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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Practice Against An Engine

     If you are doing SERIOUS analysis then you need to use the latest version of one of the Big Three...Stockfish, Komodo or Houdini, but what if you want to practice against a human-like opponent? Actually, I don't know of any engines that will truly play like a human, whatever that means. It used to be that when you dumbed down an engine it played like a GM, gave you some material, then started playing like a GM again...not very practical.
     Some years ago one Blogger selected 100 positions from Fischer's games and tested them to see which ones played the most like him and the top engines selected only about 60-65 percent of his moves. But, those engines are no longer available. In any case, most of the humans we play aren't going to select 65 percent of Fischer's moves, so we are actually looking for something else. 
     The Vitruvius engine's site says, “Vitruvius is built on the skeleton structure of the free Ippolit programs (RobboLito, Igorrit, IvanHoe) from which it inherits certain characteristics and peculiarities. It is however a chess engine in its own right exhibiting a very original style of play with a highly speculative tendency. Thanks to its finely tuned positional vision, Vitruvius shows a readiness to sacrifice a pawn or two, the exchange and sometimes even a whole piece, for purely positional compensation…Vitruvius’ goal is to promote powerful, human-like-play in order that players of all strengths and levels can benefit from its use in their preparation for their over the board engagements. The current version has been used by strong IMs in their preparation, training and study and it has proved itself time and again to be a very helpful and ‘unforgiving’ sparring partner.” I don't own this engine which sells for about $28 (25 Euros). 
     Another commercial program that claims to play like a human is HIARCS which, according to the site, plays “with realistic human-like handicap levels for players from beginner to Grandmaster...opponents to match your ability.” Again, I have never owned HIARCS; it sells for about $60 (54 Euros). 
     I have the Fritz 12 GUI and so I was interested in seeing how it works for practice games with the Stockfish 6 engine. Fritz has modes for: Handicap, Sparring, Friend. 
     In the Handicap Mode you can set a base playing strength in the Elo range of 1250 to 2125 plus determine a number of other characteristics such as attacking the king, trading pieces at every opportunity, which side of the board it should seek play on, severity of its blunders, etc. 
    In the Sparring Mode the claim is the program plays a reasonably strong game, but at the same time makes tactical errors. If the program finds a move that allows the opponent to gain a tactical advantage in a clever way, it will play that move. It is a very realistic human style, the kind you encounter in a chess club...or so it says. In the Sparring Mode the engine did make a tactical error that lost a piece and it warned me when it made the error. This is a feature I really didn't care for because in a real game you don't get any such notifications. Besides, in one of the Blitz games where I supposedly failed to find the best move to its tactical mistake the notification was just plain wrong. Examining the game afterward, it turned out my move was the best. 
     In the Friend Mode the program attempts to automatically adjust its level to yours. When you start, it asks you for your “Handicap”. After a few games it attempts to adjust your handicap to reflect your real playing strength. The smaller your handicap, the stronger you are. I did not care for this mode either. I set the handicap at zero and the three games I played against it were drawn. It seemed that if I did nothing but shuffle pieces and trade at every opportunity, so did the engine. 
     I got what appeared to be the best results playing it in the Handicap Mode. I selected 1800 Elo and left all the settings at the default which is right in the middle of the sliding scale. I won all three game games and the engine did seem to play a decent game with no stupid errors.   I also played a couple of games at the lowest setting of 1225.  I'm not sure how well 1200 players play these days, but it did play at a considerably lower level than at the 1800 level.  In fact, in one game I deliberately let it play an ending where it had a R+B against my B and it failed to win.  At the 2125 setting I lost one and drew one.  
    If you don't have Fritz, both SCID for PC and Arena allow you to adjust the engine playing strength, but I am not sure which Fritz mode the adjustments might correspond to. At least in Fritz using the handicap mode seems to be a reasonable try at duplicating human play for practice. Stockfish also seemed to be the best engine.

