Monday, September 14, 2020

The chess-microbe part 3

While the French Open of Cappelle La Grande (end of February) was still running, it already became clear to me that the corona-virus wouldn't be a joke despite at that time the news was still minimizing the dangers of it. However I was also at that time still hopeful that we could quickly beat the virus. China was able to do it so I assumed that Europe and definitely Belgium with a much higher average standard of life should manage this too. Meantime we know that this didn't happen.

We failed as we didn't want/ weren't able to impose the draconian measurements necessary to exile for sure the corona-virus. Economical as well as individual interests blocked an efficient strategy. As a consequence after 6 months we still are dealing with the threat and it seems that it will be like that till a good vaccine is sufficiently spread among the population.

Of course people are fed up of it by now. Virologists and policymakers keep telling up to hold on to the strict hygienic regulations but people aren't willing to do anymore. Against all advice still 3 million Belgians traveled abroad last summer. After months of a complete stop of chesstournaments, I also notice more and more clubs restart (small) otb-tournaments. In other words more and more people are willing to take bigger risks which unfortunately we also find back in the increase of infections.

Playing chess physically is not without risks. The Belgian championship organized in Bruges went fine without new infections (a.f.a.i.k) but there are no guarantees which was proofed by the recent outbreak of covid-19 after the Spanish teamchampionship despite they used many strict hygienic measurements like face-masks, gels... We still don't know much about which risks are exactly connected to an action. Avoiding any contact is the only rule which protects us for sure. It is therefore no surprise that many players dropped out of the Spanish individual championship (which started just after the Spanish team-championship) although the authorities tried to reassure the participants that there wasn't any threat anymore.

Myself I avoided any contact for a longtime. I was definitely afraid of becoming ill. However slowly I also got to miss more and more my old social life. In the first months I was able to fill the freed time with other activities but this came harder over time. You can't clean your house forever and my garden has never been so nice before. I analyzed my games of Cappelle La Grande for 2 months but at some point this ends of course. I teached my family the games Catan, Rummikub and Risk but after a while they got fed up by losing against me all the time. I am fanatic in any game I play and I understand it is no fun for others when I self-learn all kind of advanced strategies by looking up on youtube how experts are playing.

In my article online chesstournaments I also mentioned that I started to play a lot of online chess but that obviously couldn't compensate my needs. More and more I was not knowing anymore what to do in my free time. For convenience I focused myself on my job. I didn't take any holidays for half year and chose to work long days in the office until I was contacted that I really had to share my planning for the annual holidays. Initially I had the idea to wait with it till this corona-crisis would have passed but this clearly wasn't an option anymore.

Legally I had still 6 weeks of holidays to take before the end of the year. Last month of the year is always very busy so management was pushing to not wait any longer with taking up the holidays. However I really didn't like the forecast of a staycation of several weeks next to my door at all. Eventually I made a difficult decision. My fear for covid-19 wouldn't dictate anymore what I should do or not.  Playing chess makes me happy and for that I was willing to take some risks. So beginning of July I started to look for a chess-tournament to play during my holidays in August.

The Belgian championship in Bruges was of course the closest for me but as I explained in my previous article it was not an option for me as I can't wear the obligatory face-masks for hours due to my skin-allergy. However there existed not many tournaments where you can play without face-mask. I couldn't find even find any tournament in the neighboring countries like Netherlands, France or Germany. Out of sheer necessity I looked further away from home. I considered tournaments in Swiss and Austria but in the end I was attracted to a tournament in Czechia (Prague): 9 rounds of classical chess (same time-control as we have in our Belgian interclub) with the playing-hall in the hotel where we could stay. Face-masks weren't obliged. 1000km so still manageable by car (as I didn't like the plane with a face-mask), 2 rating-groups so my children would also get interesting opponents. After some hesitation I accepted but immediately I also realized that there were no guarantees.

This became quickly evident when a second corona-golf started. Each day we approached the tournament, the situation became less clear and more complex. Till the last minute I was doubting to go or not and probably any smart person would've cancelled it as the things which we had to endure were definitely unusual to say the least.

First Prague became quickly an orange zone which means a lot of covid-19 infections but not yet that much to forbid people going to it. Next my own province Antwerp was hit by a dramatic increase of new infections. For Netherlands we even were a red zone so forbidden territory. Then a week before the tournament of Prague would start, the Czech government announced that you need to wear face-masks in all inside-events with more than 100 people. This I didn't like so I contacted the organizers of the tournament to cancel my participation (at that time there were already +250 participants confirmed). However they told me that this rule isn't applicable for sportsmen when they do sport. Chess is in Czechia considered as sport contrary to e.g. in Belgium. I didn't feel fully convinced by their statement but it appeared to be the truth.

However my biggest setback happened 2 days before we had to leave. My wife became ill and had a running nose with low fever. We immediately decided that she had to take a corona-test. This also means the rest of our family had to be in quarantine till we were sure that the result was negative. However the Friday of our departure we still didn't receive the result of the test and waiting any longer would mean that we would miss at least the start of the tournament. I guess most people in this situation do miss the start but here you are dealing with a desperate and fanatic chessplayer. I convinced my wife to stay home and that it was ok that I would travel alone with my 2 children to Prague. She had to call us during the drive from the moment she knew the results. As we would be the whole time in the car, there was no risk for others. However it also meant that if her test would be positive that we would immediately return and the adventure would be over.

Fortunately a couple of hours after we left home, the message arrived that my wife had only a cold so no covid-19. As a Russian she doesn't have the immunity against the wet Belgian climate which means each year she has several times a cold. Resting and sleeping is in such periods the only she can do but this way I was alone the whole week in Czechia with my 2 children. If it wouldn't have been about covid-19 then I surely would've invited another player (adult) as all reservations were already made.

As this wasn't enough excitement also another obstacle arrived 1 day before the start of the tournament. Suddenly Germany required from Belgians of the province Antwerpen that they should show a negative covid-19 test otherwise we had to first quarantined for 14 days.  Now I had decided in advance to make an overnight-stay in the beautiful German city Dresden (at 150 from Prague) so I could drive the last kms next day quietly. However it is impossible to get such test done in less than 24 hours. I called the hotel where we would sleep and explained the situation but they had not yet heard about this new regulation. Ok but the next day things could be different. In the end I took the risk and thought in worst case we will sleep in our car.

Fortunately things didn't escalate. In Dresden nobody cared about the new rule and happily accepted our euros which allowed us to visit the center and close an enjoyable first day of our holidays. The next day we already left early in the morning to Prague. My next worry was that we didn't have yet a vignette which is obligatory for driving on the Czech highways. So the first tank-station I found, I looked for it. This was also a bit stressful as I don't speak Czech and my poor German was first not understood.

