Monday, December 26, 2016

The expert part 2

A few days ago I read another funny anecdote in the book Ivan's Chess Journey Unravelled. Ivan explains that he and his opponent the Latvian strong grandmaster Alexei Shirov got a standing ovation after that their game ended in a spectacular draw. The game was played in 1994 so before engines were strong enough to give accurate evaluations. That means nobody knew that the game was full of serious mistakes.

In those days chess was still magic. You had fans sheering for their heroes. Today an absolute world class-player like Wesley So has only a fanbase of just 3 members. Engines show us every day that everybody makes many mistakes so not much appreciation for talent still exists.

I am not fond of idealizing people but that doesn't mean that I can't sympathize with the results of others. Of course I do follow the first steps of my son in chess but I am also interested in the games of my team-mates and other friends. Besides kibitzing national or international games can be fun too.

Obviously some players are more attractive to follow than others. The rating plays naturally a role. I notice in each broadcast that the games of the reigning world-champion Magnus Carlsen are a magnet. Except the rating also somebodies style and theoretical knowledge are important for me. The strong British grandmaster Nigel Short is famous for this experiments with openings which we normally only see in games played at the club. The strong Ukrainian grandmaster Andrei Volokitin and the Greek grandmaster Vasilios Kotronias are interesting for me because of their refined opening repertoire.

Experts of openings which I play myself are good to follow and study. In my article switching colors part 2 I talked about the Turkish IM Burak Firat, meeting 17 times the same line on the board. However even better is to look at players above 2600 elo, selecting their opening-lines much more solidly and professionally. Anyway we already know that Botvinnik told Kasparov to learn an opening via studying the games of the best players.

Nowadays most players play a big variety of openings (which was covered in my article the list of strength) but there are still a few exceptions whom stick to a much more narrow repertoire. In this category belongs for sure former European champion and Russian grandmaster Vladimir Potkin. In the last 5 years he chose in 81 out of 104 games for the Sicilian after 1.e4. Further he answered 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 almost always (66 out of 69 games) with e6. Vladimir is a real expert in the Sicilian Taimanov as can be seen in the game below against the Russian super-grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi.

It is of course  not a coincidence that we see almost an identical copy of a game published in my article ambitions part 2.  After that game Benjamin confessed that he had studied the games of Vladimir.

On the other hand I noticed that Vladimir since 2015 switched to a6 again. I assume that he wasn't fully satisfied about the line and then even an expert will make some changes to his repertoire. Now he chooses the modern Negi concept as so many others. That line was earlier already covered in my article to shoot a mosquito with a canon.

Anyway I guess Vladimir had recently not much time to work on his own repertoire. During the candidate-finales as during the world-championship he assisted the challenger Sergei Karjakin with his preparations. A good worker for the openings is always useful but I assume Vladimir also influenced the opening-strategy of Sergei. We clearly see a difference between Magnus and Sergeis strategies
WC Strategy

The yellow moves tell us where Magnus deviated from earlier games in the championship. The blue moves are the ones of Sergei when he deviates. It is clear that Magnus is almost always the first one to do (10 - 4) and besides he does it very early. The Ukrainian super-grandmaster Ruslan Ponamariov wonders himself at Chessbase what Carlsen has shown us at the world-championship. Well maybe that it is possible to stay world-champion without going into big theoretical fights.

Finally we should not ignore the fact that Sergei came very close to get the title. Opening-experts are still playing an important role today for amateurs and finalists of a world-championship. Kasparovs tweet about the lack of preparation of Carlsen definitely contains some truth.


A nice article fitting to this theme is  Can You Still Specialize In An Opening?

Monday, December 12, 2016

The fake truth part 2

With the New Year celebrations in front of us a lot of money will be spent. We are searching the right gifts for our loved ones but should not forget ourselves. This reminds me that I am still looking for a good book about chess to read during the Christmas's holidays. Currently I am reading the book Ivan's_Chess_Journey_Unravelled which I like so something similar is fine but other proposals I welcome too in the reactions.

In this period of the year we see shops making extra efforts to attract customers. Advertising, newsletters, ... are just a few techniques used to promote the products. The commercial king of chess is already for several decades Chessbase. Nobody else succeeds better to earn money by selling chess products. Except a large variety of attractive products also huge investments are done in marketing which plays a crucial role in their sales.

