Monday, December 7, 2015


Looking at the rules of our centuries-old game we notice a lot has changed during the last decades. Some changes were heavily criticized but we also realize that many adaptations were necessary to safeguard the future of chess. Many organizers are grateful of being able to use quicker timetcontrols to keep their tournaments not only attractive but also cost-efficient. The organizers of the top-tournament of Zurich even recently asked fide to allow faster controls to be accepted for standard chess.

A daring commercial concept is the millionaire tournament of Las Vegas in which big prizes were given partly sponsored by the high subscriptions. In US the tournament got a lot of publicity also by the mainstream-media so it definitely was a success. Today chess seldom gets positively in the news so maybe it makes sense to elaborate this model. Although I fear this will be more difficult in our conservative Europe.

Popularizing (again) chess to the general public is already for a longtime an objective in chess-politics. Allowing sofia rules and applying them in tournaments, naturally is part of this strategy. Nevertheless despite all the efforts we have no guarantee to see entertaining chess as in the crucial 7th round of the Millionaire tournament there was a lot of controversy after the game Luke McShane - Hikaru Nakamura which ended already after 9 disappointing moves in a repetition.

Chessplayers are very individualistic. I repeat myself but sometimes I have to as the recently published interview with Harika Dronova writes "But all the top players have different skills and I respect them for the hard work they put in it to entertain viewers with beautiful games". It is nonsense to claim that players choose moves to entertain the public. Now the whole interview doesn't please me.

Riskmanagement is a very important facet of chess which simultaneously also restricts players of playing real chess. We already saw an extremely negative example in the earlier mentioned game but it can also be more subtle. In my game against Marc Ghysels I chose for a long theoretical line which ended in a rather dry endgame.
[Event "Inteclub Deurne - Zottegem"] [Date "2015"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Ghysels, M."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B35"] [WhiteElo "2316"] [BlackElo "2150"] [PlyCount "88"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 g6 {(In 3 previous encounters Marc chose for the French, Scheveningen and a Pirc. So it was more or less impossible to predict the opening.)} 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 Bg7 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Bc4 O-O 8. Bb3 a5 {(I already met d6 and Ng4 in standardgames but not yet a5.)} 9. f3 {(I knew that theory does not show any advantage after this move but I did not dare to play something else without a preparation. Besides white still keeps some small practical chances.)} d5 10. Bxd5 Nxd5 11. Nxd5 {(Exd5 is an interesting alternative but I do not claim an advantage for white.)}f5 12. Nxc6 bxc6 13. Nb6 Rb8 14. Qxd8 Rxd8 15. Rd1 Rxd1 16. Kxd1 fxe4 17. Nxc8 Rxc8 18. b3 exf3 19. gxf3 Kf7 {(Marc proposed a draw here. I was slightly disappointed to discover Marc knew this line but Kf7 gave me again a bit hope as e.g. Rd8 is a much more direct method to draw. In any case I found it too early to accept the proposal.)} 20. Ke2 Be5 $6 {(More accurate is a4 and black should draw still rather easily.)} 21. Kd3 $6 {(I agree with the engines that Rg1 puts more pressure on blacks position although I have to admit that a draw remains the most likely result.)} Rd8 {(A novelty and improvement on older games.)} 22. Ke4 Ke6 23. c4 Rb8 24. f4 Bd6 25. Rb1 Bb4 26. Bd4 Rf8 27. Rd1 Bd6 28. Be3 Rf5 29. h4 Rh5 30. Bf2 Rf5 31. Be3 Rh5 32. Bf2 Rf5 33. Bg3 {(I still try something because of the ratinggap but Marc has no problems to maintain the balance.)} h6 34. Rg1 Rh5 35. Bf2 Kf7 36. Rd1 Rf5 37. Be3 Rh5 38. Rh1 Ke6 39. Bd2 Ba3 40. Rg1 Kf7 41. Be1 Bb2 42. Kf3 Rf5 43. Ke4 Rh5 44. Kf3 Rf5 {(I showed to Marc that I wanted to play Ke4 with a repetition which Marc did not object against. In the meanwhile I already realized that I have to be careful and should stop playing for a win.)} 1/2-1/2
I didn't want to play unprepared the sharpest lines and I just hoped that he didn't know very well this sideline. Marc had played in our previous encounters a Scheveningen, Pirc and French opening so I didn't find it unreasonable to make this small gamble.

