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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pre-existing Analysis

      I’ve been trolling some forums and have come to the conclusion that many players on servers simply do not understand the nature of correspondence chess. 
      On most server sites the terms of service usually have rules to the effect that you may not refer to engines or be assisted by another person and endgame tablebases can’t be consulted, but you may use reference books, databases consisting of previously played games between human players, and other pre-existing research materials.
      Books have always been allowed in CC because from the beginning it was understood that you simply can’t prevent their use, but there are always a few who believe it’s cheating to do so.  I simply can’t understand their logic.  If one is playing by the rules how can it possibly be called cheating?!  These people, if they understand baseball, probably think stealing a base is wrong just because it’s stealing.
      These days most all books, including opening books, contain computer analysis but playing engine generated moves from those sources is legal.  The fly in the ointment for some people is the term "pre-existing analysis" used by some sites.  What if I’ve been analyzing an opening line with the aid of my chess engines and either printed it out or stored the analysis in my db?  Is that analysis illegal if I refer to it during the game?
      It is well known that engine analysis is making an impact on opening theory and some opening db sites will, no doubt, contain much analysis that is engine generated. How am I to be sure what was engine generated and what wasn’t?  It is legal to use Nunn’s Chess Openings, but right in the preface it is stated that some analysis engine generated.  Must I avoid those lines?  If it’s legal to consult NCO and play all the lines contained therein, why can’t I use my own pre-existing engine analysis? What’s the difference?
      Another problem exists with the phrase "databases consisting of previously played games between human players."  I suppose the addition of such a phrase eliminates a few opening sites but my own personal analysis is not going to consist entirely engine generated moves because, as I’ve previously pointed out, engines require some input from humans to be used effectively in high level CC play.  Is analysis produced in this way illegal? Serious CC players research opening lines quite deeply in this fashion and therefore many players insist such a person is not using their own skills and it is questionable ethically to use such material.
      I think such people are straining gnats on this issue. In my opinion it doesn’t matter if you use books, databases or previously engine generated material.  Sooner or later a move will be played that has not been previously analyzed whether it’s at move 3 or move 30.  At that point you are on your own and the outcome will be decided be chess skill alone. So to my mind the whole issue is moot.


How to Analyze Your Games

      Do not just plug a game into an engine to see where you went wrong; you won’t learn anything. First, as soon as possible after the game write down quick notes. Be especially careful to make a note of positions where you had to make a difficult decision.
      When analyzing an opening write down your thoughts on the line played and then refer to your opening database or books to see if it’s “book” and, if it is, was the line considered good or bad for one side. You need to review a few annotated master games on the variation played so you’ll get a better understanding of the ideas and correct handling of the line played.
      After the game gets out of the book, you’re in the middlegame and you should write down why you decided to play the move you selected.  Don’t be surprised if there are times when you don’t know why you played a move.  For whatever reason, it seems that many time amateurs just play a move.  It’s the kind of thing that drives Jeremy Silman nuts and I once witnessed an IM going over the game with an average player and he kept asking, “Why did you play that?”  You’d be surprised how many times the answer was a blank stare and a mumbled, ‘I’m not sure.”  Be sure to list tactical ideas and possible sacrifices you considered. If you had a plan, indicate what it was.
      In the ending, if you reached one, try to come up with a winning plan or drawing plan as required.
      Only now are you ready to plug the game into your engine.  Now, this is important: analyze with more than one engine. Why?  Because engines evaluate positions using an algorithm and different engines use different values in their algorithms. One engine might value space more highly than while another engine will place a higher value pawn structure. The result is likely to be different results from different engines.  This is valuable information because the engines will be pointing out various lines that can then be checked out. 
      Pay special attention to the positions where you couldn’t find a good move.  Did you just blunder due to missing the obvious or were you just plain careless? Or was it because you did not understand the position or didn’t know how to play the ending?  The answers will tell you what you need to study.  If you are like me, more than likely you’ll find the problem to be more than just being a tactical dunce.
      This really has little to do with analyzing with engines, but even if you’re booked up on openings do you know how to play the position when your opponent plays something you haven’t seen? This can be a problem even in CC.  Despite my opening books on the Torre Attack and my 3 million game db a recent CC opponent got me out of the books after 3 moves! 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bg5 h6.  What?!  Black usually plays …e6, …Ne4, …c6, etc.  The move …h6 is usually played after …e6 but it’s not bad here.  I never saw his move in this position before and couldn't find it in my db; we are on our own.  White can either play 4.Bh4 or 4.Bf4, but must realize the two moves lead to completely different types of games.
      In another game in which I was Black against a CC opponent rated nearly 2500, the opening went:    1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Bd7 4.Bxd7+ Qxd7 5.c4 Nc6 6.Nc3 g6 7.d4 Bg7 A very interesting novelty played in Shirov-Kasparov, Erevan Olympiad, 1996. Now White has a hard choice between 8.Be3, which is completely unpretentious because the B normally aims for g5 in this system and the move played. 8.d5 Bxc3+ 9.bxc3 Na5 10.Nd2

     
      Shirov says that the text looks rather slow, and that for the moment is it not necessary to defend the P but gave no further analysis because he played 10.0–0. We were on our own after only 10 moves.
      Consider the following position:




