Saturday, July 25, 2020

Clubchess and/or internetchess part 2

In one of  my very first articles on this blog, about 8,5 years ago, I summoned the clubs to explore the possibilities of internetchess. Unfortunately almost none of them made any efforts although in a recent chessmagazine of the Dutch federation it was once more proven that internetchess can boost also clubchess. Therefore when clubchess stopped due to the corona-crisis, I hoped we would see finally a breakthrough.

Unfortunately this didn't materialize. Some clubs did start a weekly online tournament but they immediately stopped with it from the moment there was the slightest possibility to return back to regular otb-chess despite the huge health-risks. I quickly noticed that most clubplayers aren't interested much in internetchess as the number of participants quickly decreased. Some players even firmly stated that they prefer to play no chess at all than this online-crap. Besides also the federations and underlying organizations didn't initiate any online activities. It is not a coincidence that the boards of those organizations are often old players having little or no affection with online chess.

However this doesn't mean that there was no increase of online chess due to the corona-crisis. We can see this clearly if we look the the number of played games in the last months at lichess.
Anyway for sure this didn't happen because clubplayers organized themselves online in mass. There exist only a few successful stories. Probably the largest weekly online tournament is the sunday teambattles which originally was launched by 2 Dutch teams with 3 players on a lonely evening. Today even a small army of our best Belgian players participates at it as we lack any similar initiative in Belgium. Next I hear via the connections of my children that many young players like to play online against each other and even organize themselves small tournaments without the help of adults.

Today I am therefore convinced that there is little overlap between clubchess and internetchess as was already known for correspondence-chess and otb-chess. Besides some otb-players have started during the corona-crisis with correspondence-chess but we are again talking about individuals so exceptions.

The general perception of clubplayers is that online chess is a very different game. Not only the social part is almost completely absent but also the rules of play are deviating at several points. You can read about it in a recent shocking article at schaaksite: New dimension in online chess. For people just starting with online chess it is of course a bit weird to see the strategy of winning games by blocking pre-moves.

On the other hand we shouldn't exaggerate by focusing at those differences in the rules of play. Online chess is for more than 90% similar to on the board chess. In both domains we see the same players at the top. There are exceptions of course but those players are closely monitored as cheating is a big problem for online chess. Despite huge efforts to discourage cheaters, we did see a clear increase of the number of cheaters in the last months. Some time ago I watched a movie at youtube about how widespread cheating is online: 300 players with an official title FM/IM/GM admitted that they cheated online, 3 + 2600 fide rated players were caught in just one week. The number of accounts closed for cheating has doubled and in some tournaments we saw the complete top 10 being disqualified. We Belgians aren't saints either. I don't want to give names but you can easily find accounts of Belgian players which were closed for cheating. In the last months I got regularly points returned by the system as one of my opponents was convicted as a cheater. Besides this is only the top of the iceberg as was recently proven in an article on  scholastic chess cheating. A teacher knew that multiple of his students cheated online but only some of them were detected by the system.

