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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Engine Playing Styles

Chess engines play like engines not humans so when talking about positional sense, you are comparing them to other engines...just like all engine rating lists which compare results only with games played against other engines. Engines still have a long way to go in their understanding of strategy which is why they are pretty much useless when it comes to trying to understand a game using only engine evaluation output.

Today engines don’t play blindly aggressive chess like they used to. All engines will sacrifice material for an immediate material gain and that’s often one of the problems when comparing their evaluations to that of a GM. Engines place the emphasis on material, GM’s realize there may be positional merits that outweigh the material. This especially is true in positions in which the material is unbalanced. Personally I will always rely on the GM’s intuition in these situations.

In recent years more chess knowledge has been programmed into engines. Another big change that’s been made in recent years in Fritz is that it’s being programmed to play against humans rather than engines. It’s becoming harder and harder to play “anti-computer” chess. You know, playing for closed positions where the engines couldn’t find any tactical shots, so just started shifting cyber-wood until you could form up your forces into an irresistible attack that was beyond its horizon.

I am not familiar with Hiarcs but have read that it plays human-like which I take to mean it’s programmed to have more feeling for, and give more weight to, positional themes. I have used Shredder but did not install it on the new laptop simply because I much prefer the interface and printout of Fritz. Shredder seemed to be oriented more towards positional play and I think it's evaluations were usually less optomistic than Fritz'.

Still, if I understand things correctly, all this is somewhat moot because you can tweak things like the “contempt value” for these engines and thereby alter their “style.” Raise the contempt value and the engine will play more tactical chess. The selectivity setting is also important because it determines the depth of search and size of search tree and will result in altering an engine’s style. The aggressiveness setting will also alter how aggressively the engine will play. You can also adjust the values for things like P-structure, King safety and the value placed on the individual pieces. In short, you can mess around with programs like Fritz and alter its style of play. I don’t because of my uncertainty of what kind of monster I will be creating simply because I’m not that well versed in all this stuff. Besides, it seems like most engines play their best at default settings.  From my observations Rybka seems to be more modest in its assessments than Fritz which is why I prefer to use Houdini which some people have accused of being a clone of Rybka. I like solid more than speculative! However the main reason is that Houdini seems to be the stronger of all the free engines.  I just finished an engine 5 minute tournament using my installed engines with the following results:

1. Houdini 1.03a w32 2_CPU..- D 1 1 1 1   4.5
2. RobboLito 0.09 x64............D - D D 1 1   3.5
3. Stockfish 1.6JA.................0 D – D 1 1    3
4. FireBird 1.0x64..................0 D D – D D    2
5. Fritz 12.............................0 0 0 D - 1     1.5
6. Crafty 23.01.......................0 0 0 D 0 -     0.5

Houdini Revisited

Apparently, from what I’ve been reading, GM’s are now using engines to discover theoretical novelties in the openings and I wonder how this will affect what is being played, or even the popularity of certain openings themselves.

Apparently there’s controversy over whether or not Houdini is a clone of Rybka or an original engine, but unless you are a computer engine guru, who cares? I came across the position below in which it was claimed is beyond the ability of most popular engines to solve but Houdini 1.03a found 1.Rb1 in 46 seconds on the poster’s slow laptop. A discussion of the following position (White to move) is discussed HERE.


Marjan Semyrl, a Correspondence GM, wrote a Squidoo page discussing the four elements of good engine analysis HERE. If you really want to know how top level engine analysis should be done, check out his page. As he points out, good analysis requires a powerful computer with good chess programs (note the plural form!), a lot of time, well versed in how to perform computer analysis, and finally, you must be a strong and experienced player.

All that disqualifies most of us! As I’ve pointed out in the past, that explains why there is more to playing top level CC than just buying Fritz or Rybka and it explains why players who just rely on engine generated moves will not do well against a top level CC player. Even playing at lower levels in engine tournaments on Lechenicher SchachServer I never had very good results because I was using a 10 year old desktop, Fritz 6 and and never let it run more than maybe 2-3 minutes before selecting a move; longer only if I disagreed with the engine's evaluation. I started at LSS several years ago at my official CC rating of 2060 and in my first tournament there didn't realize engine use was allowed. Even after I found out I could use engines, it didn't help much because I ended up with only a 50% score and still managed (rather Fritz 6 managed) to lose over 200 rating points!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Correspondence vs. OTB Chess

I have always been primarily a correspondence player. That’s because when I first learned to play chess I lived in the middle of nowhere and playing in tournaments was difficult. Then came 4 years in the military followed by a job that required working long hours, so OTB chess was never a practical alternative. Also, I always preferred the slower pace of CC. Then there is the fact that I was able to play at a much higher level in correspondence chess. As Walter Muir once said, “Only in correspondence chess can an amateur chess player, earning his living in another profession, even attain master class level of play.”

