Friday, April 26, 2019

My most beautiful move part 3

I once played a game of which the missed combination has been graved in my memory forever as it is extremely weird. I need to correct myself as it was not a combination but rather a wrong continuation of my opponent which is countered by a very non-standard refutation. Which I didn't see and I have never detected in any book about combinations or any game. The "combination" or rather the refutation is so "unique" that I never ever seen it before: letting a piece to be captured with check and not take back but stop the check by putting another piece in between, as there exists a long-term threat which is stronger than the temporarily loss of the piece.

I didn't notice it in the game. The only game with this "line" in Chessbase is Piscopo (2364) - Zakharchenko (2197) played in 2012 - and so I am in good company: also the Italian international master Piscopo didn't find the move. Another move which can be categorized as invisible see part 1 and part 2. So unfortunately I played the automatic 10.bxc3 which let slip the white advantage away. Below you can replay the remainder of the game.

At the blog of Quality Chess there was recently a discussion about automatic moves. Often mistakes are made because players don't consider sufficiently alternatives. By spending more time you can find those moves was the logical remedy proposed by the author. However some readers didn't agree. Automatic moves leave extra time for other moments in the game when complex decisions need to be done. If you start to question each move so also the automatic ones then you risk time-trouble creating much bigger problems. It will be a disaster for the playing-strength to find that one unique move in one particular game in exchange for many blunders due to lack of time in dozens of other games. Still for my most beautiful move, I would've liked to make an exception.


Sunday, April 21, 2019

Exchange pawns when standing worse

In my previous article I introduced the book Applying logic in chess and wrote that the content is often rather abstract. This means it is not always straight forward for the reader to figure out how to materialize the training guidelines into concrete activities. Still this doesn't mean you can't find any simple advice in the book. Personally I was surprised that the author advised several times in the book how important it is to exchange pawns when you have an inferior position. He considers it a basic-rule to improve the defense.

Well I have to admit that I never heard about such rule before. I do know that you have to exchange material when being ahead and you have to avoid exchanges when being down in material like I demonstrated successfully in the great escape. However I never heard about making a distinction between pawns and pieces. So as FM and having more than 20 years of tournament-experience I wondered if the American writer wasn't exaggerating again. Nonetheless only a month later in the February-edition of Chessmagazine the Dutch International master and senior fide trainer Jeroen Bosch wrote something similar in one of his articles. Also he recommends to exchange pawns when standing worse.

More than 20 years I never heard this so called basic-rule but now it suddenly pops up twice in a couple of months. I checked around me and it appears that I am not the only one so maybe Jeroen just read the book "Applying logic in chess". This wouldn't surprise me as I strongly recommend this book to any serious trainer as it will be a standard work in the future for training pedagogically chess. Basic or not, known or unknown, fact is that Jeroen thinks the rule is useful for anybody so we should not ignore it.

Besides if I would've considered it nonsense then obviously I would not spent time writing about it. Also unconsciously I am sure we all are already applying sometimes that rule via the endgames. Many endgames are a draw even when one side has a material advantage of +3 when no pawns remain on the board. I am thinking about only knight or only bishop but also rook+ knight against rook or rook + bishop against bishop. I am talking purely from the theoretical point of view as there always remains practical chances as happened recently in the game Veselin Topalov against Ding Liren played in Shamkir, Azerbaijan. It is incredible how 2 absolute world-class-players managed to misplay an endgame of rook against knight despite having sufficient time remaining on the clock.

Mistakes are human especially if you need to calculate after many hours of play. Nobody is immune. However I also see many mistakes in the endgame which have nothing to do with calculations but are rather a lack of knowledge. I already wrote about this before see quicker part 2 that our youth is lagging in that domain and this once again became clear in the endgame occurring in my standard-game played in the Christmas-tournament of Deurne end of last year against fresh FM Sim Maerevoet. The 17 year old made in the 3 previous years a rating jump of no less than 600 points ! Contrary to my students he works hard at chess so is also more successful but the endgame still remains something special.

