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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Still a Little Wiggle Room for Humans in Correspondence Chess

     I ran across a game from the 2010 ICCF e-mail world championship that was annotated by Rafael Leitaio (a GM in both OTB and CC) and found the position after white's 12th move interesting. 
     Leitaio noted that he has worked a lot with engines both from the programming/testing side and from the practical analysis side, and he observed that it's important to keep in mind that the only objective evaluations in chess are win, loss, and draw for the side to move and everything else is a practical consideration. 
     He went on to say that what this means for engine analysis is that even in positions they play correctly their evaluations have been tuned by the authors to maximize the engine's chances against other engines and a position from which a top engine will score well against other engines may be a position a human would be advised to avoid. This is especially true OTB because in a tactical situation and engine might see all the tactics perfectly, but that is beyond the scope of humans. He added that if an engine says his position is -0.50 but he understands the position thoroughly, it's better for him to play that position than one that is evaluated at 1.00 in his favor but is so chaotic that he doesn't understand it. That is in OTB, anyway. 
     Of course, engine assisted correspondence chess (as most high level CC play is these days) is another matter. And to be successful it takes good hardware, a strong engine and painstaking preparation. Without tablebases, or a lot of pieces on the board, in the endgame engines may miss the best lines and you will rarely see them sacrificing material for the initiative. Also, since this game was played in 2010, I was curious to see if today's engines which are much stronger than they were 5 years ago could shed any new light on the game. They engines pumped out a confusing array of opinions, so if one is strong enough, there's a little wiggle room for humans in correspondence chess, but I'm not one of them. 
     In the following position after Leitaio played 12.h4 black replied with 12...h5 which was given a question mark because it was a conceptual mistake. The year before this game was played the same position appeared in a Kramnik vs. Svidler game and black played 12...f5, but was still unable to solve his problems in the opening.

     I got to wondering if today's engines were any better at finding a decent move for black. Unfortunately in his notes Leitaio didn't offer any suggestions. So, what should black have played? Was Svidler's 12...f5 OK? Was Schuster's 12...h5 an improvement? What do various engines think? 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Dr. Joseph I. Shaffer, Ohio Master

     I was saddened to discover that back in July Ohio lost a prominent master of a bygone era. Dr. Joseph I. Shaffer, a psychologist and longtime University of Toledo faculty member who was a pioneer in treating sleep disorders, passed away Monday morning, July 20, 2015 in ProMedica Toledo Hospital from complications after a heart attack. He was 87.
     I lived in Toledo, Ohio in the late 1960's met and Dr. Shaffer on several occasions and found him to be a very pleasant man who was well liked and admired by all the local players.

      He attended the University of Chicago then received his bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees from Temple University in Philadelphia. After receiving his Ph.D. in psychology, he was appointed director of test administration at Temple University. In 1966 he was recruited to join the faculty of the Department of Psychology at The University of Toledo.

      As a young man, he enjoyed playing chess and baseball, and running track. His love of chess continued throughout his life as demonstrated by winning many tournaments including the state championships of Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania. He held the USCF's title of Life Master. Shaffer first made local headlines as Toledo’s only rated chess master. He won the State championship outright in 1970. In 1973 he tied for first with James Harkins, who won on tiebreaks, Ross Sprague and Rea Hayes. Then in 1979 Errol Liebowitz won the championship with Robert H. Burns Jr., Ross Sprague, Perry Sill and Dr. Shaffer tying for second.

      In the early 1980s, he became a pioneer in the field of sleep disorders medicine opening and directing the Sleep Disorders Center at St. Vincent's Medical Center. Continuing his research in the field, he published numerous papers advancing the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders.

      In 1985 Shaffer founded the Sleep Network, Inc., a national consortium of sleep centers. Until his death, he remained president of the Sleep Network, director of the Regional Center for Sleep Medicine in Toledo, a professor of medicine at the University of Toledo College of Medicine and a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine. His research and his reading led him to realize that people could be helped with what he called “sleep-wake disorders,”

      An associate medical director at the University of Toledo's regional center for sleep medicine and a medical faculty member said of Dr. Shaffer, “He was one of the most brilliant people I’ve come across.” Shaffer was remembered for his advice, “Think. You can always reason out your answer if you’re thorough about it.”

