Monday, December 25, 2017

Invisible moves part 2

Once I got the questions of an exam in advance from a classmate at the university. His cousin followed the same studies at another university. Besides one of those courses was teached by the same professor. As his exams for that course were a couple of days earlier than ours, we were able to study carefully the questions he got. Later it became clear that the professor didn't take this scenario into account as we got exactly the same questions of the cousin. Of course we all scored extremely high at the exam.

This is also valid for chess. Things which we saw earlier, will be recognized and solved much easier. This effect we clearly see at tactic-servers. Although some solvers have very moderate otb-ratings, they manage to obtain very high online tactic-ratings. Chess.com-member 2012VAChamp is the leader today with a stunning rating of 6482 elo (best Belg at chess.com Superdog-II has only 2900). 2012VAChamp explains at his profile that he has memorized all +3000 elo excercies. He estimates that there are about 500-1000.

For me this is the most important reason to not solve more than 5 each day. As non-paying member you are anyway not allowed to solve more than 5 but I could bypass this limit by using my FM-title and request the diamant-status. Besides I see that Warre De Waele has just requested this status as his tournament-victory in Le Touquet (see e.g. holidays part 3) put the foundation of the new FM-title. Nonetheless despite maximum 5 exercises each day, I notice some I have solved once before. The one below I managed recently to solve in only a couple of seconds as it was already the second time presented to me. I was able to recognize the position instantly and only the mouse-clicks took a couple of seconds.

Some people indicate that they solve the same exercises 20 or more times. This has nothing to do anymore with practicing tactics but rather shows how eager they are to get an extremely high tactic-rating. Vanity is still a very wide-spread human weakness and at the same time a source of schadenfreude. It is why the English program Keeping Up Appearances was extremely popular in the 90's.

Once those people are sitting at the board then not much is left of their tactical wizardry. Then simple exercises are unsolvable. Without the memorization they are helpless. Their online tactic-ratings would be very different if the server would process only fresh positions. Unfortunately this won't happen soon as you need a huge database to keep track of all the records of all members (today this is only done for the 25 most recent solved exercises).

The megadatabase seems to me a better tool to define the difficulty of a specific position not only more accurately but also at a much larger scale. In my previous article invisible moves I already indicated this can be done only for opening-positions. This time I want to add that we should only focus at positions not played at the professional-level as mistakes are immediately detected and corrected.

Especially the first round of open tournaments very often generate some interesting stuff to study. Besides the miniatures where the stronger player swiftly punishes the mistakes of the weaker player, we also detect games in which the win occurs less smoothly. That was definitely the case in my first round of the last Open Leuven against Mats Bakker.

Afterwards I found 8 games in the megadatabase with the same position after white's 7th move. In none of them the right move was played while 1 time it was even missed by a grandmaster of Azerbaijan: Azer Mirzoev see game. Further online I also missed it already twice but I very rarely study blitz-games see the (non-)sense of blitz.

This position breaks my previous personal record as most invisible move in my career. In my article scholar's mate I wrote about how popular books about tricks and traps are. So I think it could be a good idea once to collect the most invisible moves from the megadatabase and bundle this into a book. Likely this will be a very original piece of work for which surely some interest will exist.

Brabo

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Killer-novelties

Playing, playing and playing is the most important ingredient to improve see my article experience. However at some point of time we progress only very little anymore and eventually there is stagnation. We very quickly conclude that this is just natural. You can't forever squeeze a lemon.

Still many things which we do automatically after all those years prevent us of making any major breakthroughs. Only a few dare to question all established routines. A nice example is of course the recent news about Alphazero which tries something different after decades of Alpha-Beta-programming. The top-engines Stockfish, Komodo, Houdini are still making steady progress but Alphazero proves that machine-learning is definitely also a valid programming-track to explore. We could well be at the eve of a significant increase of playing strength of our best chess-engines (we are still far away from playing perfect chess!).

It is not only useful for engines to think out of the box but also we players can benefit from it. Besides we often know very well what is needed to make still some progression as experienced player. Valery Maes wrote a reaction on my article chess-links in which he stated that an IM-title for me is possible but I realize this is not feasible with my current playing- and working schedule. I see 3 domains which can likely make an impact upon my playing level:
- I should play (much) more competitions especially against stronger players (+2300 elo)
- I need to build a much more flexible repertoire so minimum a couple of openings for both colors so I can switch easily.
- Finally I need to dump the Dutch defense or at least I should not play it as my main-opening.

Easy to say of course and much harder to execute. None of the 3 domains will succeed without serious efforts and honestly I don't have the time/ energy for it. Probably my best chance is to profit from my son's chess-career. In a couple of years it must be possible to play together (several) tournaments each year and maybe I also will learn something of his openings when he starts to play better.

Anyway not for everybody it is that difficult to make new progress at a more mature age. I know many players with sometimes decades of experience whom are barely doing any homework ever. They have of course much more margin to improve. The winner of the first Maneblussers-tournament the 38 year old Belgian FM Matthias De Wachter proved this recently with a fide-ratingpeak of 2355 and as told to me with IM-ambitions. Coincidence or not but this rating-gain went along with teaching his daughter Livia chess!

