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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

True Chess

That’s the name of a fascinating web site I just came across. It’s “Dedicated to the discovery of new facets of famous chess positions, games, and books.”

Most interesting is probably the site’s ranking, based on computer analysis, of past world champions in an attempt to determine who was the best. The author took into consideration many factors which he explains in his analysis, but I like to keep things simple. So for me the best indicator is to consider the longest time frame given of 15 years and what seems to me to be the most reliable indicator, “blunders per 1000 moves", you have the following:

Smyslov......4.03
Botvinnik....4.45
Capa..........4.86
Karpov......5.07
Alekhine ....6.23
Fischer.......6.71
Lasker.......7.31
Petrosian...7.31
Kramnik....7.33
Kasparov..7.66
Spassky....8.37
Anand.......8.90
Tahl..........10.15
Euwe........11.11
Steinitz......21.93

That’s surprising! And, of course, everybody will have their own idea when it comes to interpreting the data. Still, I never expected to see Smyslov ranked so highly. Tahl's low ranking is not really surprising because he was known to play a lot of questionable sacrifices. Personally, I would have thought Kasparov would be ranked higher. Same for Petrosian because it was always said he was almost impossible to beat at his best. In any case, it's interesting stuff.

The author also analyzed some classic chess books to see how many errors in analysis there were. Also interesting.

Visit the site: Truechess

Rabbi Saul Wachs

There was a player who participated in the 1954 US Champ. who was very promising. In the 1960’s he lived in Columbus Ohio and was routinely winning events in the Midwest. I don’t remember his exact rating, but it was somewhere in the mid-2300’s. That may not mean much today, but in those days masters were rare, many GM’s were mid-2400, world class players mid-2500 and a few super GM’s were 2600, so his rating was pretty good.

Unfortunately he gave up chess to pursue his career. You never heard of him, but a he was really good. Looking at his resume makes it clear he had little time to devote to chess and gave it up completely in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s.

This obscure master was Rabbi Saul Wachs. A native of Philadelphia, Dr. Wachs holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in education, Jewish education and Jewish music from Gratz College, Temple University, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America and the Ohio State University, which awarded him a Ph.D. in 1970. Dr. Wachs was the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the Seminary as well.

Dr. Wachs served as educational and musical director at congregations in the East and Mid-West. For ten years he served as Director of Education for Congregation Tifereth Israel of Columbus, Ohio, the Pilot education program of the Melton Research Center. He served Camp Ramah for twenty five years as teacher, counselor, Division Head, Educational Director and Music Director. Dr. Wachs came to Gratz in 1975 as Academic Dean and has remained as a professor since that time. Since 1980, he has also served as a national field consultant for the Solomon Schechter Day School Association.

He has taught or lectured at The Academy for Jewish Religion, American University, Baltimore Hebrew University, Bar Ilan University, Brandeis University, Cleveland College of Jewish Studies, George Washington University, Hebrew College, Hebrew Union College, Jewish Theological Seminary, Tel Aviv University, Temple University, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The University of Cape Town, The University of Judaism, The University of Pennsylvania, and Villanova University. In 2006, Dr. Wachs was awarded the Tribute to Excellence Award of the Alumni Association of the Graduate School of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

He is a life Master of the United State Chess Association. In the following game he defeats GM Nicholas Rossolimo in the US Championship.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lone Pine Tournaments

400 plus pages in pdf format of games played in these tournaments from 1971 to 1981. No notes. The games are in pgn format, so if you find a game you particularly like you can copy and paste in into an engine for further study.

These Swiss system tournaments were sponsored by Louis D. Statham (1908–1983), millionaire engineer and inventor of medical instruments. I’m not sure how strong Statham was, but he often played in Al Horowitz’ Golden Knight postal tournaments, usually finishing quite well. At one time or another most top U.S. players as well as lesser masters competed against many top foreign GM’s. Players like Korchnoi, Petrosian, Hort, Gligoric and Smyslov participated. Lone Pine

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Missing the Best Move

I recently won a game on Queen Alice that was pretty interesting. While doing my PM with Firebird I found a couple of interesting things.


First, starting around move 17, the engine wanted me to seek play on the Q-side with moves like 17.Qc2, 17.Qb3 or even 17.Rf2 followed by Rb2. I checked it out with Fritz 10 and it came to the same conclusion, but it seemed to me that White’s chances lay in a direct K-side attack.

Even at move 19 the engines were still suggesting 19.Qb6, the concept of an assault on the K seemed to be eluding them. This seems to be one of those situations where when there are no tactics available the engines are at a loss to conceive of a strategic plan.

At move 29 the engines suggested Rxh5+ believing White had an advantage of nearly 6.0. While that may technically be true, it seemed to me that after 29.Rxh5+ Qxh5 30.Nxh5 Rag8 31.Qf3 Black could still put up resistance, so I opted to play 29.Rf5 instead. That way I could pick up the exchange after 29...Rag8 30.Nxg8+ Rxg8 31.Rxf7 Rxg3 32.Rf6+ Kg7 33.Rxe6 Rxc3 34.Rxa6 Nxd4 35.Re7+ Kf8 36.Rb7 Rc8 when White should win without much difficulty, but Black chose to resign at that point.

But look at this position after Black’s 27…Qb7 and see what you would have played. I missed it. See the game for the amazing continuation.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bernard Parham

In a previous post I mentioned what I call the Nakamura Attack (1.e4 e5 2.Qh5). I also mentioned it was generally known as the Parham Attack after US Master Bernard Parham. I wasn’t aware that Parham is still around, at least he was as of 2003, and how his move came into being.


It’s part of what he calls the Matrix System and entails a system of play and notation that views the 8X8 matrix as a Cartesian plane on which chess pieces form vectors leading to attack routes toward the enemy King. You can read more about it at Chess Drum.

EDIT: Yes, he's still around! The Matrix Man still at it!

Q&P Endings

Browsing the April 1982 issue of Chess Life I came across Pal Benko’s endgame column where he discussed some of these endings. Back in the August, 1981 issue he had analyzed the ending from Czerniak-Ivkov (Belgrade 1954) and had stated that with accurate defense, a Q vs. Q+RP endgame should be drawn. IM Dr. Anthony Saidy had disagreed with him. So Benko took another look at the Czerniak-Ivkov game.

I’m not going into a long analysis of the endings shown here because there’s no need to. The results of these endings can be examined using the Shredder Endgame Database. My goal was just to see how accurate Benko’s analysis was.

Czerniak-Ivkov Belgrade 1954
Black to move
Benko said of this position if Black can’t force a perpetual White’s P will queen. He went on to add that unfortunately Black can’t get a perpetual because his K is in the way. Here’s the result from the Shredder Endgame DB


Benko is correct. Black loses in all variations.

