Friday, April 27, 2018

Fashion part 2

My previous article proved that there exists an enormous variety of openings. It is today completely impossible even as super-professional to know all existing deviations in your repertoire by heart. Nevertheless we shouldn't overestimate the value of openings especially at amateur-level. Many of my opponents don't play critical lines at all and just want to skip the opening to get a playable position in which the player with the strongest technique instead of memory can win.

I mean an ambitious player should rather focus the study of openings only at the critical lines. The many less dangerous systems can be checked too but in most cases it is sufficient to develop your pieces and get an acceptable middle-game. Besides even if you concentrate at the remaining important openings then still a lot of study remains as we can see by the testimonies of many professionals.

I believe it is not so easy for an amateur to make the distinction between important and less critical openings. How should I recognize which openings I need to study or which ones can I ignore? A coach can surely help here but not everybody has access to such luxury. In any case it is wrong to believe that openings played by higher rated players will automatically be more profound. As proof I checked my 100 most recently played games which I split in ratinggroups. For each of the groups I defined the average depth of the opening (linked to the deviation compared with earlier played games). I start with the games in which I had white.
For black we don't see any important difference.
So it seems there exists no link between somebodies rating and the opening-knowledge. No that is a wrong assumption. A higher rated player will have a better knowledge about openings. The confusion is created by the mix between opening-knowledge and opening-novelties. 99% of my opponents are followers. I mean that they will rarely use original ideas which are worked out at home in their openings. This isn't a surprise as the rating-groups consist almost exclusively of amateurs spending little or no time at doing individual research of openings.

The real pioneers and leaders of openings are of course our top-players and we should not forget correspondence-players. If we want to know which openings are critical then we should first check their games. This is something I do already for some years see e.g. how I described the preparation of my games in the article using databases or check my article the expert part 2 in which I stated that I focus at the games of +2600 rated players.

However keeping up to date the critical openings is something easier said than done as today we have more than 200 + 2600 rated active players. So every day there are novelties popping up which a professional needs to check. Last the Dutch top-grandmaster Anish Giri twittered that "If more than 2 twics are missing on your laptop then something went wrong in the routines." In my article how much money do you spend at chess I also wrote that I download at least twice per year the free twics but I don't have/ spend the time to filter all relevant +2600 games for my repertoire to study the novelties.

I guess for most amateurs it is the same. You can't expect amateurs working every day at their repertoire. Besides it doesn't make much sense. Much more interesting for us is to use summaries made by a professional which explains all the new critical opening-lines. This allows us to get up to date very quickly by a minimum of effort. Openingbooks and dvds are our first address to check. The disadvantage of those media is that they are very quickly outdated and can't manage to keep track of the latest trends. To really follow the fashion, chess-magazines need to be consulted preferably with the accent solely at openings. I recommend 2 subscriptions: chesspublishing.com and chessbase magazine.

Of course you will see quite some overlap between both magazines. Although different authors are working for the magazines, the same trends are noticed. That was last the case for the Armenian Winawer-line of the French defense Both published beginning of January a summary of the most recent developments in that system see chesspublishing January 2018 and chessbase magazine 182. Strangely I encountered the line already before newyear in my game against the Belgian expert Nathan De Strycker played  in the 56nd Christmas-tournament of Deurne.
I was lucky that my opponent couldn't remember well the analysis of this line as otherwise the game could've gone differently. As I don't have a subscription, I decided to make my own extensive analysis about the opening. I was surprised that this hypermodern-system is very playable for black see below the summary. I made my analysis using the modern monte carlo-mechansim so by playing many quick computer-games see my article computers achieve autonomy.
So now we finally know who creates new trends and how we can easily detect them. The next question is how interesting this is for the amateur. Well this isn't an easy question as I am not acquainted with the content of the magazines. I guess averagely once per year something could be useful for my standard games. That is not much but also largely depends on my own choices. I almost don't vary my repertoire as I use the scientific approach to choose openings. Also I play few games : I wrote 38 with a standard timecontrol last year in my article surprises part 2.

Briefly almost 100 euro per year for a magazine is a lot of money for me. For professionals the situation is very different. Last the Amercian grandmaster Alexander Lenderman grumbled with the famous Russian proverb "скупой платит дважды" after his painful defeat in 22 moves a week ago against the Amercian top-grandmaster Fabiano Caruana. The opening was treated in the most recent edition of newinchess yearbook 126 (this magazine is released only 4 times per year contrary to the monthly editions of chesspublishing and bi-monthly editions of chessbase) but Alexander missed it while Fabiano didn't.
My Russian father-in-law uses the proverb also regularly. A cheap person pays twice. Losing an extra half point in the US-championship can very well cost many times more than 100 euro see US-prizemoney and I don't consider yet other interests like qualification for the olympiad, the title,...

Let us go back to the mortals and it is doubtful to follow fashion in chess. There will always be players (mainly youngsters) being booked up by the latest novelties. So you do risk sometimes to play against a fashionista but don't panic as openings very rarely decide a game between amateurs.

