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 chess24.com. 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 chesspublishing.com and chessbase magazin but which one should I choose? I had some experience with Chessbase Magazin but not with chesspublishing.com. 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 chesspublishing.com 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
Source: http://www.skdeurne.be/Fotoalbum/fotoalbum.php
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.


Monday, May 18, 2020

Swindles part 2

As we won't be able to play chess for many months, it is important to do something useful with the freed time. So one of the very first things I did when the lockdown started, was selecting an interesting book to read. I didn't need much time for it as I already follow for several years the blog of the Australian grandmaster David Smerdon so I knew in advance that his new book The Complete Chess Swindler could never be a wrong choice.
Originally the author had the intention to give an anthology of the most beautiful and fantastic swindles in the history of chess. However while writing his book David discovered that it was possible to create a manual to teach people finding swindles in their games. I think the book is an admirable effort but I don't expect that having read the book, has made of myself a much better swindler. Anyway for me this book is in the first place a very nice collection of swindles and some good stories which makes the book very enjoyable to read.

Besides this doesn't mean that no other players can learn something from this book. I fully agree with the author that endgame-technique/knowledge is on the top of the list of skills a swindler must have. On my blog I gave a dozen examples in several articles about endgames in which I was able to steal half or even full points. Playable endgames are achieved in only a small number of games but in those few games I see many players could make a lot of improvement in that domain.

The last in the list of skills is sportsmanship or rather the lack of it. It is clear to me that the author was having doubts about to include it or not to the book. He also mentions in the book that he only inserted the swindles which are still legally allowed. Maybe 1 of the most funny ones is the toilet-swindle. You notice that your opponent is wiggling on his chair and most likely needs to go to the toilet. However your opponent has also very little time left on his clock while on the other hand you still have loads of it. Therefore to maximize his discomfort you start to play very slowly or even not all anymore for a longtime. This leaves your opponent with a very difficult choice between wet pants, losing on time or keep on suffering and trying to survive till the end of the game. Well you wan't believe me but such choice I had to make in the last Open Cappelle La Grande in round 5 against the Bulgarian grandmaster Radoslav Dimitrov. I don't know why I deserved such treatment but in a position which is a dead-draw my opponent let his clock run down on purpose for 38 minutes (readers wanting to check this, can still read today the clock at whites 67th and 68th move on chessbomb).
Everybody in the playing-hall saw it was a draw, even my daughter Evelien rated 1400 elo had seen it and almost felt asleep at a board a bit further. Anyhow I didn't want to give him a half point so I squeezed my balls and tried to manage the pressure. Finally Radoslav ended the game with stalemate having a big grin on his face. I had suffered enough. Some grandmasters are really weird people. Besides that evening we still had to play a second game so I didn't understand what there is to gain by wasting a full hour this way.

However except skills which we should or shouldn't have, psychology probably plays even a bigger part in swindles. The domain of the swindles starts when normal moves won't help you anymore to save a game. The author categorized the swindles into 4 types depending on which weakness was exploited: rush, hubris, fear and control. Most of the examples shown are prepared by the author as exercises as they consist of one concrete idea. Beside also a remarkable collection of biggest swindles are annotated in the book of which one side has a clearly lost position for many moves but in the end can still surprisingly reverse the result. To emphasize the size of the miracles, the author added to each of those games an evaluation-profile of the game generated by the engine.

Only 2 years ago I wrote in my article Swindles part 1 that such swindles are very rare in my games but last year it seemed like the gods of chess had a special interest taken in my games. Not in 1 but in a several games many incredible things happened. I guess the game I discuss below is maybe the most insane one of them all and for sure got a lot of spectators thrilled till the end. I start when we just passed move 40 and get an extra 30 minutes each. I am totally lost. The defeat was unavoidable but how was this possible against a player rated 500 points lower? How did I manage to get into such troubles? Ok, the opening didn't go smoothly but it was in the middle-game that my opponent ripped my position apart. Other players drummed around as it is not everyday you can enjoy such upsets.
In the game I more or less execute what David advises in his book. When you are lost then it is important to complicate the game at all costs and often king-safety can hereby play a crucial role. I noticed white's king was standing alone so I made sure some open lines were created at all costs. Suddenly I was able to create some threats and white panicked. The exchange-sacrifice wasn't necessary. It is still winning after it but it gets much harder to find the right moves. In the end white even collapsed as he was running out of time. White thought by pushing his pawn that he could divert my pieces but missed a surprising mate. In the game I already sensed this would happen after I took his pawn on f3.