Benko went on to examine Shamkovich-Wirthensohn (Bled 1980). White to move

1.Qf6 was the move played and as you can see, it’s the only move that wins. What’s interesting is that after 1. … Kc7 Benko gives White’s 2.Qg5 an “!” That’s incorrect.

As you can see that move only results in a draw. As Benko pointed out proving anything was impossible because there were just too many possibilities. At least there was in those days.

BTW I noticed in the same issue one could buy the Fidelity Electronics Elite chess computer. It’s rating was estimated to be 1990-1950 at 40 moves in 2 hours. The price? $995.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thoughts on Ken Smith's Method

US Senior Master Kenneth Smith, who died in 1999, owned a publishing company that published many, many chess books back in the days when about the only place you could get good books was from Europe. Many of his books weren’t all that good but the sales hype was great. In any case Smith had a lot to offer aspiring players in those days when it came to advice on improving. That was back in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

He advocated playing a LOT of different gambits until you reached 1800. Of course he published all the opening monographs for those gambits. Smith said: "You must play them, win with them, and lose with them. There is no substitute. Being a pawn down, you will have to dig into each position on each move. You will learn to use that extra space and tempo. You will develop that "killer instinct" and learn to handle open positions - being ready when that closed position will surely become open. Those than cannot stand to lose games and rating points because they are converting to gambit play ARE HOPELESS in my book."

Some players, like GM Alex Yermolinsky, advocate the opposite. Play standard classical openings that will withstand the test of time and be good for years to come. Makes sense to me at least. You’ll put in no more time learning the nuances of the Ruy Lopez than you will have spent studying a half a dozen different gambit openings and changing them every couple years (if not more often than that.) In short, that’s exactly what Smith’s method had you doing…changing openings on a regular basis.

Here is some of Smith’s advice on other aspects of the game:
(1) Emphasize tactics. This will overcome a bad opening, a poor middlegame and lack of endgame knowledge. Only until you reach "Expert" can you stop devouring everything on combinations and tactics.
(2) Every chess book should be saved and gone over a second time. There is no consensus of how much time between readings. Only that you be at a different level of strength.
(3) Master a complete White opening system and a complete Black defensive system. It does not matter what they are---a complete simple one is better than an incomplete superior one.

Until you are at least a high Class A player (1900):
"Your first name is "Tactics", your middle name is "Tactics", and your last name is "Tactics". You can overcome a weak opening and be so far ahead in material that the endgame is mopping up. I demand that you get every book on tactics and combinations that you can afford and study it as if your life depended on it! Also, there is nothing like a complete game to school you in these tactics as well as the rest of the elements of chess."

Smith also recommended playing over games by famous players. His advice and reasons: "CHOOSE TWO GREAT PLAYERS - JUST TWO - AT THIS TIME! I want you to identify a little with a Tal, Alekhine, Fischer, Capablanca, Kasparov, Morphy, Karpov, Keres, Seirawan, etc. Pick one living Master and one of the dead greats to become familiar with. I want you to have someone to talk about, argue about, and above all, learn and enjoy from his chess!."

Smith also advocated playing over hundreds of unannotated games, spending 5-10 minutes on each while trying to guess the next move. The idea was to increase pattern recognition skills. For those who advocate Smith's method this one is often overlooked, but...Jeremy Silman, today’s top selling author for average players, said in a book review, “Chess literature is being swamped with countless books on openings (some good, some bad – the vast majority much too advanced to be of real use to the average player), tactics (useful, but usually cut-and-paste jobs), the middlegame (lots of positions without any real instructive value), the endgame (“dull” is a four letter word), and game collections.”

“On one hand intuition is something that goes beyond learning, study, and/or knowledge. On the other hand, many so-called intuitive moves and ideas are clearly pattern recognition. Since pattern recognition (i.e., the ability to instantly know where the pieces belong based on a deep knowledge and familiarity with pawn structures and developmental or tactical patterns) is a learned skill, I’m again left floating for an answer to a newly formed question: “Is there true intuition in chess, or is everything based on a knowledge of patterns?” Suddenly, another question pops up: “Is the ability to retain and recognize patterns (a skill only the professionals seem to have honed) based on one’s innate intuitive feel?” In other words, does intuition make pattern recognition possible in the first place?”

“At this point your reviewer has hopelessly confused himself. Personally, I feel that 99.9% of chess is based on some form of pattern recognition. However, now and then an unknowable decision is made – a decision that has little to do with clear patterns or calculation (though even here the shadow of past structures and tactics quietly flutter their wings in the recesses of the player’s mind). This kind of rare decision is intuitive, and this takes us back to the book.”

“For example, many of Tal’s sacrifices begin with basic pattern recognition (i.e., knowledge of typical attacking structures and even a learned “feel” for the cadence of an attack) but then are “substantiated” by intuition since they are often incalculable.”

GM Susan Polgar made this statement: "One of the biggest misconceptions about chess is it requires a lot of memorization. In reality, while some memorization is required, pattern recognition plays a crucial part in chess mastery." She said this about her first teacher, her father: "He emphasized visualization, pattern recognition and speed. We learned to play blindfold and blitz chess at an early age and solved thousands of chess puzzles in our childhood.

I won’t debate whether it’s better for lower rated players to study tactics, strategy or endings, or play gambits or classical openings. That’s because chess like all other subjects you study should be taken as a whole. If you attended college when did you walk out of the bookstore with just one book on a single subject? You had several books on several subjects and you attended class on them all; you had to study more than one subject at a time.

Why do we try to make chess different and say you should concentrate on only one aspect at a time? Even an elementary school student has to study language, math, social studies, etc. all at the same time, but for some reason chess players think it’s too difficult and counterproductive.

Colorado Master Chess

I recently came across this interesting article at NM Todd Bardwick's site. The site apparently is not kept updated but it has an interesting article on becoming a master which reads in part:

I will attempt to lay out the USCF over-the-board rating system and set out realistic expectations as a player (hopefully!) moves up the rating scale. (Of course, this is based on my subjective opinion as a player and teacher and the players that I polled from various rating levels.)

