Friday, April 29, 2016

1001 tactics in Karpos

A couple of months ago, I asked an IM for advice. What should I do to get 2200? He answered " 2200 that is easy". "You just train on tactics and you will achieve it."

As most of my games are decided by tactics, I thought this could be a useful advice. So I started each day to exercise 1 hour tactics. There are many good books and online tactic servers available. You just need to make a choice what you like the most. The only thing important is to stick to 1 method. It really motivates to see how you progress x-number of tactics/ pages each day.

The IM advised 'Combinative Motifs' of Maxim Blokh so I used that book. The book consists of an introduction, index of the themes, 1206 diagrams (6 each page) and the solutions. Blokh doesn't use words but shows except the answers also why other variations don't work. The diagrams are sufficiently big to work without a board. Personally I use a timer and limit the time at 55 minutes. This allows me to solve 3-4 pages with an average success-rate of 80%. A nice bonus is that many diagrams must be solved with black as with white (often asymmetric solutions). This forces you to think a bit deeper why something works with one colour and not when the other colour is having the first move.

This training improved my game as I finally played a good tournament. TPR 1900+, 2 victories against 2000+ spelers and I was able to have a good fight against an IM, FM and WFM.

I didn't hesitate long to participate in “Karpos Open”. It fitted my agenda, wasn't expensive, there were many strong players (some well-knowns) and good weather. [Karpos is a borough of Skopje, the capital of Macedonie]. And with the actual questions we have of our society, it definitely looked interesting to see East-Europe. It is surely no paradise but people seem often to be more happy. I think it is linked to a more simple way of life. Something which let me reflect about some things:)

I'll try by showing a few fragments of my games played in 'Karpos Open' how often we enter the world of tactics. Even if you see in advance some tactical themes, there are still some typical mistakes which I make. I don't have it about missing some patterns but more about the broader and sportive aspects in chess.  

1) 'Being too focused' is a problem which I encountered in rounds 2 and 3. I mean you look at one problem on the board and forget to look at the rest. In round 2 I got excited after a discovered combination but instead of a victory against an IM, I was mated.

2) A similar thing can be found in the next fragment where I lost track of the function of my pieces. And that while the winning combination was several moves on the board. Fortunately I was still able to win the game nicely.

Losing track of a part of the board or the pieces, is normal. Detecting the problem and identifying it, will be the first step to find a cure :)

The most shocking in this tournament happened when the queen of my opponent was cornered:
White has just played Nf4. How can black profit?
My young opponent just played Nf4, I accepted the gift happily :) Do you also see it?

Finally I also want to show a tactical trap from the last round.

It was a fun tournament and if possible I would like once to come back.

Some strong qualities of the tournament:
  • A spacious, comfortable and well lightened playing-room (the tournament was in the best hotel of Skopje)
  • A nice and friendly organization (for each round there was transport from the hotels which you could book via the tournament, everybody got each round a bottle of water,...
  • Many strong players: except the 18x 2500 players, the middle-field was very competitive. A mix of veterans and young wolves created a lot of competition (of 200 players more than 120 had +2000 rating) 
  • Cheap:
    • plane 180€ (Adria Airways)
    • subscription fee 40€
    • hotel 120€ à 280 €

The only negative point I could find was the lack of a proper room to analyze the games afterwards.


Solution of the tactical question:
Black plays Nxe4 and Bf6 follows.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Extra sweet

Some players like Sultan Khan, a slave and the Peruvian grandmaster Julio Ernesto Granda Zuniga, a fruit grower shocked the chess-world in the past by the contradiction between their excellent tournament-results and their very limited knowledge of the openings. With a minimum knowledge of chess they managed to beat experienced masters. It seemed like they solved the code of chess.

It doesn't surprise me that some players believe there exists a key which can solve chess. Now and then I hear scornfully certain theories proposed by players barely knowing more than the basic rules of chess. Of course pure nonsense as natural talents have never discovered any specific key.

Shortcuts to become better in chess don't exist. Except a few rare talents the road to master chess is very long and full of obstacles. Building up experience is very important but it is doubtful if this is sufficient on the long term to keep making progress. Definitely once +2000 rating is achieved, study at home will become an important catalyst to improve.