Less outspoken but with much more at stake happened in the most recent round of the Belgian interclubs so just before the federation decided to stop the championship and later even to nullify all the results. Again we are at move 40 and I have a completely lost position. Many players already resigned better positions see e.g. resigning. Also my opponent the Belgian FM Hendrik Ponnet was confident about the outcome and had a stroll after the hectic moves just before the time-control. However I guess he relaxed too much at that moment as he allowed completely unnecessary counter-play in the next moves. Hubris is maybe not the right term here but for sure he lost focus.
Hendrik had to win the game twice. At the end of the game the tension rose as it became clear our game would not only decide the match but probably even play a crucial role in the very nerve-wracking relegation-battle which was ongoing this year in second division. If I would make a draw then we would win the match and have good odds to assure our spot in 2nd division in the last 2 matches of the season. However I once more got into problems in the game and the crowd around our board started to grow as the climax was getting nearby. With literally a few moves away from the defeat, I decided to gamble. My opponent had very little time left on his clock so I tried a last trick by giving up my last pawn and it worked. The c-pawn annoyed Hendrik for so many moves that he took it when he thought I just was chasing his rook. However by doing that he dropped his important g-pawn after which a dead-draw rook-endgame occurred. It was an incredible swindle which allows us today to look forward with some satisfaction to battle next year again in second division.

As I was in the last 2 exciting swindle-games each time the hero, it is therefore fair to also be once the anti-hero. Such game I experienced in the last round of Cappelle La Grande against the French grandmaster Adrien Demuth. Some players told me that I missed a IM-norm due to it but what value do IM-norms have when your own rating dropped below 2250 fide. In the game I had during many moves a clearly won position. Also in this game we see how black with a direct attack on my king tries to brake my control of the game and finally manages to do this as I panic when having little time on my clock. In the endgame I got close a second time to the win but then it is already technically difficult. Finally the grandmaster had little effort to find the draw by liquidating to an endgame with an exchange less but which is rather easy to defend.
Such swindles demand creativity (26... Nh8!!??) but also perseverance of defending inferior endgames. I personally think this is much more interesting than just 1 idea. One last tip of the book I think is still useful to share. When you want to create a swindle then first try to figure out if there is a move which your opponent really likes to play. Then look to what your position still can offer. Try to find a move which uses this last trump card and at the same time doesn't seem at first sight to prevent the move your opponent wants to play. The book but also our own practice proofs such approach often let you swindle successfully.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Chess Position Trainer part 3

In my previous article I tried to prove that the 7....Qe8 system in the Leningrad isn't solid enough to play regularly against strong players. I finished the article by mentioning some alternatives but I didn't go into details about what I prefer and how I would study it. In this article I will elaborate about the choices I made without giving away too much as many of my future opponents also read this article.

I very quickly decided to which system I would switch. Today most strong players prefer 7...c6 so I thought it was logical to do the same as that would most likely give the best chance to get a playable position with black. Besides I don't share any big secrets with this statement as since Open of Cappelle La Grande 2020 you can already find one of my games in the database with 7...c6 (more about it in a later article). However when I had made the decision last year, I discovered that there existed no recently published book or dvd from the Leningrad with 7...c6. How can I quickly study an opening when in the most recent megadatabase there are already more than 7000 games with 7...c6 only? How do you extract from such huge size of games what you need to know?

Well I try to ask an expert of course. I mean figuratively as I don't ask real questions but I look at his/ her games. So the first thing I did, was finding an expert. Chessbase can help you with it as today it is easy to discover which strong players have played a specific opening multiple times. However when I went through those mastergames I noticed most were blitz and rapid. Most +2700 players play the opening only in fast games. It sounds to me dubious to build a standard-repertoire based on somebody else rapid and blitz-games. In the end I was forced to create my own filters to investigate who is a real expert.

