Thursday, May 12, 2016


A novice will often experience a lot of defeats in his first years as there exists a huge gap between casually playing chess at home and a weekly trained clubplayer. Losses can't be avoided in chess but losing a (long) string of games while everybody is watching you, isn't very enjoyable to say the least. It is no surprise that many already abandon chess after less than 1 year playing in a club. Most clubs acknowledge the problem but I see very few initiatives to support new players. Contrary as I still remember well how my first step in a club (de Torrewachters) happened. As introduction I was proposed to play a casual game against the clubchampion. Well I only learned afterwards that he was the clubchampion when everybody was in disbelief about how I achieved a comfortable draw.

I am definitely not a natural. Thanks to playing hundreds, maybe thousands of games (rapid) at home against a chess-computer of the first generation (see chesscompositions) I succeeded to built up sufficient skills to lower the bar. On the other hand as mentioned in my article gambits, this training-method also damaged a lot my further developments. Engines play a completely different sort of chess to what we encounter on the board in a club. Just look at a game I played in 1997. The engine extracts an edge out of the opening but has no clue how to follow up.
[Event "Match 1997"] [Date "1997"] [Round "2"] [White "Fritz2"] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "0-1"] [PlyCount "154"] 1. Nf3 f5 2. d4 Nf6 3. g3 e6 4. Bg2 d5 5. O-O Bd6 6. b3 Qe7 7. c4 c6 8. Nc3 O-O 9. a3 Nbd7 10. Bb2 Ne4 11. Qc2 g5 {(Optimistic but black will get plenty of time to prepare an attack on the king.)} 12. Rfd1 g4 13. Nxe4 fxe4 14. Ne1 Qg5 15. Ra2 Nf6 16. Qc3 Bd7 17. Nc2 Be8 18. Ne3 Nd7 19. Ba1 Qh5 20. Rc1 h6 21. Rcc2 Nf6 22. Bb2 {(Hmm I do not have to explain that the computer in that era did not understand much about strategy.)} Nh7 23. c5 Bc7 24. Ra1 Ng5 25. Rd1 Bd7 26. Rf1 Rae8 27. Qb4 Bc8 28. Ba1 Rf7 29. Bb2 Ref8 30. Qa4 a6 31. b4 Rg7 32. Rcc1 Nh3 33. Kh1 Nxf2 {(Of course you will not get so much time to attack in a standard game.)} 34. Kg1 Rgf7 35. Bc3 Nh3 36. Bxh3 Qxh3 37. Rxf7 Rxf7 38. Be1 Qh5 39. Bd2 Qg6 40. Rd1 h5 41. Qc2 Qf6 42. Rf1 Qxd4 43. Rxf7 Kxf7 44. Kf2 Qf6 45. Ke1 e5 46. Bc1 Ke7 47. a4 Bf5 48. Nxf5 Qxf5 49. a5 d4 50. Bb2 Kf6 51. e3 d3 52. Qf2 Qf3 53. Bc1 Bd8 54. Kf1 Kg6 55. Bd2 Bg5 56. Bc1 Kf6 57. Ke1 Ke7 58. Kf1 Ke6 59. Bd2 Kd5 60. Kg1 Kc4 61. Qe1 Qe2 62. Qf2 Qxf2 63. Kxf2 Kb3 64. Ke1 Kc2 65. b5 axb5 66. a6 bxa6 67. Bb4 Bxe3 68. Kf1 Bd2 69. Bxd2 Kxd2 70. h3 e3 71. Kg2 e2 72. hxg4 hxg4 73. Kg1 e1=Q 74. Kh2 Ke2 75. Kg2 Qd2 76. Kh1 Kf3 77. Kg1 Qg2# 0-1
