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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kasparov Google Interview

Many thanks to reader Doce Trago for suggesting this interview with Kasparov! LISTEN

US Coffeehouse Chess Champion

George N. Treystman (sometimes spelled Treysman) was an exceptionally strong coffeehouse player from New York City who is little known today. That’s mostly because not much is known of the details of his life and, because he was primarily a coffehouse hustler, most of his games have not survived. Treystman was never a serious tournament player except for the year 1936 when he nearly won the US Championship. In those days there were a series of preliminary qualifying events and players had to score well to make it to the finals. Treystman nearly won the event and would have if it had not been for a catastrophic last round loss to Albert Simonson. Instead he finished tied with Rueben Fine for third place behind Samuel Reshevsky and Simonson.

Treystman earned his living as a hustler in the seedier chess clubs of New York City. He was willing to gamble on anything…chess, horses, cards…anything. Norman Lessing and Dr. Anthony Saidy in their book, The World of Chess, wrote that Treystman, “never opened a chess book or, I suspect, many books of whatever description.” Arnold Denker called Treysman the best odds-giver at chess in the United States. Among his victims were such stalwarts as Isaac Kashdan, Arthur Dake, Alex Kevitz, Herman Steiner and Arnold Denker. The site Chessmetrics which calculates historical ratings, put his performance in this event at 2575. According to Chessmetrics his peak rating was 2650. When the first official chess rating system was published in 1950 Treystman had a 2521 rating.

Treysman qualified for the finals at the 1937 US Open in Chicago, where he tied 3rd-4th with 6/10 and in 1938 he again played in the U.S. Championship at New York where he scored 7/16 for a tied 10-11th place. He died of throat cancer in February, 1959.

Here is a sample game in which he defeated US Master Weaver W. Adams. The game can best be described as “messy.” That refers to the position, not the play, as both players threaded their way through the complications quite well.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Boden's Mate

Does pattern recognition work? In the following position, known as Boden’s Mate, taken from Shulder-Boden, London 1853, Black to play wins with 14...Qxc3+ 15.bxc3 Ba3mate.

Being familiar with this classic position, when I arrived at the following position in a 10 minute game on Playchess, I took 11 seconds to find the win with 16...Qxc3 17.bxc3 Ba3+ 18.Qb2 Bxb2mate

Chess and Psychological Experiments

Chess has been a popular choice for psychological research, as it provides psychologists with insights into how humans think about problems.

Studying the way masters think should be able to guide one in their quest for improvement. After all it’s possible to obtain a lot of chess knowledge and still not be a particularly good player. What do masters have that average players are missing?

Fortunately a great memory isn’t a prerequisite even though many GM’s have phenomenal memories. Very often it’s specific to chess. Of course GM’s can calculate further ahead and more accurately than average players, but practically speaking, it often surprises players how little they actually calculate in many positions. In De Groot’s study the findings showed that on average, masters calculated no deeper than weaker players, and often examined fewer variations but they almost always selected superior moves.

The opinion of many psychologists is that the greatest difference between masters and amateurs is in the realm of pattern recognition. Often they only need to take a brief look at a position to assess it accurately. They can instantly see positional themes like pawn chains, weak squares, and open lines, as well as tactical possibilities like Knight forks. Patterns of pieces such as weakened King positions and Rook batteries are recognized and evaluated very quickly. I once witnessed GM Jim Tarjan glance at a position for a few seconds while on his way to the coffee machine and refute the analysis that a local master had been working on for several minutes. How did Tarjan do it? What enabled him to see in seconds something the master had missed in several minutes of examining the position?

Lack of pattern recognition is why new players are often the victim of back rank mates, etc. because they simply failed to notice the danger. Contrast this to an experienced player who automatically recognizes the threat of a back rank mate. You can search this Blog for some interesting comments by others on pattern recognition.

Can the average player use the knowledge gained from these psychological studies to improve his skill? Knowing something is not the same as knowing how to implement what you know. There follows a brief synopsis of some studies that have been done in this area and I will leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions on how this information may be of help in the area of chess improvement.

The main question in psychological studies of chess is what are the factors that make a strong player? Unfortunately there appears to be no one advantage that always leads to better chess-playing.

The first serious psychological study was conducted by Alfred Binet in 1894. Binet observed blindfold chess players as part of his investigation into memory. His experiment was taken by players of all skill level, from novice to master, and he came to the conclusion that blindfold chess players need knowledge, experience, imagination, and memory. (Isn’t that needed when you can see the board, too?) The masters gave accounts that had some similarities but, at the same time, several differences concerning their blindfold play. They were generally able to remember all the moves played. One master was able to quickly recall all 336 moves that he made in 10 blindfold games played simultaneously. Binet concluded that verbal memory was part of blindfold play. Finally the subjects reported the need to be aware of a general plan for each game the same as in regular, sighted play.

Most masters only an abstract representation of the board, but one player, Joseph H. Blackburne, claimed to visualize an actual chessboard with pieces on it, "just as if before the eyes." As a result of his experiments Binet realized that his original hypothesis of a strong visual memory being essential for blindfold play was wrong. Dr. Reuben Fine claaimed any master should be able to play at least one game of blindfold chess.

