Friday, December 25, 2020


Usually I take 2 weeks off from the job at the end of the year but this year I decided otherwise. Normally we travel around Christmas to Russia to visit my parents-in-law but corona made this impossible. Also visiting people is currently not allowed in Belgium and all the enjoyable activities outside are cancelled. I hope next year will be better as I transferred the maximum allowed holidays. One of the positive sides of this situation is that I don't spend much money. Even online I haven't looked for any sales.

Sure Chessbase as every year has prepared again a number of flashy new products but I don't see the sense in buying the new Megadatabase 2021 for the exuberant price of 190 euro. This year you get 400.000 new games on top of the previous release see Megadatabase 2020. That sounds a lot especially in times where hardly any standard games were played due to corona. It is even more surprising if you compare with last year when only 350.000 games were added. Obviously Chessbase doesn't tell us on purpose that most of the newly added games were played online. I don't think it would be smart to put in an advertisement that people will mainly pay 190 euro for a collection of bullet, blitz or rapidgames which can be found for free online.

One of the places where you can find such games for free is lichess. Their database is accessible to anybody and can be downloaded in a few clicks. It is also 1000 times bigger as you get already 78 million standard games for only last month November (all rated games as unrated are not stored !). I tried it out but this went less smooth than I hoped for. Despite Lichess compressing their databases, it was for November only still 19,4 GB to download. Via my wifi-network this took 4-5 hours so very long for just 1 month of games. Beside after decompressing the file, it exploded to 160 GB !! A PGN of that size can't be opened by any program so next I needed to split it in smaller pieces by using e.g. pgnsplit. As such I got 154 pgn-files of approximately 1 GB.

Those files I could open but it was not practical at all to work with it as checking something takes ages if you need to go through all the 154 files one by one. So my next step was to transfer the pgns into 1 big cbh-file which has no size-limit and in which the Chessbase-filter works 100 times faster. By the way I am curious if any readers have bought already Chessbase 16 as they claim that the filter works much faster in this new release which is of course very useful for such big databases. 

Anyway I am still stuck with an older version of Chessbase. Therefore each transfer of a single pgn to the new cbh-file took about 10 minutes. 10 minutes * 154 files = almost 26 hours so not surprisingly after 20 files I broke off this painstaking job. Anyhow I now had a cbh-database of 12 GB (another advantage of cbh compared to pgn is that the file is much smaller and doubtless much better structured). This corresponds to 10 million games played on the lichess-platform. Such sample is definitely sufficient for doing research about who is exactly the typical online-player.

Unfortunately filters don't always work fast in such large database. Searching for a name or rating is no problem but keywords like blitz/ rapid/ tournament take on my computer easily an hour. As I needed to do many such time-consuming searches, I decided to limit myself to only the elite-games (1 of both players has a rating above 2400 elo) by creating a new database for only those ones. Also if you look at the quality of most games played online then only the best are interesting for study. Below I show you my results of the research.
This table allows us to make some conclusions:

1) Strong players don't play ultrabullet. I assume because such games don't resemble at all to standard chess.
2) Nobody likes to sit and wait in front of the computer so rapid, classical and correspondence chess are only played by few players.
3) I find it slightly remarkable that bullet becomes more popular at the expense of blitz for the higher rated players. I think it is because there is anyway little to learn for them in blitz and bullet is probably a better compromise of time/ quality to achieve maximum pleasure.
4) About 75% of the games played online are single games. 25% is played in a tournament. This is approximately the same for all ratings. A single game is much easier to plan than playing a complete tournament.

If we also take time into consideration then the picture looks a bit different.
We see above 2700 elo bullet rules. However this is a very small niche of players so it is maybe too early to conclude anything from this small sample.

Anyway for me this is sufficient proof that blitz is the most popular choice for online chess as almost 2/3 of our time online is spent at blitz. Let us therefore once look a bit closer to this timecontrol. Blitz knows a lot of variety. To learn more about it I created a second small research only focused on blitzgames. Unfortunately again this didn't go smoothly as for some reason I couldn't manage to filter on the exact details of the timecontrols in Chessbase. So I had to look for an alternative. After some fooling around with different tools (notepad, word,... ) in the end excel became my preferred choice as that tool allowed me very quickly to know how often each of the timecontrols were used in a pgn-file. Still there was one last hurdle to take as 66000 blitzgames played by the 2400 elite couldn't be inserted into excel at once. Only after I downscaled the database to the 2500 elo-elite, excel finally accepted the full pgn = 22000 games. Below you see an overview of the timecontrols used in those games.
180 seconds = 3 minutes per person for a game without increment is the most popular choice for online chess. It is also the one I choose standard for my games. Second far less popular is 3 minutes + 2 seconds increment with a close third 5 minutes K.O. In the end without increment clearly dominates blitz.

I tried to google if somebody else made already a similar research but didn't find anything useful. Anyway it confirms what I already suspected for many years and now I have finally the proof which I wanted. So I won't download such databases anymore in the future although it allows to track down any rated game played online at lichess.

The advice which I got from a friend last week is much more practical. I didn't know but you can easily download all lichess-games of 1 person by the command "" which is very useful for preparing against that person. Also don't think that you are safe by deleting your account. In July I wrote that WBoe3 deleted his account after I discovered his real identity but today I can still download all his games with a single click.

I guess some players will now move to other online sites to play chess but that won't help much either. I was able to find a similar trick very quickly for It is slightly more work as you first need to check which months a player has played by the command : ""  and then you need to define which months you want to download one by one via the command:  "" (so this would be October 2020).

I even managed with those commands to download games from which were deleted already more than 5 years ago. Of course those games have little value today but I just want to say that anything you do online is somehow stored forever and can be viewed by others.  At schaaksite I read that we should adapt ourselves to this loss of privacy but some people make it very easy for their opponents by adding their real name to their account. It is exactly the reason why I still don't use facebook, instagram... and I write this blog with the nickname Brabo. However I am also not in favor of completely banning the internet as then you would miss too many interesting things.

One last thing I want to share is a new free site which I  recently learned about which can take over the role of the closed chess.db-platform. Since a couple of months chessbase has a new serious competitor: chessabc. It looks very professional and offers now already a lot of features (advanced game-preparations, news, 7 piece-tablebases...). The big question with such beautiful initiatives is always if free will last. I am amazed that lichess still survives purely from donations after 10 years. Don't hesitate to support them if you are enjoying their service.


Friday, December 11, 2020

The (non-) sense of blitz part 5

In part 3 I talked about my quest for the best filters which I can apply to extract my most interesting games out of a large database to be used for studying openings. In part 4 I explained how I worked with those games and how easily I could implement the new acquired knowledge in practice. In part 5 I want to discuss the best methods of getting new interesting played online games. Which tempo, tournaments, opponents ... should we choose to spend the least time online and still get the most useful output.

However before I start, I like to advise the reader to never forget to enjoy the process. The more fun you have the more likely you have played more games in the end. If you just play to learn about chess then I don't think you will persist. Eventually only a small percentage of the online played games can be used for studying openings. How small this percentage can be, is something which I detected by coincidence after checking a theoretical position which I encountered in a standard game in the beginning of this year by the Dutch WIM/FM Rosa Ratsma. Out of 2.814.723 games in my mega-database in which at least one of both players is rated above 2300 elo, there are 457 of them which reach below position.
Next I checked the same position in the first 10.000.000 (10 million) rated games played on lichess beginning of November and I was shocked that none of them reached this basic position. Normally if you have 3,6 times more games then I would expect with the same quality of the games to see 1623 games with this position instead of 0. This immediately demonstrates the limitations of my new working-method. I have mentioned earlier that some openings are very popular online but are almost never played in a classical game at the board. The reverse seems also to be existing and that is a shame.