It doesn't need to be long theoretical lines to see boring games. In the next interclub-game we left theory very early and still the game never became interesting as none was willing to take risks.
[Event "Interclub TSM - Deurne"] [Date "2015"] [White "Verduyn, P."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A10"] [WhiteElo "2205"] [BlackElo "2313"] [PlyCount "43"] 1. c4 f5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 e6 4. e3 {(I did not expect Philippe as opponent so I was happy that he did not play any mainlines. E3 is not bad but there are of course more critical systems.)} d5 {(I thought about d6 but disregarded the idea when I realized that a possible transition exists to my defeat against the Romanian grandmaster Andrei Istratescu. The stonewall looked ok here but maybe a little bit more accurate is here first c6.)} 5. b3 {(The subtle difference with c6 first is that white here has the extra possibility of cxd5 forcing black to recapture with the e-pawn. After that white would have the possibility to play for a minority-attack on the queen-side which does not mean that white has a clear advantage.)} c6 {(More solid than dxc4 followed up by e5.)} 6. Ne2 Bd6 7. Ba3 {(Exchanging the bishops of the dark squares in 1 move is generally considered as an important success in the Dutch. However my experience tells me that this is often exaggerated like in this specific position. I even dare to state that other continuations like d4, 0-0 and Nbc3 have more venom.)} Bxa3 8. Nxa3 Qe7 { (Immediately 0-0 allows white to play b4 and put the queen on b3. This does not need to be bad for black but I remembered of course the nasty experience against Mehr Hovhanissian played in Open Leuven 2013.)} 9. Qc1 O-O 10. O-O Nbd7 11. Qb2 b6 12. d3 Bb7 {(Solid but a5 is more ambitious.)} 13. Rac1 Rac8 {(Somebody with more guts would have played immediately e5 although it is not necessarily better than the played move of the game.)} 14. Nb1 Rfd8 {(Another normal developing move while e5 and c5 are also perfectly playable.)} 15. cxd5 {(White pulls the emergency-brake as it is of course clear that I will not wait any further to start attacking.)} cxd5 {(This allows quick simplifications. If I want to play for a win then I have to play exd5 or the even more interesting Nxd5. With the new and quicker timecontrol I did not have much time left so I avoided any risks.)} 16. Rxc8 Rxc8 17. Rc1 Rxc1 18. Nxc1 Qc5 19. Qc3 Kf7 20. b4 Qxc3 21. Nxc3 Ke7 22. d4 {(White proposed a draw which I accepted after some hesitation. I wanted to play Ba6 but I agree with the engines that Ne4 is still worth a try to relocate the knight via d6 to the weakened square c4. I missed that possibility in the game. Now honestly even then the draw is most likely.)} 1/2-1/2
I and Philippe had several opportunities to sharpen the game but we just played it safe and swapped off most pieces. Above games will never entertain the general public.

