Monday, April 20, 2020

Tactics part 4

I am playing chess for many years and I always wondered how comes players can have so different skills but can still have exactly the same rating. People often ask what needs to be done to obtain rating x but I don't think there exist one firm answer for it. A rating is nothing more or less than the sum of a number of features a person has of which naturally some are more important than others.

Today there also is a lot of doubt about the old rule that chess is 99% tactics. Yes it is wise we first teach to beginners tactics and the steps-books are definitely very useful for it but once the basics are learned progress is much harder. In many Flemish clubs teachers limit their classes to tactics which does after some time slow down their students or worse let them stagnate.

A couple of recent researches prove that there is no strong correlation between elo and tactical skills contrary to common understanding. It was therefore a big disappointment for Jan Gooris to find out via a small inquiry that it isn't so useful to fill Vlaanderen  Schaakt Digitaal with tactical exercises as he was doing for each edition. Of course he could use as excuse that only 10 persons cooperated but it was for sure no good advertisement. (see vsd 2020-03 pdf).

A different angle is shown in 2 more recent scientific papers: Assessing the difficulty of chess tactical problems and A Computational Model for Estimating the Difficulty of Chess Problems.pdf. In first instance they let players solve tactical exercises but the focus is rather at defining the difficulty of the problems. It became clear that fide-elo doesn't say much about how a person looks at a problem. This first study also used the modern eye-tracking-method to discover which parts of the board or which moves were looked at by the players. In the second paper the researchers disregarded the human input as unreliable and tried to build a computer-model for assessing the difficulty of the tactical chess-problems. By checking a list of parameters in the solving-tree it became possible to get an acceptable degree of accuracy. Such algorithm isn't only interesting for chess but can also be used in other domains of course.

Nevertheless many players didn't like it and even criticized the Greek Dimitrios Ladopoulos , having no official chess-title when recently he almost became the world-champion solving tactical problems at despite many strong grandmasters participated. He surely cheated although he was live streaming his performances. He just learned the solutions by heart, as indicated by the candidates-finalist Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in an interview published beginning of this year. Maxime lost their direct duel while being 500 points higher rated than Dimitrios so I guess his must have been very painful especially while many fans were watching live.

On the other hand I should not minimize tactics either. Most games even at my level are still decided by players missing tactics. Any top-grandmaster excels of course in tactics but sometimes you also can meet a player at the lower echelons being very strong at tactics. Twice this season I encountered such person at the other side of the board.

In the first round of the Belgian interclubs I played against the congenial French fide-master Rabah Bouhallel. More than a decade ago I played for his team in Rijsel/Lille so I was very well aware about his fabulous tactical skills especially when he is low on time. It is no coincidence that today Rabah has still a French blitzelo of +2500. So during the game I paid special attention to allocate a time-buffer to avoid playing blitz. I managed to do that till I got a winning position. When I tried in vain to find the knock-out, my extra time evaporated so in the end I still had to play several moves quickly.
[Event "Interclub KOSK - Deurne"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019"] [Round "?"] [White "Bouhallel, R."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "1-0"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "5r2/2p2qk1/1n4pp/3np3/7N/P3P1PP/1BQ1R2K/8 b - - 0 38"] [ECO "C44"] [WhiteElo "2305"] [BlackElo "2306"] [PlyCount "2"] 38... Qe6? {(A blunder but I do appreciate how Rabah managed in a couple of seconds to calculate and execute the beautiful combination.)} (38... Nd7! 39. Qc6 g5 40. Ng2 N5f6 41. Rd2 Re8!) 39. Bxe5+ {(Here I lost to my horror on time. This never happened before to me when playing with an increment of 30 seconds per move.)} (39. Bxe5+ Qxe5 {(I played this move a fraction too late but it didn't matter as Rabah showed me immediately the winning tactic.)} 40. Qxg6+ Kh8 41. Qxh6+ Kg8 42. Qxf8+ Kxf8 43. Ng6+ +-) 1-0
It was the very first time that I lost on time while playing with the 30 seconds increment per move (if we ignore my recording error as explained in my article the sadistic exam). In the KOSK it is always a bit awkward to play as they offer beer just a couple of meters away from the players (see also the report of the match from Deurne) but I first didn't realize that I lost on time at move 39. Nor did I realize first that the final position was losing for me as Rabah showed me the winning combination after the game. He had seen everything within seconds while I think it would be probably a not so easy puzzle at

