Monday, June 26, 2017

How much time do you spend at chess?

As many families today I and my wife work full time. Besides that we have 2 small children, a large to be renovating house built in 1969, lovely garden,... and you get the picture that it is always busy. On top we can't rely upon help of the family or family-in-law due to the large distance. Finally my wife doesn't drive by car so all transport can only done with my help. So I always lack time. Still I manage to the surprise of many (see e.g a reaction of Valery Maes) to keep playing chess.

By the way it is not just a bit playing chess now and then that I talk about. If I count up all the activities linked to chess then I get a very big number of hours. Some explanation is probably necessary as likely nobody would otherwise believe. Below I split the activities in 8 categories: playing standard chess, my blog, surfing online, playing online, giving chess courses, accompanying my son to tournaments, exercising tactics and reading chess-books. The numbers i used are a.f.a.i.k. conservative. Besides quite some miscellaneous activities are not taken into account. I think about the many mails I write to other chess-players, the handicap-games I play at home against my son see strange material imbalances part 2, postmortems often accompanied with some beverages,...

Playing standard games
Total 410 hours at playing standard games

The time spent at standard games is split into 4 sub-categories.
- The number of hours a game averagely lasts. I estimate 3 hours except in the Belgium interclubs for which I use 3,5 hours (see e.g. annotations part 2 in which I wrote about a game of 109 moves.)
- The number of hours into preparation of a game. In open tournaments there is little time and you often don't find much back of the opponents in the database. For the Belgian interclubs I always prepare against multiple opponents (see e.g the list of strength)
- The number of hours analyzing a game. I only took into account the hours which I spent myself at the computer. However my engines probably analyze 5 times longer. The complex algorithm which I use, is explained in analyzing with a computer. The analysis can be split into 2 hours of research in the databases + initializing the engine to study openings, 1-2 hours checking each move  + initializing the engine for additional analysis of the middle and end-game. Finally 1 hour to synthesize the analysis into an easy readable format. I estimate the time spent for an analysis of my games played in the Belgium interclubs longer as the games are of a higher quality than the others.
- As the games are not played at home, some time is lost due to transport. If more than 2 games are played at the same day then there is often some idle time between the rounds. In open tournaments like Gent and Leuven you often have to wait for 3 hours between the rounds. More time must be spent at the prize-givings. The clubchampionship of Deurne wastes the least non-playing-time as only 1 game per day must be played and the club situates within a half hour drive from my home.

Total 141 hours spent at my blogs
Writing articles also takes time. So I understand very well why few people are willing to spent time writing articles. Besides you also need to do often some research. I win quite some time as I often copy the analysis of my standardgames into my blog-articles.
At the demand of some non-Dutch native readers I also try my best effort to translate my more common articles to English. With the help of some online dictionaries I need about 1 hour to translate an article. It is not Oxford English but despite the mistakes a number of visitors keep checking this blog.

Online surfing
Total 182,5 hours at chess-articles
With the exception of a couple of holidays per year I spent every day some time to surf at the internet. Hereby I surely look at many chesssites., chessbaseskdeurneschaaksitechesspub are my favorites which I visit often several times each day. There are also a large number of other sites which I visit less frequently. They are a source of inspiration for this blog. I also find it fun to get updated of the latest news or even add a small contribution to a discussion.

Playing online chess
Total 197 hours playing online chess
Nowadays I prefer to play 3 minute games online at Playchess. I don't play anywhere else. As the games are automatically stored I know precisely how many I played in the last year. I almost play exclusively in the evenings.

Giving chess-courses
Total 75 hours at teaching chess
This school-year I started to give courses in KMSK (see an example pawn breakthroughs). I was not able to give many courses as there was a lot of overlap with a number of other activities (interclub, tournaments,...) However I always spent quite some energy into the courses to keep my students interested.

Accompanying my son to tournaments

Total 200 hours at accompanying Hugo to tournaments
I was last year 25 days on the road to tournaments for my son Hugo. I limited the hours/day to 8 but in reality it was often more. At the tournaments I read a book, talked to players and non-players, did some kibitzing and of course made sure Hugo had everything he wanted/ needed. I also want to add the remark that my wife accompanied my son to his interclub-games and the Liga youth-championship of Antwerp. I couldn't join as I had those days my own chess-activities.

