Tuesday, March 28, 2017


OK, after a long absence I wrote a new article for this blog. I must say - congratulations to our webmaster - as when he started with this project, I first thought - this will last 100 articles and then there will be no more ideas... No. Brabo covers a broad range of subjects: personal experiences at and next to the chess-board, family-life with a chess-playing son, some international news, analysis, novelties, tactics, endgames and psychology. Again well done Brabo. And all of this supported by games (believe me, it takes quite some time to post a pgn fragment with analysis).

So what can I add to all this?

As ex-player I only stay occasionally in this small world of chess. The most recent years I switched my focus from player to observer. More and more I concentrate on photography of chess-players. With my new camera I recently started to visit some tournaments. As ex-player - I was always preferring quiet conditions (even as kibitzer) - I am well aware of the nuisance a photographer can cause. The first five to ten minutes in game there is not much at stake, but when players are running out of time then most of them like to be undisturbed and fully concentrated. Then you don't want any busybodies around, especially some photographer spoiling the view with some close-ups.

I always make pictures without a flash - which in e.g. Cappelle-la-Grande with my old camera (Panasonic FZ100) often gave semi-successful pictures (read: just a bit too blurry) . My new reflex-camera (Canon Eos 6D) is much better but makes this typical click-sound for such type of camera: so one disadvantage instead of the other.

Now such camera does has a more silent setting. I do know that such click in the middlegame - and especially in timetrouble - is not appreciated. That is why I still keep my old camera - it is more quiet and has a good zoom-  so I can still make some good close-ups from 10-15 meters distance without the players know about it.

I am an amateur-photographer, so without any education. I can't compare my pictures with the ones from David Llada, Alina L’Ami or Lennart Ootes, easily selling their pictures to Chessbase or chess-magazines. Some specialized magazines and a book about my camera were a real eye-opener for me about the possibilities. Except that I make pictures without a flash, there is another restriction which I apply for the moment: I don't take dozen of photos about my subjects, but just try to get one good one in just a few tries. I also try to avoid « post-production ». More than playing with the auto-color or the auto-balance I don't use of Picasa/Google Photos. So no Photoshop or Lightroom for the time being.

At the purchase of my new camera I got some advice from Ronald Flou (member of the chess-club of Ieper), already an advanced photographer and often himself present at chess-happenings. If you want to look at his work then you should visit his public google+ site or his albums at KISK Ieper.

The switch from my old digital camera to the new Canon was an impressive uplift to a higher class of photography for me. The quality of the device is many times better. The shutter-speed, f-factor, ISO-factor invites to play and to use less often full-automatic settings. It even improved my method of working with my old camera and even the camera of my smartphone.

I don't want to delve into the technical details but I do want to show a few samples. Besides the earlier mentioned auto-correction a very easy adaptation - which improves a photo - is cropping (cutting). It ameliorates the focus and makes the photo look less sloppy - you only keep the essence. A picture hereafter (Giri and L'Ami in discussion at Wijk aan Zee 2017) could be cropped at the right sight to remove some garbage.
A chess-player is often a great subject but a picture gets something extra when you add a twist by suggesting something. Elements like "the lonely player", "win or loss", "doubt", "concentration",...

Below picture received the subtitle: “How to react when Anatoli Karpov is in the room and all attention goes to him – Ilya Smirin shows how”. At the last round the former world-champion started the games by beating the gong and of course everybody looked only at Karpov. All the players, having received all the attention in the earlier rounds, were suddenly invisible. I cropped a bit the picture (the opponent Eric Hansen is removed, to put Smirin at the middle of the picture).
But a good picture doesn't need to be one of a world-class player - at contrary sometimes the best ones are just made in your own club. Below picture (adapted by Prisma of my gsm) I still like very much personally.
If you start yourself - and you want to visit a tournament in which you want quietly to make photos of rows of players at the board - then forget it. You must be lucky to have some players sitting five seconds at the board in the same position. A move is played, the clock is pushed, a move is written down, a player gets up, he stretches, drinks something, changes his position... a lot happens at the board. If you work with a long shutter-speed then you get blurry photos. So a good camera helps but you also need insight, eye for composition, the right light, a good setup and ... especially a lot of patience!