The remaining 100 km went at last fine thanks to my GPS. Only at the hotel I still was struggling a bit to find a safe place for my car. Once that was done, I finally could register myself for the tournament and the hotel (so same location). A kind man helped us in English and comforted us everything was in order with the rooms and the subscriptions. As the first game would start only at 16h we still took the opportunity to rest a bit in our room. More than 300 chessplayers (50% more than last year) were participating. Even a Norwegian +2600 player joined us despite only a first prize of 500 euro (which he didn't even win). I am obviously not the only one having missed classical chess during the last couple of months.

9 rounds of "real" chess. I enjoyed every minute of it and I noticed many thought similarly about it. There was also a lot of youth, much more than usual. I guess it is because youth is more corona-resistant. Anyway it was the first time that I felt old. 7 of my 9 opponents were much younger than me: 12 years, 13 years, 14 years old.... Besides these young players all had ratings between 2000 and 2100 and already conquered several national youth-titles. You understand that this is not a tournament where you are going to win a lot of ratingpoints but I didn't care as just playing was much more important.

Anyway against the 3 youngest ones I scored 2,5/3 so the loss of 20 fide had rather to do that I was playing a bit too slow (this is always the case after having not played classical chess for a long time) and also that I encountered in each of my 9 games openings in which I had little or no experience. In at least 4 games I had a very bad position out of the opening and sometimes I was only able to make a draw by proposing some tactical draws.

This means I have now again for weeks of analyzing work at home which I enjoy a lot. Playing tournaments like that is much more for me than just the time sitting at the board. I also took the time to visit the beautiful center of Prague. Here I noticed a plus-side of the corona-crisis as everywhere it was very calm. It must have been ages ago that you could stand in front of the famous astronomical clock in the heart of Prague during mid of the summer at daylight with so few people around.
I can also recommend the Madame Tussauds-museum in Prague if you are with children. The dolls are looking lifelike and people told me afterwards that they are exceptionally good compared to other Madama Tussaud-museums. Sometimes I did have to explain to my children who some of the stars are as naturally they don't know the ones from long before they were born.
Freddie didn't make a problem of my anti-corona-pose.
To play a tournament oneself and at the same time take care of 2 children isn't easy but I managed. Warm meals were available in the restaurant of the tournament and fortunately this was ok for my children. We also had a supermarket at a couple of hundred meters away from the hotel in which we could buy a lot of extra snacks and drinks.

For the return I decided wisely not to stop anymore in Germany. I wanted to visit Leipzig but expected that by that time the new regulation would be much stricter for Belgians coming from the province Antwerp. I noticed not one single Belgian at the way back. In less than 9 hours we were back home from Prague thanks to the German highways.

Once I arrived home, I immediately contacted our familydoctor to undergo a corona-test. This is not mandatory for people coming back from Prague but I considered playing chess in a hall with more than 300 players not wearing face-masks as a high-risk behavior (I was still afraid of course).  Personally I didn't do any handshakes and always wore a face-mask when I wasn't playing but most players didn't care at all about corona. This was especially clear when I met my opponent of round 4. A young muscled man with some tattoos was clearly upset when I didn't want to handshake before the game and I feared a few seconds that he would punch me on the nose.
3 days after the test (it is no fun getting a stick deep in your nose) we all got back fortunately negative. Still we were asked to stay in quarantine for 2 weeks as such tests are not giving an absolute verdict. Meanwhile this period has passed. The chess-microbe has won from the corona-virus. However I also realize that next time it can be the other way around. Such adventure is definitely not to be recommended and you really need to be a fanatic chessplayer to uberhaupt do such risky things.  So I am mainly thankful of being able to tell you here this story. It gave my a lot of pleasure but I will only look it up if better and safer alternatives aren't available.


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Practical chess

School is for me already longtime ago but I suspect teaching hasn't changed much since. When a new theme is studied then first the teacher will explain the theory and next this theory is practiced via solving exercises. The same is valid for chess. If we use the method of steps then first the rules of the game or tactical patterns like double attack/ skewers/ pins... are explained before the student is asked to make exercises based on the new learning material.

The Dutch author Willy Hendriks was with his book Move First Think Later which I discussed on this blog see I knew it, one of the first writers whom successfully diverted from this established rule. He started first with the exercises and only next he gave the explanation. It is a risky concept but it worked as you didn't really need it (assuming you are already familiar with the basics) to solve the exercises. The book is however not a standard textbook but rather a guide for the teacher in which old and new methods of teaching are discussed and analyzed.

The sequel of Willy : On the Origin of Good Moves see for my review old wine in new skins part 3, uses the same approach. Also here we find the exercises before the text and again you can solve those exercises perfectly without this text assuming again you are not a novice anymore at chess. However while in the first book it still felt weird, nowadays this reversed approach is already considered fully acceptable. The great success of the first book of course convinced other writers to copy this model. It is something which I remarked again when I bought the book Think Like a Machine of the Israelian authors Noam A. Manella and Zeev Zohar.
Naturally the catchy title was too much for a computerfan. I already work since the early beginning of my chess-career with chessprograms (1990). So you don't need to convince me that engines can teach you a few things about chess. Beside nowadays a lot of new programs are created which makes it very hard to be up to date about everything. Also there are almost no good books about those developments so I thought this book could be filling a gap in the market.

On the other hand I also realized that I took a gamble with this book. The title is very provocative. I agree that we can learn from the machines but thinking like a machine is impossible for a human. A computer doesn't think but calculates per second from million of positions an evaluation. Anyway a sharp title always sells better than a soft one so you can never judge a book based on its cover.

Unfortunately sometimes you also get what is told by the title. My previous reviews were each time (very) positive but this time I can't do that. The book was for me one of the most frustrating experiences ever. I considered several times to put the book away forever while reading and I would've done that if I hadn't paid 30 euro for only 250 pages. The suffering starts immediately at the exercises so which are put before the explanations. "Happy solving" writes the author just at the start of it but then starts the horror. I spent countless hours trying to solve them but I only managed a few times to get close to the hidden ideas. What was going on? As a fidemaster I should be able to solve much more, no? Maybe it is related to the long period of inactivity due to the corona-crisis. Eventually I gave up completely disillusioned and started to check the solutions.

That was the moment when the monkey came out of the sleeve. Only a few you can solve without using an engine. Old analysis of Fischer, Kasparov, Tal, Petrosian,... published in their famous books, were destroyed by using analysis of Stockfish 10. Giri, Carlsen, Svidler, Caruana, Liren... are completely ridiculed by showing from each of them a long list of errors often made even in standard games. Further we also get a number of positions which occurred in games between Stockfish and Alphazero. To conclude we get a small collection of high level studies but which you need to solve not like in a solving competition but as you would be thinking in a tournament which is much harder as you aren't allowed to move the pieces to try something out.

The book is full of fantastic, fabulous and extremely complicated analysis created by the engine. It is a very nice collection which definitely makes it worth presented in a book-format but I don't understand why the authors present this as exercises. I am sure that even +2700 rated players will miss many things. Nonetheless the authors are convinced that each of the solutions are not too difficult for a human to find. We just need to use better our brains and think more creatively and deeper. The proof of their thesis is based on a number of splendid annotated games published in the book in which e.g. Carlsen manages despite some very complex positions to find almost each time the move recommended by the engine.