For me the ultimate expert is a +2700 exclusively choosing to play one opening. Unfortunately such player doesn't exist. I even didn't find a +2500 player willing to play at all costs the Leningrad with c6. Some players vary between openings and regularly include the Leningrad with c6 but nobody above +2700 elo. Till last year I considered David Anton Guijarro as the biggest expert but since he broke the 2700 barrier he only plays it anymore in quick games or as an exception. Nowadays I think the strong French grandmaster Maxime Lagarde deserves the honor of biggest expert in this system. Nonetheless I have to add it is not the only system he plays in the Leningrad and often I get the impression that he plays the opening without much study. The famous quote of Korchnoi is probably valid here too: I don't study, I create. Such approach is definitely not scientific.

I didn't learn much of those games. Fortunately I also possess an up to date correspondence-database. In that database I did find a number of strong players (+2400 ICCF) very regularly playing the Leningrad with c6. Some of them never even lost a game with it which is very good news knowing everybody uses engines very extensively in correspondence chess. So this also means that the system is likely not refuted yet. In below table I give a list of the experts of this opening in correspondence-chess with their title, current iccf-rating and score with this opening based on my database.
I limited the list to players having minimum 10 games played with the opening but any recently played game of a +2300 correspondence-player is definitely interesting to study as everybody uses the best engines and databases to select their moves.

Now we know the experts but we still need to define which lines we want to study. This can be expanded infinitely. However you should not forget that you still need to remember everything as otherwise it makes little sense to do all the efforts. I think it therefore is important to start with the most played lines. Once again I used for that my 100 master-games-rule which I introduced in my article studying openings part 2. However this time I worked from the front to the back instead of the back to the front. Below screenshot explains it better.
So for each of the moves having more than 100 master-games in the database which means in above position: 8.d5, 8.b3, 8.Rb1, 8.Qc2, 8.Re1 en 8.Qb3 I checked the games of the experts. Often there was unanimity but sometimes also divisive. I didn't want to make a random choice so when I had doubts, I created a separate speed-analysis focused on the 2 or 3 retained moves. To get a good idea of the pluses and minuses of each move I let Stockfish play dozens sometimes even hundreds of shortened blitzgames against itself (see computers achieve autonomy).

I repeated this process for the next move. Again I looked at my openingbook to know which moves are played in more than 100 master-games and again for each of them I decided via the experts or eventually some speed-analysis how I would answer each of them. After that I again repeated this process for the next move and the next move till there were no more moves of which 100 mastergames exist. This sounds very complex but in the end I only had 7 lines with a maximum depth of 4 moves. I still didn't know much yet about the new system.

Next I expanded my study systematically by looking at moves played in less than 100 master-games. First I treated all the moves played in at least 50 master-games. Later I decreased the number to even 30 master-games. The tree of variations grew from 7 to 12 with a maximum depth of 5 moves so still not a lot. However don't underestimate the work to create such tree. Meanwhile I already spent 1 month at it so I want to emphasize that it is always better to first buy a recent book/dvd about a new opening if this is available.

So when in August 2019 a new book about the Leningrad with c6 was announced by Thinkers Publishing, I didn't hesitate to buy it. The French grandmaster Adrien Demuth had written based on its own tournament-experience a very voluminous book of almost 500 pages about the Dutch with as central core the Leningrad with c6. Just like other books from this relative young publisher, the book got as label modernized so the title chosen was logically The Modernized Dutch Defense.
This title is surely deserved. The book is full of original analysis with a few exceptions. Coincidence or not but those few overlaps contain exactly the same wrong evaluations which I already discovered in the book of Malaniuk and which I mentioned earlier in my article the Leningrad part 1. If those mistakes could've been avoided then I would've been fully satisfied about my purchase.

So I finally have now a complete manual about the Leningrad with c6 but what should I do with my own made analysis? I noticed Adrien often chooses other lines. Well that was an easy decision. I still don't variate enough in my repertoire see e.g. my recent article surprises part 3 so why not keep them both in my repertoire. The first time I use my own analysis and the next time I follow the recommendation of the book. Besides this doesn't mean I have to know both by heart at the same moment. Twice the same line never happens in standard games on the same day.