Monday, March 20, 2017


At the end of a working week colleagues sometimes ask what my plans are for the weekend. Often my response is that I will play a game in the interclub. Subsequently I need to explain this a bit as outsiders don't understand how you can play chess in a team. Isn't chess played 1 player against 1 player? That is right. A teamchampionship is nothing more than adding up the points of the games and comparing the total scores between both teams.

Of course you can wonder what exactly is so attractive to teamchampionships. 1552 players are expected each interclubround in Belgium. If you compare this number with any other competition in Belgium then you find out this is gigantic. Nevertheless players need to sacrifice 11 Sundays in a season while other tournaments are struggling to survive despite less play-days.

It is a bit like the chicken and the egg. Without the massive amount of participants the interclub would never attract so many (new) participants and exactly because of this power of attraction the interclub has this huge amount of participants. On the other hand also the unique format plays a role which allows everybody to play against players of approximately the same strength. The 5 divisions ensure some sort of separation between the different playing strengths. So you don't only play 11 interesting games in the interclub but you can also after the games discuss about chess with players of your own level.

However I don't want to elaborate further about this here. No I am more interested in finding out if there can exist some cohesion and team-spirit in a group of players put together often by fate in one team. Is something like that possible for chessplayes whom are often extremely individualistic. Well honestly I think it is not so easy and sometimes simply impossible. Some teams work with a rotating system of players which doesn't allow you to create a real team-spirit. Besides even a very fixed group of players won't give you any guarantees. If I look to our current first team of Deurne and compare this with the one of a decade ago then still 5 players of the 8 are the same. Nonetheless I was very surprised to find out after our recent match in Gent against Jean Jaures that we drove back in 5 cars !

Nevertheless players of a team can also become real friends which I experienced from my years in the French interclubs. Each round efforts were made to build a team-spirit. It already started before the game. Everybody got involved in the composition of the team (the French interclub allows to some extend to move players from position). 10 minutes before the round we got each time a serious pep-talk from the president and also after the game we tried to know each-other better by having dinner together in a restaurant. Draws could only be proposed or accepted via the teamcaptain. I still remember very well how I once was reproached for accepting a draw without consultation in the position below.
De La Riva Aguando,O 2549 - Brabo 2308 : 1/2 - 1/2
The final position is close to equal and I thought a draw with black against a 250 points higher rated grandmaster is a very good result. However at that moment we were behind in the match and my draw only increased the pressure in the remaining ongoing games for our team-members. So my draw sort of sealed our match-defeat. It was a painful but also instructive lesson.

By aging I learned to become a better team-player even if this is not always matching my own ambitions. Today I am willing to take more risks when the match-situation expects this from myself. Last I was contemplating a very risky exchange-sacrifice in the final position of my game against Ian Vandelacluze. Only after finding out that the match-victory was already secure, I allowed the repetition of moves.
[Event "Interclub Deurne - Wetteren"] [Date "2016"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Vandelacluze, I."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C67"] [WhiteElo "2314"] [BlackElo "2100"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r7/2p1kp2/1p4p1/p1p1PbNp/5P2/P1P2KPP/1P1R4/8 b - - 0 35"] [PlyCount "32"] 35... Bd7 {(Black has proposed earlier already a draw but only now I inform my opponent that I agree. However this was only done after that I checked our team won the match as otherwise I surely would have tried a risky exchange-sacrifice.)} 36. Rxd7 {(The kibitzers laughed at my proposal but I believe it is playable.)} (36. g4 {(The kibitzers looked especially to this move but I correctly evaluated that black has nothing to worry.)} hxg4 37. hxg4 Rh8 38. Kg3 Rh1 39. Nxf7 Rg1 40. Kf2 Rxg4 41. Kf3 Rg1 42. Ng5 Bc6 43. Kf2 Rg4 44. Ke3 Rg3 45. Kf2 Rg4 46. Ke3 Rg3 47. Kf2 Rg4 $11) 36... Kxd7 37. Nxf7 Ke7 (37... Ke6 {(After the game we looked mainly to a quick infiltration of the black king but this would go terribly wrong.)} 38. Ng5 Kd5 39. g4 hxg4 40. hxg4 Kc4 $2 41. f5 $18) 38. Ng5 Rd8 39. Ke2 c4 40. Nf3 Rd3 41. g4 Ke6 42. Ng5 $1 Kd5 43. e6 $1 {(Stockfish plays again this endgame masterly. Komodo commits mistakes here and a move earlier.)} Kd6 44. f5 gxf5 45. gxh5 Rg3 46. h4 Rg4 47. h6 Rxh4 48. h7 Ke7 49. Kf3 Rh5 50. Kf4 Kf6 51. Kf3 {(Black can not take the knight with both pieces due to a promotion. None of both sides can improve their position so we have a very peculiar draw on the board. It is very doubtful we would have seen this position in practice. Anyway I claim that after the exchange-sacrifice the 3 results so win, draw and loss were possible.)} 1/2-1/2
Initially my teammates were not fond of my exchange-sacrifice. Only after showing some lines they agreed that it was the only serious try for white to win in the finalposition.

