Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dogmas part 2

I use regularly my very light playing schedule as excuse to read non educative chess-books. I find it much more enjoyable to read anecdotes and stories about chess than studying modern opening-lines or solving all kind of exercises. I very much liked reading the books Nadorf x Najdorf and Timman's Titans in the last couple of months. Najdorf's daughter writes some kind of biography about her dad from her very special but at the same time also extremely interesting point of view. Jan Timman pleasantly surprised me with his very witty style of writing in which he managed to share a personal story for each of the 10 former world-champions.
Jan Timman's book has contrary to Najdorf's book a lot of high quality analysis. Jan clearly had fun finding a number of ameliorations upon the already classic My Great Predecessors written by former worldchampion Garry Kasparov. The release of the series has been almost a decade already so Jan obviously was able to use much stronger software and hardware than Garry Kasparov. Beside his own games against the world-champions Jan focus especially at the less or even unknown games. Hereby a lot of attention is given to a bunch of secret training-games which Botvinnik played between 1936 and 1970.

Ragozin, Kan, Averbakh and Furman were Botvinnik's most regular sparring-partners. A game played in Moscow 1953 against Ilya Kan, famous for the Sicilian variation bearing his name, caught my attention. Particularly move 16 in which Botvinnik makes a remarkable choice.

In 1998 Jan added 2 exclamation-marks to the move. Today he still thinks it is the best practical choice in a game but at the same time he also shows how the current engines manage to neutralize the concept.

In my most recent class I was pleased to use this fragment.  After discussing a number of good examples of pawnstructures, I found it important to warn my students for too dogmatic play. Dynamic elements must get priority upon structural aspects. In other words you sometimes need to weaken your structure to get the pieces active.

As my students often wonder if this kind of chess can also occur in their games, I had prepared some examples from my own practice. The at that time 21 years old Dutch Sebastiaan Smits impressed me with his audacious 17th move.

You can replay the complete game in my article the neo-scheveningen.

Another example happened in 2003. The same thematic move occurred on the board in Open Le Touquet. The German Erwin Hein seemed to me much stronger than his rating.

So here it didn't end well but in the game black did achieve sufficient counterplay with the idea.

After these examples my students were convinced of the importance to also look at less common themes we find in grandmastergames. You never know what to expect in a game. Also eventually learning a lot of small new things will help you making another step forwards at chess.

Brabo

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Chess-comfort part 2

School can be pretty boring. Some obligatory courses can be not interesting at all and a teacher just reading out his papers won't make his classes popular. Nevertheless I very rarely was absent during my schoolyears. Only at the university when after 15 minutes waiting for the start of the lesson still nobody popped up, I dared to leave. This doesn't mean that I was always attentive in the class. It happened once in a while that I played some blindfold-chess with another student having 1900 elo. There was no chess-comfort at all but at such moments you don't care.

Maximum chess-comfort I experienced in the highest divisions of the French interclub. I remember a match where we played in a luxurious meeting-room of a 5 stars hotel. During the match we got free drinks and even small snacks. Big sound-proof doors and an attentive arbiter maintained complete silence in the playing-room. Such conditions we can only dream about in Belgium. On the other hand as mentioned in a reaction of my last article, conditions can become pretty bad sometimes.

Last this was also the case in the interclubmatch against Jean Jaures. Jean Jaures plays this season in the same club-house as KGSRL so must be satisfied with their rooms in surplus. As consequence 2 teams were propped in one very tiny room. I estimate 20 players were squeezed in just 15m2. The match was just started and our first board Jan Rooze told me that he has to disturb me every time when he wants to leave the playing-room. Besides 6 out of 8 people are +50 so automatically you have much more toiletvisits than averagely (age has a serious impact for the prostate). The only patch I found was to push my table with my belly from the moment my opponent Ashote Draftian had left our table for a walk. Nobody complained even when later the frame of a painting located behind my opponents back almost dropped from the wall when somebody accidentally hit it.

Myself I can easily sit whole afternoon on my chair when there is little space to maneuver. For some time already I always bring my own food and drinks to the matches. However I wasn't protected against the noise. Everybody was very surprised that the door of the playing-room could not be closed despite some very recent thorough renovations. This created a lot of noise from below and the corridor. I still forget to take my earplugs with me. I lost a lot of time in the opening as I couldn't concentrate properly. Playing chess while pushing the fingers in the ears is not comfortable at all. I was lucky to avoid defeat being low of time by liquidating to an endgame .

