Thursday, May 30, 2019

Chess position trainer part 2

What could've happened if I would've not made the wrong choices in my chess-development? I don't think it is an interesting question for the popular humorous sketch-program "what if" but it is definitely useful to reflect about the committed errors. No I can't reset myself today but I can learn from my mistakes so my students avoid them.

Therefore I strongly advise my students against playing the Dutch. Don't do it as I only encounter misery with the opening. Next I recommend my students to play as much as possible standard games. I don't play often enough but I do realize it is crucial for the development. It is more important than analyzing at home with an engine or reading chess-books. Finally don't make my error of stubbornly playing always the same openings. The element of surprise is very powerful in human chess. It is just nonsense in practice to use a scientific approach. My students want to score points and are not interested to develop the theory of openings.

Except some general advise, my students also need very often concrete tips. It is not so easy to vary successfully the openings especially for young players. Playing a new opening without knowing any theory of it, is very risky. We can't expect that young players already read opening-books or watch opening-dvds. If we force them then this could even be counter-productive. Also the information is often not adapted to their level or age. So this is a domain for which the coach should help. Unfortunately this is not so simple as this needs to be done tailor made. I didn't have the time and will to work out something for all my students. So it is not surprisingly that I only run this extra mile for my son Hugo.

In my previous article I wrote that I had decided after the Flemish youth-championship to teach my son Hugo a couple of new openings to be prepared for the upcoming Belgian youth-championship. So I started some brainstorming. I prefer no openings which I play myself. They are not suited for the level of Hugo and this would allow the coaches of the opponents to also study my games for the preparation. Neither did I want to select theoretically heavy openings. It is a nightmare for a 1600 rated player to be forced to study hundreds of moves.Also I didn't want any openings in which 1 mistake would mean immediately defeat. Finally I didn't want him to play any dubious openings. No known path to a clear advantage should exist for the opponent even if this is very hard to discover on the board.

A couple of weeks later I had made the selection. Next I made a short summary of the most important lines which I considered useful for Hugo. Finally all was ready for Hugo to study the prepared materials but that didn't go smoothly. I didn't want Hugo testing the new openings in the tournaments before the Belgian youth-championship as I wanted to maximize the element of surprise. Playing online with a nickname was my first choice but this only resulted in a very slow progress. That way it would take months before the basics would be known. I was getting desperate but then I suddenly remembered about having bought 2 years ago chess position trainer.

It figured out that it was very easy to add repertoires of other people without causing any interferences. You just click "add new repertoire" and give it the name of the new user. Next you add new folders and moves for the new user as I did for myself 2 years ago. Beside it is also possible to copy openings from 1 user to another if needed. In 1 hour everything was prepared so Hugo could start to practice.
As you can see above, there aren't many openings. I only inserted the openings which I considered annoying to meet for Hugo without any knowledge and have a reasonable chance to appear in his games. I limited the content for his level.

In my previous article about the chess position trainer I was rather negative as I couldn't get much from it. However for my son Hugo it became a fantastic revelation. The combination of learning quickly and efficiently the lines plus the funny mix of stimulating sounds/ music, worked like a magnet on Hugo. The first time he needed a half hour to have all the moves right once. Just before the games started on the championship he was able to execute all the moves perfectly within 1 minute. It was so fast that I even became anxious. Maybe he will play too fast during his game and make a slip.

To get a maximum return of the new openings we had decided to play them only for the important matches. This happened in the last 2 rounds of the championship. His opponents were not only surprised totally but again it was proven that preparations for young players are often counter-productive. Both opponents answered the new openings of Hugo as Hugo was still playing the old ones. Young players are very vulnerable for the einstellung effect. The game of the 9th round is the best example of it.
As a coach you are always choosing the middle ground between the danger of overwhelming the student with lines and the danger of teaching him too few lines. After 4.Bb5 we prepared against Bb4, Nd4, Bc5 and d6. The rarely played a6 was not one of the candidates. Maybe I should've known in advance by considering the young age of the opponent. Anyway hindsight it is always easy to state what should've happened.

Yes, I do admit that the impact of the openings was limited on the final results. Hugo achieved a very strong shared 2nd place (don't forget he was playing this time in a category 2 years older than his own age) but the points were never decided in the opening. Nonetheless it was not a waste of time to practice the openings on chess position trainer. I could clearly see that it improved enormously his self-confidence. It was that evident that my daughter Evelien became jealous. Why does always her brother get all the support for his games while she is left alone?

Evelien only started last year to play chess so it made little sense to study any openings at all. Besides her opponents are much weaker so often there was no information about them available. Only for the last round of the championship I made an extra effort. I looked at an earlier played game in the same championship of her opponent Jade Decraene and prepared a pgn-file with some recommendations which Evelien happily practiced with the Chess position trainer.
I mention this anecdote to show we can also work per opponent instead of per opening in chess position trainer. In my article curieuzeneuzemosterdpot I wrote that I started to maintain a player-database of preparations I've made per player per color. Well it is very easy to insert those analysis in the chess position trainer. There are some big benefits of this approach. You don't need to jump anymore from 1 folder to another one. Also you only have to look at the lines which are relevant for that particular opponent.