So teamchampionships can definitely make games more fascinating especially if matchpoints are used. However not everybody is willing to cooperate or even capable to think beyond their own game. It is neither fully wrong to put yourself first as in the end it are your own ratingpoints which are at stake. This is also the reason why some players endeavor to exclude teamchampionships from rating calculations.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Pawn breakthroughs

Parents often ask me at youth-tournaments where they can find a coach for their child. They like to get a more individual coaching for their ambitious children and most chessclubs can't offer that. The easiest must be googling the internet as skype permits you to bridge any distance. You can find a long list of coaches at chess.com. The Belgian FM Hans Renette is among them.

However paying courses don't guarantee necessarily better quality. A curriculum, certificate,.. won't tell you everything. At chess.com the Amercian IM and coach Jeremy Silman gives us some tips. A grandmaster is an overkill for a beginner. After a few courses you must get an idea if it is interesting or not for yourself. Dare to swap coaches if you are not satisfied (anymore) of the courses. Be realistic about the objectives.

I am not a coach but I do give some courses to a small group of elite-players in KMSK. In my lessons we look at the themes of the stepmethod but I adopt my own interpretation. Some of my students are very ambitious so it is real challenge for me to offer them something interesting. At the start I had my doubts to be able to show them something new but it quickly became clear there was not need for such dark thoughts. Practically 100% was new for them. Some of my students have more than 2000 ratingpoints so I hadn't expected that.

One of the themes I discussed during the last months was pawn breakthroughs which pops up in the book of step 5. Spending a couple of hours preparing my lesson I managed to create quite an interesting addition to what the book tells us. I started with a curious pawn endgame which immediately tested the calculating powers of my students. Everybody in the group was familiar with the 3 against 3 pawns exercise but not with the problem shown below.
[Event "4 pawns"] [Date "2016"] [Round "?"] [White "?"] [Black "?"] [Result "1-0"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/8/4pppp/8/4PPPP/k7/8/K7 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "11"] {(Most players know the pawn endgame of 3 against 3. This is more difficult.)} 1. h5 gxh5 2. e5 f5 (2... hxg4 3. exf6 g3 4. f7 g2 5. f8=Q) 3. gxf5 h4 4. f6 h3 5. f7 h2 6. f8=Q 1-0
I had to help them a bit before they found the right unique solution. Anybody understood immediately my advice. In pawn breakthroughs you can't gamble but you must be prepared to calculate accurately variations.