Nobody, some exceptions apart (see sitzfleisch) will play that passively with the white pieces. Tactically we are of course inferior. In the next game I get an advantage out of the opening but get beaten up after having missed a tactical trick.
[Event "Match 1998"] [Date "1998"] [Round "1"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "COMP, CSTal"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B43"] [PlyCount "62"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Bd3 a6 6. O-O Qc7 7. Nc3 Nc6 8. Nxc6 bxc6 9. f4 d5 10. e5 Nd7 11. Na4 Bb7 12. c4 g6 13. Be3 Be7 14. Rc1 c5 15. cxd5 Bxd5 16. Nxc5 $2 {(A tactical mistake and this is something an engine can exploit immediately.)} Nxc5 17. b4 Bxg2 {(I still saw this move in my calculations.)} 18. Rf2 Bb7 {(But I missed this bristol-clearing! It is no surprise that with an open king I fail to defend correctly against a computer.)} 19. Bxc5 Qc6 20. Kf1 Rc8 21. Ke2 Bh4 22. Be3 Qd7 23. Rxc8 Bxc8 24. Rf1 Bb7 25. Bf2 Bxf2 26. Rxf2 O-O 27. Bc4 Qc6 28. Qd3 Rc8 29. Bb3 Kg7 30. Bd1 Qc1 31. Ke1 Rc4 0-1
Also in those early years I analyzed my games. I used (abused) in my advantage the lack of variation in the play of those first generation engines. So I often shamelessly just improved upon an earlier mutually played game.
[Event "Roeselare match 1998"] [Date "1998"] [Round "3"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "COMP, CSTal"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B43"] [PlyCount "135"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Bd3 a6 6. O-O Qc7 7. Nc3 Nc6 8. Nxc6 bxc6 9. f4 d5 10. e5 Nd7 11. Na4 Bb7 12. c4 g6 13. Be3 Be7 14. Rc1 c5 15. cxd5 Bxd5 16. Qc2 {(Black plays exactly the same weak line of our first mutual game and of course I improve upon my earlier play. The chance is very small something similar can happen playing a clubplayer.)} Qb7 17. Nxc5 Nxc5 18. Bxc5 Bxc5 19. Qxc5 Bxg2 20. Rf2 Bd5 21. b4 Be4 22. Bxe4 Qxe4 23. Rd2 Rb8 24. Rd4 Qe3 25. Kg2 Qe2 26. Kg1 Qe3 27. Kf1 Qh3 28. Ke1 Qxh2 29. Qd6 Qg1 30. Ke2 Qg2 31. Kd3 Qf3 32. Kc2 Rc8 33. Kb2 Qb7 34. Rxc8 Qxc8 35. a4 h5 36. b5 axb5 37. axb5 h4 38. Ra4 Qb7 39. b6 Qg2 40. Ka3 Qf3 41. Kb4 Qxf4 42. Ka5 Qf3 43. Qb8 Ke7 44. Qd6 Ke8 45. Rc4 Qa8 46. Kb5 Qd8 47. b7 Qxd6 48. exd6 Kd7 49. Rc7 Kxd6 50. Rc8 Rh5 51. Kc4 Ke5 52. b8=Q Kf5 53. Rc5 Kg4 54. Rxh5 Kxh5 55. Kd4 f6 56. Ke4 Kh6 57. Qf4 Kg7 58. Qxh4 g5 59. Qh5 g4 60. Qxg4 Kf7 61. Qg3 Ke7 62. Qc7 Kf8 63. Qd7 Kg8 64. Qe7 Kh8 65. Qf7 e5 66. Kf5 e4 67. Kg6 e3 68. Qf8# 1-0
Clubplayers not only variate more frequently but will rarely play the same long wrong lines. My article the list of strength demonstrates this clearly. In short when my son Hugo till a few months ago regularly played chess against engines, I was having mixed feelings.

