Friday, February 19, 2021

Fashion part 3

The American grandmaster Grigory Serper does not avoid the polemic in his blog articles and that attracts a lot of readers. He is and remains the most popular blogger on today. Moreover, you can never catch him of writing nonsense. He always adds evidence to his challenging claims. His most recent article "Fabiano Caruana chess-revolution" was another exemplary example of this. According to Grigory, the current number 2 in the world, the American super-grandmaster Fabiano Caruana knows the classics poorly. In the article he cites some recent statements by Fabiano which he then extensively tests against old matches played by former world champions.

How the hell is it possible to become number 2 in the world if you know so little about chess history? Former worldchampion Mikhail Botvinnik always insisted in his lessons on the intensive study of the games played by the old masters. Even now you can hear many masters and teachers explain how important the classics are in the development of a chess player. However, today Grigory, but certainly not only he, notes that many young players not only ignore this advice, but often also progress much faster and further.

At the start of the recent exceptional edition of Tata Steel Chessthe Iranian super-grandmaster Alireza Firouzja made a remarkable confession. He had mainly prepared himself with blitz and bullet for the tournament, see newspaper columns January 23, 2021. The reporter thought that Alireza was joking, but no, he was very serious. This anecdote shows very nicely how a real revolution has happened in recent years, also in the field of chess trainings. This corona crisis has accelerated this process and so it is not surprising that less active or older chess players have dropped out.

In some recent articles on this blog, including the (non-) sense of blitz part 4 and revolution in the millennium part 3, I gave examples from my online blitz games which I used to improve my opening repertoire. However, recently I discovered an interesting extension to this. Online chess can be an important indicator to know which openings are trendy. This is very valuable information because it makes it possible to organize the limited study time much more efficiently. Besides, it is also the case that many players online play the same openings as at over the board chess see for example my articles anonymous and clubchess and/or internetchess part 2.

In this blog article I want to zoom in on perhaps one of the most spectacular fashion trends online for years. It concerns the position below which I was suddenly confronted with 5 times in my online games in a short timeframe and that each time by a different opponent. Until the end of last year I had only met it online once while we do talk about more than 70,000 online games played and spread over 13 years.
Coincidence or was there more to it? It therefore seemed interesting to me to see what the lichess database tells about this position. However, downloading that database for several months is no fun (see my article lichess published late last year). Fortunately, there is now an alternative for this available, because nikonoel has been offering the Lichess Elite Database for several months now. This elite database is only a fraction of the total database but is qualitatively about 100 times better on average and quality is exactly what we need here when looking at fashion trends in openings.

Thanks to this site it was very easy to download the elite games played at lichess from November 2020, December 2020 and January 2021, put them together in 1 database and then filter them on our position. Next I counted for each day in those 3 months how often the position had occurred in the played games. I finally put those numbers into the remarkable graph below.
So in the first half of the 3 months the position was only played twice. In the second half, however, it was played no less than 402 times. This can no longer be a coincidence and of course it is not. Without a doubt, some readers will have already recognized the position because it indeed comes from the new immortal game that was played exactly on December 16, 2020.
[Event "Russian Championship Superfinal"] [Site "Moscow RUS"] [Date "2020.12.16"] [Round "11"] [White "Daniil Dubov"] [Black "Sergey Karjakin"] [Result "1-0"] [EventDate "2020.12.05"] [ECO "C53"] [WhiteElo "2702"] [BlackElo "2752"] [PlyCount "75"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 exd4 6. b4 {(Our position)} 6... Bb6 7. e5 Ne4 8. Bd5 Nxc3 9. Nxc3 dxc3 10. Bg5 Ne7 11. O-O h6 12. Bh4 O-O 13. Re1 Qe8 14. Bb3 a5 15. Bf6 a4 16. Bc4 Ng6 17. Qd3 d5 18. exd6 Be6 19. Qxg6 fxg6 20. Rxe6 Qf7 21. Bxc3 Kh8 22. Re4 Qf5 23. Re7 Rg8 24. Bxg8 Rxg8 25. dxc7 Qc2 26. Be5 Bxf2+ 27. Kh1 Bb6 28. h3 Kh7 29. Re1 a3 30. Kh2 g5 31. Nd4 Qc4 32. Nf5 Qxb4 33. Rc1 Kg6 34. Rxg7+ Kxf5 35. Rxg8 Bxc7 36. Bxc7 Qb2 37. Rc5+ Ke4 38. Rd8 1-0
I am not surprised that after all the reports about this fantastic game, many players have also tried out this variant. It also helps that the white player is very popular among the chess players because some Belgians have even founded a Daniil Dubov fanclub for him.

