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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Checking for Hidden Gems in Pruned Moves

     In engine assisted correspondence play it's never a good idea to play openings from engine books or human databases. Top rated correspondence players spend a ton of hours deeply researching openings and in order to be successful at that level they are limited to a very narrow choice of openings. And, once out of the opening, if one plays the engine's top choice every time one won't advance very far. You know the advice...blah, blah, blah. Boring, boring, boring! 
     As you also know, engines prune moves that they initially determine to be inferior, but sometimes pruned moves can contain a hidden resource. Here's how to discover some of those moves. 
     Use the engine to explore moves that look good to you. Unless you're rated north of 2500 they will probably not be very good, but not always. The other way is to look at moves the engine might have pruned. Here's how you do that. 
     Assuming your chess program allows it, you remove the engine's top choices and have it evaluate the remaining moves (except for obviously bad ones). This forces the engine to look at moves that it might have pruned. For example, in the position shown the top choices are 12.O-O-O, 12.f5 and 12.Bd3.

    In this case, using Chess Assistant I went to the Infinite Analysis command and marked the moves I wanted the to force the engine to analyze: 

     This forces the engine to look at moves that it might have rejected out of hand and sometimes it will find something it initially missed. 
     Another trick is after the engine has had time to analyze the position step forward several moves in the best line and then start moving backwards looking for alternate moves the engine may have pruned. 
     These two tricks will sometimes help in finding hidden resources. It will require some time, but it can be interesting tinkering with the position. 
     I sometimes have opponents with ICCF titles and when I get a move that does not show up as one of either Stockfish's or Komodo's top three moves it signals that the position requires extra attention. I used to assume that they were using superior hardware or had let their engines run overnight or some such. After learning of the above two tricks I realized what had happened...my engines probably missed something in the time I let them analyze and digging deeper into that particular position was necessary.  Happy mining for hidden gems!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Practical Advice on the Isolated d-Pawn

    Back in March I covered some basic strategy on the handling of the isolated d-Pawn and gave an instructive game between Szabo and van Seters.
     The following game is a gem where Bronstein scores a quick knockout with the isolated d-Pawn, but the important thing is the excellent practical advice that C.J.S. Purdy offers in his notes to the game where he explains how black went wrong.  Whether you play with or against this formation, Purdy's advice is worth remembering. 
     Bronstein needs no introduction, but his opponent, Bela Berger, is probably unknown unless you are Australian. Berger was born August 12, 1931 in Szombathely, Hungary. 
     He finished 5th in the Hungarian Championship at Budapest 1953 and in 1954 he played for Hungary "B" at fourth board in 1st Triennial Cup in Budapest. 
     After the failure of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Berger moved to Australia, where he won the New South Wales state title in 1957 and 1961. 
     He played in the Australian Championship in 1958/59, finishing second with 11.5 points, behind Lajos Steiner who scored 12.5. Australian champion John Purdy, son of C.J.S. Purdy, was one of Australia's two representatives at the 1963 Pacific Zonal Championship in Jakarta. There was a quadrangular selection tournament in Melbourne for the second spot. Berger and Karlis Ozols tied for first; the selectors voted in favor of Berger 3-0. In Jakarta, he tied for first with Indonesia's Arovah Bachtiar on 5.5/8, and won the playoff 2-1 after 3 games. A fourth game was won by Bachtiar, but it had no bearing on the outcome, as the tiebreak system used favored Berger. As zonal champion, he became an International Master. 
     He went on to play in the 1964 Interzonal tournament in Amsterdam, with 18 grandmasters and 6 international masters, finishing 23rd out of 24. Berger tied for 7-8th in the Meralco Open in Manila in 1968. He died in December 2005 in Sydney, Australia. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Evans Gambit