Yes sure fun is extremely important but I think we should be careful that it isn't only just fun. Nobody likes to lose but those lost games are the best piece of information to learn from. We will also lose more likely from stronger players so logically we try to play more often against them. Besides if I look at my online played games then I notice a clear link between the playing-strength of my opponents and how useful a game is later to learn from. 14% of my lost games against +2600 rated players I used for my study. Between 2550-2600 this dropped to 12% and between 2500-2550 only 6% remained.

I am sure below 2500 elo there are still interesting games I have played but I also see that the return quickly diminishes and even becomes very small. So it is important to play more games against +2500 rated players and that is a problem for many of us. Most +2500 players aren't interested to play much lower rated opponents. However I do have some advise to circumvent this obstacle.

1) Pump up your online rating as the higher your own rating the more chances you get to play against strong opponents.
- I understand players use engines when they are studying chess and testing your openings online is part of it but don't use them against other players. It is not allowed and you will forever be remembered as a cheater also outside chess.
- Sandbagging or using multiple accounts to sponsor one account. It seems you aren't harming anybody but again don't do it. Strong players aren't happy to waste their time playing against an uninteresting weaker player.
- Avoid tilting. Tilting happens when you lose a couple of games (sometimes not deserved) and you lose your objectivity. As a consequence you lose more games unnecessary. Take regularly breaks although I admit that is easier said than done.
- Avoid playing when you are tired, drunk alcohol, are surrounded with noise... Again that is not always easy if you can play only after a long day in the office.
- Avoid critical lines which you don't know well. That is very efficient but goes directly against the purpose of our playing. So best is that you apply this rule when you are rating is lower than usual just to catch up quickly rating points.

2) Play online tournaments in which strong players participate.
- Lichess organizes every hour Arena-tournaments and if you have a bit of luck then you can play against a big fish. Especially in the evening there are some very strong players participating. In my last article I talked about Alexsur81, the Russian grandmaster Aleksei Priodorozhni. Other strong players which I regularly meet in those tournaments are e.g. Arnelosthe strong Greek grandmaster Hristos Banikas and BIZOOthe French grandmaster Anthony Wirig.
- Join the Belgian friends which I started last week at lichess. Sunday last we played our first tournament in Sunday teambattles. Not only 1 of our players (not me) got the chance to play against the WIM/ FM Rosa Ratsma (which I have mentioned earlier here) but next Sunday we will play a division higher already. So I hope that some readers which love Belgium are willing to join us. I believe this will be beneficial to all of us.

Next I want to discuss the tempo which is best to get online the most and the quickest some interesting games from which we can study the openings. The quicker the games, the more we can play. Lichess has different categories of time-controls (correspondence over many days I ignore): Lichess time-controls. Below table calculates approximately how many games you can play of each type in a fixed time-frame (within one category there exists a lot of variety so this can't be exact).
Averagely we can play almost 162 UltraBullet-games in the time-frame of 1 classical game or about 2,68 Bullet-games in the time-frame of 1 Blitz-game. However we need again to consider also the quality of those games. This can be easily done by defining the % of Spanish games so 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 which are played in each category. For that I extracted the elite-games (+2400 lichess rating) in each category of the earlier mentioned 10 million rated standard-games played beginning of November on Lichess. As a reference I also added the master-games of the megadatabase in below table.
It is not a surprise that UltraBullet is complete nonsense. Almost no elite-player plays classical chess so that we can't use either. Only Bullet, Blitz and Rapid remains. If we give as weight 1 to Rapid then we get for Rapid 1*3,3% = 3,3%, Blitz 3,13*2,6% = 8,2% and Bullet 8,37*0,8% = 6,4%. Clearly Blitz is the most optimal time-control for our study. Bullet isn't far from it but we are here only looking at an opening of 3 moves so I expect the gap increases for more complex openings.

To conclude I also want to discuss the increment. Should we play with or without increment. I am not so quick with the mouse so playing without always leads to some defeats in positions which aren't technically lost. I have lost 160 rated online-games this year without increment against +2500 rated players. Exactly 40 of them I lost on time while I had a winning position or I was definitely not yet lost. So 25% is a lot and you could therefore wonder if it makes still sense to select openings based on the results.

On the other hand I think there are some good reasons to keep on playing without increment. First I see that many games which I lost on time are because I didn't have sufficient experience with the opening. So it makes sense to once study them properly irrespective of the result. Also each additional second of increment will lead to an extension of the duration of the game with almost a minute. The longer a game lasts, the less games you can play. However the most important I think is the fact that 85% of the +2500 players play without increment and only 15% do with increment. Again for this I have checked the 10 million rated standard-games played beginning of November on Lichess. You have almost 6 times more chances to get an interesting opponent without increment than with increment.

In other words it is perfectly possible to play online by applying a scientific approach and that way work at chess. I don't expect we will return soon to standard-chess on the board. Maybe some initiatives will survive the corona-crisis. I am sure this new method of studying chess deserves a place next to the old methods.


Friday, December 4, 2020

The (non-) sense of blitz part 4

September 1995 at the age of 19 years old I played my very first rated game for national rating. This is meanwhile 25 years ago but I remember that even in those early days I was already preparing my games. Obviously it was still very basic as I didn't have much information about my opponents and the engines were very weak. Today a lot has changed. Not only the tools are totally different but I also know much better now how to prepare properly for a game. I guess that in the last decades I've prepared for more than 1000 opponents.

Over the years I discovered that many players (most amateurs ?) at some point in their career stop playing mainlines and switch to smaller systems. That is not a surprise. As I wrote a few weeks ago here, adults have much less time for studying chess compared to children. Children have lots of school-holidays and very few responsibilities. For an adult it is often impossible to and have a full time job and take care of a household and keep track of all important developments in chess. This is also the reason why some players prefer to stop playing competitive chess as they don't like playing at a lower level. On the other hand by choosing cleverly your little systems, it is still possible even without having much time for chess to enjoy playing it.

Nevertheless the Chessbase-article Siem Van Dael unorthodox openings lead to success surprised me. End of last year I had played against Siem a very long theoretical line of the Svechnikov and this time he did exactly the opposite with openings like 1.h4, 1.a4, 1.h3, 1.a3 and 1.g3 g6 2.Bg2 Lg7 3.Na3. The lad is only 16 years old and it looks like he is fed up of studying openings. That is very young but maybe he is just rebelling. At home I also have 2 teenagers which prefer to ignore my advise. On the other hand the best school is always the one which allows you to make your own mistakes.

With this introduction I want to return to the end of my previous article. I concluded that I wanted to focus my new study on openings played by the strongest players. It must also be openings which I can expect in standard games on the board. I guess the bongcloud is a bridge too far but it is clear that some players are daring to play some very unorthodox openings. On the other hand if you look at any database then you see that the number of standardgames starting with 1.h4, 1.a4 ... is very low. Also we have to manage our time wisely and therefore it seems more appropriate to give priority at openings which are played more frequently.

Also every player will in almost any game get to a moment in which there must be played without any prior knowledge. An experienced player should be able to handle a new non critical opening by just following the basic-rules of the opening. Besides the biggest danger of openings consists of critical lines of which a lack of foreknowledge will create a serious handicap. In this article I will show a few of those examples.

My final restriction is to chose openings of critical lines which I haven't studied recently. With recently I mean in the last 5 years. I realize there is an enormous amount of openings which need to be analyzed and then it makes sense to prioritize the unknown systems. So even with all those filters I still managed to select 3 out of 10. In the remaining part of this article I will elaborate 2 out of 3 to demonstrate how great this for me new method of studying chess is.

