Friday, January 17, 2020

Papua New Guinea

Millenials take it for granted but older generations still remember the time when there was no internet at all. I only started to use it at the age of 22 in 1998. It was the year when I started to work a couple of months after I graduated as an engineer. At my job I got an email-address so I was able to share and receive information from my new colleagues.

In the next couple of months some of those colleagues discovered a way to use the mailserver as a medium to correspond with newsgroups. I was pleasantly surprised to find out also chess was available among them. For me it was the very beginning of using the internet also for chess. The newsgroups rec.games.chess.miscrec.games.chess.analysis and rec.games.chess.computer were a source of joy to me. I spent many hours at it reading and writing posts. In those early days of the internet those newsgroups were very active. You can still consult them today and it is even possible to track some of my messages from 1999-2003 (when I wasn't using yet a nickname).

I can't remember exactly when but I guess it must have been 1999 when we as employers got access to the www (world wide web) and got the possibility to visit different sites. As it was all very new and management wasn't sure what the impact would be on the performances, people's behavior on the internet was monitored very closely. Each month the employers having visited the most number of non work-related sites, were summoned and warned for sanctions. Playing online chess was no option for me although some sites already were offering this.

Only a bit later around my 25th birthday when my parents afforded a modem, I played my first games of chess online. Yahoo offered a large scale of online games and chess was one of them. I never played much online at that time as I could only play when I was visiting my parents (I live at more than 100km distance). Beside using the internet was quite expensive as you paid a fee per minute as they had no monthly unlimited subscription. Anyway from that time onward online chess became something I always was interested in.

Yahoo was one of the very first providers of online games on the market. For chess it was a very simple platform but also free which did attract unfortunately also a huge number of poor sportsmanship players. Slowly other and better alternatives became available which were offering more features and started to check cheating, behavior,... Consequently Yahoo lost more and more users and in 2016 they logically pulled out the plug of their platform. In parallel there also has been from the beginning premium platforms like ICC so for which you pay but get a much better service. Nevertheless I always refused to pay for playing some mediocre blitz online.

It was only in 2007 when I finally took an internetsubscription at home. I had married my Russian girlfriend some months earlier so obviously the internet would become for her something very useful to communicate with her family far away. Meanwhile I also discovered that the internet brought for me too quite some interesting new possibilities. It was the start of my very active online chess-career. My preferred platform became Playchess despite it was not for free. However that doesn't mean I was  paying for it as Playchess allows any newcomer to test their platform for some time without charge. Each time the trail-period ended, I created a new account. This way I played 10-thousands of games. After a while Playchess found out about it and blocked for some time my IP-address but I didn't care. A break was often very welcome as playing online can become very addictive.

A decade past by and Playchess didn't change much till 2017 when I started to notice changes in the population on the server. I needed to wait longer and longer to find an opponent rated same or higher than myself. I also noticed that fewer and fewer Belgian (sub-) toppers were online. Nowadays it is even very exceptional to still meet somebody. I understand we are all more busy than ever so getting less free time to play online but where is the youth (see below screenshot from 13th of January at 8 PM)?
Peakhour at Playchess with only 9 Belgian players, only 1200 players online in the mainroom and only 4 higher rated players than myself online.
The reason is of course that Playchess has lost their dominant position as alternatives have become available which are not only free but are also supporting a large scale of features which aren't inferior to what Playchess offers. As always people will not pay for something they can get for free somewhere else. We all want to save our money. We also see that the most popular sites like lichess and chess.com attract respectively 5x - 10x more users currently than Playchess. This is surely also due to the influence of our world-champion Magnus Carlsen as he has promoted both platforms multiple times. Young players like to follow their idol.

It is a golden era for online chess with the many variants of free and stable platforms but I also see some important disadvantages. Lichess, chess.com, chess24, Fide Online Arenagameknot are just some of the possibilities so we clearly have a diaspora of players. A platform like chess.com would love to create champions with the same status and generating the same magnitude of publicity like we see in standard chess but this won't happen in this fragmented online-world. It is also much harder for amateurs to find a friend which you know from standard chess unless everybody subscribes on multiple sites like theunknownone on chess24theunknownonex on chess.com and TheUnknownOnex on lichess.