The first real psychological enquiry of how chess players think was conducted by Dutch master and psychologist Aadrian De Groot. He interviewed Alekhine, Euwe, Keres, Tartakower, Flohr, and Fine as well as several masters, experts, and "class" players.

De Groot gave them a position set up on a board and their task was to determine the best move to make, and to attempt to verbalize all of their thoughts. One problem was that only the conscious thought could be recorded. This presents a problem because things are sometimes thought out on a subconscious level. Some of the positions DeGroot used were tactical positions and some were more positional in nature.

Four stages in choosing the next move were noted.

1- Orientation. The subject assessed the situation and determined a general idea of what to do next.
2- Exploration. The subjects looked at candidate moves.
3- Investigation. In this stage the subject actually chose what he believed to be the best move.
4- Proof. In this stage the subject convinced himself that the results were correct.

De Groot divided the four phases of problem-solving into two broader progressions: integration to elaboration. This constitutes a transition to a deeper understanding of the problem brings the solver ever closer to the goal. By the time the fourth stage is reached the players had convinced themselves they had chosen the correct move.

De Groot exposed subjects to a position taken from a game, for about 3 to 4 seconds. He found that the top players (grandmasters and masters) were able to recall 93% of the pieces, while the experts remembered 72% and the class players only 51%. De Groot interpreted this to mean the better results of the stronger players was because they had better pattern recognition skills. This is borne out by a study done by Chase and Simon, in 1973, in which they tested players’ memories of positions of games versus random positions. In all legal positions, performance on this test declined as the player's ELO rating declined. But when given random positions, all levels of players did approximately the same. This experiment confirmed that higher-ranked players used some form of chunking, or pattern-matching, that allows them to rapidly encode features of the positions. For instance, even an average player would remember the six pieces comprising a castled king and rook, fianchettoed bishop and three pawns in a group or “chunk.” Beginners would have to remember this formation as separate pieces. Players also tended to remember other small “subsets” of the position such as a bishop was pinning a knight to a queen would be remembered in terms of the pin relationship (or chunk), rather than by recalling the bishop to be at g5, the knight at f6 and the queen at d8.

Chase and Simon defined a chunk as remaining intact through its encoding into long-term memory if at least two-thirds of its pieces remained together upon recall. Using this, they found that 96% of the class A player's chunks remained constant between trials. However, the results of masters were very surprising. Their chunks remained the same only 65% of the time, which is poor in comparison to the class A players, and similar to weaker class players. At first this seemed to dispel the theory of chunking, but a new hypothesis was created; that masters are able to make imaginative insights that involve the restructuring of pieces. What that means is simply that masters had the ability to take a known formation and morph it into another formation that applied to the specific situation…they were more adaptable I guess you would say.

The concept of chunks, or structural units was shown by the "pennies-guessing" task. Subjects are shown a chessboard with pennies representing each piece, taken from a real game position. Their task is to recreate the position by guessing which piece belongs on each square. In addition, the player is told the number of moves that have been made in the game, and whose turn it is to move. Masters are virtually perfect in placing the correct pieces on the board, while players rated 1800-1900 still average over 90% correct. These results show that large libraries of likely piece configurations are known to skilled players. In fact, given a position that occurs fairly early on in a game (up to move 25-30), masters are generally able to reconstruct all of the moves that led up to it.

Chess players need to be able to perceive threats in order to determine their next moves. One experiment suggested that grandmasters are much quicker than novices in certain lower-level perceptual processes. In the first of these experiments, a king of one color was placed on the board, along with a piece of the other color. The subject had to state whether the king was in check or not. The average amount of time to determine if the king was in check was as follows: novices: 1550 ms, class players: 1250 ms, experts: 900 ms, grandmasters: 650 ms. The stronger the player, the faster they could make the determination.

The same test was conducted with a position containing 20 pieces. It was determined that adding 19 pieces to check did not cost a proportional amount of time.

Tikhomirov and Poznyanskaya performed an experiment in which subjects' eye movements were studied to determine the location of the board that they were focusing on. They noted that the eyes followed the paths of the candidate moves and over primary attack or defense. It was also noted that players tended to focus more often on vacated squares suggesting that spatial relationships between pieces are very important. I have read some authors who talked about such things as relationship of the pieces and “aura of the pieces” and how players often think in terms of “lines of force” when visualizing future positions.

Chess requires an immense amount of knowledge to be played at its highest levels. It has been estimated that grandmasters have learned between 50000 and 100000 patterns and moves and it takes years of intense study to achieve a high level of play.

Most amateur players find it difficult to "see" more than five moves ahead in a position. This limit on searching forces inaccuracies into play because such players are simply unaware of the long-term consequences of their moves. Although they can make long-term plans, it is the long-term tactical results that suffer. In other words, it is extremely difficult for average players to determine whether their combinations are truly sound.

Several experiments have proven that stronger players are able to search deeper than weaker ones. One experiment found that a player with a rating of 2600 would be able to search to an average depth of 13.5 plies (6-7 moves). This is consistent with statements from highly-ranked players. In De Groot’s experiments I saw many cases of lower rated players trying to calculate 6-7 moves ahead and most were quite unsuccessful.