The mean rating for adults is somewhere in the 1500’s. Adult rating increases are a separate topic than a child’s (discussed later). Every adult who has been playing chess for years will eventually reach his average rating plateau strength. This could be 1200, 1600, 2000, or anywhere else, depending on many factors (brain speed, calculating ability, study time and efficiency, ability to solve mathematical and logical problems, board game sense, concentration, competitiveness, intelligence, etc.) There are very high rated players who have spent many hundreds of less hours of study time than their much lower rated counterparts. I have met many low rated players who have read tons of books and can seemingly recite every game ever played, but somehow have trouble applying chess concepts to their own game. In this case there are normally several commonalities – too much opening study (sometimes spending time learning traps and garbage openings, which is mainly memorization… chess is not a finite problem that can be memorized), study of game collections of famous player where the concepts are too complex, or too stubborn/unteachable/unreceptive to new ideas or constructive criticism. As with any subject, the more you know about chess, the more you will realize you don’t know. With proper study, anyone can improve their chess game.

Class B becomes a major sticking point for many players. In Class B, the player has a basic knowledge of all aspects of the game, has for the most part eliminated gross, random blunders, and has an understanding of the concepts of tactical and positional chess. Natural talent can take most players to Class B, but not much further.

After reaching Class B, the rating points get much tougher. As a player reaches 1800, he is statistically better than 80% or so of all rated adult chess players. In order to hold a Class A rating, now the player is expected to score 25% vs. Experts (95th percentile)...and Experts make very few mistakes compared to Class B and C players.

Reaching the 2000 level of Expert is a huge accomplishment (finally a rating that starts with a 2 instead of a 1!). Talent and study are generally required to reach and keep a 2000 rating. The Expert level is the third major rating plateau…and very few climb past it. Most players have several master skins by the time they reach 2000, but in order to hold an expert rating, the player must now score 1 out of 4 against masters…no easy task! The rating points are tough here because we are approaching the very narrow part of the rating bell curve. To move from the 95th percentile of Expert to the 99th percentile of master is a huge step. To hold a master rating, the player must score at least 75% against experts and break even with masters. It is well documented that the toughest 100 rating points to attain are between 2100 and 2200. It is important to temper your expectations, especially as you reach the main plateau levels of 1000, Class B, and Expert.


How close are you to Master?
I will pose an interesting, non-scientific, question. To get a feel for this question, I polled half a dozen masters and a couple experts who have spent significant time over 2200. Their answers were amazingly consistent.


Read the article for their answers!

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Peter Winston Mystery

One of the biggest mysteries in US Chess was the disappearance of Peter Winston (b. March 18, 1958). He was one of the most talented young US players of his day and was a former winner of the US Junior Championship. In his early career Winston was considered to be a talent with nearly the potential of Bobby Fischer.

In 1977 he played in a FIDE rated tournament at Hunter College High School in New York City where he was one of the highest rated players in the tournament but lost all 9 games!

After the event he left the tournament supposedly on his way home but was never seen again. Many have suggested he killed himself but no body was ever found. Winston’s name does not appear on the Social Security Death Index, but that may simply be because his death was never established.

His disappearance controversy because Arpad Elo, the FIDE Ratings Administrator, felt that it was statistically virtually impossible for a rated chess master to lose all of his games and therefore the games must have been thrown. Elo therefore refused to rate the entire tournament, thereby depriving many young players of their new FIDE ratings.

One player claimed that in his next to last tournament he used analysis prepared by GM Anatoly Lein and Winston accused the player’s girlfriend of offering to sleep with him in return for throwing the game. As it turned out Winston totally refuted Lein’s analysis over the board.
U.S> Master and TD, Bill Goichberg, wrote of Winslow’s last event:

It was a 10 player round robin futurity. Calvin Blocker and Dr. Karl Burger tied for first. Peter Winston lost all of his games. His last game was against Sunil Weeramantry. After losing that last game, Winston left to go home, but was never seen again. It is presumed that he killed himself in such a way that his body was never found.

I drove Winston home a number of times during that tournament. He had many favorable positions, but lost them all. His face was puffed up from the effects of drug addiction or its treatment, and he was staying at a drug rehab facility. I think he is probably dead, but if so believe this was drug related and probably not suicide.

Actually prior to his disappearance Winston had several poor tournament results. Charles Hertan, who is a psychotherapist, believes he is one of the last people to see Peter Winston before the disappearance . Hertan speculates that Winston was bi-polar and that led to poor judgment in going out into a really bad snowstorm, after which he was never heard from again. A body was found, so he is presumed dead, but no one knows his ultimate fate. The suicide theory is also plausible because apparently people suffering from bi-polar disease can reach depressive states that are suicidal.

Guess we’ll never know.

Some of his games can be found here:
Chess Games of Peter Winston

Thanks to the lead supplied by "anonymous", here is an update from Charles Hertan’s article in Chess Life:

From Wikipedia.com, the online encyclopedia: "Peter Jonathan Winston was born March 18, 1958, in New York City. He was an American chess player. In 1974, he shared first prize in the U.S. Junior Chess Championship."

"He is most famous for his mysterious disappearance in early 1978. This came several months after poor tournament results. Reportedly, he left his home ... during a severe winter storm, was reported missing, and never seen again. He is presumed dead. Some reports suggest that his disappearance was a suicide."


Charles Hertan, a close friend on Winston, writing in the Chess Life article stated, “I do not have any miracle answers to the Peter Winston mystery, but I can supply much new, and more accurate, information about his life and death.” Hertan and Winston were classmates at New York University in 1977-78 and Hertan believes he, not Bill Goichberg, was the last chess player to see Winston before he disappeared.


Winston’s father died sometime after he (Winston) turned 15 and Hertan stated, “We never discussed this event in much detail, but I … realize(d) what a profound impact this event had on his chess career, and on his later mental health problems…For a time, Winston coped by absorbing himself in chess…we became friends, in the fall of 1977…”


In January, 1978, during a school break, Hertan began to realize Winston was having problems and about a week after receiving a call from Winston, Hertan went to visit Winston at his apartment and stated he found him in a “crazed state… talking rapidly and rather incoherently.” Winston advised Hertan that he was treated for bipolar ("manic-depressive") illness, but had gone off his medication.


At Winston’s insistence, Hertan accompanied him to a race track and when Hertan wanted to go home Winston was unnaturally euphoric, refused to leave and ran off into the crowd, so Hertan left alone.


Some weeks later he got as call form Winston’s mother asking if he knew anything. Winston’s mother said that he had returned to his sister's apartment that night, but the next day had left without his wallet or ID and was never seen again. Hertan stated that while suicide could not be ruled out, there were other possibilities such, “Perhaps he died of exposure, or wandered into an unsafe neighborhood and was murdered. Or maybe in the throes of mental illness, he overdosed on hard drugs…”

Real time chess sites

Real time chess sites aren’t for me. Mostly because all that’s available is speed chess. Of course that’s because everybody is worried about engine users. Personally, I could never play speed chess very good so never developed a taste for it. As primarily a CC player, I need 3 days per move, not 3 seconds.