A second exercise introduced my students to a completely different segment of pawn breakthroughs. In the step-book nothing is mentioned about it but piece-sacrifices often precede pawn breakthroughts. This time I wanted to check who follows the current chess events. I consider this something natural for ambitious students but only 1 of them was able to vaguely remember the next position which popped up in a recent high-class game played at the London Chess Classic 2016.
[Event "London Chess Classic 2016"] [Site "London"] [Date "2016.12.10"] [White "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Black "Vachier Lagrave, Maxime"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2779"] [BlackElo "2804"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2r3k1/1p3ppp/8/P1n2P2/4B1P1/2B4P/KPP1R3/3r4 b - - 0 29"] [PlyCount "8"] 29... Re8 {(A serious mistake especially for a 2800 player.)} 30. Bf3 Rxe2 31. Bxe2 Rc1 32. Bf3 Rxc2 33. Bxb7 {(I guess black must have missed this piece-sacrifice.)} (33. Bxb7 Nxb7 34. a6 Re2 35. axb7 Re8 36. Be5 $18) 1-0
Sometimes I hear the remark that toplevel-chess is very different from amateur-chess. Well to counter this I also showed 2 examples from by own practice against the type of opponents my students can also expect. The first one is a fragment from a game which already was used in my article correspondence chess.
[Event "Open Plancoet 5de ronde"] [Date "2003"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Gicquel, F."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B15"] [WhiteElo "2274"] [BlackElo "2139"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "5rk1/1pr1p1b1/p3p2p/Pn2P1p1/R2P2P1/1N2B2P/1P3P2/RK6 w - - 0 28"] [PlyCount "15"] 28. Nd2 {(White has more than one way to win the game but this one I like.)} Rfc8 29. Ka2 Rc1 30. Rxc1 {(Black infiltrates but I had well calculated in advance that white is much quicker.)} Rxc1 31. Rc4 Rh1 32. Rc8 Kf7 33. Rb8 Rxh3 34. Rxb7 Rh4 {(I assume black missed my piece-sacrifice but the position is anyway beyond salvation.)} 35. Rxb5 1-0
Not easy was the verdict to see the theme in this position. The second example on the other hand was much easier to solve. Another fragment of the same game was shown in foods and drinks part 2.
[Event "Open Gent 2de ronde"] [Date "2016"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Barbier, Wiebke"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C41"] [WhiteElo "2314"] [BlackElo "2037"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "3r2k1/6p1/1ppNRn1p/p7/P1P2r2/1P3P1P/6P1/3R2K1 b - - 0 26"] [PlyCount "14"] 26... b5 {(Black is desperately seeking counter-play but this allows a pawn breakthrough.)} 27. axb5 cxb5 28. c5 Rf5 29. Rc1 Rd5 30. c6 {(I had found this piece sacrifice a couple of moves earlier. It is not difficult as my students also saw the idea immediately.)} R5xd6 31. Rxd6 Rc8 32. c7 Ne8 33. Rd8 1-0
This convinced my students of the importance to know that piece-sacrifices often precede pawn breakthroughs. I assume this course lasted more than an hour. My students are asked to search for the solutions which takes each time at least a couple of minutes. The rest of the time I easily fill by talking about all kind of other aspects like current chess events, Fenexcelsior, ....

I won't claim this is a perfect lesson. I have just started teaching so I still need to learn myself how to explain something in the most optimal and didactic way. Anyway I haven't heard any complaints yet although I assume the many interruptions this year due to interclub and tournaments are not so pleasant. My free lessons are held Sunday mornings from 10.15 til 12 at the sporthal den Boemel in Mechelen. Everybody is welcome if you are member of the club (or agrees to become one) at the condition of some minimum level of strength.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Bird

The exponential growth of grandmasters has generated an equal increase of all kind of (paying) chess-publications. They can't live from only the prizes of tournaments so they look for alternatives to earn a living. Despite a big illegal market we see there are still sufficient honest players willing to pay for the products. It is after all very attractive to learn a new opening by reading a book or more modern watching a dvd if this will let you score some easy extra points.

Especially the more modern version so the DVD is today very popular. Look at Chessbase newest products and you find a big variety of interesting stuff. It is very suitable for chessplayers as they are naturally pretty lazy so they want to see quick results by a minimum of effort. Besides also the author and the publisher loves the format. There is no need to spend months correcting text as a video can be recorded in just a couple of days. The only disadvantage is maybe that the author needs to travel and stay for a couple of days in the recording-studio.