      Dr. Shaffer was among the first to apply sleep research to treating people whose issues could have a range of medical and psychological causes.

      He was preceded in death by his wife, Lorraine in 1998 and is survived by two sons, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. He is buried at Beth Shalom Cemetery in Oregon, Ohio.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

An Almost Good Queen Sacrifice

     The following 15 minute game on Instant Chess is not very good, but it was a lot of fun to play. My Q-sacrifice wasn't unsound, but neither was it the best…Stockfish dropped its evaluation from over 5 Pawns to about equal, but black's defensive problems proved to be very difficult. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Fischer Random Chess or Chess960

     Chess960 (or Fischer Random Chess) was invented and advocated by Bobby Fischer where the starting position of the pieces on the first and eighth ranks is randomized. There are 960 possible starting positions, hence the name Chess960. 
     The idea is that the random setup makes memorization of opening lines impracticable which forces the players to rely on their talent and creativity. Sounds like sales hype for the latest opening book on some crappy gambit, but that's another story.
     Prior to Fischer the random placement of pieces was known as Shuffle Chess, but Fischer's idea was to place restrictions such as retaining bishops of opposite colors and castling. Black's setup always mirrors White's. The ranks get shuffled by computer to create different starting positions for each game. 
     It's not very popular probably because people generally don't like change.  The argument that it will spice up the game by eliminating memorization of openings deep into the middlegame sounds like a faux argument to me though because 99 percent of us can remember that much opening analysis and aren't very good players to begin with. Back in the pre-computer days when we all used Modern Chess Openings in postal chess and then got to the end of a column we were on our own and started playing chess like whatever class we were in...same in OTB games.  Our opponent varies from our opening preparation at move three, or we forget it at move six  and are on our own practically from the start of the game.  Hence, there's no compelling reason for most of us to abandon normal chess that I can see.  Memorization may be killing chess at the highest levels which makes the games boring and so it's not nearly as much fun to play over a game by Carlsen as by Tahl. 
     Really good players have an excellent knowledge of the general principles, strategic themes, tactical patterns, endings etc...but let’s face it, most of us don't. So it seems to me the argument that Chess960 would eliminate all that is bogus and I don't see how it levels the playing field.  No matter how you set up the pieces, I'm not going to be defeating Carlsen, Topalov, Anand, Kramnik and Nakmura. For that matter, I seriously doubt I could beat Meier, Gharamian, Nielsen, Mamedov or Motylev either. Who are they, you ask? They're at the bottom of FIDE's top 100 list and are all rated over 260. Anyway, given the fantastic talent and memories Grandmasters have for chess and their ability to remember dozens of opening variations many moves deep, sooner or later there would be some kind of opening theory develop, especially with the help of engines. 
Here is Starting Position 354 from my Fritz 12 program:
In this position playing a 5-minute game against Stockfish 6 after 10 moves we reached this position: 
Stockfish evaluates this position at 0.11, or dead even. After 16 moves we were at this position: 
My play has drifted downward a little bit and it's evaluated at a slight advantage for black (-0.30) My next move, 17.f4, turned out to be rather poor and the evaluation jumped to -0.70. I should have played either 17.h4 or 17.g3. Anyway, after 17.f4 I only managed to hold out another 17 moves before resigning.  If Chess960 didn't level the playing field for me against Stockfish 6 and I doubt it would against anybody. 
     If anyone is interested in playing Chess960, Lechenicher SchachServer offers Chess960 tournaments. They are double round events, 5 players, 8 games and the time limit is 90 days for the whole game. The server will select the starting position randomly and if castling is possible, the server will display a castling button so you really don't have to know any special rules. Registration is free and you use your real name and after registration you will receive an email with your User ID. Of course LSS allows engine use, so why bother? 
     I'm sure there are other sites with Chess960 that don't allow engines, but, again, what's the point? I seriously doubt you will be a Carlsen, Topalov, Anand, Kramnik or a Nakmura in this form of chess either. Obviously, when it comes to Bobby's invention, I ain't a fan.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Tactics, the Pornography of Chess