We start with a line of which I initially thought that black blundered a piece to discover later that this line not only has been tried out in about 50 master-games but also scores very well in practice. The young Turkish international master Omer Faruk Ozer defeated me spectacularly in below game.
[Event "Rated Blitz game"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.06.05"] [Round "?"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "dozer01"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B40"] [WhiteElo "2481"] [BlackElo "2614"] [PlyCount "60"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 Nf6 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. e5 Nd5 8. Ne4 Qc7 9. f4 Rb8 {(I was familiar with Qb6 and Qa5. Later I found around 50 master-games in my database with Rb8.)} 10. c4 Bb4+ 11. Ke2 O-O {(Initially I thought black blundered a piece. This piece-sacrifice was introduced around 2002 by Serbian grandmasters.)} 12. cxd5 cxd5 13. Nc3 {(A year earlier I tried once Nd6 online but I couldn't remember that anymore.)} (13. Nd6 f6 14. Nxc8 fxe5 15. g3 Rfxc8 16. Kf2 e4 17. Kg2 Be7 18. b3 Bf6 19. Rb1 Qc2+ 20. Qxc2 Rxc2+ {(Contrary to my game against dozer01 here we see the pawns dominating the piece.)} 21. Kh3 Rxa2 22. Bg2 a5 23. Rd1 Bc3 24. Be3 Ra3 25. Bd4 Bxd4 26. Rxd4 Rbxb3 27. Rxb3 Rxb3 28. Ra4 Rb5 29. f5 exf5 30. Kh4 h6 31. Bh3 g6 32. g4 f4 33. g5 e3 34. Bg4 h5 35. Bf3 Kf7 36. Kh3 Ke6 37. Kg2 Ke5 38. Kf1 d4 39. Ke2 d5 40. Kd3 Rb3+ 41. Kc2 Rc3+ 42. Kb2 Rc5 43. Ra3 Kf5 44. h4 Ke5 45. Kb1 Kd6 46. Kb2 Kc6 47. Rb3 Rc4 48. Ra3 a4 49. Rd3 Kc5 50. Be2 Rb4+ 51. Ka2 Kd6 52. Ka3 Rc4 53. Ka2 Ke5 54. Kb2 Ke4 55. Ra3 Rb4+ 56. Kc2 f3 57. Bd3+ Kf4 58. Bxg6 e2 59. Kd2 Rb2+ {(Brabo - Alexsur81 0 - 1)}) 13... f6 14. exf6 Rxf6 15. Be3 Bxc3 16. bxc3 Rb2+ 17. Kf3 Bb7 18. Kg3 e5 19. Qc1 Rg6+ 20. Kh3 d6 21. f5 Qd7 22. g4 Rxg4 23. Kxg4 h5+ 24. Kg3 h4+ 25. Kxh4 Qxf5 26. Qxb2 Qe4+ 27. Kg3 Qxe3+ 28. Kh4 Qf4+ 29. Kh5 Bc8 30. Rg1 Qh6# 0-1
Later I detected in my personal database that I had lost another game in this line against the famous Alexsur81, one of the most active and strongest players on lichess. I try to shield my accounts but of course it is fun to know who exactly uses an account. Here it wasn't really difficult to find out that the Russian grandmaster Aleksei Priodorozhni plays with the username Alexsur81. It even becomes more interesting when we discover that Aleksei also dared to play this opening recently in a standard game on the board.
[Event "77th ch-Urals 2019"] [Site "Khanty-Mansiysk RUS"] [Date "2019.03.17"] [Round "6.2"] [White "Iljiushenok, I."] [Black "Pridorozhni, A."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B40"] [WhiteElo "2524"] [BlackElo "2593"] [PlyCount "157"] [EventDate "2019.03.12"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. e5 Nd5 8. Ne4 Qc7 9. f4 Rb8 10. c4 Bb4+ 11. Ke2 O-O {(Black is well-known on lichess by his username Alexsur81. It is interesting to see that Aleksei dares to play this line/ sacrifice also in standard games.)} 12. a3 Be7 {(My analysis prefers Ba5.)} (12... Ba5 13. b4 f5 {(A very complex position which even my strongest engines are struggling to evaluate properly.)}) 13. cxd5 cxd5 14. Nd6 Ba6+ 15. Ke1 f6 (15... Bxf1 16. Rxf1 f6 $16) 16. Bxa6 Qa5+ 17. b4 Qxa6 18. Qe2 $6 (18. Bb2 $16) 18... Qa4 19. Bd2 $6 (19. Rb1 fxe5 20. fxe5 a5 $14) 19... fxe5 20. fxe5 a5 21. Qg4 Qc2 22. Qd4 axb4 23. axb4 Bd8 $4 {(Here black loses the thread. My engine recommends Qg6 with full compensation but as often the case we see that it is very hard in standardgames to prove the compensation at the board without any help.)} 24. Rf1 Be7 25. Ke2 Qg6 26. g4 h5 27. h3 Bg5 28. Rxf8+ Rxf8 29. Bxg5 Qxg5 30. Rf1 Rxf1 31. Kxf1 Qc1+ 32. Kg2 h4 33. b5 Qa3 34. Qf2 d4 35. b6 d3 36. b7 Qb4 37. Kf3 d2 38. Ke2 Qb1 39. Qf7+ Kh7 40. Kxd2 $4 {(I suspect that white had very little time left as this throws away the win.)} (40. Qh5+ Kg8 41. b8=Q+ Qxb8 42. Qe8+ $18) 40... Qb2+ 41. Kd3 Qb3+ 42. Ke2 Qc2+ 43. Ke3 Qc5+ $4 {(The wrong check but I admit that it is not easy to calculate till the end how to give perpetual check. )} (43... Qc3+ $1 44. Kf2 Qg3+ $1 45. Ke2 Qxe5+ $1 46. Kf1 Qxd6 $1 47. Qh5+ Kg8 48. Qe8+ Kh7 49. b8=Q Qd1+ $1 50. Kf2 Qd2+ 51. Kf3 Qd3+ 52. Kf4 Qd4+ $1 53. Kf3 Qd3+ $11) 44. Kd3 Qd5+ 45. Kc2 Qc6+ 46. Kb3 Qb6+ 47. Kc3 $4 (47. Kc4 $1 Qa6+ 48. Kb4 Qb6+ 49. Nb5 $18) 47... Qa5+ $4 {(It is extremely hard to play this position correctly especially if both are just playing on an increment of 30 seconds per move.)} (47... Qe3+ $1 48. Kb4 Qe1+ $1 49. Kb3 Qd1+ $1 50. Kb2 Qd2+ $1 51. Ka3 Qc3+ 52. Ka4 Qa1+ $1 53. Kb5 Qxe5+ $1 54. Kb6 Qxd6+ 55. Ka7 Qa3+ 56. Kb8 Qd6+ $11) 48. Kc4 Qa4+ 49. Kc5 Qc6+ 50. Kd4 Qb6+ 51. Kc4 Qc6+ 52. Kb4 Qb6+ 53. Nb5 Qxb7 54. Qf4 Qg2 55. Qe3 Kg6 56. Nd6 Qb2+ 57. Kc4 Kh7 58. Qd3+ g6 59. Qe3 Qc2+ 60. Kb5 Qc6+ 61. Kb4 Qd5 62. Qc5 Qh1 63. Qc3 Kg7 64. Kb5 Qb1+ 65. Ka6 Qb8 66. Qf3 Qb1 67. Qf6+ Kg8 68. Qd8+ Kg7 69. Qxd7+ Kh6 70. Nf7+ Kg7 71. g5 Kf8 72. Nd6 Qa2+ 73. Kb6 Qb3+ 74. Kc7 Kg8 75. Qc8+ Kh7 76. Kd8 Qxh3 77. Qd7+ Kg8 78. Qf7+ Kh8 79. Qf8+ 1-0
Aleksei lost this game but he had definitely chances. I assume he studied this opening seriously as he regularly plays it on lichess with success. I don't know if I will encounter this opening later on the board but I wasn't surprised to get quickly the opportunity online to test my analysis of this opening. Aleksei has almost 4000 followers so one can expect that some of them try to copy his repertoire. I believe that the next game played on just 3 minutes KO against a 2440 elo rated opponent wasn't bad.