At the same time, I have to agree with Jeremy Silman who said, “I have always found postal players to be a bit out of touch with the realities surrounding chess understanding - they usually feel that their form of chess is better, more pure, more accurate, and…(their self congratulations seems to go on and on and on). My angst towards postal chess began when I read that many postal aficionados honestly felt that a postal World Champion would beat an over-the-board World Champion in a postal game. The postal caste never seemed to realize that their understanding of chess as a whole was so far below any over-the-board World Champion’s as to make the argument virtually laughable.” Obviously Silman doesn’t think too much of us correspondence players, but on the whole, he is correct, I think.

Free pdf Chess Book Downloads

You can download a number of chess books in pdf format from the following site: pdf-freedownload

Actually, this site is a bunch of links that direct you to other sites where you can view or download the books. In some cases they are old books nobody is likely going to want and in other cases they are “sample” downloads where you get 20 or 30 pages of a book from the publisher as an inducement to buy it. Many of the samples seem to be Eric Shiller books from Cardoza Publishing. From what I’ve read, most anything written by Schiller is not worth the price even if it’s free. Be that as it may, for example his book Development of a Chess Master contains 37 pages with some lessons in basic tactics…the book looks to me to be along the line of all those -------- For Dummies books. Also, some of the downloads are just catalogs.

There’s always a question about free downloads of chess books as to whether they are legal and violate copyright laws. Most sites won’t carry them if they are illegal, but some do. Bookyards is a Canadian website that follows Canadian copyright rules (far more lenient than US laws) but they still try to follow U.S. rules. Many sites don't adhere to Bookyard's standards.

Anyway, I give the link to this site in case anybody wants to poke around and maybe find something interesting.

Rudolf Charousek

While browsing recently I spied a book titled "Chess Comet Charousek" by Victor A. Charuchin. I was not familiar with Charosek (pronounced "kah-ROO-zek") except that he was a brilliant player who was on the chess scene a short time before his premature death. He was born in 1873 in what is now the Czech Republic and was active during the years 1896-98. Charousek was considered a world title challenger for Emanuel Lasker. In 1898 he contracted tuberculosis and by April 1900 he died at age 26.
About the book…it has to be one of the worst chess books I’ve ever seen; it’s a really sloppy effort! Biographical information is limited to bare bones facts…no interesting anecdotes, stories or information that tells us anything about the man. There is also a lot of incorrect historical “facts.” Charousek played about 130 serious games so there are a lot of games from simultaneous exhibitions, blindfold games, etc.

This “book” was translated from Russian and the translators did a horrible job. Charousek and Morphy are described as "chess cracks" who "all died a soon death" and in his game against Showalter he forced Showalter "to pass to the unpleasant sphere of boring defense." The book also contains a 6 page excerpt from a German article that was left untranslated. In fact the translations remind me of the ones I did years ago when chess books from Europe were a precious commodity. With my limited knowledge of German and a dictionary, my books by Euwe had translations in the margins that, to a German, were probably equally comical.

The games: there are 250 of them with notes from a varitey of sources like old tournament books, notes by Gedeon Barcza and some by Charuchin himself who is a CC IM. All the notes are in Informant style and have no explanatory text. Thus there is no information about Charousek's style or contributions to theory.

Anybody with a computer, database and Fritz could have produced this book. I have done a few booklets (available for download at the right) on several players and they are of better quality than this book. At least my booklets have some pictures and anecdotes. The only differences between my booklets and this one on Charousek are that mine do not pretend to be serious works and they are free. "Chess Comet Charousek" would better be found on my download list than on sale for an original list price of $24.95 and now Amazon for $65.00!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Article by Reshevsky's Daughter

A Slice of Life

Shmuel Chaim Reshevsky
by Shaindel Reshevsky

My father, Shmuel Chaim Reshevsky, of blessed memory, was an International Grandmaster of Chess and seven time United States Chess Champion. He was born in Ozorkov, Poland, and was known as a child prodigy and chess genius at the age of 4. He learned the game by observing his father, Yaakov, play. At the age of 6 he defeated high- ranking officials in simultaneous chess exhibitions, where he played against as many as 30 players at a time, moving quickly from board to board. He had a photo graphic memory for chess and could repeat all 30 games, move by move. He was known as "Shmulik der vunder kind" -- Shmuel the wonder child.

At the age of 9, my father came to America and gave chess exhibitions across the country, astounding the players and the audience. He gained the title of International Grandmaster at the age of 36, after winning a tournament in England.

My father was a descendant of Rabbi Yonasan Eibshitz, who descended from the great Kabalist, the Arizal. He grew up in an Orthodox home, and throughout his life he was known as a man who observed Shabbat. As chess was his livelihood he refused to play it on Shabbat or Yom Tov.

[Ed.'s note: although it is permissible according to Jewish law to play chess on Shabbat, one is enjoined not to be involved with one's business matters on Shabbat.]

Even the anti-Semitic Russsian government had to change around the chess tournament schedule to accommodate the observance of Shabbat. This was a great Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d's name).

Whenever my father competed outside of New York City he always lost weight. He took along a suitcase of canned tuna and salmon and boxes of matza; his only substantial meals were on Shabbat, when he was the guest of an observant family.

My parents lived in Crown Heights before the Rebbe became Rebbe. During that time my father walked the Rebbe home from shul on Shabbat for nearly one and a half years. My father attended some farbrengens (Chasidic gatherings), and at one farbrengen the Rebbe spoke about chess and talked about my father.