Still. on occasion I do play on Playchess as a guest. That’s because I own Fritz, so it’s free. My free trial membership expired a couple years ago, but since I don’t play that often and don’t care about a rating (during the trial membership my blitz rating was ~2000), like the appearance and ease of use, it’s the only place I ever play blitz when the mood strikes, which isn’t very often.

In any case here’s a brief summary of the more popular sites. If I didn’t have Fritz, I guess my first choice would be FICS.

Playchess

The best interface. Same as Fritz and Chessbase programs. Watch GM games live even if your just a guest. When someone cheats it's displayed in the main chat room and their rating is deleted. Separate ratings for different time controls. 1 year membership. If you have any Fritz products you get a free temporary membership and when it expires, log in any time as a guest, but you get no chat or rating and are limited to the Beginners Room. Don’t worry about that though. There are a lot of guest players who aren’t beginners.

ICC
Many titled players at all hours. The ability connect to winboard makes it easy for members to cheat. It's interface confusing. I had a hard time figuring out how to play using it. When some guy, who seemed pretty nice, kept telling me how to reply to his chat messages, I still couldn’t figure it out.

FICS
Free site with similar style interface as ICC. You can use a selection of winboard style interfaces to play with. Cheating is a nuisance.

Yahoo
Saturated with cheaters. The chat rooms are porn or racial and religious debates. Play someplace else!.

World Chess Live
It has events, mostly tournaments and rare lectures. You have to download their software and pay membership dues. Associated with USCF. Not worth it

chess.net
Chess.net only allows premium accounts to play there. Very few players and few events. $30 per year. Stay away.

uchess
Good for beginners. It has a fast registration process and a very easy flash based interface

Chesshere
Offers both real time and turn based. Worst site around. Free access is inundated with all kinds of annoying pop ups and the dues are ridiculously high…$10.00 per month. That’s a whopping $120 per year. Avoid it like the plague. A few years ago when I was just getting into server CC, I played a few games on this site and it wasn't too bad. Then somebody claiming to be GM Anir Bagheri got involved and eventually took over the site and turned it into a monster. I say claiming because this person popped up on a bunch of other sites and got thrown off all of them. I had personal correspondence with the alleged Mr. Bagheri when I was asked to be a moderator on the site shortly after he took over. It was my opinion that whomever the person was, it was not GM Amir Bagheri and I declined.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bobby Fischer

Content voluntarily removed.  An anonymous reader advised that some of this article which was based in part on another source had been inappropriately copied from another source.  I was unaware of that and so am removing the entire contents of this post as I do not wish to infringe on copyrighted material.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Nakamura Attack

This is a repeat of a post from the old Blog, but I'm posting it again because I just won a game against it in a 5 minute game on Playchess.

The Parham Attack, aka Wayward Queen Attack, Danvers Attack, or Patzer Opening, and now these days, The Nakamura Attack is characterized by the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Qh5?!

Originally the move was named after U.S. master Bernard Parham. Parham also played early development of his queen in other openings like the Sicilian Defense.

Obviously the move violates opening principles because it develops the Queen too early and subjects it to attack. Still the opening can cause Black some problems as shown in some games by the super strong U.S. GM Hikaru Nakamura who plays it frequently in Internet blitz games and actually played it a couple times in tournament play against other GM’s.

Of course when your rating is over 2600, as is Nakamura’s, you can play a lot of things. On the other hand, Dutch GM Hans Ree called 2.Qh5 "a provocative but quite sensible move” and Nakamura himself said he believes it’s a playable move.

At first I thought Nakamura might be pulling our leg, but you know what? When GM’s, especially highly rated ones, sit down to play and there’s money, rating points and prestige on the line, they don’t play silly stuff. Nakamura may be accused of goofing off on the Internet, but OTB is another matter. I've played titled players and even against me they don't take unnecessary chances in the opening by playing inferior stuff. They've played the same openings against me that they would play against their peers. Anyway, one thing is sure: there is no direct refutation.

In this game, with a little better play my opponent could have maintained an equal position. Could Nakumura and Ree be right?

Academic Chess

I stumbled on a site named Academic Chess the other day. The blurb for the site reads: Academic Chess is a not-for-profit educational institution dedicated to bringing chess and all of its scholastic and intellectual benefits to children.

Even though I haven’t yet entered my second childhood I found the site quite intriguing. I especially liked the section called Bobby Fischer Imitator where you take over Bobby Fischer’s positions and see how well you do at finishing off his opponents. And while I’m not a great Bobby Fischer fan they have some interesting stuff on him.

There’s lots of fun stuff on the site so check it out!

Stephan Popel

Another forgotten US Master. Popel was born in August 1909 in what used be be known as Austria-Hungary but is now the Ukraine. He died on december 27, 1987 in Fargo, North Dakota. He wa many times the champion of Lvov, Paris and what was billed as the Ukrainian Championship of in North America.

Popel was the nephew of a player whose name was frequently seen in old chess books: Ignatz Popiel (1863-1941). Popel learned chess as a child and played in his first tournament at age 12. He eventually was regarded as one of the important masters of pre-World War II Europe. In 1931, he earned a masters degree in French and Latin language and literature from the University at Lvov.

During WW2 Popel was the personal secretary to Andrey Sheptytsky, the Archbishop of the Ukranian Catholic Church.

In 1929, Popel won th championship of Lvov, and in 1929 and 1934, he was a member of Lvov team at 1st and 2nd Polish team championships. In 1934, he was a member of Polish team at Correspondence Olympiad. In 1935-1936, he took 9th at Correspondence Championship of Poland.

Popel published his handbook Poczatki szachista (Introduction to Chess) in 1943. In that year and 1944 he also managed to win a number of samll tournaments. Then in 1944 he somehow managed to avoid deportation to Siberia during the Soviet occupation and possibly a worse fate. They shot a lot of people.

In 1944 he fled westward and wound up in Krakow. He played a match there against Dr. Fedor Bogatyrchuk (who ended up in Canada) by a score of 2-2. After the war he escaped to France.

In 1950/51, Popel won at Hastings Premier Reserve Major and in 1951 he won the 26th Paris Championship. Other achievements were:

1951/52 tied for 4th-6th at Hastings.
1953 won Championship of Paris. I
1954, won Championship of Paris.
1954 4th at Saarbr├╝cken.
1954/55, he played at international tournament at Paris.
1955/56 2nd at Hastings Premier Reserves Major

In 1956, Popel migrated to the US where three times he won the Michigan state championships: 1957, 1958, and 1959. He also won the North Central Open at Wisconsin in 1957. AT that time this event was considered to be a major open. It was in the 1957 NCO that Bobby Fischer took 6th place.

