Monday, March 30, 2020

Surprises part 3

Aging mostly goes hand in hand with a growing aversion for any changes in our society. My grandmother passed away only 3 years ago but never possessed any computer or mobile phone. In Belgium many banks closed last year many of their affiliates and are demanding to switch to online banking but this caused panic and despair for a big part of the older population. I expect many of them didn't find any other way out than trusting relatives or friends to deal with their finances.

I see the same reluctance at older players to the changes in chess. Some even stopped playing as our chess today doesn't resemble anymore to the way they were originally taught how to play chess. Chess has dramatically changed in the last 20 years. I am thinking about the (much) quicker pace of the games, the introduction of the increments, electronic clocks instead of analogue ones, the abolishment of adjournments, new rules but maybe the biggest impact had the computer.

It is hard to estimate how many players have stopped playing along the way but I do think many changes were necessary to attract young people and to protect the future of chess at the long term. Besides I see for many young players it still isn't fast enough. On the other hand it is no coincidence that senior-tournaments are very popular for the older players especially because a slower pace is still maintained.

It is not simple to reinvent yourself each time and that is also valid for myself. Despite all efforts I made recently, I am not able to compete with the modern opening-strategies. I also experience that openings are changing so fast nowadays that you are never finished with studying. One of the reasons is that computers now made it possible to find interesting ideas much quicker than before. In a recent interview Anish Giri made the following interesting remark: "In 2010 I needed averagely 10 days of analysis to discover the details of a new idea. 2 years ago it only took me 2 days anymore and today I often have the solution in a half hour."

It also means that today it became very risky to play twice the same line if your opponent can prepare for it. Today you only need a fraction of the time compared with a decade ago to discover the critical moves and lines. So once games of yourself are stored in a public database then you better start to deviate from them as there will be definitely opponents using them against you. In my situation I also need to take into account what I wrote here on the blog as I already experienced a few times that readers later used my work against myself. Obviously I think twice nowadays before publishing something here as it can't be the purpose of this blog to lose more games.

Briefly once you start to reach master-level, it becomes absolutely necessary to learn continuously new systems and to variate your openings. It is something I slowly start to do myself more often. However I admit it is still too little, too slow what I do. A recent example again from my Dutch repertoire is a good demonstration of this shortcoming. Till 2013 I answered the line 1.d4 f5 2.Bg5 h6 3.Bh4 g5 4.e4 always with Nf6. In the end I played 4 standardgames with this line of which the one below is the most recent one.

The loyal and attentive blog-reader probably recognized the game from my article the sadistic exam. In my article Lars Schandorff I have covered already my other games with this line. So when end of last year the Belgian FM Arno Bomans surprised me by entering this line, I got alarmed and decided to deviate with an alternative which I studied deeply a year ago. In surprises part 2 I indicated that averagely my opponents deviate at move 4 so I thought that I was doing ok this time but I was wrong.

There exist no games of myself with 4...Bg7 in the databases and on this blog you can't even find back a hint of it that I would deviate with 4...Bg7. I did however once at the sleeping site of schaakfabriek mention that I consider this line theoretically interesting but that happened in 2015. It is very unlikely that my opponent based his analysis on it. After the game Arno admitted that he prepared very well for this line. At the moment Arno left book, the game was more or less decided already as after 12 moves white has a very large (probably winning) advantage. How is this possible on this very modest level to encounter such deep preparation as what more can we do than deviating at move 4 to avoid such debacle?

Well of course one can deviate at move 1,2 or 3 of course. Anyway in 99% of the cases deviating at move 4 should be sufficient but here I met a very clever and experienced opponent. He knows me very well and follows this blog already for years. In our 2 earlier encounters he had prepared different systems but these were bigger systems so it was impossible/ very hard to check all possible lines. This time Arno made sure he chose a system in which only a limited number of lines are existing. The only difficulty remaining was to choose a system of which he has a very good chance that it would occur on the board. Eventually he noticed my game of the 5th round of Open Leuven played on a live-board less than 1 month ago in which the exact same 3 moves were played of the system. A screenshot of my opening-book shows how few games exist in the database with this system.
So we only have to deal with about 100 games in the megadatabase of which one of the 2 players has at least a +2300 rating. Maybe only 10% is relevant for the theory so in the end you only need to investigate 10 games deeper with a strong engine. By summarizing the key-lines it is pretty simple to memorize it and be fully prepared for battle. Arno knew that I normally always play first board so he was almost sure that I would be his opponent in the interclubs. Besides he also knew from experience and my blog that I very often allow the same systems. Therefore it is no surprise that an ambitious fide-master like Arno prepared himself for 4...Nf6 , 4...Bg7 as well as 4...Rh7.