I don't know what exactly Matthias changed at his approach to chess. However I was impressed by his game-preparation of our mutual game which we played in the finished Maneblusserstornooi. As far as I remember correctly, it was the first time in my career that I met a real killer-novelty. Novelties are played in every game (with a couple of exceptions like copycats) but a home-cooked and on top strong (=killer) idea is something very rare on my level. I only was capable of doing it 8 times (at + 800 games!!) see e.g. the list of strength and the expert. Remarkably only 3 of the 8 (e.g the boomerang) are still today not discovered by anybody-else.
So I escaped with a black eye. I was lucky that I played a couple of inferior moves which Matthias had not checked in advance and obliged him to find a non-trivial refutation. After the game there were a lot of speculations about how careless I was. The Dutch defense is a too dubious opening to play non-stop. I am too predictable as an earlier game of me was copied till move 10 which was not only published in the database but also on my blog see a moral victory. These are justified remarks of course. However I still want to nuance the picture. First I really had planned a surprise but to increase the success-rate I decided to answer 3.Bg5 with 3...Nf6 instead of immediately 2...Nf6 which of course allows 3.Bf4. That was a first wrong gamble. The second was that I trusted my very elaborated study of the opening. On my blog I wrote in the article annotations that I only publish a very short summary of my analysis. Of the position raising after the 10th move I had made a lot of extra analysis. Not less than 5 different moves I had studied and even rehearsed for the game-preparation.
So I gambled again wrongly as I missed Matthias' choice. Besides this 6th possibility is very strong. Matthias told me that he found the move after his computer calculated for a while upon the position. I redid the experiment and indeed after 1 hour of calculations and depth 39 in multi-mode (analyzing several lines at once, so here 3) we see Stockfish showing the same preferred first choice.


Once again it is clear that playing a narrow repertoire is risky. It is practically impossible to neutralize all possible killer-novelties in advance by analysis. Besides even if this would be possible then you still need to remember it for months and years. Finally I want to add that this was the very first killer-novelty after more than 800 standard-games. So for now there is no reason to panic.

Brabo

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Secret

Since July I possess a smartphone. For years I refused to buy one as I considered it expensive and unnecessary. Eventually my employer forced me to acquire one as he would charge me 10 euros per month no matter if I use one or not. Recently the Belgian law changed so no appeal was possible. In short I am definitely not an early adopter of electronic stuff and I will only introduce something new when I am really convinced it has an added value.

So questions about the newest cutest chess apps or programs are better not asked to me. I refer for such questions to a recent article of schaaksite. On the other hand I do warn the reader not to follow blindly the recommendations of the article. Unless you are applying illegal actions, things don't come cheap. Besides for many of the applications exist cheaper or even free alternatives which can be old-fashioned but otherwise function good.

Well I do realize of course that the youth won't listen to my advise. Young people are addicted to quick entertainment and want immediate results by a minimum of effort. A good example of this I already mentioned in my article the Bird. DVDs are surpassing very quickly the classical chess-books. The 12 year old Belgian FM Daniel Dardha is a big fan of the DVDs see a Dutch interview at hln in which Daniel states that he likes to watch them.

However not only amateurs but also professionals enjoy dvds. Former world-champion Viswanathan Anand once again stated in an interview at chess24 that professionals have today to check an enormous amount of information. DVDs are surely easier to digest than books or other sources of information. Besides it doesn't stop here as they still need to work a lot at home individually and create personal analysis. Obviously this work is well shielded from the public. I just read that Chessbase created for that even a special encryption-key to help professionals to secure their databases when they travel to tournaments.

So every professional has secrets which he keeps for himself. It is not a coincidence that often the higher rated player can use the best secrets in his games. A recent example of such secret occurred in the game between Fabiano Caruana and the strong Brittish grandmaster Gawain Jones played at Isle of Man. Both have seen Svidlers Archangels dvd but only Fabiono was aware of a mistake at move 23. Once Fabiano applied his secret on the board, the game was already over.
Between amateurs such secrets are barely popping up. Very few amateurs are up to date with the theory. Many don't have the time to check all publicly available sources, and surely don't spend time at searching novelties. The games are also played in a more relaxed environment. Financially there is little or nothing at stake. The weight of a novelty is rather small upon the result of a game. Finally we as amateurs also have to play against a much wider variety of opponents compared with the very small world of professionals. I am playing more than 20 years of competitions and only 8 times I played against the same player 5 or more times see matches. That is a big difference compared to the world-top playing continuously against each other.

Therefore last I was disappointed and offended when my opponent of the 2nd round in the Belgian interclub: the Dutch IM Xander Wemmers refused firmly to tell what he prepared at home for our game. In the game we got the Avrukh-treatment of the stonewall on the board see for more information about it part 1 en part 2. However as Xander never played this system before (conform the databases) I smelt a rat. I hadn't checked the lines very recently so I thought it would be wise to deviate with a rather new idea which I saw a couple of months earlier. This brought us very quickly on unknown territory so naturally inducing a number of errors.

After the game I was especially interested in what Xander had kept in store for 8...Nbd7 instead of 8... Ne4. Earlier I demonstrated that I made comfortable draws twice in Open Gent against FMs with black. Obviously Xander would not permit me to reproduce such draw. I insisted but Xander didn't give in so the postmortem ended before it even started.

At chesspub I mentioned my case but initially I got very little support. Why would you share something which can still be used later? However the chance is practically non-existent in this particular case even if Xander would never vary his openings anymore. Despite we both play for decades, this was our first game in which I had black. Besides if you look at the database then I am the only player having played 8...Nbd7 more than once see screenshot below.
Games + 2200 elo in the Avrukh Stonewall with 8...Nbd7
Anyway I don't see what we can win here by keeping secrets. It is just very egoistic and absolutely not how I play chess. No, I don't demand that everybody writes a blog to share his deepest secrets but a minimum of altruism is surely necessary if we want to preserve our chess-sport. It is another sad proof that chess-players are extremely individualistic.

Brabo

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Chess-links

At the start of this blog in February 2012, many were convinced this wouldn't last long. It is not so surprising as the span of a blog is averagely 100 days see e.g. scribblrs. Today people don't ask me anymore if I will still continue the blog but rather how much money I make with the blog. It is obvious that there is a readership and writing is something you only do if it also benefits yourself.

Astonishment and even incomprehension are common reactions when I respond that I don't earn anything with this blog. Somebody even joked by calling me an idiot. Nonetheless it is quite easy to get some revenues by adding a couple of advertisements to the blog. However I deliberately chose not to do so. I think this would only distract the readers and lower the overall quality of the blog. I want to show that chess is an incredible rich and interesting game via my blog. I believe that in the past years my many articles were a successful reflection of this view.