During one tournament, when my father's game was not going well, he got up during a break, sent a telegram to the Rebbe asking for a blessing, and won the game. Whenever my father had to participate in a tournament out of New York or out of the country, he called the Rebbe's office and asked for the name, address and phone number of a family he could stay with for Shabbat.

When my father was 70 years old he asked the Rebbe if he should retire. The Rebbe said to continue playing because it was a Kiddush Hashem, and my father never retired. He wrote seven books on chess, was a chess columnist for the New York Times, Chess Life magazine, The Herald Tribune, World Journal Tribune and the Jewish Press. He was a television commentator during two World Chess Championships. My father was the only person ever to have beaten Bobby Fischer in a match.

After the age of 70 (with the Rebbe's blessing) in a Russian tournament he beat former World Champion, Vassily Smyslov, and the Russian audience of 1,000 people gave him a standing ovation. In 1986 he was inducted into the "United States Chess Hall of Fame." On his 80th birthday the United Chess Federation gave a party for him in a kosher restaurant, of course, and presented my father with a chess set and board and a beautifully worded tribute engraved on the box. Some people told my father that the fact that he was famous and still adhered to Torah and mitzvot inspired them to remain religious.

During a trip to play in a tournament in Caracas, Venezuela, my father's plane arrived late -- very close to Shabbat. He hailed a taxi to take him to his hotel and remained in the cab until it was almost Shabbat. At that point he got out of the cab, asked the driver for directions to his hotel and to meet him there with his belongings -- money, passport, clothes and food. He continued to walk the rest of the way. He met a Jewish man along the way who accompanied him to the hotel, and my father was pleased to discover that all of his luggage had arrived intact at the hotel.

My father passed away on 2 Nissan, 5752 (1992), at the age of 80. Even in his passing, my father caused a tremendous Kiddush Hashem. In the New York Times and Jewish newspapers, all of the obituaries stressed the fact that Shmuel Reshevsky was an Orthodox Jew who wouldn't work (play chess) on Shabbat and ate only kosher food. Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine

Missed Wins in the Ending

I missed a couple of wins in a recent online game. In the following position Black is nearly in Zugawang. All I have to do is run him out of P moves and he will be forced to play …Kd8 which loses the R.
Instead I played  32.Rf8+ which is still winning. After 32...Kb7 33.Rxa8 Kxa8 34.f4 Kxa7 we reached the following position:

Now I played 35.e5?? hurling away the advantage and it's no more than a draw. After 35.f5! gxf5 36.exf5 and the P will queen. From the diagram it’s easy enough to see that after 36.exf5 the P queens in 3 moves while the Black K is too far away from the queening square. In a few more moves we reached the following position:

The position is clearly drawn because neither K can abandon its watch on the enemy P’s. This was really upsetting because Black was outrated by 300 points.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Opening Books and Databases

If you’re a GM (or top level CC player) opening books are pretty much worthless because any opinion on a variation more than a month or two old is outdated. So what you need is Chessbase (not the light version) and two strong engines; most likely the latest version of Fritz and Rybka. The reason for two is because sometimes Rybka is overly optimistic and Fritz too cautious. Of course your database must be kept up to date by downloading games from The Week in Chess, opening surveys from Chessbase Magazine and updates from Chess Publishing.

Then you are prepared to set up engine tournaments to be played overnight from the opening positions that you are interested in. That way you will be able to see how best to approach play in those positions. Unfortunately, unless you are a GM, no database, engine evaluations or game results from engine tournaments are going to help you correctly evaluate all the nuances of two or three unclear or equally evaluated positions.


GM Vladimir Bagirov opined that after three successive defeats with any opening, then no matter how much you like it, it’s time to replace it. Also, if you are a GM, you have to be aware of the fact that most of your peers will only use an opening variation for a couple of games. What they do is choose a complicated variation, check it with an engine then play it 2-3 times and then abandon it because somebody has probably found a refutation. Most GM's maintain a solid mainline repertoire in which they are constantly looking for novelties. But that’s GM’s. What about the rest of us?


Fortunately all we need is one solid line against most openings/defenses. For example, If you are planning to meet 1.e4 with ...e5, all you need is one solid line against the Ruy Lopez. Likewise one solid variation against the Giuoco Piano and King’s Gambit will suffice. You would follow the same procedure for White. You can determine this information by looking at your db statistics.


Once you’ve established your main lines you can do a search for games using those lines, print out 20-25 games and play over them paying attention to the general themes, patterns and any tactical motifs that arise. Just make sure you play over the entire game to get a feel for the game as a whole. You may also want a book on your particular opening/defense or main variation so you can get a good verbal description of the main ideas. That way you will know what you are trying to accomplish and it will help you better understand the ideas behind the moves played in your sample games.


Many lower rated players feel they need to avoid openings like the Ruy Lopez and Nimzo-Indian because they think those openings are too complicated for them to play well. That is not true. It’s going to take no more study to learn to play those lines properly than it is to play some second rate opening/defense where one slip is likely to cost you the game. It’s just not possible to win very often when you are constantly getting positions where you have to find the best move nearly every turn.