 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Clark Harmon

     Clark Harmon of Amity, Oregon passed away from cancer at the age of sixty-four on Thursday, April 12, 2007 at his home. Harmon was a chess organizer and ten-time Oregon state champion who occasionally played in nearby Canadian events. 
     Harmon was born in Portland, Oregon on Oct. 18, 1942. He graduated from Clackamas High School and attended Portland State University where he earned an accounting degree. 
     He lived in Seattle for a short time, working for Boeing, then returned to Portland to work for Freightliner. He later established his own certified public accountant practice in Olympia. In 1989, he went into the business of manufacturing and selling greenhouses. He married Sherry Correla on March 30, 1991, in Vancouver, Wash. He moved to McMinnville in 1991 and Amity in 1996. 
     In addition to chess Harmon also enjoyed horses, horse camping at the beach and reading. He was known for his an easygoing, mild-manners and for being very non-judgmental and a man who took everyone at face value. 
    Harmon was heavily involved in chess organization in the Northwest (the states of Washington and Oregon). In 1965, while living in Renton, Washington he served as President of the Washington Chess Federation. 
     By 1967 he had returned to Portland and helped organize the Oregon Chess Federation and served as its first president. That same year Harmon worked with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry to start a series of Oregon scholastic chess tournaments. 
     Harmon was a skilled blindfold chess player who as a teenager Clark once played a series of 5-minute games with the board out of sight against other players close to his ability. In the late 1970's he had been invited to conduct a blindfold simultaneous exhibition at a Portland area mall. He wasn't sure whether to accept, so he wanted to practice. He had the Portland State University Chess Club invite six players whose average rating was about 1800-1900 to a private blindfold simul. During that exhibition there were two side-by-side games in which his opponents were playing nearly the same opening but the games were different enough to try to confuse him. On a couple of occasions he struggled, but in the end he prevailed after 3 or 4 hours and a lot of cigarettes, with three wins, a draw, and two losses. Finding the effort exhausting, he decided not to accept the invitation. 
     Harmon also briefly tried his hand in two postal chess tournaments: the US Absolute, with moderate success when he finished tied for 4-6 place (out of 13) scoring +6 -4 =2. He earned $13.33 for his efforts. Earlier he had placed second in the U.S. CC Championship. 
     In the following game he defeats the legendary Walter Browne using the discredited Budapest Gambit! Despite an early debut in 1896, the Budapest Gambit received attention from leading players only after a win as black by Milan Vidmar in 1918. It enjoyed a rise in popularity in the early 1920s, but nowadays is rarely played at the top level. It experiences a lower percentage of draws than other main lines, but also a lower percentage of wins for Black. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Dana MacKenzie discusses chess and computers.

A few years ago, Mackenzie developed — with the help of a computer program named Fritz — a strategy that’s not only creative…it’s considered beautiful. Mackenzie tells us that story...listen HERE.  Visit Dana Blogs Chess

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Walter Browne Classic

Here is a famous game by Browne that was played in the 1975 US championship in the college town of Oberlin, Ohio. At the time this tournament was played, I was living a few miles from Oberlin and so got to witness the entire tournament.  It was quite a thrill as the small town made a big deal out of the event and we spectators got to interact with some of the best U.S. players of the day. Newspaper clipping.