We do notice of course a difference of quality between a book and DVD. I don't mean with quality especially the analysis but rather the summary, references and the didactic value are very strongly dependent of the format. The analysis is a matter of preparation and experience. Selecting the games, analyzing them and making a synthesis is done in advance. A writer has a bit more flexibility as he can easier add at the last moment a new chapter to his book.

A common question is how much experience must an author have about the subject he discuss. Very recently the strong Dutch grandmaster Erwin L'Ami published a DVD about the Dutch stonewall which surprised me. I play/ study almost 2 decades this opening and I never encountered any games of Erwin with this opening. This was also confirmed by checking chess-db. I found only 1 regular stonewall game played in standard conditions from 2016 which he even lost see Viktor Laznicka - Erwin L'Ami. Of course nothing about this was said in the commercial of the Indian IM Sagar Shah at Chessbase.

Now to avoid any misunderstandings I don't state that the DVD is bad. A +2600 player is perfectly capable to study independently a new opening, find new ideas and ameliorations without playing 1 official game with the opening. Besides the lack of experience can be mitigated by testing online. In my article Tom Piceu leads Bruges through 1st division I already mentioned that Erwin plays an enormous amount of games online. So Erwin definitely has something interesting to say about the Dutch stonewall for any average clubplayer willing to expand his repertoire.

On the other hand I don't want to minimize experience. Feeling wood is the ultimate test for somebodies repertoire. If you can refer to your own practice then this will always improve the story. A nice example is the series books of the strong Indian grandmaster Negi Parimarjan which received very good critics. The Dutch top-grandmaster Anish Giri even stated at Chessbase that Negi is crazy to be so honest.

Later it became clear Negi already decided earlier to stop (temporarily ?) to be an active professional player. After the series he played averagely only 9 games each year. Once he was the youngest grandmaster in the world so maybe another example of somebody started too young playing too much chess. It reminds me also of the Dutch grandmaster Karel Van der Weide writing a kind of chess-testimony see article quitting chess.

Players whom are "too honest" and at the same time active are scarce. It is a pity but perfectly understandable. I remember an old anecdote of the French grandmaster Anatoly Vaisser. After the publication of his book Beating the King'sIndian and Benoni everybody avoided in his games his beloved four pawn-system against the Kings-Indian. The only exceptions were players having read his book and they always chose the same boring anti-dote covered in that same book. Another disadvantage of playing your own recommended openings was mentioned at the Quality Chess blog. After the author lost in a critical line of the book, suddenly the salesfigures of that book started to plump very quickly.

A category of authors little or not impacted by above problems are non-professional players. Their books are not so popular as I already showed in my article theory but as money plays no role, we often see a much bigger affinity with the subject. An absolute model example is the recently published monumental work of the Romantic player Henry Bird written by the Belgian FM Hans Renette.
I strongly consider to buy this book when I finished Timman's TitansHis impressive article at chess.com has fascinated me. Only the fact that Hans worked 8 years at the book, makes it already something very special.