I was shocked after reading so much nonsense. Who are those authors? Why are they so critical about human players and which results did they already achieve with their revolutionary techniques? Well don't be surprised as both have no fide-rating. I only found from Zeev Zohar a account in which he has a current blitzrating of 1967.

The analysis in the book are excellent and there are some exercises which are solvable but I don't understand why a leading publisher like Quality Chess agreed to this format of the book. It would've been much better just to present it as a nice collection of positions/ games in which the engine has found some brilliant ideas and illustrate how big the gap is already between human and computer.

Anyway I didn't find any serious tips in the book to play better chess. The practical side of chess was completely neglected and that is a shame of course as I hoped to see a bridge between the computer and humans. On this blog I've written several articles about how I work with a computer but there exists no final answer about what is the best method for every player. Often a human coach is still the best adviser. A nice example of this I recently read on chesspub:  "White has the advantage but it is very hard to make the right decisions of which piece has to be exchanged when." This was last confirmed in my most recent game of the Belgian interclub covering that exact opening.
An engine shows a huge advantage for white but can't tell you that this position isn't easy to play for humans. Fortunately we do finally see some changes. Last month Franky Nolf wrote in a reaction on my blog about DecodeChess and it is coincidence that the same tool is also presented in "Think Like a Machine" as an encouraging AI-system (also Israeli). It is just a start-product but there is definitely a lot of demand for qualitative and affordable coaching in chess.

Also more and more engines now start to work with winning-percentages instead of evaluations based on material. Leela was one of the very first engines which clearly showed the benefits of it. Others have followed. This brings me to the new Stockfish NNUE which could be soon again a major step forwards. This new engine is a mix of the old Stockfish and new networks used by Leela. I did recently a test with it and Stockfish NNUE socred 6 extra wins in 100 games compared to Stockfish 11 against the same Leela and with the same set of openings. Stockfish 11 - Leela (strongest net which I have tested) : 48 - 52; Stockfish NNUE (version of  29th of July) - Leela (strongest net which I have tested) : 51- 49.

On the other hand we should not blindly trust those winning-percentages shown by this new generation of engines. It is nice to see who has the best practical chances in an equal position but don't expect this will fully match with the results based on games played between humans. Experience is often a much bigger dominator. Also some winning-percentages shown by the engines are pretty useless especially when a win demands one side to find some very concrete moves. An engine doesn't take into account how difficult it can be for humans as is shown nicely in below game see position at move 13.
The engine screams that the win is clear for white but I will never find without external help the h4-line and I am not yet considering the many sidelines. That is just one example but you meet such things continuously if you analyze your games with a computer.

Players always try to find practical solutions (shortcuts) for their problems (openings/ strategy/...) There are many books available which can help you with it. Some are very good but others are less useful. I believe "Think Like a Machine" belongs to the latter category. We will still have to wait till AI can give us answers.


Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Online chesstournaments

Beginning of this year I wrote in my article Papua New Guinea that I am playing online for about 20 years already. However only since a couple of months I also play online chesstournaments. This means earlier I only played online single games although also rated in most cases. I wasn't interested in online tournaments. There are almost no prizes to win. A standing doesn't mean much as you never know who or what exactly played. Besides I also liked it very much the liberty of single games. You decide when to start/ stop, how many games you play and how much you want to pause between them.

I never felt like I was missing anything but that was of course also because I was still competing all the time in regular on the board competitions. However while the lock-down got prolonged again and again, I started to miss more and more chess-competitions. So I started to wonder if I shouldn't make the step to online tournaments. Besides the lack of money was never a real argument to not playing chess online. I also think it is better not to give money as a prize for online tournaments as this will just attract more cheaters. There exists no bulletproof solution for online cheating today. Anyway I see some organizers have understood this already and now only give alternative prizes like a 1-1 training with a grandmaster or a subscription for an online service.

So during the lockdown I played my very first online chesstournaments. I was interested in blitz or standard. Rapid I never liked a lot (see e.g. rapidtournaments). Or you go for speed or you go for quality but rapid is just a boring mix of both. On the other hand I did quit playing bullet a few years ago. I consider testing my openings as a vital element of online chess and that is rarely possible in bullet as most of those games are just random stuff.

However I also quickly found out that the lockdown didn't generate a lot of possibilities to play standard chess online. Even the online Chessolympiad to which also a group of Belgian players committed, has been downgraded to an ordinary rapid. One of the few exceptions was organized at the beginning of the lockdown: sunway sitges online classical chess tournament but this model wasn't copied as again some cheaters spoiled it. Besides there is also less discipline online. If you play at home then it is much easier to drop out of a tournament when things don't go smoothly. As a consequence I couldn't find any standard online chesstournament for myself and so I just played blitz.

To get acquainted with the specific rules of online tournaments I started slowly by first only playing the online blitztournaments organized by my own club Deurne. For this I created a new account and accepted each Friday and Sunday their invitations at lichess. However after 1 month I had seen enough. Meanwhile I went from unrated to +2500 and I didn't find it interesting anymore to play again for the umpteenth time against the same players. From most players I knew by then the weaknesses in their repertoire as after each game I looked up how I could improve my game. This made that the gap each time became wider as the others weren't taking the blitz so seriously.

Next I searched for online blitz-tournaments of other Belgian clubs which allow external, anonymous participants. Again I created a new account and climbed from unrated to 2500. Also here I tried to collect as much information of the repertoire of my opponents as possible. This way I got motivated to study a modern line of the Berlin Defense and this became quickly handy online as it seems a pretty popular line at master-level. In other words I got hooked up. So when mid of June all these tournaments were suddenly not organized anymore I felt lost.

The reason for it was of course that the Belgian government allowed again to some extent on the board chess. For most clubs online chess was just a sweetener as it could never replace on the board chess. However today we also see that going back so soon to on the board chess was a risky decision and we are now struggling with a second wave of infections mainly around Antwerp but quickly also spreading to other parts of Belgium. I preferred not to take the risk so searched for alternatives online and as indicated by Loperke in a reaction on my previous article, there exist numerous of them at Lichess. Each hour of the day a dozen of new tournaments start.

So mid of June I made the next step from local online tournaments to international online tournaments at lichess. Again I created for this a new account. This time I didn't want a new account so much to keep anonymity but because I noticed that playing such international tournaments demand a very different approach compared to playing single games. I mean if you want to win such tournaments then you should not bother about your online chessrating as you need to dare going berserk.

Berserk means you choose to play with only half of the time allotted to get the extra possibility of earning an additional tournament-point. In tournaments of 5 minutes each this isn't so difficult but in tournaments of 3 minutes each then it means you are playing bullet (1,5 minute per game without increment) instead and that is a serious handicap. Some opponents know very well how to profit from such handicap as they choose for some very slow setups at that increases drastically the chance of running out of time or blunders. Therefore one of my little tricks with black to increase my odds when going berserk is only to click the berserk-button after white has played its first move. This way your opponent will most likely choose with white for the more regular d4/e4 instead of some slower things like d3/e3...).