Also Marcel Van Herck complained after the game about the miserable playing-conditions. He was neither able to leave his seat so didn't know the intermediate score and had to guess if a draw could be accepted or not. It is painful to find out after the game that the match was lost with the smallest difference. This could be the small detail deciding who next year will be playing first division. However there is in our team little interest to promote to first division as can be read in the report of our most recent match against Temse. The chess-comfort in first division is often even worse. I remember once a match where there was only 1 toilet for children available for all teams, no or insufficient heating while we were middle of the winter ....

Personally I find this outrageous especially if you know that many players are paid. It shows a complete lack of respect for the players to only prioritize winning.  Besides also Jean Jaures shows the same symptoms. They were not ashamed to add a grandmaster on the first board. Our strong Jan was the victim.

Sorry but instead of a grandmaster Jean Jaures could have invested in a decent place to play chess. After the game I announced clearly that I don't want to play interclub anymore if those conditions become the new standard for all matches.

I realize many clubs have very little means but especially when professionals are playing some minimum chess-comfort should be demanded. In Germany something already exists see schachblev turnierordnung with strict rules about temperature (20-23 degrees Celsius), space 75m2 for 1 match, minimum 2,6m altitude for the ceiling,... Without any regulations you can't expect any chess-comfort. Once a home-team dared to invite their opponents in a prostitution-house. Of course the visiting-team refused to play and filed a complaint.

Brabo

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Chess-comfort

The materials of the chess-player.

The tools of a player are at least a pen, pencil or ballpoint. But the chair on which he sits is as important - just like the table, the board, the pieces and the clock of course. For a more serious competition clock, board and pieces are well defined and you can't negotiate about alternatives. The chair and the table is more free of choice but seems at least as important for the concentration, chess-experience and later memory of the game.

Let us start with the clock: my preference was always the Gardé clocks (indeed with an accent aigu, which only later became clear to me - how can a German clock be called Gardé?). Classic - and surprisingly of a very good quality for an East-German product. The white plastic Russian clocks rather had an uncomfortable touching feeling and above all looked very cheap. Then you still had those very small analogue clocks (brand?) and that was it in our club. No, Gardé was clearly the best. Good clocks also to play blitz. Soon some rings were added around the buttons to avoid blitz-players knocking the clocks with their fists. However a good player can press quite hard with one finger too. Incidents, when a button of the opponents clock literally flew in the air due to the power of pressing it, are today an individual validated part of the world-history.

Eventually the digital clocks arrived - initially there was a wide variety, but when DGT popped up (and got the support of Fide) it was finished with the "thousand flowers". Later still some other brands came (I remember KOSK used a very special type - and maybe still is) but the DGT is today still the reference. That is not really a problem as DGT is a solid clock but some habituation was necessary as how to understand when a flag was down. But for blitzplayers this evolution was great. Finally you know 100% sure that you can play 5 minutes against 3, and not that the flag is down 10 seconds too early. Also people struggling always with the clock are very pleased. I once managed to lose track of the time at my 38th move in a game played in the interclub. I made my choice - looked at the clock if I would already move and ... only 3 seconds remaining! I immediately executed the move. 3 seconds ... for 2 more moves. My opponent should've moved fast but instead he wanted to make me nervous and went for a walk. That gave me sufficient time to calculate the lines and find an answer to the 2 most plausible answers. I managed to make move 40 and win the game. Without the digital clock I would have lost the game.

Next are pieces and board - as long the board is foldable white-brown/black plastic/carton, it is fine for me to use loaded pieces. Every player knows that the knight is a problem-piece when cheap wood is used as material as it is almost impossible with a lathe to produce one piece. As it is often built by gluing 2 wooden pieces together, sooner or later they come loose. My very first set from my grandfather has that problem. This disadvantage you don't have with plastic pieces. Still the knight is a weak piece especially when the ears stand out. A second risk-element are the rooks. A crenel can break off from the piece when it is dropped off the table.

Pieces used for competition are normally loaded. Non loaded pieces are for amateurs. Special design sets can be bought in some art-shops and don't take the loading into account. Once I was given as present a set of metal pieces on wooden stands. It was not possible to play with them - the knights were completely out of balance! Yes the board was nice but such a shame were the pieces...

