Sunday, February 28, 2021

The expert part 4

The vast majority of club-players have not played any official games in the past year. In recent months, Daniel Dardha was even the only Belgian to have played any competition at all. By the way, I don't understand how he got abroad because I thought that only essential travels are allowed. In any case, my last official game dates back to the last summer and then playing over-the-board-chess was by no means simple anymore, see the chess-microbe part 3.

I also have no idea when I will play chess outdoors again. If it has to be with a face-mask then I will decline it anyway and it looks like we will have to wear this for a long time. A couple of days ago the American virologist Fauci announced that face-masks may remain necessary in 2022. Apparently governments are slowly preparing the population for a very long period of corona measures.

In the meantime, I have to admit that I can also increasingly appreciate the advantages of not playing chess outdoors. In addition to money and time savings, I also love that I suddenly no longer have to worry about game-preparations (except some friends eager to beat me). I only play blitz online with very quickly changing and mostly completely unknown opponents. Moreover, I feel that this format is nicely fitting my skills. As an adept of the scientific approach see part 1 and part 2, I now reap the benefits of a narrowly well-studied repertoire of which I have been playing some openings for more than 20 years.

Even players with a fide rating sometimes a few hundred points higher than myself are suddenly no longer insurmountable. Many (very) strong amateurs find it difficult or impossible to adapt to the online conditions. The Dutch international master Xander Wemmers also admitted in an interview recently that despite his playing-strength and 40 years of chess, he does not have a polished repertoire. At over-the-board-chess he circumvents this by good game-preparations, but online it always ends in a punishment of opening-trainings.

So I think I can hold my own online, but some do even better. I also note that these online-specialists go much further in defining their repertoire. For me online chess has always been largely dependent on over-the-board-chess (see the (non-) sense of blitz part 1part 2part 3part 4 and part 5). However, that never applies (or that is what I assume) for those online specialists. For them, only the online-results matter and so they are not concerned about the possibility to reuse something in over-the-board-chess. Besides, many of them are no longer active at all according to fide.

One of the most typical and successful examples of an online-specialist is yanvar at lichess. He is a very active player as he played about 15,000 games (blitz only) at lichess in just less than 2.5 years. In addition, his online lichess rating constantly fluctuates between 2500 and 2600. I meet him regularly and every time I suffer. My score of 1 out of 7 is in any case far below the expected score. The games always follow the same pattern. Yanvar chooses a very small variant in which he specialized and I cannot get through the opening unscathed in half of the games. For example, with black he invariably aims for the next position that arises after only 6 moves.

So according to my opening book you can only find 15 master-games in the mega-database with this position. If I then look at which games those are then 4 games played before 1997 immediately stand out. In each of those games the black player is the Russian international master Igor Yanvarjov. There is no information about Yanvar on lichess but everything tells me that we are talking about the same person here.
Igor has apparently not been playing fide-competitions over 20 years (with 1 exception in 2012). Then I am very surprised to see that in combination with an age of almost 64 you can still flirt at lichess with a 2600 online rating. Who is this Igor Yanvarjov? Could it really be that chess-talent can be found everywhere in Russia?

My Russian wife soon helped me out to reveal the mistery. After some googling she discovered on some Russian chess sites that Igor Yanvarjov is a very big name in the Russian chess world. He is much more than just the international master title. He is an absolute top coach and has worked with the chess schools of Efim Geller, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov and Tigran Petrosian. He was also a personal friend of the latter, so it is not surprising that he even wrote a book about him The King's Indian According to Tigran Petrosian, which was translated into English in 2019.
Several of his students have since become grandmasters. By the way, you can still contact him for lessons at the Karpov-school. You can read a lot more about this extraordinary personality in the report of his 60th birthday because it is now necessary to return to the theme of this article and that is of course the expert. So why exactly do I consider Yanvar a model-expert? We start by downloading all lichess games from Yanvar thanks to (see also my article lichess) and then filter the games on our previously mentioned position. The result is astonishing. I extracted 667 games from Yanvar in which he played that particular position. With black he scores 65% so close to what his rating expects him to do. However, it gets even more interesting when we look again at the expert-games of the last 3 months played at lichess. Filtering on the same position shows that 1 name prevails: Yanvar.
This is why I think Yanvar is the model-expert. He has no competition except a tiny bit from KamranShirazi. Because of this he is pretty sure that all of his online opponents have rarely or never gotten the position on the board before in earlier games or at least never seriously studied it.