1958 4th at North Central Open,
1958 6th at Western Open.
Both those events were won by Pal Benko

Around 1960 Popel became a professor of French language and literature at North Dakota State University in Fargo. He champion of North Dakota eleven times from 1965 to 1980.

Other achievements:
1966, 2nd at a championship of Ukrainian Sport Centrale of America & Canada.
1969, won championship of USCA&C.
1970, 3rd at North Central Open.
1986, tied for 5th-8th at a championship of USCA&C.

Popel died in 1987 and is buried at Fargo. His childhood town of Lvov hasn’t forgotten him and in 1996 hosted their first International Chess Tournament in memory of Stepan Popel.

Here’s an exciting game against New York Master John T. Westbrock played in the 1969 U.S. Open.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dirty, Rotten Cheaters

They’re at it again on another forum. Some guy thinks when you are playing correspondence chess (a generic term these days for postal, e-mail and servers) that it’s cheating to use books and databases!


It’s like those idiots who whine that people who use engines are “only hurting themselves because when you use an engine you don’t learn anything.”

Come on! Concerning the issue of playing engine generated moves, people who do that are not playing chess so they can learn anything. Also, not everybody who plays CC is trying to learn anything. Some people are just playing for enjoyment. Whatever psychological reasons people have for using engines, their objective is to win and they will use any means, legal or not, to accomplish their objective.

They aren’t hurting me. If I lose to an engine user, so what? At worst I lose a few rating points. With my Queen Alice, Chessworld or CCLA ratings I can get a cup of coffee at McDonald’s for $0.99. If I prefer to quote the clerk my Plasticbiship rating (about 1250) I still have to pay $0.99. Makes me think my rating doesn’t mean anything!

Going back to the days of CC played via post card the rules were that you could not consult other players but books were allowed. Back in those days there weren’t any resources to consult except books. Even if stronger players were available most of them wouldn’t give you the time of day.

Nowadays with engines, databases and tablebases it’s easier to get outside help. But the point is all “CC” sites have rules similar to the following:

"You cannot use a computer program to evaluate or analyze a game. However, you may use computers for record keeping. You are also allowed to consult chess books and opening databases." Therefore it is asinine to claim use of databases and books constitute cheating. It isn't…the rules say it isn't. End of argument.

For people who chose not to use available help because they “want to practice thinking on their own to sharpen their OTB play” then that is their reason for not consulting books or db’s. As for those who just think it’s somehow wrong, then they should either avoid CC play or shut up. They knew the rules when they signed up to play on whatever site it is they are playing on.

It’s like those guys who whine about losing on time. Even in OTB games if you exceed the T/L you lose…providing your opponent claims the win. If he’s a really nice guy (and I never met an opponent that nice) and doesn’t claim the win, that’s his choice. If he does claim the win, what can you say? You exceeded the T/L. Why should CC be any different? When somebody exceeds the T/L, and they knew what it was when they accepted the game, what makes them think their opponent is wrong for claiming the win?

I’ve met some really nice people playing CC on various server sites, but I think former USCC Champion Edward Duliba may have been right when he said server chess contains the dregs of the chess world and he will never play on a server. They are out their waiting for you to pull out your copy of MCO-14, consult your db or claim the win when they fail to move on time. When you do they’ll start screaming, “Cheater! Cheater!” They’re the same guys who will subject every game they lose to analysis by their free Crafty engine and if they find two match ups start screaming, “Engine user!”

Yep! There’s some weird people out there.

Senseless Debate

They are at it again. One forum I follow has a debate (including at least two masters) raging over the question of which is better to study: tactics or strategy. So far the debate has reached 10 pages.

This is senseless to me because chess is made up of both. Therefore confining your study to only one area will only get you so far. The thing to do is study both. How hard is that to understand? Chess is like anything else. If you are learning anythng you can't be come reasonably proficient by just concentrating on only one aspect of the subject.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A.J. Goldsby Chess Page

Goldsby is a USCF Life Master and his page contains some thorough and interesting analysis. Worth checking out!

Budapest Defense

When I learned chess this was known as the “Budapest Counter Gambit” but at some point the Counter Gambit part was lost. The other day I was looking through an old issue of Chess Life and noticed a game between Lautier and Illescas played in Pamplona back in 1999 when Black played the Budapest.

What made the game interesting was that it was annotated in the same issue by both GM Robert Byrne and GM Michael Rhode. Byrne had this to say about the defense:

“There are openings that the great players have looked down their noses at…a typical one is the Budapest. Kasparov thought so little of this opening that in his Batsford Chess Openings it appeared under the rubric of ‘Miscellaneous Openings.’But I recommend that every young player shoulf give it a try in the course of his development. If you come up with a clear refutation…I’ll be willing to vote you a medal.”

It made me think back to the three times I’ve played this defense. The first time was OTB and I nicked a master for a full point. OK, so he lost on time, but it was a 2N and P ending, we were both in time pressure and neither of us played the ending very well. The second time was against a 2100. I lost that game but only after enormous complications. I set my opponent a trap which he only found after about 15 minutes thought. I don’t know how to finally evaluate the opening, but clearly, at least OTB, it’s worth a shot even against strong opposition.

The third time was this CC game that I drew against an 1800+ opponent. He played the worst line in the book, but had a TN up his sleeve that apparently wasn’t any worse than any of the book moves. This game also contains one of the oddest cases of double blindness I’ve ever seen in my postal games when we both overlooked the fact that White hung his Q at move 30.

Even so I was still winning and it’s impossible to explain the hail of blunders at the end of the game. Well, honestly, I can explain them. Bad chess. Real bad.

Sol Rubinow

Sol Rubinow, another forgotten US Master, was born in New York City on November 6, 1923 and died on February 22, 1981. It’s difficult to judge just how good Rubinow was because he played back in the days before there was a rating list. Besides that, it’s clear that chess was not his only interest. So, it’s hard to say how good he was, or how good he could have been if it wasn’t for his other interest, bridge, and his job at which he become very prominent.

In 1943, he was intercollegiate chess champion. He earned a doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania and moved to Massachusetts in 1951. He later became a professor of biomathematics at Cornell. In 1952, he won the Massachusetts State Championship. He also took part in several U.S. Championships.

In his profession, he was Dr. Rubinow and an authority on biomathematics.

Rubinow died at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He was 57 years old and lived in Scarsdale, N.Y. He had been hospitalized for two months following complications resulting from brain surgery.