One piece of experimental evidence that seems to conflict with the previous findings comes from studies of players of different ages. One study compared players' skill levels, ages and search protocols. The average 20-year-old player rated 1569 considered 22 total moves, while the average 20-year-old rated 2000 considered 49 total moves. 50-year-olds with a rating of 2000 averaged 36 total moves, which are numbers much closer to the lower-ranked 20-year-old rather than the higher-ranked one. Clearly, age makes the search process more efficient, since the players are achieving the same results with different amounts of effort. In terms of base moves, the average 20-year-old searched a mean of 4.1 base moves (starting moves from that position) while the average 50-year-old started his search from only 2.8 base moves. This data suggests that brute force search is not the only way to become a better chess player. Presumably, the experience of the older players allows them to choose better candidate moves, and to search more efficiently. There may be a higher-level process which screens out certain moves based on a database of chess knowledge.

One important factor in chess skill is being able to make an accurate evaluation of a position. In other words, to be able to judge which side stands better. In one experiment in which players rated from about 1000 to 1900 were asked to evaluate a position the number of errors dropped steadily as the skill level increased. For example, players rated ~1000 averaged 7.6 while 1900’s averaged 1.6.

In positions where it is unclear to which side the advantage lies it was interesting to note that players of differing abilities tend to judge middle-game positions as a win, draw or loss equally well! However, in judging end game positions, weaker players tend to make poorer judgments, presumably because their knowledge of positional play is weaker.

In an experiment in 1982 showed that higher-ranked players draw on a lot of experience from real games, rather than just on piece relationships to make their judgments.

Computer program will evaluate king safety after each move but humans will not even consider the safety of their king, knowing that danger is virtually impossible in typical situations. However shortcuts can also result in mistakes. In one experiment strong players were given a position that resembled in a standard smothered mate. These players followed the standard sequence which took 5 moves. However the position had been altered so that the mate was possible in 4 moves. None of the strong players found it. This experiment showed that players use their existing knowledge at the expense of finding the most efficient solution.

There appears to be certain abilities possessed by chess players that tend to improve skill, but the dominating aspect is simply that better chess players have more chess knowledge and experience. This allows them to form patterns more easily, to apply their knowledge of types of positions, and to simply recall useful elements from a vast quantity of memorized information which is directly applicable to the position.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Isolated QP…again

This example taken from a tournament game I played over 30 years ago shows how difficult simple endings can be in practice. The game was never very far from being drawn until White made a small slip at the very end. In these kinds of endings keeping extra P moves in reserve is very important and the ability to calculate a variety of P moves can present a real challenge because you have to calculate quickly and accurately. As I pointed out in the note to White's 40th move, sometimes you don't have to actually calculate; you can just count moves. The ending may look simple, but it was not. I suggest setting the P ending up on a board and playing around with it.

Interview with Yuri Averbakh

While browsing the excellent site, Chess Café, I came across an interview with Soviet GM Yuri Averbakh conducted in 2002. In Part 1 he touched on the rumor that Paul Keres had been forced to avoid challenging Botvinnik for the world championship. Since Keres lost his first four games against Botvinnik in the 1948 World Championship tournament, suspicions were raised that Keres was forced to throw games to allow Botvinnik to win the Championship. It was said Soviet chess officials gave Keres strong hints that he should not hinder Botvinnik's attempt to win the World Championship and Botvinnik discovered this about half-way through the tournamen. Botvinnikt said when he discovered this he protested so strongly that he angered Soviet officials. Most people believe Keres probably did not deliberately lose games to Botvinnik or anyone else in the tournament. Samuel Reshevsky once said he did not think Keres could have ever won the world championship because his play was too unsteady. Interesting reading.
Averbakh Interview Part 1                  

Friday, November 26, 2010

Capablanca on his Predecessors

Edward Winter translated a Capa article from the Uruguayan chess magazine Mundial, May 1927. An excerpt:

“Morphy was a great stylist. In the opening he aimed to develop all his pieces rapidly. Developing them and quickly bringing them into action was his idea. In this sense, from the point of view of style, he was completely correct. In his time the question of Position was not properly understood, except by himself. This brought him enormous advantages, and he deserves nothing but praise… Players of the time thought that violent attacks against the king and other combinations of this kind were the only things worthy of consideration. It may be said that they began by making combinations from the first move, without paying sufficient attention to the question of development, about which Morphy was extremely careful. His games show that he “had an outstanding playing style.”

"Contrary to the general belief, which is the result of ignorance, Morphy’s main strength was not his combinative power but his positional play and his general style.”

“Concerning an oft-repeated declaration by a large number of admirers, who believe that Morphy would beat all today’s players, as we have already said, this has no foundation. On the other hand, if Morphy were resurrected and were to play immediately only with the knowledge of his time, he would most certainly be defeated by many present-day masters.”

Read the whole article HERE.