     Tactical play covers such a wide area that it is hard to define it exactly. It's like pornography; hard to define, but you know it when you see it. 
     Many amateurs like to think they have a tactical style and, having heard the saying “chess is 99 percent tactics,” think that by playing tactical chess they are bound to win more games. What exactly is meant by tactics? Most players can't come up with an adequate description of what a tactical style is and from what I've seen online, some consider blundering away a piece to be sacrificing it. According to Wikipedia, a blunder is a very bad move usually caused by a tactical oversight, whether from time trouble, overconfidence or carelessness. It also adds that what qualifies as a "blunder" rather than a “normal” mistake is somewhat subjective. A weak move from a beginner might be explained by a lack of skill, while the same move from a master might be called a blunder. Especially among amateur and novice players, blunders often occur because of a faulty thought process where they do not consider the opponent's forcing moves. 
     Was Paul Morphy a strategist or a tactician? Morphy's play was revolutionary for his era and his combinations were amazing, but what made all those fantastic tactics we see in his games possible? His play in the openings emphasized positional development which lead to advantages that allowed him to dominate the position and often finish off the game with a brilliant attack. And what of Alekhine? Spielmann observed that he could see combinations as well as Alekhine, but he just couldn't get the positions Alekhine got. Why? Alekhine knew how to build up overwhelming positions. 
     There's more to tactics than just willy-nilly sacrificing something. So, what is a combination or tactic? The Encyclopedia of Chess Middlegames gives the following tactics categories: 
  • Double Attack 
  • Pawn Breakthroughs 
  • Blockades 
  • Decoys 
  • Discovered Attacks 
  • Passed Pawns 
  • X-ray Attacks
  • Interception 
  • Deflection 
  • Pins 
  • Demolition of Pawns 
  • Overloading 
  • Annihilation of Defense 
  • Perpetual Attack 
  • Intermediate Move 
  • Space 
  • Clearance 
     That's a long list of motifs one has to be able to recognize if one is going to adapt a successful tactical style. Even if one prefers to play in a strategic style, you still have to be able to recognize all that stuff to avoid making a tactical blunder yourself or to take advantage of one by your opponent. 
     According to Wikipedia, a combination is a sequence of moves, often initiated by a sacrifice, which leaves the opponent few options and results in tangible gain. 
     Combinations are sufficiently forcing that one can calculate exactly how the advantage will be achieved against any defense. Indeed, it is usually necessary to see several moves ahead in exact detail before launching a combination, or else the initial sacrifice would not be undertaken. 
     Describing exactly what constitutes tactical play isn't easy though as seen by the definitions of some of the greats: 

Emanuel Lasker: A variation which leads to a desirable issue by force. 
Znosko-Borovsky: A maneuver distinguished by surprise (usually springing from a sacrifice) which brings about a sudden change in the position, and should gain some advantage. 
Euwe: A short part of the game within which a certain purpose is attained by force. 
Fine: A double attack. 
Botvinnik (a forced variation with sacrifice) disagreed with Romanovsky’s definition (a variation in the course of which both sides make forced moves and which ends with an objective advantage for the active side) because in Botvinnik's opinion it would include things which come under the category of maneuvers. Botvinnik’s definition covers most combinations, but not all according to CJS Purdy. 
     For example, consider a Queen in enemy territory that doesn't have an escape route. A series of threats that have to be met by the “threatened” side ends up with his losing the trapped Queen, but there may not have been any sacrifice at all. Purdy said tactics are characterized by violent moves, but not necessarily sacrifices. 

