Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Chessbase 15 part 1

In the last decade many free chess-software appeared online but Chessbase remains head and shoulders above. Chessbase is more than just 1 program as the company has produced hundreds of chess-products. Obviously some players get lost in the jungle of choices.

Very often we see people purchasing stuff they don't need. Most salespeople will recommend their most expensive products and often inexperienced players trust them as they believe that it is safer to pay more. After the purchase very quickly they feel fooled and disappointed. At home they discover it is not possible to play games against the program. The engine is not one of the best ones in the world. 95% of the features are never used. After a couple of years the most recent and interesting games are lacking in the database. It is not surprising that those people never buy anything again from Chessbase and use the outdated program only sporadically anymore.

I very often discovered that doom-scenario during the presentations I gave last year about chess-software see e.g. the game preparation part 2. Almost everybody had some old version of Chessbase running on their portable with an obsolete database and an engine often hundreds of points weaker than the current champions. Eventually my presentation missed largely its purpose. I wanted to teach them how to prepare and analyze optimally by using the most up to date technology but that is impossible if you don't own the right software.

I did help my students in Mechelen as I had time in the months after the presentation to support their personal journey of updating their programs. I showed them where they could download interesting software for free legally or let them copy some databases which I created myself. Only when there was no alternative I demanded from my students to buy some software while always looking for the cheapest choice. In the end they were all having the best tools without having to buy the rather expensive Chessbase. A student has often very little money so I think it is logically to weigh the investment to its return.

Besides end of 2018 a new edition of Chessbase became available: Chessbase 15 with many new features. Therefore I think it is useful to see for whom this new edition can be interesting. It is a simple question but only after a lot of research and comparing it was possible to make a recommendation. As I don't possess Chessbase 15 and the manual doesn't say everything, I asked support from HK5000. He bought the program and already wrote some articles for this blog.

First we started making a choice of 2 reasonable attractive purchase-packages financially and functionally. However at the same time they should be sufficiently different so it would be possible to reveal each of its strong and weak points. It wasn't easy as we both looked differently to Chessbase. However each disadvantage is also an advantage as our differences brought a more balanced view of the software.

Option 1: Professional-package

Buying in 2019 of Chessbase 15 Starter Package (Big Database 2019 included for free), in 2020 of 1 year Online-Update Reference Database, in 2021 of 1 year Online-Update Reference Database. HK5000 makes an important remark about the updates. They are only interesting for people playing a lot of games (at least 50 standard games per year) and have a +2200 rating. So many users of Chessbase can avoid the costs of the updates. Budget for 3 years with the updates = 319,7 euro. Budget for 3 years without the updates = 199,9 euro.
Chessbase 15 starter Package (purchase in 2019)
1 year online-update reference database (purchase in 2020 and 2021)
Option 2: Amateur-package

Buying in 2019 of Houdini 6 (Fritz 15 GUI included for free) and Big Database 2019. I preferred Houdini instead of Komodo as it is 10 euros cheaper and developed by my compatriot. It is as strong as Komodo. Fritz is offered with the newer version 16 GUI and 10 euros cheaper but still I consider it less interesting. The new features of the GUI are for me not important and the engine Fritz plays 200 points weaker than Houdini. Budget for 3 years = 149,8 euro.
Houdini 6 (purchase in 2019)
Big Database 2019 (purchase in 2019)
Next I and HK5000 made a summary of the weak and strong points we discovered in both packages. Each feature was commented and evaluated. Score 5 = I like it very much and use it often, 1 = useless, 0 = absent. The final version after many iterations can be found in the 5 tables below (click on them to read the details easier).

From the personal scores of us both to the features of the 2 packages some conclusions can already be made.
1) We are giving to both packages a total score of 100 points and more. So each package offers us both a lot of interesting features.
2) In about 1/3 we give identical evaluations. So we are clearly different type of software-users which doesn't mean that we disagree about the value of the functionality.
3) It is also interesting to define how much extra points are gained by buying the professional package on top of the amateur-package. For me it are 20 extra points. For HK5000 it are 27 extra points. If I wouldn't possess the amateur-package today then I would definitely consider to buy the professional-package.

Above information summarizes very well the qualities of both packages which to some extend will permit to make a personal judgment and make the right purchase. Nevertheless I still think it is useful to make a general recommendation especially for people not having any experience with any chess-software. It is hard to visualize some features without ever having worked with it.

Personally I recommend the amateur-package for each player starting/ learning to work with premium chess-software. I believe it is useful first to work with the more simple Fritz Gui. Besides most beginners are mostly interested in the playing aspect and don't possess yet many databases.

The professional-package is very interesting for a small group of players.
- Trainers and students exchanging intensively study-material (I assume in Belgium only a few players match this description)
- Young players with the ambition of becoming FM/IM/GM (These are +2200 players younger than 30 years so maximally 30 players in Belgium.)
- Writers of club-magazines, books or webmasters (I expect only a few dozens in Belgium)
- Finally players with 1 or more years of experience with the amateur-package and who value the extra functionality of he professional package which can be used in the daily work at home. (It is hard to say how many people but I know very few players willing to work each week at least 1 hour with chess-software)

So if 50% of the club-players are interested to start with the amateur-package then likely not more than 5% will benefit from the professional package. I also have to add that Chessbase (the firm, not the product) inserts more and more features from the Fritz Gui into each new release of Chessbase (this time the product so not the brand). It becomes less and less interesting to still choose the gui. Of course they also know that most people won't buy both packages and commercially it is more interesting to convince people to buy the most expensive product.

