Friday, May 24, 2019


Last week an invitation was put on schaaksite to participate at an experiment. During the experiment you play 2 tournaments. 1 tournament in which you get full information of the opponents and 1 tournament in which you don't know anything of the opponents as the games are played on the computer. With the experiment they like to find out if the results are impacted by the information or not.

In both tournaments 10 rounds are played at the rate of 3 minutes for each game with 2 seconds increment per move. So there remains sufficient time to visit Amsterdam during the Ascension weekend. The combination of the prizes (1ste prize is in each tournament 250 euro) and the interesting format have already attracted a number of strong players: 3 grandmasters and 3 international masters. It is an alternative for the Flemish championship which is played in the same weekend for players wishing to have a lighter schedule.

The experiment is destined for a master-thesis at the university so likely the results will be statistically analyzed. First the variance needs to be defined caused by the randomness of the results. Only afterwards they can define if the difference of the results between both tournaments can be partly linked to the influence of the information.

It is an interesting question which the experiment tries to answer but I fear the format of the tournament will not give solid answers. The rate of the games doesn't allow to prepare for the games. Even during the games you don't have time to think about strategies as you need the limited time to think about the moves. Besides most people will very quickly have a good idea how strong their opponent is. Some years ago I once made a comparison between my results of games played with and without rating see to study openings. My conclusion was that there was no clear difference between both.

Also my ten year old son Hugo was able to estimate pretty accurately how strong his opponent was in the last round of the Dutch interclubs despite nobody had given any indication about the rating of his opponent. When I warned him during the game not to take a quick draw as I considered my son the stronger player, he answered firmly: "I already detected that by looking at the moves in the opening of my opponent."
[Event "Interclub De Zwarte Dame - Landau"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Schoonacker, Herman"] [Black "Hugo"] [Result "*"] [ECO "A11"] [BlackElo "1505"] [PlyCount "19"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] [CurrentPosition "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"] 1. c4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. cxd5 cxd5 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. g3 e6 6. Bg2 Be7 7. O-O O-O 8. d3 b6 9. Bd2 Bb7 10. a3 {(White played the opening solidly but definitely not ambitiously. Hugo didn't know the elo of his opponent but had already figured out here that his opponent wasn't stronger than himself.)} *
The opponent had 1427 elo. If you look at the opening then this is no surprise. White deviates quickly from the theory and chooses for an unambitious but solid position.

For the next extract of the opening I like to invite the reader to guess the rating of the player with the white pieces.
[Event "How much elo does white have?"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "?"] [Black "?"] [Result "*"] [ECO "B12"] [PlyCount "11"] [Sourcedate "2019.05.19"] [Sourceversiondate "2019.05.19"] [CurrentPosition "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. h4 h6 5. g4 Bh7 6. e6 *
White only played pawn-moves so didn't develop any piece. It also looks grim for white as he destroyed his own king-side and with the last move white blundered an important center-pawn. It looks reasonable to me to estimate that white is a beginner.

If you made the same call then you were pretty close as white had 1190 elo. He was the opponent of my son Hugo in the Flemish championship of the -10 in round 6.

Now I expect a few readers also have recognized the opening. It are not random moves but they are well known from grandmaster-games. It is even a position which is regarded as promising for white by theory. So the answer on my question could've been also 2500 elo like in the game below. White was the famous Russian grandmaster Evgeny Svechnikov.
[Event "Dubai op 5th"] [Site "Dubai"] [Date "2003.04.28"] [Round "8"] [White "Sveshnikov, Evgeny"] [Black "Gagunashvili, Merab"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B12"] [WhiteElo "2551"] [BlackElo "2580"] [PlyCount "43"] [EventDate "2003.04.20"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "UAE"] [SourceTitle "CBM 093 Extra"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2003.05.09"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2003.05.09"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. h4 h6 5. g4 Bh7 6. e6 Qd6 7. exf7+ Kxf7 8. Nc3 e5 9. Qf3+ Nf6 10. g5 hxg5 11. hxg5 Be4 12. Nxe4 dxe4 13. Qb3+ Nd5 14. Rxh8 exd4 15. Ne2 Nd7 16. Nxd4 Qe5 17. Qxb7 Bb4+ 18. c3 Rxh8 19. Qxd7+ Kg6 20. Nxc6 Bxc3+ 21. Kd1 Qf5 22. Qxf5+ 1-0
I don't believe the boy played some random moves which by chance correspond to a known theoretical position. He must have seen them before. More than likely a coach showed it to him as I consider him too young to find this independently. Besides this is something which happens quite a few times during youth-championships. Many coaches prepare their students for particular critical games by teaching them some new often high class openings.