Apparently many readers agree as together with my Dutch main-site we have passed already some time ago the mark of 400.000 individual visits. If you know that the Flemish chess federation only has 3000 members than I think that this can be considered a success. In fact I am proud of this achievement. Today we have 300 articles all containing their own individual story. Besides as the blog is not another news-site, many of the articles are also timeless. Nowadays it happens often that I check one of my older articles myself just to refresh my knowledge of a subject.

Also when I correspond to other players I regularly use the blog by simply adding chess-links to specific articles. Before people told me sometimes that my answers are too tedious to read. By using chess-links I kill two birds with 1 stone. I don't lose time at chit-chat and at the same time I can share a lot of information with people really interested in the subject. Especially when you react at articles of others site this is very useful. You are not annoyed anymore by trolls.

However not every site likes to see such links. It is understandable as such links very often are undesirable with some very fishy content. The Captcha is not very popular but sometimes necessary to avoid being drowned into spam see e.g. the sleeping site of Alina L'Ami. Therefore some sites simply forbid all links. Without moderators it is often the only way to keep the site clean. Meanwhile even if there are moderators then still links are not always appreciated. After a couple of discussions with the very temperamentful Jacob Aagard which didn't go the way he wanted, he got angry. Eventually he decided to censor my comments see quality chess blog. As I was at that time a very active reader, it probably does explain for some part why we see today, 3 years later a clear drop of activity.

Recently I was also requested by Kees Schrijvers, the owner of schaaksite not to use links anymore in my reactions. He considered this spam. Even when I explained that all my links were always on-topic then still I got no permission anymore to use links. His argument was that my blog can be found via google. He didn't want to hear my counter-argument that it is often very difficult to find something in a blog when there are already 300 articles published. Just the other day one of my students told me that he got lost when searching something at my blog.

Meantime we are one month later and ever since I haven't made any new post despite I know quite some interesting additions to some of the newest articles. I am sorry for the readers using regularly my links at schaaksite to get more information about a topic (which is visible in the statistics of my blog). If the site-owner can not value properly my blog then it makes no sense to continue. It is rather clear that Kees does not have the time or does not want to spend time at investigating my blog.

Fortunately there are also positive sounds about this blog. Otherwise it would really be silly to continue this blog for so many years. I know at least 2 players that already picked up something of this blog to implement it successfully in their games. One example is an idea used by an expert of Bruges: Linton Donovan which I recommended in my article "tactics" published in January 2013.
The other example happened more recently. One of my students an expert of Mechelen, Deon Lee told me that he successfully used some analysis of the Fraser-defense in the Ponziani-opening see my article "computers achieve autonomy" published in July 2015.
Anyway this blog is of course much more than just a bunch of analysis of openings. In one of my classes I was really shocked to find out that my students never heard about tablebases never mind Lomonosov. At that moment I realized that a lot of stuff discussed on this blog is likely new for them and can help them to develop as player not only technically but also teach a few things about chess-culture. From then onwards I started to recommend them reading all the articles on this blog so even the very first ones. If you read 1 per day then in 1 year you have read all articles of this blog. What applies for my students, most likely is also valid for a much bigger audience. Call me arrogant but I think any ambitious (Flemish) +1800 player should be subscribed to this blog. It is nice to see that already several Flemish clubs have put a link on their site to this blog but I still welcome any extra publicity.

Brabo

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The butterfly-effect

A chessclub is for me the place to play chess. However not everybody seems to think like that as I often wonder why some people are showing up at all. Even in (big) tournaments I notice that some participants are barely interested in chess. They play their moves very quickly, hardly thinking about the consequences. They don't worry about the result. When I asked why then one of them responded that they mainly participate for the ambiance around the games. The socializing is often more important than chess itself .

I respect their choice but I believe the game is enough interesting to get pleasure. Chess is a vast source of incredible adventures if you are willing to spend time. The more time invested, the more you can discover and eventually also enjoy. Our youngest Belgian FM Daniel Dardha confirmed this at atv: "2 - 3 hours per day working at chess allows me today to enjoy a chess-worldtitle.

Now Daniel has of course a huge advantage thanks to his strong dad. Most youngsters don't have this luxury and often largely overrate their own skills. A small anecdote in le Touquet around a young Belgian talent confirmed my thoughts. The boy told me at the beginning of the tournament that he doesn't believe it is interesting to work extensively with engines  to study chess but later he was very disappointed when he lost a game without any chance playing black in a very theoretical Svechnikov after only 25 moves. We are not anymore living in the romantic 19th century where his kind of chess was successful. Today players need to learn how to operate the engines and databases otherwise more such defeats will follow especially when the opponents start to know which lines you usually like to play.

Anyway I am not only concerned about scoring points and winning titles. This would at the long term just lead to a fading interest and sometimes even some players to quit chess. No it is more important to learn how to find and appreciate the beauty in chess. The excellent recent article Why Study Chess demonstrates that this is possible at any level. Study helps to detect these beautiful things quicker. It is something which I do almost every day.

Some time ago I once again found a very nice concept in one of my personal analysis. In 2 earlier articles I already touched the butterfly-effect see an extra move part 2 and the einstellung effect. A very small change in the position has a huge impact upon the evaluation. Contrary to the earlier examples, this one is special as the effect only pops up many moves later. Let us start with the first variant in which white tries an interesting idea but it finally doesn't work.
White offered material but black succeeded to thwart the attack. However I was very surprised to discover that 1 small change in the position allows a brilliant resource to pop up reverting the result. Watch and enjoy below engine generated high quality analysis.
Beautiful isn't it? Of course I would've never discovered this without spending many hours analyzing the game. I am sure all of us have such hidden treasures in our games but most are never emerging the surface. Ach ignorance is a bless. Anyway I keep sharing my diamonds at my blog so you can also enjoy them.