Captain Evans
     The Evans Gambit isn't seen very often these days, but Reuben Fine said it poses a challenge for black because the two usual ways of defending (playing...d6 or returning the gambit Pawn) are more difficult to pull off than with other gambits. 
     In the Evans white offers a P to divert the black Bishop on c5 and if black accepts, white can play c3 and d4 gaining control of the center and open diagonals to play Ba3 or Qb3. This allows him to generate threats against f7 and prevents black from castling K-side. If Black declines then white gains space on the Q-side. 
     The gambit is named after Welsh sea captain William Davies Evans. Evans (January 27, 1790 – August 3, 1872) was a seafarer and inventor. He invented the tri-colored lighting on naval vessels designed to prevent collisions at night. For this invention he was awarded £1500 by the British government and a gold chronometer and £200 from the Tsar of Russia.
     Evans was most likely educated at Haverfordwest Grammar School. About the beginning of the century the family moved to Castle Pill, the name of an inlet of Milford Haven in Wales. He went to sea in 1804 at the age of 14 and served in the navy until the Napoleonic wars ended in 1815. He learned to play chess sometime around 1818 and was transferred to the postal department until 1819 where he served as captain of a mail ship named the Auckland which sailed between Milford Haven, Wales and Waterford, Ireland.  During this period he played a lot of chess with a well known player of the day, Lt. Harry Wilson. 
     As a chess player, Wilson was one of the last surviving veterans of a group of players between what has been called the Transition School which was a group of players between Philidor and de la Bourdonnais. Beside his chess career, Wilson, who was described as a man who never made and enemy and never lost a friend, served as an officer in the Royal Navy. He died in Spring Vale, Isle of Wight in 1851. 
     It was some time around 1824 Evans invented his gambit and in 1826 he created a sensation in the chess world by introducing his opening in a famous game in London when he defeated Alexander McDonnell, the strongest player that Ireland ever produced. 
     In January 1840 Evans retired on a pension and spent his time at London chess clubs and traveling abroad. He died on 3 August 1872 at 29, Rue Christine, Ostend, Belgium and is buried in the old cemetery in the town. The inscription on his gravestone reads: To the sacred memory of William Davies Evans, formerly Commander in the Post Office and Oriental Steam Services; Superintendent in the Royal Mail Steam Company, and inventor of the system of tri-coloured light for shipping. Also well known in the chess world as the author of the Evans’ Gambit.
     In 1832 the first analysis of the gambit was published in the Second Series of Progressive Lessons by William Lewis and the gambit became very popular shortly after that, being employed a number of times in the series of games between McDonnell and Louis de la Bourdonnais in 1834. Players such as Adolf Anderssen, Paul Morphy and Mikhail Chigorin subsequently took it up. Eventually however, Emanuel Lasker dealt a heavy blow to the opening with a modern defensive idea: returning the pawn under favorable circumstances. See GM Bryon Smith's article at Chessdotcom, The Evans Gambit: Modern Play 
     As a result of Lasker's innovation the opening was out of favor for much of the 20th century, although John Nunn and Jan Timman played some games with it in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and in the 1990s Garry Kasparov used it in a few of his games which prompted a brief revival of interest in it. 
     In the following game Evans wins brilliantly against McDonnell, but analysis with Stockfish shows that McDonnell missed a chance to save the game at move 16. Have engines finding flaws in the play of the great players of yesteryear resulted in a loss of respect for their play? Engines have made us all armchair Grandmasters, but they haven't helped us understand chess any better. All they have done is proved the old masters weren't perfect. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What kind of chess player are you?

     Chess.com created a quiz where you can find out which chess style and which great player suits you the best. You just answer 20 quick questions and the quiz will tell about your game.  Take the quiz
     The quiz was written by IM Davis Pruess and IM Daniel Rensch when they were Chess.com co-directors of content and it's based on top-level chess analytics. 
     When Nakamura took the quiz in October 2015 he was classified as a technician like Vladimir Kramnik. He was no longer the "unpredictable chess barbarian" that he once was. IM Danny Rensch was surprised to find out he is a grinder like Anatoly Karpov. 
     According to the results I am a Mastermind. This type of player seeks to master both their own emotions and to impose their reality on the chessboard. A Mastermind always seeks the right move, and believes that attacking is the right way. Typically choosing sharp openings, Masterminds win with fantastically deep calculations, producing combinations which are deeply hidden in correctly built-up positions. Masterminds thrive in complicated positions, where their accurate calculating ability and iron nerves give them the advantage.