Sometimes we can be lucky to play on a wooden framed board, often including very nice wooden pieces. I haven't encountered such competition-conditions often (Veurne played with such set in IC but that is probably the only club in West-Flanders). If you don't often use such set then you notice this more quickly- attention which you don't spend to the game itself- you realize which pieces you have in your hands. The effect disappears after some time but the feeling of such board is important - even for amateurs.

So we already covered the board, pieces and clock. What else? Table and chair. An organizer often doesn't have much choice which ones to pick but he can vary how to set them up. How many boards on a row of tables. And that is often a difficult choice. A regular mistake is to put the boards too close to each other or the tables are just to small. Too small means no place for the paper to record the game, the pen, a drink... on the table. Too far positioned boards from each other are good to concentrate but you lose the feeling of playing together and get a chance to peek at the position next to you. It is a fine line...

The rows of tables can also be put too close to each other, especially at tournaments. If you are unlucky to be locked up, then it can be quite difficult to leave the playing-room, in a row of almost back-to-back chairs. You definitely will hit the sweaters and jackets which are laying on the backside of the chairs.

The table should have the right height. You don't want to be hanging at the bar or sitting uncomfortable on a too low chair so you need to stand up to move the pieces on the back row (especially not when being low of time). Fischer once gave the table-maker almost a heart-attack (I believe it was at the WC in 1972) when he wanted to cut off a side of the specially framed table. Some sewing was done. The most beautiful picture in this aspect must be the one of Burn against Owen (see e.g. Edward Winter's chess explorations 54). It looks impossible that both are sitting comfortable, Burn straight up in a higher chair - 20 cm it seems. And still both heads are at the same height.

You really don't want a table which is too low, so it is difficult to get the knees below (I am rather tall), or you can't cross the legs comfortably. Finally there is also the horror of a wobbling table. Nothing worse than that, especially when the effect pops up after every change of posture from you or the opponent. Then a subtle play starts of when (or when not) putting pressure. Not always carton is available and then it is a matter of finding a silent agreement.

Finally we have the chairs. In Gent I once saw somebody leaning on the 2 back-legs of a white garden-chair and immediately crashed through - don't do that. If the tables are not very strong then the chairs are often even worse. Often the classic chairs are the best to use for playing chess. Famous are the test-sessions in a WC-matches before the first game: the room is inspected, the light, the sound, the board, the table, pieces and the chair. Comfort should not dominate as this is not good for the concentration. A chair should support but not let the player fall a sleep.

The last comfort-aspect is the lightening. The worst conditions which I experienced where in open Leuven (sorry people). Not enough daylight, insufficient light intensity - some table had even their own desk-lamp (personal or supplied by the organization?). It was almost impossible to make pictures. The analyzing-room with a bar at the street-side had much better playing-conditions but probably was just too small for all the participants.

The lights are very important for players - Fischer (again he) could complain a lot about it, but his comments also improved the conditions for all other players. Too bright sunlight is to be avoided (here the advice of Ruy Lopex is still valid: turn your back to the sun), but a place close to the window is always preferred to one in the middle of the room. Daylight can't be beaten and sometimes TL-light can be quite annoying, especially if the ballast doesn't work fine and the TL is blinking. Halogeen-lights are fine but the yellow light can quickly give the impression that there is not enough clearness.

So - a player can handle a lot of bad conditions, but top performances can only happen in optimal conditions. And I didn't talk yet about sound (the ever pub-problems) the heating, the drought, the repetitions of other clubs next, above or under the playing-room...

HK5000 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Raise and fall of chess-tournaments

Raise and fall of chess-tournaments

Just like anything in life, chess-tournaments know a starting-phase, a mature phase and an extinguishing phase. Tournaments can start in 2 ways: or there is a group of players - often amateurs- willing to start a tournament, which is getting more and more successful and at some point of time becomes a regular one on the calendar. Another possibility is a meacenas opening his (her is not often occurring) wallet and immediately attracts big names - or takes over the initiative of the amateurs.

