Thursday, June 27, 2019

Computers achieve autonomy part 2

The recently finished top-tournament Norway Chess Altibox got very mixed reviews to say the least. The local hero, worldchampion Carlsen won as the organizers hoped for but quality and quantity was below the usual standard. Some players didn't hide their intentions to bypass the classical chess immediately for the armageddons. Unfortunately many of those armageddons were poorly played containing many blunders.

If the organizers had the intent to counter the death of draws in chess then they clearly missed the goal. Besides didn't Carlsen prove in the latest months that it is still possible to win against the best players? The cure made things only worse. In correspondence-chess however things look more grim at the highest level. I already wrote about that 4 years ago in computers achieve autonomy part 1 and it only became worse since.
The 30th WC-final is still ongoing but currently the draw-percentage is 93% with 95% of the games played. A change of rules for the wc-finale is needed or it makes no sense to organize it anymore.

However as often we see that changes don't happen despite everybody is aware about the problem. Big changes in history happen mostly only when extreme situations are occurring. Also for most questions history has already a solution but we easily forget. The death of draws is nothing new. Already in 1900 so 120 years ago a solution was defined for the many draws in checkers (on 64 squares). Initially players were forced to play an opening of which the first 2 moves were selected in advance by lottery. Later from 1934 onward this was extended to the first 3 moves. As every opening must be played with both colors, nobody was favored.

This concept also exists for chess. You have the voluntary thematic-tournaments which often are organized specially for a certain festivity like I explained in my article a mini-thematic tournament but nowadays it is best known from computer-chess.  By the way the imposed openings were initially not used in computer-chess to counter the number of draws but rather to get more variety in the games. Definitely old chess-programs had the terrible habit to always play the same line see chesskids but also the brandnew Lc0 does the same see my comment at the bonusfinal from March 2019 between Lc0 and Stockfish.

Only after the superfinal of season 8 in which 89 draws out of 100 played games occurred, people realized that it is not enough to variate openings to get an interesting match. Since then more attention was given to the choice of the openings so we could see more decisive games. This is not something easy to achieve. Some complex openings for humans were easily neutralized by the best engines. On the other hand you don't want to select openings in which the win/ loss is already defined from the start. So one color should not get a too large advantage which makes the other color without a chance.

We also see that it becomes increasingly difficult to select interesting unbalanced openings. Till a couple of years ago it was sufficient just to avoid openings which were tactically refuted. Nowadays we learn by experience that strategically dubious openings often can't be used anymore for a test between the best engines. A nice example of this is what happened with the Grob : 1.g4 in the TCEC super-final of season 12. Both Komodo and Stockfish showed a large advantage for black (-0,9 till -1,46) after already the first white move and both succeeded to convert this advantage into a win.
Only 1 move was played and in a higher sense the game was decided already. We are again a step closer to the apocalypse of chess. However how relevant is that for us? At chesspub some members thought this new information would only be useful for the worldclass-players. I objected as I proofed it a couple of months ago on my mediocre level. In 2012 I wrote on my blog about the Czech-defense not having found a clear anti-dote. Today engines have got much stronger and are able to got much further unraveling the puzzle. This new acquired knowledge I was able to implement perfectly against maybe the biggest expert in Belgium of the Czech defense, Frederic Verduyn in our game played during the Belgian interclubs.
After the game Frederic maybe gave me the nicest compliment by confessing to me that I am the first one to let him doubt about the soundness of the opening after having hundred(s) of standard games with it played. Personally I always enjoy winning more when I can do it on my opponent's favorite territory. I also remember till today after the British Senior International Master John Anderson resigned against me (see our correspondence-game published in the article using databases part 2) that he told me, I was the first one to defeat him in his favorite line.

Now I guess some people will not agree that I call the strategic dubious openings as refuted. Can you ever talk about a refutation when a human can't formulate a clear winning-plan? Except against the best players of the world, there will always remain practical chances. On the other hand who wants to play voluntarily with such handicap in standard games?

As a surprise-weapon strategic dubious openings will still be used. However engines will get better in autonomously refuting them so I do expect in the next years a decline of their popularity even in games played between amateurs. It is also the reason why I wrote last month in the article chess position trainer part 2 not to start playing the Dutch defense.