               1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4
 1. Browne      x ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1  8½- 4½
 2. Rogoff      ½ x ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 ½  8 - 5
 3. Vukcevich   ½ ½ x ½ 1 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 0 1 ½  7½- 5½
 4. Byrne, R.   0 ½ ½ x ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½  7 - 6
 5. Reshevsky   ½ ½ 0 ½ x ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½  7 - 6
 6. Lombardy    ½ 1 1 ½ ½ x ½ 0 1 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½  6½- 6½
 7. Bisguier    ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ x ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½  6½- 6½
 8. Tarjan      ½ ½ 0 0 ½ 1 ½ x 1 ½ 0 1 ½ ½  6½- 6½
 9. Commons     ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 x ½ 1 0 1 1  6½- 6½
10. Kavalek     ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ x 0 ½ ½ ½  5½- 7½
11. Peters      ½ 0 0 ½ 0 1 ½ 1 0 1 x ½ 0 ½  5½- 7½
12. Mednis      0 0 1 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 1 ½ ½ x ½ ½  5½- 7½
13. Grefe       0 0 0 ½ 0 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ x 1  5½- 7½
14. Benko       0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 x  5 - 8
 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Walter Browne Has Passed Away

     GM Browne had just finished playing in our 50th Anniversary National Open. He tied for 9th-15th. He played a 25 board simultaneous exhibition here at the Las Vegas International Chess Festival. He also taught at our chess camp and gave a lecture series. After the Chess Festival, Browne stayed the night at the home of his life-long friend, Ron Gross, who reported to us that Walter died suddenly in his sleep. Read more...




 


 

Chess Tempo

      Most everybody probably knows about this site, but just in case you don't, it's an excellent site to practice tactics. The site has a nice interface and is very user friendly.  ChessTempo also offers endgame training as well and has very large database of games, well over 2 million games. If want to pay for membership ChessTempo has some very useful features, but here we're concerned with FREE. You have a choice of solving problems in blitz (timed) or standard (untimed) modes. Naturally, the more you're willing to pay the better the benefits, but the free material is still good.
     And, if you're like me and are no longer interested in studying to improve your game, but just like to mess around solving puzzles (or just see if you've still got the old tactical mojo) then the free mode is an enjoyable way to pass the time. The one disadvantage is, of course, nothing is explained, but then again, maybe that's not a bad thing. When you're sitting at the board you don't get any hints and if you're serious about improving, then sometimes the best thing you can do is figure things out for yourself.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Offbeat Line Against the Dutch

I came across this unusual line against the Dutch that was played in the 37th Trusts Open in West Auckland, New Zealand last year. Both players are FM's and Hague won the tournament while his opponent finished in fifth place.  The opening leads to a weird looking position!
 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Duncan Suttles