Blackburne-Morphy continued

Used as a measuring stick against players of his era, the 1850’s, Morphy’s opening knowledge, while profound, was not creative, his endgame skills were technically in advance of his time, his tactical skills were among the best, but as previously pointed out, not necessarily superior to other great players. It was his positional understanding that was superior to all the players of his time.

In this post we will be looking at how Morphy handled the same opening as played by Blackburne in the previous game. We will see Morphy’s handling was quite different than Blackburne’s; Morphy chose a positional approach in contrast to Blackburne’s attacking style. Morphy’s 11.Be3 was not the only time he played it; he also used the move in a game 6 years earlier.

As Morphy’s handling of the position became known, the move 11.Be3 came to be adopted by leading masters as the standard line.

When playing the Evan’s Gambit, White must be ready to play a P down for a good part of the game. On the other hand, if Black attempts to hang on to the P at all costs, White usually has a strong initiative. Black’s best chance is to complete his development even if it means returning the P.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Blackburne and Morphy

Joseph Henry Blackburne (10 December 1841 – 1 September 1924), known as "The Black Death", dominated British chess during the late 1800’s. He was unusual in that he learned chess at the late age of 18 but quickly became a strong player. His professional career lasted over 50 years. He was also noted for heavy drinking especially during exhibition games and occasionally became violent when drunk. He was once quoted as saying, "Whiskey clears my brain and improves my chess play."


The player who inspired Blackburne was Paul Morphy. In the opening he developed his pieces quickly, tried to avoid the loss of time, and aimed at sacrificial attacks, often describing his brilliant combinations as, “A little bit of Morphy.” Such a comment revealed how little Morphy’s style of play was understood by players of Blackburne’s day. Blackburne’s style was more in the style of Anderssen, Kieseritsky, Bird or any number of players of the era, all of whom were able to capable of conjuring up brilliant attacks.

Morphy’s attacks, as brilliant as they were, owed their brilliancy to his superiority in positional play and he was far from exceptional in making brilliant sacrifices. Players like Capablanca, Alekhine, Marshall and Spielmann, et al were also capable of brilliant sacrifices. When Steinitz came along with his cramped defensive play it seemed bizarre to players of the day. It was hoped that Blackburne would show the superiority of his style when he faced Steinitz in a series of matches, but the results proved disastrous.

Blackburne and his “Morphy style” was defeated by Steinitz in a match in 1863 by a score of 7-1 with 4 draws, in 1870 by a score of 5 straight wins for Steinitz and again, in 1867, by a score of 7 straight wins for Steinitz. It was then that players began to think that maybe there was something to be said for Steinitz’ theories. The truth is that Blackburne did NOT play in the style of Morphy because he had no concept of Morphy’s play being based on superior positional understanding.

In this post we will look at one of Blackburne’s games against Steinitz and compare the two styles. In a future post we will take a look at Morphy’s approach from the same opening. In this game Steinitz parried Blackburne’s tactical threats with great alacrity with the exception of his move 26…Rd7? which was the result of positional over-finessing. Had he played the more natural 26…Rde8 he would not have allowed Blackburne the opportunity to crash through with his attack. You can’t blame the players for missing the refutation though because all the great players of the past who have annotated the game missed it. In fact the game was so complicated from that point on that several annotators gave inferior suggestions!

Even though many of these old games have such mistakes, it takes nothing away from the greatness of the players who created them nor does it take anything away from the players who examined them. Without the benefit of Rybka, Fritz and a host of other strong engines, it’s not surprising that they occasionally missed tactical shots.

In the final analysis, Blackburne was unsuccessful in threading his way through the complications he, himself, had brought about and in the end it was Steinitz’ positional play that won out as proven by their match scores. Still, one cannot help but admire Blackburne’s cleverness in this game just as you cannot help but admire the risks taken by players like Tahl and Nezhmetdinov even if their ideas later turned out to be unsound.

You can download full view books and magazine articles about Blackburne from Google books including the Steinitz-Blackburne Match of 1876 and a 331 page tome of his games annotated by Blackburne, himself.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ken Smith’s Chess Improvement Course

I have posted about Ken Smith previously and how in the 1960’s his Chess Digest Magazine and Chess Digest Publishing Company provided average players of that era a wealth of instruction and chess material for study. So, in view of the previous post about De La Maza, I thought I should make available a pdf download of Smith’s improvement course. Most of the books he recommended were either written or published by himself, but no doubt there are newer books on the same subjects available today.

One word from Smith about this course…This little essay on my personal openings and defenses is for players above the rating of 1799 that have mastered tactics and the endgame.

Update 4-5-13:  This article is now available from Dropbox:

Ken Smith’s Chess Improvement Course

Rapid Chess Improvement

400 points in 400 days by Mike De La Maza. I see interest in this has cropped up again on a couple of chess forums. For those who might not be familiar with his method, he began playing in tournaments in 1999, and by 2001 had improved his rating from an initial 1164 to 2041. In his last tournament he won the Under 2000 section of the World Open but never played a rated game after that. After the tournament, he wrote a two part article entitled 400 points in 400 days for the Chess Cafe web site which became the basis for the book Rapid Chess Improvement. Basically his method involved working through a large set of puzzles multiple times until they can be solved very quickly. His method involves focusing exclusively on tactics, with little attention paid to strategy, openings, or the endgame.