Brabo and HK5000

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Desperado part 2

Since 2014 IMF claims China became the biggest economy in the world. However today there is still a lot of discussion about the interpretation of their figures see e.g. Is China's economy really the largest in the world? .  Obviously I don't want to go into details here as I only touch the topic to address the huge transformation China made in the last decades. It changed from an underdeveloped country to a superpower which causes today anxiety in some countries.

Not only economically China made enormous progress. We see in almost any domain that the Chinese have acquired an important position. This is also valid for chess. Last year China obtained for the first time double gold at an olympiad but few will still remember that China was only some decades ago not much bigger of importance than a small country like Belgium. Fide doesn't offer much support but after some painstaking hours of research I was able to create some remarkable statistics about China. My first graphic shows the evolution of the average elo of the top-10 players during the last 3 decades. To compare I used as reference Russia (only from 1993 onward as earlier fide categorized the Russian players under the Soviet-Union).
In my article about elo-inflation I wrote that many players are not aware about the fact that inflation is directly linked to the number of memberships. From above graphic we can clearly see this in the elo-evolution of the Chinese top-players compared with the Russian top-players. If we look at the rankings then this effect is magnified. In below graphic I show the evolution over time of the average-ranking in the world for the top 10-players.
We notice that Russia is still number 1 today but China is very close. Besides the strongest Chinese player has now a higher rating than the strongest Russian player. Of course I talk about super grandmaster Ding Liren whom as the first Chinese ever broke the 2800 elo-barrier a couple of months ago. He achieved that in a remarkable way about which several journalists have written. Liren didn't lose any game during a period of 15 months. Finally the counter of undefeated games stopped at 100 against often very strong opposition. Out of curiosity I checked my personal database to find my longest streak of consecutive undefeated games. The maximum I recorded was 37 in the year 2011 but it only gave me a TPR = 2300 elo so many of my opponents were rather weak.

Unfortunately this splendid performance of Liren also created again jealously among some players as the reaction of Sergey Tiviakov at Chessbase proofed. I educate my children not to cheer in the proximity of the defeated opponent after winning a game so it wasn't very tactful of Sergey. Anyway the loss of Ding Liren  is quite special worth to investigate closer. In that game there occurred a very special desperado of the queen. In an earlier article I talked about the desperado-pawn in which a doomed pawn makes a last move just to win a tempo. In a queen-desperado we see a different dynamic. The queen is threatened and can be saved. However instead of that the player chooses to play the threatened queen to a square where it still can be captured. 
In above position black's queen is threatened by the royal fork Ne6+. However instead of saving the queen, black plays a desperado-move with it as white's queen is also hanging.

On I often solve some tactical exercises. The most difficult ones are sometimes very special positions. One of them I remember involved the theme of the queen-desperado. Below position is extracted from the collection of exercises I made on that site. In the solution there pops up 1 queen-desperado but you can even see 3 consecutive queen-desperados in the temptation.
A last example of the queen-desperado I encountered while analyzing my last Belgian interclub-game of previous season. Without a computer it is impossible to discover it as the desperado only appears in some very complicated tactical line.
In each example of the queen-desperado we see that both queens are hanging. This doesn't look surprising to me as there are likely very few other situations in which such drastic move is good. If a reader knows such different situation of a queen-desparado so without hanging queens then I am curious to learn about.


Friday, January 11, 2019


End of last year the Belgian government felt. Most likely this means Belgium will enter once again a long period of instability. Journalists will for sure have a lot of fun to cover the messy developments and won't deny any opportunity to stir some more troubles between the politicians. Today we shouldn't rely upon the media to get neutral and ethical reports. Most don't shy away from using information which isn't approved by any party.

For the politicians it will be very important to communicate very carefully with whom and how. In the past there were many blunders of which the famous notes on the lap were probably the most horrible and simultaneously funniest ones. Personal notes often with important strategical information are laying casually on the lap of a minister which allows an attentive photographer to make some snapshots of it. Afterwards the photo is enlarged so the secret often juicy details can be discovered and shared with the public.

Afterwards the information always creates a debate if the so called blunder wasn't done intentionally by the person. Sometimes it is just a way to leak dirty information to the press. Exactly because of this dark side, many people enjoyed the joke of Bart De Wever when he wrote "Curiezeneuzemosterdpot" = "Snoop" on a note during the governmental negotiations of 2011. He knows better than any other politician how to use the media to his own advantage.
Meanwhile we are 8 years further and a lot has happened about privacy. We don't only see more and more people protect their data (see e.g my article password) but we also see that the laws in Belgium but also broader in Europe have become much stricter concerning sharing of data. Nevertheless we still see some people underestimating the dangers of open profiles. Besides it is not only Average Joe but even an absolute superstar like challenger Fabiano Caruana made recently a big privacy-blunder by blindly trusting the people around him. A media-campaign to create positive publicity about the Caruana-camp created accidentally a leak about the analysis made for the world-championship. The video was taken offline 15 minutes after the publication but the harm was already done. 
Afterwards nobody of Caruana's camp wanted to comment about the video. Initially people thought it was a strategy to mislead the world-champion Magnus Carlsen but the more the match continued, the less likely that scenario became. Caruana played the openings mentioned in above screenshot before and after the moment of the release.