Since 1964, Rubinow had been professor of biomathematics at the Cornell University Graduate School of Medical Sciences. He was noted for research in the kinetics of cells and wrote many papers on cancer research. These dealt with a wide range of subjects including the growth of cell populations and the physical forces acting on a single red cell.

He was also on the editorial boards of several technical journals and the author of ''Introduction to Mathematical Biology,'' published in 1975.

Dr. Rubinow graduated from the City College of New York in 1944 with a degree in physics then earned a master's degree in applied mathematics at Brown University in 1947 and a doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania in 1951.

Between 1947 and 1964, he held teaching and research positions at Brown University, the University of Pennsylvania, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, the Stevens Institute of Technology and the Courant Institute of Medical Science.

Rubinow also reached life master rank in both chess and bridge which in his later years became his preferred recreation in which he captured many tournament wins

Rubinow was a quiet, thoughtful man with the air of a university professor and appearances were not deceptive.

Here is a typical game played against GM Isaac Kashdan. It’s true Kashdan was not the player he was in the 1930’s, but he was still a formidable opponent. In the game, Rubinow’s K sitting on d4 at the 15th move must have presented an inviting target, but it was in fact fairly safe there because there seems to be no clear cut way for Black to attack it.

Kashdan stood pretty good until he apparently misjudged White’s chances and at move 22 blundered by giving up material. Still, it took more than a little technique for White to force the win, but Rubinow was up to the task.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rose’s Rants

I published a link to this excellent series of articles in the previous Blog and am doing so again because I think Tom Rose’s articles are worth reading by any aspiring player. Tom Rose was (is) an English player rated over 2000 who set out at a late age to obtain the master title. He failed. The reasons given are explained in his last article, “Hello again and Goodbye!”

I understand why he failed. As he said, “…you must have an intense desire for it, and that intense desire must be fuelled by a love of what you are doing…I just did not love chess enough.” Then he went on to say, “I realized this one day a little over a year ago while sitting at the chess board at a tournament in Delft…as I sat there all I could think was Why am I doing this? I would rather be practicing the piano!"

For me it was right in the middle of a State Championship and it wasn’t that I’d rather have been practicing the piano. In my case I just wanted to be doing anything else…period. I dropped completely out of chess for nearly 15 years; didn’t even look at a chess set.

Still I think Rose’s articles on improving will work, and work very well. That is, if one is a young aspiring player. What he says makes a lot of sense to me. In any case his articles are thought provoking even if you disagree with him as to what it takes to become a master.

View the articles.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Audio-Video Editing

Recently I wanted to do some work with videos that were recorded in VOB format. At first I tried the Windows Movie Maker but it was totally useless. After considerable searching I discovered a free program called Convert VOB to AVI which allowed me to convert the video into a format that I could work with.

WavePad allowed me to rip the audio only and VideoPad allowed me to edit the videos. Both came with a bunch of other programs for working with DVD’s, etc, but I haven’t got any use for them. The best things about these three programs are 1) they are free and 2) it doesn’t take a computer genius to use them. Just thought I’d mention them in case anybody needs to do any audio/video editing.

Convert VOB to AVI
Allows you to convert the .vob files to just about any format: MPEG4, MP3, DivX, WMV, MOV, 3GP, Xvid, flv and SongPSP
 
VideoPad Video Editor and WavePad Sound Editor enables you to do just about anything you want.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ramblings

The latest issue of Chess Life (March 2010) announced the lawsuits invloving the USCF, Susan Polgar and Paul Truong are over. That’s old news because, being a printed magazine, it’s not possible to publish as quickly as you can on the Internet.

Backgroud:
Polgar and Truong (who are married) have had their memberships revoked from the United States Chess Federation. Their dismissal stemmed from accusations that Polgar’s organization had fraudulently used Internet accounts to write scurrilous messages about board members in an attempt to defame and discredit them.

Both were sued by Sam Sloan, who felt his reputation was sullied by Internet posts linking him to unsavory activities and he filed a separate $20 million lawsuit against Polgar and Truong.

An investigation was done by the USCF and the finger was pointed at Truong as being the culprit but experts couldn’t prove it. Eventually attention was directed at a fellow named named Gregory Alexander who managed Polgar’s websites. He was arrested for alleged “computer fraud and aggravated identity theft”.

The USCF Executive Board removed Polgar and Truong from the Board. In reply Polgar and Truong filed a lawsuit for $25 million (later lowered to $10 million).

The USCF revoked the memberships of both Polgar and Truong. Fortunately the whole mess, except for Sloan’s lawsuit and the Alexander case is over when a settlement favorable to the USCF was reached.

During this whole mess Polgar and Truong got blamed for much the USCF’s financial troubles; that’s unfair. The USCF has had financial problems for years prior to this case and barely survived bankruptcy. At one time the USCF could not even stage a U.S. Championship.

The USCF lost over $500,000 in the last 2 years under President Bill Goichberg and during that time the USCF was involved in six lawsuits.

I'm more than a little put off by the actions of Polgar and Truong who would like us to believe they have the best interest of chess at heart. I don't see that suing the USCF for that amount of money is in anybody's interest but theirs. It also irked me that back when they were running for election to the Executive Board they didn't bother to disclose that they were married.

We see it all the time in professional sports. Player strikes. Players demanding more money; sometimes right in the middle of a contract. Etc. etc. Nowadays, and for quite some time, this attitude has crept into chess. I’ve never understood separate sections in chess tournaments with $200 entry fees and thousands of dollars in prize money for 1200 rated players. These days chess, like everything else, is about the money…not only for the players, but the organizers as well.

I’ve been a USCF Life Member since the days it cost $100. I stopped playing in tournaments years ago because I just didn’t enjoy them all that much, preferring instead, postal and later Internet chess.

Nowadays if I had to pay USCF dues, State dues, a hefty EF, travel expenses, hotel and food playing in an OTB event just isn’t worth it. Not even in the big prize money events. I’m not going to win anything anyway.

I won’t even pay to belong to a correspondence organization any more. Why should I? There’s too many places I can play chess for free. When I left the CCLA, I commented to the secretary (or whatever he was) that I had to pay a piddling fee to enter the tournaments by mailing in a check for each event. Why not take Paypal? Also I opined that server play was so much easier than post cards.

I got a snide reply that by playing in the CCLA I actually got a “rating that means something.” Well what, exactly, did my 2060 CCLA rating mean? I was not anywhere near the top of the rating list and my play wasn’t so good that people actually wanted to see my games. He also advised that Paypal costs money so it was not feasible to offer it as a way to pay EF’s.

