Friday, July 29, 2016

Old wine in new skins part 2

Last season I didn't participate at the clubchampionship of Deurne just like 2 years ago. The interest of the stronger players has been fading away for some time as mentioned in my article inactivity and there hasn't been a cure yet found for it. The alternative was for me again TSM Open but that competition ended already around new-year. After the last round of the Belgian interclubs in April I didn't manage to play any standard games anymore. To get back into shape for the Open Gent I decided just like 2 years ago to play the cup in Deurne.

From 2 earlier participations I had learned that the scientific approach puts myself in a very vulnerable position. The higher rated player gets a time-handicap defined by the rules and the combination with a surprise in the opening by my opponent created a very dangerous mix. Not seldom only a few minutes remained on my clock after the opening for playing the rest of the game. I couldn't win the cup this way.

This year I chose to disregard the scientific approach and play in a very practical way. This also corresponds better to my goal of getting back into shape. Each match in the cup means that one player proceeds and one player is eliminated. So if you want to play a maximum of games then you first need to win the matches. Therefore I chose practically after winning the first game to force the draw in the second game even in completely won positions. My openingchoices also deviated from my standard repertoire. When Robert Schuermans in the quarterfinale played a6 in the Spanish instead of his favorite Schliemann-gambit, I countered surprisingly with the exchange variation. Not only I avoided his preparation but I also managed to exchange the queens which to some extent disarmed him.

In my semi-finale against Marcel Van Herck and the finale against  Thierry Penson I decided to return to openings which I played more than a decade ago regularly. They are not part anymore of my standard repertoire as there exists at least 1 anti-dote but they seemed to me a good choice for the cup. The strategy worked. Both opponents were not prepared for this surprise and spent a lot of time in the opening which caused them to make errors quickly in the middlegame. Without showing something great, I won comfortable the cup.

The practical value of a surprise from the old box can and should not be underestimated. However I still was slightly puzzled when last month the Ukrainian topgrandmaster Vassily Ivanchuk won with a really dubious opening against the Cuban topgrandmaster Leinier Dominguez Perez in the 51st Capablanca memorial.

A +2700 player knows an enormous amount of theory so I assume Leinier has seen this line before. Unfortunately for him this wasn't enough to keep the opening-advantage. For the umpteenth time the well calculated gamble of Chucky was successful. I am sure the opening is dubious as it was part of my standard repertoire till 2004, although with a different move-order. I still won my last game with the variation but afterwards I got convinced that I better play different lines.

I got acquainted with the opening by a book of 1986 Spanish gambits by Leonid Shamkovich and Eric Schiller. The analysis were not of a high quality but till today (mainly in online blitz) I still get a lot of pleasure with it. The opening gets called different names by people. One of the first players playing it on a high level was the Russian grandmaster Mark Taimanov in 1955 so sometimes it is named after him. In the book which I read, it is called the wing-variation which is also an option given on 365Chess.com. Some prefer it to call the Norwegian variation as several strong players from Norway played it like the strong Norwegian grandmaster Simen Agdesteinthe Norwegian IM Svein Johannessen and the Norwegian IM Arne Zwaig.

Today I didn't introduce yet old (dubious) openings in my standard-chess. I am convinced of the practical value even against very strong players. Winning is important but that is not the only thing which counts for me in chess.

Brabo

Addendum 29 July 2016
I realized after posting this article, that the opening discussed in this article also helped me to win a game against Nicola Capone a couple of years ago in Leuven. The analysis of that game was published in the article http://chess-brabo.blogspot.be/2014/01/the-sequence.html. If you read the analysis then you can even find the link.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Modelgames

The Flemish youth-chess-criterium is a beautiful initiative to engage (Flemish) children in our game. However I notice despite the lovely numbers of participants that only a very small minority fully uses the opportunities. In the first half of this year there were 6 play-days but I only count 5 players having participated each time. It is no coincidence that these 5 players (among which my son) are leading the overall standings.

I expect that a lack of guides is here the main reason of the absences. Parents can't/ don't want to sacrifice 8 hours waiting for their children each play-day. That excludes the extra hours of transport often needed to get from home to the tournament and back. It is no surprise that many parents quickly stop their support and most clubs don't have volunteers to replace them.

Of course it is a bit easier for me to pass the time enjoyable. Through the years I got to know a lot of people in this little world of chess so I can always find somebody to chat with. Recently we were talking a couple of times about which mastergames (modelgames) could be useful to show to our kids. I heard the names of Capablanca, Tarkatower but I had strong doubts about this. As long the players are not capable to play without hanging any pieces, we better practice tactics.