Anyway most lines in the book I had never checked before so in those cases I didn't need to make a choice. On the other hand I also didn't want to study by heart almost 500 pages of analysis. A tip at chesspub told me to focus only at the bold printed moves and then create your own book via chessable but then I remembered that I have installed chess position trainer on my PC see part 1 and part 2. Contrary to chessable I don't need to be online for it. That is no luxury which I experienced during Cappelle La Grande. I had less than 1 hour to prepare in the tournament-room where no wifi was available. Of course you can circumvent this by setting up your own hotspot via your smartphone but then you lose again precious minutes without mentioning the extra costs. Players wishing to work with chessable during a flight are completely helpless.

I still feared it would be a lot of work to convert the bold printed moves into pgn but in the end it went rather smoothly as I ignored some chapters (I play something else or I considered the lines very rare). In a bit more than 2 hours I was done with it. My original analysis based on 25 moves expanded with 133 new moves. On Chess Position Trainer it takes me a bit more than a half hour to execute all the moves once correctly so this seems to be for me a limit for the time being. I think it is a nice balance between quantity and quality. I am pretty sure about that as even the not so well-known line recommended by Sim Maerevoet in the article ideas part 2 wasn't forgotten (as this was covered in the bold printed moves of the book).

In short when I started using Chess Position Trainer in 2017, I was skeptic about the possibilities of the software. Meanwhile I've adapted my view about it although I imagine that I use the software differently to what the developer had in mind. Finally I also want to add that recently I was able without a hitch to transfer my complete repertoire to a new PC with Chess Position Trainer. The license-key allows you to use it 3 times and even after several years this was still valid.


Monday, May 4, 2020

The Leningrad part 2

Since 12th of March I haven't left my house anymore except for the few times I needed to buy food and drinks. I strictly follow the regulations of the government which are necessary to slow down the pandemic although I do miss playing chess at a real board. I hear the same kind of sounds in the mails of other players as playing online can never compensate the social interactions in a club. We are getting detoxed of chess. I expect some players will decide after things have normalized again that they can live perfectly without chess and will never return anymore. Playing chess demands a huge investment of time which some people will prefer to use for other activities. A crisis always creates new views.

Meanwhile we are week 7 and I haven't bored myself yet at home. Besides having more time for my wife, kids and the household, I also spent plenty of hours at removing the backlog of analyzing my own games. At March 12 there were still 12 of my standard games not yet analyzed. Currently I am working at my penultimate one. It concerns a mainline of the French Winawer which I hadn't studied for 5 years so I have a lot of work at catching up the theory.

2 computers are almost non stop generating analysis for this job. On one of them Leela is running. On the other one it is Stockfish as I like to double-check all my analysis. Yes my analysis are top notch. Besides I am not talking just about the engines which are analyzing for many hours. Tablebases (maximum of 7 pieces) are often consulted for the endgames. For the opening I check not only all the standard games played by the masters but also correspondence games and even games played between engines. Especially in this last category of games I see a drastic increase of interesting discoveries. Hereby I like to call my readers for help finding the most recent engine-games played at chess.com as I am very interested to download them.

However this also means that I expect others to put a lot of effort in their published analysis. Contrary to a reaction of Richard on my previous article I personally find the language or the didactic aspects of an article not critical. A writer must for me run the extra mile in his analysis. If I spend time to read an analysis then my primary goal is to win time and not to lose it due to correcting errors. As a consequence books are for me very quickly outdated. Sometimes people are offering me some old opening-books for free but then I always tell them that those are not helping me in my analysis.

Unfortunately I discovered last year that this is also the case for my book about the Leningrad. I talked earlier about some mistakes in the analysis of the book see part 1 but that wasn't critical as we were just discussing some sidelines. However a couple of months later I discovered that the mainline also has serious defects which I couldn't ignore anymore. I want to use the Leningrad more than just an excellent weapon of surprise. That is only possible if the mainlines are solid and can't be refuted.