Brabo

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Holidays part 3

Last year I started to teach chess in KMSK see the chess microbe. This year I continue my voluntary classes but hereby I added some new conditions. I want to avoid just being an entertainer instead of a teacher. My students are taking the courses not seriously enough while my goal was to use them as a catalyst so they can develop themselves quicker. It is nonsense to give advanced classes when there is no interest to focus harder at chess.

So at the start of the new season I demanded some engagements from each of my students. They have to attend my courses strictly. There aren't a lot of them so regular attendance is mandatory to follow a program. Unannounced absences won't be ignored and will be considered disrespectful. My students are all older than 12 so are perfectly capable of mailing or picking up the phone. 

Also I want that my students play at least 50 standard games every year. It is useless to spend time at courses and studies if barely any games are played. Playing games is crucial to improve see experience. Some achieve this number automatically but for others it will demand doubling or tripling the number of games. I helped them by presenting a long list of possible tournaments which they could use to create for next season a schedule. Of course this should be discussed together with their parents.

Finally I also asked each of them to digitize each played standard game in a personal database (possibly still to be created) and add some light comments. This should't take more than an hour for each game. In the past I stressed many times on this blog that it is very important to learn from your own mistakes by looking critically at your own games see e.g. which games to analyze. My students are mature enough to handle such task. When I started to play chess against a computer at the age of 14 (see chesscompositions) then I also made analysis of those games.

Some of my students answered immediately affirmative to my conditions but I also heard different sounds. One talented kid decided to stop following my classes. Chess is just a game for him to make some fun and nothing more. It is an honest and courageous answer. In the end it makes no sense to attend classes about databases and engines which he will never use.

Fortunately the other 5 children were willing to accept the conditions. But that is of course not enough. They still need to be followed up and that is less evident. It is not so easy to play interesting games for young strong players. Not only there isn't so much choice in the neighborhood but playing far away demands a strong support from the parents. Still I managed to convince a couple of parents to make the trip to the open tournament of Le Touquet. When they also triggered on their turn some other Flemish young players to play, we suddenly had assembled a small army. The French were completely taken by surprise.

A young group of Flemish wolves came in real Halloween-mood to the tournament creating fear and despair all around. You could see the disbelief grow in the eyes of several masters and grandmasters due to any lack of rating-logic. Huge plus-scores were set by the Belgian players of whom the 15 year Warre De Waele rated 2045 elo was obviously the leader of the gang. He surprised everybody by winning the tournament in front of 5 grandmasters, 4 international masters ... see final standings
The very surprising winner: Warre De Waele
Source: https://twitter.com/villedutouquet/media
In the last round I saw his mum standing at the door of the tournament. I assume the excitement was too big to stay away from the playing-room. I don't think I really helped to calm her down by telling her at the mid of the game that Warre had some chances to win. It was for sure a fairy-tale.

It is sad that such performances are today always accompanied by distrust. Some anonymous players (likely top-players) asked the arbiters to watch out for the Belgian players. Statistically it is very unlikely what happened. Looking at the luck calculator then the chance was less than 1 out of 100.000. Such big numbers are difficult to grasp but remember that  the fantastic grandmaster-result of strong Jan in 2013 was a chance of 1 out of 1632 and the famous cheater Ivanov Borislav demonstrated a chance of 1 out of 305.0000. It is understandable that people get very suspicious.

Well I watched Warre playing in the tournament without detecting anything unusual. His play looked strong but natural so no typical engine moves. Besides the couple of times that he was analyzing after the games, he made a strong impression. He is clearly much stronger than his 2045 rating. Previous months he lost a lot of rating by playing some youth tournaments. Big thanks to Warre for sending me his games and allowing me to publish them. There were no live-boards and for some years games are not published anymore see my article from 2012: game-publications.


During the games of my son I stayed outside the playing-room. I warned in advance the organisation that I am a FM and will keep distance from the board of my son to avoid any discomfort. I only made one exception when he came to me clearly upset by something which happened at the board. He had announced "j'adoube" to rectify some pieces but his 61 year old opponent Jocelyne Wolfangel had missed it and now demanded to play the first touched piece. Hugo doesn't speak French so was not able to defend himself. I had to help him and joined him to the board. Normally the arbiter will decide in such situation to not play the first touched piece but I knew in advance this won't go smoothly. So I asked Jocelyne which piece she wanted him to play. She told us the queen. Next I looked at the position and quickly detected that the demand should not play an important role to the course of the game. To shortcut any discussions I advised my son just to play a move with the queen. He was clearly not happy but obeyed to the relief of everybody. For a moment I feared that he would now collapse emotionally but instead he doubled his forces. He would and should pay back this unfair treatment. At the end of the game he clearly enjoyed the process of converting the won position while a lot of people were watching closely around the board.
The foreign language was not only a problem for Hugo. I was shocked how bad our older children speak French. The announcements were always only done in French (big difference with our own Belgian tournaments in which sometimes the information is spoken into 4 languages) and even if somebody spoke English then still it was difficult for many children to understand. So playing a tournament abroad with children instead of adults is a very different experience.

Also other details during the tournament confirmed this. Many game-records got lost as some children were extremely negligent. Reconstruction of the games appeared to be impossible. My wish to insert all the games into a database and analyze them, failed before we could even try. The adult guides have an almost permanent task to keep an eye on them. This is not easy as 2 players managed to get out for a swim into the sea at night while still wearing their clothes ! The 2 remaining rounds 1 of them played his games without shoes.

I believe our children really enjoyed the experience of playing a tournament abroad. The next plans are already prepared. Next time I advise to make stricter rules between supervisors and children so we can work more seriously at chess. I recommend both parents accompanying and separate accommodation like Warre did but I understand this is not feasible for everybody.