Fortunately today there exist a lot more and better training-materials. Besides the countless books for beginners and dvds (see eg. kids and beginners) , we have today the internet on which we can play games against anybody at any time by making a few clicks on our mouse. The most known sites are chess24 , icc , , playchess , gameknot , redhotpawn ,
lichess and last but not least Fide Online Arena (that last one was the cause of not having access anymore to our own fide-ratinghistory if we are not wishing to become a member). I just want to add that a new site chessrating is offering partly a solution for this problem.

It is something for testaankoop to explain the pros and cons of the different sites and make a final ranking. Readers having a strong view based on experience about this topic are welcome to write something here on this blog. I guess many players are interested in getting some feedback about the different sites. Even harder is to find the right site for the specific needs of beginners.

The majority of the games played on the earlier mentioned sites are blitz and bullet as I love to play myself (see the (non-)sense of blitz). This is obviously way too fast for players still struggling to see basic combinations. Besides it is also difficult to find the right challenge as most members are just too strong. At the Flemish chesscriteritum of Blankenberge I got a great tip from Marc Dechamps (1 of the driving forces of the youth-chess at the chessclub of Kortrijk): ChessKid
ChessKid profile drief at 9th of May 2016

This site is specially developed for children with games lasting 15 minutes with a few seconds increment which I think is a good tempo. You can do daily puzzles and follow courses. Except ratings there are also stars, medals and rankings to earn. As many beginners are joining the site, you always have a good chance to win some games.

My son Hugo started 27th of March, one day after the youthtournament of Blankenberge to play on the site. We chose for the free package as we weren't convinced about the added value of the rest. The site is only supporting English and my son only can understand Dutch. Anyway he quickly got hooked up as I noticed by the records that he was playing even when I wasn't home. I didn't track everything but he probably played 200 games in 1 month. This combined with a quick feedback of papa about recurring elementary mistakes, created an explosive cocktail to improve very quickly.

His rating at chesskids increased by 150 points in only 1 month and a first confirmation happened at the Flemish youth chess criterium of Aalter with a score of 9/9. After 3 years of the stepsmethod with very moderate progress, chesskids became a revelation to us. I don't want to tell you that chesskids has no defects. I already mentioned that only English is supported which is for many children not having English as native language surely at least annoying. You can also find some bullies between the members. Just check the very weird records of minicarlsen.

As I am very often supervising as parent, my son suffers little or nothing by those flaws. If I tell him that his opponent is very likely not a child then he also realizes that he shouldn't be angry losing the game. If he wants to follow some courses then I enjoy doing the translations. In the end chesskids is only an intermediary point in somebodies development. When and how my son can start to play standard chess is for the moment still an open question.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Optical illusions part 2

On this blog you shouldn't expect any literary delights. I know that there are much better writers than myself. Still I hope that readers can find pleasure reading the different chess-topics discussed here. I believe last article written by a guest can definitely improve the experience.

Maybe one of the best chess-writers was Jan Hein Donner. His book de Koning is without doubt the most famous but after I finished reading the book I decided to give the book as a present to another player very interested in it. Donners rubbish about women and engines often annoyed me too much as he seems to like talking often about subjects without having any knowledge. On the other hand I do realize that I will never come close to his level of literary. Everybody having read the book will surely still remember the fragment about the rook pawn: " Dear pawn on a5. Beautiful small thing, rook-pawn you are, not more than one square you can cover. You are so small, almost nothing, and the whole game you stood on your place, but all the time I had hopes for you and I was eagerly waiting for you. I did see you, little one. People of course thought that the pawn on d5 was important, he took their attention, yes they only looked at him but we knew better, you are the one, you and only you. I waited, you silly one, you didn't push, you knew that I was only thinking about you and you didn't have to do anything as I would come back to you anyway. Small rook pawn, you are now free. Advance, at a8 you and me will get eternal greatness. Thank you my little one. I love you."

Beautiful isn't it? Well with this special introduction I want to start the real theme of this article: rook pawns and their special role in a game. We can consider rook-pawns as the marginals of the chess-board. Often they have no value but in some extreme situations they can play a crucial role. I found recently a funny comment on schaaksite about the game Vyacheslav Ikonnikov against Robert Ris played in the Dutch intertclubs after move 29: "This gives black an advanced pawn. And an extra pawn! It is therefore no surprise that Robert was complaining after the game that he missed the win. But I think that is slightly exaggerated. I mean, that little a-pawn is neither for the cat!"

