Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Avrukh part 2

The Dutch Stonewall is not a popular opening at grandmaster practice. Thus theoretical developments only happen slowly. However also the character of the opening plays a role herein. Tactical refutations are rare compared with more open types of schemes. We have rather a battle between plans than exact moves.

1 of the last big shifts in the Dutch stonewall was the rise of the b6 systems which largely replaced the old Bc8-d7-e8-h5 (g6) systems. I wrote about this in my article manuals. Today I believe we experience a new shift. More and more white chooses to leave the classical setups with knights on e5 and d3 to control the black squares and instead chooses a more dynamic type of position recommended by Avrukh.

In my article of 2012 I already wrote that we saw an increase of 150% of this unorthodox system in the databases after the publication of Avrukhs book and this trend still continues. There are 50 games (+2300 elo) played in 2015 with this openingline in the database. That is more than 4-fold of what we see in the years before 2010.

This evolution doesn't surprise me. It is not easy psychologically to play the Dutch Stonewall when you are forced to drop the standard schemes. Whites score in my opening-book is more than 62% on + 400 games (+2300 elo) which only boosts the popularity. Also in Belgium I see a number of players picking up white. Grandmaster Bart Michiels is probably the strongest and most known supporter. His recent game against the reigning Flemish champion Ashote Draftian, a very big fan of the (Dutch) stonewall demonstrates well whites chances in this line.

Of course Bart is the stronger player but I assume Ahsote wasn't up to date of the theory as otherwise he would not enter the line with 10.b4. Obviously I play the opening completely different. Studying openings is today a big part of my study-time. Contrary to Ashote I do use extensively foreknowledge in my games. An extreme example is surely my game of Open Gent played in round 5 against Johan Goormachtigh in which I spent less that a quarter.

I will not claim at all that Nbd7 is the end of whites concept but the anti-dote used in most sources (as the one of Avrukh) is totally inadequate. The old game Efim Bogljubov - Savielly Tartakower played in 1924 is often used as model but nobody seems to be aware of the game Savielly Tartakower - Alfred Brinckmann played in 1928 which shows a totally different evaluation. Maybe this has to do with the different move-sequence but any database consists today of tools to bypass this problem.

By complete chance I got the same opening another time on the board in the last round of the same tournament. First I wanted to vary my play but as I was out of contention for the prizes (due to a discrimination based on Belgium ratings) I decided to check what my opponent has prepared. A mini-thematic tournament looked at first appealing to me but it became a disappointment.

Adrian did not know about my game against Johan Goormachtigh despite it was published via the live-broadcasting. He just chose the line because he saw a few rounds earlier Bart winning against Ashote with it. At move 18 I improve on the earlier mentioned game Tartakower - Brinckmann with something I had studied at home and a few moves later the game was dead already. Again I used only 10 minutes for the complete game which afterwards did feel a bit awkward especially as I would not be able to play chess anymore till the new season.

2 solid comfortable draws against FMs and earlier this season a very quick victory over Raf De Coninck (see resigning) is a promising start for this concept. On the other hand it does not offer a solution against mainly lower rated players which are only looking for a draw. I did not continue the endgames as they offer very few opportunities to play for a win. However I do remember one online blitz-game in which I managed to do the impossible although with some help of my opponent.

So I recommend to also know an alternative when you want to play for a win with black. The mainline with Ne4 surely offers more chances if of course you know the theory. Anyway it also looks prudent to not always play the same line and use the element of surprise in your games.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Comebacks part 2

Bad advertising is also advertising but I have my doubts when it is about chess. If you don't hear anything else about chess then as a parent you would not allow your children to play chess. Chess is of course much more than these incidents. In the previous olympiad we had more tension and drama than in any top-sport see e.g. tiebrake-system decides the olympiad. However nothing about this was mentioned in the media. Even in US nothing was reported while their team won gold. Well almost nothing as the New York Times had a very sad article about it. Instead of congratulations we were able to read how the journalist ridiculed the magnificent performance of the team by insinuating that US bought gold by importing foreign top-players.

It is a missed opportunity to show to the American public that chess can still be exciting and beautiful today. It really isn't very hard for a big newspaper to have a good and easy to understand annotation of a few of their best games. There exists definitely enough stuff to write a good story. Besides there wasn't any lack of drama either. I already mentioned the nerve-racking conclusion of the tie-brake but not less entertaining was the comeback in the game of the strong American grandmaster Samuel Shankland against the strong Indian grandmaster Sethuraman. 11 moves (from 23 till 34) white is completely busted. Some engines even show winning-evaluations for black of 18 points at some point of time but finally white still wins.

A loss instead of the win would've given 16 tie-brake-points less for US if the other results are kept identical. In other words this luck helped US to grab the gold as they only had 9 tie-brake-points more than Ukraine at the end.

At Chess.com Samuel explained that he has saved such bad positions before in his career but never against the caliber of Sethuraman. At some moment you just stop calculating and play a move which doesn't lose on the spot.

