Monday, June 26, 2017

How much time do you spend at chess?

As many families today I and my wife work full time. Besides that we have 2 small children, a large to be renovating house built in 1969, lovely garden,... and you get the picture that it is always busy. On top we can't rely upon help of the family or family-in-law due to the large distance. Finally my wife doesn't drive by car so all transport can only done with my help. So I always lack time. Still I manage to the surprise of many (see e.g a reaction of Valery Maes) to keep playing chess.

By the way it is not just a bit playing chess now and then that I talk about. If I count up all the activities linked to chess then I get a very big number of hours. Some explanation is probably necessary as likely nobody would otherwise believe. Below I split the activities in 8 categories: playing standard chess, my blog, surfing online, playing online, giving chess courses, accompanying my son to tournaments, exercising tactics and reading chess-books. The numbers i used are a.f.a.i.k. conservative. Besides quite some miscellaneous activities are not taken into account. I think about the many mails I write to other chess-players, the handicap-games I play at home against my son see strange material imbalances part 2, postmortems often accompanied with some beverages,...

Playing standard games
Total 410 hours at playing standard games

The time spent at standard games is split into 4 sub-categories.
- The number of hours a game averagely lasts. I estimate 3 hours except in the Belgium interclubs for which I use 3,5 hours (see e.g. annotations part 2 in which I wrote about a game of 109 moves.)
- The number of hours into preparation of a game. In open tournaments there is little time and you often don't find much back of the opponents in the database. For the Belgian interclubs I always prepare against multiple opponents (see e.g the list of strength)
- The number of hours analyzing a game. I only took into account the hours which I spent myself at the computer. However my engines probably analyze 5 times longer. The complex algorithm which I use, is explained in analyzing with a computer. The analysis can be split into 2 hours of research in the databases + initializing the engine to study openings, 1-2 hours checking each move  + initializing the engine for additional analysis of the middle and end-game. Finally 1 hour to synthesize the analysis into an easy readable format. I estimate the time spent for an analysis of my games played in the Belgium interclubs longer as the games are of a higher quality than the others.
- As the games are not played at home, some time is lost due to transport. If more than 2 games are played at the same day then there is often some idle time between the rounds. In open tournaments like Gent and Leuven you often have to wait for 3 hours between the rounds. More time must be spent at the prize-givings. The clubchampionship of Deurne wastes the least non-playing-time as only 1 game per day must be played and the club situates within a half hour drive from my home.

Total 141 hours spent at my blogs
Writing articles also takes time. So I understand very well why few people are willing to spent time writing articles. Besides you also need to do often some research. I win quite some time as I often copy the analysis of my standardgames into my blog-articles.
At the demand of some non-Dutch native readers I also try my best effort to translate my more common articles to English. With the help of some online dictionaries I need about 1 hour to translate an article. It is not Oxford English but despite the mistakes a number of visitors keep checking this blog.

Online surfing
Total 182,5 hours at chess-articles
With the exception of a couple of holidays per year I spent every day some time to surf at the internet. Hereby I surely look at many chesssites., chessbaseskdeurneschaaksitechesspub are my favorites which I visit often several times each day. There are also a large number of other sites which I visit less frequently. They are a source of inspiration for this blog. I also find it fun to get updated of the latest news or even add a small contribution to a discussion.

Playing online chess
Total 197 hours playing online chess
Nowadays I prefer to play 3 minute games online at Playchess. I don't play anywhere else. As the games are automatically stored I know precisely how many I played in the last year. I almost play exclusively in the evenings.

Giving chess-courses
Total 75 hours at teaching chess
This school-year I started to give courses in KMSK (see an example pawn breakthroughs). I was not able to give many courses as there was a lot of overlap with a number of other activities (interclub, tournaments,...) However I always spent quite some energy into the courses to keep my students interested.

Accompanying my son to tournaments

Total 200 hours at accompanying Hugo to tournaments
I was last year 25 days on the road to tournaments for my son Hugo. I limited the hours/day to 8 but in reality it was often more. At the tournaments I read a book, talked to players and non-players, did some kibitzing and of course made sure Hugo had everything he wanted/ needed. I also want to add the remark that my wife accompanied my son to his interclub-games and the Liga youth-championship of Antwerp. I couldn't join as I had those days my own chess-activities.