As a Belgian, you should therefore take into account that you will soon see the position occur in one of your games  (at least if it is part of your repertoire). By the way, I already found a large number of Belgians among the players of the elite database having played the position. Victims with black were (except myself): IM Steven Geirnaert, FM Warre De Waele and IM Glen De Schampheleire. The latter therefore chose to suddenly change the colors because I also found some games of Glen with the white color and this variant. I also saw FM Sim Maerevoet test it and I myself suffered an ignominious defeat in the weekly blitz of the Belgian online chess club by the hand of Emilio Martinez Rodriguez.

Then of course the question remains about how dangerous or good is this system? I first tried to look at this from a practical point of view by looking up in the elite database the players who have already tested it at least 10 times. The fact that Karjakin (also called minister of defence ) could not avoid defeat in a standard game, probably means that the results below are no surprise.
In other words if white has a little knowledge of the system and tactics is your middle name then you can achieve a big plus score.

In any case, as a black player, you better have an anti-dote ready. You can look for this in the many published analyzes such as chesspublishing , but I always prefer to do my own homework when I have the time. So I let my strongest PC and Stockfish 12 calculate on it for an hour and that shone a different light on the opening. Dubov does not mention it in his youtube-analysis , but 12 ... a5 looks to me more or less winning for black. I promptly tested it online as soon as I could.
[Event "Rated Blitz game"] [Site "?"] [Date "2021.02.04"] [Round "?"] [White "Kachkar"] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C53"] [WhiteElo "2388"] [BlackElo "2478"] [PlyCount "46"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 exd4 6. b4 Bb6 7. e5 Ne4 8. Bd5 Nxc3 9. Nxc3 dxc3 10. Bg5 Ne7 11. O-O h6 12. Bh4 a5 {(After some time my computer sticks to this move and I like it a lot.)} 13. b5 g5 14. Nxg5 hxg5 {(Nxd5 is the alternative but again the engine eventually plays hxg5 which I knew about during the game.)} 15. Bxg5 c6 16. Bc4 cxb5 17. Bd5 Qc7 $4 {(Here my knowledge/ preparation ended and immediately I make an error. Bc5 is totally winning.)} 18. Qf3 $4 {(If you are a piece down then you want to avoid exchanges but this loses quickly.)} (18. Bxe7 Kxe7 19. Qf3 Rf8 20. Qf6+ Ke8 21. Bxf7+ Rxf7 22. Qh8+ {(Black can't avoid properly the perpetual check despite having 2 extra bishops.)}) 18... Nxd5 19. Qxd5 Qc6 20. Qd3 Rg8 21. h4 Bd8 22. Qh7 Qg6 23. Qxg6 fxg6 {(The attack is gone and black has a piece, pawn ... extra. So this line can go bad very quickly for white.)} 0-1
Afterwards I discovered that the Slovakian grandmaster Jergus Pechac has also played 12...a5 on lichess see game so I suspect that every professional has already found this. In fact, I think Dubov was aware of this in advance because in his video he also says that he might have lost to a computer but that didn't stop him from playing it anyway.

Most likely therefore we can speak of a passing fashion phenomenon here. This does not mean that in a year's time you can't suddenly be surprised by someone who brings this variant out again. Trying to detect online fashion trends and paying the necessary attention to them seems to me useful for the competitive chess player.


Friday, February 5, 2021

Chess in movies

It is certain that the corona crisis has caused and will still bring a lot of misery. However, as with any crisis, you also have people who benefit rather than suffer. I certainly have nothing to complain about myself. The past year was a good year at work because more than ever there was a demand for extensions and improvements to the existing telecom networks. There was a big increase in internet traffic and that really benefited my sector. Moreover, I did not have to leave my house for this and I could therefore telework safely.

Financially, I do not (for the time being) feel any burden from this crisis. On the contrary, because besides well-filled days at work, I have never saved so much. Many thousands of euros which I normally spend annually at chess (see How much money do you spend at chess?) remained on the savings account. Even the many extras which we allowed ourselves hardly had any influence on this. So I certainly didn't forget to treat ourselves during the lockdowns.

For example, I bought more chess books than ever in recent months. At home I expanded our internet subscription so that we could now surf unlimited and at double the speed. However, perhaps the greatest gift we gave ourselves may have been a subscription to Netflix. Yes, I am one of the millions of new users that have been added in recent months.

For only 8 euros per month (so the cheapest subscription) you are offered a large range of films and series. Today I wonder why I waited so long with this. My daughter Evelien had long been asking for it, but I wasn't interested before because I don't watch much TV myself. By the way to be very honest, I don't even know if I would have ever joined without The Queen's Gambit. In any case, it was the many very positive messages about that series that in the end convinced me and I certainly don't regret.

Because for that series alone it was worth the money. It is without a doubt the best I have ever seen on TV about chess. On the other hand, I also have to admit that I haven't seen much chess in movies yet. I remember seeing Searching for Bobby Fischer a long time ago, but I think that's a very childish movie. A 6-year-old boy becomes interested at chess and improves quickly with the help of his own coach who is paid by his parents. The study-methods used are curious to say the least, and some of them are even totally unacceptable today.
Now I do understand why Netflix is offering this 1993 film again after the great success of the Queen's Gambit. There is certainly a demand for new movies about chess today. However Netflix was smart enough to rename the film: Innocent Moves because whom of the young people still knows Bobby Fischer? If you watch the entertaining What a year! on VTM then you immediately understand how little our youth knows about the past.

