Friday, January 11, 2019


End of last year the Belgian government felt. Most likely this means Belgium will enter once again a long period of instability. Journalists will for sure have a lot of fun to cover the messy developments and won't deny any opportunity to stir some more troubles between the politicians. Today we shouldn't rely upon the media to get neutral and ethical reports. Most don't shy away from using information which isn't approved by any party.

For the politicians it will be very important to communicate very carefully with whom and how. In the past there were many blunders of which the famous notes on the lap were probably the most horrible and simultaneously funniest ones. Personal notes often with important strategical information are laying casually on the lap of a minister which allows an attentive photographer to make some snapshots of it. Afterwards the photo is enlarged so the secret often juicy details can be discovered and shared with the public.

Afterwards the information always creates a debate if the so called blunder wasn't done intentionally by the person. Sometimes it is just a way to leak dirty information to the press. Exactly because of this dark side, many people enjoyed the joke of Bart De Wever when he wrote "Curiezeneuzemosterdpot" = "Snoop" on a note during the governmental negotiations of 2011. He knows better than any other politician how to use the media to his own advantage.
Meanwhile we are 8 years further and a lot has happened about privacy. We don't only see more and more people protect their data (see e.g my article password) but we also see that the laws in Belgium but also broader in Europe have become much stricter concerning sharing of data. Nevertheless we still see some people underestimating the dangers of open profiles. Besides it is not only Average Joe but even an absolute superstar like challenger Fabiano Caruana made recently a big privacy-blunder by blindly trusting the people around him. A media-campaign to create positive publicity about the Caruana-camp created accidentally a leak about the analysis made for the world-championship. The video was taken offline 15 minutes after the publication but the harm was already done. 
Afterwards nobody of Caruana's camp wanted to comment about the video. Initially people thought it was a strategy to mislead the world-champion Magnus Carlsen but the more the match continued, the less likely that scenario became. Caruana played the openings mentioned in above screenshot before and after the moment of the release.

Therefore the discussion of the authenticity of the video turned already quickly to the damage created for Caruana. Did Carlsen get an important advantage by this video or should this be nuanced?  Former-worldchampion Anand thought that the video-blunder didn't influence the match (see article of espn). Still in game 11 so several days after the release of the video, Carlsen did enter line 21 of the video, a Russian opening with 9...Nf6! more than likely after having analyzed it deeply with his team.
[Event "Carlsen - Caruana World Championship Match"] [Site "London ENG"] [Date "2018.11.24"] [EventDate "2018.11.09"] [Round "11"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [White "Magnus Carlsen"] [Black "Fabiano Caruana"] [ECO "C42"] [WhiteElo ""] [BlackElo ""] [PlyCount "110"] [CurrentPosition "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"] 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3 Be7 7.Be3 O-O 8.Qd2 Nd7 9.O-O-O Nf6 { (Of course it was very useful for Carlsen that this position was mentioned in the leaked video about Caruana as that allowed the team of Carlsen to prepare very well in advance for it. However in the game we see Caruana very quickly and easily obtaining a drawn endgame so we can wonder how serious was the work done by Carlsen.) } 10.Bd3 c5 11.Rhe1 Be6 12.Kb1 Qa5 13.c4 Qxd2 14.Bxd2 h6 15.Nh4 Rfe8 16.Ng6 Ng4 17.Nxe7+ Rxe7 18.Re2 Ne5 19.Bf4 Nxd3 20.Rxd3 Rd7 21.Rxd6 Rxd6 22.Bxd6 Rd8 23.Rd2 Bxc4 24.Kc1 b6 25.Bf4 Rxd2 26.Kxd2 a6 27.a3 Kf8 28.Bc7 b5 29.Bd6+ Ke8 30.Bxc5 h5 31.Ke3 Kd7 32.Kd4 g6 33.g3 Be2 34.Bf8 Kc6 35.b3 Bd1 36.Kd3 Bg4 37.c4 Be6 38.Kd4 bxc4 39.bxc4 Bg4 40.c5 Be6 41.Bh6 Bd5 42.Be3 Be6 43.Ke5 Bd5 44.Kf4 Be6 45.Kg5 Bd5 46.g4 hxg4 47.Kxg4 Ba2 48.Kg5 Bb3 49.Kf6 Ba2 50.h4 Bb3 51.f4 Ba2 52.Ke7 Bb3 53.Kf6 Ba2 54.f5 Bb1 55.Bf2 Bc2 1/2-1/2
After this game some grandmasters wondered why Carlsen even with the unethical foreknowledge was still not able to get the smallest advantage with white. Did Carlsen and his team not analyze it properly as there aren't so many critical lines to check?