[Event "Rated Blitz game"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.11.14"] [Round "?"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Lostwinner"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B40"] [WhiteElo "2471"] [BlackElo "2440"] [PlyCount "135"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. e5 Nd5 8. Ne4 Qc7 9. f4 Rb8 10. c4 Bb4+ 11. Ke2 O-O 12. cxd5 cxd5 13. Ng5 {(This is the critical test based on my analysis.)} 13... h6 14. Nf3 f6 15. exf6 {(In my notes I recommended a3 as stronger but in a blitz-game of only 3 minutes there is very little time to remember such detail.)} 15... Rxf6 16. Be3 Bd6 $2 {(Black miss my next move but the idea of Ba6 doesn't look natural to me at all.)} (16... Ba6+ $1 17. Kf2 Bc5 18. Bxa6 Rxb2+ 19. Be2 Bxe3+ 20. Kxe3 Rxf4 {(Stockfish 12 shows 0.00 despite black having 2 pieces less.)}) 17. Qc1 Bxf4 18. Bxf4 Qxf4 19. Qxf4 Rxf4 20. b3 {(White gave a pawn back to neutralize the attack of black.)} 20... e5 21. Rc1 e4 22. Nd4 {(The mass of pawns is blocked and now it is clear that the extra piece will prevail. In a blitz of only 3 minutes you still need to be careful and play fast.)} 22... Bb7 23. Ke3 Rbf8 24. Be2 Rf2 25. Rhg1 a5 26. Rcf1 Rxf1 27. Rxf1 Rc8 28. Kd2 d6 29. Rc1 e3+ 30. Kd1 Rf8 31. Bf3 Rf4 32. Ne2 Rb4 33. Rc7 Kh8 34. Kc2 g5 35. a3 Rb6 36. Nd4 Ba6 37. Re7 Rb8 38. Rxe3 Rc8+ 39. Rc3 Re8 40. Kd2 a4 41. Bxd5 axb3 42. Rxb3 Re5 43. Bf3 Ra5 44. h3 Bc4 45. Rc3 d5 46. Nc2 Ra4 47. Ne3 Ra5 48. Nxc4 dxc4 49. Ke3 Re5+ 50. Kd4 Rf5 51. Kxc4 Rxf3 {(This is very normal for this kind of superblitz. The losing side tries to play some random moves just to make the opponent lose on time. Unfortunately this often works but not this time.)} 52. Rxf3 g4 53. hxg4 h5 54. gxh5 Kg7 55. Rg3+ Kh6 56. Kd5 Kxh5 57. Ke6 Kh4 58. Rg8 Kh5 59. Kf5 Kh6 60. g4 Kh7 61. Rg5 Kh6 62. Rh5+ Kg7 63. g5 Kf8 64. Rh7 Kg8 65. g6 Kf8 66. Ke6 Kg8 67. Kf6 Kf8 68. Rh8# 1-0
The second example concerns a line which is already 15 years part of my repertoire and which I regularly encounter online (about 60 times). I have never studied it as in a standard-game nobody yet tried it out against me. Anyway I was mainly concerned about the setup chosen by the Russian FM Kirill Kopjonkin. This was also confirmed by my engine as it seems I always replied in the past (7 times already) wrongly.
[Event "Rated Blitz game"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.01.08"] [Round "?"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "kirill_kopyonkin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B84"] [WhiteElo "2501"] [BlackElo "2604"] [PlyCount "60"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 e6 7. O-O Be7 8. f4 O-O 9. Be3 Qc7 10. g4 b5 {(In 2004 I won my first game ever against a grandmaster, the German Arkadij Rotstein. He chose the positional d5. B5 is a much more aggressive move. I never encountered it yet in a standard game but I did meet it already about 60 times online.)} 11. g5 Nfd7 12. f5 b4 13. fxe6 $6 {(In 6 older online games I also played each time fxe6. Critical is Na4.)} (13. Na4 $1 Ne5 14. a3 $14) 13... bxc3 14. exd7 Nxd7 15. b3 Ne5 16. Bd3 Bb7 17. Nf5 Rae8 18. Qe2 d5 19. exd5 Bc5 20. Rae1 Bxd5 21. Qh5 Nxd3 22. cxd3 Rxe3 23. Nxe3 Re8 24. Qh3 Qe7 25. Kf2 c2 26. d4 Bxd4 27. Re2 Qxg5 28. Qg3 Qf6+ 29. Kg1 Bxe3+ 30. Rxe3 Qxf1+ 0-1
So today I know that 13.Na4 is much stronger than 13.fxe6 which was previously always the move I played online. I also want to add that I didn't only study this one amelioration of this line. When I look at an opening then I also look at the alternatives for black and that was immediately rewarded in the next online games. In the next weeks I won very easily against 3 + 2400 rated players in this opening thanks to the new acquired knowledge.
[Event "Rated Blitz game"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.11.02"] [Round "?"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "supertolchok"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B84"] [WhiteElo "2442"] [BlackElo "2425"] [PlyCount "35"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 e6 7. O-O Be7 8. f4 O-O 9. Be3 Qc7 10. g4 b5 11. g5 Nfd7 12. f5 Ne5 {(This is better than b4 and equalizes in my analysis. However if black didn't study this deeply with an engine then it is almost impossible to find the right moves on the board.)} (12... Nc5 $4 13. f6 Bd8 14. fxg7 Kxg7 15. Bd3 Nbd7 16. Qh5 Ne5 17. Rf4 Bb7 18. Raf1 Ng6 19. R4f3 b4 20. Qh6+ Kg8 21. Nf5 exf5 22. exf5 Nxd3 23. f6 {(This blitz-game I played a week later against vspro100, also +2400.)}) 13. f6 Bd8 14. Bd3 {(3 weeks later I played the right move-order with first fxg7. I forgot it in this game.)} (14. fxg7 Kxg7 15. Bd3 Nbc6 16. Qh5 Be7 17. Rf4 Bd7 18. Qh6+ Kg8 19. Rh4 Rfc8 20. Qxh7+ Kf8 21. Qh8# {(This was against davidcm92 another +2400 player.)}) 14... Nbc6 15. Qh5 Bb7 16. fxg7 Kxg7 17. Nxe6+ fxe6 18. Qh6+ {(Mate is next. I didn't use a minute for the complete game.)} 1-0
Of course it won't be so simple in a standard game but I am convinced that my study will help me to play this opening more accurately.