Finding an unique opening in itself is not that special. Everyone can deviate from the theory, but few succeed in having that position appear 667 times on the board and on top achieve with it a TPR close to 2600 elo (so also a lot higher than his own average rating). Yanvar's success exists because he very quickly deviates from the well-trodden paths (a position after move 6) and we also speak of an universal system instead of a specific opening. Then we only have to ask again to what extent the opening is healthy. Well, after several days of analysis with my best chess engines and the export of Yanvar's games, I don't think Yanvar would survive with this approach in standard over-the-board chess.
[Event "Rated Blitz game"] [Site ""] [Date "2020.02.05"] [Round "?"] [White "Wildindian"] [Black "yanvar"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C41"] [WhiteElo "2708"] [BlackElo "2584"] [PlyCount "69"] [EventType "blitz"] [TimeControl "180"] 1. e4 d6 {(Yanvar plays this in 99,9% of his online games.)} 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 Nbd7 4. Nf3 e5 5. Bc4 exd4 {(In over-the-board-chess this is only played in 1% of the master-games but Yanvar plays it online in 99,9% of his games.)} 6. Nxd4 {(I also analyzed Qxd4 which is sufficient too for some advantage.)} 6... g6 {( In the remaining master-games of the megadatabase g6 is played in less than 30% = 15 games. Yanvar chooses this move always = 667 games based on my most recent export.)} 7. Bg5 {(This is the critical test according to my analysis. I haven't tested it yet against Yanvar and he meets it online in only about 15% of his games.)} 7... h6 {(In 97% of Yanvar's games played.)} 8. Bf4 {(Again the critical move in my analysis but only played in 17% of the remaining games reaching this position.)} 8... Bg7 9. Qd2 Nb6 {(Here Yanvar sometimes variates between Nb6 and Ne5. However he likes Nb6 the most as he chooses the move about 70% of the games.)} 10. Bb3 Qe7 {(10 games of Yanvar get to this position. In 5 of them he played Qe7 which is also the best scoring continuation for him.)} 11. O-O-O Bd7 12. Ndb5 {(Much stronger is a4 and Stockfish already shows an advantage of +3. However till today nobody played that winning move online against Yanvar. )} 12... Bxb5 {(The rest of the game isn't important anymore for our article. The advantage still switches a few times of color.)} 13. Nxb5 Nxe4 14. Qe3 O-O 15. Rhe1 Rae8 16. Bxh6 Bxh6 17. Qxh6 Qf6 18. Nxc7 Re5 19. f3 Nc5 20. Rxe5 dxe5 21. Qe3 Nxb3+ 22. Qxb3 Rc8 23. Nd5 Qg5+ 24. Qe3 Qxe3+ 25. Nxe3 Kg7 26. b3 f5 27. h3 Rc7 28. c4 Kf6 29. Kb2 Kg5 30. g3 f4 31. gxf4+ Kxf4 32. Ng4 Re7 33. c5 Nd7 34. b4 Kxf3 35. Rxd7 {Normal} 1-0
So nobody has played the killer 12.a4 so far and I am not surprised because very few players (nobody?) analyze games played online as I have been doing now for a few specifically selected games since several months. Yanvar may never return to classic over-the-board-chess, so he shouldn't worry about any game-preparations. Finally, the Yanvar position also differs from the Dubov position (see my previous article). He does not have to fear copycats. Most likely Yanvar will remain the online-expert of his position and will enjoy this advantage for a long time to come.


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.