Pdf files of his original articles are available for downloading at Chess Café: Part 1  Part 2

Critics of De La Maza's training methods and of his criticism of chess teachers who emphasize other aspects of the game, such as strategy and endings, include Jeremy Silman and Dr. John Nunn. Personally, I don’t think it makes sense to concentrate on only one area to the exclusion of all others. After all, when teaching a child elementary arithmetic, you would not teach them addition and ignore subtraction, multiplication and division. It’s the same with any subject you are trying to learn. Why should chess be any different?

But the whole point is, does it work? Most of the adherents to De La Maza’s method that I’ve read about all admit that it is enormously time consuming and near impossible to work at the pace De La Maza claimed he worked. If I remember correctly, he was unemployed at the time and so was able to devote full time to his study plan…not practical for most people. Evidently it also resulted in burnout that lead to his abandoning chess.

It is also possible that De La Maza was under-rated because prior to playing in tournaments he did have some chess coaching and these days with class sections and all, it’s very difficult for an unrated player who is playing in an low rated or unrated section to come out of it with a significant provisional rating.

All that aside the real question is, does his method work? Personally, I have never read of anybody who undertook it who made a significant rating improvement, especially 400 points in 400 days. Nor do I believe there is such a thing as “rapid improvement.” For most players, improvement is a slow and laborious process. At the same time I have to ask, how effective are the methods of guys like Alburt, Silman, Heisman, etc. in raising the ratings of their average students? Most of them can probably point to a few students, likely with natural talent, who made rapid progress, but it seems to me that average players are forever studying but never improving very much. All of which makes me wonder sometimes if either method is going to be much help.

Still, if I had to chose, I’d go for a method that tries to make you an all around player, not one that just concentrates on one area using exercises that appear to be by most descriptions I’ve read, downright painful.

I'd be interested in hearing other's opinions of his method and from anybody who has actually tried it. How did it work?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mikhail Umansky

Mikhail Umansky (January 21, 1952 – December 17, 2010) was a Soviet Correspondence Grandmaster. He was the 13th ICCF World CC Champion between 1989 and 1998. He was also USSR Correspondence Champion in 1978. He was living in Germany at the time of his death due to heart disease this month.

In OTB play he placed 2nd in the Russian Junior Championships of 1965 and 1966 and in 1968 was awarded the title of National Master. In 1997 he was awarded the IM title.

He placed first in the ICCF 50 Years World Champion Jubilee, a special invitational correspondence tournament involving all living former ICCF World Champions. It was this result that made him one of the most respected correspondence World champions.

While I have great respect for the ability of top level CC players, this game shows why their games are usually very boring; they are played using engine help and so the tactical mistakes that makes games interesting are rare. At the same time the game shows that the strengths of humans in evaluating positions is sometimes better than engines. I am positive that when Umansky played 19.Rfc1 he knew that even though the engine evaluates the position at less than 1/4 of a P in his favor the control of the c-file and coordination of his pieces would eventually give him a winning advantage. He was correct and from that standpoint the game is instructive. Watch how White’s control of the c-file, pressure on the enemy a-Pawn and threat to advance his P-majority, combined with Black’s lack of useful counterplay, allow White to gradually obtain a winning position. In the final position White’s advantage is over one P and at that level of play, further resistance was useless though I doubt, had it been an OTB game, Black would have resigned just yet.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Chessville

This is a very interesting site well worth a visit! I particularly enjoyed the interviews with Larry Evans on Bobby Fischer and the interview with Raymond Keene on Pertosian. Be sure to visit this site and take a look at what they have to offer in the way of chess news, reviews, training and instruction and everything chess related. Take me to Chessville!

Ordinary Master Games

One problem with published games appearing in books and magazine is that they are usually well played or interesting for some particular reason. But, how do masters really play? I mean in games that are played in the normal course of a tournament and never get to see the light of day? This game was played in Lone Pine, 1976. First place in that event was taken by Tigran Petrosian ahead of Smyslov, Browne, Christiansen, Rogoff, Forintos, Panno, Najdorf, Miles and Quinteros, all of whom tied for second. This game was played by Kim Commons who scored +3 -2 =2 to finish in a group 17-23. Also included in that group was Pal Benko. His opponent finished +2 -4 =1 and was in a group finishing 42-47. There were 57 players but 3 withdrew early in the event.



Kim Commons of California was one of the most promising players in the US in the 1970’s and was good enough to be invited to participate in the US Championship. He gave up chess because he desired to, as he put it, “become a Grandmaster in real estate.” Apparently he succeeded because today he is a real estate broker in California. In the United States, real estate brokers and their salespersons assist sellers in marketing their property and selling it for the highest possible price under the best terms.