How did it end for Evelien? Evelien got a great position thanks to the game-preparation but she missed the experience to convert the advantage into a full point. She was disappointed but you can't expect to defeat a girl already competing for 4 years while you yourself  have less than 1 year experience. Her final result of 5/9 promises a nice future if she keeps playing chess of course.
So chess position trainer got a second life from us. I strongly recommend it for children if a coach can support them. For myself it was interesting to discover that I can also work per opponent instead of per player. Time is precious for me so I am always searching ways to optimize my methods of study.


Friday, May 24, 2019


Last week an invitation was put on schaaksite to participate at an experiment. During the experiment you play 2 tournaments. 1 tournament in which you get full information of the opponents and 1 tournament in which you don't know anything of the opponents as the games are played on the computer. With the experiment they like to find out if the results are impacted by the information or not.

In both tournaments 10 rounds are played at the rate of 3 minutes for each game with 2 seconds increment per move. So there remains sufficient time to visit Amsterdam during the Ascension weekend. The combination of the prizes (1ste prize is in each tournament 250 euro) and the interesting format have already attracted a number of strong players: 3 grandmasters and 3 international masters. It is an alternative for the Flemish championship which is played in the same weekend for players wishing to have a lighter schedule.

The experiment is destined for a master-thesis at the university so likely the results will be statistically analyzed. First the variance needs to be defined caused by the randomness of the results. Only afterwards they can define if the difference of the results between both tournaments can be partly linked to the influence of the information.

It is an interesting question which the experiment tries to answer but I fear the format of the tournament will not give solid answers. The rate of the games doesn't allow to prepare for the games. Even during the games you don't have time to think about strategies as you need the limited time to think about the moves. Besides most people will very quickly have a good idea how strong their opponent is. Some years ago I once made a comparison between my results of games played with and without rating see to study openings. My conclusion was that there was no clear difference between both.

Also my ten year old son Hugo was able to estimate pretty accurately how strong his opponent was in the last round of the Dutch interclubs despite nobody had given any indication about the rating of his opponent. When I warned him during the game not to take a quick draw as I considered my son the stronger player, he answered firmly: "I already detected that by looking at the moves in the opening of my opponent."
The opponent had 1427 elo. If you look at the opening then this is no surprise. White deviates quickly from the theory and chooses for an unambitious but solid position.

For the next extract of the opening I like to invite the reader to guess the rating of the player with the white pieces.
White only played pawn-moves so didn't develop any piece. It also looks grim for white as he destroyed his own king-side and with the last move white blundered an important center-pawn. It looks reasonable to me to estimate that white is a beginner.

If you made the same call then you were pretty close as white had 1190 elo. He was the opponent of my son Hugo in the Flemish championship of the -10 in round 6.

Now I expect a few readers also have recognized the opening. It are not random moves but they are well known from grandmaster-games. It is even a position which is regarded as promising for white by theory. So the answer on my question could've been also 2500 elo like in the game below. White was the famous Russian grandmaster Evgeny Svechnikov.
I don't believe the boy played some random moves which by chance correspond to a known theoretical position. He must have seen them before. More than likely a coach showed it to him as I consider him too young to find this independently. Besides this is something which happens quite a few times during youth-championships. Many coaches prepare their students for particular critical games by teaching them some new often high class openings.

It sounds logical but there is also a negative side of this approach. In the Flemish championship Hugo played what the opponent had prepared against after which he suffered a defeat without any chance. However for the Belgian championship I took this as a lesson. This time I learned Hugo to anticipate in the opening. Suddenly the preparations of the opponents of Hugo made by their coaches were not only useless but also often counter-productive.
Ignoring basic rules like development of the pieces, bringing the king into safety only works for some concrete situations. I am no fan of some coaches teaching their students moves which break those rules and are only trying to set traps and get short-term gains. The same is also valid for many dubious gambits. A month ago the strong British grandmaster Nigel Short told us that as a child he played the Morra-gambit for awhile due to his coach see article at Chessbase: "I never comprehended what black did wrong in the opening so white can permit to toss an important pawn."

Another funny anecdote happened in the last Belgian Youth Championship. 10 minutes before the start of the last round  a boy of the -14 came to me being clearly stressed. He stuttered: My coach asked me to sacrifice 2 pawns against the French opening of my opponent but I don't understand the compensation." What to do? I wanted to guide my children at their boards to assure they were installed properly for their last important game in the championship. At the same time I felt compassion for the boy so I didn't want to chase him away. "Follow me at the analyzing-room" I told him. "Forget the opening of your coach, I will teach you some very simple concept in only 5 minutes which is much more solid. The concept worked for Hugo in Le Touquet (see teaching chess to children part 3) and I didn't see any reason why this wouldn't work for somebody else. The boy did get the French opening on the board, he played the concept which I learned him in 5 minutes and won from his 200 higher rated opponent which let him win a prize. Amazing isn't it?