Eventually in blitz/ bullet we see that the evaluation of an opening often plays only a secondary role and experience is much more important. It is afaik no coincidence that I score much better with some dodgy lines which already disappeared from my standard-repertoire compared to some of the mainlines I play which are considered much more correct. A nice example of this is Gligoric's line against the Spanish exchange opening. This line is more or less refuted but I scored in the last 2 months 31/37 with it. That is much better than the mainline I have been playing against the Svechnikov with which I scored only 9/16 or 130 TPR lower. I add the difference of TPR to counter any claims about the strength of the opponents. It is clear to me that people are much more at ease in my mainlines than in my dubious sidelines.

Some players are even willing to take some enormous risks to get their opponents on their turf. Last the Dutch expert Arne Moll played a completely busted line against me (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 f5) which brought him at -2 if we look at the evaluation of the engines (so +2 for white). It was clear to me based on the speed of his first moves that he had played this position several times earlier already and therefore was also aware that a lot of hidden tactics were around to easily turnaround the game. This also happened in the game. While I was trying to avoid all the traps, I ran out of time and blundered. Next time this won't work anymore as I've now prepared an anti-dote for it. Anyway I gave this example to show that in such fast games it is often decisive to take your opponent into a position which you know much better.

Further there also are some curiosities at the arena-tournaments organized by lichess as in the hourly tournaments the pairings aren't happening via the classical Swiss-system. It is not that the highest half of the table is paired against the lower half of the table as usual but you get instead an opponent which is next to you in the standings. This leads to the perverse side-effect that it often makes sense to arrive late to such tournaments or even lose on purpose quickly you first game. This sounds absurd of course but as I am rated +2400 I get in the first round always another +2400 player if I arrive at the start of the tournament. Even if I win that tough game then it only generates 2 points. At that moment there already players which have won 3 games after going berserk each time so they are already at (3+3+5) = 11 points. Catching up 9 points in less than 50 minutes isn't easy at all. So nowadays I mostly arrive a minute too late which allows me to get often double or 3 times more points averagely compared to being mister nice.

Besides going berserk also means you get to play more games. In the end not each player plays the same amount of games which of course also largely influences the final standings. In other words you need to not only play well but you also need to use the right strategies. More than once I outsmarted IMs and GMs thanks to those sneaky tactics. During the lockdown you now see regularly some very strong players participating to these tournaments (even sometimes +2600 fide rated) as they also don't have the possibility to play on the board chess. Nonetheless despite those strong opponents I was able to win 14 already of those tournaments and achieved on top numerous honorary places in the last 2 months.

So in a relatively short time-span I've created a nice track record as in some tournaments more than 1000 players participated. However I also have to admit that things got a bit out of control as I spent clearly too much time online. Below you see how the number of online games exploded during the ongoing lockdown as I clearly missed on the board chess.
I played 1000 games in June. Each game lasted averagely 5 minutes so this made 80 hours of online chess. This is about almost 3 hours averagely per day. If you need to combine that with a full time job, a family,... then something went wrong. I was getting addicted to it so I realize that I need to slow down on it. Besides I didn't became famous by winning those tournaments either. Such hourly tournaments are like an assembly-line for which you get little or no recognition. Also the level of play largely fluctuates and to improve it is much better to play single games. So I agree with Loperke that there is a large supply of online tournaments but you better don't spend too much time at it. For sure it can never replace on the board tournaments despite what some people try us to believe.


Saturday, July 25, 2020

Clubchess and/or internetchess part 2

In one of  my very first articles on this blog, about 8,5 years ago, I summoned the clubs to explore the possibilities of internetchess. Unfortunately almost none of them made any efforts although in a recent chessmagazine of the Dutch federation it was once more proven that internetchess can boost also clubchess. Therefore when clubchess stopped due to the corona-crisis, I hoped we would see finally a breakthrough.

Unfortunately this didn't materialize. Some clubs did start a weekly online tournament but they immediately stopped with it from the moment there was the slightest possibility to return back to regular otb-chess despite the huge health-risks. I quickly noticed that most clubplayers aren't interested much in internetchess as the number of participants quickly decreased. Some players even firmly stated that they prefer to play no chess at all than this online-crap. Besides also the federations and underlying organizations didn't initiate any online activities. It is not a coincidence that the boards of those organizations are often old players having little or no affection with online chess.

However this doesn't mean that there was no increase of online chess due to the corona-crisis. We can see this clearly if we look the the number of played games in the last months at lichess.
Anyway for sure this didn't happen because clubplayers organized themselves online in mass. There exist only a few successful stories. Probably the largest weekly online tournament is the sunday teambattles which originally was launched by 2 Dutch teams with 3 players on a lonely evening. Today even a small army of our best Belgian players participates at it as we lack any similar initiative in Belgium. Next I hear via the connections of my children that many young players like to play online against each other and even organize themselves small tournaments without the help of adults.

Today I am therefore convinced that there is little overlap between clubchess and internetchess as was already known for correspondence-chess and otb-chess. Besides some otb-players have started during the corona-crisis with correspondence-chess but we are again talking about individuals so exceptions.

The general perception of clubplayers is that online chess is a very different game. Not only the social part is almost completely absent but also the rules of play are deviating at several points. You can read about it in a recent shocking article at schaaksite: New dimension in online chess. For people just starting with online chess it is of course a bit weird to see the strategy of winning games by blocking pre-moves.

On the other hand we shouldn't exaggerate by focusing at those differences in the rules of play. Online chess is for more than 90% similar to on the board chess. In both domains we see the same players at the top. There are exceptions of course but those players are closely monitored as cheating is a big problem for online chess. Despite huge efforts to discourage cheaters, we did see a clear increase of the number of cheaters in the last months. Some time ago I watched a movie at youtube about how widespread cheating is online: 300 players with an official title FM/IM/GM admitted that they cheated online, 3 + 2600 fide rated players were caught in just one week. The number of accounts closed for cheating has doubled and in some tournaments we saw the complete top 10 being disqualified. We Belgians aren't saints either. I don't want to give names but you can easily find accounts of Belgian players which were closed for cheating. In the last months I got regularly points returned by the system as one of my opponents was convicted as a cheater. Besides this is only the top of the iceberg as was recently proven in an article on  scholastic chess cheating. A teacher knew that multiple of his students cheated online but only some of them were detected by the system.