Players can be convinced to take risks if there is an incentive. A good motivation is when there is a big ratinggap as the highest rated player is obliged to win not to lose many points. In the past I already showed a few examples of this in my article playing ad hominem. More recently I made a remarkable choice in my game of Open Gent against Hendrik Westerweele.
[Event "Open Gent 3de ronde"] [Date "2015"] [White "Westerweele, H."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C54"] [WhiteElo "1910"] [BlackElo "2316"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "3r2k1/bpp2pp1/p1nRbn1p/4p3/4P3/2P2NN1/PP2BPPP/R3B1K1 b - - 0 17"] [PlyCount "59"] 17... cxd6 {(Rxd6 is easier but also simplifies the position.)} 18. c4 Nd4 $6 { (I made the correct decision by accepting the backward d-pawn as my pieces are now more active but I play here too positionally. It does not make sense to get a bishop on d4 in return of exchanging my stronger knight. Slowly increasing the pressure with e.g. g6 is more favorable.)} 19. Nxd4 Bxd4 20. Rb1 b5 21. b3 Rb8 22. cxb5 axb5 23. Rc1 d5 24. Bf3 g6 25. Bb4 $6 {(This avoids black playing b4 but the bishop can become a target here. More accurate is exd5 with approximate equality.)} dxe4 $6 {(Better is to let white relieve the tension so black has an extra move to play f5.)} (25... Ra8 $1 26. exd5 Nxd5 27. Bxd5 Bxd5 28. Rc2 f5 29. Kf1 Bb6 30. f3 Kf7 31. Ne2 $15) 26. Nxe4 Nd5 27. Bd2 Nf4 $6 {(Now white can answer f5 with the annoying Nc5 which was anyway the smallest evil.)} (27... f5 $1 28. Nc5 Bf7 29. Bxd5 Bxd5 30. Nd7 Rd8 31. Nf6 Kg7 32. Nxd5 Rxd5 33. Rc7 $11) 28. Rd1 g5 29. g3 $6 {(During the game I detected Be3 which indeed my engines approve. After Be3 it is rather black to defend precisely to achieve a half point.)} Nh3 30. Kg2 f5 31. Kxh3 fxe4 32. Bg4 Bxg4 33. Kxg4 Bxf2 34. Rf1 $6 {(The rest of the game was blitzed out. The endgame is very tricky so a big number of mistakes are made by both players. Here the more active Kf5 generated much quicker counterplay.)} e3 35. Bc3 $2 {(White could still defend a slightly inferior endgame with Bb4.)} Rc8 $6 {(I miss a direct tactical win.)} (35... b4 $1 36. Be1 Rd8 37. Bxf2 Rf8 38. Bxe3 Rxf1 $19) 36. Bb4 Kf7 $6 {(Played on general grounds of centralizing the king in the endgame but here e4 is much stronger.)} (36... e4 $1 37. h4 gxh4 38. gxh4 Ra8 39. a3 Rd8 40. Kf4 Rf8 $1 41. Kxe4 $5 e2 42. Rc1 e1=R 43. Bxe1 Bxe1 44. h5 $17 {(This is probably a won position but requires still technique.)}) 37. Kf3 $6 {(It is logic to first stop the advanced pawn but again the defense after Kf5 is more easy.)} (37. Kf5 $1 Rc6 38. Kxe5 Rf6 39. Rc1 e2 40. Be1 $15) 37... Ke6 38. g4 $6 {(H5 is indeed annoying but more important is to seek activity with Rd1.)} (38. Rd1 $1 h5 39. Ke4 e2 40. Rd6 Kf7 41. Rd7 Kg8 42. Rd5 Rc1 43. Kf3 e1=Q 44. Bxe1 Bxe1 45. Rxe5 g4 $17 {(Black has a piece for a pawn but white still keeps drawing chances. The line is surely not forced so maybe black can deviate somewhere and improve.)}) 38... Rc2 $6 {(The most natural move but my engines scream Rd8 with a very sophisticated win.)} (38... Rd8 $1 39. a3 Rd4 40. h3 Kd5 41. Ke2 Ke4 42. Rc1 Rd7 43. a4 Rd4 44. Bc3 bxa4 45. b4 Rc4 46. b5 Kd5 47. b6 e4 48. b7 Bg3 49. Kxe3 Bf4 50. Ke2 Rc5 51. Rf1 Rb5 $19) 39. a3 Rb2 $2 {(Ach both engines recommend the backward move Rc7 as mandatory for finding a win with the idea of Rf7.)} 40. h3 $4 {(Whites position becomes indefensible after this passive move. Searching activity with Rc1 was still playable.)} (40. Rc1 $1 Kd7 $5 41. Rd1 Kc8 42. Rc1 Kb7 43. Bc5 Rxb3 44. Ke4 Ka6 45. Kxe5 Bh4 46. Rc2 Be1 47. Re2 $13) 40... Rxb3 41. Rc1 e4 42. Kxe4 e2 43. Rc6 Kd7 44. Rd6 Kc7 45. Kd5 Rxb4 46. Rc6 Kb7 0-1
I correctly judged that taking back with the c-pawn was strong but you can clearly see from my next moves that I am not used to play this type of positions. So I am aware that a different game from my opponent could've produced an upset.