     2004 Interview with Suttles 
     Canadian GM Duncan Suttles (born 21 December 1945) retired from chess in the mid-1980s because, as he put it, “I had other interests: I became involved in stocks and in computer programming. I quit because I felt I had developed a satisfactory strategic understanding of the game and whatever improvement remained was in technique. This would require a lot of effort for minimal returns.” 
     Suttles was born in San Francisco but moved to Canada as a child. He learned to play at 15 and participated in his first Canadian championship in 1961. He represented Canada at the chess Olympiads from 1964 through 1984. 
     His early mentor was mathematician and master Elod Macskasy. In his early days Suttles belonged to a group of a group of strong young British Columbia masters mentored by the Elod Macskasy. Other members of this group from the late 1960s included Peter Biyiasas, Bruce Harper, Jonathan Berry, and Robert Zuk. 
     Living inVancouver, Suttles' heyday was in the 1960s and '70s. He attended the University of British Columbia and earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics, and began doctoral-level studies, but did not complete his PhD. 
     Suttles made his first appearance in the Closed Canadian Chess Championship in 1961 at the age of 15, and scored 3/11. In his second Closed at Winnipeg 1963 he scored 8½ out of 15 games then in 1964 he tied for 3rd–5th places in the 1964 Canadian Open Chess Championship in Toronto, and as the top junior, qualified for the 1965 Junior World Chess Championship. At the Junior World Championship, Barcelona 1965, played in a strong preliminary group which included the eventual winner Bojan Kurajica and could only score 1½/4, failing to advance to the finals but he did manage to win the 'B' final, ahead of Raymond Keene. 
     In the 1965 Canadian Championship, Suttles scored 8/11 and finished second, behind eight-time champion Daniel Yanofsky. As a dual Canadian-American citizen, Suttles was also eligible for the United States Championship, New York 1965–66, in which he finished last with 2½/11. Suttles represented Canada in the Interzonal at Sousse 1967, scoring 9½/21 for 15th place. In 1969 he won the Canadian Championship after a playoff match with Zvonko Vranesic. He also participated in the Interzonal level at Palma de Mallorca 1970, scoring 10/23 for a tied 15–16th place. 
     Suttles appeared at age 18 on the Canadian Olympiad team for Tel Aviv 1964, for the first of his eight selections, including six in a row, over a period of 20 years scoring a totla 49 wins, 30 losees and 43 draws for 57.8 percent. He also played board one for Canada on its bronze medal winning team at the 1971 Student Olympiad. 
     He earned the International Master title in 1967 at the Sousse Interzonal and achieved the Grandmaster title at San Antonio in 1972. Suttles tied for first in the U.S. Open Chess Championship at Chicago 1973, scoring 10/12 and defeating GM Walter Browne in the last round. He placed clear second in the 1974 Canadian Open Championship in Montreal with 9½/11, losing only to the winner Ljubomir Ljubojević. 
     He won the Western Canadian Open, Vancouver 1981, defeating Tony Miles and Yasser Seirawan in the final two rounds. He won his final Canadian event, the 1984 Vancouver Futurity. 
     While taking a break from OTB play he won a high level correspondence chess tournament, the Heilimo Memorial, played from 1978–1981 and was awarded the Correspondence GM title. 
     Suttles was influenced by Nimzovich and became well known due to his preference for hypermodern openings and became the world's leading advocate of the Modern Defense in the mid-1960s and demonstrated that it was a playable defense. As White, Suttles favored 1.e4 and the Closed Variation against the Sicilian Defence and the Vienna Game after 1.e4 e5. He occasionally played the English Opening as well. By the early 1970s, he was frequently opening with 1.g3 as White, aiming for a reversed Modern Defense. I remember seeing one of his games in the British Chess Magazine where they had labeled one of his rather bizarre openings as “Suttleana.” 
     A three volume book, Chess on the Edge, was published in 2008. The book was published by the Chess'n Math Association. FM Bruce Harper, one of Suttles' students, led the effort, with assistance from GM Yasser Seirawan, Dutch IM Gerard Welling, and GMC Jonathan Berry. 
 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Julius du Mont


   Julius du Mont was born on December 15, 1881 in Paris and departed this world on April 7, 1956 in Hastings, England at the age of 74. Du Mont was a pianist, piano teacher, chess player, journalist, editor and writer.
     He studied music at the Frankfurt Conservatoire and at Heidelberg, and became a concert pianist and music teacher and was responsible for developing an important innovation in teaching technique. It had something to do with positioning the arm in order to make greater use of the muscles in the elbow. I suppose you'd have to be a piano player to know anything about that.

    One almost unknown fact about Du Mont is that during WW One he produced a manual on the Lewis light machine gun. The gun was an American design that was perfected and widely used by the British Empire. It was first used in combat in World War I, and continued in service with a number of armed forces through to the end of the Korean War. It is visually distinctive because of its wide tubular cooling shroud around the barrel and top-mounted drum-pan magazine. It was commonly used as an aircraft machine gun, almost always with the cooling shroud removed, during both world wars.
     He emigrated to England as a young man and became a successful piano teacher. Amongst his pupils was Edna Iles. He settled in London and also gained a reputation as a strong chess player, winning many club and county championships in the period leading up to World War I.  After the war he devoted himself entirely to chess, becoming the, at various times, the Middlesex and Hampstead champion. 
     However, mostly he is remembered for his chess books, either as an author or translator. He had an uncanny ability to clearly explain what was going on in a position without giving reams of analysis. For some years, du Mont was chess columnist of The Field and of the Manchester Guardian. Between 1940 and 1949 he was general editor of British Chess Magazine. During World War Two he initiated a chess program for the British Army and Air Force. 
     Leonard Barden wrote how American master and columnist Herman Helms was a good friend of du Mont and Helms, known as a kind and gentle man, used to send food packages to du Mont during WW2 which always contained some tinned meat which du Mont didn't like and so he passed in on to the Barden family. 