It sounds logical but there is also a negative side of this approach. In the Flemish championship Hugo played what the opponent had prepared against after which he suffered a defeat without any chance. However for the Belgian championship I took this as a lesson. This time I learned Hugo to anticipate in the opening. Suddenly the preparations of the opponents of Hugo made by their coaches were not only useless but also often counter-productive.
[Event "BJK CBJ 2019 U12 B"] [Site "Blankenberge, Belgium"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "7.4"] [White "Hugo"] [Black "Zouaghi, Amir"] [Result "*"] [WhiteElo "1603"] [BlackElo "1564"] [PlyCount "25"] [CurrentPosition "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 e6 {(Amir had played 2 rounds earlier a6. I also knew he had played g6 before. E6 was a surprise but I had covered this as his coach.)} 3. Nge2 {(I had learned Hugo to anticipate a preparation this way.)} (3. g3 d5 4. exd5 exd5 5. d4 cxd4 6. Qxd4 Nf6 7. Bg5 Nc6 8. Qd2 {(This was the game of Hugo from round 5 against Senne Goossens. Black could now get a big advantage with d4. I guess Amir had the intention to get this position on the board in this game.)}) 3... d5 {(Opening the center without having developed the pieces and with the king still in the center is not without danger.)} 4. exd5 exd5 5. d4 cxd4 6. Nxd4 Nf6 {(Amir played the same moves as Senne but the evaluation of the position has changed 180 degrees.)} 7. Bb5+ {(Hugo played the weak move a3 but with Bb5 he could've got a big advantage already.)} 7... Bd7 8. Qe2+ Be7 9. Nf5 Kf8 10. Bxd7 Qxd7 11. Qxe7+ Qxe7+ 12. Nxe7 Kxe7 13. Bg5 ± *
Ignoring basic rules like development of the pieces, bringing the king into safety only works for some concrete situations. I am no fan of some coaches teaching their students moves which break those rules and are only trying to set traps and get short-term gains. The same is also valid for many dubious gambits. A month ago the strong British grandmaster Nigel Short told us that as a child he played the Morra-gambit for awhile due to his coach see article at Chessbase: "I never comprehended what black did wrong in the opening so white can permit to toss an important pawn."

Another funny anecdote happened in the last Belgian Youth Championship. 10 minutes before the start of the last round  a boy of the -14 came to me being clearly stressed. He stuttered: My coach asked me to sacrifice 2 pawns against the French opening of my opponent but I don't understand the compensation." What to do? I wanted to guide my children at their boards to assure they were installed properly for their last important game in the championship. At the same time I felt compassion for the boy so I didn't want to chase him away. "Follow me at the analyzing-room" I told him. "Forget the opening of your coach, I will teach you some very simple concept in only 5 minutes which is much more solid. The concept worked for Hugo in Le Touquet (see teaching chess to children part 3) and I didn't see any reason why this wouldn't work for somebody else. The boy did get the French opening on the board, he played the concept which I learned him in 5 minutes and won from his 200 higher rated opponent which let him win a prize. Amazing isn't it?

Of course there was some luck but I am serious that not every coach gives good advise. Anyway we don't have many coaches in Belgium so many are happy just to have one. Still it is not always the best for the development. I tell parents not to be afraid to switch from coach as you are not married with them. If you feel it is not working or you don't like the coach then change. Often you pay money to them so don't feel ashamed to choose for the interest of the child. Also know that many top-players have worked with many coaches. They have a coach for 1 or 2 years and they switch. It allows you to find out what methods fit best for yourself.

Anyway without a coach it is impossible to develop your full capabilities. Also a child without a coach is often having a big disadvantage compared to children having access to a coach. You see most children playing in the top-echelons having a coach today.