However the biggest disadvantage of the current generation of free platforms is that your own games are stored online contrary to Playchess. I am not talking about the rather small effort which is needed to download your own games but rather that other people can look at your own games while you don't even know about it. People can use it to prepare against you. I wrote an article in 2017 that one should use a nickname at Playchess even if the other one can only see the games you mutually played. Naturally the danger is here 100x bigger.

Nonetheless last year in Open Brasschaat it took me little time to find hundreds sometimes even thousands of online games from 5 of my 9 opponents. It is incredible while everybody tries as much as possible to avoid publication of their games (see e.g. password). How can this be possible? This was also the question of 1 of my 5 victims after our game had finished.

He had used just like the others a nickname which should normally be sufficient to stay anonymous. However I have detected many players don't take into account a security-leak which is caused by the friend-requests. Once you know 1 player of a group of friends then it is often very simple to reveal the identity of the others. I want to show 1 very funny example which I encountered some time ago as it is not everyday that you can find a Belgian player hiding himself under the flag of Papua New Guinea (which explains the title of this article !).

In the 4th round of the most recent edition of Open Leuven I played against the Belgian expert William Boudry. Before I had a couple of hours to prepare. Nowadays I always start with a quick check via google and search chess.com & name/first name. If the profile is not well protected then I can already find their online games. This was the case here see jr-boetje but unfortunately the last activity dated from 2012 so it was useless for me. Next I switch to lichess where I often use as starting profile the one of FM Warre De Waele as with 44 followers he has one of the better networks in Flanders see warredw/followers. One of his friends attracted immediately my attention as he had a special nickname and was using the flag of Papua New Guinea see: WBoe3.
Thanks to the TV-serie W817 which was on the air around the year 2000, I was familiar with writing words by a combination of letters and numbers. So W817 = W-acht een-s even (wait a moment). It isn't hard anymore to see that WBoe3 can mean William Boudry. A check of the online played lichess games against the most recent games of William in the mega-database confirmed my suspicion. I was almost sure that I had the right online and active profile found of my opponent. This is gold for the preparation of a game.

On the other hand getting your hands on hundreds of even thousands of games creates also additional stress. It is impossible to check all the content seriously in just a couple of hours. I had to be pragmatic. My best chance was to focus at the most recently played games which proved to be the right decision. Below game played a couple of days before we played against each other in Open Leuven, was crucial.
I already once covered this opening on this blog see the hyper modern french but in our new game I experienced theory has evolved again in the last 2 years enormously. Anyway I wasn't familiar with the sub-variant popping up on the board so logically I played something safer but less critical.
It is not a success to score only a half point but looking at the final position this is the maximum which I could hope for. This example also shows how relatively unimportant open online games can be. It is doubtful to spend (lots) of time at searching and checking online games from an opponent. It is also doubtful to defriend players and to play exclusively anonymously. Anyway nobody can't say anymore after this article that I didn't warn them in advance.

Brabo

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Openings

In the beginning there was nothing. And then Paul Rudolf von Bilguer said: "So let there be opening-theory!" And there was opening-theory: And that happened on the first day and von Bilguer rested, as he was worth it.
The second day he said: "White will open with 1.e4 or 1.d4 and black will have to think about his reply." That was the second day.
The 3rd day he stated: "Black will answer 1.e4 with e5 or c5. D4 he will answer with d5 or Nc6:" That was quite something for the third day.
On the fourth day von Bilguer got excited about 1.e4 e5. These will be called the "open games" as the other openings I will call them "closed games": White should answer preferably with 2.Nf3 and black has the reply 2...Nc6"
On the fifth day von Bilguer worked less and only made the discovery that after 1.d4 d5 or 1...Nf6 white's strongest move is c4.
On the sixth day Paul did some detailed analysis of only the Prussian opening.
On the seventh day von Bilguer was tired and said:" so now let von der Lasa fill in the remaining pieces of the theory".

The opening-theory has grown historically as people like von Bilguer considered it interesting, to learn from the best players how they start their games. Despite the strongest players knew how to play good moves in the opening (see for this the excellent enjoyable "Chess Secrets I learned from the Masters of Ed Lasker"), there was also a lot of personal flavor added. Often they got away with some silly ideas as they were strategically or tactically much better than "non-masters". Steinitz for example often chose some cramped positions but his opponents often didn't find any good plan to profit from it.