Nevertheless I notice little attention to this project was given in the media. Even in Belgium any advertising was lacking although this is not a big surprise as there is barely any national/ regional site existing which reports about chess. Therefore maybe Hans thought it could be a good idea to play the Bird in the last round of Open Leuven with the tournament-victory at stake. I was the antagonist but I refused to cooperate to the plot he wanted.
[Event "Open Leuven 7de ronde"] [Date "2016"] [White "Renette, H."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A03"] [WhiteElo "2365"] [BlackElo "2283"] [PlyCount "37"] 1. f4 {(Having black against a higher rated player in the last round is not the most wanted pairing. On the other hand I knew that Hans was inactive last couple of years so I thought that I am not a big underdog. Hans also did not trust his normal repertoire as he chose a back-up system which he played a few times in the past. Besides Hans was lately busy writing a monumental biography of the 19th century top-player Henry Bird. I have not -yet- read the book but I do expect something mentioned about the Bird opening too in the book.)} d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 {(In 2012 I played first g6. This time I thought if white did not play b3 at move 2 then he will neither do at move 3. This makes it more logical to play the more flexible Nf6 but in the end it often does not matter as it just transposes.)} 3. g3 {(Hans knew that I play the Dutch but also that I do not choose the Leningrad. On the other hand I did not find any earlier games with g3 of Hans in the database. With black Hans did play a couple of times the Lenigrad.)} g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. O-O O-O 6. d3 {(E3 would transpose to my game of 2012 against Bart Devliegher. D3 is of course the main-line.)} c5 7. Qe1 d4 { (I was here more or less out of book. I assumed d4 still existed but only after the game I found out that there were still more than 100 master-games played with this position.)} 8. Na3 Nc6 9. Bd2 {(C3 is much more popular. I expect Hans was also out of book here.)} Be6 {(Here Nd5 is more often played. Nevertheless the engines like the move at least as much as Nd5.)} 10. c4 { (This was criticized after the game by Hans among others but there exists nothing clearly better. Besides c4 was chosen in 3 out of 4 games in the mega-database.)} Qc8 {(I prefer Qc8 instead of Qd7 to keep the option of Bd7 and also make Rd8 more attractive. Still the engines consider Qd7 slightly stronger as Bg4 is good after Ng5 and connecting the rooks is more important.)} 11. Nc2 a5 12. a3 {(Hans told me after the game that he missed the a5-pawn would drop after Ng5.)} (12. Ng5 $6 Bf5 13. Bxc6 $6 Qxc6 14. Bxa5 $6 Qa4 $19 {(This double attack I missed during the game. On the other hand I knew of course even without this move that black has plenty of compensation for the pawn.)} ) 12... a4 13. Rb1 $6 {(Natural but this gives black the initiative. Better are e3 or e4 and it is close to equality.)} Bh3 14. b4 axb3 15. Rxb3 Bxg2 16. Kxg2 Nd7 17. h3 e6 18. Qf2 Qc7 19. Rfb1 {(Hans proposed a draw which I accepted after a couple of minutes. I realized that I was a bit better in the final position but winning is still something else especially if you have only a bit more than a half hour left on the clock. Besides I remembered my defeat of a few years ago against Hans in a similar good position. Finally the draw assured me a nice prize -380 euro - and before the game I already was satisfied with the draw.)} 1/2-1/2
No in the end the Belgian FM Arno Bomans won the tournament. This was already covered at schaakfabriek. Maybe a small consolation is that Arne is an affectionado of the inverted Bird or also called the Dutch. At the Belgian championship things didn't work out with the Dutch as the opponents were very well prepared with new ideas but in an open tournament this danger is almost non-existent. His best inverted Bird of the tournament must be the game against his club-mate Jonas.
[Event "Open Leuven 2016"] [Site "Leuven"] [Date "2016.11.12"] [Round "4"] [White "Van Cappellen Jonas"] [Black "Bomans Arno"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A87"] [PlyCount "61"] 1. d4 f5 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nf3 g6 4. g3 Bg7 5. Bg2 O-O 6. O-O d6 7. Nc3 Qe8 8. d5 a5 9. Re1 Na6 10. e4 fxe4 11. Ng5 Bg4 12. Qa4 {(A novelty but also a serious error which immediately costs material. Qd2 is correct but also then blacks opening can be called a success.)} Qxa4 13. Nxa4 Nb4 14. Rb1 Nc2 15. Rf1 Be2 16. Nc3 Bxf1 17. Bxf1 Nd4 18. Ngxe4 Nxe4 19. Nxe4 e6 20. dxe6 Rae8 21. Be3 Nf3 22. Kg2 Rxe6 23. Bd3 Ne5 24. Be2 h6 25. Nc3 c6 26. Rd1 Kh8 27. h4 Rfe8 28. Rd2 Nf7 29. Nd1 h5 30. Rd3 R6e7 31. Ra3 {(I remember the game lasted longer. Black is very likely winning but it is still a bit early to resign. Any case I am willing to update the game if I can get some additional information of the moves.)} 0-1