Also I noticed that this new method of study is much quicker and more efficient than the way I worked before the corona-crisis. I don't spend any time anymore at the middle-game or endgame. I fully focus on the openings and on top only the real critical lines. I see immediately my results in those lines improving (for now of course only online). In 5 weeks I managed to finish the study of already 11 different openings which is twice as much as I do normally.

There are plenty of games I can use to continue for quite some time. Meanwhile I keep playing online so that the new knowledge can be tested and other/ new problems can be discovered. It is just a matter of finding the right opponents for it but that will be the last and final part of my new method of working with online games. Which online games (tempo/ tournaments/...) should we play and where can we find the best players online to find optimally new materials for the study?


Thursday, November 26, 2020

The (non-) sense of blitz part 3

Never waste a crisis as it is an excellent opportunity to question the default. We can wait till everything normalizes again but maybe we never fully return to the old situation. Nonetheless I don't see many new initiatives. Therefore I don't think it is a coincidence that in the most recent online magazine of Vlaanderen Schaakt Digitaal readers were asked to share their ideas/ experiences to survive as a chess-player during this corona-pandemic.

In my previous article I talked about how some players endangered themselves and their environment by going to far destinations just to play chess. In this article I rather want to look for safer solutions and just a couple of days ago I learned about an excellent initiative via the site of my very first chess-club de torrewachters which I still sometimes visit: my online class.
For now it is only accessible for players of West-Flanders and you have to ask access to Tom Piceu/ Glenn Dayer so I can't test it but it looks visually great. This has the potential of becoming much bigger. People interested in an introduction to this virtual chess-club can find it here. If you understand Dutch then you can also read about it via this link.

I am not such a IT-specialist as (I assume) Mark Dechamps is and neither do I have such great ideas but end of last month I also made a click in my mind. I didn't want to wait any longer so I started to look for new possibilities to develop myself as a player. What can we still do today of chess while respecting the safety-rules of corona? Well online chess is about it of course. However haven't we had enough about that? I even wrote in July already see my article online chesstournaments that we better don't spend too much time at playing online chess.

I am still supporting that view but end of last month I realized we can do more than just playing those online games. In part 2 I have shown that I used my online played games to prepare for my opponents (but also in post-mortems) so I would know about common mistakes which my future opponents are likely to make. However this time I asked myself if maybe I can learn even more from those online games. Despite that those online games last only a couple of minutes, I think they can sometimes offer more than just the detection of mistakes.

Anyway if we look at the middle-game then we only find a sea of big errors in those online games of which I am sure that more than 90% would never happen in a classical standardgame (probably 90% is still heavily underestimated). So I don't think it makes sense to look at it seriously. The endgame is even worse. First interesting endgames are very rare in blitz and online it is very often just a pre-move-competition which has hardly anything to do with playing regular chess. So the openings remain but don't we see mostly nonsense in those online games? If one can win with the Bongcloud an online top-tournament then we just have to conclude that there is nothing to learn about openings in online games at all, right?
[Event "Chess24 Banter Blitz Cup Final"] [Site " INT"] [Date "2020.09.29"] [Round "4.1"] [White "Carlsen,Magnus"] [Black "So,Wesley"] [Result "1-0"] [Annotator ""] [WhiteElo "2863"] [BlackElo "2770"] [PlyCount "159"] 1. f3 e5 2. Kf2 d5 3. e3 Nc6 4. Bb5 Ne7 5. d4 a6 6. Ba4 exd4 7. exd4 Nf5 8. Ne2 Bd6 9. c3 O-O 10. Nd2 Re8 11. Nf1 Bd7 12. Bc2 Qh4+ 13. g3 Qf6 14. Bf4 Nce7 15. Bxd6 Nxd6 16. Ne3 Bf5 17. Nf4 c6 18. Re1 Qh6 19. h4 Qf6 20. Bxf5 Nexf5 21. Ng4 Qd8 22. Qd3 Qb6 23. b3 Qb5 24. a4 Qxb3 25. Reb1 Qc4 26. Qd2 a5 27. Ne5 Qa6 28. h5 f6 29. Ned3 Nc4 30. Qa2 b6 31. g4 Nfd6 32. Re1 Qb7 33. Ne6 Qd7 34. Ndf4 Re7 35. Re2 Rae8 36. Rae1 Nf7 37. Qb1 Ng5 38. Nxg5 fxg5 39. Rxe7 Rxe7 40. Nd3 Re6 41. Ne5 Qe7 42. Re2 h6 43. Qf5 Rf6 44. Qc8+ Qf8 45. Qxf8+ Rxf8 46. Nxc6 Kf7 47. Re7+ Kf6 48. Rd7 Rc8 49. Ne7 Ke6 50. Ra7 Rf8 51. Nf5 Rf7 52. Nxg7+ Kf6 53. Rxf7+ Kxf7 54. Nf5 Nb2 55. Ke2 Nxa4 56. Nxh6+ Kf6 57. Kd3 Nb2+ 58. Kc2 Nc4 59. Nf5 b5 60. h6 Kg6 61. Ne7+ Kxh6 62. Nxd5 Kg6 63. Nc7 Nd6 64. Kb3 Kf6 65. Nd5+ Ke6 66. Ne3 Kd7 67. Ng2 Kc6 68. f4 Ne4 69. fxg5 Nxg5 70. Nf4 Ne4 71. Nh3 a4+ 72. Kb4 a3 73. Kxa3 Nxc3 74. g5 Kd5 75. g6 Ne4 76. Ng5 Nf6 77. Nf3 Ke4 78. g7 Kf5 79. Ne5 Kg5 80. Kb4 1-0
This kind of openings are occurring all the time in online-chess. Some are more ugly than others. On the other hand there is only 1 Magnus Carlsen whom is able (not always) to be successful with this kind of crap. There are still many players preferring to play solid openings too online. Besides I already explained in part 1 that many players play the same openings online as they do in classical chess offline. So if we concentrate on the online games with "serious" openings then maybe we can use them for our study.

Since 2007 I saved practically all my online played games. Meanwhile the counter has crossed some time ago the 70.000 mark. That is a huge number of games so it is very likely that some of those games discuss interesting openings. Then the next question is of course how do we get those interesting games selected out of it and which criteria do we use? Another even more important question is how will we check the database as going manually through 70.000 games is unrealistic. I need a good filter but which one wasn't easy to define. My first idea was to define my personal score in each of the openings of my repertoire. I would then start working on the opening with the worst possible score by filtering the games in my database on that particular opening. If you have an account on lichess then this is something you can find out in just a couple of clicks via Chess Insights. Below you see such graphic obtained of one of my accounts.
That is just for the games in which I had black and I also limited the filter to only opponents rated approximately the same as I am. I have played much more games against weaker opponents compared to stronger opponents so otherwise we would have to look at TPR instead (which seems today impossible at lichess). Anyway it is also interesting to look once at results obtained only against weaker opponents (efficiency) or only against stronger opponents (correctness).

The first thing I notice in above graphic is that dubious openings score very well online. My score with the Dutch, except for A81 is excellent. Classical and more correct openings like the Spanish and the Scotch score remarkably worse. From this you could deduct that it makes sense to invest more in dubious openings and play less mainlines if I want to score better. However my goal is to improve my classical otb-chess and then I don't think this is the right approach. Also I am annoyed that lichess can only show the results of 1 account at a time. This account has almost 5000 games but that is only a fraction of my complete database of online played games. Finally I also miss details about the openings. In most cases an opening contains dozens of critical lines. This tool doesn't tell me which specific lines are problematic and when it exactly goes wrong.

Chess Insights looks sufficient for the beginner interested in getting a quick verdict about the big gaps in his repertoire (like having no decent setup against the Caro-Kann) but for experienced players this tool is nothing more than a gadget. To get a more in-depth view of my repertoire I decided to make my own opening-book like I explained earlier in my article green moves based on solely my lost games. In below screenshot you can see how it looks like for my repertoire after I played 1.e4.
As games played in 2007 are not really relevant anymore for my current repertoire and as I played many games in recent months, I decided to limit the number of lost games to only the ones I played in 2020. Yes I lost already 665 games with only 1.e4 this year which wasn't always fun to say the least. Still the more lost games I have, the more I probably can learn something of it.

With this openingbook I see in a glance which moves caused me the most defeats. Logically I wanted therefore to first look at the lines in which I suffered the most defeats. Unfortunately this approach didn't result to anything useful either. My main-line of lost games resulted in the 6.Be2 system against the Najdorf but this caused a conflict as that same line was also 1 of my best scoring lines of my repertoire. Of course scores can always be improved even if they are already very good but when looking at the lost games with this opening then I noticed that the losses have no relation to the opening at all.