Brabo

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Chess position trainer

One way or another we chessplayers study openings and build up a repertoire. The complexity and amount of knowledge we know, grows exponentially with the playing-strength. Especially strong/ ambitious/ professional players have to know vast amounts of theory. Besides it is not necessarily learning the moves by heart which is difficult but rather remembering everything so it can be reproduced at the board when it pops up in a game. Not rarely this fails sometimes see harakiri.

Top-players are aware of these human limitations and even created a new ugly strategy around this aspect. They choose an opening of which they know in advance that the opponent has studied the anti-dote but they gamble that the opponent won't be able to reproduce all the analysis at the board. Chess has become a pure memory-game. It is not a coincidence that Karjakin was one of the very first targets to try out this new strategy. It is well-known that Karjakin sometimes forgets his analysis see my previous link.
At the end of the game Vachier-Lagrave had about an hour extra on the clock compared to Karjakin see e.g chessbomb. After the game Karjakin sent out a tweet in which he claimed to have studied at home the line till move 38... Ne4. Even more remarkable it becomes when you heard the interview of Karjakin after the game in which he stated that he looked at the line an hour before the game see roundreport 7 at chess.com. On the other hand it is not a new phenomenon for me. Last year I saw strong Jan, first board of Deurne choosing already very early an inferior variation in his interclub-game against an expert of Bruges, Stijn Bertem.
I know the opening coincidentally as it is part of my repertoire see the article professional chess. After the game Jan admit frankly that he mixed up the preparation while he had looked at it in the morning. So you better wait with Nf3 after the moves 9.Qh5 Ng6.

With this introduction I want to show that it is important to create a good method of studying chess. In fact this is nothing new what I write here as at school our teachers told us exactly the same. However it is too easy to refer to the classical methods of studying. To learn long strings of moves and implement this knowledge in practice is something very different of studying for school and do exams.

Despite I don't remember anything similar happened in my games, I won't claim that I have found the ideal method for studying chess. No, definitely at the long term I experience also problems to remember stuff. In best case I can reconstruct the analysis by spending a lot of reflection-time. I've published several examples on this blog in which I failed in doing even that.

So when I saw 6 months ago in a youth-tournament Tom Piceu, IM of Bruges to use the for me unknown tool chesspositiontrainer, I got curious. Tom explained me that he with some friends decided a couple of years ago to motivate each other and work harder at chess. Studying openings and repeating the openings regularly would be an important element of this. So they bought together chesspositiontrainer (you can buy 1 license for 3 computers). Tom was very satisfied about the program but had to admit that he was not always very disciplined in following up rigorously the schedules.

I was skeptical about the added value of the program for myself. However as I thought it could be an interesting topic for this blog, I gave it a shot. Besides if you try something out then better to do it from the first time properly so not just using the stripped version but testing out the paying one with all features enabled. 40 euro is for a working person not insurmountable (especially in comparison of the prices applied by Chessbase).

A couple of months ago I downloaded the program. I paid for the license and managed easily to get access to all the features after getting my license-key. Next I wanted to test out the program. A small default repertoire is available but I quickly realized that this is not what a user is searching. You want foremost to train your own repertoire and then I imagine many users are getting disappointed. You have to insert all the stuff yourself.

I guess many drop out already. Even if we ignore that most players don't have a polished repertoire then you still need to get all the moves into the program. I read a comment at Quality Chess that somebody spent 40 hours at converting an opening-book into pgn. We know studying chess is hard but this kind of gigantic job is not realistic for most of us. Now we have to look at alternatives even if this means a decrease of quality. Today you have a few publishers, daring to offer DVDs of openings. I say "dare" as it is big risk that the content is illegally copied. It is very easy to spread files (although some of my students are not capable / they can play chess but have very little knowledge about how to use chess-software). You can buy Chessbase magazine DVDs (every 2 months, yearly for the price of 100 euro with a 40 euro voucher) and Move by move DVDs (20 euro each) of which you can select openings so a repertoire can be built. It is clear that you need a large collection of dvds to get a reasonable solid repertoire. It is not cheap this alternative.

Fortunately I could bypass this thanks to 20 years of playing competitive chess with a fixed repertoire see the scientific approach combined with a good archive see archiving. So I had already collected a good amount of material which I could insert simply via pgn into the chesspositiontrainer. I started with my openingbook-file which contains all my recent game-preparations for both colors. I was curious how many positions this would give.
3424 positions 0 times trained, 253 positions 1 time trained, 27 positions 2 times trained, 2 positions 3 times trained


This are already more than 3500 positions while I only injected my most superficial  analysis to study openings mostly in a broadly sense. This is a lot to maintain regularly so I have to be careful not to inject much more moves. Let us therefore have a look how many positions would count my database of my own played games which are commented often deeply. You can check this by creating an opening book e.g. "Brabo positions".

In above screenshot you see that I first select all 811 games of my personal database. Next I choose ECO 20 (default-input which tells us that averagely 20 moves are taken into account of each game linked to the popularity of the opening) and finally I enable the option of adding lines created by the analysis. I press the button "ok" and see the results in a couple of seconds.

OMG, we have almost 50.000 positions. On reddit I read that a specific user trains averagely 36 postions each day but that would mean that I need 1400 days just to train everything once. That is close to 4 years. On top the program tells us that we need to repeat this regularly. Default is set once per 4 days. It doesn't make sense anymore to look at my 3rd database with specialized analysis of openings.

In the end I decided to restrict the content for chesspositiontrainer to the initial 3500 positions. However that is not the end of the tale as now all the openings are in 1 big file. If you want to work efficiently then you still need to split this into modules. Again there is no support for this from the program. I spent approximately 5 hours to create some soft of structure with modules defined by opening and size.

Finally I can train a piece of my repertoire. I was not able to persevere very long. Except that it is extremely boring, I also wondered why am I doing this. I will not play any standard game in the next 2 months and even on the long term I see only a very small return of the invested time. If I would play regularly against strong opposition then maybe yes but today I don't need this. Besides I also find it rather cumbersome how I have to add new analysis made by a Chessbase-program. There is no automatic connection to the Chesspositiontrainer.