Boris Baczynskyj (1945-2008) was a Philadelphia chess legend and popular coach. Baczynskyj was known as a very aggressive player. He was Ukrainian by nationality, born in Vienna and raised in Philadelphia. Before he became a full time chess coach, he worked as a stringer for Associated Press in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime. Among his students was Philadelphia 76ers, pro-basketball team, owner Pat Croce.



This game, played in the 3rd round, is one I just picked at random. Before giving up chess Commons attained the IM title and as of 2004 was rated 2439. Baczynskyj, had a USCF rating 2225; his FIDE rating as of 2005 was 2222. By today’s standards, Commons was very close to GM strength and what this game shows is that there exists a large gap between titled players and ordinary masters. As we see in this game, Commons easily defeated his mater opponent in this “average” tournament game.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Harry Golombek on Bobby Fischer…

…writing in the October, 1960 issue of the British Chess Magazine:
“…we are happy to assure the reader that the young American grandmaster is far from being the moron that one might think him to be from these idiotic remarks.” 

Scathing Obituary

A certain master I once knew always, for some reason I could never determine, reminded me of Groucho Marx. I knew him for many years and even helped him with one of his self published chess books by playing over the games and correcting typos. He was a cantankerous old geezer but I liked him anyway. I came across one of his articles where he was writing about another master and chess columnist who had recently died. I’ve bleeped out the names to protect the guilty. What he wrote was pretty hilarious. I knew (Name deleted) and this certain master hit the nail on the head:


(Name deleted) has died, thirty years too late. A raving, conceited, egotistical, arrogant maniac who thought he was "somebody", but actually was a "nobody". Despite seeing hundreds of Grandmaster games, and reporting on them, he learned NOTHING, and made no attempt to emulate their play, but deliberately used anti-theoretical openings. He did this because he thought he was smarter than everyone else, but only proved that he was incredibly stupid. In a game printed in (Magazine name deleted) he plays his favorite opening, which is junk, accuses Black of making a lot of bad moves, but reaches a horrible position, and mentions that Black has a forced win at move 29. Black missed it, and played like a moron. (Name deleted) won.

For many years, (Name deleted) wrote "tournament reports" for (Magazine name deleted), but they were abominable, because he didn't write about the players, he wrote about himself: How He played; What He thought; instead of writing about Grandmasters.

(Name deleted)’s natural personality was to be assertive, bossy, egotistic and conceited, despite a noticeable lack of talent. Almost every great player has said that they studied the games of the past Masters, but (Name deleted) didn't, because he thought that he was a genius, who would become a great player, by sheer brain-power. Thus, he remained incredibly ignorant, and stupid, and his ambition far exceeded his ability.

Grandmaster (Name deleted), and other strong players, were at a party, and (Name deleted) suggested a five-minute tournament. (The Grandmaster) won 13-0, and (Name deleted) had a very poor score. Typically, he said, "Maybe that wasn't such a good idea." Completely self-centered, and not even beginning to think that the others had a great time.

Blindfold Quiz

Chess Videos TV (Link) has a blindfold quiz (easy, medium and hard) where you are given a series of moves and then try to visualize them and find the next best move. For example, after the moves, 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Ke2, what should Black play? Highlight for answer:  3...Qe4 mate
Give it a try and see how you compare to everybody else…they give the percentage of correct guesses for each problem.

White to move...

and mate in three. This was from a game played between Garcia Vega and Gorer in Rosario, 1939. If you remember Boden's Mate the win should be obvious.
This puzzle was taken from Fred Reinfeld's book, How To Force Checkmate. This little book has 300 practical mates starting with one movers and then two movers and finally three-movers. What I like is that all of them start with forcing moves like sacrifices or checks, just like real games, which is what they were taken from.

Missed Mate


In the following position from a blitz game, after Black played 28…f5 there was no question that I was winning, but the play was rather interesting. According to the Houdini engine I didn’t play the best moves, but I would disagree with GM Houdini at my move 41 where it recommended keeping the extra piece. I preferred to trade down into s simple R and P ending I knew was easily won.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pontificating…

I’ve been browsing the last couple of days. Yesterday it was Jeremy Silman’s How To Reassess Your Chess (3rd Edition) and today it was a couple of forums. On just about every forum there are always new players asking how they can improve and the answers are always the same: study tactics.

Of course not everybody has read Silman’s book, but out of those who have I question how many actually READ what he had to say. In the introduction we read, “The purpose of this book is to offer a complete course of study to the serious student. You will be taught the basic endgames, middlegame concepts, and the true purpose of the openings. You will be taught how to structure your thinking processes and how to come up with plans based on the needs of any given position.”

Regarding endgames he had this to say: ”EVERYONE needs to know the basics of endgame play…I am only giving basic endgame material that I think you simply must know.”

“Usually their choice of plan (if they have a plan at all) is based on emotional rather than scientific consideration…the typical player does what he feels like doing rather than what the boards wants him to do. If you want to be successful you have to base your plans on specific criteria…not on your mood…”

And when it comes to tactics, “Calculating variations madly without any goal in mind, they think that chess is nothing more than a quick mating attack or a search for a pretty combination that can knock an opponent out of the game.”