In a previous article the sadistic exam I wrote that competitive chess can be emotionally very though. A well played game can be destroyed by just one stupid move without any chance to recover. However at least as dramatic is not winning a won position because you can't finish off your opponent. Emanuel Lasker told us that the most difficult is to win a won game. Nevertheless it is incomprehensible what happened in my game against Vermaat. 27 moves (from 22 till 49) I have a completely won position but for some reason I can't find the k.o.

After the game the Indian IM Kumar Praveen rushed to me to explain where I missed a win. Not 1 but thousand wins I missed, was my snappy reply. I can't find any standard game in my almost 800 of my personal database where something similar happened to me. How is this possible?

Even so I had practiced tactics the last months a lot. On Chess.com I achieved a tactic-rating of +2600. Next I had won  the cup in Deurne which was played just before the open tournament of Gent and at Playchess I won even a couple of blitz-games against grandmasters during the last months. I was confident that I had sufficiently trained myself to perform well in tense situations. On the other hand the best training for standard-chess is still playing standard-chess. If you don't play for more than 3 months any serious games then you get unavoidably a bit rusty. Maybe the best explanation is given on the American chess-blog of Dana Mackenzie: "If there is anything, which even grandmasters, are not able to do very well then it are mating-combinations. That sounds to me a bit too simple so I will devote my next lesson to mating-combinations together with my students.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The chess microbe

After 3 years of lessons in Deurne my 7 year old son switched to Mechelen. It was a tough decision for me but at the same time necessary not to lose his interest in chess. The courses in Deurne were not anymore challenging and the club-management did not succeed to find a solution. The youth work can only survive by the selflessness of volunteers which isn't something you can force. On the other hand I do notice that we lack any flow of our children to adult-chess in Deurne. 10 years ago they started with giving lessons to the youth because they wanted to cope with the ageing club-members (see history). Today the problem is even bigger. An evaluation of youth-chess imposes itself.

In KMSK Hugo gets today step 2+ within a small group with their own teacher. The courses last almost 2 hours (twice as in Deurne) and consist of 1 hour working with a manual and the rest of the time playing chess. In the meantime I help the youth-chess just like I did before in Deurne. If you anyway have to wait then you better do something useful. I assume KMSK must have been delighted with my proposal as they immediately promoted me to teacher for the most advanced players so step 5 and higher.

That was a bit of a shock as I don't have any experience with teaching at that level. Besides I am an autodidact so I can't rely upon examples from previous teachers. Anyway what is meant with step 5 and higher? I noticed the strength of my students was very diverse from 1400 till even 2100 elo. A small questionnaire confirmed the heterogeneous picture of the students.  It is clear that it will be a big challenge to keep everybody satisfied in my courses.

The management of the club gives me carte blance which I will use to experiment a bit with some different methods of teaching. I have received the manuals of step 5 and 6 in the meantime which I will definitely use. I will also have a look to games played by the students. Additionally this blog can be a source for subjects to be used as teaching material. Nobody of them seems to follow this blog so I don't have to fear it will be just a repetition. Nevertheless last Sunday I didn't want to take any risks by selecting just an article. A Belgian IM has told me once that my article interferences is very interesting so I thought it is very unlikely that they would know the theme already.

Indeed nobody knew in advance what are interferences about. To explain the different types in a joyful way I let them solve in group a problem of each type. This made the course interactive and I assume this way they also grasped the themes better and quicker. Another advantage of this approach is that I get quicker feedback. Some of my students asked why some positions are very unorthodox.

It is a very natural and legitimate question. Some positions will indeed never occur in standard practice. Technically this subject won't learn them much. However I think the role of a teacher goes beyond just getting the students to play stronger chess. At least as important is to let them discover the love for the game. Winning points will give you a kick but on the long term only the chess microbe can survive if it is fed by inspiration and astonishment.

In this category we can probably consider the queen-sacrifice as the highest form of pleasure. The British and highly original attacking player Simon Williams wrote recently in an article on chess.com that such sacrifice is pure magic. Of course there exist many different degrees of beauty between queen-sacrifices. However in practice we will most likely see the real pearls played by stronger players. Unfortunately I am not one of them. There is always something lacking. I explain by one of my most dramatic games I have played in the last years. At least 4 fantastic queen-sacrifices were hidden in my 8th round of Open Gent against Marcel Vermaat.

The first appears at move 24 but my opponent doesn't allow it. On the other hand I have to admit that despite the queen-sacrifice being correct, there are other wins available which are more easy. It is even likely that I would have not played it if I had the opportunity.

A second queen-sacrifice is hidden at move 30. This time I would have definitely played it but again my opponent doesn't allow it.

At move 32 I get my first real chance to play a queen-sacrifice. Unfortunately I play a different winning move. Normally I should not miss this but as my time got low such things can happen.

The final queen-sacrifice is for sure the most sophisticated. The sacrifice is an introduction to a beautiful combination. Personally I think such combination is too difficult to find by myself alone.

I don't think there are many games in which you can find 4 totally different queen-sacrifices. It was a big disappointment for me not to win the game (more about this in another article) but (much) later I can still enjoy the beauty hidden under the surface of the game. My chess microbe is still very alive.