It’s a good feeling to discover that Capablanca agrees with me! I have long contended that if you substitute any name you want in the blank, Capa’s statement holds true even today: If ______were resurrected and were to play immediately only with the knowledge of his time, he would most certainly be defeated by many present-day masters.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fine and Reinfeld on Paul Morphy

Fred Reinfeld wrote:

What was the secret of Morphy's success as a chessplayer? What was his "secret weapon?" The answer lies in one word: development. Morphy was the man who taught chessplayers the value of bringing out one's forces quickly, effectively, economically. Today this information is shouted from every housetop and appears in every chess book as a matter of course; but in 1857 the idea of development was known only to a genius, and that genius was Morphy.

But Morphy was not only an "efficiency expert": it is not his system that gives his masterpieces their enduring vitality and charm. He was a great artist, and that is why his games are still studied today. The great Steinitz said of him: "Morphy's career marks a grand epoch in the history of our pastime, and a careful study of his games will always be essential for the purpose of acquiring a complete knowledge of the direct attack against the King, which forms a most important element in mastering our science." Morphy's games have left a deep impression on many a master. A chess wizard who has not studied Morphy's games is about as queer a concept as an engineer who is unable to count.

Dr. Reuben Fine wrote:

Most of the remaining years of his life were spent quietly with his family in New Orleans, where he died in 1884. That chess had something to do with his mild derangement seems probable. but the exact connection is harder to ascertain. The most likely explanation of the role that chess played in his mental life is this: Morphy was troubled by a peculiar dilemma, which has bothered many other great masters. Eminence in chess was a useless achievement to most of the people around him. Worse, he was afraid that people thought of him as a kind of freak, or at best as a kind of unusual gambler who had learned all the tricks. That is why Morphy always insisted so strongly on his amateur status.

Morphy’s father had left him $136,472.23 and that he had never accepted a penny for any chess activities. Morphy's great goal in life, we have repeatedly been told, was to be a prominent lawyer and he found that prospective clients gaped at the chess genius, but could not take the lawyer seriously. He must have reflected on how different the situation would have been if he had achieved casual prominence in some other field. Thus the twin delusions that chess was worthless, and that he could not do anything else, continually increased his isolation and finally led to loss of balance.

It was claimed that he had the most marvelous intuition any mortal was ever granted. That he won his games by combinations of incredible beauty, that he could have beaten any of his successors with ridiculous case. If we examine Morphy's record and games critically we cannot justify such extravaganza. And we are compelled to speak of it as the Morphy myth. Morphy's games fall into two categories: tournament or match games and offhand, simultaneous or odds games. Few of the 55 serious games, the only kind modern masters include in such collections, can by any stretch be called brilliant. He beat his major rivals because he had a clearer grasp of the essentials of position play. In fact, Morphy is the first who really appreciated the logical basis of chess. He could combine as well as anybody, but he also knew under what circumstances combinations were possible-and in that respect he was twenty years ahead of his time. Anderssen could attack brilliantly, but had an inadequate understanding of its positional basis. Morphy knew not only how to attack, but also when -and that is why he won. The tragedy is that when others, like Steinitz, who knew when, came along, Morphy refused to meet them. Even if the myth has been destroyed, Morphy remains one of the giants of chess history.

It is, frankly, hard to find good Morphy games, comparable to those of, say, Alekhine, or Lasker. The difficulty, as we have indicated, is that his opponents made such bad blunders. . Morphy rarely began an offensive until he had completed his development, a sufficient indication of the fact that he was a generation ahead of his contemporaries.

Morphy occasionally overlooked forced wins at such an early stages because the principle of development was such an enormous advance on the prevailing theory or, more correctly, lack of theory, that its mechanical application was enough to give him a significant advantage. He always made sure that his pieces were developed properly and he often showed little concern for his pawn position. The reason, of course, is that nobody in his day knew how to exploit a weak pawn structure.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

San Remo 1930

I was just playing over some of the games from this event...worth downloading from the right under old books in pdf!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


At the time this game was played Korchnoi was considered the number two player in the world. Booby Fischer had quit playing and that left Karpov and Korchnoi as the two top dogs but Kasparov was soon making waves in the chess world. In this game Korchnoi, playing for the Swiss team, had expected to play Karpov, but in a surprise move he was replaced by Kasparov.

The game is a good example of how tactics compliment carrying out the strategic aims of opening play. In playing over this game, I have discovered several positions where engines disagreed with the evaluations of GM’s. Once again, this has mostly been in positions where there has been an imbalance of material. I did not let Fritz analyze these positions for a long time, preferring instead to rely on the judgment of the likes of Seirawan, Korchnoi, Kasparov and Timman as to which side stands better in those positions. You may enjoy entering this game into a chessplaying program though just to try out different variations and see how the program evaluates them.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Louis Persinger...

... (11 February 1887 – 31 December 1966) was an American violinist and pianist. Persinger trained at the Leipzig Conservatory, before finishing with Eugène Ysaÿe in Brussels. He became leader of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra and the Royal Opera Orchestra in Brussels. In 1915 he was appointed leader and assistant conductor to the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. He succeeded Leopold Auer in 1930 at the Juilliard School, in New York.