Once they master the basics sufficiently, the next step can be made by looking at modelgames. Today there exists a lot of material about it already. Last I read Chess Structures A Grandmaster Guide written by the Chilean grandmaster Maurico Flores Rios. I was impressed by the collection of contemporary top-games to explain different types of pawnstructures but personally I doubt that I have learned a lot. I did learn something from the hedgehog chaper like Matthew Sadler. Online I tested in the meanwhile already with some success the concept with Qc1. However many structures don't pop up in my repertoire. Besides I get the feeling that structures not part of the authors repertoire aren't so well covered. For sure the stonewall is better discussed at my blog than in his book see Dutch steps in the English opening or manuals.

Another negative comment which I have, is the complexity of the chosen top-games. The author really tries to keep the attention to the themes but can't avoid sometimes to delve into some tactical complications. Therefore I prefer the selection-method given by the English FM Terry Chapman in Chess For Life. He will still choose modelgames played by (top-) grandmasters but contrary to the book "Chess Structures" the opponents will be rated a couple of hundred points lower. This allows to demonstrate some themes in a much pure format.

Finally we also must categorize the different themes as many will be too difficult for most youth-players or even the average clubplayer. Ambitious players around 2000 probably will get the most out of that book. Players rated lower look better to a very different type of themes. For them there are books like How to Reasses Your ChessWeapons of Chess,.... This means we need different modelgames too. Former worldchampion Max Euwe has shown us long ago already the right direction with his book master against amateur. The masters show convincingly how typical mistakes of amateurs can be punished.

In my own practice I played a lot of games against (much) lower rated opponents. Sometimes my opponent told me afterwards that he didn't understand where he made an error. No clear tactical mistake was made but somehow he wasn't able to avoid losing material on the long term and eventually also the game. A good example is below game which I played in the first round of Open Leuven 2014.

The game is a model-example of a strong knight against a bad bishop. Black is already very early helpless but even in the post-mortem it took me quite some time to convince him of how bad his position was. I am not even sure if I succeeded.

A very different theme popped up in the 7th round of the club-championship in Deurne 2015. Here white even won a pawn in the opening and kept if for quite some time but didn't realize how huge the compensation was for black.

Players experienced with example Queens gambit accepted won't be surprised of what happened to white in the game. However in the post-mortem white couldn't accept that taking the pawn on c5 was too risky. I am not a grandmaster so my views aren't taken for granted.

In open tournaments many of such modelgames are players. Surely in the first rounds often interesting lessons can be learned due to the big differences of ratings between the players. Seldom these games get commented on the internet so don't hesitate after the game as weaker player to ask some valuable feedback about your play.

Brabo

Addendum 29 July 2016
In my analysis of the game against Maarten Wouters I criticize that somebody of 1800 points should know that an endgame of bad bishop against strong knight must be avoided. Well it is a coincidence but at http://www.schaaksite.nl/2016/07/27/toernooi-in-vaujany/ very recently the strong French grandmaster Christian Bauer didn't stand a chance in a similar endgame. Maybe I was a bit too harsh as Christian has about 2600 elo.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

14 x SOS part 2

My 17th interclub-season with Deurne has finished already a few months ago. I don't doubt that there are players in Belgium with (much) longer club-traditions but I assume very few can show a higher dedication. From 187 interclubgames I only missed 4. Once I preferred to play the French interclub instead as there was nothing anymore at stake for Deurne which wasn't the case for my French club (Luc EDN). In 2009 I skipped 2 rounds not to miss anything around the birth of my son Hugo. Finally this year I gave for the first time priority to a communion in my family. Normally I never submit to family-parties and my family also takes this into account but a communion is not something which can shift. Besides the chances to promote for Deurne were reduced to almost 0. Wachtebeke had made a gap which they surely would maintain with their mercenaries.

So in all those years I never cancelled for any illness although I do remember that I was feeling unwell a few times. By the way also this season I played a round with a vascular infection which created red bumps everywhere on my skin. Except for a ridiculous look and some people fearing unjust to get some contagious disease, I felt in good shape. In brief I am not losing yet my motivation.

Therefore it is not really a surprise that also in the last round I was eagerly playing for a win. Well theoretically there still existed a possibility to become champion but probably winning the lottery would've been easier. As my opponent was almost 200 points lower rated, a win didn't look so difficult at first sight. However ratings don't tell us everything. Gert-Jan Timmerman is maybe only rated 2135 at the day of the game but it would be very naïef to believe he can't play better. His opening-choice for the weird Relfsson gambit already shows that he hasn't lost any of his wizardry to get the opponent quickly out of his comfortzone.

Last year Gert-Jan achieved a modest succes by using an article of the Spanish Bird in SOS 12, see my blogarticle. This year he even did better thanks to an article of the Ukrainian grandmaster Adrian Mikhalchishin (today playing for Slovenia) published in SOS 11. In fairness I have immediately to add that Gert-Jans play played a much larger role in the result than the opening as more than gaining some time was not achieved contrary to last year.