So switching between lines even of which I have no games in the database, seems insufficient to survive the preparation of my opponents on my modest level. In a report of my match against KOSK I read that I am one of the most famous players in Belgium but this is rather a disadvantage for me at the board. I think my problem is also very rare as I don't know any other people in Belgium experiencing the same issues. There are no top 100 of the world-players in Belgium so nobody needs to deal with very specific preparations of their opponents. This is very different at the candidates which are played at Yekaterinburg in Russia. There we clearly see players whom stick to their normal systems, are suffering a lot as the opponents prepared some very specific lines very deeply.


Monday, March 23, 2020

Free of charge part 3

Chess doesn't have many sponsors and I believe things will only become tougher. After the current ongoing biggest crisis since WW2 the first priority will be to put the economy back on the rails. This will cost many billions of dollars/ euros so do't expect that there will be any money for chess or even any other leisure activities.

We chess-players will have to take care ourselves about chess. However I don't expect much of this. Most chess-players aren't rich and are already now keeping a very strict control about their expenses. An example of this I mentioned in my article Papua New Guinea. In the last decade there was a clear shift from playing online for a fee to playing online free of charge.

I also always try to limit my expenses as the costs related to chess can very quickly get high as I calculated for myself in my article How much money do you spend at chess? So each time I want to buy something, I always ask myself if there exists no cheaper or even free of charge alternative which is legal and miss barely any important features. Therefore I haven't bought any new engines for already a couple of years as Stockfish and Leela can be downloaded free of charge. I want to add the remark that people possessing a computer with a modern graphical card, can better switch to the new T60 networks. The score of a very recently finished rapidmatch between stockfish 11 and Leela T60 network 62713 was 48-52 which corresponds to a progress for Leela of 3,5 points from 100 games (about 40 elo) compared to an earlier test made with one of the best T40 networks.

This blog is open for everybody so I don't earn any money with it. Logically I also try only to use free software to create the articles of this blog. First I used the free of charge KnightVision PGN Viewer. As Flash started to get refused by most browsers, I switched in 2017 to the free PGNviewer see my article new viewers. However for free unfortunately is also in most cases connected with less stability which is something I experienced in the last couple of months a few times. End of last year I noticed changed their script without any warning for the pgnviewer which destroyed the layout of all in my articles.

I assume few readers noticed it but I did update immediately after this problem occurred, the more than 1000 games in +600 articles to get them look again normal. It took me 8 hours in total to adapt for each of them the html code. It is no fun but I found it too pity to leave the old articles in such dire state although some other bloggers do see the Australian grandmaster David Smerdon and the Croation grandmaster Alex Colovic. I see at the statistics that my old articles are still very often consulted which I don't think is a surprise as I normally don't talk much about the news.

When 2 weeks ago I discovered for a second time that had adapted their script, I started to realize that maybe using free of charge software for the viewers wasn't the best choice. The damage was this time less serious as the second ugly scroll bar at the right isn't the end of the world. So I decided this time to update the html-code of only my most recent articles. You can clearly notice this from my article the novelty seeker. Other bloggers experience the same problem see e.g. an article of Alex Colovic.

If you don't pay for a service then there also don't exist any guarantees about the quality. It is no coincidence that did an extra effort for the bloggers using their own platform. I guess it was not too difficult to update the html of the older articles simultaneously with the update of the script-viewer so the layout wasn't destroyed.

To avoid new problems, I could transfer or continue the blog on Maybe this would allow my blog to attract a lot of new readers. On the other I would have to relinquish the unique identity of this blog as it would become just one of the hundreds or even thousands blogs which exist already on This doesn't sound attractive to me. Besides today my blog is found very fast by the search-machines like google and that would most likely not be the case anymore when I would use

Maybe I should after all buy Chessbase and start using their viewer which you can integrate on a blog. It is less likely that I run into the same problems when I pay for the software. Quality has a price. It is something which I recently also discovered by using the online database of chess.db. The database gets less and less frequently updated. My most recently played games of Brasschaat, Leuven and Cappelle La Grande are missing contrary to Chessbase. I know chess.db is for many players the free database to use for preparing their games but today this is a rather doubtful choice.