So this sort of opening-book is not practical. You get an idea about which lines are popular (in online-chess but therefore not always in standard chess offline) but that is it. We should also not forget that online chess are just blitz-games. I mean if the input is of low quality then you can't much expect of the output. Results of blitzgames are very unpredictable so you better don't make upon it some conclusions of the chosen openings.

That means I was back to square 1 but I didn't give up yet. There was still one filter which I wanted to try. What if I only selected my online lost-games against my strongest opponents? Almost any online platform keeps track of its own online ratingsystem. Also in most cases you get automatically of each online game the online rating of both players so it is very easy to set a filter on it.
In above screenshot I show the result of such kind of filter. Only lost games are considered after I opened with 1.e4 against +2600 elo (online) opponents played in the year 2020. In the background you see that there were 10 of them and that is of course perfect to manually check one by one if they contain interesting openings. Especially numbers 3,7 and 8 look appealing to me. With those I started my study of which there is much more again to talk about. However that is for the next time as this article has exceeded again the maximal length.


Thursday, November 19, 2020

Corona endangers the existence of many chess-clubs

Some time ago my club-president Robert tried to cheer us up by telling us that a year without chess isn't the end of the world. He is right of course. Many players have proven that it is perfectly possible to make a comeback even after a long period of inactivity (the strongest example is doubtless strong Jan managing to become an international master after retirement and decades of not playing competitions). Beside I have every year a couple of months in which I don't play any games. I always thought this is something good as this allows me to concentrate at repairing some holes in my repertoire for which you don't have really the time during the hectic competitions.

Nevertheless today I see many indications that  chess is standing in front of the biggest crisis ever. The online magazine Vlaanderen-Schaakt-Digitaal-2020-17 warned their readers that 1 out of 3 has not renewed their membership of the Belgian federation. That is an alarming figure but we are still not the worst of the class as our neighbors England and Netherlands are even talking about a decrease of more than 50%. I have never known such huge declines in just 1 year. Also for every player stopping and returning back, there are probably a multitude of players quitting permanently. I have to admit that I also see a lot of advantages of not playing competitions. Suddenly my life is a lot more organized and quiet. It allows me to spend time at activities which before were hard to realize without getting stressed. So I believe the longer this crisis continues and it seems it will do that chess will lose more and more players.

Maybe even worse is the fact that a lot of clubs are on the point of disappearing. 14 Belgian clubs haven't subscribed themselves to the federation anymore for this year. The international situation is that bad that Fide warned in October that some clubs with a history going 150 years back, are getting into troubles. These clubs are irreplaceable and restarting any club is probably unprecedented. Therefore it is with a good reason why the boards of several chess-organizations are calling for solidarity to protect the future of chess. Below reworked poster of Lord Kitchener Wants You, originally published to call for British soldiers to fight in WW1 is funny but at the same time very serious too.
Fide Newsletter #17 (October 26, 2020)
I hope of course that the message will be heard but I fear a lot of people have bigger concerns than the existence of chess-clubs. If you lost your job in recent months or you had to make a lot of costs due to hospital-bills then it is absolutely understandable that you cut expenses which aren't of the highest priority. I can also understand that some volunteers prefer not to take risks now by meeting other chessplayers.

Fortunately not everything is bad as I see also a lot of volunteers are still willing to help. Despite the difficult circumstances many (Belgian) clubs are still offering youth-lessons. It would be a very bad idea now to abandon our youth. On the other hand I do think there is a serious problem for our teenagers. The biggest development of a player happens between the age of 12 and 18 years old. Losing 1 or 2 of those years will make a big impact forever on their career. I already noticed that last half year there were practically no new IMs or GMs. A lot of talent will be wasted if they don't receive any perspectives.

Personally I always connected progress at chess to playing competitive chess and then I speak only about classical games. Those serious games were for me like fuel as without them there are no preparations of games or analysis afterwards. For my own children it is rather the atmosphere of the tournaments and the commitment to the games which are the dominant ingredients for their personal involvement to chess. Exactly because of those reasons I made an extra effort to play this summer a tournament in Prague see the chess-microbe part 3 but that was not something I could/ wanted to repeat.

I already realized in August that I had been lucky and that was once more confirmed a month later when other Belgian players also played a tournament in Czechia and got seriously ill by the corona-virus. This was a clear wake-up call for me and I stopped making any new plans of another tournament in Czechia to play during autumn-holidays. The infection-rate was meanwhile already 10 times higher than the period we were there. Eventually the tournament was not surprisingly cancelled. An alternative which I checked was Open Tegernsee in South-Germany but also that party didn't proceed. Well they made one exception for a separate master-group of 10 players. As the number of boards were limited, the organization managed to install on each of them a plastic screen to protect the participants maximally. Obviously I wasn't invited for it but our Belgian hope Daniel Dardha was. Despite 3 defeats he still managed to win some ratingpoints as the opponents were very strong. His victory against the Czech grandmaster Thai Dai Van Nguyen proves again that the title of grandmaster is for him just a matter of time. I assume most readers haven't heard before of this grandmaster but he did win very recently a rapid-match over 10 games against former-worldchampion-finalist Nigel Short.
[Event "Tegernsee Masters"] [Site "Bad Wiessee"] [Date "2020.10.31"] [Round "1"] [White "Dardha, Daniel"] [Black "Nguyen, Thai Dai Van"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2468"] [BlackElo "2571"] [PlyCount "111"] 1. c4 c5 2. Nc3 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 Nc6 5. a3 b6 6. d3 {(I am no specialist but looking in my online openingbook then I assume Daniel was surprised by this line.)} 6... Bb7 7. Bg5 h6 {(A logical novelty which is also recommended by Stockfish.)} 8. Bd2 e6 9. b4 Nge7 10. Rb1 d6 11. Qc1 $6 {(The start of a bad plan. B5 is fine but I understand why Daniel wants to play something more flexible.)} 11... Qd7 12. Nf3 Nd4 13. e4 f5 14. Qd1 {(White admits something went wrong.)} 14... O-O 15. O-O fxe4 16. dxe4 Rac8 17. b5 Kh7 18. Re1 Rf7 19. Re3 Rcf8 20. Be1 g5 21. Rd3 Nxf3+ 22. Bxf3 Bd4 23. Bh5 Rf6 $2 (23... Ng6 $1 24. Rxd4 cxd4 25. Qxd4 Ne5 $19) 24. Rxd4 {(Now the exchange sacrifice is much stronger as white has a very important extra move.)} 24... cxd4 25. Qxd4 e5 26. Qd1 Qc7 27. Nd5 Nxd5 28. cxd5 Qg7 29. Rc1 Rc8 30. Rc6 {(A lovely second exchange sacrifice. It is not difficult but you still need to play it as there were acceptable alternatives.)} 30... Bxc6 31. bxc6 Rcf8 32. Bg4 Qc7 $2 {(Despite the extra material black needs to be very careful. Here Qf7 is better to be able to repond Bf5 indeed with a counter exchange-sacrifice.)} 33. Bf5+ Kg7 34. Qd3 Kf7 35. a4 Ke7 36. Bb4 h5 $2 {(Black doesn't want to sit but this only weakens the position.)} 37. Bd2 Rg8 38. Qe2 g4 39. h4 Rxf5 {(This exchange-sacrifice arrives too late. Anyway the position is beyond salvation.)} 40. exf5 Qc8 41. Bg5+ Kf7 42. Qe4 Rh8 43. Qb4 Qb8 44. Qb5 Qc8 45. a5 Qc7 46. axb6 axb6 47. Kg2 Ra8 48. Qb1 Rh8 49. f6 Qb8 50. Bd2 Kxf6 {(Black accepts the pawn-sacrifice but this opens just more lines.)} 51. Bg5+ Kg7 52. Qf5 Qf8 53. Qd7+ Kg6 54. Qe6+ Kg7 55. c7 Qf3+ 56. Kg1 {(A nice victory from a very bad opening. Technically Daniel plays already like a grandmaster but I think there is still some work at the openings.)} 1-0
It seems Daniel is going to any place in Europe (Portugal, France, Hungary, Greece,...) wherever exists the smallest chance to play standard chess. This contains definitely risks but I do fully understand his choice. As I wrote earlier this are his best years to make progress. After he will be 18 years old, university will be next and later probably a demanding job. Also the health-risks of the corona-disease are rather limited at his very young age (I need to be much more careful).