His chess books: 
Chess Openings Illustrated
Centre Counter Defence 
Centre and Danish Gambit 
The Elements of Chess 
The Basis of Combination in Chess 
200 Miniature Games 
More Miniature Games
500 Master Games of Chess (with Tartakower)
100 Master Games of Chess 

I was able to locate the following tournaments in which he played: 

Tunbridge Wells 1913 – 3rd place with 5.5 out of 8. Won by Sir George Thomas 
Hastings 1913 ( Kent and Sussex Counties Chess Association Tournament) - 9th place scoring 4 out of 10. Won by Sir George Thomas 
Dartford 1913 - 2nd place out of 6 behind Sir George Thomas. 
Dartford 1914 - 4th place out of 6. Gunsberg won. 

Unfortunately I was only able to locate one of his games and that was one he lost, but it's a snazzy little one.
 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

What Is Your Chess Style? What Openings/Defenses Should You Play?

     Which player are you most like? Botvinnik, the professional, Ivanchuk, the romantic, Nimzovich, the anaconda, Nakamura, the barbarian or one of many other types? What are the best openings for your style? Queen's Gambit, Sicilian, Petrov, French? 
     I discovered this really cool site, Chess Personality, that tells you. You take a 20-question quiz and based on your answers, it tells you what style you possess, the characterastics of that style and what openings best suit your style. 
     How accurate is it? My results look to be about right. According to my answers I'm a technician like Kramnik. Technicians are the quietest and calmest chess players. Strategists who rarely attack directly and prefer to quietly exploit positional advantages, Technicians utilize their exceptional intuition to guide their positional play. Rarely losing control, the Technician exploits almost invisible positional weaknesses to win in the endgame. Technicians do not like to take many risks, and therefore rarely lose - but also win less than more aggressive players. Recommended Openings - White: English Opening and Black: Sicilian Defense; Semi-Slav; Petrov Defense.



Eileen Tranmer

 
Tranmer (left) and Rowena Bruce (right)
    Eileen Betsy Tranmer (b. May 5, 1910 in Scarborough , d. September 26, 1983 in Ticehurst) was not only a British Ladies Champion (
awarded the WIM title in 1950), but she was also a well-known clarinetist.  
     Miss Tranmer played for Britain v USSR in the Radio Match 1946 and won the British Ladies' Champion in 1947, 1949, 1953 and 1961. She also participated in the first Women's World Championship held after WWII, at Moscow 1949/50, scoring 9.5 out of 15, finishing 7th out of 16, defeating Elizaveta Bykova, a Soviet Union representative and winner of the tournament, and eventual World Champion. In the early 1950's among female players she ranked in the top six in the world.
     She was a musician by profession and lived in Scotland where she was a member of the Edinburgh Ladies' CC and Polytechnic CC in Glasgow. From 1950 on she was a member of the Sadler's Wells Orchestra. 
     In the book Sundial: Theoretical Relationships Between Psychological Type, Talent, and Disease by Barbara E. Bryden, the author noted that many great figures in music, art, science and chess had sensory impairments of one kind or another. Beethoven, Robert Schuman and Homer Watson suffered deafness as did Eileen Tranmer. 
     Some notable simultaneous display results: In 1953 while in Scotland with the Italian Opera orchestra she gave a simultaneous display at Glasgow Ladies' Chess Club where won 5 games and lost one. In 1954 at the Glasgow Ladies' Chess Club she played 12 games, winning 9 and drawing 3 and at the Edinburgh Ladies' CC she played 19 games, winning 18 and losing one. In 1955 at the Glasgow Ladies' Chess Club she won all 13 games. 
      In an article appearing in the July 1972 issue of the New Scientist titled The Psychology of Chess, author Dr. Peter Wason wrote that he had spotted Tranmer among the spectators at the Teeside GM Tournament and she told him, “Chess is not a matter of: if he does that, then I do this. We are creating ideas.” 
 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Kids and Chess