This program already exists since 2004. It is probably the best on the market but the many prerequisites makes it only useful for a very small group of players. I am thinking mainly at professional or and ambitious strong players. I will just use now as an extra tool for my game-preparations to train quickly some specific lines.

Brabo

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Sore losers

While chatting a lot with other chess-parents I became conscientious how much ignorance there exists. People are convinced that our noble game is only played by gentleman always willing to help each other and never doing something wrong. Only after a couple of tournaments the first cracks appear in this idealistic view.

Chess is no exception to other sports and activities. You have nice and less nice people. In the last couple of months I experienced 2 situations in which people were accused of cheating. In both cases I detected a very high degree of typical engine-moves so something you don't expect from a player. Besides the players visited very often the toilet during their games. However some bullet-proof evidence was not found (nor searched) so I am obliged to be careful. We should avoid openly accusing somebody in such case as I explained already in my article distrust.

However I believe we shouldn't ignore those signals. It is a potential time-bomb for competitive chess and could accelerate the shrinking of chess-clubs. There exists no cheap/ free solution for standard-chess. Anyway you can't forbid somebody to visit a toilet.

To let every player sign a charter of fair-play at the start of a tournament won't stop the real cheaters but looks still useful to me. With this symbolic act you show your strong disapproval to cheating and probably some will think twice before trying. Also I would demand as organizer that each player sits at the board when he has the move. In my article food and drinks part 2 I wrote that this is just standard behavior but in practice I do see people going to the toilet from the moment they have seen the answer of the opponent.

Now arbiters should be a bit flexible with such rule. If you are away from the board while your opponent has the move then you can't always be back immediately in time. Or when your opponent plays so fast that you never get the chance to get up from the board then you should still be allowed once to get a small break.

Last I experienced something else. My opponent deliberately didn't return to our board but preferred to walk around/ kibitz. In the meanwhile more than a half hour went off his clock. It was my 8th game of Open Gent which I showed in my article jokes. As I wrote earlier, I don't have problems with players continuing the game in a dead lost position but then you keep sitting at the board. Besides it is not the first time I experienced something like that see Deurne wins the zilveren toren. However it was the first time that this happened by a pretentious absence from the board.
Photo of Dominik Klaus, from Chess-DB.com
I give him the first prize for worst loser which I ever played against. I even consulted during the game the chief-arbiter Marc Bils for this behavior without any success. On the other hand it is something which I very often experience online. The anonymity very often generates some bad mannered behavior. Even some strong players are not immune for the virus of being a sore loser. In the game below the black player (if it is his real name, a Russian international master) simply let himself run out of time in a completely lost position. So I just had to wait 2,5 minutes to claim victory.
It is not a record. I already once experienced that after 8 seconds playing my opponent blundered a piece without compensation and let his remaining time run out. Or even worse are the sore losers playing 1 more move just before running out of time (so after several minutes) just to check if you are still attentive online. Not seldom they still score a point with this act as their opponents don't expect such evilness.

While you lose only a few minutes online due to sore losers, a completely different magnitude happens in correspondence chess. In below correspondence-game my opponent could've resigned surely earlier as I only got victory when I announced mate in 5 in the final position.
Probably we could've saved a couple of months if white resigned more properly. Besides it are again not only weak players that are sore losers. There are stories known of strong players continuing till mate while dragging the game maximally via their saved time. Earlier with the traditional mail a lost position could be dragged for 2 more years. Not seldom you could hear that a player with a completely lost position still won the game as the opponent deceased! Nowadays correspondence-chess is played on a server which allows things to proceed quicker. Nevertheless in the game below, black manages to drag the game for months in a completely lost position.
As the standard rate is 10 moves per 50 days see iccf playing rules black has 500 days for his 92 moves. You really need to be very patient when you play correspondence chess.

Running down the clock is a weapon sore losers often use. It seems there is not much you can do against it. A smart Bronstein clock could avoid such bad behavior but very few are interested. Today's clock with fixed increments is already hard to manage for many players.

Brabo

Monday, October 2, 2017

Schadenfreude and why we support for the underdog

In the last couple of weeks we saw the world-top playing -first in the World Cup, in which 2 places for the candidates were at stake (and ratingpoints for those not able to reach the final), next in the very strong Island of Man, which offered a second chance.

The WK-cycle offers today several ways to get to the candidates. For the world-top this is maybe a track which offers more opportunities to qualify for that tournament: via the criterium-tournaments of the Grand Prix, via the World Cup knock-out tournament, as the losing finalist of the previous world-championship, or via the rating. Only one strong (+2700) player will get a wild-card of the organizers - that is a matter of attracting sponsors of course.

A.f.a.i.k. this is a better and shorter system than in the past. Before Fide the world-champion chose the opponent, which wasn't fair (Lasker avoided Rubinstein and never granted Schlechter a real match; Aljechin avoided Capablance and did not permit Keres to play a match). The Fide defined a system but it became a terribly long path for the new challengers: zonal and inter-zonal tournaments first and then you had to survive the candidates-tournaments or matches. Only after having provided the world-champion lots of material to study, you could start as challenger the final match. And besides that Tal and Smyslov (and Kasparov) were also unlucky that a world-champion has the right to get a second match...

The actual cycle is much shorter - you already need to be world-top to get a chance. There are no surprises anymore like Van der Sterren, qualifying from a zonal tournament at advanced age to the candidate-matches.

But despite that as a world-top-player (say top-20) you are in a comfortable position at the start, you are not alone. In each tournament the road to the candidates is hard. If you look at the standings of the Grand Prix (see FIDE Grand Prix 2017) then well-known players like Nakamura, Aronian, Nepomniachtchi, Adams, Svidler, Giri, … did not succeed to qualify via this path.