     In some positions there is a winning tactic and either the player finds it and wins, or doesn’t and the game goes on, but in most positions there are no tactics at all. And, here's the point many amateurs fail to understand, spectacular, forcing moves may be unsound because nothing can be forced and the opponent has a wide choice.  That approach may work for a strong player like Tahl or Nezhmetdinov, but for most of us, entering such positions also means we have just as good a chance of blundering away the game as our opponents!
     The trick is to find a move that will give the best results no matter what the opponent does.  That is position play; it deals with small improvements in a position and you are not likely to get the chance for a combination unless you can build up an advantage in little ways like Morphy and Alekhine did. Obviously, a sound tactic trumps all positional considerations whenever it comes up, so you have to be on the lookout for tactics at every move. 
     Purdy recommended that when (if) you see an opponent’s threat try to imagine that he could not execute it and examine possible attacking moves because one of them could render the threat harmless. The danger is that when you see an opponent's threat, the natural reaction is to start looking for a defense and suddenly find yourself just reacting to your opponent's moves. On the other hand, if you don’t ask yourself if he has any threats, you will constantly be making blunders. 
     It's also necessary to realize that a positional advantage is not always necessary to be able to pull off a tactical coup. It is true that tactics are usually brought off by the player with the superior position, but many tactics arise when the stronger side misses something. We've all blundered in won positions! Never be deterred by what appears to be a positional disadvantage. Every part of the board must be examined for some accidental feature that may give rise to a combination. That means you have to be able to recognize all those 16 motifs The Encyclopedia of Chess Middlegames sets out when you see them. So, there's more to playing tactical chess than just sacrificing something.   My pdf booklet on Hints on How To Study has some helpful advice on how to spot the possibility that there is a tactic lurking in the position. You can download it from Dropbox HERE.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Monkey's Bum Attack

     The Exeter Chess Club offers some good general guidelines to the Modern Defense, but the other day a line called the Monkey's Bum Attack (aka the Bishop's Attack) caught my eye and I was intrigued with it. I thought about trying in on LSS if someone would ever play the Modern Defense, but so far I have not run into it. But, before playing it I wanted to let Komodo 8 analyze it for awhile to see it it was worth trying on LSS. The result is a 16 page pdf booklet you can download via Dropbox. 
     I came to the conclusion that it's not something I want to try on LSS because there just did not seem to be any lines that don't give black a significant advantage. However, that's correspondence chess with strong engines. OTB is something else and in that realm it just might be worth a try. 
     Although it may be loosely defined as any approach against the Modern Defense involving an early Bc4 and Qf3, threatening "Scholar's mate", it is strictly defined by the sequence of moves: 1. e4 g6 2. Bc4 Bg7 3. Qf3 e6 4. d4 Bxd4 5. Nd2 Bg7 6. Nb3 
     This aggressive opening grew out of a desire to crack the Modern Defense. British IM Nigel Povah invented the opening in the early 1970s and he showed the moves to his friend Ken Coates, who proclaimed "if this works, then I'm a monkey's bum." The name stuck and the opening is still highly playable, at least OTB,  as GM Simon Williams has demonstrated.
     A more popular approach against the Modern Defense is the Monkey's Bum Deferred. It has been employed by John Nunn, Sergei Rublevsky and Judit Polgar. In the Deferred Variation Bc4 and Qf3 are played only after White has developed his QN. For example: 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 c6 4.Bc4 d6 5.Qf3. Usually White castles K-side and then attacks with f3-f4. 

     For correspondence play, the deferred line seems like a more likely candidate, but I'm not sure it's worth investigating right now because I can't remember ever having run into the Modern Defense. I'll keep it in mind though if I ever do. 

    The following game proved a miserable failure for the Monkey's Bum thanks, in no small part, to Ciocaltea's brilliant play. Bellon is a Spanish GM of whom Kingpin Magazine once wrote, “the Spaniard proved a severe test for all the leading players managing to trick all of us at one time or another.” Ciocaltea (January 16, 1932, Bucharest, Romania – September 10, 1983, Manresa, Spain) was a GM.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Fischer's “Other” World Championship