Therefore the discussion of the authenticity of the video turned already quickly to the damage created for Caruana. Did Carlsen get an important advantage by this video or should this be nuanced?  Former-worldchampion Anand thought that the video-blunder didn't influence the match (see article of espn). Still in game 11 so several days after the release of the video, Carlsen did enter line 21 of the video, a Russian opening with 9...Nf6! more than likely after having analyzed it deeply with his team.
After this game some grandmasters wondered why Carlsen even with the unethical foreknowledge was still not able to get the smallest advantage with white. Did Carlsen and his team not analyze it properly as there aren't so many critical lines to check?

Well not only Carlsen was criticized for his openings. Also Caruana got some harsh comments from some grandmasters. One of the them was the American grandmaster Gregory Serper. He didn't understand why Caruana kept avoiding the mainlines of the Svechnikov see Fabiano Caruana what went wrong?  In the past the mainlines have created many lovely victories for white against the Svechnikov.

Myself I played several times some of the mainlines (see e.g. a theoretical duel in the Svechnikov) but meanwhile I also know after countless hours of analysis that white has little or no hope anymore to seek some advantage in this opening. I even had a lively discussion about this with the Venezuelan IM (today GM) Jose Rafael Gascon Del Nogalco-winner of Le Touquet 2017. In round 6 of Open Le Touquet 2017 he won convincingly against the Belgian player Matthias Godde and in the postmortem I wasn't able to convince him initially that white has nothing in his chosen mainline of the Svechnikov. Well of course which master would trust some unknown kibitzer not even participating at the tournament. Only when I showed him my deep analysis on my computer about the opening, made 1 year ago, he started to realize that I wasn't selling crap. It can be a coincidence but I couldn't find any recent games anymore from him playing again the same mainline.

Recently I even saw somebody renaming the Svechnikov as the Sicilian Berlin just to emphasize that many other players recognize the solidity of the opening. Anyway it is nonsense to insinuate somebody can switch in a couple of days to the mainlines of the Svechnikov and on top of that can also discover some interesting new ideas which would disturb Carlsen. Also today I think there exists a lot of misunderstandings about how easy it is to create such new interesting ideas. You don't get them by just looking at what some engines tell you in a position. No in my article studying openings part 2 I described how it takes me often more than 1 week to find a couple of new ideas in 1 specific variation. In other words even during a world-championship with helpers and a network of computers in most cases nothing more than some patch-work can be done.

A couple of months ago I also experienced how difficult it is to find the right solution for a specific opening-problem. In round 6 of the last Open Leuven I played against the Swedish grandmaster Ralf Akesson. In 3 previous encounters he answered with the Sicilian opening but as he got into troubles each time (see e.g. happiness) I expected him to variate. Besides I also noticed that recently he played a couple of times the Caro-Kann. In that opening he likes to play a number of lines of which some of them were new for me. In the end I guessed right once again as indeed 1 of the prepared lines popped up on the board. However this time my approved preparation-method using databases came short although this doesn't explain the complete story.
Only at home after many additional hours of analysis I discovered 9.c3 is the critical test for this line. If I need so much time to find the solution of such little side-line then one can imagine it takes months to study a big opening. This can't be done during a normal preparation of a game nor even during a match. It is something which needs to be done long in advance and even then you need to make choices as we can't look at everything. For myself I decided to reset my priorities this year. It was the 4th standard-game with the same color against Ralf. Instead of waiting till the next encounter I made the preparation now while having plenty of free time and stored the results in a new database. Meanwhile I already finished such preparation upon 4 players which I regularly meet in the circuit.
Extract of a white-preparation against Ralf Akesson stored in my new database of players

In the future I only need for a new encounter to refresh the earlier made analysis and add if necessary recently played new openings of the opponent to the database. That will for sure speed up the work compared with starting each time from scratch like before. Be aware this isn't the same as what chessbase offers to prepare for an opponent as my database already includes my own choices and novelties which I would like to play. Last week I read accidentally that the Swedish grandmaster Axel Smith recommends to create a database of specific preparations for players in his book from 2013: Pump Up Your Rating which won a couple awards.

I believe a snoop is a good feature for a chess-player but only that isn't enough to become stronger. Also many hours of study must be done in an opening to profit from the information. Creating a database of preparations on potential future opponents will help. At my level the impact of such work will be rather limited as many of my opponents are weak with little to no games of them available in the commercial databases. Also it is useful to only do such preparations for opponents which you meet likely again the nearby future. Learning new openings is not a waste of time but the chance is very small to meet again that one stranger on the board having played just one casual tournament in the neighborhood.