Was opening-theory in the beginning something simple, just a way to reach a certain middlegame, then it grew continuously till a monster in chess. People looking at games from the previous century see a very limited repertoire (Spanish, Queensgambit) which were ruling the top-tournaments. It doesn't mean there were no experiments with weird openings - the Budapest-gambit dates from around 1916, and was explored by Abonyi, Barasz and Breyer (indeed, the guy from the big Spanish opening-variant), which also explains the name. The white counterpart of the BDG, the Tennison-gambit was already played before 1900.

This crossroad remained: "real" players play mainlines but at the lower levels you will find many passionate players choosing their own creations. We think about Otto Tennison, Hugh Myers, Stefan Bücker, Gerard Welling, Blackmar and Diemer, Smith and Morra, Maurits Wind (breeze), Michael Basman Van Geet, …

But gradually the ideas are infiltrating from one side to the other side. Just think about the game Karpov - Miles, in which the Englishman won with 1...a6. Or the Benko-gambit, which was originally also just a wild idea from 1 single player. And recently Alpha Zero made a number of shocking discoveries for our game. The move h2-h4 was in the years 80 a very common move in ... games between engines, because the algorithms tried to give the rooks activity already early in the middle-game. More wasn't accomplished - the engine was "happy" that the rooks had more squares. Recently Alpha Zero demonstrated that the pawn can be used as battering ram to make weaknesses on the long term in the position of the enemy.

Everything is playable, there are many examples (e.g. weird opening-moves). Recently I saw at Quality Chess the book playing the Najdorf by David_Vigorito. It seems a fine book based on the excerpt which you can download on the site. I immediately noticed his recommendation against the English attack: after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 h5! There he is: the Alpha Zero move. Now, it is not illogical as white wants to play g2-g4 so black avoids it with h7-h5. Didn't think anybody else about this move before? That is not the case as already in "The English Attack" of the Firmian and Fedorowicz (Batsford, 2004) this move is mentioned, just only in a different position but with the same goal.   

That reminds me also about another little move a3 in the Pirc. Often the Austrian attack starts with : 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4 Bg7 5. Nf3 c5 6.dxc5 Qa5 and black wins back the pawn. The idea behind a3 in those type of positions is to be able to respond with b4 and black can forget about winning back his pawn.

So everything is playable - and opening-theory becomes redundant? Not completely of course, there are always better and less strong moves. But that is another crossroad in chess: scientific ("most correct chess") against sportive ("most result efficient chess") versus artistic ("the most beautiful chess"). Brabo is an adept of the scientific approach and that is his good right. But players like Lasker and Kortchnoi always tried to play against the opponent - and often tried to provoke just to avoid a draw. It does't mean you will always be successful by using some crazy idea (just think about the game Twyble-Sugden, the ultimate Van Geet game). But it does question too much focus on the opening-theory. Finally chess is a game about flexibility and solidness (make sure you have options) as knowing a lot of theory doesn't guarantee any success if your opponent decides with his 4x4 after move 5 to enter high pastures.

About that we should thank Carlsen as he brought chess back from the Kasparov-highway to the meadow of Carlsen. Kasparov played chess based on memorizing long lines combined with his tactical skills. Carlsen returned the game to the basics: a battle from opening till endgame in which you are tested in all aspects of the game also the physical part of the 6th hour. 

Another topic which Brabo touched is to be critical about exotic openings: engines are nowadays starting to refute openings like the Grob (and likely also Sokolsky, the Vulture, the Borg).  

Do I have a game to illustrate this article? Let me see... some years ago there existed a computer which defeated everybody in blitz with the moves 1.e3 2.Ke2 3.Kf3 4.g3 5.Kg2, but even those jokers stopped with it. Even Chessbase was fooled (the third coming of bobby fischer)… but it nicely proves my point. Nakamura also once opened a serious game against Sasikirian with 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 (and lost, see Danvers Opening).   

So as a tribute to the crazy side of chess, see below how Kasparov "made" a draw against 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 played by Hollywoodster Woody Harrelson (source: hans48)



HK5000