Practicing tactics tells me that I spent last year about 36 hours at practicing tactics on their server. If I want to make more than 5 per day as preparation of a tournament then I sometimes visit another server to make there some additional exercises. So in reality I used a bit more time than only the 36 hours taken into account for the calculation.

Reading chess-books

Total 55 hours at reading chess-books
Just before sleeping, I read every evening about 10 minutes a chess-book. I am now busy reading Hans Renette's book about Bird. It is a perfect way to finalize the often hectic day quietly. The hours of reading at the tournaments while accompanying Hugo are not double counted in the above table.

Total 1296 hours spent at chess in the last year
So we more or less count 4 hours per day which I spent somehow at chess in the last year. After more than 20 years of chess my love for the game hasn't disappeared yet.

Some readers will probably wonder how I manage to free all those hours. We only have 24 hours a day. Well some tasks like cleaning, painting, renovating and even recently once also gardening are all subcontracted to paid people. It also sometimes happens that I don't watch television in the evening. With 6-7 hours sleep I have enough. This means that often I am still busy with some chess-activity till after midnight.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Scholar's mate

There exist no shortcuts to play better chess. I can give advise to my students how to make (much) quicker progress but without spending a lot of time at chess, you won't see much improvement. However most players are very lazy and don't like to work hard so very few reach master-hood.

At short term it is of course possible to make some small gains. Many like to play lines of which they hope their opponents will fall into a trap. Books like 1000 Miniature Chess TrapsChess Openings Traps and Zaps101 Chess Opening Traps ... are therefore quite popular among average amateurs. The most known and probably easiest trap is likely scholar's mate which is very effective against absolute beginners. I always advise my son against playing for such easy points at youth-tournaments but he sometimes ignores this when I don't look at his games.

In the long run playing for such traps won't teach you anything. You don't develop your chess-knowledge. Besides the success-rate depends very much of the surprise-element and the strength of the opponent. As a consequence you won't see many experienced players willing to try the scholar's mate. The American top-grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura is for a reason considered an outsider as he is the only +2600 player having tried this scholar's mate with rather disappointing results.
[Event "Sigeman Co 13th"] [Site "Malmo/Copenhagen"] [Date "2005.04.22"] [Round "7"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Sasikiran, Krishnan"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C20"] [WhiteElo "2657"] [BlackElo "2642"] [PlyCount "174"] 1. e4 e5 2. Qh5 Nc6 3. Bc4 g6 4. Qf3 Nf6 5. Ne2 Bg7 6. Nbc3 d6 7. d3 Bg4 8. Qg3 Qd7 9. f3 Be6 10. Bg5 Nh5 11. Qh4 h6 12. Be3 Na5 13. Bb3 Nxb3 14. axb3 a6 15. d4 Qe7 16. Qf2 exd4 17. Bxd4 Nf6 18. O-O-O O-O-O 19. Nf4 Rhg8 20. Rhe1 Kb8 21. Kb1 g5 22. Nfe2 Rge8 23. g4 Qf8 24. Ng3 Nd7 25. Be3 Qh8 26. Nge2 Be5 27. h4 Qg7 28. Rh1 Nf6 29. Bd4 Nd7 30. Qe3 Qf6 31. hxg5 hxg5 32. Bxe5 Qxe5 33. Rh5 Rg8 34. Nd5 Rde8 35. Qc1 Qg7 36. Ne3 Nf6 37. Rh2 Rh8 38. Rg2 Nd7 39. Nd4 Rh3 40. c4 Qf6 41. Rf2 Reh8 42. b4 Qe5 43. c5 dxc5 44. bxc5 Nxc5 45. Qc3 f6 46. Rc2 Na4 47. Qb4 Bd7 48. Nb3 Rh1 49. Rxh1 Rxh1 50. Ka2 Nb6 51. Qf8 Qe8 52. Qxe8 Bxe8 53. Nc5 Nd7 54. Nxd7 Bxd7 55. Kb3 Re1 56. Rc3 Be6 57. Kc2 Re2 58. Kc1 a5 59. Nc2 Rf2 60. Nd4 Bd7 61. Rc5 b6 62. Rd5 Kc8 63. e5 fxe5 64. Rxe5 c5 65. Nb3 Rf1 66. Kd2 a4 67. Nxc5 bxc5 68. Rxc5 Kb7 69. Rxg5 Rxf3 70. Rd5 Be6 71. Rd3 Rf1 72. Rg3 Rf2 73. Kc3 Kb6 74. Kb4 Rf4 75. Ka3 Kb5 76. Re3 Bd5 77. Rd3 Bc4 78. Re3 Rd4 79. g5 Rd1 80. b3 axb3 81. Re8 Ra1 82. Kb2 Ra2 83. Kc3 Rc2 84. Kd4 b2 85. Rb8 Ka4 86. g6 Bb5 87. g7 b1=Q 0-1
It is obviously strange to play for scholar's mate when you know in advance for sure that the opponent won't be fooled. On the other hand I do empathize with the at that time 18 years old Hikara. Fooling around as teenager is something very natural and makes part of growing up. You often only realize years later how arrogant and impudent such choices were.