Milan Matulovic
     Yesterday the next door neighbor was in his back yard raking up the remaining leaves, and because it was pretty chilly our windows were shut. That meant I could practice without being heard and it was a good thing because I learned I will NEVER be able to yodel and I am not going to waste any money on buying a fiddle, so it is back to chess. 
     Back in 1970 after the “Match of the Century” as it was then called, which pitted Russia, as it was then called, against the Rest of the World in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, as it was then called, was over, the question for the Yugoslavs was, would Fischer stay in the country and take part in what was known as the “Second Tournament of Peace” in Rovinj and Belgrade? As usual, Fischer hemmed and hawed, but eventually he did participate and finished first with a score of 13-4. 
     Prior to the Second Tournament of Peace the Yugoslavs were mulling over the possibility of a great blitz tournament to be held in Herceg Novi, a small tourist town on the Adriatic coast. Unexpectedly Fischer agreed to play. The best blitz players in the world, Tahl, Korchnoi, Bronstein and Petrosian, yes, Petrosian, from Russia plus the Yugoslav “Blitz Matador”, Milan Matulovic would be playing. In addition there would be several other strong Grandmasters and people were calling the tournament the “Unofficial World Blitz Championship.” 
     It was expected that Fischer would get a few “lessons” from the great Russian blitz experts. That's not what happened though. Fischer finished first by a mile...4-and-a-half points, actually. In the double round event consisting of 22 games, he lost one to Korchnoi and drew one each against Hort, Uhlmann, Bronstein and Reshevsky; all the other guys lost both games against him. Fischer had already established himself as the leading US player, but his 10.5 point finish ahead of Reshevsky, a pretty good blitz player himself, was surprising and to top things off, in most games Fischer used less than half the time of his opponent's plus he even served up a few theoretical novelties in the openings. 

1) Fischer 19-3 
2) Tahl 14.5-7.5 
3) Korchnoi 14-8 
4) Petrosian 13.5-8.5 
5) Bronstein 13-9 
6) Hort 12-10 
7) Matulovic 10.5-11.5 
8) Smyslov 9.5-12.5 
9) Reshevsky 8.5-13.5 
10) Uhlmann 8.0-14.0 
11) Ivkov 7.5-14.5 
12) Ostojic 2.0-20.0 

You can read more about this tournament at these sites:
Many of the games are available at 365 Chess
Daaim Shabazz of the great Blog, Chess Drum, writes about Fischer's blitzchess.

In this game Matulovic played the risky, even in blitz against Fischer, Schliemann Defense and Fischer comes up with some very strong moves. Fischer then sacrificed away and Matulovic's King which was caught in the center ended up getting mated.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Taking a Break From Chess Today

     As James Boswell said, "Had I learned to fiddle I should have done nothing else."  Personally, I'd throw in cowboy yodeling, too.
     From Wikipedia….Raymond LeRoy Clark (December 11, 1917 - July 5, 2000) was an American musician known for his yodeling. He was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, and completed two years of high school, at which time he became a professional musician at the age of 15 in 1932. 
     Slim began spending his summers in Maine, and in 1952 he became a resident there. After early radio performances in Greenfield, Massachusetts and Keene, New Hampshire, in 1936 he went on the air as "Wyoming Buck" and a few months later the radio station manager renamed him "Yodeling Slim Clark." Later, he moved to Maine, where he starred in the 1960s on the Bangor radio program, RFD Dinnerbell. 
     From 1952-1967 he was featured in both radio and television programs in Bangor. Slim's bands included the Red River Rangers, The Trailriders and The Trailsmen. In 1946, Slim signed with Continental Records in New York City, at the urging of yodeller Elton Britt. The songs he recorded at Continental were largely traditional cowboy and folk tunes. Clark stayed with the label until 1957, followed by associations with several independent labels. He gained popularity throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. 
     After a partial retirement in the early 1970s, he recorded for Palomino Records, and played many festivals during the summertime. Slim won the World Yodeling Championship in 1947 and was inducted into the Yodeler's Hall of Fame He was also a member of the Western Music Association's Hall of Fame. He is represented in the Walkway of Stars at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. In November 2000, he was posthumously inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame, Massachusetts Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rhode Island Country Music Hall of Fame.
     During his younger days, Slim played pro-baseball as a pitcher for the Blackstone Valley League in Massachusetts and later tried out to be a pitcher of the Boston Braves. He was an avid sports fan, following baseball, football, basketball and golf. In addition to sports, he maintained a lifelong interest in hunting and fishing, as well as farming and was a Registered Guide in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont for over 17 years. In retirement, most of his time was spent painting. He became recognized for his lifelike paintings of outdoors scenes—one of his most popular paintings being that of a Lombard Log hauler. 
     Want to hear more of Slim?  Visit his Website. Want to learn more about yodeling?  Visit my other Blog post HERE.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Who Was Howard Landis Marks?