He is not the only one as I read at the site of hmcdenbosch that the 16 year old Dutch FM Siem Van Dael played despite corona in the last months at 6 tournaments: Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Italy, Sweden. You have to run the extra mile sometimes as he admit that it wasn't pleasant at all to play with face-mask at + 35 degrees of temperature. Anyway they are exceptions. I think 99% of our youth hasn't played any official games at all lately as clearly making such trips in the current situation can't be recommended.

For me the Open of Prague this summer was the maximum I could achieve. So since beginning of October I have no more work to do at all for chess. All analysis of my games are finished. I also don't see anything in the pipeline as the Dutch interclubs, Open Bethune... are already cancelled. However in the next article I do want to propose the method which I invented for myself to anyway restart working at chess. Standing still is going backwards and giving up chess is no option for me.


Thursday, November 12, 2020

Testing chess-engines part 2

Corona has a serious impact on our social and for many also their professional lives. The damage is getting bigger by the day and no doubt for many it won't be easy to recover financially nor emotionally. However even in the darkest periods there are also positive elements. Some time ago Belgian newspapers reported that high-school-students achieved slightly higher grades compared with last years see e.g. higher success-rates in French high-schools despite corona-virusno corona-effect at university of Brussels as students perform better at exams than previous yearDespite corona success-rate is higher than usual in Leuven.

Nonetheless students were warned in advance that professors wouldn't make their exams easier. Also some experts thought that missing many classes would prevent the students to understand sufficiently the courses. However I think that the lack of distraction due to corona, probably pushed students to study more than usual.

I think this was a smart decision. I notice that this crisis also creates opportunities to start new projects which in normal times would be hard or even impossible. Also for chess-programmers we see an increase of activity. The progress accelerated this year as we got several important updates from Leela and Stockfish. I find it rather amazing that after all those years we still see so much progress as I expect most people already don't realize anymore how strong the current best commercial engine has become. Therefore I thought it could be once interesting to visualize this progress in a small graphic.

This youtube-movie shows a more detailed overview of the evolution of the best engines. There exist others but the message is always the same. In a bit more than 3 decades the engines have evolved from very weak to insanely strong and very difficult to grasp for a human.

At TCEC there is even a permanent running gag about how often somebody requests for a match between Carlsen and the computer. In my graphic above you can clearly see when the strongest commercial engine has definitely surpassed the level of the strongest human. In 2006 it was Rybka making any further matches between humans and engines futile and the gap only increased since then.

Testing of the best engines only makes sense today between each other. Last year I wrote in part 1 that I liked executing those tests but they were too time-consuming so something I wouldn't repeat often anymore. Naturally the corona-crisis suddenly erased my calendar and allowed me to pick up again this hobby. In the last year I organized a dozen of matches each of them consisting of 100 rapidgames  (15min + 10sec) using different computers between each time newer and stronger engines.

It is hard to deduct from above table how much the progress of the strongest commercial engine was in the last year. Therefore I also did a comparison between Leela v22 (end of last year) and Leela v26 (now) with Komodo 11 on my new laptop. The result was amazing. Last year I was already impressed by the score of 62,5 - 37,5 in favor of Leela but this is small beer compared with the new score of 75 - 25 of the more recent Leela-version. That is about 100 TPR extra. In other words it is time to update Leela if you are still working with a version of last year (the best test-results on my computers were achieved by v0.26.1 with network J92-210).

It is try and error to find the best version of Leela. Some tests with more recent versions performed worse so you never know in advance if you should do an update or not. Anyway it also largely depends on which hardware (graphical card) you are using. That is also why I keep track in my tests of which hardware I had been using for it.

We see that my most recent version of Stockfish profits more from my new desktop than Leela. After I swapped my old laptop last year, I decided last month to also upgrade my old desktop (only 4 years old but it had a very bad graphical card and I encountered often problems with the memory). I notice Stockfish achieves 100-200% more nodes on my new desktop compared with my new laptop. Leela only gains about 50% more nodes.

So progress happens on the software and the hardware. Besides it becomes harder and harder to measure properly this progress. You can also see in my tests that the drawing-rate in my matches keeps getting closer to 100. This corresponds to what I described in my last article that the closer we get to perfection, the more draws we see. Even using obligatory openings starts to lose its efficiency.
With above table I keep track of which openings are interesting and which are not.  Green is fine. Orange means that the opening needs to be checked more carefully. Once it is red then the opening needs to be replaced. That happens when in 4 consecutive games with the same opening the same color wins or when in 8 consecutive games with the same opening the result was each time a draw. After my last match I have to replace 22 out of 50 openings because of those conditions.

At TCEC Nelson Hernandez and Jeroen Noomen are continuously looking for openings which allow optimal testing of the engines. This becomes an ever growing challenge. After my first cycle (4 matches) I only needed to replace 3 openings. After the second cycle I replaced 15 openings and now it are 22 of them which aren't useful anymore. I had hoped to see the reverse after I already removed the bad openings earlier. In any case the super-final of TCEC Season 19 in which Stockfish won with 9 points extra was clearly a nice job of selecting interesting openings.

Probably some readers will wonder why I am still organizing those matches. Today you just download Stockfish 12 and you can start the analysis. That is correct for now but a couple of months ago this version wasn't available yet. I mean that new releases are popping up at a rapid pace and it is very easy to miss the best engines. Last year till September I was still using Komodo 11 for my analysis. I believe currently my analysis is 200 points stronger and even at my level this makes a (modest) difference while preparing for a standard on the board game.

Also during the tests I noticed that there exists only about 60% overlap between the moves recommended by Leela and Stockfish. Stockfih 12 is surely sufficient but Leela still gives you at some moments some extra useful input. Anyway testing engines is also fun to watch and this is something which I welcome in times of corona.


Sunday, November 1, 2020

Practical chess part 2

It becomes more and more clear that we won't be able to play regular on the board chess for a long while. For me chess isn't worth taking huge health-risks nor can I afford it to take sufficient precautions to play chess safely. However there aren't many alternatives for playing chess. We can't consider online chess seriously as you never know who or what is exactly playing against you. Last couple of months one after the other cheating-scandal occurred to that extent that even mainstream-media like the guardian reported about it.

Maybe we should for online chess just admit that cheaters can't be avoided and therefore we stop trying to block engines. Then everybody will have the same tools and on top the games will become much better played and more interesting. This sounds to me much more educational than the countless blitz- bullet-games which are mostly a waste of time.