Guess what? Soon after I left, the CCLA partnered with the ICCF to hold server tournaments and they started accepting Paypal. Still, I’m not interested in rejoining because I just don’t see the point of paying $40 a year in dues plus paying an EF for tournaments just to have an official rating. I played at Chessworld which cost about $32 a year and had a site rating of around ~2300. It's a great site (if you join that is; less so if you play for free) and I got to play a lot of really strong players there, but then I discovered Queen Alice. I can play for free there and I’ve still played some pretty good players.

I also tried Red Hot Pawn, but they started me out at a low rating, most paying members refuse to play you and also virtually “spit” at non-subscribers…we were called leaches, or worse. I was mostly using the site to play a couple friends and after some 40 games where I had about an 80% score my rating was only about 1500 so it was still impossible to obtain strong competition. They are also obsessed with witch hunts for engine users on the site. Come on...banning 1200's for engine use!?

Then there was Plastic Bishop. It’s a nice site for beginners. I didn’t lose a game there and had several games under 10 moves; that’s how bad the competition is there.

Anyway, I salute the guys who run places like Queen Alice and Plastic Bishop, whoever they are. They are doing a service to chessplayers by offering them the opportunity to play just for the enjoyment of it. What’s more, they aren’t doing it for the money and that’s a rare thing these days.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Robert T (N-QR3) Durkin

That’s Robert T. Knight to Queen Rook Three Durkin to those of you that don’t know Descriptive Notation. That’s how his name was often written in magazines of the day. Durkin was an obscure US Master who plied his trade mostly in New Jersey back in the day when masters were few and far between.

He was born in Milwaukee, Wisconcin in either 1923 or 1924 and nobody seems to know when he died but it was evidently sometime during the 1990’s.

Durkin made his start at one of Milwaukee’s playgrounds and at the age of 12 attended a class conducted by Arpad Elo who at the time was state champion. At the time, under leadership of Prof. Elo, Milwaukee had an outstanding chess program for city schools.

Natural advancement naturally lead to playground supremacy for Durkin. Eventually he won a game from another teacher who took him down to the Lapham Park chess club for more exposure. At about that time he met another teacher of chess on the playgrounds, a fellow named Bruno Esbjorn and it was under his guidance that Durkin felt he made his biggest advancement.

At 13 Durkin took part in his first tournament and scored 9-3 with 3 draws. Then in 1939 he tied for first in a local master’s tournament and finished second in the county championship and third in the city championship.

Durkin was also well know for his ability in speed chess and once drew with Arthur Dake and three times against George Koltanowski in exhibitions. He also took pride in his ability to play blindfold chess and at one time gave an exhibition of 8 games, scoring 6-1 with one draw.

At some point he moved to New Jersey but it’s unknown exactly when. For most of his adult life he was a long-time member of the Ventnor Chess Club where he was one of the best players.

Durkin is probably best remembered for his opening 1.Na3; the Durkin Attack. As near as I can tell most of the games he played with it were against lesser known players and it often transposed into something resembling a Stonewall Attack of the Bird Opening. In any case the move itself looks rather pointless in these openings. In many of his games I noticed that when his opponent was a pretty decent player he opened 1.d4. Makes sense. You wouldn't want to risk 1.Na3 against a really good player.

Here’s an interesting game he played against an obscure opponent in an unknown event, but the game is fun to play over.

Curse of the Chess Expert

Daaim Shabazz, Ph.D. wrote an interesting little article on a site named The 65th Square entitled The Curse of the Chess Expert. What made it interesting to me was the comment:
Despite the wide variety of chess literature, it has become common to hear many young players show a deep disregard for studying classic chess books. Most would rather make extensive use of audio/video media and computer databases.

Food for thought! To that I would add a trend I’ve noticed in recent years and that is the glut of How to Win With the ….. opening books which promise quick and easy wins. These books are easy to produce and do nothing to teach aspiring players the finer points of chess like positional understanding and endings.

And of course there are the tactical servers. These sites are fun and sometimes frustrating but they offer no instructions on HOW to spot tactics in your own games so their value is somewhat limited.

Chess is not a video game but a lot of players brought up on the Internet play it like it is. You can’t beat a good chess book and the feel of a real plastic chess set as learning tools.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My Squidoo Page

A couple years ago while just messing around, I made a “lens” on Squidoo. I don’t really see the point of the Squidoo idea, but like I said, I was just messing around. Anyway to get to the point I took a look at it today and discovered somebody had actually read it and registered as a “fan.” Wow!

The “lens” was entitled “Rapid Chess Improvement.” BTW the video at the end by the Dutch player “Majnu” is a sample of some of the really outstanding videos he’s produced on Youtube. I recommend doing a search on Youtube for his videos; the guy is really good.

SQUIDOO ARTICLE
The question the reader will want answered is do the suggestions and method outlined in this lens really work? The answer is, I believe, yes! For many years I was a perennial 1600 rated player. After putting this system into practice my rating went to nearly 2100 so I know this method of study and thinking will work.

I did not discover the methods outlined here on my own. They are mostly a synopsis of U.S. Senior Master Ken Smith and former World Correspondence Champion and International master C.J.S. Purdy as well as astute observations by other prominent masters and grandmasters.
Here's How!
What really accounts for the difference in strength between club players and masters? Aside from the obvious answer that the master can see future positions better and calculate more accurately than the average player, the main difference is in his ability to accurately evaluate the position.

A lot of this evaluation is subconscious. So the question is, "How can one develop a subconscious awareness of what may be a favorable position as opposed to an unfavorable one?"

Most master cannot explain what is going on in their minds. Child prodigy Samuel Reshevsky once said he did not know how he selected his moves. This explains the real reason why books on improvement really don't help one improve very much; masters are often simply unable to explain the process by which they come up with the best move in a position.

It is said a good coach can help, but actually coaches who have helped players advance to the Grandmaster level have had hundreds of students that never improved so obviously there's more to it than just having a good coach. The obvious problem with establishing your own training program is that you aren't good enough to know what to study.

Most would be improving players believe there are some rules, that if you learn them, you will improve. There is also a lot of hype and salesmanship in the chess world where titled players are peddling their books. The kind that promise that if you play a certain opening, usually an offbeat, inferior on at that, you will, for a variety of reason, win more games. That is simply a lie. Then there are those who claim, "Tactics win games." While it is true most games, especially those below the master level are decided by tactics, many players believe that the more tactics you study, the better you will become. The trouble is this only works to a point. Look at their games. They still miss a lot of tactics, and usually after a minimal rating increase improvement plateaus. More often than not their idea is that since a study of tactics added some points to their rating, more tactical study will add more rating points. It usually doesn't work and they reach a point of diminishing returns. At that point they often are frustrated and at a loss as to what to do.