Well not only Carlsen was criticized for his openings. Also Caruana got some harsh comments from some grandmasters. One of the them was the American grandmaster Gregory Serper. He didn't understand why Caruana kept avoiding the mainlines of the Svechnikov see Fabiano Caruana what went wrong?  In the past the mainlines have created many lovely victories for white against the Svechnikov.

Myself I played several times some of the mainlines (see e.g. a theoretical duel in the Svechnikov) but meanwhile I also know after countless hours of analysis that white has little or no hope anymore to seek some advantage in this opening. I even had a lively discussion about this with the Venezuelan IM (today GM) Jose Rafael Gascon Del Nogalco-winner of Le Touquet 2017. In round 6 of Open Le Touquet 2017 he won convincingly against the Belgian player Matthias Godde and in the postmortem I wasn't able to convince him initially that white has nothing in his chosen mainline of the Svechnikov. Well of course which master would trust some unknown kibitzer not even participating at the tournament. Only when I showed him my deep analysis on my computer about the opening, made 1 year ago, he started to realize that I wasn't selling crap. It can be a coincidence but I couldn't find any recent games anymore from him playing again the same mainline.

Recently I even saw somebody renaming the Svechnikov as the Sicilian Berlin just to emphasize that many other players recognize the solidity of the opening. Anyway it is nonsense to insinuate somebody can switch in a couple of days to the mainlines of the Svechnikov and on top of that can also discover some interesting new ideas which would disturb Carlsen. Also today I think there exists a lot of misunderstandings about how easy it is to create such new interesting ideas. You don't get them by just looking at what some engines tell you in a position. No in my article studying openings part 2 I described how it takes me often more than 1 week to find a couple of new ideas in 1 specific variation. In other words even during a world-championship with helpers and a network of computers in most cases nothing more than some patch-work can be done.