And the World-cup as an enormous lottery, even Carlsen couldn't avoid elimination. We are lucky that two top-players have qualified for the candidates making it a lot more attractive. Aronian has a lot of fans and Ding Liren is still rather unknown - at this level anyway.

So for the aspiring world-champions there was only one real alternative: to get selected based upon the average rating. At twitter Martin Bennedik (@bennedik) offered live the average ratings so the players didn't need to calculate themselves. This service adds of course pressure - also in the world-cup at the players. If you checked the live ratings (2700chess) before and after the world-cup (and before Isle of Man) then you saw that almost all the top-players lost points. The reason was simple. The ratingdifferences were often too big that even winning a match with 1,5-0,5 would mean losing points. Besides also many top-players preferred the rapid-games and recorded 1-1 which also harmed their ratings. In the end even the 2 finalists didn't win any extra points after a couple of weeks playing.

But the Kramniks, Nakamura's and Anands of this world had to force something as their average rating was only second priority, next to getting through to the next round. This explained the sometimes forced play (see the elimination of Anand, after playing too aggressive against sensation Kovalyov).

It is why in the Isle of Man, there was a lot of attention to the rating-duel between So, Caruana en Kramnik, all very close in terms of ratings. The stakes were high, as elimination in this rating-race would mean no ticket for Berlin. Every player was a potential winner.

As the tournament started in the first round with Caruana-Kramnik, we immediately witnessed a crucial moment when it became clear the players were playing for a win. As Kramnik lost, he was forced in the next rounds to make up ground. But in round 3 he lost again - against a ghost of the past: James Tarjan. Also here - under pressure due to the circumstances-, Kramnik overplayed his position. Tarjan, with white, played quietly the chess-equivalent of Catenaccio and let Kramnik come. He built up a nice position but didn't calculate well his combination, Tarjan saw the hole and just took the point with "normal" play.

Kramnik must have been mentally broken - a more emotional player (think the type like Kortchnoi) would have destroyed the board. But Kramnik took the defeat with dignity and his - automatic- elimination for the world-title. In a "normal" open tournament against a veteran rated 400 points less. It must hurt.

The press loved it - what a story. A noble "unknown player" (although, double Olympic gold and in may 1981 conform Chessmetrics top 40 of the world), 23 years older, eliminates an ex-world-champion. This is the classic David against Goliath tale. The mouse that roared. It reminds me of the Tour de France of 1956 won by the absolute underdog Walkowiak. Or Rulon Gardner, defeating one of the best sportsmen of all time, the almost invincible wrestler Alexander Karelin, in his last match for Olympic gold.

We love champions and we like to keep track of records and lists. But at some moment their era ends. And this we also like to witness. How great Anand and Kramnik were, their generation must make slowly place for the superkids, able to play a gear faster - and especially are extremely tough, if needed playing till 2 bare kings (which Fisher also once did - and even played 3 more moves).

It is not hard to support Tarjan - it is a nice story. An old grandmaster returns to play chess and defeats one of the greatest players of the latest years. It’s the stuff that makes heroes. But as said, it was mainly Kramnik losing the game, not Tarjan winning it.

Losing a game when you are the big favorite (at rating) hurts - I can tell you from experience. I once lost a game against somebody 450 points lower rated in the interclub - the way how will likely be considered by my opponent as his most beautiful game ever:

It just demonstrates that you should never underestimate somebody. Everybody can have a good day and has a hidden supply of strength. The game against Kramnik was for Tarjan one of his best experiences in his career, but for Kramnik was it a bitter pill to swallow - especially considering the circumstances. His goodbye from the world-champion-cycle (together with Anand - Topalov, Gelfand, Ivanchuk which we already lost earlier) marks the end of a great generation of players - Kramnik was probably the last one of the school of Botvinnik-Kasparov.

It is now at the generation grown up with Fritz and internet. It is a generation which adds creativity to perseverance. The players don't know the classics anymore but can calculate very well and dare to take risks on top of a very good endgame-technique. And finally novelties at move 5 varied with novelties at move 25 or 35...

Chess has changed but not necessarily bad. The generation of Carlsen has shown us beautiful things and there are still nice things ahead of us.

HK5000

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Jokes?

While reading the book H.E. Bird of Hans Renette I noticed not only that in the 19th century a lot of matches are organized but also many games are played offhand. At that time it was normal to visit a club and play an informal game against some random available player. This we don't see often anymore today. If you don't make any appointment with a player in advance then you risk not getting any game in a club. I often encountered that I left the club after a half hour to go back home as I wasn't able to find anybody free willing to play chess with me.

This sets the bar for newcomers of course a lot higher. I sometimes hear people getting rejected of a championship as the competition has already started. They need to wait for a couple of months to join any new competition. A sad consequence is that many drop out immediately after the introduction. Today we don't have enough fresh blood so this only accelerates the ageing of the club.

Likely the wide choice of tournaments explains the lack of interest in offhand games today. Most regular clubplayers don't want to play anything else than the tournaments and prefer to have a drink at the bar when they have finished their games. It is a pity as those offhand games are ideal to get softly introduced to our noble game. The score is not recorded and it allows you to experiment without needing to worry about the outcome. In offhand games it is not forbidden to talk or laugh during play at contrary as it often creates a positive ambiance.

On the other hand online there are still a lot of offhand games played. A distinction can be made between rated and unrated games but I don't consider this difference very important. An online rating has very little value as any serious controlling mechanism lacks. Personally I don't play tournaments online so you could argue that my online blitz are only offhand games. In any case I look at those games as fun so I sometimes just fool around with my opponents.
Mostly it are very weak opponents not resigning. Besides I recommended my son Hugo to continue playing till mate when he started in the youth-tournaments see resigning. Nowadays he has outgrown this phase as he does resign when he feels further resistance has become futile.