Besides technically playing for scholar's mate isn't so bad after all. Many gambits are much more dubious. My analyses don't find any advantage for black so it is playable. It is not stupid to use it once as a surprise-weapon to avoid somebodies superior opening-knowledge. The Belgian expert Marc Ghysels proofed this a couple of years ago by making a sensational draw against the German IM Hans-Hubert Sonntag. In the game a variation of the scholar's mate was played with the queen immediately at f3 instead of h5. This has the advantage that black does not get an extra tempo with g6. On the other hand black gets the extra interesting alternative to develop the bishop of the black squares differently. Both lines look playable to me.
[Event "BEL-chT 1213"] [Site "Belgium"] [Date "2012.10.07"] [Round "2.5"] [White "Ghysels, Marc"] [Black "Sonntag, Hans Hubert"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C23"] [WhiteElo "2095"] [BlackElo "2374"] [PlyCount "94"] 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. Qf3 Nc6 4. Ne2 Be7 5. Nbc3 O-O 6. d3 d6 7. h3 Na5 8. Be3 c6 9. a3 Nxc4 10. dxc4 Be6 11. b3 a6 12. O-O b5 13. cxb5 axb5 14. Rfd1 Qc7 15. a4 bxa4 16. Rxa4 d5 17. Bd2 Rxa4 18. bxa4 d4 19. Nb1 c5 20. Ng3 c4 21. Na3 c3 22. Nb5 Qc4 23. Bg5 h6 24. Bxf6 Bxf6 25. Ra1 Ra8 26. Nd6 Qb4 27. Ndf5 Bg5 28. h4 Bd2 29. Nh5 Bxf5 30. exf5 Rxa4 31. Rxa4 Qxa4 32. Qg4 g6 33. fxg6 fxg6 34. Qxg6 Kf8 35. Qd6 Ke8 36. Qxe5 Kd8 37. Nf6 Qc4 38. Qe8 Kc7 39. Qd7 Kb6 40. Qd8 Kb5 41. Qb8 Ka4 42. Nd7 Ka3 43. Ne5 Qe6 44. Nd3 Ka2 45. Qb4 Qe4 46. Qa4 Kb1 47. Qb3 Ka1 1/2-1/2
Recently this line also occurred in my game of the Belgian interclub when playing the expert David Roos from Zottegem. He told me after the game that he doesn't spend time anymore at studying theory to find some small advantage for white. He chose the scholar's mate because he was pretty sure that I never studied it deeply before.
David at the Flemish championship of 2015
There was a lot of unbelief when I demonstrated in the post-mortem which lines of the scholar's mate I had analysed during my preparation of the game. People often question my work-ethic of preparing a game for several players. However this time nobody could deny that I was right to prepare also against David's teammates. Earlier I wrote in this article about Marc and he is accidentally a teammate of David, playing on top a board higher. In my article openingchoices I wrote for a reason that players of the same club often play the same openings. The intended surprise-element failed and I quickly got the better position.
[Event "Interclub Zottegem - Deurne"] [Date "2017"] [White "Roos, D."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C23"] [WhiteElo "2100"] [BlackElo "2299"] [PlyCount "44"] 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. Qf3 {(David told me after the game that he does not search anymore for an advantage of the white pieces. Personally I do not find this a good reason to take such drastic measurements. White not only abandons his openingadvantage for white but even risks to stand worse very quickly. It says enough that