The financial resources of Chessbase are many times larger than the competition. This advantage they exploit maximally via skillful marketing-plans. This year Chessbase didn't miss a golden opportunity like the world-championship to attract (new) customers. They were the only ones to get annotations of the games by the world class pros Ruslan PonomariovFabiano CaruanaWesley So and David Navara. I can't remember an earlier world championship for which 4 players with an average of +2760 elo were asked to provide their analysis. I write this blog unpaid but I am sure these guys got a very high fee for their services.

It is very hard to predict if Chessbase will see an increase of their sales by this stunt. Besides are the analysis of the best players in the world really better than what you can get on the other sites? In my previous article you could read that today's best engines play several hundred points better than any player. You could therefore deduct that an annotator will just talk through the analysis of the engine.

From pure analytical perspective I do not see much difference. The engines point out quickly and accurately the mistakes which are covered in any proper report. One big exception is the opening. The top-players play and know each others repertoire extremely well so are able to tell us which lines are critical and popular. I give one example. Game 11 was a pretty harmless looking opening but Wesley So demonstrates things can quickly get out of control.

The biggest added value of the best players is their commentary. Computers are not capable today to understand the chess-psychology in human games. Besides this is something very much linked to somebodies playing strength. Finally Wesley so also injects lessons in his commentary for the average player. You notice clearly that Wesley has quite some experience in coaching weaker players contrary to his illustrious colleagues. He tells us to be practical if we analyze openings. Don't spent countless hours into studying some opening which will very rarely pop up in your practice. You will develop much faster by carefully selecting and absorbing ideas.

Another remarkable statement of Wesley is that he doesn't fully trust his notes of 2013. He rightly claims that Houdini, the computer and the internet were much slower 3 years ago. This fully matches my previous article in which I wrote that we saw a jump in strength of 200 ratingpoints in only 3 years for the engines. On the other hand I do wonder what he exactly means with the internet. I see today many enjoyable and addictive multi player games ( boom via the faster network but I normally use only 1 or 2 PC's for the analysis.

The problem is for an amateur of course much smaller. The influence of the opening is rather small upon the final result of a game (see studying chess openings). On the other hand I always try to add something scientific into my games. It is pretty frustrating to discover afterwards that the used analysis in which quite some personal effort was put, are outdated. Something like that happened to me recently in the Belgian interclub. In 2007 I met for the first time a rather obscure line of the Sicilian after which I spent a number of hours to find an anti-dote.

In the second round I got recently again the same opening on the board by Hendrik Ponnet. I still could remember my recommendation from my opening-book but only after the game I found out that the theory was developed a lot since then.

I get the impression that Hendriks preparation wasn't very extensive as normally I should not have obtained any advantage out of the opening. Sometimes using outdated analysis can throw the opponent out of book but you can't count on such coincidences of course.

We know that the raise of the machines won't stop immediately so we do have to take into account also in the future that some of our analysis will be outdated. Especially if you play sharp tactical lines you have to be very careful to rely on old analysis. Next I also experienced that by studying properly the options of the opponent you can improve drastically the opening analysis. Till a couple of years ago I was already satisfied after finding an answer to the lines which the engine showed. Today I also investigate any line which was played with some success in practice (+2300 standard chess, chess between computers, correspondence chess and even my own online-games). Well any line is of course not possible as in the end you do want to finalize the analysis in maximum a couple of weeks.

By looking at a much bigger variety of lines, I get a more balanced evaluation of an opening. Finally I also discovered that this method of studying openings bears a number of ideas which I use as surprises.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Rise of the machines part 2

Regularly we have it on this blog about new engines. They don't only improve continuously but they also influence the way we play (see revolution in the new millennium) and analyze (see the fake truth). Besides we haven't yet met the ceiling as developments today are happening very rapidly. Personally I am really astonished about this after 2 decades of intensive programming done by several great talents. It is not easy to valuate this gigantic progression correctly  but I will give it a try in this article.

In 1997 Deep Blue defeated the at that time reigning world-champion Garry Kasparov which generally is considered as a milestone but it still took several years till every player could use an engine of the same strength. It is difficult to pin an exact date when that happened but I estimate 2003 will be close. 2003 was the period of the matches Kasparov against Deep Junior and X3D Fritz which were both drawn.

Ever since the top-engines have surpassed everybody and not a little bit. If we look at CCRL then Fritz progressed with 470 elo-points in the last 13 years. On top of that we notice that today Komodo 10 is an additional 210 rating-points stronger than the strongest version of Fritz. That makes a total of 680 points or averagely 52 points per year. If we only look at the 3 recent years then we have the same trend. End of 2013 I worked with stockfish 4. Last week I download Stockfish 8 which again is 165 points stronger than edition 4 based on the figures of CCRL. That is again 55 points averagely per year.