Recommended Openings White: Ruy Lopez and Queen's Gambit 
Black: Ruy Lopez and French Defense 

     The player I identify with is Alekhine who, according to the quiz, was a true Mastermind. One of the greatest attacking players ever, Alekhine could produce spectacular combinations from positions which seemed to promise no such thing. His calculation ability was phenomenal, and his combinations often included deadly and unexpected surprises at the end of a series of obvious moves: the famous "sting of the scorpion's tail". Most important was his ability to build up an attacking position and create complications without taking undue risks himself. 
     One time at a tournament I heard a local master say that I play like Fischer. We were all gathered around the pairing chart and I overheard my next opponent ask if anyone knew me and a local master said, "He plays like Fischer." My opponent asked, "What do you mean he plays like Fischer?" The master replied, "Not Bobby. He plays like the kid named Fischer in the under 1200 section." Have fun, take the quiz!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

     I was just killing time browsing some old magazines when I discovered this game which has some really complicated tactics. It was played by a couple of amateurs in the 1952 Tri-State (Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania) Junior Championship and features an interesting and original French Defense.
     After an unusual variation of the French Defense there wasn't much going on, but a couple of early mistakes by both players reached a position where white couldn't resist the temptation to hunt down black's King, but he was barking up the wrong tree. 
     Both sides missed some truly amazing tactics and white's strategy paid off as he managed to come out the winner. It's hard to criticize the players because in a couple of positions even Stockfish took some time to sort things out. For amateur human players, the tactics were just too complicated. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Combinations are Born in the Brain

     So said Emanuel Lasker. Before a player can begin calculations he has to have something to calculate and where does this "something" come from? Ideas. An idea is suggestion about what to do that you imagine or picture in your mind. If it wasn't for ideas we would have to calculate like an engine and examine and evaluate every move. So, where do ideas come from?
     Dutch psychologist de Groot discovered that a key element is the master's ability to recognize patterns and when shown a position, they divide it up into recognizable patterns consisting of 4 of 5 chunks with features that are remembered from other games or positions. 
     How do you build up your storehouse of patterns?   David Bronstein wrote that most tactics are inspired by the recall of previous games that have been played over, so the obvious answer is to play over games...lots of them. Does it really help? Consider the following examples. 
     Lasker's double Bishop sacrifice against Bauer at Amsterdam 1889 is pretty well known and the Kuzmin's game against Sveshnikov, Moscow 1973 employs a similar idea. In fact, in the tournament at Tashkent 1989 the game Barsegian vs. Garafutdinov was almost identical to Kuzmin's except black varied moves a little bit at the end of the game. Then in St. Petersburg 1914, playing black against Nimzovich, Tarrasch pulled off a double B sacrifice, but the game was denied first brilliancy prize because the judges believed Tarrasch had just reworked the Lasker vs. Bauer game.  
     In the following to game fragments we see Bogoljubow playing a nice combination that makes you wonder where he got the idea from. It was was based on an idea from a famous Bird vs. Morphy game, London 1858. As Tahl once said, you don't have to reinvent the bicycle. Just be familiar with patterns.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Forgetting Where the Pieces Are

     As a companion to the last post, this one is about, well, forgetting where the pieces are when analyzing. Even a guy who calculated some of the most fantastic combinations ever, Mikhail Tahl, recalled how in his first serious match he rejected a line that left him a Rook ahead and instead analyzed a fantastic and beautiful tactical sequence which he finally decided to play. The problem? The whole idea was based on a move that was impossible. 
     In his 1951 match against Botvinnik, David Bronstein went into a variation he determined would win, but ended up losing the exchange and should have probably lost the game because he mentally made two moves in a row. Luckily for him, he eventually managed to draw. 
     At Hastings in 1961/62 Botvinnik spent a lot of time studying the position and then missed a win in an elementary ending when he mentally placed Gligoric's King on the wrong square.  The result was a wasted 100-plus move effort. 
     Tiger Lilov's Chess School has a brief 13 minute video titled Learn How to Calculate Successfully in which he offers some basic advice that may be helpful. 
     This game is from the fourth tournament in a series of six organized by the GMA from 1988 to 1989 as a World Cup and was held in Barcelona in the spring of 1989. This tournament was Kasparov's third consecutive victory in the World Cup. 