I advised Sim to work at it and I think he will do. This was shown when we did a long post-mortem after the game while all other players already left the tournament-room. While others were enjoying drinks and making a lot of noise, we tried to investigate deeper the complexity of our endgame. I told him that I wasn't sure if the endgame was won against best play so I hesitated during the game to enter it. Sim was surprised but admit that a win without exchanging rooks was not simple at all. Eventually I was able to find a narrow path to the victory after using the best engines for several hours. Clearly in practice it would've been unlikely to find all those moves.

Some would categorize my judgment as intuition but I believe it is not just that. I was trying to force an exchange of rooks as that would make the win much easier. I would only exchange pawns when all other options were exhausted. From earlier experiences I know that winning such endgames against optimal defense would be a close call and that is also proven in my long analysis. It is not easy to keep the activity of the black rook within limits, defend the white pawns and simultaneously cause a weakness in black's camp.

Ok that is all nice but how can this be studied somehow? I am no specialist of endgame-books but I don't think this type of endgames has been analyzed deeply somewhere. No I think a healthy curiosity is important to improve. I wrote in my previous article that I spend (too) much time at analyzing endgames. However it is never useless doing such research. For this type of endgame I made an extra mile by analyzing similarly endgames which were played recently. During the Christmas-holidays  I was spending family-time in Russia so anyway also had a lot of free time. I don't have chessbase but by downloading scid which can be done fully legally, I was able to make a selection of games in which the endgame of Rook + Bishop against Rook popped up but in which there were also pawns on the board at one side of the board and the side without bishop has one extra pawn. Some endgames were very interesting stuff to analyze. Below you can find the most interesting ones. I start with an endgame played in 2018 between 2 Cuban grandmasters.

Despite the large evaluation of the engine, I don't see a win against a correct defense. White's pawns are too advanced so the winning mechanism as shown in my game against Sim is not possible. Nevertheless black still managed to lose the game which I regularly noticed in such type of endgames. In practice many people falter as defending such positions is far from easy. This is also the case in the next example. This time we see the Latvian grandmaster Toms Kantans collapsing while a draw was feasible.

Here the problem were not the advanced pawns but rather that they were not anymore connected. This doesn't allow to coordinate attack and defense. Now it are not always the defenders making mistakes. In the next example we see a very favorable version of the endgame for white but black manages to defend. It is nice performance of the Argentinean grandmaster Federico Perez Ponsa.

Black executes nicely the basic-rule of exchanging pawns when standing worse. Besides we also see that the drawing chances immediately improve when 1 pair of pawns disappear. Still it doesn't mean a draw is given easily even when black is the super-grandmaster Peter Svidler is.

Black didn't blink. White tried all his tricks and waited as long as possible till it was not possible anymore to avoid pawn-moves. In the next example we see again it is a draw but both players can't avoid making mistakes.

So you always need to be alert in this endgame even if you know which position is a draw or not. For me analyzing such endgames is fun and it also extends my horizon of the endgame. Only in 2018 I found dozens of this type of endgame in the big database. Some of them were an exact copy of my position against Sim. Also I do think some conclusions are valid for other type of endgames.

Finally I find it very important to think via concepts instead of concrete moves. You first need to figure out what you want to achieve and then you need to match the right moves to your idea. In my recent courses in KMSK I obliged my students to train such endgames by playing them out against each other. I opened a new world for them as they never tried to play chess in such way.


Friday, April 5, 2019

How many games should I play?

Many chess-clubs offer lessons for the youth but adults are often ignored. Contrary any adult able to play chess is begged to give courses even it is just explaining the basic principles of step 1 and 2 at children. Now and then I hear another teacher at KMSK telling me that I am instructing things to my children which they haven't learned yet themselves.

It is very rare that I hear an adult trying to start playing chess. Sometimes a parent having a child playing chess, wants to know more about the hobby of his child and tries to get involved into chess but also very rapidly quits. It is emotionally tough to see how even young children are progressing much faster and easier than yourself. A degree at the university of laws, engineer, doctor... doesn't give any added value to play better chess.