An important role during the progression of the last couple of years plays without any doubt TCEC (Top Chess Engine Championship). Ameliorations to the engines are allowed between the stages within 1 championship and this combined with the ever growing interest of the championship, clearly motivates most programmers.

Currently the superfinal of season 9 is ongoing and we are very close to the final decision. I see 2 big surprises this season. The first one is the non-qualification to the superfinal of Komdo while leading at CCRL. I guess this is related to new improved versions of the competitors which are not yet used by CCRL. The second big surprise is the comeback of our Belgian super talented programmer Robert Houdart with his engine Houdini. I didn't expect that as Houdini 4 already dates back from 2013 !. At the site of Houdini they claim a progression of not less than 200 ratingpoints which doesn't seem exaggerated to me.

In the separate rapid-championship Houdini won in front of Komodo and Stockfish but in the superfinal of the classical chess-championship, Houdini will most likely narrowly lose against Stockfish. Anyway 1 game will for sure be remembered for longtime if only because it created quite some controversy. Of course I talk about the 17th.

In the final position a win was awarded automatically to Stockfish based on the Nalimov tablebases. However many viewers didn't agree with the verdict. First both engines showed a quotation of 0.00 in the final position see TCEC but on top the 50 moves-rule was not taken into account. If TCEC had used instead  Syzygy tablebases then the rule could have been applied.
Evaluation by Syzygy tablebases of the final position game 17th TCEC season 9
DTZ tells us how many moves no pawn was moved or piece was captured against optimal play. DTM on the other hand shows us the number of moves to mate against optimal play. 123 plies or 62 moves for DTZ means indeed that the 50 moves-rule comes into force.

However we should not forget that the 50 moves-rule is something introduced for humans to avoid searching endlessly for a win in vain. As I already wrote in my article ICCF it does make sense to ignore this rule here too.

Besides that it is still looks strange to me to award a win when both engines don't see at all such win. I do understand that adjudications win a lot of time and energy. Till then this was always going smoothly but not this time. Afterwards some people claimed rightly that Houdini would have avoided the final position if it was allowed to consult in advance the tablebases.

Decisions by (much) weaker arbiters often create problems when they are related to playing for a win but the opposite also exists. The much stronger arbiter makes a judgment based on its capabilities but ignores the much weaker skills of the involved players.

By accident something similar happened to my son Hugo playing in the -8 category of the Flemish youth-criterium at Gent. His third game was adjudicated as a draw when an endgame of each rook + king was on the board and the opponent risked losing on time. After the game Hugo could not suppress his tears anymore. The arbiter made a call in good conscience but it is of course very painful when just a few weeks earlier you lost the exact same endgame in the step-tournament of Turnhout against a brother of the opponent.

Maybe Hugos opponent in Gent would have not made such kind of mistake but we can't be sure of that. You never know what will or will not happen in the -8 category so any decision is debatable. Eventually I advised Hugo to accept the decision of the arbiter. A draw was a fair result and from my experience I know that it is often better not to fight against such things on the long term.

I assume TCEC thought the same. The adjudication wasn't optimal but the decision was made and you can't change the rules during the superfinale anymore. In the end 100 games will be played and it doesn't look like this 1 game will influence who will win the final.

I expect after this superfinal CCRL will start to test the new versions of both finalists. Normally this means we will see Stockfish as the new number 1 with a bunch of ratingpoints ahead. Some difficult times are coming for the commercial engines as few will want to pay for a weaker engine while you can get the strongest one for free.

The exact elo-strength of the engines calculated by Carlsens rating + the progression since 2003 looks too simplistic to me. If we would do such math then it would mean Carlsen would not be able to score theoretically one single point in a standard game without a handicap. I do see him losing a match with a big margin but with the right openings it should be possible to score a couple of half points which means the rating-difference can't be 700 points.

On the other hand in this article I only talk about the strength of the engines. We don't take into account hardware developments, improved interfaces or new and bigger tablebases. Together they maybe push the rating another 200 points up.

It is not for no reason that I stated at the beginning of this article that the progression of the engines is difficult to valuate correctly. If you add up all the numbers then you get a dazzling rating of around 3800 elo which makes no sense. The only way to evaluate the engines is to let them compete against other engines. Unfortunately we also see a lot of players using the engines to denigrate our top-players which just shows a complete lack of respect.