Of course there was some luck but I am serious that not every coach gives good advise. Anyway we don't have many coaches in Belgium so many are happy just to have one. Still it is not always the best for the development. I tell parents not to be afraid to switch from coach as you are not married with them. If you feel it is not working or you don't like the coach then change. Often you pay money to them so don't feel ashamed to choose for the interest of the child. Also know that many top-players have worked with many coaches. They have a coach for 1 or 2 years and they switch. It allows you to find out what methods fit best for yourself.

Anyway without a coach it is impossible to develop your full capabilities. Also a child without a coach is often having a big disadvantage compared to children having access to a coach. You see most children playing in the top-echelons having a coach today.

Once you play against only adults then this aspect practically disappears. Adults very rarely work with a coach. Nevertheless I am sure also for them this can be useful. This became clear during the just finished club-championship of Deurne. I was the strongest player by far so my perfect score of 9/9 wasn't so special. In only 1 game I experienced some problems in the opening.
Later I heard that the Belgian international master Stefan Docx had shown this line to my opponent as an improvement upon the old 6.Nf3. It contains quite some poison as 2 weeks after I got the line on the board the Bulgarian top-grandmaster Veselin Topalov used it to defeat the American top-grandmaster Leinier Dominguez Perez. Stefan told me last time that he doesn't follow the newest theoretical developments of the openings anymore as before but clearly he hasn't stopped all study yet.
Maybe adults have few ambitions. Maybe adults are too proud for asking help. Nonetheless a coach can be a motivator to keep playing chess as an adult. A coach can take you at a higher level where you wouldn't get on your own.


Monday, May 6, 2019

The Sicilian Berlin

After I finished my last game of the Belgium interclubs I was surprised to see in the pub that many players were busy following the ongoing game of Magnus Carlsen. A Belgian FM even showed me on his smartphone how that game finished by a beautiful and surprising mate see 2019 Grenke chess classic round 8. Players seemed (at least temporarily) more interested in Magnus' game than the ones of their teammates.

Unless you were completely disconnected from chess last couple of months, you could've not missed the news about the recent amazing successes of the reigning world-champion. While he defended last year with a lot of difficulty his world-title against Fabiano Caruano, suddenly wins are obtained again very easily. Magnus is again absolutely hot and that creates again speculations about the magical barrier of 2900 elo which can or can not be broken by a human player.

It just proofs to me that elo is relative. We all have fluctuations in our playing-strength. Sometimes there are clear reasons for that like e.g. new responsibilities but we should also not exclude luck (see my article the lucky one) especially in a short timeframe. I guess this last aspect can play here an important role as the gain of 40 elo by Magnus happened in only 31 games.

In the Chessbase-report of the last round in Grenke we can read that Carlsen can today benefit of the analysis made for the last world-championship. Magnus:" I can still use ideas and concepts which we have analysed." We notice this clearly in his shift from e5 to c5 as main-choice against 1.e4. In the last 10 years Magnus used e5 as his preferred weapon in standard-games but since the world-championship of last year he has another favorite. This is clearly shown in the table below which I created by screening the Big database 2019.
The switch brought some clear profit. After the world-championship Magnus achieved in 7 games, 4 win and 3 draws against (very) strong grandmasters. It is the new Berlin which everybody can't break. Meanwhile the solution is also known to the riddle which I asked in the article curieuzeneuzemosterdpot. Why nobody tries to play the mainline? Finally the Azerbaijani top-grandmaster Teimour Radjabov tried it in the last Tata Steel. I assume Teimour also got curious and he never minds a draw either.
You probably wonder what is special about this line. Besides Teimour doesn't choose the most critical test. The answer you can find in the Ultracorr-x. If we select the games played with the position after 12....Rb8 by the very best players in correspondence-chess (both players having + 2500 elo) during the last 10 years then we discover below devastating statistic.
Indeed all 32 top-games played in the last 10 years were drawn. Not once white or black won. It is the Berlin in a much stronger version. By the way I also noticed that lower rated players rarely can win. I already discovered this in 2015 after I made a serious analysis of the opening which popped up in my game played in the clubchampionship of Deurne against Marcel Van Herck.
It is the reason why I don't play anymore the mainline of the Svechnikov. So there will be no follow up anymore of a theoretical duel in the Svechnikov and the scientific approach. However what else I will play is something you will need to find out for yourself. I already surprised somebody with it and I hope to do it a few times more. I already share a lot of information on this blog, likely more than what a dozen of players share together so I don't think somebody can blame me of being unfair.

Anyway I still try to keep track of the developments in the mainline. This is new for me as before when I stopped playing a line, I lost interest. Nowadays I do also regression-analysis. So at some points of time I look up if something has changed which maybe makes the line again playable. Since 2015 I've analyzed some recent small discoveries for white  but simultaneously there were also some shifts favoring black which cancelled out any possible advantage for white.

Today Magnus has an edge but I am sure his opponents won't rest. Sooner or later people will find anti-dotes which will decrease the scores of Magnus in the Sicilian. Openings are for many players something boring but a few can also enjoy the eternal fluctuations.