You cannot apply rules without having a lot of experience to know when they will work or when the position presents an exception to the rules.

The real basis of the Grandmaster's ability to play good moves is familiarity with a huge number of typical positions, types of plan, and typical tactics that result from these positions. Patterns are recognized and plans are suggested and thus moves to reach the requirements of the position come to mind. Patterns and plans include typical mating positions, endgame techniques, tactics, and typical middle game plans.

Obviously it will take hours of study over years as well as practical play to gain this kind of knowledge. One quick shortcut that will result in rapid improvement in this area is playing over hundreds of unannotated master games while trying to guess the next move. You should spend no more than 5-10 minutes per game. To make things more interesting keep track of the percentage of correct guesses and watch it start creeping up after a couple hundred games. Rememebr you are going after quantity here, not quality. Quality will come later. What you are trying to do in gain skill in pattern recognition. Eventually you will begin seeing patterns and remembering similar situations and how they were played. This process will be only a vague idea at first, but you will get better. This is the method that was first suggested by U.S. Senior Master Ken Smith of the Sicilian, Smith-Mora Gambit fame.

Very strong players have the uncanny ability to look at a position and make a reasonable assessment of how they stand based just on the features of the position without considering any moves at all. Obviously most of us will never reach that level, but trying to emulate what you see Grandmasters do is the best way to improve.

One important observation is that master often falsify their hypothesis. What this means is lower rated players thinking is often of the type, "If I play here, he plays there." Usually "here" and "there" are moves that fit in with his belief of what constitutes the best plan. Masters on the other hand will think along the lines of, "If I play here, how can my opponent refute the move?"

Obviously you need the ability to look ahead to get a proper evaluation of the position but it is impossible to calculate every possibility in a position so at some point you have to make an accurate evaluation of the position. How well you can do this depends not only on your pattern recognition but how well you can visualize future positions. Both of these skills can be learned. When it comes to visualization of future positions, it is more important to be able to visualize 2 or 3 moves ahead and make an accurate evaluation than to do as most lower rated players do: calculate many moves ahead and make a completely wrong evaluation.

Unfortunately these days everyone is looking for a short cut and authors, in their effort to make a living from chess perpetuate this belief that there are shortcuts. Players try various offbeat openings or some kind of system, or try to apply rules or maxims. There is no easy way to success.

What you have to do is attempt to become an all around player with a knowledge of endings, tactical motifs, study a lot of master games and analyze your own games. You need to pay[particular attention to areas of chess that you don't like. If you despise endings, and usually we despise things we don't understand, then you need to study endings!

What books should be in your chess library? Most of us have far, far more than we need. We see a book that looks promising and buy it only to give it a cursory glance then it's relegated to the bookshelf with all the other never read books because another book making promises to improve caught our attention.

First there are general books that give you some concepts. Then there are the best game collections of great players, past and present. I would avoid the game collections of modern day Grandmasters. The reason? Their style is too complex. The classic games of older generation players are much easier to understand. Seeing how players like Lasker, Rubinstein or Capablanca defeats a lesser opponent will give you a better understanding because in those days chess was not as complicated and their play was more thematic.
On of the best books, but a type that is rarely published these days is the tournament book These are good because you get a realistic picture of how most games are won and lost. Other books usually only contain well-played games or games that are interesting for some special reason. Tournament books show you games that are more "typical."

Best game collections are also good. After you play over the games of just one player you'll begin to think the same way they do. They might use some outdated openings, and modern GM's understand some positional ideas better but they can still teach you something.

You need to study endgames! A good way to start is K&P and R&P endings. That's because they are the most common and often what you learn from them will form the building blocks for other more complex endings. Avoid bothering with "trick" or unusual positions that will never turn up in play.

You also need a book on tactics. When studying tactics don't be content just to find the solution. Look for motifs%u2026what made the tactic possible. Undefended piece, configuration of pieces subject to a fork, etc. More on this later.

You'll also need a general middlegame book that shows you basic strategical themes and how they were applied. Be aware that these books often over simplify things. A win will be presented as the natural consequence of say, superior dark square control, when the reality was much more complex. There may have been a single obvious feature of the position, but many other factors were probably also present and played a part in the game. Studying well annotated complete games from collections and tournament books usually make this abundantly clear.

Of course you will need an opening repertoire but before establishing the openings you want to play you need a general understanding of opening methods and ideas and some knowledge of specific systems and variations. Be aware that many opening books are nothing more than a collection of variations and there is a lot of uncritical analysis. This is especially true of books on offbeat openings. In an effort to prove their point authors often blatantly ignore the best lines. When choosing an opening book, try to choose one with complete games so you can see the flow of the game all the way to the end.

One of the best ways to play the openings is to play classical systems where understanding the type of game is more important than knowing the latest variations. A simple repertoire, but a sound one, that will not be refuted by new analysis is the best. That generally means playing openings the Grandmasters play. Queen's Gambit, Nimzo-Indian, Sicilian, Ruy Lopez; openings like that. No Grob Attacks, Latvian Gambits, etc.

So all the books you really need for starters are a couple general middlegame books on strategy and tactics, and endgame book or two, a general opening book and a couple game collections.

CJS Purdy’s books are by no means comprehensive but you will find them entertaining, easy to comprehend and helpful:

I especially recommend The Search For Chess Perfection. This is Purdy's bio, games collection, and most important, a collection of his magazine articles. You can open this book up just about anywhere and learn something. Especially valuable is his advice on a system for avoiding errors and how to select a move. High

Video on Improvement
A short talk on how we learn by the Dutch player Majnu

K-Indian Attack

A lot of players think the K-Indian Attack is easy to play because they believe you can, as White, simply play the same opening moves against anything Black plays and so avoid opening study. No matter how many times I tell them this is NOT correct I get ignored.

The fact is the King’s Indian Attack is a very complex opening. As White, you must adopt a different strategy for each possible Black formation. Black has at his disposal, among other things, setups resembling the Sicilian, French, K-Indian, Gruenfeld etc. and against each one White must play a different strategy. This means it requires just as much knowledge to play correctly as say the Ruy Lopez or Sicilian. There is no “one-size fits all” opening.

This game also illustrates another point. I have a 1.3 million game database I refer to for openings. A recent check showed that against opponents rated over 2200 we usually leave the database around moves 11-12 while against lower rated players, it’s around moves 6-8. So…even having all those games available for reference is pretty much useless if you don’t gave a grasp of the IDEAS behind the openings and are unable to grasp the strategy that dictates the how a given position should be played. That makes the study of strategy at least as important as tactics.

In this game Black left the database at move 8, but it seems his move was no better or worse than other moves.