Many examples exist about rook-pawns bringing victory but less familiar are examples of saving the draw in extremis by the little ones. Last Sunday in the interclub such position could have happened. I say "could" as I was not aware about it during the game. Besides my opponent cunningly chose to wait a bit for any concrete actions.
[Event "Analysestelling"] [Date "2016"] [White "Timmerman, G."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "*"] [ECO "C84"] [WhiteElo "2135"] [BlackElo "2319"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/1p3qpk/p1p4p/2PbQP2/1P1B2P1/P5K1/6P1/8 w - - 0 49"] [PlyCount "20"] 49. g5 {(In the game Gert-Jan played the cunning Kf2 which kept me guessing. However I wonder if he considered the interesting g5.)} hxg5 50. Kg4 Qf8 {(Capturing g2 is not possible due to Qh2. This trick was later missed by both of us but at that time it did not influence the result anymore.)} 51. Kxg5 Bxg2 52. Qc7 {(Now Qh2 is much weaker.)} (52. Qh2 Kg8 53. Qxg2 Qd8 $11) 52... Bd5 53. f6 Qf7 54. Qxf7 Bxf7 55. fxg7 {(I feared this scenario during the game as I evaluated the position as lost by defending passively.)} Kg8 56. Kf6 Bc4 57. Ke7 a5 {(By sacrificing the a-pawn whites pawnstructure is weakened and black can achieve a fortress.)} (57... Bb5 58. Kd6 Kf7 $2 59. Kc7 Kg8 (59... a5 {(Now this is too late.)} 60. a4 {(Chess is fantastic, no? Yes indeed the other rook-pawn prepares the winning break-through for white.)} Bxa4 (60... Ba6 61. b5 cxb5 62. axb5 Bxb5 63. Kxb7 $18) 61. bxa5 Bb5 62. Kxb7 $18) 60. Kxb7 Kf7 61. Kb6 Kg8 62. Ka5 Kf7 63. a4 Bc4 64. Kb6 $18 {(I calculated this in the game.)}) 58. bxa5 Ba6 $11 {(Black can not run out of moves anymore.)} *
Later the engine demonstrated the truth. I had correctly evaluated that waiting would lose (contrary to some kibitzers were thinking) but a well timed sacrifice of the rook-pawn would still ward off a defeat.

It is still possible to do worse. Some time ago there was a lot of fuss created when the Swedish grandmaster Hillarp Persson Tiger resigned in a position which was a simple draw.
[Event "Politiken Cup"] [Date "2015.07.28"] [White "Hillarp Persson, Tiger"] [Black "Ragger, Markus"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D70"] [WhiteElo "2563"] [BlackElo "2688"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/8/p7/1p6/1P3pk1/P7/5KP1/8 w - - 0 45"] [PlyCount "17"] {(In this position the Swedish grandmaster resigned, astonishing many online kibitzers. All the engines show it is a draw.)} 45. Kg1 {(Except Kg1 also Ke1 and Ke2 are good for the draw. Kf1 on the other hand loses.)} (45. Ke1 Kg3 46. Kf1) (45. Ke2 Kg3 46. Kf1) (45. Kf1 $2 Kg3 46. Kg1 f3 47. gxf3 Kxf3 48. Kf1 Ke3 49. Ke1 Kd3 50. Kd1 Kc3 51. a4 Kxb4 52. axb5 axb5 53. Kc2 Ka3 54. Kb1 Kb3 55. Ka1 b4 56. Kb1 Ka3 57. Ka1 b3 58. Kb1 b2 $19) 45... Kg3 46. Kf1 f3 { (Dvoretsky calls this broadening the beach.)} 47. gxf3 Kxf3 {(The road is open to capture the pawns on the other wing but white still has one last trick in his sleeve.)} 48. Ke1 Ke3 49. Kd1 Kd3 50. Kc1 Kc3 51. a4 {(The rook pawn sacrifices itself to achieve a surprising draw.)} Kxb4 (51... bxa4 52. Kb1 Kb3 53. Ka1 a3 54. Kb1 a2 55. Ka1 Ka3 56. b5 axb5 {(Stalemate.)}) 52. axb5 axb5 53. Kb2 $11 {(White has the opposition so it is draw.)} 0-1
So also here the rook-pawn was able to save heroically the game by sacrificing itself. Chess is a ton full of optical illusions. By years of experience we learn better to distinguish truth from lies.