Why do so many children quit playing chess? This was the question asked on Stack Exchange and I found the answers interesting. Read 

Is Blitz hurting our children? This discussion was on Chessdotcom

How do you motivate children at chess? Asked on Chess City. 
Should every child be made to play chess? BBC News article.


Can chess be a good educational game for toddlers?   Child and Me
Genius Kids                                             

Find the Name Puzzle

I found some “find the name” puzzles on Professor Chess that were fun to play around with. Visit the site here for 25 more. This is one I made up. Using a Knight move, find the following names: Reshevsky, Fischer, Bisguier, Evans, Benko, Fine, So, Yip


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Wolfgang Heidenfeld


    Wolfgang Heidenfeld (29 May 1911 – 3 August 1981) was born in Berlin. Heidenfeld studied law and played chess in Berlin but, being a Jew, he was forced to emigrate in the mid-1930's when he moved to South Africa. He stayed there for over twenty years, winning the South African championships many times and representing them in their debut Olympiad in 1958. During World War II he helped decode German messages for the Allies. He made his living by designing crossword puzzles, writing short stories, journalism and door-to-door sales.
     In 1955 he finished first in the first international tournament in South Africa:
 

W Heidenfeld (South Africa) 5.5
W Meuhring (The Hague) 5.5
Dr M Euwe ( Amsterdam) 5
V Barata da Cruz (Maputo) 3
L Wilken (South Africa) 2.5
J Wolpert (South Africa) 2.5
M Pines (Zimbabwe) 2
B Rabinowitz (South Africa) 2

    As a German Jew he was always against apartheid because he was aware of what it was like to be persecuted and after visiting Ireland for a chess tournament in 1956 he moved to Dublin the following year. Later he spent a few years in Frankfurt, Germany, but returned Dublin in 1963 with his new German wife who was 23 years younger than him. From 1966 onwards he represented Ireland at Olympiads. 
     After arriving in Dublin, Heidenfeld was enthusiastically involved in local chess activities, winning many local and national events and never refusing invitations to give a simultaneous exhibitions or talks on chess. 
     He won the South African championship eight times and the Irish championship six times and in 1959 he was the Irish and South African champion at the same time even though he was living in Germany. Although he was residing in Germany, Heidenfeld had intentions to settle in Ireland permanently as evidenced by his making arrangements to arrive in Dublin just in time for the start of the new chess “season.” For that reason he was allowed to participate in the Irish Championship. 
     Heidenfeld was awarded the International Master title, but according to his wife, for some reason he refused to accept the title. Apprarently it was in protest against some FIDE policy. His son, Mark (born in 1968), became and International Master. Mark, who surprisingly learned to play chess from his mother, also played for Ireland. 
     In 1979 the family moved back to Ulm, Germany, where Heidenfeld died two years later. He was the author of several chess books including Chess Springbok, My Book of Fun and Games, Grosse Remispartien (in German) and Lacking the Master Touch
     Most people who knew him remembered him for his arrogance as he had little hesitation in letting lesser players know what he thought of their play. According to his son Mark, he was often involved in nasty disputes. For example, in 1972 when he was left off of the Irish Olympiad team even though he was the Irish Champion and another time when the first Elo list for British players complied and he wasn't rated number one. 
    At the same time words like “cultured” and “principled” were used to describe him. His son speculated that much of his personality was because of his mixed cultural makeup, being a precise German and an opinionated Jew. 
     Here is a fine win against the Polish master Pytlakowski.