Silman’s book was, as he claims, written for players from Class D (1200) to Expert (2000-2199). According to the USCF, class ratings are described as follows:

Class A (1800-1999) Top Amateur
Class B (1600-1799 Strong Tournament Player
Class C (1400-1599) Average Tournament Player
Class D (1200-1399) Strong Social Player
Class E (1000-1199) Social Player
Class F (800-999) Novice Player
Classes G-J (100-799) Various Beginners


I’d guess most of the players asking these questions must be Class D or below and for some strange reason most of the answers come from their peers. Seriously, if I want to know how to improve at anything, then, to me, it only makes sense to ask somebody who knows more about the subject than I do. Even those who are rated above most of the people posing those questions are likely to give the same answers. I find that strange because they should know better. Most likely they do it because they have followed a progression similar to the one outlined by Silman.


After learning the moves and gaining some experience, they studied a few mating patterns and some basic endgames where they learned how to mate with a Q or R against a lone K. Mostly they love to attack and so studied tactics. This resulted in a modest rating gain. However, against more experienced players, when they tried to attack it usually failed because their opponents didn’t fall for elementary tactics or drop pieces. The result is that they experience a rating plateau.


It seems to me, with the plethora of tactical servers and the old saying I must have seen a thousand times “Chess is 99% tactics,” the idea comes into play that because of the initial rating gain, they go back and do more tactical exercises which usually doesn’t help much. If they are lucky, eventually they learn to avoid weak P’s, develop all their pieces before attacking and think about how to avoid the loss of material. Somewhere in the middle of all this they also memorized some openings albeit many times inferior ones. All this is usually enough to reach the Class C level, but again, they usually are stuck there. Like the lower rated players, their solution to the problem is often the same. Learn a different opening and go back and study more tactics. What they should do is pay attention to Silman! Let me reiterate:


They need to undertake a complete course of study. This includes learning how to structure their thinking process, how to come up with plans based on the needs of the position (aka positional play), basic K and P and R and P endings, and playing solid openings with an eye to understanding how those openings relate to the middlegame and even, in some cases, endings.


All of this requires a lot of study, much of which is boring and not nearly as much fun as doing tactical puzzles. It also requires something more than an opening book that ends at move 20 with an evaluation of “White stands better” or books with nothing more than a bunch of game fragments. Diagrammed positions are OK sometimes to illustrate a point, but most often you need complete games because they illustrate the game as a whole. To that end game collections are invaluable.


Silman’s comment is worth repeating: “Calculating variations madly without any goal in mind, they think that chess is nothing more than a quick mating attack or a search for a pretty combination that can knock an opponent out of the game.” It is important for the aspiring player to see the game as whole, not disjointed fragments.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Great Games pgn Database

PGN Mentor is a chess database/study program that brings you everything you could ever need for chess study and research

A site called pgn Mentor (chess database/study program) has a lot of games available in pgn to download. Just a sampling: London 1851 to major tournaments of 2010, thousands of games with just about any opening you can name and the world championship matches going back to 1886. Definitely worth checking out not only for the games, but it’s a good source for historical games.

Dimock Theme Tournament

Never heard of it? Neither did I. It was held in New York City in 1924 and was sponsored by Edwin Dimock of New London, Connecticut, who donated prizes for the top four players. All games had to begin 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4. Play could then proceed along various lines, transposing to the Urusov Gambit, or 2 N’s Defense.

The results were:

1. Frank Marshall 10-1/2
2. Carlos Torre 9
3. Anthony Santasiere 7-1/2
4. Erling Tholfsen 5-1/2
5. Rudolph Smirka 4
6. Horace Bigelow 3
7. Bruno Forsberg 2-1/2

The games from this event were lost for many years, and it was only through the research of Eduardo Bauza Mercere that these games have come to light again. Over half have been recovered. Those that survive are worthy of study.

Dimock Theme Tournament

Sunday, December 12, 2010

TrueSkill Through Time: Revisiting the History of Chess

An interesting 2006 pdf report says, ”We extend the Bayesian skill rating system TrueSkill to infer entire time series of skills of players by smoothing through time instead of filtering." I don’t know what all that means and certainly don’t understand the math given, but the short version is that it’s another attempt to determine the best players of all time. From the paper:

"Estimating players' skills in retrospective allows one to take into account more information and hence can be expected to lead to more precise estimates. Probably best known in the chess community is the Chessmetrics system, which aims at improving the Elo scores by attempting to obtain a better fit with the observed data. Chessmetrics is not a statistically well-founded method and is a filtering algorithm that disregards information from future games.

 
Looking at individual players we see that Paul Morphy (1837-1884), is particularly strong when comparing his skill to those of his contemporaries in the next 80 years. He is considered to have been the greatest chess master of his time, and this is well supported by our analysis.


Garry Kasparov is considered the strongest chess player of all time. This is well supported by our analysis. In fact, based on our analysis Kasparov is still considerably stronger than Vladimir Kramnik but a contender for the crown of strongest player in the world is Viswanathan Anand."