Another large big obstacle to play online is that everybody can look at your games. For me it was very easy to find dozens of games from clubplayers which had almost no games at all in the standard databases like megadatabase. This will be very useful for me later when I meet the same clubplayers again at the board as this will allow me to prepare much more better. Some clubplayers still underestimate this as was the case by my opponent in round 5 of Cappelle La Grande: the Belgian IM Francois Godart. He was flabbergasted when I told him after the game that I was prepared for his opening. "Comment?" was his question as he never played this opening before in otb. However at I had noticed that he had started to test this opening recently and I thought during my preparation of the game that he would likely consider 6.Be2 against the Najdorf as harmless and therefore a good surprise-weapon.
By the way exactly because of this privacy-leak I have anonymously infiltrated in several tournaments organized by clubs to extract extra information from potential future opponents in otb-chess. Especially the direct-counters I have saved in my own database and marked them as very interesting. 

Hence I wasn't surprised at all that the online initiative of VSF was almost completely ignored. The organizers insisted that you would share your real name but this is abnormal for online chess. It was clear that VSF had no experience at all with this. I also notice more and more clubs refusing anonymous players in their tournaments which then generated a further acceleration of decreased interest. Meanwhile most players start to become much more anxious about their stored online games. Many Belgians have closed their accounts including WBoe3 of my article Papua New Guinea.

I also try to be very careful. One of the tricks I use is to create multiple accounts on the same site even if this is against the rules. At lichess I had a specific account ihesb (i have a chess blog) which I only used for tournaments organized by Deurne. When I wanted to play somewhere else then I switched to another account so people couldn't trace me back to the club of Deurne and link my real name to my account. On my main-account I've played thousands of games and I don't want that this information is shared with other players knowing me from otb-chess.

Finally maybe you wonder how one can make multiple accounts on the same site as most sites allow only 1 account per email-address. Well this can easily be circumvented by using the site which allows you to use a temporary email-address for the time needed to create a new account. This way it is child-play to create thousands of new accounts. Anyway it is not a luxury to close regularly an account and create a new one as one day this corona-crisis will come to an end.


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Revolution in the millennium part 2

The possibilities are nowadays almost unlimited to improve at chess. With a few clicks of the mouse we can access countless games played at a high standard. A student can learn a lot by studying the good examples but does it also make sense to look at wrong examples? There is no agreement about that between trainers.

Even analyzing our own games already generated some discussions recently see my articles "Which games should I analyze? " part 1part 2 and part 3. Some young masters only do a blundercheck (15 minutes maximally) anymore of their games and prefer to spend more time at studying games of stronger players. Also for my classes I doubt it is a good idea to analyze games of my students. Sometimes I decide to include one of their games to discuss a specific new theme but generally I try to avoid it also because some of my students like to mock about someone other's mistakes.

Nevertheless amateurs make a lot of mistakes so mistakes are often much more important than finding complicated concepts or discovering new ideas. It is for a reason why we often say that the player whom made the penultimate mistake, wins the game. Therefore ignoring mistakes, doesn't seem to be for me the right choice. Some authors already understood this perfectly see e.g. swindels part 2. I also like that in the book "On the Origin of Good Moves" not only is covered what was known in the early years of the chess-history but also what the best players were still doing wrong.

Especially the first official world-champion Wilhelm Steinitz is targeted in the book. Tactically  but also strategically and positionally he gets harsh comments. Particularly Wilhem's theory that the king can take care of itself, is refuted convincingly by showing several failures of Wilhem. I think nowadays any experienced club-player would consider such risky strategy as nonsense but Wilhelm didn't hesitate to snatch a pawn even if this would mean that his king would have to stay for a longtime at the center. It is not a coincidence that a line of the kingsgambit with Ke2 got Wilhelm's name.

We should also not forget that Wilhem won many games with this risky strategy in his best years. Naturally it is not his fault that his opponents weren't strong enough to punish it. It is fully understandable to stick to something which worked before. I believe it is still possible to score points with such strategy even today against weaker players. However against a master it is a different game. I experienced that last in Cappelle La Grande. My opponent the strong French IM Chistophe Sochacki didn't know the opening and I thought to profit from it by winning a pawn but quickly regretted my decision.
I was annihilated in the game. White kept my king in the center on pain of huge material losses and demonstrated with the refined 24.a3 how hopeless my position already was. In other words masters know nowadays how to exploit a king stranded in the center. At least till shortly as recently we hear regularly another sound. With this we arrive to the essence of this article.

In the book "On the Origin of Good Moves" we get the theory of evolution presented. The improvement of chess has been a very slow process during the history. However in that case we are only talking about the human player. In the last decades there was a parallel evolution happening of engines which not only ran much more via jumps but also sometimes 100 times faster. Especially the introduction of neural networks opened a new world of chess which we never thought of as humans. Suddenly there was an engine playing hundred of points stronger positionally than any other one with knowledge built by playing games against itself in just a couple of hours.

A lot has been written already about it but I think one of these revolutionary changes has been largely neglected by most authors. Leela evaluates the safety of the king very differently compared to traditional engines like Stockfish. Last couple of months we didn't see much well played chess by humans but engines didn't suffer of the corona-virus and kept spoiling us with high-quality played games. The TCEC super-final of season 18 is still ongoing but in April we had already the fantastic TCEC super-final of season 17 which for the first time was even live commented by (top-) grandmasters at It is hard to choose between the plethora of games but below one is a great example of how Leela doesn't mind to omit castling.
Besides I can recommend to people willing to see more and learn more of such games, to create their own matches with Leela at home. Last year I already did that a few times see my article testing chess-engines and also during the corona-crisis I again repeated this enjoyable activity. Also in my own organized rapidmatches Leela proofed that it isn't afraid of keeping the king in the center. I've again selected one game which demonstrates this surprising feature very well.
It didn't take long before humans started to pick up this new insights from Leela and implement it in their own practice. I clearly notice this in my own opening-choices in which I much more go for maximum activity of the pieces even at the expense of the safety of my own king. A nice example of this is the opening which I played against the Belgian expert Tijs Cocquyt in Cappelle La Grande.  Optically it looks very dodgy for black as even some grandmasters already chose to play the position with white. However the engines show at the other hand that black is doing more than fine.
Another example of which I was impressed was the march of the black king played by the Belgian FM Hendrik Ponnet in our most recent mutual game. In a board full of pieces he decides to use his own king in the frontline so his other pieces can take up other duties. Later I read a report about the chess-weekend for adults only, earlier this year organized by Schaakinitiatief Vlaanderen in which was stated that Hendrik gave a presentation about the currently existing tools online to play and learn chess. So I suspect Hendrik also has experience with Leela or other neural networks.
This doesn't mean that Wilhelm Steinitz was right however. There is a big difference between the type of positions which Wilhelm obtained and the one Leela likes to play with the king in the center. Activity is the key here. Wilhelm captured material but very often got himself into terribly passive positions in which he could only hope that his opponent wouldn't have the tactical skills to punish it. That is for sure not the case in the positions chosen by Leela as she always can create very active counterplay. A last important remark is that we shouldn't forget that we humans don't have the calculating power of engines. Not rarely a position is theoretically fine but we as humans still go wrong as we are not able to find the best moves with the king in the center.