Practicing tactics tells me that I spent last year about 36 hours at practicing tactics on their server. If I want to make more than 5 per day as preparation of a tournament then I sometimes visit another server to make there some additional exercises. So in reality I used a bit more time than only the 36 hours taken into account for the calculation.

Reading chess-books

Total 55 hours at reading chess-books
Just before sleeping, I read every evening about 10 minutes a chess-book. I am now busy reading Hans Renette's book about Bird. It is a perfect way to finalize the often hectic day quietly. The hours of reading at the tournaments while accompanying Hugo are not double counted in the above table.

Total 1296 hours spent at chess in the last year
So we more or less count 4 hours per day which I spent somehow at chess in the last year. After more than 20 years of chess my love for the game hasn't disappeared yet.

Some readers will probably wonder how I manage to free all those hours. We only have 24 hours a day. Well some tasks like cleaning, painting, renovating and even recently once also gardening are all subcontracted to paid people. It also sometimes happens that I don't watch television in the evening. With 6-7 hours sleep I have enough. This means that often I am still busy with some chess-activity till after midnight.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Scholar's mate

There exist no shortcuts to play better chess. I can give advise to my students how to make (much) quicker progress but without spending a lot of time at chess, you won't see much improvement. However most players are very lazy and don't like to work hard so very few reach master-hood.

At short term it is of course possible to make some small gains. Many like to play lines of which they hope their opponents will fall into a trap. Books like 1000 Miniature Chess TrapsChess Openings Traps and Zaps101 Chess Opening Traps ... are therefore quite popular among average amateurs. The most known and probably easiest trap is likely scholar's mate which is very effective against absolute beginners. I always advise my son against playing for such easy points at youth-tournaments but he sometimes ignores this when I don't look at his games.

In the long run playing for such traps won't teach you anything. You don't develop your chess-knowledge. Besides the success-rate depends very much of the surprise-element and the strength of the opponent. As a consequence you won't see many experienced players willing to try the scholar's mate. The American top-grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura is for a reason considered an outsider as he is the only +2600 player having tried this scholar's mate with rather disappointing results.

It is obviously strange to play for scholar's mate when you know in advance for sure that the opponent won't be fooled. On the other hand I do empathize with the at that time 18 years old Hikara. Fooling around as teenager is something very natural and makes part of growing up. You often only realize years later how arrogant and impudent such choices were.

Besides technically playing for scholar's mate isn't so bad after all. Many gambits are much more dubious. My analyses don't find any advantage for black so it is playable. It is not stupid to use it once as a surprise-weapon to avoid somebodies superior opening-knowledge. The Belgian expert Marc Ghysels proofed this a couple of years ago by making a sensational draw against the German IM Hans-Hubert Sonntag. In the game a variation of the scholar's mate was played with the queen immediately at f3 instead of h5. This has the advantage that black does not get an extra tempo with g6. On the other hand black gets the extra interesting alternative to develop the bishop of the black squares differently. Both lines look playable to me.

Recently this line also occurred in my game of the Belgian interclub when playing the expert David Roos from Zottegem. He told me after the game that he doesn't spend time anymore at studying theory to find some small advantage for white. He chose the scholar's mate because he was pretty sure that I never studied it deeply before.
David at the Flemish championship of 2015
There was a lot of unbelief when I demonstrated in the post-mortem which lines of the scholar's mate I had analysed during my preparation of the game. People often question my work-ethic of preparing a game for several players. However this time nobody could deny that I was right to prepare also against David's teammates. Earlier I wrote in this article about Marc and he is accidentally a teammate of David, playing on top a board higher. In my article openingchoices I wrote for a reason that players of the same club often play the same openings. The intended surprise-element failed and I quickly got the better position.

Although scholar's mate looks objectively ok, it is not an opening easy to play for white. Bringing the queen early into play is a violation of a basic-rule for which a certain price must be paid. If players really want to avoid main-lines then better alternatives exist. I wrote about this in the comments upon my article playing the person. Especially with white it is rather easy to choose something solid like 1.a3. I once lost a game childishly against this move see universal systems.