He was best known as the teacher of the great violinists Yehudi Menuhin, Ruggiero Ricci, Isaac Stern, Camilla Wicks, Almita Vamos, Fredell Lack, and Louise Behrend. He was also Ricci's piano accompanist for many recitals and recordings.

Persinger was also a pretty good chess player. I was not able to locate a rating for him, but I would guess it was somewhere between 1800-2000. I have an old tournament book of the 2nd Hollywood Pan-Am played in Los Angeles in 1954. Persinger’s name and a few of his losses appear in the book. He finished tied for 57-60 out of 74 players with a score of 5.5 – 8.5. The event was won by Arthur Bisguier ahead of Larry Evans, Nicholas Rossolimo and Herman Steiner. He also played in Bobby Fischer’s first rated tournament, the 5th Amateur U.S. Championship held at Lake Mohegan in New York state.

In this game he really slugs it out with GM Dr. Reuben Fine in an 8-player simul. There were plenty of mistakes on both sides. Fine’s no doubt because he was moving quickly and Persinger’s because the position towards the end was a real mess. With the material imbalance and tactical possibilities in the position it was simply more than an average player could handle and Fine’s greater skill (and luck) carried the day. It’s really too bad Persinger lost this game because I can only imagine the thrill of what it would have been like to beat Fine in such a game.

Capablanca – Nimzovich

This game was played in the next to last round at the New York 1927 tournament. Each player met his opponent four times and the final standings were:

1.Capablanca 14-6
2.Alekhine 11.5-8.5
3.Nimzovich 10.5-9.5
4.Vidmar 10-10
5.Spielmann 8-12
6.Marshall 6-14

After 17 rounds the scores were Capa 12-1/2, Alekhine 9, Nimzovich 9, Vidmar 8-1/2, so Capa had already clinched the tournament. In 1949 the tournament director, Norman Lederer, wrote a letter to Chess Review magazine and explained what happened during the last three rounds. Capablanca didn’t want to have a say in who took second and third place so he agreed to accept draws in his last three games against Vidmar in Rd.18, Nimzovich in Rd.19 and Alekhine in Rd.20.

Lederer said he was aware of the arrangement but there really wasn’t anything he could do about it. A problem arose in round 19 when Capa and Nimzo met. Capa summoned Lederer and advised him that Nimzo was playing so badly that he would be forced to win. According to Lederer Capa then decided to dictate the next 4-5 moves which Nimzovich only played reluctantly because he was thinking Capa was trying to fool him. As it turned out, Capa’s suggested moves were good for the draw. Alekhine took a draw in 27 moves against Capa in the last round because that was all he needed to assure himself of 2nd place.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

100 Recommended Chess Books

The FIDE Trainers Commission lists 100 chess books that they rate as the best available in English, German Spanish and Russian. You can see the list HERE.

I looked over the list to see how many I’ve read and came up with the following:

Alekhine Alexander New York 1924
Bronstein David Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953
Bronstein & Tom Furstenberg David The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Fischer Robert My 60 Memorable Games
Kasparov Garry My Great Predecessors (volumes I-V)
Kmoch Hans Pawn Power in Chess
Kortchnoi Viktor My Best Games (vol 1 and 2)
Kotov Alexander Think Like a Grandmaster
Nimzowitsch Aron My System
Nunn John Secrets of Practical Chess
Shirov Alexei Fire on Board
Tahl Mikhail The Life and Games of Mikhail Tahl
Timman Jan Curacao 1962
Vukovic Vladimir Art of Attack in Chess
Watson John Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy
Webb Simon Chess for Tigers
Yermolinsky Alex The Road to Chess Improvement

When thinking about which ones actually helped, I can’t pick out one or two books and say that after reading them I had an epiphany and took a major leap in understanding. Nor can I say none of them helped. It was more like a slow buildup of knowledge and understanding where a little was gleaned from each book. This makes me think I have no natural talent or ability to play chess; what little I know was learned the hard, slow way. Same as most players, I guess. We like the game but will never be very good at it, but that doesn’t stop us from trying.

Friday, November 12, 2010

My Blog Book

I have just completed and made available today a pdf download of this Blog (229 pages) which you can download HERE. Unfortunately you cannot play through the games that were created using Chess Flash. However clicking on the links in the book will take you to the Blog post.

More Interesting Sites

I came across a site called Predator at the Chessboard which appears not to have been kept up to date but is still interesting. According to the author, a fellow named Ward Farnsworth, the site is what he calls a book that teaches chess tactics that you can read  by clicking on the table of contents. One part allows you to quiz yourself on positions from the book. What I liked was his attempt to explain the basics of tactics in plain words as well as by example. Worth a look.

I’m disappointed there seems to be no sites for strategy similar to all those for tactics. You know, a site where you are presented with a position and asked to determine the correct strategy to employ. I understand why though…they are much harder to do. You have to do a lot of searching to find suitable games and positions, you can’t slap the position into an engine and get the right strategy, explaining strategical play requires more thought than simply declaring “White to mate in three.”, and so on. Probably the closest you can get are the various sites of US Life Master A.J. Goldsby. I suggest you check out some of his pages:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Queens on b3 and b6

In the Janowsky-Capablanca post the matter of Q’s opposing each other on b3 and b6 came up so I want to briefly address that situation. Specifically, should one exchange Q’s or not? Hopefully, the brief look at this opening as well as seeing what happened to Yermolinsky should help clarify this matter.

