Thursday, May 12, 2016


A novice will often experience a lot of defeats in his first years as there exists a huge gap between casually playing chess at home and a weekly trained clubplayer. Losses can't be avoided in chess but losing a (long) string of games while everybody is watching you, isn't very enjoyable to say the least. It is no surprise that many already abandon chess after less than 1 year playing in a club. Most clubs acknowledge the problem but I see very few initiatives to support new players. Contrary as I still remember well how my first step in a club (de Torrewachters) happened. As introduction I was proposed to play a casual game against the clubchampion. Well I only learned afterwards that he was the clubchampion when everybody was in disbelief about how I achieved a comfortable draw.

I am definitely not a natural. Thanks to playing hundreds, maybe thousands of games (rapid) at home against a chess-computer of the first generation (see chesscompositions) I succeeded to built up sufficient skills to lower the bar. On the other hand as mentioned in my article gambits, this training-method also damaged a lot my further developments. Engines play a completely different sort of chess to what we encounter on the board in a club. Just look at a game I played in 1997. The engine extracts an edge out of the opening but has no clue how to follow up.

Nobody, some exceptions apart (see sitzfleisch) will play that passively with the white pieces. Tactically we are of course inferior. In the next game I get an advantage out of the opening but get beaten up after having missed a tactical trick.

Also in those early years I analyzed my games. I used (abused) in my advantage the lack of variation in the play of those first generation engines. So I often shamelessly just improved upon an earlier mutually played game.

Clubplayers not only variate more frequently but will rarely play the same long wrong lines. My article the list of strength demonstrates this clearly. In short when my son Hugo till a few months ago regularly played chess against engines, I was having mixed feelings.

Fortunately today there exist a lot more and better training-materials. Besides the countless books for beginners and dvds (see eg. kids and beginners) , we have today the internet on which we can play games against anybody at any time by making a few clicks on our mouse. The most known sites are chess24 , icc , , playchess , gameknot , redhotpawn ,
lichess and last but not least Fide Online Arena (that last one was the cause of not having access anymore to our own fide-ratinghistory if we are not wishing to become a member). I just want to add that a new site chessrating is offering partly a solution for this problem.

It is something for testaankoop to explain the pros and cons of the different sites and make a final ranking. Readers having a strong view based on experience about this topic are welcome to write something here on this blog. I guess many players are interested in getting some feedback about the different sites. Even harder is to find the right site for the specific needs of beginners.

The majority of the games played on the earlier mentioned sites are blitz and bullet as I love to play myself (see the (non-)sense of blitz). This is obviously way too fast for players still struggling to see basic combinations. Besides it is also difficult to find the right challenge as most members are just too strong. At the Flemish chesscriteritum of Blankenberge I got a great tip from Marc Dechamps (1 of the driving forces of the youth-chess at the chessclub of Kortrijk): ChessKid
ChessKid profile drief at 9th of May 2016

This site is specially developed for children with games lasting 15 minutes with a few seconds increment which I think is a good tempo. You can do daily puzzles and follow courses. Except ratings there are also stars, medals and rankings to earn. As many beginners are joining the site, you always have a good chance to win some games.

My son Hugo started 27th of March, one day after the youthtournament of Blankenberge to play on the site. We chose for the free package as we weren't convinced about the added value of the rest. The site is only supporting English and my son only can understand Dutch. Anyway he quickly got hooked up as I noticed by the records that he was playing even when I wasn't home. I didn't track everything but he probably played 200 games in 1 month. This combined with a quick feedback of papa about recurring elementary mistakes, created an explosive cocktail to improve very quickly.

His rating at chesskids increased by 150 points in only 1 month and a first confirmation happened at the Flemish youth chess criterium of Aalter with a score of 9/9. After 3 years of the stepsmethod with very moderate progress, chesskids became a revelation to us. I don't want to tell you that chesskids has no defects. I already mentioned that only English is supported which is for many children not having English as native language surely at least annoying. You can also find some bullies between the members. Just check the very weird records of minicarlsen.

As I am very often supervising as parent, my son suffers little or nothing by those flaws. If I till him that his opponent is very likely not a child then he also realizes that he shouldn't be angry losing the game. If he wants to follow some courses then I enjoy doing the translations. In the end chesskids is only an intermediary point in somebodies development. When and how my son can start to play standard chess is for the moment still an open question.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Optical illusions part 2

On this blog you shouldn't expect any literary delights. I know that there are much better writers than myself. Still I hope that readers can find pleasure reading the different chess-topics discussed here. I believe last article written by a guest can definitely improve the experience.

Maybe one of the best chess-writers was Jan Hein Donner. His book de Koning is without doubt the most famous but after I finished reading the book I decided to give the book as a present to another player very interested in it. Donners rubbish about women and engines often annoyed me too much as he seems to like talking often about subjects without having any knowledge. On the other hand I do realize that I will never come close to his level of literary. Everybody having read the book will surely still remember the fragment about the rook pawn: " Dear pawn on a5. Beautiful small thing, rook-pawn you are, not more than one square you can cover. You are so small, almost nothing, and the whole game you stood on your place, but all the time I had hopes for you and I was eagerly waiting for you. I did see you, little one. People of course thought that the pawn on d5 was important, he took their attention, yes they only looked at him but we knew better, you are the one, you and only you. I waited, you silly one, you didn't push, you knew that I was only thinking about you and you didn't have to do anything as I would come back to you anyway. Small rook pawn, you are now free. Advance, at a8 you and me will get eternal greatness. Thank you my little one. I love you."

Beautiful isn't it? Well with this special introduction I want to start the real theme of this article: rook pawns and their special role in a game. We can consider rook-pawns as the marginals of the chess-board. Often they have no value but in some extreme situations they can play a crucial role. I found recently a funny comment on schaaksite about the game Vyacheslav Ikonnikov against Robert Ris played in the Dutch intertclubs after move 29: "This gives black an advanced pawn. And an extra pawn! It is therefore no surprise that Robert was complaining after the game that he missed the win. But I think that is slightly exaggerated. I mean, that little a-pawn is neither for the cat!"

Many examples exist about rook-pawns bringing victory but less familiar are examples of saving the draw in extremis by the little ones. Last Sunday in the interclub such position could have happened. I say "could" as I was not aware about it during the game. Besides my opponent cunningly chose to wait a bit for any concrete actions.

Later the engine demonstrated the truth. I had correctly evaluated that waiting would lose (contrary to some kibitzers were thinking) but a well timed sacrifice of the rook-pawn would still ward off a defeat.

It is still possible to do worse. Some time ago there was a lot of fuss created when the Swedish grandmaster Hillarp Persson Tiger resigned in a position which was a simple draw.

So also here the rook-pawn was able to save heroically the game by sacrificing itself. Chess is a ton full of optical illusions. By years of experience we learn better to distinguish truth from lies.