Thursday, November 24, 2016


How somebody reacts after a loss depends very much of the person and the circumstances. Some have not the slightest problem to forget about it. Others can be for a long time demoralized. Well known are Fischers 6-0 victories in the candidate matches against Taimanov and Larsen. After that both slowly disappeared from the highest echelons. Fischer wanted not only to win at the board but also tried to break the opponent psychologically.

We also see this behavior in youth tournaments. Some children leave their board after a loss with a smile and start to play football as nothing bad happened. Others can't hide their emotions and even cry. Naturally chess is not for everybody as much important. As a consequence the more ambitious players quickly take the lead. Players having more troubles to cope with a loss are averagely much more eager to learn something and make quicker progress than their more relaxed peers.

On the other hand emotions are not only a positive catalyst but can also often work paralyzing. A loss can be so detrimental each time that a fear is developed. A logical defense-mechanism is avoiding losses at all costs which can lead to some extreme cases. A few months ago I witnessed my son proposing a draw after only 1 move played in the tournament for debutants at Wetteren because he thought it would consolidate his first position. It became a tough lesson as not only there was a wrinkle in the rules which only gave him second place but he also had to listen to my reaction how disappointed I was in his behavior. I haven't seen him proposing any draws anymore since then.

I use the example of my son but in Belgium fear for losing is a very wide spread phenomenon. Maybe this is due to the great modesty of which Belgians are famous for which is why we are often satisfied with setting lower goals. In Belgium a draw against a higher rated player is considered as a big success. Seldom somebody will wonder if there wasn't more possible. I already encountered several inexplicable drawing offers of my opponents in my career. One example was already shown in my article Lars Schandorff. A second example below is from the Open Leuven played last year.
White proposed a draw while he has 10 minutes extra and the position should normally not be holdable for black 
Of course I know the expression that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. However the final position gives white 1000 better chances to win than the start position. Why would you want to play a game if you are not interested to win it?

Emotions often let us do crazy things. I won't deny the fact that even today I still have to fight against my fear of losing. Last couple of years my fear certainly decreased (something which I already explained in my article sofia rules) but it never completely disappeared. In the last round of Open Leuven this year I could again not resist to the draw-offer of my opponent Hans Renette while I knew that likely I had the slightly better position.
White proposed a draw. I wanted to play the correct b6 and black is a bit better as he can try to win by playing later e5.
I had a bit more than a half hour left for 21 moves. Last time I squandered a bigger advantage against Hans. I have after all black. I had chosen in my preparation to play the same drawing line as I did in Open Gent see Avrukh part 2 so my plan was to play a draw. With the draw I was certain of a nice prize (380 euro). It are all excuses to hide that I was afraid of losing. Arno Bomans showed more guts by declining the draw proposal of the top-favorite Stefan Docx (see his witty commentary) although we are here a bit comparing apples to oranges.

Fear may be something typical for the Belgian players but it also pops up elsewhere. Even some very strong players suffer from it. The congenial Australian grandmaster David Smerdon told us after his game against Carlsen that he would never have forced the draw against any player below 2700 elo with the advantage he had on the board see

Respect is important but not exploiting fully your own chances is just fear. Currently I am reading the book Ivan's Chess Journey in which there are a few nice anecdotes. One of them is Ivan talking about the grandmaster Bojan Kurajica from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bojan was a great talent but never achieved his full potential because he was afraid to lose. However in 1994 he shined due to a concurrence of events. The war in Bosnia created for him a lot of practical problems but as if this wasn't enough his wife in the same period also gave him the divorcing papers. It was an enormous shock for Bojan as this really filled his glass of misery. He felt as a man having nothing to lose anymore. A man with a talent, without fear to lose anything is a formidable opponent. He became the hero at the 34th Olympiad in Moscow with not less than 6 victories. In the same year he also defeated the 200 points higher rated Karpov in a rapid tie-break.

Players need to try to overcome their fear of failure if they want to achieve the maximum out of themselves. The best players are fearless fighting-machines, gladiators fighting till the death. It is up to the coaches, parents, the entourage of our (youth-) players to make this mental switch and convince them to always go for it. Then again today at home we have a cute nice teddy bear hopping around. Do we really want to transform him into a a big dangerous grizzly-bear?


Thursday, November 17, 2016


183.000 unique visitors followed the live broadcasting of the blitz final. Normally I am not interested in blitz or rapid but this time also I was glued to my screen to see the spectacle between Carlsen and Nakamura. The only bad point in the otherwise well organized match was the inability of the moderators to remove the many attacks of trolls. Even the commentators got visibly annoyed and experienced troubles to keep their focus on the games.

It is a recurring problem we encounter at many websites where you can respond anonymously. You always meet people eager to create chaos and frustration. They get thrilled by the power to control a conversation. It is doubtless also the main reason why we see today very few interesting comments anymore in comparison with the very first years of the internet.