Janowsky - Capablanca

I’ve chosen the game Janowsky vs. Capablanca played in the Rice Memorial Tournament, New York, 1916, to look at in this post. This game is quite interesting and somewhat controversial because of it’s opening and because of the way it has been annotated in the past. It also has some instructional value.

First, the opening. There was a big brouhaha on one forum recently centering around a statement made by GM Alex Yermolinsky when he stated there was no theory on this line. Technically there is, but it is what I call negative theory because it all goes to prove that 4…Bf5 is a bad move and as Yermo said, no GM would play it. There was a lot of nitpicking and hair splitting over Yermo’s comments…all useless drivel because his final conclusion, based on his GM’s understanding, has been confirmed. I’ll give the analysis of IM Tim Taylor on this opening so as not to have to include them in the game itself.

Notes by IM Timothy Taylor: … here’s an example where “opening knowledge” is paramount, where the game only lasts 21 moves, and more than that – the game was really decided on move 4! I recommend printing out this page and playing over Taylor's analysis.

Taylor - Ruden
U.S. Open, 1977 (first round)
Slav Defense
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3
This is a standard position in the Slav Defense, which has been reached literally thousands of times. The normal move is 4...dxc4 and then, for example, 5.a4 Bf5 6.e3 e6 7.Bxc4 Bb4 is a main line Slav. Also perfectly playable for Black are 4…e6, aiming for the Meran, or the currently fashionable 4…a6. Instead, my opponent plays …
And right away, I figure the game is over, and I’ve won it! Why so optimistic? Because I know this move is bad!This requires some explanation, and bear with me, as this is the most important note in this article. You may be asking me, “How can a quite reasonable looking developing move be ‘bad’?” Before I answer that, let me riff a bit on the difference between “bad” and “risky.”

Let’s say, in my next tournament, my first round game (Taylor-NN) starts out like this: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5!? I say to myself, the Albin Counter-Gambit! It’s quite a risky opening – but it’s played from time to time, with success, by high class Grandmasters like Morosevich and Nakamura. I’ve played it myself! Yes, Black takes a big chance, sacrificing a center pawn in the opening, but he also gets (you know my favorite word!) play!

You certainly can’t (and I certainly wouldn’t) consider playing the Albin to be a mistake. On the contrary, I would be doubly alert, knowing my opponent was out to attack me from move two!

Now let’s consider the played 4…Bf5. Yes, this move was played by Capablanca (against Janowski at the Rice Memorial tournament, 1916, game 30 in MY CHESS CAREER). The wily Cuban, unwilling to admit a gross blunder on move 4, starts his annotations on move 6 (!!) after Janowski has already missed his chance to refute Capa’s play! Janowski continued 5.Qb3 Qb6 6.Qxb6? and Capa used the now open queenside files to create one of his famous positional masterpieces – but his fourth move was still a blunder!

After Capa’s lucky escape, the writing appeared on the wall, in the game Johner-Nisson from 1920. There White played the correct 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Qb3, and killed Black.

Check out some statistics: I looked this line up on Chessbase.com. The first seven games played with this line (White playing correctly, starting with Johner-Nilsson) give us six White wins, and Black scored one measly draw. Check out the present day: put in the same position after 4…Bf5, and see how players did against White opponents rated over 2450 – there’s that writing on the wall again: seven games, six white wins, one measly draw!! In other words, if Black plays 4…Bf5, he has a statistical chance of drawing about 7% of the time! Take a look at it from another angle: is this (4…Bf5) a rare but risky move that GMs try from time to time? Let’s go back to Chessbase – and the answer is …NO!!

If you put in a minimum rating for Black of 2450 (more or less GM strength), and ask it to find someone, anyone, who played 4…Bf5 in this position, you get exactly one game in all of modern historical cyber records, namely Ligterink-Vasquez. Sad to say, the unfortunate Mr. Vasquez was hammered as follows: 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Qb3 Bc8 (making amends but too late!) 7.Bf4 a6 8.Ne5 and White had a big advantage and won easily. I gather that Vasquez never repeated the experiment!

My point is this: there are risky but playable moves that give you a real chance to “mix it up” and create problems for your opponent. Even very strong players will take these risks from time to time. And then there are moves like 4…Bf5, which lead by force to “playless” positions in which only one side, in this case White, has everything, and Black can only suffer and pray for a draw. A further point: Why do I know this? Even in 1977, well before computers and Chessbase, I knew exactly how bad my opponent’s move was – and the reason I knew was simple: I was the stronger player! I had done my opening analysis; I had studied books on the Slav Defense; I had read the footnotes as to why 4…Bf5 was bad, and I remembered them. And so I, as GM Chris Ward would say later, stepped into “move order punishment mode” and took over the game.