Brabo

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Which openings do my opponents play?

The answer which I gave at a reaction upon my previous article (see Dutch version of this blog) wasn't complete.  I wrote that the number of openings even with a very narrow repertoire is gigantic. But gigantic is something intangible. Can't we define a more concrete number? Well I'll give it a try with this article.

However before we start the number-crunching, we should first agree about the definition of what is an opening. I consulted multiple sources and discovered there exists no consensus about this. The summary by ECO (Encyclopedia of chess openings) is the only standard existing today but the system only categorizes the openings in 5 main-categories and 500 sub-categories. So ECO classifies openings but doesn't tell us what exactly is an opening or how many moves counts an opening.

In fact it doesn't really matter for this article as we are only interested in how far somebody can be booked up. In other words how many moves can a player memorize of an opening. Of course this depends of the player and the opening itself. I know quite some lines beyond move 20 see e.g. mistakes and copycats. Beginners often don't know more than just a couple of moves. World-class-players on the other hand sometimes know lines as deep as move 40. Still a high rating is not a guarantee of knowing much about an opening see surprises part 1. In short we don't know what players know or don't know and that is only intensified by many players consciously hiding their opening-knowledge see secret.

So I am obliged to arbitrarily draw a line for the opening. As reference I use the default settings to create an openingbook in Chessbase. On my blog I showed countless examples of my openingbook see green movesto analyze using a computer part 3studying openings part 2using databases, ... but nowhere I explained which settings I used to create that book.
Default (standard) 20 moves are used with a deviation linked to ECO. This means we use averagely 20 moves for an opening-line. More moves are used for lines in openings defined by ECO as popular while less moves are used for lines in openings defined by ECO as secondary.

So 20 moves will be used in my research as the base to define an unique opening-line. That finally allows us to check the openings played by my opponents. My personal database of standard games counts today +800. Let us see how often the same 20 first moves are played in those games or complete games if the game lasted less than 20 moves. An hour of scrolling through the database was sufficient to extract the answer out of it. The result was stunning. Only twice I got exactly the same 20 moves of an earlier game on the board. Besides I am pretty sure that these 2 unique cases can be fully linked to very deliberate choices of my opponents. In one game the Dutch IM Edwin Van Haastert copied my lost game played a couple of weeks earlier against the Belgian IM Thibaut Maenhout. It was a full scale battle with many mistakes but the final one was made by my opponent when he missed a devilish trick.
The second unique situation appeared in a game of the club-championship of Deurne. I already once won in 2009 against the 1700 player Pascal Francois. In 2011 Pascal repeated the opening as the opening is theoretically healthy. I agreed as there exists an important difference between the evaluation of the engine and the practical chances in standard play.
When we met a third time in 2013, Pacal had learned from the losses. You can't select an opening just by looking at the evaluation of the engine so Pascal deviated much earlier with an interesting alternative.

I want to return to the original question of which openings my opponents play. In the meanwhile we have the answer. Every game a new opening is played except some very rare cases. So we can't predict which openings will appear in the future. Therefore it makes little sense to study the openings of the opponents.

You could even state that it makes no sense to study openings at all at our modest playing-level. That was insinuated in a reaction of the Unknown One see article of 2012. However this is a bridge too far for me. In many openings it is an undeniable advantage to know a number of moves. 20 moves can be a good arbitrary line to define an opening but it tells very little how useful studying openings can be see my recent article the (non-)sense of blitz.

As each opening has its own very specific characteristics, I can't assign one number to the number of moves which one should know to get an opening-edge. Besides this also depends on the knowledge of the opponent as only crucial additional information of the opening will lead to an advantage. Therefore the second part of this article will be covering the effect of studying openings using the scientific approach which I apply in my games. How fast does the opening-knowledge expand when only playing a very narrow repertoire? I have more than 20 years experience with this method, so I can definitely show some remarkable statistics about it. In all those years I played exclusively the same openings and only made adjustments to the repertoire when a line was broken. Below you can see the evolution of my opening-knowledge in the standard games where I was playing white.
There is little difference in the evolution of my opening-knowledge for the black games I played.
In about +400 white and + 400 black games we see an average deviation at move 8-9 compared to earlier played games. In less than 200 of the +800 games I deviated from an earlier game so where I introduced something new which I learned from earlier made mistakes. It is remarkable that we see barely any progress of the deviation during the last 15 years although I kept more or less the same level of activity. So a couple of hundred games is not enough to create depth in somebodies repertoire. I assume my strategy could work for an extrapolated number of games. We saw this in the the project Alpha zero for which 44 million training-games were played. Naturally no human will ever be able to play so many games.