1-2) Kasparov and Ljubojevic 11-5 
3) Salov 10-6 
4) Korchnoi 9.5-6.5 
5-6) Huebner and Short 9-7 
7) Nikolic 8-8 
8-12) Vaganian,Yusupov, Ribli, Spassky and Beliavsky 7.5-8.5 
13) Speelman 7-9 
14-15) Hjartarson and Seirawan 6.5-9.5 
16-17) Illescas-Cordoba and Nogueiras 5.5-10.5 

     In the game presented here Iceland's GM Johann Hjartarson made a curious error on move 26. He saw the winning line but rejected it when he got three moves deep in his calculation. The reason? In his head he played an impossible move. Here is the position he visualized after making the illegal 28...cxb3 followed by 29.Qxc5 Qa5 and black has a winning position.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Counting Pieces in Your Head

    A few years ago I did a post called Counting Pieces where I noted that in his book The Inner Game of Chess-How to Calculate and Win Andy Soltis discussed the problems of keeping track of material in a complicated position, especially in situations that result in a material imbalance. 
     While playing through one of the games in the chapter on "Counting Out" where Soltis discusses the problems involved in counting pieces, especially those involving material imbalances, he didn't bother to analyze this game after move 21 because the remaining moves were not relevant to his theme. Also because the book was published back in 1994, I was curious to check the validity of his conclusions with Stockfish and Komodo. Whether he was exactly right isn't all that important because his general advice on dealing with such positions is excellent. 
     While it may be difficult for us amateurs to evaluate the effectiveness of the pieces on the board, counting them is no problem. The problem is that when calculating a sequence of moves where there are multiple captures, especially if the material in not even, it can be easy to lose count of who has what left!
     For example, in the game Capablanca vs. Alekhine, Nottingham 1936, even the great calculator Alekhine lost track of the pieces left on the board when he was calculating his 24th move, f4. He thought he was winning two exchanges, but he actually gave up three pieces for two Rs. 

     There are two basic ways of determining what pieces are left when mentally calculating a long variation: 
1) Review the sequence in your head and keep track of the pieces captured by each side along the way. 
2) Visualize the final position and count the pieces remaining. Either way, it's not always easy! 

     This game is not only interesting in itself, but it illustrates that counting the pieces can be difficult. It was made even more so in this game because after a flurry of tactics beginning with 16.Nd5 Onoprienko won Liberzon's Queen and when we win the other guy's Queen, that always seems like a good thing, but the resulting position was very difficult to evaluate even using Stockfish.  

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Fuster Fumbles Against Fischer