As noted above, 5.Qb3 is inaccurate and allows Black to stay in the game with Capablanca’s 5...Qb6, though even then White could keep an edge with 6.c5 instead of Janowski’s 6.Qxb6?!.
The alternative 5...Nxd5 is different but not better. White’s advantage after 5…Nxd5 is clear for two reasons: the obvious one is the center pawn majority. The second is a gain in time: Note that the structure is now the same as a main line Slav – but White is an important tempo up, as, unlike in the line 4…dxc4 5.a4 given above (which has been proven to be playable for Black), here White has dispensed with the a pawn move, and so has an extra development tempo. This fact is very important in some of the tactical variations that follow.

After 5...Nxd5 the simplest is 6.e3 (Also 6.Nd2, immediately enforcing e4, is good for White, but not 6.Qb3 Qb6 and Black might sneak back into Janowski-Capablanca!) and then 6...e6 7.Bd3. Simply put, White is going to take over the center, and Black has no good way to stop him—visualize a few variations:

A. 7…Bxd3 (Simplest, Black just rolls over and plays dead.) 8.Qxd3 Be7 9.0–0 0–0 10.e4, ±, Moskalenko-Tare, Agios Nikolaos, 1997.
B. 7...Bb4 (Black flails at c3 to no effect) 8.0–0 (White is too cool to be concerned) 8…Nxc3 (for 8…Bxc3 see B1) 9.bxc3 Bxc3 10.Rb1 b6 11.Bxf5 exf5 12.Qc2, ±.
B1. 8...Bxc3 9.Bxf5 exf5 (9...Bxb2 10.Bxb2 exf5 11.Ba3, ±, as the Black King is caught in the center) 10.bxc3 Nxc3 11.Qb3 Nb5 [11...Ne2+ 12.Kh1 Nxc1 – avoiding 12...Qb6? 13.Bb2 – 13.Qxb7, ±] 12.a4 Nd6 13.Ba3, ±, for example 13...b6 14.a5 Ne4 15.Rfc1 b5 16.d5 and Black is getting killed.
C. 7...Qa5 (Another flailing swing at c3, equally frustrated!) 8.Bxf5 Nxc3 [8...exf5 9.0–0 Be7 (9...Nxc3 10.bxc3 Qxc3 11.Rb1 b6 12.Ne5 Be7 13.Bd2 Qa3 14.Qc2±) 10.Qc2 g6 11.e4 and again White’s central and development advantages prove a clear White plus – Black is not going to get out of this alive!] 9.bxc3 Qxf5 (9...Qxc3+?? 10.Bd2 wins for White) 10.Qb3 b6 11.0–0 Be7 12.Ba3 and Black has a “play-less” position, while White has numerous possibilities, especially of advancing the center pawn majority, e.g. 12...Qf6 13.e4, ±.

All these variations show the simple strength of White’s position: a central pawn majority and a lead in development.

This move, in this sequence, is the exact reason 4…Bf5 is bad. The b7 pawn is under attack, and there is no good way to defend it, given that the d-pawn is also under heavy pressure.

There’s no good advice; this unsound pawn sacrifice is no worse than any other move. We have already seen the retrograde 6…Bc8, dispatched by Ligterink above.
Other alternatives:
A. 6...b6 (weakens the a4-e8 diagonal) 7.e4

(Sharp and ultimately crushing, but even 7.Bg5!? Nbd7 [7...e6 8.e4 dxe4 9.Bb5+ is game over] 8.Nxd5, ±, is good enough) 7...dxe4

Seventh move alternatives are:
a) 7...Nxe4 8.Nxe4 Bxe4 (8...dxe4 9.Ne5 Be6 10.Bb5+ Nd7 11.d5 Bf5 12.g4 a6 13.Bc6 f6 14.gxf5 fxe5 15.Bxa8 and Black is lost) 9.Bb5+ Nd7 10.Ne5 Bf5 11.Qxd5 Be6 12.Bxd7+ when Black must resign;
b) 7...Bxe4 8.Bb5+ Nbd7 (8...Nfd7 9.Nxe4 dxe4 10.Ng5 e6 11.d5 is crushing) 9.Nxe4 Nxe4 (9...dxe4 10.Ne5 e6 11.Bg5 is also hopeless for Black) 10.Ne5 Nef6 11.Qf3 and the threat of 12.Bxd7+ Nxd7 13.Qxf7 mate is more than Black can handle.

Since neither of these helps, let’s go back to the main line after 7...dxe4: White continues with 8.Ne5 Be6 (8...e6 9.Bb5+ Nfd7 10.g4 wins material) 9.d5 Bd7 (9...Bxd5 10.Bb5+ Nbd7 11.Nxd5) 10.Bg5 h6 11.d6 e6 12.Nb5, ±, e.g. 12...Na6 13.Bxf6 gxf6 (13...Qxf6 14.Nxd7 Kxd7 15.Nxa7) 14.Nxd7 Kxd7 (14...Qxd7 15.Qa4) 15.Qc3 Nc5 (15...Rc8 16.Qa3) 16.b4 Nd3+ 17.Bxd3 exd3 18.Qxd3 a6 19.Rc1 with a winning attack.
B. 6...Nbd7 7.Nxd5, ±;
C. 6...e6 (the surprising choice of my materialistic Mr. Fritz, who evidently saw blown circuits in all straight defenses!) 7.Qxb7 Nbd7 8.Bf4 and even the computer admits he has nothing for the pawn.