This article is not about if risks are healthy or not for your rating. Risks increase the entertainment value. This quality is necessary to please the public and attract sponsors. A big ratinggap only exists in a limited amount of games so for the majority we need extra support. An adapted rewarding mechanism, special tiebrake-systems, beauty-prizes, sofia rules... help but don't bring absolute success. On the other hand we have to avoid that a well fought draw is punished (too hard). Organizers don't have it easy with the very limited goodwill of the participants.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Young parents are probably familiar with the concept of triple p. This modern method of education solves problems with a positive attitude. Punishments are avoided as much as possible. I've been immediately fan of this approach but it is not always easy. Besides the older generation often doesn't approve this new philosophy as they used very different techniques.

The future will show us which parents made the best choices. Today I am satisfied with the relation I built up with my children although I sometimes ask myself if we don't make it too comfortable for them. Disappointments are part of life. Today some children miss a strong backbone as demonstrated a recent article of hln.

I believe chess can play an important role for many children to improve the resilience. I use the word "can" as I notice many children are following chess-courses but only few participate in tournaments. In the most recent youth-tournaments my son was the only one of 30 pupils from Deurne to actually participate. Of course there is a connection with the willingness of parents or volunteers but I also notice that many children prefer not to participate at competitions. Playing in tournaments is a difficult and tough experience. The emotions can become so strong for the youngest participants that some tears can't be suppressed anymore.

Even after many years of playing competitions I never got used to losing games. Maybe it also explains why I still continue playing chess contrary to many contemporaries. Closely related to losing is of course the eternal discussion about when is the appropriate moment to resign. My son, playing in the -8 group, I recommend to play till mate. However experienced players will rarely continue the game in completely lost positions. It is not only a waste of time but it is often also considered as not showing sufficient respect to the opponent.

What is a completely lost position or when is a game resigned normally? To get a more objective answer, I reviewed my last 100 games in which a player resigned or was mated. I used Komodo 8 on my portable to get an evaluation of the final positions. Each score above [9] I capped at [9] to avoid that some games would distort the average too much. I suspect nobody doubts that an advantage of [9] = queen is sufficient for any clubplayer to win the game.
My last 100 games in which a player resigned or was mated.

I was surprised to detect that the average was as high as 7,45 points. I scored 7,46 while my opponents 7,44 so almost exactly the same. I also thought it would be interesting to detect differences between the rating-groups.
Rating/ average score at resigning or mate
 Only a limited number of games are processed but still we see some kind of trend. The lower rated players are resigning more quickly if the rating-difference increases. Possible explanations are that the rating-gap increases the respect of the opponent for the stronger player or that the opponent expects that a future upset will become less likely. I don't dare to say anything about the higher rated players as the number of games is too small.

I deduct from the statistics one important element which is that averagely players continue for a long time to fight in lost positions. In 58 of the 100 games I even recorded a score of 9 or more. So it is a fairy-tale that serious players resign from the moment they have a lost position. As earlier mentioned, chess is above all a pure individual activity in which the public is not taken into account. Most players, myself included, choose to continue playing for quite some time in completely lost positions.

Nevertheless you also have players not willing to drag out lost positions. Especially in open tournaments you can experience that a bunch of kibitzers are watching like vultures to the agony taking place on the board. So I do understand that some players want to avoid this suffering by resigning when there are no more realistic chances anymore for a turnover. When can you resign with a clear conscience? Well if we look at some recent handicap matches between human and machine then it is clear that humans often error with extra material. Each situation is of course different but resigning being less than a piece down, must be considered too early. The earliest I resigned was with a score of 3 (in my disadvantage). Besides I had serious time-trouble and my opponent was rated more than 300 points higher see 1ste game of the article "to shoot a mosquito with a canon".

A couple of months ago I and the other present players of TSM were very surprised when my opponent Raf De Coninck resigned already at a score of 0,77.
White resigned while Komodo only shows -0,77
If you let Komodo calculate longer (10 minutes) then the evaluation drops further as whites position has no real perspective. However everybody except Raf agreed it was too early to resign. Of course it can still be worse as happened last summer in the Politiken cup with the famous Swedish grandmaster Tiger Hillarp Persson resigning in a dead drawn position.
White resigned while it is a dead draw.
The drawing-line was demonstrated on many sites, among them the blog of the Indian IM Sagar Shah. It is definitely not an isolated incident. On the blog of Tim Krabbe you can find a long list of special positions in which a player resigned while there was a hidden win available. Personally I don't think it is bad to force the opponent to show the winning line. Besides you often please the opponent by doing so as it brings satisfaction to execute the final combination on the board.