     Geza Fuster (February 19, 1910 in Budapest, Hungary – December 30, 1990 in Toronto, Canada) was a Hungarian-Canadian IM. Born in Budapest.  He won his first of many Budapest Championships in 1936 and during World War II he played in several strong tournaments with modest results. In 1941, although he only finished 11th out of 16 at Munich, he managed hold World Champion Alekhine to a draw. 
     He defected after the war. He planned to cross the border at East Berlin with Pal Benko. Fuster made it across the border, but Benko was apprehended and sent to prison for nearly three years. Fuster made it to Canada in 1953, settling in Toronto. Fuster won the Toronto City Championship in 1954,1955, 1956, 1962, 1969, and shared it in 1971. Fuster played in many Canadian championships and in 1955 he was Canadian Speed Champion. In 1957, he won the U.S. Speed Championship. He represented Canada in two Chess Olympiads in 1958 at Munich and in 1970 at Siegen. He was awarded the IM title in 1969, following his strong performance in the Closed Canadian Chess Championship. Fuster was a fixture at the YMCA Chess Club and later the Toronto Chess Club where he loved to play speed chess and was known for his willingness of offer advice and encouragement to young players. 
     The following game was played in the second round of the Portoroz Interzonal when Bobby Fischer was just 15 years old. This tournament was the fourth FIDE interzonal and the first one ever played outside of Sweden. It was a 21-player round robin, with the top six players qualifying for the Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade Candidates (1959) tournament, with the proviso that no more than four players from any one country could advance.
     The tournament was won by Tahl (+8 =11 -1), Gligoric was second with 13. Other qualifiers were: Benko and Petrosian with 12.5, and Fischer and Olafsson with 12. Fuster's score was a disappointing +1 -17 =2. 
     In round two he almost defeated Fischer. Unfortunately, in a promising position he headed down the wrong path with his 26th move and let Fischer escape just when it looked like things might going to fizzle out to a draw. Then disaster struck. His 32nd move was an outright blunder that lost the game. 
     Had Fuster managed to score the point chess history might have been different. Not for Fuster...he only scored 2 points out of 20 games and another point would still have left him in last place. As it was, Fischer made it to the Candidates by tying with Fridrik Olafsson at 12 points for places 5 and 6. Minus out a point if he had lost this game and a score of 11 points would have dropped him back to tie for 11-13 place with Oscar Panno and Dr. Miroslav Filip.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Lesson on the Sicilian by Alex Yermolinsky

     In one of the best books on chess instruction I have ever read, The Road to Chess Improvement by GM Alex Yermolinsky, in the section on openings and early middlegame structures he reminds his readers that if you play the Sicilian as black you must be prepared for anything white will throw at you, and that's a lot. 
     As black you must know a lot of opening theory, or at least the basic procedures on how to continue in a large variety of settings. You can't just higgledy-piggledy play any old thing. One structure he covers in some detail is the Scheveningen/Najdorf/Classical. 
     Important points to note in these setups: 
Fluid P-structure - may become more stable if white answers ...d5 with e5. If black exchanges off his his e-Pawn for white's e-Pawn the result will be isolated Ps for both sides.
White has a space advantage so has more room to operate. For example, just comparing the light squared Bs, white can choose between c4, d3, e2 and b5. Black's can only go to e7. 
Development - Black has made a lot of P moves and will likely also throw in ...a6. All the while he's doing that white has been developing. Dr. Tarrasch would not approve of black's play! 
White has a lot of freedom for operations on the K-side - except for the N on f6, no black pieces have any influence there. 
     These factors give white cause to be optimistic about his K-side attack which he can carry out in several ways. White's most dangerous plan is to play e4-e5 which opens the f-file, the b1-h7 and c1-h6 diagonals and it also gives him the square e4 which allows him to transfer the N. In the process black's lone N defender will be driven away.  White has a number of ways he can execute this plan. The Richter-Rauzer (Bg5), the Sozin (Bc4), the Classical (Be2 and Bd3 or even Bf3). 
     Another white option is f4-f5. This puts pressure on the e-Pawn and if black plays ...e5, white has the d5 square for his N. This plan is especially good if white develops his light squared B on the a2-g8 diagonal. Under the right circumstances white can advance his h-Pawn. The possibility of piece sacrifices on b5, e6, d5 and f5 abound. 
     White can also advance his g-Pawn and when he pays g4-g5 it drives away the N on f6 and so white has two main avenues of approach: a) play f4-f5-f6 or b) mass his heavy pieces on the h-file. Statistically white wins the short games, black wins the long ones. 
     As black, your defense must be accurate! All pretty off putting if you want to play the Sicilian as black! 
     Whole books have been written on various Sicilian lines, so because he was not writing an opening book, Yermolinsky concentrates only on the option where white chooses to advance the g-Pawn. When white plays this line, what does black do? He must counterattack! One of white's major mistakes in this variation is overconfidence which often causes him to launch his K-side attack before completing his development. This may give black a chance to sacrifice a piece and seize the initiative
    Here is an exciting and instructive game Yermolinsky played against Fedorov in the Leningrad Championship back in 1985.