Once you play against only adults then this aspect practically disappears. Adults very rarely work with a coach. Nevertheless I am sure also for them this can be useful. This became clear during the just finished club-championship of Deurne. I was the strongest player by far so my perfect score of 9/9 wasn't so special. In only 1 game I experienced some problems in the opening.
[Event "Clubchampionship Deurne r5"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Engelaer, M."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C27"] [WhiteElo "1910"] [BlackElo "2309"] [PlyCount "46"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] [CurrentPosition "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"] 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. Nc3 Nxe4 4. Qh5 Nd6 5. Bb3 Be7 6. Qxe5 {(Since the American top-grandmaster Fabiano Caruana played this once in 2014, more people followed his example. After the game I heard that Maurice had prepared this line together with the Belgian IM Stefan Docx. Unfortunately I never studied this myself.)} 6... O-O 7. d4 c6?! {(The critical test is for sure Nc6. Maybe Bf6 is also playable.)} (7... Bf6!? 8. Qf4 Nc6 9. Nge2 Ne7 10. O-O ) 8. Nf3 Ne8 9. d5 d6 10. Qf4?! {(More accurate is Qg3 and white gets a very smooth development.)} 10... Nf6 11. O-O c5 12. Nd1 b5 13. c4 bxc4 14. Bxc4 Nbd7 15. Ne3?! {(White played some suspicious looking moves but now it really goes downhill. Better is Nc3.)} 15... Nb6 16. b3 Nh5 17. Qe4 Bf6?! {(Some spectators asked me why I didn't play f5 especially as I am a specialist of the Dutch. I thought Bf6 is very comfortable for black so I didn't see the need for taking additional risks. Anyway f5 is slightly stronger.)} (17... f5! 18. Qc2 f4! 19. Nd1 Nxc4 20. Qxc4 ) 18. Rb1 Re8 19. Qc2 Nf4 20. Rd1 Bd7 21. Nf5?? {(White miss completely a tactical combination. After e.g. Ba6 the position remains fully playable.)} 21... Nxc4 22. bxc4 Ne2+ 23. Kf1 Nc3 0-1
Later I heard that the Belgian international master Stefan Docx had shown this line to my opponent as an improvement upon the old 6.Nf3. It contains quite some poison as 2 weeks after I got the line on the board the Bulgarian top-grandmaster Veselin Topalov used it to defeat the American top-grandmaster Leinier Dominguez Perez. Stefan told me last time that he doesn't follow the newest theoretical developments of the openings anymore as before but clearly he hasn't stopped all study yet.
[Event "Champions Showdown Rapid"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019.02.22"] [Round "?"] [White "Topalov, Veselin"] [Black "Dominguez Perez, Leinier"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C23"] [WhiteElo "2740"] [BlackElo "2739"] 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. Nc3 Nxe4 4. Qh5 Nd6 5. Bb3 Be7 6. Qxe5 O-O 7. Nf3 Ne8 8. d4 Nf6 9. O-O Nc6 10. Qf4 d5 11. Ne5 Na5 12. Re1 c6 13. Qg3 Bf5 14. Re2 Ne4 15. Nxe4 Bxe4 16. Bf4 Bh4 17. Qg4 Nxb3 18. axb3 Be7 19. Rae1 Bd6 20. f3 Bg6 21. h4 Bxe5 22. Rxe5 Qc8 23. Qg3 h5 24. Kh2 Kh7 25. Re7 Qf5 26. R1e2 f6 27. Rxb7 Rfe8 28. Rd2 a5 29. Bd6 a4 30. bxa4 Rxa4 31. Qf4 Qxf4+ 32. Bxf4 Ra1 33. Kg3 Rae1 34. Kf2 Rh1 35. Bg3 Bf5 36. Rc7 Re6 37. Re2 Rxe2+ 38. Kxe2 Rc1 39. Rxc6 Rxc2+ 40. Rxc2 Bxc2 41. Kd2 Bf5 42. Kc3 Kg8 43. Kb4 Kf7 44. Kc5 Ke8 45. b4 Kd7 46. Bd6 Bd3 47. Bf8 g6 48. Bg7 Bf1 49. g4 hxg4 50. fxg4 Be2 51. Bxf6 Bxg4 52. b5 Be2 53. b6 Bc4 54. Bg5 Ba6 55. Kxd5 Bb7+ 56. Ke5 Bf3 57. d5 Bg2 58. Bf4 Kc8 59. Ke6 Kb7 60. d6 Bh3+ 61. Ke7 1-0
Maybe adults have few ambitions. Maybe adults are too proud for asking help. Nonetheless a coach can be a motivator to keep playing chess as an adult. A coach can take you at a higher level where you wouldn't get on your own.


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