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Old wine in new skins part 3

In 2013 I wrote on this blog a positive review about the book Move First Think Later see the article I knew it. 8 years after his first book the Dutch IM Willy Hendriks released his 2nd: On the Origin of Good Moves.
Some writers try to publish each year one or even more new books/ dvds. However if you want to achieve a high standard then you need a lot of time to do the necessary research. So when a second book is only released 8 years after a first masterpiece then you can be confident that also this new book will be something special. Anyway I didn't doubt about buying it as I ordered it even before the book was properly announced at my favorite chess-shop: de denksportkampioen.

And indeed I again loved it. Probably also due to the current corona-crisis I absorbed the pages in no time. I guess that I even went a bit too fast as I started to wonder what the book exactly was about after I finished it. The book consists of 36 chapters discussing sometimes very varying subjects of which the past seems to be a bit the only common thread between them at first sight. Besides just like the first book of Willy, the title of the book puts the reader rather on the wrong track.

For sure I was not the only one being deceived as in different reviews of this book which are currently already available see: review 1, review 2, review 3 (I guess there has been a lot of more reading lately due to the lock-down in many countries so this book was more than welcome) I read each time that this is some sort of history-book. Therefore the first thought I had when I finished the book was why we don't continue after 1894? In the next decades the level of the play went up dramatically with superb players like Lasker, Capablanca and Aljechin fighting and winning world-championships. It is also very strange that in a history-book there are practically nowhere any score or tables of tournament-results shown.

Nonetheless the reader also did get some hints like the monkey on the cover and the subtitle: "a skeptic's guide to getting better at chess" so more or less telling us that this is not an ordinary history-book. So to find out what exactly we are dealing with (or more precisely to confirm my suspicions) I decided to read the book a second time. However this time I didn't let me carry away anymore by the often very funny stories but rather tried to focus on the conclusions of each chapter and to figure out the concept of the book. With this new mindset I made very quickly progress.

If I need to summarize it in a couple of words then I consider this book as a follow up of his first book but this time the author explains us what we can learn from the (very) old masters (games played before the year 1900) to improve ourselves. So it is again a training-book and also again mainly written for the trainer although this time I think a lot of the given examples can be also useful for the trainees (I estimate between 1500 - 2000 elo).

However just like his first book, also this book is again very different from what a standard textbook about chess looks like. At the beginning of each chapter Willy asks the readers to solve a number of positions but some of those have multiple solutions or don't even have a clear-cut answer. I don't know many textbooks which use such approach. Contrary most authors will try to only use exercises of which there is one clear best move. Besides Willy even puts oil on the fire by claiming in his own book that those (very) old masters played some weak chess. At page 318 he writes that in the beginning of the 19th century (year 1800) the level of the best players was likely around 2000 elo while at the end of the 19th century (year 1900) the level had risen to the mediocre level of about 2400 elo. Wouldn't it a be much easier to sell a lot more books by referring to e.g. this site which tells us that Willhelm Steinitz achieved a fantastic rating of 2784 in 1876. However Willy does exactly the opposite by demonstrating in many examples that the top-players in that era were blundering sometimes horribly and were still lacking some fundamental basics.

Everything is upside down in the book but not without very good reasons which makes it again a masterpiece and mostly likely a reference for the next generations. Indeed despite that I agree that the old masters played very weakly if we compare to our super-grandmasters of today (a very interesting analysis not mentioned in the book is Intrinsic Ratings Compedium with ratings calculated also for the old masters based solely on the quality of the played moves and which confirm the roughly estimated ratings by Willy).

Therefore the big question is of course "Why does it make sense to study those very old games still today? Wouldn't it be better just to forget them and look to better games played later? Maybe the old games (19th century and older) should be only stored by historians. That is the essence of this new book. Why shouldn't we forget our past? Which lessons of the past are still relevant today?

Well I believe the book consists of the 2 big messages:
-  Games or more broadly taken any publication of that time contains countless examples of (basic) ideas/ motives/ concepts in a very pure format and are therefore excellent to present them to a student (that is why I think the student can most likely profit from it in the range of 1500 - 2000 elo). Below 1500 elo I think some parts will be still difficult to understand. Above 2000 elo most players should already be familiar with most of the content. The author also refers to a funny quote about Plato at the beginning of the book. After Plato some people consider all new ideas just as a variation or mix of old ideas. Indirectly this is to some extent also for chess valid. Of course there exists no point in time when this era of "modelgames" ends but I like the choice of the author for the year 1894 as then the first edition was launched of Tarrasch Dreihundert Schachpartien.
- The second big thread of the book is about the evolution-theory and more broadly which old theories about the past can still be approved today. The author states not much as many old theories are nonsense and were copied blindly in later books. I already wrote in 2018 on my blog see fake news that also chessplayers don't mind to adapt the truth so it fits their view (everybody myself included prefers to look only at the data which confirms our theories ). Especially the established theory that players develop via specific stages, is countered by Willy. When I reviewed MFTL in 2013, I had little experience at teaching chess. However in the last 5 years I encountered many times students struggling to improve as they were almost exclusively doing tactics by the method of steps. I agree with Willy that we should also teach from the start positional themes and (basic) openings. My own children had the luxury to get this extra information from me and therefore improved much quicker than others. So I fully agree that a development of a player should happen gradually and simultaneously at many domains and not follow some arbitrary stages. This was also confirmed by a recent interview of the young Russian top-grandmaster Daniil Dubov in which he stated that it often harms the development of a player when a coach insists on implementing a specific style. I am no expert at teaching but my personal impression is that a teacher should let his students get acquainted with a large set of tools and pieces of knowledge. Let the student select from it whatever he/she likes or works for him/her in practice. Of course a good coach should be able to adapt the content of the classes to the specific demands of a student.

In the book we follow more or less the chronology of the events in history so the books becomes easier digestible but again I want to emphasize this is not a history book. Often the author jumps back and forth in time to discuss a subject. Also the author just admits that he doesn't know for sure if the example shown in the book is the very first of its kind. So it could be that historically there exists still an older one of it but this doesn't matter. Students don't care when or who exactly was first. They only want to learn the idea and know if this can still occur in games played today. That is also why I like very much the link to the recent top-games or even games played by the author (this is something I do also in my classes and which my students appreciate a lot or even in articles on my own blog see e.g. old win in new skins part 1 and  en part 2.)

By the way while preparing this article I discovered the recent book of the Romanian grandmaster Mihail Marinold wine in new bottles which uses the same concept. I am a bit disappointed not to find any reviews about that book as Mihail has a strong reputation as author. Anyway Mihail confirms what Willy writes in his book. The past contains plenty of valuable lessons. Nevertheless I think it is not so easy for a student to learn independently something by checking those old games. On the other hand coaches have no excuse not to look at them and extract interesting pieces for their their classes.
A magic cover so I don't understand why this book got so few reactions from the chess-community.
By not looking at games later than the 19th century we see that the themes are in most cases very accessible to a moderate advanced student. It is also not surprising that 90% of the content used in Willy's book is limited to the 19th century as there exists very little older material. I still want to make a little note to the references summarized at page 427. I miss the monumental book of Hans Renette about Henry Bird which gives an excellent overview about how chess was played (mainly in the second half) of the 19th century. This a rather modern book of exceptionally high standard and I am sure it could've been used as input for On the Origin of Good Moves.