The financial model of chess.db consists of advertisement-revenues and I guess they misjudged this. To maintain a site like chess.db, demands a continuous investment of time and money. You need a lot of traffic to the site to live purely from advertisements. However investing less, leads to fewer visitors which very quickly becomes a vicious circle. So I doubt chess.db will remain on the long term.

Finally we should realize that this blog uses a platform which is only depending on advertisement-revenues. I use the one of google but google is no charity-organization. Google created the platform in the assumption bloggers don't bring only content but will also allow advertisements to be shown in their articles. Thousand of bloggers are doing this and attract millions of readers which generate advertisement-revenues. To stimulate new blogs, Google allows not to show advertisements but after a while authors are politely requested regularly to consider adding advertisements to their blog.

Till today I always refused to do that. I don't like it that my blog would be polluted by often irrelevant commercials and I am not interested in the scarce revenues. I do take hereby a risk. If too many bloggers take the same decision then it becomes uninteresting for Google to maintain their platform. In the terms and conditions Google clearly writes that it can stop at any moment with their platform without any warning. Again this is what you can expect when you don't pay for a service but even a paying service won't protect you from every risk. Anyway I am taking my precautions by regularly taking back-ups of all html-code of this blog. I don't want to see disappearing 10 years of blogging in a blink of an eye.


Sunday, March 15, 2020

Automatic moves

Slowly my children get better at chess. My daughter Evelien managed to cross the 1400 elo some months ago. My son Hugo did the same with the 1700 barrier but he is playing chess already several years longer. Each coach and chess-parent will likely agree that such results make yourself proud although in the end it is the accomplishment of the children.

Clubs having many youth-players obviously want to see very often new publications of the rankings. Almost everybody wins points each time and even when somebody loses then it is just a temporary thing. However for clubs exclusively of older players each new ranking is torment. My clubmate Marcel Van Herck made recently the remark on facebook that he sees many minus-signs next to the Belgian-ratings of our clubmembers.

I am not so young anymore either so I detest to see much more often the minus-signs compared to the plus-signs next to my rating. A 5th defeat this season in the Belgian interclub pushed my rating even to the lowest level in 18 years. Or to let it sound even more dramatic, my fide-elo dropped below my starting-rating which I got in the year 2000. What is happening? Do I have Alzheimer but I thought chess is the best medicine against it?

First I need to explain that in the year 2000 you could only get a rating if your performance is above 2200 elo. Today the minimum-bar is at 1000 elo so we shouldn't compare startingratings in the year 2000 with the ones which we are used to today. Also having a rating less than 100 points below your own best isn't exceptional at all see peakrating part 2. In brief we shouldn't make a mountain out of a molehill.

On the other hand I still think I am (way) too young to see my rating slowly decrease already. Beside in the last couple of months I became again a much more active player so today I am much more routinized. In the previous years I didn't manage to play more than 10 standard-games each year which were processed for my fide-rating. In the last six months only I already played more than 25 fide-rated standardgames which is about 5x more than before (this is of course because I started recently to play tournaments together with my children).

So in my most recent games I rarely encountered serious time-troubles (can we ever speak about it when playing with increments?). However maybe exactly because of this my play has become too superficial. As every experienced player I try to divide my time properly between the moves during a game. I don't want to spend much time at moves which look forced/ natural so I save time for more complex positions. That is in most cases the right decision but sometimes this also leads to errors. I start with an example from my first game played in the Dutch interclubs for Landau Axel.
When after the game my son Hugo asked why I didn't play 37.Rc1 and I didn't know immediately what he was talking about only then I realized that I played too fast at that moment. Yes there was little time left and there was a lot of noise (Sliedrecht has a very nice bar with a lovely collection of beers but it disturbs the games as it is located in the middle of the playing-hall) but those shouldn't be an excuse.

Worse was what happened in my game of the penultimate round of the Open of Leuven in 2019. I had a won position but blew it by playing an automatic move (I put my rook on the open file at the same time winning a tempo as I attacked the queen of my opponent). After I released my hand from the piece, I immediately realized the blunder as did my opponent the Hungarian expert Pal Suranyi. However by some inexplicable event he switched the winning sequence and missed the golden chance. We both exploded into a big laugh during the game by witnessing so much silliness.
In the 2 first examples it is easy to see why the automatic played move is wrong but it is not always like that as in the next example played in the Dutch interclubs. I remember that I was hesitating briefly in the game as I felt recapturing wasn't forced.
The resulting endgame after the automatically played recapturing move was still better for me but not winning. All examples shown above still ended for me well despite I didn't play the right move. By playing fast you always put extra pressure on the opponent. However in the last example my luck finished. Against the Belgian IM Stefan Beukema you can't afford such tactical shallowness.
I started this article by complaining about my low fide-elo. If my opponents would've taken all the half and full points I offered then it would've been even much worse. Fortunately a bad streak always ends at some moment which was the case recently in the open tournament of Cappelle La Grande (France) which I played. I won back 30 elo which recovers practically all losses made in the previous months. I published a report of my adventure at the site of my club Deurne in which 3 games (draws against +2450 rated players) can be replayed with some light analysis added.