no 2500 player (see megadatabase) ever has played this. There are many other safer systems to avoid theory for white)} Nc6 $5 {(David knows my reputation but was of course surprised that I investigated this opening the day before during my preparation. If you want to surprise me in the interclub then you better do not choose a line which a teammate already played once before. Marc Ghysels made a nice draw in 2012 against a 300 points higher rated opponent with it. Although the move I played is the most popular one, the engines prefer c6 as more critical. However the lines resulting after c6 are not my cup of tea. )} 4. c3 $5 { (I only looked at Ne2 in my preparation as played before by Marc. Ne2 is also the mainline if you can talk about mainlines at all in this strange opening. C3 is a little less critical but playable so fits better in Davids strategy to avoid my theoretical openingsknowledge.)} d6 $5 { (Be7, Bc5, g6 and Na5 are all interesting alternatives.)} 5. d3 g6 6. h3 Bg7 7. Ne2 Be6 8. O-O O-O {(An important alternative which I looked at for several minutes is Bxc4.)} 9. Bb5 a6 10. Ba4 Nd7 11. Qg3 f5 12. exf5 Bxf5 13. Bb3 Kh8 14. Nd2 Nc5 15. Bc2 d5 16. f4 $2 {(White is passive but this only creates weaknesses.)} (16. b4 $1 Ne6 17. Nf3 d4 18. Bd2 dxc3 19. Bxc3 Qd6 20. a3 Nf4 21. Rae1 Rad8 $13) 16... Qd6 $6 {(The computer spits a very concrete line with even a bigger advantage for black.)} (16... exf4 $1 17. Nxf4 g5 $1 18. Nh5 Be5 19. Qe1 Qe7 20. Nf3 Nxd3 21. Qd2 Bf4 22. Nxf4 $17) 17. b4 $2 {(White overestimates his position. The quiet Nb3 is definitely stronger. )} Ne6 (17... Nxd3 {(After playing my move I had second doubts about this possibility.)} 18. Bxd3 exf4 19. Rxf4 Bxd3 20. Rxf8 {(We missed this intermediate-move even in the post-mortem.)} Rxf8 21. Qxd3 Nxb4 22. cxb4 Bxa1 23. Nf3 $17 {(In the game black has a bigger advantage.)}) 18. fxe5 Qxe5 $6 {(I suspected that Bxe5 was stronger but I was not able to calculate everything properly so I chose for the lazy gain of material. )} (18... Bxe5 $1 {(The clock probably played a role too as we both did not have much time left.)} 19. Qe3 { (The engines play this move but I feared mainly Qe1 and Qh4.)} d4 {(This simple refutation would never be allowed by a human player. It once more demonstrates how differently engines play chess.)} 20. Nc4 Bh2 21. Kh1 dxe3 22. Nxd6 Bxd6 23. Bxe3 g5 $19) 19. Qxe5 Nxe5 20. Rxf5 gxf5 21. d4 Ng6 22. Ng3 $6 {(Pity as the exchange-sacrifice made the win rather problematic for black if followed up here with Nf3. Probably the pressure on the board and the clock explain this weird blunder.)} Nxd4 0-1
Although scholar's mate looks objectively ok, it is not an opening easy to play for white. Bringing the queen early into play is a violation of a basic-rule for which a certain price must be paid. If players really want to avoid main-lines then better alternatives exist. I wrote about this in the comments upon my article playing the person. Especially with white it is rather easy to choose something solid like 1.a3. I once lost a game childishly against this move see universal systems.