No, I still didn't study the SOS books but one of the disadvantages of the Relfsson gambit is that black can still choose to transpose to more common lines of the Spanish. After 10 minutes reflection that is also the practical choice I made. Gert-Jans reaction was not a surprise as in my preparation I bumped upon an old correspondence-game of 1981 which he played against his big nemesis Joop van Oosterom.

In my article using databases part 2 I already mentioned that I also study as part of a preparation my opponents correspondence games if he has any. This allowed me to quickly catch up time. I assume this also explains why Gert-Jan once again deviates a bit later from the mainline. Risky as not only slightly inferior but most likely also not part anymore of the preparation. Anyway it worked. I still had encountered the position before in online blitz but never studied it properly. Eventually an interesting battle appeared on the board in which I was never able to prove my higher rating.

After the game a smiling Gert-Jan told me that this was his best game of the season. Some nasty problems needed to be solved without Gert-Jan using any difficult tactics. A computer often doesn't see any difference in evaluation between several choices but in practice we do notice that some positions are much easier to play than others. When in one line you can play quiet moves to keep the balance, in another line you need to apply some deep typical computer-tactics. As a human you better avoid of course the latter.

As reported in my last article, ratings of amateurs are often more suffering due to aging than professionals. However as the calculation powers maybe declined, above game clearly demonstrates that Gert-Jan hasn't lost any or only very little of his chess-knowledge. For sure this game isn't a strong advertising for the SOS-books.

Brabo

Friday, July 1, 2016

Peakrating part 2

In part 1 we have seen that most players are playing chess because they like winning/ improving. Age plays a limited role as even older players are perfectly capable of performing strong. In that context I brought up Luc Winants peakrating at age 53 which I believe is something unique.

Maybe some readers will wonder how unique is such feat. Aren't there more players at +50 obtaining a peakrating or at which age a player is playing the best chess? Both critical questions aren't easy to answer but I give it a try in this article.

It is very hard to compare the strength of players over time. Fide doesn't publish any historical research. Contrary as they only hamper us by blocking the historical data. Some amateurs tried to do some calculations themselves but their results are not very scientific as in this cute video. Maybe a mix of several ratingsystems (edo, cmr, elo) is enough to get a rough classification of the players but it is definitely insufficient to accurately define somebodies peakrating.

It is mandatory to stick to 1 calculation-system. I don't have time to create one myself so I can only rely on the few existing ratingssystems. There are the fiderating and the national ratings. Unfortunately the Belgian national rating also can't be used as our KBSB only keeps track of the rankings from the last 10 years. Maybe older players have more materials in their personal archive but I don't have access.

Viktor Korchnoi played competitive chess for more than 60 years at a (very) high level so an active career can last a very long period. Correct, even the fiderating was created only in 1970 so can't give us a complete answer. Now I do believe that 46 years can already tell us something. However on the condition that we assume the effect of elo-inflation but also elo-deflation is negligible. I also hope to neutralize the statistical fluctuations by using a lot of input.

When I got my first fide-rating in 1998 the minimum-threshold was still 2200. That automatically means that the careers of all players below 2200 can't be tracked sufficiently long. As we are interested in somebodies peakrating we also need to look at people having played actively for several decades. 50+ sounds therefore to me an additional necessary condition in our little study. It neither makes sense to look at players haven't played chess for a long time or that were inactive for many years. If we only take the Belgian players into account then we have a problem as only 15 comply to all the conditions. That is not enough to make any serious conclusions.

To achieve a bigger group, I chose to consider the active + 50 players with a +2500 rating irrespective of the nationality. This way I also get a good idea of how Lucs performance relates to his peers which is obviously something we are interested in. Today there are 1522 grandmasters (June 2016) so I was fearing the magnitude of the work but after the age-filter things were pretty manageable.

In the end only 82 players remained. The first thing which I remark is that almost all the names (except 4) are familiar to me which is something I can't say of the many young grandmasters. Before a grandmaster-title had much more prestige.

The average peak-age is 39 but we see enormous differences between the players. The American GM Maxim Dlugy peaked at age 23 while the Czech grandmaster Igors Rausis peaked only at age 54. The last one is also the recordholder so beats Luc Winant with 1 year.

Another thing which I notice is that a lot of players manage to maintain their rating well after their peak. Averagely 72 points are lost which is relatively not much on the rating-scale. The most astonishing player is for me the German icon Robert Huebner. He achieved his peak already at age 33. However today at age 68 he is still active and incredibly only lost 54 points !

This long-liveliness is an enormous asset for chess. There exist very few sports/ disciplines in which age has so little impact on somebodies results. I do realize that what above is shown for professional players is maybe not fully valid for amateurs. The motivation/ ambitions of the average amateur is surely lower compared to the average grandmaster. I do know quite a number of +50 amateurs having lost 200 points and more of their Belgian peakrating. Besides the statistics only include the players that were active during several decades. I don't know the number of players having stopped playing chess but if you would include those then it would surely change the picture.

Brabo