The book of Malaniuk was published in 2014 but already in 2015 some important ameliorations were found for white which more or less degrade the book as a footnote of the chess-history. I put a lot of efforts into saving the opening but eventually I had to admit that black is always slightly worse out of the opening and will suffer a lot to make a draw against best play. As I haven't played yet any important games in this line, I use as proof instead some recent games of the Polish international master Piotr Nguyen whom is an expert in this opening and even planned to publish a book about it see this tweet. In the years before 2014, Piotr achieved some solid results with the opening but after it things became much more difficult. I start with the line which I played myself last year against the Belgian FM Adrian Roos.
A couple of recently played correspondence-games still show some hope for black as black was able to draw but it wasn't fun at all. Besides black must be ready to cope with several annoying white tries which sounds for me impractical for playing in a standard game especially against a well prepared opponent. Just like the Polish master I had a look at the alternatives but I don't think 8...Pa6 is better than 8...e5 which below game demonstrates clearly.
After making those analysis I tried to contact the Dutch grandmaster Roeland Pruijssers as he recently published a dvd about this line but he didn't reply to my mails. Anyway I think the chance is very slim that the dvd will add something to my elaborated analysis. Again maybe a reader has more information about the dvd and is willing to react below this article.

Last year I achieved with black a good position against Adrian and even generated winning chances. So the dvd of Roeland can obviously be used to just add an extra weapon in your repertoire to surprise 1 or 2 opponents but I don't think it will work each time against everybody.

In the meantime I also discovered that 7...Qe8 is already for some time not anymore the most popular line of the Leningrad. Today 7...c6 is the main choice of the strongest players. Lately I also learned about the 7....e6-line thanks to the superfinal of the TCEC season 17 between Leela and Stockfish. It appears we then get some sort of crossover between the Leningrad and the Stonewall. Maybe that fits to my repertoire as I have more than 2 decades of experience with the Stonewall. Black had to defend in both games but managed to make a draw each time. I like the one Leela playing the black pieces the most as she managed to equalize convincingly.
So there exist other moves next to the 7....Qe8-line. For the moment I don't want to discuss yet the other lines. I am still learning and discovering. Currently I can't complain about the Leningrad as I scored 2 wins and 3 draws with it in my standard games but I doubt that this percentage can be maintained when my opponents start to see my Leningrad games appearing in the databases. I hope by making a lot of analysis and preparing many ideas that I can stay ahead of my future opponents.


Monday, April 27, 2020

Jesus de la Villa: 100 endgames you should know

Jesus de la Villa: 100 endgames you should know

A book about endgames.... Who buys that? And more important who reads such thing from cover to cover? The answer is simple: the player really eager to improve.

But then there also "good" and "bad" books about endgames like you have good and bad books about openings and the middlegame. What distinguishes now the book of De La Villa from other endgame-books? I will compare mainly with Nunn’s 100 Endgames, but also some other endgame-books (and their approach) will be covered.

The main asset of de la Villa’s book is that it is well structured and has a format of lessons connected per theme. It is built from the beginning till the end as a textbook, contrary to others which try to be complete. I like this as other (older) endgame-books miss often this thematic approach. It is much easier for the student to digest the content split in lessons of about the same size with their unique theme. Also good are the rules of thumb given in every lesson. You want the strategy explained in simple rules and not too technical with e.g zones drawn on the board which tell you when it is won/ drawn (as nobody can remember such theory). In other books you often get lost in too large chapters, with no refined content. Often you also feel jumping from one type of position/ material to another.

One example: when you are defending (with white) the endgame K+R vs K+R+f-&h-pawn we are told that the defending rook is best positioned in the "northwest corner (so around square a8). This was the very first time that I read somewhere this simple rule - it is no guarantee to draw - but just knowing it can improve your odds. This book is full of those easy to remember rules.

Also nice is that the book puts priority at the most common reached endgames. Often these are endgames of maximum 6 pieces on the board. Rook-endgames are considered as the most important ones which is no surprise. However the opposite bishop-endgames of K+B+2p vs K+B are second which is maybe less trivial. Besides this is just the endgame of which I had some first hand experience.

A nice supplement are the short exercises which are presented each time after some lessons. Sometimes the task is doubled by asking the question how to play the position with white/black when the pieces are moved 1 column on the board to the right or left. 