A more modern version of this film is Queen of Katwe from 2016. In that film we see how much our society has changed in the last 20 years. The rich white boy as the protagonist has been replaced by the poor black girl. The hard and often spartan lessons in the 1993 film has been transformed to very gentle advice of the teacher.
Anyway I do like this movie more than the one from 1993. The big problems besides chess for Madina Nalwanga make the story much richer. On the other hand, I would like to make a small comment about studying chess. Both stories are based on real characters. Phiona Mutesi from Uganda achieved  a maximum-elo of 1686 while Joshua Waitzkin from US made it much further with an international master's title and 2464 elo. Today there is a lot of discussion about our Flemish education that is in decline, but I think that you can indeed only achieve the best results by tightening the proverbial thumbscrews.

Now I agree that we can learn very little chess technically from films anyway. This is even the case with the Netflix series the Queen's Gambit. This was recently made explicitly clear to us in a separate mini-documentary of this series Creating The Queen's Gambit in which the directors and actors give their view on how the series were created and in which they explain certain details.
The very first sentence in this documentary begins about that the series are actually not about chess. Perhaps this is a shock for many chess fans, but if you listen to the explanation then you have to agree with them. It is primarily about the many problems that Beth experiences in her life and how she tries to overcome them very slowly. That's why I hear from many non-chess players that they really enjoyed the series too. You don't have to be able to play chess at all to follow the series. Even more, chess seems like an easy game and that may have triggered many viewers to try to play/ learn chess.

Magnus Carlsen also says in a recent interview that he did not know many games in the series. Now it is already very difficult to recognize a position from a game during a film. Without freezing the image, it is very unlikely. Moreover, the director Scott Frank also admits in Creating The Queen's Gambit that it is completely impossible to show something good chess-technical on television. The medium is simply not suitable for that. I myself could only recognize a chess position once in a movie. Also on Netflix nowadays you have the movie The Coldest Game. It is a movie about spies during the Cold War (for the young generation, before 1990 when we still had an Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union).
This 2019 film did not receive good reviews, not even from Chessbase, but it does contain some nice games of chess. One of those games drew my attention because in a flash I recognized the combination. I already mentioned in my previous article "Geometry" that the heart of chess is in recognizing patterns. Although I only saw part of the board for a mere second, I immediately remembered the story of Tim Krabbe Strangest coincidence ever or hoax. This is about an extraordinary combination that would have been played in different games twice in a just a couple of years. Until today it is still not known what is true or false. It is therefore no surprise that the Polish directors ultimately opt for the Polish combination.
[Event "Poznan"] [Site "Poznan POL"] [Date "1931.??.??"] [Round ""] [White "Tylkowski"] [Black "Antoni Wojciechowski"] [Result "0-1"] [Annotator "Kähler"] [PlyCount "80"] 1. f4 d5 2. e3 c5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. Bb5 Bg4 5. O-O e6 6. d3 Be7 7. Nc3 d4 8. Nb1 Nf6 9. e4 O-O 10. Bxc6 bxc6 11. c3 dxc3 12. Nxc3 Bxf3 13. Rxf3 Ng4 14. Kh1 Qd4 15. Qg1 Qxg1+ 16. Kxg1 Bd8 17. Be3 Nxe3 18. Rxe3 Bb6 19. Rd1 h6 20. e5 f6 21. exf6 Rxf6 22. Rf3 c4+ 23. d4 c5 24. d5 exd5 25. Rxd5 Kh7 26. Rd7 Rd8 27. Rb7 Rg6 28. Rg3 Rxg3 29. hxg3 Rd2 30. Na4 {(Here starts the fantastic and famous combination.)} 30... Rxb2 31. Nxb2 c3 32. Rxb6 c4 33. Rb4 a5 34. Nxc4 c2 35. Nxa5 c1=Q+ 36. Kh2 Qc5 37. Rb2 Qxa5 38. g4 Qe1 39. g3 h5 40. gxh5 Kh6 0-1
In short, chess in films remains a difficult marriage. In most cases you will have more questions about chess after the movie than they are answered in the movie. That is why I have now published a faq (frequently asked questions) on the site of the Belgian online chessclub in 2 languages: Dutch and French. Many new chess players today have a lot of questions about the game. We have tried to answer those questions and bundled them into 2 categories: starting with chess and tips for club-players.

Comments and additions are of course welcome. The list will continue to grow as we receive new questions, but I think we already have a very wide range for now. So if you or your friends have questions about chess after watching a chess movie, this is certainly a good address to see if the answer is not there by chance. Finally, thanks Steven Keirse/ W84therook for the many hours of work on this faq.