Friday, June 14, 2019

Romantic chess part 2

If you consider the year 1997 still as the modern times then likely you aren't that young anymore. So I wasn't surprised at all to discover that the author of the recently published article a romantic opening in modern times is already 53 years old. In the 2 last decades chess made a metamorphose.

Advertisements should never be accepted blindly. The purpose of the article is foremost to sell the new DVDs on the King's gambit produced by the British grandmaster Simon Williams so you don't want to spoil it by giving trivial facts like it hasn't been played in the most recent years in classical chess by the top-grandmasters.

Besides if you are no such super-grandmaster then I am sure you still encounter regularly those romantic openings. There are still many amateurs ignoring the objective evaluation of the openings and believe they will be able to profit from the lack of knowledge and low competence of their opponents (mostly also amateurs). However I do notice a change in the type of player loving to play those risky openings. When I started playing chess more than 2 decades ago it were mainly young players with an aggressive style. Nowadays it are mostly older players using some old forgotten gambits.
In above table, I made a summary of the romantic openings which I met on the board in classical games from +2100 rated players. You can argue what exactly is a romantic opening but the trend is clear. In the first years we see mainly yellow so strong young players below 30 year. In the most recent years we see almost exclusively green so players older than 50 playing those obscure openings.

I see currently a growing nostalgia but also many older players are blaming the youth of not knowing the classics. Young players only study the openings played by today's best players which makes them vulnerable for the traps hidden in many romantic openings. I hear some of those young ones complain as it is lame to win games based on traps instead of real chess. You can't make progress by just trying to score easy points that way and you definitely can't use it twice against the same opponent.

Many older players lack the drive and energy to keep developing and improving themselves. It is no coincidence that almost no +2300 plays a romantic opening in standard chess. Only 3 out of 63 opponents in the table had a +2300 rating. When I discuss this with young strong players then I can't convince them to give a romantic opening a try even if I can show them a fresh idea. Why would they spend a lot of effort for 1 game as next time the opponent will already have prepared an anti-dote with the engine. Time is precious so you better use it for more solid openings which can be used in a repertoire much longer.

Anyway at some point everybody hits their maximum. There is nothing wrong from then onward to choose a romantic repertoire which you enjoy. Eventually fun is the only track to keep playing chess and nobody else can tell you better than yourself what you like or not. Besides if you can stay below the radar of the databases (so mainly below 2300 elo) then it is often possible to become very successful with romantic openings.

A nice example is the expert living in Gent, Nouri Zouaghi. Last year he surprised me in the interclubs with a risky line in the Schliemann-gambit but he was able to compensate the doubtful reputation of the opening by a much better understanding of the position. We created an interesting game.
After the game it became apparent how different our styles are. While I was focusing on the defects of the black opening, Nouri considered a 0,6 disadvantage shown as evaluation by the engine, fully acceptable for black.

However when I met again Nouri this year with the same colors in the interclubs, I was again surprised by the same risky line of the Schliemann-gambit. How? Well I couldn't imagine somebody playing twice the same risky line against the same opponent. I don't know if it was ignorance of Nouri or something else. Anyway I am not the person to avoid a challenge (see a theoretical battle in the Svechnikov.)
The top-engines prefer 6.Nh4 to 6.Ng5 but it is not simpler for white at all. Black again had a better nose for the complications and afterwards I could only admit that refuting a romantic opening isn't always easy.

Naturally this is even harder when you get less time for a game. When you lack the time to remember the accurate moves or to calculate the details then a romantic opening can be a very dangerous weapon. It makes a lot of sense not to refute it in such quick games but just try to avoid the complications. A successful example was executed of that strategy in a decisive rapidgame played last year against the Belgian FM Sim Maerevoet.
I knew a few things about the Elephantgambit (Quality Chess announced last year to publish a book about it) but 3..Nf6 was for me unknown. Later I discovered that you can also enter the same position via the Russian opening : 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Pxe5 d5 and is one of the many original ideas of the eccentric Georgian grandmaster Baadur Jobava. More than likely Sim borrowed the idea from him.

In the article I mix romantic chess and romantic openings. However we can also split them into a theoretical part (the opening) and a practical part (the middle-game). Jobava demonstrates that romantic chess is still today playable even at the highest level on the condition your opponent hasn't studied yet your new idea. On the other hand the romantic openings (19th century mainly) are only acceptable at the level of the amateur.