As we have now all 7-piece endgames (Lomonosov and since beginning of 2020 also Chessbase), it is possible to practice them against perfect play (highly recommended). We are now having apps available for it as our current engines are very strong but not perfect yet.

A disadvantage - but at the same time also an advantage - is that it is a light book. It is not an endgame-encyclopedia, in other words the examples and exercises are limited to the bare minimum, which also means every exercise counts. Are there some real gaps in this book? Almost none but I still want to mention a few smaller ones.

A first critic is that in the first exercises there are some endgames about themes which aren't yet discussed. This seems to me a rather evident mistake which could've been avoided easily.

A second - much smaller critic is that the courses are sometimes deviating quite a bit of size. It is logical that some themes need to be explored more deeply but for people willing to finish 1 per day then it is annoying that sometimes you are finished in 15 minutes and other times only after more than a half hour. I think Nunn's 100 has more discipline with each time 2 full pages (often 4 positions) per item. However at the other hand I didn't have a problem to finish 1 theme per day in De la Villa which wasn't always the case with Nunn as his pages were often more filled (so heavier stuff to study).

A third - and more relevant critic is that there are some real mistakes in this book. As you can check nowadays endgames with the tablebases it is rather easy to detect some evaluations are wrong - especially in the exercises at the end of the book. It also happens some lines are wrongly evaluated but those are real exceptions.

A comparison with other more general books of endgames isn't so easy for me as I don't have many other general ones. I even had to look at one of my classics: Euwe’s Practical lessons part 4. After rereading it, I had to admit that Euwe was also a very good teacher and his evaluations were of a very high standard, so he could match De La Villa. I only consider De La Villa a bit better structured and easier to study (as he uses 100 easy chapters). So it was a close call. The comparison with the double of Cheron can't be made as Cheron is of another level and much more complete. Cheron is many times more serious analysis (definitely not to be used for training). Also the endgame-bible of Muller is not for training but more a detailed summary of the different endgame-categories. So you use this more as a reference to search a special endgame. Another real training-book is the Polgar's endgame-bible. However that is a book of just 4560 positions which are pure training without any explanations so didactically from a lower level. And Silmans Silmans Complete Endgame Guide is rather for the (absolute) beginner.

It is hard to compare with specific endgame-books (which focus on pawn- or rook-endgames) as they are specialized in it like Secrets of Pawn Endings, or Averbakhs / Nunns books about rook-endgames. But even then I still like De la Villa’s 100 EYMK as it is well structured and balanced. It is more profitable to have a few clear rules of thumb than have dozens of examples worked out in detail (it is easy to be overwhelmed).

In the interrupted candidates of 2020 one position from the book popped up in round 1 (Giri vs Nepomniachtchi). I also experienced once such moment: I lost a very difficult opposite bishop-endgame and had to wait till the 6-piece endgame became available to know the truth (as even the engines to day still make mistakes in it). I talk about the game shown below:
You can find almost an exact copy of this endgame in the book: Position 9.17 (a study of Speelman, the most unfavorable version of this endgame), but also as Position 2.09:

with the question: is this a draw (white to move). The answer is yes as the bishop can stop both pawns on the same diagonal. It looks impossible but the black king does block the white king: 1.Bc8 Bh2 2.Kd5 Kf6 3.Kc6 Ke7 4.Kb6 Bb8! 5.Bg4 Kd6 6.Bh3 Ke7 7.Kc6 Bf4=.

Conclusion: this book will let you improve. Let it be the only endgame-book you buy once every 5 years and read it every year. Success guaranteed!

PS at the top of the article you can also see a picture of the exercise-book. I didn't start yet at it but it are 300 exercises which for sure can be used to train. Anyway just start first with the 40 exercises at the back of this book.


Monday, April 20, 2020

Tactics part 4

I am playing chess for many years and I always wondered how comes players can have so different skills but can still have exactly the same rating. People often ask what needs to be done to obtain rating x but I don't think there exist one firm answer for it. A rating is nothing more or less than the sum of a number of features a person has of which naturally some are more important than others.