Besides the theory of evolution presented by Willy is much more than the accumulation of small bits of knowledge. The subject of chapter 15 is also discussed very well in the book of Henry Bird. Many details are presented in that book about how the playing-conditions slowly improved in the second half of the 19th century moving chess from cafes to our current much higher tournament-standards (although this is not always guaranteed even today see chess-comfort part 2). In that book we also see the rise of organized competitions (first only matches and later larger and larger tournaments) which forces the best players to check their ideas more seriously. End of 2019 I already wrote on my blog that competition is of the uttermost importance for becoming a better player see How many games should I play? and which Willy treats in chapter 5.

Also a big increase of magazines and books allows a much better distribution of the new acquired knowledge so much more players are getting stronger from which also later generations profit. At the end of the book the author makes the balance. Who or what generated the largest progress for chess? Were it the few big champions so did the progress happen via jumps or was it rather something very slowly at many different domains simultaneously. I read a reaction at schaaksite of somebody thinking Steinitz generated a Copernican revolution in chess by being the first person to establish a systematic approach to chess and put his theories on paper but also that is countered in the book (see page 189). In 1865 Gustav Neumann published already the book" The newest theories and practice of chess". Many players even before Steinitz wrote anything, were already busy with analyzing their games, searching the truth of a position by paying attention to attack and defense, classifying openings, summarizing their conclusions and writing theories on paper,... That is something which we still do even today. Besides many theories of Steinitz but also of his successor Lasker were later considered as incorrect.

Maybe the most important piece of advice in the book is that there are no shortcuts in becoming better at chess. There exists no set of rules or a theory which allows you to play at the level of a grandmaster. Most rules are nothing more than the proverbial good grandmother-advice. That is also the end of the book. If we want to improve then we should be willing to allocate countless hours to do an enormous amount of hard work at chess.


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Chesspub part 2

2020 had to be the year of my comeback to a full-active player but the corona-crisis decided differently about it. Last decade I limited my chess-activities to about 10 fide rated games per year so that I would have always sufficient time to spend with my children. However small kids don't stay forever small and at some moment start to do things independently. Therefore in 2018 I decided that it didn't make sense anymore to just watch and wait while they play chess. Instead I joined the rapidtournaments at which my kids participated. Last summer I made the next step by playing a 9 day-tournament together with the family in Belgium. Next I joined the team of my son in the interclubs of Netherlands and begin 2020 we made the last step by playing with the family a tournament abroad: 9 rounds of standard chess in Cappelle La Grande/ France.

In the past I played quite often chess without the family but I prefer to limit or even avoid this in the future. I have already a very busy schedule so it makes a lot of sense to play only together chess especially standard games. For 2020 I thought 50 rated games so about 5 times more than previous years should be manageable this way. Initially things were going smoothly till of course this corona-thing jeopardized our plans. Currently it is unclear when we will be able to return to normal chess. I am neither desperate to accept the very special conditions of the Bruges Masters/ Belgian Championship. It seems that I am not the only one as even the very low maximum of 120 entries is still not achieved after 3 weeks. At schaaksite some players think that it will take more than 1 year before we can again play normal chess. This would only be possible when a vaccine is available world-wide or when most people are immune.

Anyway I was't able to forecast such scenario at the beginning of this year so at that time I still was looking forward to play a lot of chess which was initially indeed happening. Because of that I thought I should be more up to date about the most recent theoretical developments. In the past I didn't bother much about being surprised about a modern line which was totally new for me as I only played few games per year. However the prospect of experiencing this very frequently didn't feel at all enjoyable. 

Top-players filter and analyze daily any played (top-) games to keep their repertoire up to date but I don't have the time for that as an amateur. Besides I doubt that I would want to do it even if I would have time for it. In my article fashion part 2 I advised as a quick fix and chessbase magazin but which one should I choose? I had some experience with Chessbase Magazin but not with However end of last year the Belgian FM Frederic Decoster told me that he is already for some time a subscriber of chesspub and he really enjoyed the monthly updates. This convinced me to give it a try and I don't regret it at all.

First if you are only interested in openings then you will for sure get more for your money at chesspub. Chessbase magazin costs about 100 euro per year for which you get maximally about 20 x 6 = 120 games/ openings annotated/ discussed. If you subscribe to all 12 opening-sections of chesspub which is 90 euro then you get about 85 x 12 = 1000 games/ openings annotated/ discussed and this doesn't include the automatic access to the archives which goes back 10 years. Ok quantity is not necessarily better than quality but even the quality of the chesspub content is more than acceptable and sometimes even excellent. 10 cent per game/ opening at chesspub is ridiculously cheap as an author can't open even a database for such money never mind about writing any comments.

So as a new subscriber I got access to the archives till 10 years back which even allows me to claim that I only paid about 1 eurocent per game/ opening. How in earth can such commercial model work all those years as even a minimum of effort will take at least a quarter of an hour. Besides looking at some analysis I am sure the annotators spent often several hours at it. I am not surprised that some contributors gave up after some time. I don't think you can ever become rich by working for as I can't believe they have million of customers. I only want to say that it is financially a no brainer to be a subscriber of chesspub.

Nonetheless I also want to discuss the quality of the published analysis in this article as I think it is also interesting to know if we should spend time reading/ studying the content. While we are talking about time, I also want to make the remark : "don't do what I did by paying only 60 euro so trying to save 30 euro as I thought 6 out of 12 opening-sections are sufficient for me. By paying the full 90 euro I could've downloaded all the files at once automatically in one pgn. However I had to download each month manually and then still rearrange everything. If you know that it takes about 20 seconds per file then you can calculate for yourself that 12 x 6 x 10 = 720 files meaning that I needed 4 full hours for this very annoying task. It is not the first time that I experience saving money isn't the smartest choice.

Anyway it is time to check what we exactly got for the few euros we have spent. As I only subscribed to 6 out of 12 opening-sections, I can only review those 6. I think it is also fair to only look at the updates of the last 12 months. The current annotator shouldn't be judged on the work of the previous one. It is also not fair to check analysis of 5 years ago with the current engines which are several hundred points stronger now compared with the engines at the time the author could use. Nevertheless I notice each contributor has its own style which often leads to very different approaches how to select and annotate the games. Below I show a summary with a final score for each sections. 10/10 means that the analysis is made at the level of (top-) correspondence-level. 1/10 is what you can get by pushing the button "create automatic analysis by the engine on your pc. Looking at the price we paid then even 1/10 would've still be acceptable so I am only showing the scores to differentiate between the sections. To be very clear every section has an added value for the subscriber.