Despite averagely we see a very early deviation in the games, still in a substantial % of games the deviation from earlier played games happens later. I made a graphic about this to illustrate the % of played games linked to the move-number where the deviation happened. Below you see first the graphic of my white-games.
Later deviations occur less frequently in my black repertoire. This has to do with the Dutch opening which I play. White has a large variety of interesting lines in this opening which permits much more early deviations (I mentioned this already in my article a Dutch gambit part 2).
From the graphics we can deduct that in 27% of my white-games there is a duplication of the first 10 moves from earlier played games. For the black games this is only 16%. For the first 15 opening-moves we see that the share of white-games already shrunk to 3% while for the black-games to 2%.

I conclude this long article. The percentages are small but not negligible. Studying the openings of your own games will bring some dividends later. We all have different ambitions and priorities so there exists no rule about which amount of study is reasonable or not. Anyway if you study only for gaining some rating-points then I fear you will get disappointed in the long run.

Brabo

Monday, April 2, 2018

Surprises part 2

Last year I played 38 standard games of a slow time-control. I won 23 of them, made 10 draws and lost only 5. That seems a fantastic result but most of the games were played against weaker opponents. Besides only 11 were rated by fide so in the end I only gained a couple of ratingpoints. Many years already I can only play some small local tournaments to maintain more or less my playing-level.

Losing 5 games out of 38 is not much but each loss is one too many for an ambitious player. On the other hand losses are the best lessons to improve. That was part of the critics I received at chesspub because of my article to analyze using a computer part 2. Technically I make some high quality analysis but it is not clear how I learn something from it. Each game is unique (except in rare cases) so in each game new mistakes are made.

Of course something will be learnt from analyzing carefully games but often more can be achieved by looking to the total picture. Is there a common denominator in the mistakes? In my 5 most recent losses I noticed 1 important aspect. In each of the games I got very early into problems. In 2 games I even didn't survive the opening. 1 was already covered in my article evolution. The other was my game against Dries Janssen of which I already showed the final part in my previous artice.

No doubt my too optimistic play was a major reason for the defeat. Both kings stayed in the center but my king appeared to be much more vulnerable. However even more important to me is the fact that my opponent had seen the critical position already in his preparation. He was aware of a similar mistake made in that position see the game Haroon Azizi - Anneli Damau played in 2003 which also was countered by the same refutation (see moves 9,10 and 11). So aside from the technical mistake we should definitely focus at the disturbing difference of foreknowledge between both players. I am not yet even taking into account the rating-difference.

It is not a lack of study from my side. Earlier in the same year I had lost another game in the same opening. Because of that I had made an in-depth study of all the current theory. Of 5.h3 there exists only 1 mastergame in the mega-database but still I hadn't forgotten to check that possibility. Unfortunately during the game I wasn't able to remember my notes from that particular line. There were hundreds of them and 6 months later you just forgot most of it. I expect nobody can fully remember such analysis including absolute worldclass-players. Besides my analysis of 5.h3 were very superficial as the line can't be considered critical for the evaluation of the opening.

No my mistake was of course being too predictable for my opponent. I stick too much to the scientific approach of playing chess so my opponents can easily prepare a very dangerous surprise. I did some research of my games to illustrate this more clear. I selected all my standard-games which I played against somebody that I had played already once before with the same color. For this type of games I could assume  my opponents knew in advance my personality and adapted their opening-strategy to maximize their winning-chances. After filtering, 146 of my 829 standard games remained. It proves once again what I already stated in my article  matches that our chess-world is small. From each of the 146 games I wrote down which person deviated first from our previous mutual game(s) and at which move.
If we summarize then we see immediately a clear distinction between myself and my opponents. In 128 of the 146 games my opponent deviated first or in other words they tried to surprise me. Only in 18 games I was the one innovating from an earlier played mutual game. We also see this difference in the move where the game deviates from earlier play. My opponents averagely deviate at move 4 while I only do averagely at move 10. There is of course a connection between number of games and the move when the deviation happens. The next question is if my lack of flexibility costs rating points. Well I was surprised to find out that this isn't really the case. Below you see my TPR in the same rating-categories of my previous article.
Every medal has 2 sides. My lack of surprises is compensated by more experience. I also expect many players rather deviate to avoid a preparation instead of having made themselves a very elaborated preparation. It is again my negative remark of players being rather lazy than tired. Only for the highest rating-category there are doubts. The TPR doesn't decrease dramatically but I don't have a good stomach-feeling about my games. Especially Flemish top-players knowing me for decades will try to profit by using their preparation to counter my very narrow repertoire. So in that sense I do fully agree with the reaction at my article password of the Belgian IM Steven Geirnaert.

My article at the end of last year killer novelties indirectly proofs this with an example from my game against the Belgian FM Matthias De Wachter. Mixing openings is a necessity to improve which can also be deducted from  the almost 5 year old article the list of strength. On the other hand I do want to warn the reader that changing openings is not the holy grail either. In another loss this season the cause was definitely partly related by choosing a line which I hadn't studied earlier. I didn't know the mainline and my deviation was refuted by my opponent. So you can't play any unknown opening successfully to avoid being too predictable.

Brabo