Now back to the game where even some very prominent annotators annotated by result and missed some interesting alternatives!
White noshes on a center pawn
The books give the more frequently played 7...Nxd5 8.Qxd5 e6 9.Qb3 Qxb3 10.axb3 Nc6 (10...Bc2 11.Bd2 [11.Nd2!? is possible, while 11.e3 Bxb3 12.Bb5+ gives White a simple plus] 11...Bxb3 12.e4, ±, Torre-Gotthilf, Moscow 1925) 11.e3 Bd6 (11...Nb4 12.Bb5+ Kd8 13.Ke2 a6 14.Bd2 Nc2 15.Ra4, ±) 12.Bd2 and White is better, e.g. 12… Ke7 13.Bc4 Be4 14.Ke2 Rac8 15.Rhc1 a6 16.g3 h6 17.Bc3 Bd5 18.Nd2 f5 19.f3 b5 20.Bd3 b4 21.e4 and the center pawns prove their worth: White’s advantage is close to decisive.
8.Nxf6+ gxf6
An amusing variation is 8...exf6 9.axb3 Nc6 10.e3 Bd6 11.Bc4 a6 12.0–0 Ke7 13.e4 Bxe4 14.Re1 f5 15.Ng5 Nxd4 16.Nxf7 Nc2 17.Bg5+ Kd7 18.Rxe4 fxe4 19.Rd1 and wins; all this is not forced, but shows White has plenty of play in addition to the extra pawn.
9.axb3 Nc6 10.e3 Nb4
Or 10...Rg8 11.Bd2 a6 12.d5, ±.
11.Bb5+ Kd8 12.0–0 a6 13.Bd2 e6
Here and on the next move Black has the opportunity to stir up a little trouble with 13...Nc2. Of course White stands clearly better after 14.Ra5 Be4 15.Bc4 but at least Black’s light-squared Bishop does not get shut out, and he can hope for some activity with his Knight.
14.Rfc1 h5
Still, 14...Nc2 is a better try.
15.Ne1! and White went on to win.

And now on to the game:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bad Advice?!

In the May, 2010 issue of Chess Life renowned author and teacher IM Jeremy Silman said that while anonymously watching an online game where a GM was playing Black in what Silman described as a purely positional situation everyone was following the game with an engine. The engine gave White the better position but he disagreed. Everyone, including an FM who was online, advised Silman he didn’t know what he was talking about. It turned out he was correct and the GM won.

Silman’s comment on the incident was very revealing. He wrote, “I stopped making comments at that point because it was obvious that nobody wanted to learn anything…If you really want to enjoy chess learn the positional fundamentals that allow you to understand what’s going on in most situations. Once you do that, your engine will be something that gives you tactical assistance when looking over games/analysis-at the same time though you’ll be able to understand (and explain to those that want to listen) the strategic ABC’s of any position even if your machine is out of order.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Botvinnik - Euwe

The following game is a good study in both strategy and tactics. Summarizing the strategic side of the game, it can be broken down into the following phases:

Moves 9-11 White drives Black’s N from e4
Moves 14-18 White prevents Black from playing …c5
Moves 17-18 Black retains the 2B’s
Moves 18-20 Black attacks without playing …c5
Moves 21-24 Black forces …c5
Moves 27-31 White advances his f-Pawn in hopes of creating an attack
Moves 38-end Black renders the White K-side P-majority powerless.

Of course not all games have the strategic ideas so sharply outlined. As mentioned in previous posts, it can happen that strategic plans have to undergo frequent changes, or as in the case here, sometimes put on hold. Of special note is the tactical situation after 16…Rfe8.

There is an unexpected flurry of tactical possibilities. What is the reason for them? What was there in the position that caused tactical possibilities to suddenly appear? The answer to the question is very important because the knowledge of the peculiarities that make combinations possible is like a warning signal. Miss the signals and even very strong players can fall victim to a tactical shot.

In this game the warning signal was there and it was not difficult to recognize. Whoever advances a piece into the opponent’s position must exercise caution because his piece can become an object of attack because it may be exposed. You have to be careful that there is not a second weak point in the position (note in the game White’s undefended N on b7 and the weak g2 square) which allows a double attack. If there exists a second weak point then usually material loss cannot be avoided.

In the position after 16…Rfd8:

White’s e-Pawn is weak, but it’s only temporary. This doesn’t make any difference tactically in this position, but it does affect it strategically because an attack on e5 would not lead anywhere because the P can be safely defended. This means you have to distinguish between a strategic weakness which is hard to defend and a tactical weakness. In this position White’s e-Pawn is tactically weak. After 17.Na5 Qg3 White’s g-Pawn has also become tactically weak. White’s next move 18.Nb7 makes the N on b7 a third weakness (it’s undefended) and so the question becomes, “Can Black attack two of these weaknesses at the same time?”

The fact is, it is possible because Black can occupy the a8-h1 diagonal which attacks both the N and g7, which develops a double attack and a material advantage.