The maximum score I gave was 7/10. I am sure that the Israelian grandmaster Michael Roiz often spends several hours at annotating his games. I find it unbelievable that he is willing to do such efforts for probably peanuts. One recurring gap I noticed are games played by engines while I mentioned already several times on this blog that in the future those games will become increasingly relevant for the development of openings. Neither do I see many references to correspondence-games. I can understand this for some openings but in others all important discoveries are happening nowadays in correspondence-chess. I also get the impression that the writers aren't fully up to date with the most recent engines or tools (checking the age of some of them then maybe this explains why) as I doubt somebody already uses Leela (which is today absolutely indispensable for annotating games).

Basically I annotate my games much more thoroughly sometimes even spending a week or more at one game. It goes without saying that I can't demand such efforts from the writers. Besides chesspub is still very useful for me to use during a game-preparation when I wasn't able yet to make a serious analysis of a specific system. It is also nice to be warned in advance of some new trends or worse some refutation in the repertoire. This all sounds very nice but how relevant are the chosen games for my repertoire? To answer this question I checked my last 100 standard-games of which the opening matches the 6 subscribed opening-sections. Next I checked for each of the 100 games if the opening was covered by chesspub or not in the last 10 years. If 1 critical line was mentioned then I considered this as yes = included. Just stating the move is possible without any further comments I consider as insufficient so no = excluded.
32% doesn't seem much but the theory is nowadays so vast and extensive that this is a pretty good result. Maybe I should've selected the section "Flank Openings" instead of "Dragons" but best would've been a subscription to all of them of course.

I expect that chesspub will not give to everybody the same experience. If you only play against -2000 rated players and you always want to leave the theory as fast as possible yourself then a subscription to chesspub will likely be nothing more than getting a nice collection of annotated recently played games. I guess from +2200 it really comes interesting as at that level you will start to prepare for openings and play/meet more mainstream-openings. For correspondence-chess I believe the analysis is too light, except maybe the section "Open Sicilians". Last week I discovered while preparing this article thanks to chesspub a gap in my repertoire. I consider my subscription for sure successful.


PS. I just noticed after I made the translation to English of this article that the new update of "Daring Defenses" includes some games played by engines. I guess this probably has to do with the fact that not much other games were played recently due to the corona-crisis. Anyway if the writer can do that more often then I would definitely find this positive and as such would increase his score with 1 point. Besides as a general advise I think there is some low hanging fruit for several authors by just looking more often to correspondence games and engine games just like downloading the most recent version of Leela/Stockfich for free.

Monday, May 25, 2020


In 1983 the French Laurent Fignon won his first tour the France. At that time I was only 7 years old. In the next weeks me and my younger brother biked around the house of our parents while shouting Fignon. 6 years later our idol failed miserably in a nail-biting time-trial at the last stage of the tour by relinquishing his first place at the American Greg LeMond. At the finish line it became clear he lost the tour by only 8 seconds. That was and still is the smallest gap ever between the first 2 finishers in the tour the France. Laurent didn't want to be updated about the time-differences during the time-trial but he clearly regretted that decision afterwards.

After that I never had anymore idols. I believe idols are most likely something for younger children as they still have huge expectations and dreams of their own life. Also at chess we see this phenomenon today. Some players hunt for signatures and photographs of top-players see e.g. this Chessbase-article of last year about Daniel Dardha belgian champion at 13. We see Daniel on pictures with Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov. I guess today it is rather Daniel himself being asked to pose with his young fans (or sometimes not so young anymore).
The new Belgian champion with a former Belgian champion
If you ask any random chessplayer which world-champion made the biggest impact on chess then most likely you will get the answer the person whom was/ is world-champion at the time he/she started to play chess. For some players this will be Robert Fischer. For others it is Magnus Carlsen, Vladimir Kramnik, Garry Kasparov or Anatoly Karpov. Of this last worldchampion I still have a nice picture, made in 2004 at which I am also on. This picture was made rather unexpectedly. At that time I played for the the French team Lille and we were going to start with the finals of the top seize (highest division of the French interclub) organized by Belfort. In advance each team was invited at the town-hall and at this special occasion Anatoly was guest of honor. Our team-captain didn't miss the unique opportunity to put us all together for a picture. Initially I thought I lost the picture but fortunately my father was still able to find it back on his old computer.
We see Anatoly in a nice suit standing in the middle. At the very left we have a still very young Tigran Gharamian becoming that same year international master, a few years later in 2009 grandmaster and in 2018 even champion of France. It was a very interesting and enjoyable period for me. Once I hope to come back and play again maybe with my son Hugo.

In Belfort I played a few boards away from greats like Kramnik and Anand but I don't have any pictures of that. It is a missed opportunity although I am neither the person to play paparazzi. Anyway I don't think it is wise to idolize people which doesn't mean that a nice picture can't be fun.

That was also the case when I last got the unexpected chance to meet the worldrecord-holder of blindfold-chess Timur Gareev just before the lockdown started at the krokustournament of Gent. I suspect that I was the only one recognizing him at the tournament but internationally he is a very known person in chess circles. In 2016 he improved the worldrecord blindfold-chess to 48 boards simultaneously which gave him a place in the guinnessbook of records. However there is more to tell about this very interesting personality. I am thinking about playing chess while skydiving or the mad-race at the American championship of 2019 (of which you can still view the funny images at twitter). So I was very pleased when he not only wanted to play some chess (a bulletgame which of course I lost - no surprise as one day earlier he won the Rapid of Cappelle La Grande in front of some strong grandmasters - but which everybody in the room enjoyed as after mutual promotions we were suddenly playing with 4 queens on the board) but also agreed for some pictures like the one below together with me.
I would've enjoyed more and longer games but I understood he was just passing through so he had other priorities. Anyway only 2 day ago I was already lucky to play a long and even official game against another idol/ grandmaster.

Only recently I mentioned that I had bought and studied the book the Modernized Dutch. Well the author of the book, the French grandmaster Adrien Demuth participated at Cappelle La Grande. I hoped to meet him at the board and indeed this happened in the last round.

That morning I wondered if it would be ok to let him sign his own book just before the game to maybe get more easily a draw from the grandmaster but in the end I thought this would look somewhat too childish. However during the game at move 20 suddenly the grandmaster proposed himself a draw (beside the rules of the tournament allow only after move 20 to propose a draw). What to do as that was exactly what I wished for in advance? Indeed I refused the proposal but only after 20 minutes of reflection despite that I had only 1 move see chessbomb.
I guess this long hesitation probably costed me a half point. Obviously I refused the draw not without a good reason. I had prepared the game the evening before till midnight and that allowed me to use some piece of analysis till move 18 which I had published on my blog in 2014 see my article fashion. Indeed analyzing your own games for many hours, will sooner or later be profitable especially when your opponent doesn't follow your blog.

I don't like to worship chess-idols or even more generally spoken any idols but that doesn't mean you can't have some richer experiences by meeting some people. Eventually we do control for a big part our own lives. Life is a big adventure but you still need to dare things to make it interesting.