When a strong(er) player plays till mate then something is not ok. People need to respect their opponents and if they don't then they deserve to be teached a painful lesson.
I ignored on purpose many times mate in 1 to end the game by creating a series of queen-promotions. Honestly I would have preferred knight-promotions but this was too cumbersome. I didn't want to tire myself by first switching off the default setting of automatic queen-promotions and later after the game reset the toggle. A famous example of completely redundant knight-promotions is of course the online game between Crafty - Nakamura played in 2007.
Everybody loved it how the engine was ridiculed but such behavior against people does not get the same response. It is not because chess looks like a sadistic exam that we should behave like sadists. It is a grey zone of what can still be considered as a joke or what people feel as an insult. Besides accidentally the American grandmaster Gregory Serper wrote a couple of weeks ago an article at chess.com about all sorts of insults in chess. He strongly disapproves such offenses as it only harms chess.

Publicly we should for sure not get involved in such stupid jokes. You risk to get beaten by your angry opponent and not seldom such joke ends badly. The whole world laughed at Nakamura a couple of months ago when he was punished for his arrogance in Paris Grand Tour Chess when he promoted completely unnecessarily to a knight instead of a queen.
Last Stefan Docx asked me after finishing my 8th round game of Gent why the game lasted so long. At move 17 I was already an exchange and pawn up for which my 250 points lower rated opponent, had no compensation at all. Besides we both had still plenty of time on the clock as we only consumed a half hour. However even in such completely won situations, I stay focused. I will keep looking for the best moves and won't play faster nor play some silly moves. It is also one of the reasons when I almost never suffer of inexplicable mistakes often connected to not being fully concentrated see my article mistakes.
Initially I thought my opponent would resign after move 17 but I was not disturbed when he preferred to continue the suffering. However at the end things became really ugly as we still had each more than a quarter on the clock remaining. Also this wasn't the only thing which was not nice. Much worse was another bad joke my opponent applied during the game. However this is for a next article.

Brabo

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Evolution

The big news of last month was of course the comeback of Garry Kasparov. He played again a tournament for rating while his previous one dated from 2005. Well as a matter of fact it was only for rapid and blitz ratings which even didn't exist back in 2005.

Of course I was also curious about how Kasparov would fare. So I started to follow the broadcasting attentively. However my interest very quickly faded away from the event. The combination of the late starting-hour (they played in Saint Louis/ US), the many mistakes specific to the quick tempo (rapid/ blitz) and probably also the lack of excitement in the fight for the first place made that I only saw a limited number of games. Rapid/ blitz never really interested me (I still didn't play any fide rated game at that tempo) and the mimics of Kasparov see kasparov what went wrong didn't compensate for the tragic suffering of the once so feared monster of Bakoe.

In his best years this tournament would've been catastrophic for Kasparov. He wasn't satisfied himself with today the 13th place in the world for rapid and the 9th place in the world for blitz while he was used for many years to be the number 1. Afterwards there was a lot of debate about what went wrong. Probably his age 54 years old plays a role but much more important was his absurd time-consumption which doesn't have at all a link with age. A good explanation of why can be found in the article Why was Kasparov deep thinking? If you play regularly then you make some decisions automatically. However if you haven't played for a long time any competitions then this automatism has disappeared and you try to compensate that by extra calculations which burn precious time.

I already described those dangers in my article inactivity. You need to play a minimum of games to maintain the game-level. It is the reason why I subscribed for the maneblusserstornooi of Mechelen. The playing days and the tempo are not optimal but sometimes you need to make compromises. The club-championship of Deurne is this year even weaker than last year see the list of participants. It does not fulfill again my minimum-criteria (which many already consider very low).

On the other hand the hyped circus also generated unrealistic expectations of Kasparov. Besides despite some hard counter-proof still many believe elo inflation exists so people consider today's topplayers ready to be butchered by Kasparov. In other words it was very hard to get a proper preview of what the results would be also because his comeback was something very unique in the chess-world. After the tournament it all became much more clear. Now we understand much better which impossible mission Kasparov had started. If we look today objectively to his results then we should admit that he did in fact very well considering the exceptional conditions.

He demonstrated that he is still dangerous for any top-player and his opening-repertoire is still top-notch. In most games he got fine out of the opening with some strong modern chess. It seemed he never quit studying openings and he very well adapted himself to the most recent evolutions. Kasparov definitely didn't make the error to stick to some old likely obsolete analysis.

Last I experienced how dangerous it is to use some old theory which was even played in a world-championship. In 2006 I scored a nice victory in this line see the influence of world-championships at openings but it is again the Belgian IM Stefan Docx showing me that I still have a lot of work to do at my repertoire (see for earlier examples to Dutch steps in the English opening and grandmaster-norm for Stefan Docx).
I am for sure not the only player making sometimes this error. Besides here we see a clear difference of approach between young and older players. Young players build up their repertoire upon hyper-modern systems which are today considered critical. However older players often keep on playing what they learned in their youth and don't follow so much the latest trends. The 67 year old Robert Schuermans definitely fulfills above description of an older player. He likes to play old and long forgotten systems of Fischer, Karpov and other old grandmasters especially against young players. Not seldom he scores because these young players don't know the classics.

However in Open Brasschaat it went completely wrong against the 15 year old Sterre Dauwe rated 200 points lower. Robert had really bad luck this time. Sterre is one of my best students in KMSK and 2 weeks ago I showed at the onjk (where we met each other) my analysis of my game against Stefan Docx. It is really a coincidence that Robert played exactly this line so permitting Sterre to extract very easily an advantage from the opening.
In my articles old wine in new skins part 1 and part 2 I showed a couple of examples in which old openings were successful. However this new article demonstrates that when the surprise-element is missing, things become much more dangerous. Even copying something played in a world-championship analyzed before and afterwards by some of the best players, doesn't guarantee a good opening. Openings are evolving and today even quicker than before with the ever stronger becoming engines. Every top-player works very hard to keep track of all those evolutions and even add something extra to it themselves. Otherwise you are doomed to be horribly out-dated like probably most amateurs.

Brabo