A couple of months ago I also experienced how difficult it is to find the right solution for a specific opening-problem. In round 6 of the last Open Leuven I played against the Swedish grandmaster Ralf Akesson. In 3 previous encounters he answered with the Sicilian opening but as he got into troubles each time (see e.g. happiness) I expected him to variate. Besides I also noticed that recently he played a couple of times the Caro-Kann. In that opening he likes to play a number of lines of which some of them were new for me. In the end I guessed right once again as indeed 1 of the prepared lines popped up on the board. However this time my approved preparation-method using databases came short although this doesn't explain the complete story.
[Event "Open Leuven 6de ronde"] [Site "?"] [Date "2018.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Akesson, R."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B17"] [WhiteElo "2290"] [BlackElo "2420"] [PlyCount "126"] [CurrentPosition "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"] 1.e4 c6 { (After 3 encounters with c5 which went difficult for black, Akesson chooses to deviate with c6. It was not a surprise as I had noticed in my preparation that he recently played several times the Caro-Kann.) } 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Ng5 Ngf6 6.Bd3 g6 { (In the Megadatabase there is already 1 game of Ralf with this move played in 2015 but after the game he couldn't remember about that when I asked him.) } 7.N1f3 Bg7 8.O-O { (I had selected this logical move in my game-preparation but I also found Qe2 fascinating. Today after some deep analysis I consider 0-0 as the most critical continuation.) } 8...O-O 9.Re1 { (In my preparation I had decided to play here Qe2 but I forgot this during the game. The early start of the round combined with oversleeping myself due to the accumulated fatigue of the last couple of weeks, more than likely played a role hereby. Now I have to admit that new analysis has shown me that there is anyway very little difference between both moves. I even have to add that a clear refutation of the system doensn't exist. I consider today c3 as the most critical test.) } 9...h6 10.Ne4 { (Nxf7 is playable and fun but I couldn't prove an advantage for white.) } 10...Nxe4 11.Bxe4 c5 12.c3 cxd4 13.Nxd4 a6 $146 { (Nc5 was still played once in a candidates-tournament of 1988 between Kevin Spraggett and Andrei Sokolov. A6 is an interesting novelty.) } 14.Nb3 { (I spent on the board more than half hour at this position without finding a strong plan. I didn't like my position although the engines evaluate it as equal.) } 14...Qc7 15.Be3 Nf6 16.Bf3 e5 17.g3 Bf5 18.Qe2 Rad8 19.Rad1 Rxd1 20.Rxd1? { (I had calculated black's next moves but I did underestimate the consequences. Ugly but necessary was Qxd1 maintaining approximately the balance.) } ( 20.Qxd1! Rd8 21.Qc1 Kh7 22.Rd1 Re8 23.Bg2! Ng4 $13 ) 20...e4 21.Bg2 Bg4 22.f3 exf3 23.Bxf3 Re8 24.Re1 h5 25.Qg2 Bxf3 26.Qxf3 Ng4 27.Bf2 Rxe1+ 28.Bxe1 a5 29.Qe4?! { (I miss completely black's 30th move. White needs to chase away the knight with h3 despite it weakens the squares around the king.) } 29...Qb6+ 30.Kg2 a4 { (Only now I realized that my position was busted. Several players asked me after the game why I didn't take the pawn but then black wins immediately with Qe3. The engine shows more than 13 points advantage for black after Qe3.) } 31.Nd2 Qxb2 32.Qe8+ Bf8 33.h3 Nf6 34.Qxa4 Qxc3 { (White not only lost a pawn but still has big problems with the safety of his king.) } 35.Nf3 Qd3 36.Bf2 Ne4 37.Qd4 Qe2 38.Qe3 Qxe3 39.Bxe3 Nc3 { (I solved the problem of my king but at the expense of a second pawn. The endgame is clearly lost. I first wanted to resign as the next round would start within 15 minutes. Nonetheless I decided to continue as the win is not straightforward and I wouldn't lose much energy by playing solely on increment.) } 40.Ng5 Nxa2 41.Ne4 Be7 42.Nc5 b5 43.Kf3 Nb4 44.Nb3 Nd5 45.Bd4 f5 46.g4 fxg4+ 47.hxg4 hxg4+ 48.Kxg4 { (Now there exists the possibility to seek the endgame of bishop+knight which many even strong players failed to convert.) } 48...Kf7 49.Bf2 Bf6 50.Kf3 Ke6 51.Ke4 Nc3+ 52.Kd3 Kd5 53.Bd4 { (I abandon the earlier endgame of bishop+knight in return of a tricky knight-endgame.) } 53...Bxd4 54.Nxd4 b4 55.Nc2 Na2 { (This awkward move is the only one winning. Kc5 is answered by Nxb4 and black can't save its last pawn.) } 56.Ne3+ Kc5 57.Nc2 b3 58.Nd4 b2 59.Nb3+ Kb4 60.Nd2 Nc3 61.Kd4 ( 61.Kc2 b1=Q+ 62.Nxb1 Nxb1 63.Kxb1 $19 ) 61...g5 62.Ke5 Kc5 63.Kf5 Kd4 0-1
Only at home after many additional hours of analysis I discovered 9.c3 is the critical test for this line. If I need so much time to find the solution of such little side-line then one can imagine it takes months to study a big opening. This can't be done during a normal preparation of a game nor even during a match. It is something which needs to be done long in advance and even then you need to make choices as we can't look at everything. For myself I decided to reset my priorities this year. It was the 4th standard-game with the same color against Ralf. Instead of waiting till the next encounter I made the preparation now while having plenty of free time and stored the results in a new database. Meanwhile I already finished such preparation upon 4 players which I regularly meet in the circuit.
Extract of a white-preparation against Ralf Akesson stored in my new database of players

In the future I only need for a new encounter to refresh the earlier made analysis and add if necessary recently played new openings of the opponent to the database. That will for sure speed up the work compared with starting each time from scratch like before. Be aware this isn't the same as what chessbase offers to prepare for an opponent as my database already includes my own choices and novelties which I would like to play. Last week I read accidentally that the Swedish grandmaster Axel Smith recommends to create a database of specific preparations for players in his book from 2013: Pump Up Your Rating which won a couple awards.

I believe a snoop is a good feature for a chess-player but only that isn't enough to become stronger. Also many hours of study must be done in an opening to profit from the information. Creating a database of preparations on potential future opponents will help. At my level the impact of such work will be rather limited as many of my opponents are weak with little to no games of them available in the commercial databases. Also it is useful to only do such preparations for opponents which you meet likely again the nearby future. Learning new openings is not a waste of time but the chance is very small to meet again that one stranger on the board having played just one casual tournament in the neighborhood.


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