This was nice, very strong but what happens in my second example also played in the Belgian interclubs is something extraordinary. The Belgian IM Stefan Beukema is famous for his extremely complex tactical fights which allowed him to defeat multiple grandmasters. However after our game I was perplexed and therefore asked the question directly to Stefan if this all was planned or just pure luck. "Yes till Qg8 I had calculated it and in the resulting position I saw some great possibilities for white" was the answer of Stefan. I don't think it is important for this story that Stefan had a perfect non tactical alternative and his combination contained a small practically invisible gap.
[Event "Interclub Brasschaat - Deurne"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020"] [Round "?"] [White "Beukema, S"] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "1-0"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "1rbn1rk1/2qnp1bp/1p3pp1/2p2P2/NPPp2PQ/3P1N2/3BP1BP/R4RK1 b - - 0 17"] [ECO "A03"] [WhiteElo "2420"] [BlackElo "2296"] [PlyCount "32"] 17... e5? {(I learned from my game against the FM Hans Renette with the Bird that black should try to play e5 but this is the wrong moment.)} (17... Bb7! 18. Qg3 Qxg3 19. hxg3 e5 20. Rfb1 Ra8) 18. fxg6 hxg6 19. Ng5? {(I had missed this move. Stefan is a magnificient tactician but after the game I had to ask him if this was all planned. It is not the best move for sure. Qg3 and bxc5 were objectively stronger.)} (19. bxc5!? bxc5 20. Ng5! {(Now this works. Besides also for Leela this is too deep. Stockfish has no problems to dissect the position.)} 20... fxg5 21. Bd5+ Nf7 22. Bxg5 Bb7!? 23. Rxf7 Rxf7 24. Bxf7+ Kxf7 25. Qh7 Nf8?! {(The radical Bf3 defends better.)} 26. Rf1+ Ke8 27. Qg8 Bc8 {(Via a transposition we are back in our game.)}) 19... fxg5 20. Bd5+ Nf7 21. Bxg5 Bb7 22. Rxf7 Rxf7 {(After the game Stefan recommended Bxd5 but that loses immediately after Rxg7.)} (22... Bxd5?? 23. Rxg7+ Kxg7 24. Qh6+ Kg8 (24... Kf7 25. Qh7+ Ke8 26. Qe7#) 25. Qxg6+ Kh8 26. cxd5 +-) 23. Bxf7+ Kxf7 24. Qh7 Nf8 25. Rf1+ Ke8 26. Qg8 Bc8 27. bxc5 bxc5?? {(Probably only an engine can still save this. It doesn't help that I was running out of time.)} (27... Rb7! 28. Nxb6!? Qxc5 29. Nd5 Qd6 30. Nf6+!? Bxf6 31. Rxf6 Qxf6 32. Bxf6 Be6 33. Qh8 Rh7 34. Qxh7 Nxh7 35. Bxe5 Bxg4 36. Kf2 Ng5 37. Bxd4 {(This line is not forced but demonstrates how complex the lines are. Even the resulting endgame is not easy.)}) 28. Nxc5 Rb6 29. Ne4 Be6 30. Rxf8+ {(I also missed this one and this time it finishes the game very quickly. )} 30... Bxf8 31. Nf6+ Ke7 32. Nd5+ Kd7 33. Qh7+ 1-0
I missed several of the keymoves. For sure I would've never dared to play such combination especially when having a safe alternative (see part 1). Leela also can't find the win despite running on my strong new computer. Only Stockfish manages to calculate through the myriad of lines which proofs how difficult the tactics were in the game.

These are splendid combinations but I would rather execute them instead of being on the receiving end. Anyway I don't think that I can ever become so strong at tactics even if I practice every day for many hours. I can better use my time for training other things. Of course it remains important to regularly do a limited number of tactics which can be done by just making the 5 free daily exercises at


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