 Re1+ 2. Kh2 Qh1#
5) 1. Ne6+ Ke8 2. Re7# (or also 1...Kg8 2. Rg7#)

Monday, February 8, 2016


Maybe the last stand in standardchess in which we can beat the computer is to recognize and build fortresses. There exist a lot of definitions for fortresses but in this article I stick to endgames (maximum 4 pieces besides pawns and kings) in which material is sacrificed to defend successfully. Some trivial endgames like rook-pawn + bishop of the wrong colour are evaluated correctly by our current engines but a fortress like in the high-class game Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - Fabiano Caruana created a lot of confusion.

Commentators initially thought that Fabiano blundered and even after the game some players weren't convinced about the fortress, see chessbomb or the blog of James Stripes. Today we are so dependent and addicted to evaluations of our engines that we don't question them anymore. Personally I only believe a score of +5 or a tablebase-hit that a win is 99,99% certain as I described earlier in my article to analyze with engines. Setting +5 is really not too high as some time ago the scores went up high while analyzing an endgame with Stockfish and Komodo while eventually they didn't manage to find the killer.

The finalgentool can't judge the final position but with the help of HK5000 I got to know that it is indeed a draw after he checked the lomonosov 7 men tablebases. Yes indeed scores of +4,2 for Stockfish and +2,8 for Komodo don't mean there is a win. You don't expect that immediately of the current leaders which are considered generally invincible. I also expect that these are no records even if we don't take special positions into account from the world of compositions. Komodo even showed a personal higher score of +3,2 in the fortress which I met in my analysis of move 42 in my game against Stone, see my article bricks. Do you know fortresses from practice which are evaluated even worse then write it down in a reaction below this article !

On the other hand above analysis of both fortresses also show that engines can still discover a lot of interesting lines. Not seldom a strong engine can crack a fortress by using some very complicated constructions. I had a look to the so-called fortress which appeared in the marathon-game of 122 moves in the last world-championship. Neither Carlsen nor the commentators found a win in the 7th game but thanks to Lets Check I still found a weak spot.

I looked on the web for serious analysis of this endgame but I didn't find much. The only exception was the remarkable study of the Russian grandmaster Pavel Maletin on the site of the Russian chessfederation but it is not very readable and he admits that improvements are possible. I am curious if some other analysis exists but who wants to stick out their neck? I expect that even Kasparov would need a lot of time to make a decent analysis as published in his world-championship books.

While preparing this article, I also reviewed some analysis of fortresses popping up in my older games. No surprise here too as I also found some holes in the analysis. I mentioned in my article the Spanish with d5 that a fortress exists in the analysis of move 50 of my game against Fabien Libiszewski. Stockfish must move heaven and earth but in the end manages to breakthrough.

Later I did find an improvement for white just before the start-position by playing immediately 64.Rxf3+. That avoids the black king running to h4 and chasing away the white king out of the corner. If white positions the rook on g2 and the king on g1/h2 then it is although a fortress but that doesn't matter in this story. Fortresses are often too abstract for our engines but that is not the same as engines are useless to analyze fortresses. There is continuous progress made but fortunately still some mystery remains for a while.