Research-Microsoft

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Analysis of a Nezhmetdinov Game by Kingscrusher

Nezhmetdinov Game

Rashid Nezhmetdinov (December 15, 1912–June 3, 1974) was a Soviet player and writer as well as a checker champion. Nezhmetdinov was a fierce, imaginative, attacking player, capable of beating anyone in the world. Unfortunately the only time he played outside the Soviet Union was at Bucharest in 1954 where he finished 2nd behind Korchnoi. He had a lifetime plus score against Tahl and Spassky but his weakness was that given a position where there were few attacking chances he would often try and complicate in the hopes of attacking even if it was not justified. He served as Tah’s trainer in the latter’s championship matches against Botvinnik.



Vladas Mikėnas (17 April 1910 - 3 November 1992) was a Lithuanian International Master, an Honorary Grandmaster, and journalist. He was one of the most outstanding players from the Baltic's prior to World War II. After Lithuania was annexed by the USSR in 1940, he continued to play in many Soviet Championships as well.


He played for Lithuania at first board in five official and one unofficial Chess Olympiad. In 1930, he won the Estonian Championship and in 1931 tied for 2nd-5th place in the Baltic Championship. In the same year Mikenas emigrated from Estonia to Lithuania. In 1948 he drew a match against Nezhmetdinov with a 7-7 score. The game below was taken from that match.

I would suggest playing over this game on an actual board so that you can better visualize the lines of attack and defense.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Example of Strategic Play

I have posted in the past about how some of the difficulties of positional play. It’s sometimes difficult to give hard and fast rules on positional play because unlike tactics, where there is often only a single correct line of play, it may be a matter of taste what positional plan you adapt. Then too, many times positional play is a matter of instinct or feel that comes from experience. We have also seen that the first World Correspondence Champion, CJS Purdy of Australia, stated, “positional play…does not necessarily involve a plan…but primarily a much simpler thing, and that is the idea of strengthening one’s own position or weakening the opponent’s”

As GM Danny King described it, playing positionally is what you do when you are not calculating and it involves evaluating various factors on the board, resulting in the formulation of a plan. In this “lesson” we will take a look at a game that illustrates the point Purdy was making. The position is taken from the game Palkovi-King, Bundesliga, 1996.

In the position below Black played 16…g6. Many of us would, at first glance, think this was a move that weakens the position of the Black King, but in reality, it is a waiting move. King played it because, before committing his pieces, he wanted to see where White was going to place his. At the same time, rather than a move that weakens his K’s position, it is also a very useful move.

At some point Black will likely need a flight square for his K and this move prepares one. At the same time it also takes away the f5 square from the White N and therefore somewhat restricts White’s play. Let’s follow the game and see what Purdy was describing.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Is This a Record?

This must be some kind of record: A 1900+ opponent in a 10-minute game had a decent position and plenty of time left when he hung his Q then abandoned the game. My next opponent was rated over 1800 in another 10-minute game and he also had decent position with lots of time left when he hung his Q. He immediately resigned and challenged me to another game in which he promptly, you guessed it, hung his Q. That's three opponents in a row rated over 1800 that just up and blundered away their Q! Just to be safe I signed off after the third game; it might have been catching.

In case you're wondering if I ever do stuff like that, the answer is yes, and even worse. In a correspondence game with 7 days per move I reached the following position:

My opponent had played 38.Qc7-c6+ and instead of 38...Ke5, I played 38...Kd4 and after 39.Qc5+ I had to resign because an even worse fate than losing the Q  befalls me after 39... Ke4. Namely, 40. Rc4+ Bd4 41. Qxd4mate What caused this blunder? I don't know.

St. Petersburg 1895

This was one of the strongest tournaments ever played. The four strongest players in the world, Lasker, Steinitz, Pillsbury, Chigorin played 6 games each against the other 3 competitors.

The final results were:
1. Lasker    +8 -3 =7   11-1/2
2. Steinitz    +7 -6 =5   9-1/2
3. Pillsbury  +5 -7 =6   8
4. Chigorin  +5 -9 =4   7

By his score Lasker clearly maintained his right to claim the World Championship despite the fact that he had a minus score of +1 -2 =3 against Pillsbury. Pillsbury was the most dangerous opponent that Lasker faced during the first years of his reign and between 1893 and 1904 they faced each other in 12 tournament games. The final score was +5 -4 =3 in Lasker’s favor.

The openings in this event were mostly QP, Ruy Lopez, Petrov and the Evans Gambit. Steinitz was experimenting with his line against the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 d6) without much success and later abandoned it in favor of 3…a6 followed by 4…d6. It was also rumored that in three of their game Pillsbury and Steinitz agreed to open with 1.d4.

Blunders. Lasker hardly made any while Steinitz and Pillsbury (most of Pillsbury’s were because of time pressure) made a fair share. Chigorin also made quite a few, but his seemed to have mostly been caused by fatigue, perhaps due to illness.

In the following game, while Steinitz wastes a lot of time maneuvering on the K-side, Lasker methodically builds up his position and when Steinitz blunders on move 26, it’s all over. You’ll like Lasker’s refutation of Steinitz’ mistake and it’s worth playing through the final moves several times trying to visualize the possibilities.