Friday, March 6, 2020

Novelty-seeker part 2

Curiosity is probably the most important feature of a (fast) improving player. Some top-players consult any possible source of information or outsource it to their helpers. Asking questions and questioning yourself is the key to success. It is a shame that non of my students shows any initiative. They wait till I served them the materials and do no effort to do their own research.

I also experienced more than once that somebody wants to show their won game but critical questions are not welcome. Now I realize that a coach should support mentally their students but I don't think a group-session is the right place for it. If somebody just wants to brag about their result then I tell the person that this is a waste of time which could be used instead to learn something more valuable together. Maybe I deserve this behavior as some other coaches told me that this is the consequence of not asking any money for my classes. If you give something for free then it is often taken for granted and not respected.

Sim Maerevoet mentioned in his article ideas part 2 that he likes to coach maximally 3 players in tournaments which he participates himself. For the upcoming Belgian youthchampionship (if it won't be cancelled due to the corona-virus) already 10 players are asking my support. That means they want me to prepare their games and to analyze the ones which they played. Mission impossible I responded as last year people were waiting in the corridor till sometimes midnight to get a session with me. So this year I will make additional demands to players interested to work together. Any + 12 year old player will first need to prepare/ analyze themselves. I am not going to help if they haven't made any homework in advance.

Beside while we are now talking about asking questions, there is a second reference I want to make to the article of Sim. In that article you can read that during a game you should ask questions at your opponent. Obviously this shouldn't be taken literally as it is forbidden to talk during a game. Sim means we need to create positions on the board in which our opponent has to find some difficult moves without any external help. However there is 1 specific question which you better never ask to your opponent. What did my opponent prepare for me? It is ok to wonder about it so you can decide to deviate or not from your normal repertoire. Asking this question directly at your opponent should be advised against although in rare cases it happens.

Sometimes a player gets so much in love with an opening that the player doesn't want to play anything else anymore. The player even gets excited by getting the chance to see what the opponent has prepared exactly against it. I remember a couple of years ago that I was very surprised that our Belgian grandmaster Bart Michiels risked to play the same line for the 3rd time against me. Maybe Bart thought the danger wasn't big as there was less than one hour to prepare for the game but in open tournaments I always bring my computer along which allows me to access very rapidly my own databases and analysis. I analyze my games seriously so afterwards I only need about 10 minutes to refresh my memory. In the first 2 games with the opening I couldn't get any advantage but this time Bart did get into problems.
Eventually the extra 200 elo decided the game but Bart needed the full distance for it. After the game Bart congratulated me as I am one of the rare players coming up with really interesting ideas in the opening. You don't expect that from somebody with my modest rating. I expect next time Bart will think twice before again asking what I have prepared against his favorite opening.

Nowadays it isn't so hard anymore to find dangerous ideas even against the repertoire of a grandmaster while having a much lower rating yourself. I just returned from the Open of Cappelle La Grande and again it struck me that I out-prepared quite easily international masters and grandmasters. Even switching between dozen of lines is not enough currently to be safe. Only by walking continuously new roads, it is possible to neutralize the influence of the engines.

In the club-championship of Deurne I was told by Robert Schuermans after our game finished that he was too curious about what I had prepared this time against his absolute love-child the Schliemann-gambit. Last summer Robert managed to neutralize my very dangerous idea at the board by himself. That was a great accomplishment but this time things went very different.
If you search somebody for testing your opening and you don't have access to any top-player then I am surely a good candidate for it. I recently bought a powerful new computer with a strong graphic card. I try to follow all the technological trends. Clearly Robert wants to play this opening more often and then sacrificing one point isn't a lot.

Oh and I have deliberately erased something from my analysis. I have prepared another new idea for the Schliemann-gambit. I warn the reader so you don't think that with the analysis from the game you know everything and there exists no danger anymore. The developments never end. From competitive view of chess I agree with the reaction of Richard Meulders: the best opening is the opening which your opponent knows the least or a bit more accurate which you do know yourself of course.