Today there also is a lot of doubt about the old rule that chess is 99% tactics. Yes it is wise we first teach to beginners tactics and the steps-books are definitely very useful for it but once the basics are learned progress is much harder. In many Flemish clubs teachers limit their classes to tactics which does after some time slow down their students or worse let them stagnate.

A couple of recent researches prove that there is no strong correlation between elo and tactical skills contrary to common understanding. It was therefore a big disappointment for Jan Gooris to find out via a small inquiry that it isn't so useful to fill Vlaanderen  Schaakt Digitaal with tactical exercises as he was doing for each edition. Of course he could use as excuse that only 10 persons cooperated but it was for sure no good advertisement. (see vsd 2020-03 pdf).

A different angle is shown in 2 more recent scientific papers: Assessing the difficulty of chess tactical problems and A Computational Model for Estimating the Difficulty of Chess Problems.pdf. In first instance they let players solve tactical exercises but the focus is rather at defining the difficulty of the problems. It became clear that fide-elo doesn't say much about how a person looks at a problem. This first study also used the modern eye-tracking-method to discover which parts of the board or which moves were looked at by the players. In the second paper the researchers disregarded the human input as unreliable and tried to build a computer-model for assessing the difficulty of the tactical chess-problems. By checking a list of parameters in the solving-tree it became possible to get an acceptable degree of accuracy. Such algorithm isn't only interesting for chess but can also be used in other domains of course.

Nevertheless many players didn't like it and even criticized the Greek Dimitrios Ladopoulos , having no official chess-title when recently he almost became the world-champion solving tactical problems at chess.com despite many strong grandmasters participated. He surely cheated although he was live streaming his performances. He just learned the solutions by heart, as indicated by the candidates-finalist Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in an interview published beginning of this year. Maxime lost their direct duel while being 500 points higher rated than Dimitrios so I guess his must have been very painful especially while many fans were watching live.

On the other hand I should not minimize tactics either. Most games even at my level are still decided by players missing tactics. Any top-grandmaster excels of course in tactics but sometimes you also can meet a player at the lower echelons being very strong at tactics. Twice this season I encountered such person at the other side of the board.

In the first round of the Belgian interclubs I played against the congenial French fide-master Rabah Bouhallel. More than a decade ago I played for his team in Rijsel/Lille so I was very well aware about his fabulous tactical skills especially when he is low on time. It is no coincidence that today Rabah has still a French blitzelo of +2500. So during the game I paid special attention to allocate a time-buffer to avoid playing blitz. I managed to do that till I got a winning position. When I tried in vain to find the knock-out, my extra time evaporated so in the end I still had to play several moves quickly.
It was the very first time that I lost on time while playing with the 30 seconds increment per move (if we ignore my recording error as explained in my article the sadistic exam). In the KOSK it is always a bit awkward to play as they offer beer just a couple of meters away from the players (see also the report of the match from Deurne) but I first didn't realize that I lost on time at move 39. Nor did I realize first that the final position was losing for me as Rabah showed me the winning combination after the game. He had seen everything within seconds while I think it would be probably a not so easy puzzle at chess.com.

This was nice, very strong but what happens in my second example also played in the Belgian interclubs is something extraordinary. The Belgian IM Stefan Beukema is famous for his extremely complex tactical fights which allowed him to defeat multiple grandmasters. However after our game I was perplexed and therefore asked the question directly to Stefan if this all was planned or just pure luck. "Yes till Qg8 I had calculated it and in the resulting position I saw some great possibilities for white" was the answer of Stefan. I don't think it is important for this story that Stefan had a perfect non tactical alternative and his combination contained a small practically invisible gap.
I missed several of the keymoves. For sure I would've never dared to play such combination especially when having a safe alternative (see part 1). Leela also can't find the win despite running on my strong new computer. Only Stockfish manages to calculate through the myriad of lines which proofs how difficult the tactics were in the game.

These are splendid combinations but I would rather execute them instead of being on the receiving end. Anyway I don't think that I can ever become so strong at tactics even if I practice every day for many hours. I can better use my time for training other things. Of course it remains important to regularly do a limited number of tactics which can be done by just making the 5 free daily exercises at chess.com.