Adults making big improvements is something very exceptional. So I was very surprised to hear last year that an American claimed to have developed a training-method to improve from beginner to international master as an adult. Not only that but he said that he did it himself in 3 years to get that renowned title. Too good to be true I thought so I liked to see for myself what he wrote in his new book Applying Logic in Chess. What am I doing wrong or what can I do better? I assume many players are regularly wondering this.
If we look at the fide-rating-profile of the American IM Erik Kislik then we see he got his first rating beginning of 2008 and already in 2012 achieved the IM-title. So 3 years is a bit exaggerated even if we take into account the slowness of fide attributing the titles. On the other hand it is still an incredible performance for an adult.

However having quite some experience with salestalk and particularly with Americans I know you should always look deeper than just the surface. After some research on the internet I quickly detected that Erik already had in the year 2002 a 1900 USCF rating. 1900 USCF corresponds with about 1800 fide. More than half of the clubplayers never get such high rating so stating that in 2008 you are still a beginner is a very open interpretation of the term "beginner". Gaining a couple of 100 rating points in 3 years is something much more realistic to achieve.

Still we should not underestimate the feat of Erik. Very few players have succeeded to get multiple titles when they were already an adult. I did some research and I found only a few examples: the Scottish grandmaster John Shaw getting his GM-title at the age of 38,  the English grandmaster Jonathan Hawkins getting the GM-title at the age of 31 and the Swedish grandmaster Axel Smith getting the GM-title at the age of 30. They managed to improve a couple of hundred elo while being adults. Not a surprise that both Jonathan and Axel have also written a book about their individual journeys: Amateur to IM: Proven Ideas and Training Methods and Pump up your rating.

Each of the books are showing the many obstacles on the road to the title and give the readers advise what to do and not to do. If you compare the books then you find resemblances but also big differences. I was surprised about that as I expected not so different roads for improvement exist as we know so very few success-stories. I think this is something interesting to investigate a bit deeper by comparing the books "Applying Logic in Chess" en "Pump up your training" as they suit best for this task. Below you can find my short summary of the comparison together with some comments from myself.
You can see many serious differences in the approach of both. Personally I am feeling more affinity with the method of Erik Kislik but there is certainly also good advise in the book from Alex Smith so I recommend them both. Alex often gives more concrete advise while Erik will tell which parts of the training should get the most time. I think a mix of both taking into account your own preferences and situation is likely the most optimal choice. Surely a coach can help you with that.

Finally in both books there is clearly one common advise which is to play as much games as possible. With games they mean of course standard ones so no blitz. In each training-plan this should get absolute priority. To know how many games we are talking about, I checked the activity of the authors on their path to the titles. I start with the American IM Erik Kislik.
At the age of 22 he got the FM-title. At 25 he became IM. Averagely he played 140 games each year for standard fide rating and that for a period of 5 years. So in 1 year he played (much) more than what I played in the last 10 year together!

Eventually we only see a gain of 150 elo compared to his initial rating. The Swedish GM Alex Smith did much more. However it took him 10 years to climb about 350 elo as an adult.
We see Alex only making serious progress when he starts to play more games in 2007. In 2008 he became IM and only in 2016 he got the GM-title. In those years he played averagely 110 games per year with an insane peak of 185 games for standard fide rating in 2008.

Finally the British GM Jonathan Hawkins shows that improvements don't come solely from playing a lot of games. Maybe he played many games without being rated but I doubt that as strong players don't get much chances this way to get interesting opponents.
FM he became at the age 25. At 27 he got the IM-title but only at 31 he finally became GM. So we see more than 300 elo gain over a period of 8 years. Only for the jump from IM to GM he played considerably more games but still less than the 2 other earlier mentioned players.

So I think we can conclude that playing many games is necessary to make progress. However as an adult it is very difficult to free enough time for playing those games. If you are not rich then this can only be done by combining lousy paid temporary jobs and you must be satisfied with minimum comfort. It is no wonder that over the age of 30 it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain such way of life. You can't combine this with starting a family.

For me there won't be any big improvements anymore and I should not wait for my retirement like strong Jan. Jan was able to stop working at the age of 60 but likely I will have to continue till 70 which makes a big difference for a chessplayer.

Last year I started to play rapid-tournaments together with my children see my article memory. This year I am planning to play together once a standard-tournament. It is a small step to become again a more active player.