On the other hand I don't think chess is fun anymore when all games are drawn in a tournament due to everybody using extensively engines to select moves. That is exactly what happened in a recently finished top-tournament at iccf: Joop van Oosterom Memorial. All 28 games were drawn despite a lot of combativeness and games played out till the end. Many games ended in a repetition of moves.
This result was more or less predicted for some time already see my article of 2015 computers achieve autonomy. Or as Nigel Short described it on twitter: correspondence-chess is even more dead than a Norwegian blue parrot. Former-worldchampion correspondence-chess Leonardo Ljubicic still tried to defend correspondence chess but he couldn't undo the damage anymore. Besides I don't believe there exists one correspondence-player playing correspondence chess to donate for free opening-novelties to on-the-board-players or opening-books. Also correspondence-chess is played to win games/ tournaments just like regular on-the-board-chess. Without winners/ losers a competition does't make sense anymore.

Similar comments also were heard at the most recent final of the standard world-championship. 28th of November 2018 a rapid-match had to define eventually who is world-champion as all 12 standard-games were drawn. So also for otb (at least for the elite) people wondered if standard chess still makes sense if there are no winners/ losers anymore.

However I think we are making too quickly conclusions this time. Contrary to correspondence-chess Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruano did have some real winning positions in their standard games. For different reasons they didn't manage to convert those into full points. I made a small research with Stockfish and Leela to prove this claim and found out that at least 5 games would've been decisive if an engine could've been consulted in those won positions.

In other words working every dag with the best engines won't even for the strongest humans be sufficient to emulate the power of an engine in standard chess between humans. As I stated before in part 1 we humans don't have the capabilities to play the same way as the current engines do so we will always lag far behind. This does't mean however that it isn't possible to prepare a bulletproof repertoire. A small group of players is able today to select openings which can't be refuted anymore by using the enormous amount of available opening-knowledge and combine this with extensive analysis made by the best engines.

Obviously this doesn't mean that topplayers don't lose anymore games in the opening. Our memory is only a fraction of a standard chessbase-database. Besides many positions can be easily neutralized by the engine but without this tool it is often very different at the board. Personally I am since a couple of years not anymore trying to refute openings like before I was always expecting to do see my articles about the scientific approach part 1 and part 2. As refutations are often not anymore existing, it makes sense to look at other aspects of the opening. Nowadays I know of certain lines that if my opponent has analyzed the opening as deeply as I did, chooses to play the mainline and can reproduce everything on the board that a draw becomes inevitable .

At the elite-level we see openings with a lot of forced moves often are drawn very rapidly even when played at a standard rate of play (see e.g. the game Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - Boris Gelfand played in 2013 which was already covered in my article iccf). Anyway at my level I don't see any danger of such sort of non-games. I don't know anybody of my environment analyzing games so deeply as I explained in my article to study openings part 2. Therefore I don't reject lines anymore of which I know in advance they are leading to a forced draw like in the opening shown below.
[Event "Analyse Schliemanngambiet"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019"] [Round "?"] [White "?"] [Black "?"] [Result "*"] [ECO "C63"] [PlyCount "43"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 f5 4. Nc3 fxe4 5. Nxe4 Nf6 6. Nxf6+ Qxf6 7. Qe2 Be7 8. Bxc6 bxc6 9. Nxe5 Qe6 10. Nf3 {(This line is already again dead in correspondence-chess but I don't think this should be also for otb-chess.)} 10... Qxe2+ 11. Kxe2 c5 $1 12. Re1 Bb7 $1 13. Kf1 Bxf3 14. gxf3 Rf8 $1 15. d4 cxd4 16. Bg5 Rf7 17. Re4 d5 18. Re5 Rd8 19. Rae1 Rd7 20. b4 h6 $1 21. Bxe7 Rfxe7 $1 22. Re6 {(3 very recent correspondence-games arrived to this position which is almost impossible to find independently. Besides it is not trivial to draw with black without assistance from an engine.)} *
A game with this specific line was already covered in my article novelty-seeker part 2 in which you notice that I rather easily won despite the theoretical evaluation. Besides I also want to add that white plays a bit easier in the final position. I mean that although all games in correspondence-chess were drawn with this position, I would still continue to play. White risks nothing and black still needs to fine a few accurate moves.

So playing lines which are easily drawn by engines, doesn't mean I play only for a draw. It is just a risk-free way of playing for a win with a draw always in the hand. This is something very different than the scenarios described in my articles to play for a draw against a stronger opponent and white plays a well-known drawing-line. Still we can question ourselves if this sort of chess is fun to play. It can be very efficient but in the end it is not creative at all.

I got this sort of remark after my 7th game in Open Prague this summer. In that game I chose for a theoretical line of which I knew in advance that it ends in a drawn-endgame but with a pawn extra for me. However my opponent wasn't in the mood for such kind of game and therefore tried an idea which he had analyzed a year earlier with the German grandmaster Artur Joesoepov and which leads rapidly to big complications.
[Event "Analysis Poisoned pawn Winawer-line"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020"] [Round "?"] [White "?"] [Black "?"] [Result "*"] [ECO "C18"] [PlyCount "59"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 Ne7 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 c5 7. Qg4 Qc7 8. Qxg7 Rg8 9. Qxh7 cxd4 10. Ne2 Nbc6 11. f4 dxc3 12. h4 Bd7 (12... b6 $2 {(My opponent of the 7th round in Open Prague wasn't in the mood for the mainline and therefore chose an idea which he had studied a year earlier with the German grandmaster Artur Joesoepov.)} 13. Nxc3 Nxe5 14. Nb5 Qb8 15. h5 $1 {(In my correpondence- database I found 11 games won by white by the strong h5 played between 2013 and 2019. I nor my opponent were aware about it during our mutual game. I played the much weaker fxe5 and eventually lost the game.)} 15... a6 $5 16. Nd4 $1 Qd6 $5 17. Ne2 $1 Ng4 18. h6 Kf8 19. Qd3 Rh8 20. Bb2 $5 Rxh6 21. Rxh6 Nxh6 22. O-O-O $1 Ke8 $16 {[%eval 142,18]} 23. Qh3 $1 Nhg8 24. Qh8 Bd7 $1 {(A correspondence-game played in 2016 continued with a5. Bd7 is the recommended move by the best engines today but even after the improvement black is much worse.)} 25. g3 b5 $16) 13. h5 O-O-O 14. Qd3 d4 15. h6 Rg6 $1 16. h7 Rh8 17. Nxd4 Nxd4 18. Qxd4 Bc6 $1 19. Bd3 Rxg2 20. Be3 Rg7 $1 21. Rh3 Nf5 $1 22. Bxf5 exf5 23. O-O-O Rgxh7 24. Rxh7 Rxh7 25. Qxa7 b6 26. Qa6+ Bb7 27. Qb5 Bc6 28. Qb3 Kb7 29. Qxc3 Rh1 30. Rxh1 {(This was exactly the final position of the correspondence-game played in 2019 between Artur Kovacs and David Sogin. Otb I would continue with white but black shouldn't have much troubles to draw despite having a pawn less.)} *
After the game I discovered via correspondence-games that his idea was meanwhile already refuted. My opponent wasn't aware about it when I told him about it later. Probably he would've not tried it otherwise. I already wrote here earlier that sometimes it is useful to play some outdated analysis if this puts your opponent out of book see the fake truth part 2.

Nevertheless playing some stuff which you don't know well, can also be very risky as I recently demonstrated in chess position trainer part 4. So my opponent in Prague was lucky that I hadn't studied his idea at home earlier with an engine.

Therefore more and more players prefer today to choose openings in which the play is less forced. It is not a coincidence why e.g. the quiet Italian and Berlin have become so popular in recent years even among amateurs. This allows us again to play real chess instead of checking who has the best memory/ analysis. Unfortunately also in those safe openings we see people trying to get an edge by analyzing very deeply a broad spectrum of key-positions. I am thinking about the recent publications the modernized berlin wall defense and of course also The Italian Renaissance part 1 and part 2. Nowhere we find anymore complete safety.