It is not at all difficult to hijack a discussion even if you know very little or nothing about the subject. To express your opinion as a fact is a very often used method. To destabilize the credibility of somebody is another one. To focus on grammatical errors, semantic elements or tiny insignificant details is also a well known technique. As a highly experienced poster with 18 years of experience with many forums I have of course met my share of impostors.

The easiest is to ignore them and this is often necessary but sadly only creates a empty dessert of silence. Therefore I prefer to carefully select the terms I still want to continue the discussion. This strategy is not always appreciated especially if my discussion partner finds some points which I ignore rather important.

With this special introduction I want to link to a reaction upon my article X-Ray attacks. I don't think we deal here with a troll but the reaction does talk only about a technical detail. What is the different between a x-ray attack and a pin? I don't own the truth concerning chess-terminology but personally I believe there exists an essential difference between both. A pin is something static while an x-ray attack is dynamic. I mean in a x-ray attack we see the defense moving while this is not the case in a pin.

Maybe the confusion is created by the many themes around pins from the world of compositions. In those we also see movements of even the piece which is pinned as in the problem below made by myself.
Mate in 2
White plays the piece which is pinned. To counter the mate-threat, black unpins this piece.

A more complicated theme is the next problem.
Mate in 2
Again white plays with the pinned piece but this time we notice that the threat consists of unpinning a black piece. Black counters by unpinning the pinned piece. This is called the Kagan theme.

In both examples we see movements but the pins stay and can only be released by the other color controlling the pin. That is an important difference compared to x-ray attacks in which the pinned party still can decide for themselves to remove the pin although often leading to material losses.

Position 1:
1. Rf5 threatens 2.Nd4#
1. ... Qf6~ (unpins the rook) 2. Rc5#
1. ... e7~ 2.Qc5#
1. ... d7~ 2.Qe8#
1. ... b7~ 2.Qa8#
1. ... Nb5 2.cxb5#
1. ... fxg6 2.Bd5#

Position 2:
1. Rd2 threatens 2.Qa1# (unpins the queen)
1. ... Qe2~ (unpins the rook) 2. Rd5#
1. ... Rxd6 2.Bd6#
1. ... Ng3~ 2.Rf5#

Monday, November 7, 2016

Strange material imbalances part 2

End of last year I bought my very first chess-clock at de denksportkampioen. Ben advised me the DGT North American which should be good price-quality. From somebody playing chess more than 20 years this probably sounds a bit weird but contrary to America all tournaments here provide chess-material for the players. Besides till a couple of years ago I didn't even possess a chessboard because I prefer to make my analysis directly on the computer. Not only the computer is a strong partner to analyze but it is also very easy to save the work in a database.

I bought the chess-clock because my son wanted to try to win a "real" game against his father. To give him a real chance and at the same time make the games also attractive for me, a handicap was introduced. At the beginning we had to explore which handicap would be optimal. Eventually we discovered that the handicap of 1 minute against 20 minutes for my son and an additional 23 points extra (one pawn = 1 point) for him, produced the best challenge.

These handicap-games allowed me during last year also to measure clearly his progress. Each time he won with a handicap, the handicap dropped with a point. If he lost then the handicap increased again with a point. Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to experience that I couldn't get more than a draw with a handicap of only 4 points. My son made little progress last year in his step-books but it seems just by playing you can also learn a lot.

The handicap-games also let me appreciate again the power of the pawns. Especially when your son removes 4 center pawns then you quickly notice how hard it is to create something useful with the remaining pieces. The French chess-pioneer Philidor knew already that the pawns are the soul in chess. This quote dates from 1749 but is still applicable today. A modern brilliant application of this can be seen in one of Kramnik most recent games at the chess-Olympiad of Baku. This game brought Kramnik individual gold at board 2 and a personal record-rating of 2817 at the age of 41.

The final position of the game shows a strange material imbalance. Black is a rook up but is helpless. 

We don't often meet positions on the board in which a piece has to fight against an army of pawns. Probably the unpredictability plays a role hereby. Chessplayers don't like to play volunteerly a position which is alien and very hard to evaluate correctly. This maybe explains why my opponent Ian Vandelacluze in the 3rd round of Open Gent avoided on purpose such type of position with an objectively inferior move.

We are no engines which can play correctly such strange material imbalances so I do understand why my opponent found it too risky. By the way in the game he achieved comfortably a draw with his inferior played move although profiting from my time-trouble.

Many puzzles exist in which one color has a mass of pawns and the other not. However there exists a big difference with the rare positions from standard games. For each puzzle there is always a clear solution. In practice such solution is often not available. I very much prefer this open end which permits fascinating analysis.