Another large big obstacle to play online is that everybody can look at your games. For me it was very easy to find dozens of games from clubplayers which had almost no games at all in the standard databases like megadatabase. This will be very useful for me later when I meet the same clubplayers again at the board as this will allow me to prepare much more better. Some clubplayers still underestimate this as was the case by my opponent in round 5 of Cappelle La Grande: the Belgian IM Francois Godart. He was flabbergasted when I told him after the game that I was prepared for his opening. "Comment?" was his question as he never played this opening before in otb. However at I had noticed that he had started to test this opening recently and I thought during my preparation of the game that he would likely consider 6.Be2 against the Najdorf as harmless and therefore a good surprise-weapon.
[Event "Open Cappelle La Grande 5de ronde"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020"] [Round "?"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Godart, F."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B92"] [WhiteElo "2251"] [BlackElo "2443"] [PlyCount "50"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 {(There are no Najdorf-games of my opponent in the megadatabase. After the game Francois was very surprised that I told him that I had expected this Najdorf. The reason is that I had discovered his online account and had noticed that he recently had started to test the Najdorf intensively in blitzgames. I also assumed that Francois would consider 6.Be2 as harmless so that the Najdorf would be a solid surprise-weapon.)} 6. Be2 e5 7. Nb3 Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. Be3 Be6 10. Qd3 {(In 16 earlier official games I chose each time for Nd5. Qd3 is often just a transposition but can avoid some tricky lines like Bxd5 which was recently played by Sim Maerevoet againt me. On the other hand Qd3 allows Nc6 but I think this is less critical. Finally I also want to add that I waited with Qd3 till a rated game. Last year it is why I chose deliberately in Open Gent still for Nd5.)} 10... Nbd7 {(It was evident that Francois only studied 10.Nd5 in his preparation of the game. If you start to play the Najdorf than it is impossible to know all lines immediately. Anyway there is nothing wrong with this move as we now get a transposition.)} 11. Nd5 Bxd5 12. exd5 Rc8 13. c4 Ne8 {(In 2009 I once got a5 on the board from Quinten Ducarmon. Ne8 was still part of the preparation of my opponent.)} 14. Qd2!? {(The most popular continuation but I notice that in correspondence chess also a4 and Bd2 has been tried.)} (14. a4!? a5! 15. Bg4 Nef6 16. Bh3 Re8 17. c5!? dxc5 18. Qb5 Ra8 19. Rfd1 Qc7! 20. Bxd7 Nxd7 21. Nd2 Bd6 22. Nc4 e4 ) 14... b6 15. Kh1!? {(Our world-champion Magnus Carlsen played without success Rac1. Except Kh1 also g3 has been tested in correspondence-chess. I doubted between both during the game as I still remembered those correspondence-games.)} 15... a5 16. Rae1!? {(Stockfish shows another idea which looks also very interesting to me.)} (16. f3!? g6 17. Nc1 f5 18. Bd3 Ng7 19. Ne2 Bf6 20. Nc3 f4 21. Bg1 Nc5 = {[%eval 27,12]}) 16... f5 17. g3 Nef6 18. f3 g6 19. Na1 {(I still found one correspondence-game with Na1. However I consider the concept of Qd1-Nd2 as more critical although in correspondence all games ended in a draw.)} 19... Nh5 20. Bf2 f4 21. Nc2 Bg5 22. Qd1 Nc5!? {(Fxg3 was definitely more aggressive and white must play accurately to avoid becoming worse.)} (22... fxg3!? 23. hxg3 Rc7!? 24. f4! Nxg3+ 25. Bxg3 Bxf4 26. Bxf4 Rxf4 27. Rxf4 exf4 28. Rg1 Qh4+) 23. g4 Ng7 24. Bxc5 bxc5 25. Bd3 Qb6 {(Francois sensed that his position wasn't easy and proposed a draw. Stockfish evaluates the position as more or less equal but Leela is very positive about white. The maneuver of Na3-Nb5-Nc3 isn't simple to counter. However I was already happy with the half point after the drama of my previous game.)} 1/2-1/2
By the way exactly because of this privacy-leak I have anonymously infiltrated in several tournaments organized by clubs to extract extra information from potential future opponents in otb-chess. Especially the direct-counters I have saved in my own database and marked them as very interesting. 

Hence I wasn't surprised at all that the online initiative of VSF was almost completely ignored. The organizers insisted that you would share your real name but this is abnormal for online chess. It was clear that VSF had no experience at all with this. I also notice more and more clubs refusing anonymous players in their tournaments which then generated a further acceleration of decreased interest. Meanwhile most players start to become much more anxious about their stored online games. Many Belgians have closed their accounts including WBoe3 of my article Papua New Guinea.

I also try to be very careful. One of the tricks I use is to create multiple accounts on the same site even if this is against the rules. At lichess I had a specific account ihesb (i have a chess blog) which I only used for tournaments organized by Deurne. When I wanted to play somewhere else then I switched to another account so people couldn't trace me back to the club of Deurne and link my real name to my account. On my main-account I've played thousands of games and I don't want that this information is shared with other players knowing me from otb-chess.

Finally maybe you wonder how one can make multiple accounts on the same site as most sites allow only 1 account per email-address. Well this can easily be circumvented by using the site which allows you to use a temporary email-address for the time needed to create a new account. This way it is child-play to create thousands of new accounts. Anyway it is not a luxury to close regularly an account and create a new one as one day this corona-crisis will come to an end.