     If you are over 50 or 60 years old and lived in West Virginia, Pennsylvania or Ohio, you have probably heard the name H. Landis Marks. If not, then you probably never heard of him. But I remember the name. I like browsing old chess literature and the West Virginia Chess Bulletins from the 1940s mention his name a lot. That's because in the 1940s he was one of the of the strongest players in the state. 
     From Huntington, West Virginia, Marks was born in Lewiston in 1911. He learned chess at the age of 11 from reading books and started playing tournament chess while a young man. In 1932, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Marks drew a simultaneous game against Alekhine. Alekhine had participated in the Pasadena tournament which he won with 8.5 out of 11 (+7=3-1), followed by Kashdan with 7.5, Dake, Steiner, and Reshevsky with 6, Borochow with 5.5, Reinfeld, Bernstein, and Fine with 5, Araiza with 3.5, and Fink with 3. Alekhine won $250 (about $4300 today), Kashdan won $150 ($2600 today), and Dake, Steiner, and Reshevsky won $50 ($860 today) each. The tournament was promoted by Cecil B. DeMille and followed the 10th Modern Olympic Games, which were held in Los Angeles. Afterwards Alekhine conducted a simul tour in the U.S. BTW, if you're interested in what things cost is the 1930's you can check it out on The People History website.
     Marks didn't become a mainstay in West Virginia chess though he won the 1942 State Championship. He moved to Virginia during the war years and later returned home. His second title came in 1947. 
     For chess ratings, the Harkness System was invented by Kenneth Harkness and it was used by the USCF from 1950 to 1960. Professor Arpad Elo is generally regarded as having invented the chess rating system, but that is not true. A rating system had been existence for ten years before Elo got involved. What Professor Elo did was make significant modifications and improvements to the existing rating system. 
     The older system allowed for rating changes to come about faster. The first National Rating list was published in the December 1950 issue of Chess Review magazine and it was devised by Kenneth Harkness. The first rating statistician was William Byland of Texas (later Pennsylvania) who did all calculations by hand! 
     It all started with assigning every player who had an even score in the US Open a rating of 2000. The ratings were then calculated until there was a rating for every player. The basics of the rating system was that if you achieved an even score in a tournament, your performance rating was the average rating of your opponents. If you got a plus score, your performance rating was the average rating of your opponents plus 10 points for each percentage point of your score above 50%. For example, if you scored 7.5 out of 10, or 75 percent, your performance rating would be 250 points more than the average rating of your opponents. So, if your opponent's average rating was 1800, your performance rating was 2050. 
     The truth is, Professor Elo's modifications did not change the system much...only by about 50 points. Elo's biggest change to the system was that ratings were based on individual games. Under the old system, if you played only one tournament of at least five games within a six month period, your performance rating in that event was averaged with the old rating to establish your new rating. Only round robins or Swiss tournaments of at least 5 games counted. You could manipulate the system because if you had a bad tournament you could withdraw after 4 rounds and your rating wouldn't be affected. 
     On the forerunner of the official USCF rating list Marks was rated 2117 at the end of 1949. After that Marks disappeared from chess only to pop up again in 1960 when he took his third West Virginia title. 
     Over the next few years he was extremely active, successfully competing in events in the tri-State area. By the end of 1962, his rating near 2100, not much different than it had been under the old system. Marks was elected President of the West Virginia Chess Association in 1967 and won three tournaments that year and finished second in the State Championship. He passed away in December of 1975 at the age of 64.
     The following game has some interesting tactical points.