We all know the first variant - often that are fun tournaments in which you can play against known and less known players of your own country. Such tournaments are often smaller and less prestigious but do have a big number of fans. Maybe the best example is the Open of Gent, already for decades despite the economical crisis and competition of other tournaments, very successful thanks to the festivities in Gent. It is today a mature tournament (the 40th edition will be this year) - and still supported by members and helpers of KGSRL, but the financial side is also covered by the sponsor Eastman. We hope this tournament can still live long.

A totally different approach has e.g. the Grenke Open in Karlsruhe. This tournament at Eastern is now having its second edition and has now (27th of March) already more than thousand (indeed, 1000!) registered players of which 204 titled ones. Grenke least IT-services at small firms and this business-model seems to earn good money. We also had in Belgium such period, when Bessel Kok was the CEO at Swift and Brussels end of the years '80, beginning of the 90ties suddenly got a few tournaments in which the best players of the world participated (OHRA and Swift, followed by the candidates-matches). As player you can only think: let us enjoy as long it lasts and hopefully it lasts for some time.

Fall and end

The most recent example I know is the 33rd tournament of Cappelle-la-Grande, this time without any big sponsors. Consequences were: no more money for invitations so no very strong players like (Kamsky, Yusupov, Iturrizaga…). By the way the tournament almost didn't go through. Some local grandmasters were still willing to participate (in 2017 these were Alexandre Dgebuadze and Jean-Marc Degraeve), probably attracted by the bigger chance to win the first prize. This also created less interest by the "average" players - as not enough opportunities to meet a grandmaster. The local papers wrote about out-standing debts, caused by a too generous management see (le phare dunkerquois). It is weird that even the website of the club doesn't mention anything anymore of the tournament - I still didn't find any ranking of the end-results. This doesn't sound good for the future of this tournament.

There seemed to be no safety net after the departure of the sponsor - enthusiastic amateur - organizer. It is sad. Below two pictures demonstrating the difference.
Cappelle-la-Grande in 2016: a full room and also the 2 platforms are fully occupied. At the walls we can find posters of the sponsors and flags of the participating countries.
Cappelle-la-Grande in 2017: not much entertainment, few visitors, a too big room for the number of participants; at the stage there are only 3 top-boards.
The most well-known example is of course Linares (1978-2010, 27 editions). The top tournament of Luis Rentero (1932 – December 2015),a grocer whom became rich after selling his supermarket-chain to Delhaize, suddenly stopped after no more money was injected. They still looked at some alternative formulas (one of them was half of the tournament in Mexico (jetlag !)), but the closed tournament once called “the Wimbledon of Chess" stopped existing any longer. A shame, it was the first real super-tournament inviting year after year only the best players of the world to check who is who in the rankings.  A disadvantage of this evolution was that the best players started to like playing in tournaments getting a lot of money and risking little elo. Losing of a colleague rated 2700-2750 is less painful than a patzer of 2550-2600. Linares was some real-life version of what Andy Soltis described in “Los Voraces”: a millionaire assembling the best players in the world in some desolate village in the desert to define the picking order of that year (it reminds me of the legend in the world of wrestling, in which once per year a real (secret) camp happens to define who is the best player, so the show events for the public can occur without the harsh combats and risks of injuries). Los Voraces is written as column for the famous chesscafe.com (when it was still free) and is now for sale in book-format, but you can also find it for free at Google Books.

But Linares was clearly an "artificial" tournament: not supported by a local club or enthusiastic players, willing to volunteer. It seems that tournaments like Hastings, Reggio Emilia and Wijk aan Zee are more resistant. Is it a coincidence that those tournaments are concentrated in the winter-months?

There was a remarkable trend in the 90ties in Spain, in which one after the other top-tournament was created. It looked like any serious city needed to have its own chess-tournament: Dos Hermanas, Madrid, Leon… It was excellent for the development of the talent of Topalov and it attracted many players to live temporarily or even definitely in Spain (Salov,Ljubojevic). Fortunately Spanish chess also benefited from this as several local players obtained the grandmaster-title. A decade later the money was gone, building yards were closed, unfinished building are silent witnesses of destroyed dreams.
   
Chess-tournaments as indicator of a bubble? Maybe - money needs to roll and sponsoring is a method to do that. The culture and local habits will define where the benefactor will want to spend its money - in Belgium it still is football. Chess is too much special, and without money you can't survive or talent (and icons) can't be cultivated. But to maintain for long-term tournaments there is still love of the game needed.

HK5000