At home we can work at chess in many different ways but probably the most important is still analyzing critically your own games. I always put a lot of effort in it as e.g demonstrated by my old article which games to analyze. I know some people consider my diligence exaggerated (see e.g. this reaction) but I don't think this is justified. A recent case once again proofed this. In 2010 I lost in a dramatic way my last 2 rounds of Open Leuven against strong opposition. This destroyed any good ranking see the summary table. I start with the very painful defeat against the Indian IM Satyapragyan Swayangsu.

That game was just finished or I had to play already the last round against the strong Belgian FM Hans Renette (another player whom quit chess a couple of years ago). A handful minutes of preparation wasn't enough to build an answer for his repertoire.

I learned from the 2 losses some valuable lessons and recently I was able to profit from this acquired new knowledge. I got exactly the same opening on the board in round 8 of the Belgian interclub as in my game against Satyapragyan.

It is pity that white had no time to continue playing but it is clear that blacks opening was a success. Coincidentally exactly the same happened in the round 9 of the Belgian interclub but this time with the same opening of my game against Hans.

Indeed it can take a while before we see any return from all the hard work done. I can imagine that many players don't have so much patience and prefer to quicker variate between openings instead of persist the study. Besides a good memory is vital which is not something everybody has automatically. Anyway this double victory tasted extra sweet. 


Thursday, April 14, 2016

An extra move part 2

If you followed a bit the news last month then you likely heard that a new milestone was reached in artificial intelligence. The computerprogram AlphaGo defeated in a match worldclass-player Lee Sedol in the boardgame go with the large margin of 4 -1. The most astonishing of this result is that the program used contrary to his colleagues of other boardgames. multiply times an algoritme based on pattern-recognition built up via self-tuition of mastergames.

The current top-engines in chess are using very advanced algoritmes which can calculate many moves ahead. However this way we can't solve chess in the nearby future. It is no surprise that many amateurs wonder if we can't learn from AlphaGo to ameliorate our chess-engines. At least 1 programmer already tried it: Matthew Lai. He developed the program Giraffe which succeeded by self-tuition in 72 hours to obtain the level of international master (see deep learning machine teaches itself chess in 72 hours plays at international master).

2400 elo must be considered fantastic but at the same time also poor. A.f.a.i.k. nobody managed before to write a program which learned to play chess autonomously by many hundreds (thousand) rating points and above all in just 72 hours. On the other hand an engine of 2400 elo can't compete at all with e.g. Stockfish and Komodo.

I don't doubt further improvements are possible with the path chosen for Giraffe but it is a total other thing to create a new number 1. Personally I believe pattern-recognition is less useful in chess than for go. Our current best engines show every day that brute force is in most cases sufficient to solve a position. In the past we witnessed many times that extra intelligence in our engines (e.g. pattern-recognition) will just deteriorate the strength of a program.

Chess is a very exact game in which the smallest difference in a position can create a total different solution. An example of this butterfly effect was already shown in my article einstellung effect but the most beautiful examples are of course found in the world of problems. Such problems/ studies are also often called twins. Most occur in helpmates (by coincidence Chessbase published recently some) but also in orthodox problems we sometimes find them as in below cute example.
                                                                 Werner Speckmann
                                                                       Schach 1963
                                                                          1st prize
Mate in 2
b) Shift Qh7 to a7
c) Shift Ke6 to c6 from postion b
d) Shift Ke4 to c4 from position c
Of course this does not mean that recognizing patterns is useless for chessplayers. We are after all no engines. Contrary as every experienced player will be able to recognize a large amount of patterns of which he hopes to benefit from. I had this luck in my recent interclubgame against Rob Michiels. Rob deviated intentionally from theory but anyway we got a position on the board which I had seen before.

I found the same position in 7 standardgames and 1 correspondence game. Without doubt the blackgame of the strong English grandmaster David Howell is the most interesting one.

It is remarkable that my top-engines only show 0,15 points difference between both positions. I would expect that an extra move would count for more. On the other hand a recent handicapmatch between the American grandmaster Joel Benjamin and Komodo once again proofed how difficult it is to maintain an advantage of extra moves for a human. The only game Joel lost was a game without a handicap of material but with a gift of 5 extra moves !


Solution Mate in 2 (Theme Allumwandlung)
a) 1. f8(B), Kf6 2. Qf5#
b) 1. f8(R), Kd6 2. Rf6#
c) 1. f8(Q), Kb5 2.Qfc5#
d) 1. f8(N), Kd6 2.Qc5#