       This position arose in a game played in the finals of the 1972 US Open CC Championship. My opponent was a former competitor in the US Closed Championship and at one time was one of the top rated players in the US.
       It was my move and the opening pamphlet I was using gave the moves 18.f5 Nc5 which leads to a position with equal chances, so that’s what I played without even thinking about it. Looking at the position while awaiting Black’s reply, I asked myself what would happen if he played 18…Ne5 instead. That move would centralize the N and gain time by attacking the Q. Then when the Q moves off the f-file, there is no attack along it after fxe6. If the Q goes to f4 the N is covering f7 and the Q is exposed to …Rf8 after opening the f-file and White has no attack.
       All I could do was wait and hope Black played the “book” move; he didn’t. He played 18…Ne5 and I tried 19.Qg3 and lost quickly. That’s when he asked me if I was using that particular booklet and said, “There’s a mistake in it.” This was a lesson I never forgot...don't blindly trust opening books.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

FireBird Chess Engine

      FireBird is an open source chess engine developed by a team of Russian programmers and is part of a family of engines called IPPOLIT. FireBird was released in 2009, complete with source code, meaning the programmers don’t care if everybody who is interested in such things knows how they programmed it.
      FireBird is so strong that even professional players are using it because it is stronger than Rybka. Rybka currently cost about $60-70 and Firebird is free…all you need is one of any number of the free GUI’s and you’re ready to analyze at the 3000+ level.  Of course at that level 50-100 points doesn’t mean much, but when you can get a stronger engine for free, why not?
      The big controversy is that, according to Rybka’s creator Vasik Rajlich, FireBird was a clone of his engine and he called the programmers “pirates.”  The claim was that they reverse engineered Rybka.  I can understand Rajlich being upset over this, but the truth is reverse engineering happens all the time in business.  Many times during my working career customers sent us a part manufactured by someone else and wanted us to duplicate it.  You grab your notepad, tape measure and calipers and go out in the shop and tear it apart, taking notes and measurements then try to figure out an improvement…there almost always is something that can be improved, real or imagined.  The result was we produced the part in an “improved” version and everybody was happy except the original manufacturer, but there was nothing illegal about it.
      You can visit Jim Ablett’s Home Page and download just about all the freeware engines available as well as some other interesting and useful programs. 
      On Queenchess Blog, the author ran a 10-game, 5 minute match pitting Rybka 3 against FireBird. FireBird won by a score of +6 -1 =3 
      How does FireBird fare against Houdini?  One match I saw was tied at one win apiece with 8 draws. In my own 5-minute blitz match pitting Houdini 1.5 x64 vs. Firebird 1.0 x64 the result was: +1 -1 =3.  Here’s the most interesting game won by Houdini.


Friday, April 22, 2011

William G. Addison

      International Master William G. Addison passed away on October 29, 2008. Addison was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on November 28th 1933. He moved to San Francisco in the early 1950s after growing up in Baton Rouge and serving in the U.S. Air Force. He was a low expert when he arrived in San Francisco (his first rating was ELO 2008) but in the next 15 years he developed into one of the strongest players in the US. . By May 1953, his rating was 2125 and by the end of 1953 it was 2209. By the mid-1960s, he developed into one of the top-rated players in the county.


      He served as the Mechanics Chess Director in the late 1960s and played in several US Championships in the 1960s finishing as high as second which qualified him for the 1970 Interzonal in Palma. Addison played on two US Oympiad teams including the one with Fischer that won the silver medal at Havana 1966.
      In 1953, he played in the 20th California championship and took 3rd place, behind Herman Steiner (1905-1955) and Henry Gross (1908-1987). In 1954, he won the Northern California Open and took 2nd place in the Golden Gate Chess Club Championship in San Francisco.
      In 1955, he played in the 56th US Open championship, and tied for 20th place with a score of 7.5 out of 12. The event was won by Nicholas Rossolimo on tiebreak over Samuel Reshevsky. Later the same year he played in the 22nd California championship, held in Los Angeles, California, and in a strange occurrence, in the fifth round, he drew with Herman Steiner who died a few hours later of a heart attack and the California championship was cancelled.
       In 1956, Addison’s USCF rating was 2244 and he had the mater’s title. In 1956, he took 4th in the California Open Championship and in 1956 he played in the Golden Gate Open in San Francisco and the California State Championship.
       In 1957, he won the Mechanics’ Institute Invitational Tournament and in the same year defeated Samuel Reshevsky in an 8-game clock simul, held in San Francisco. Also in 1957, he played in the New Western Open, held in Milwaukee where he tied for 6th-12th place. The event was won by Donald Byrne and Larry Evans.
       Also in 1957, Addison played in the 58th US Open championship, held in Cleveland, Ohio where he tied for 13th place with a score of 8 out of 12. The event was won by Bobby Fischer on tiebreak over Arthur Bisguier. The in September 1957, he played in the California State Open championship and tied for 7th-8th. In 1957 he also won the San Francisco City Championship and the Northern California Chess Championship.  The latter victory qualified him for the  California State Championship, but he did not participate.
       In 1958 he was showing considerable improvement when he played first board for the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club in league play where he finished +7 -0 =2 and then scored an impressive 11-1 in the Golden Gate Chess Club Open Championship and later won the  San Francisco championship. That same year he took 2nd place in the Northern California Open Championship and finished 2nd in the 25th California championship. By this time he was the 19th rated player in the US with a rating of 2363. By comparison Reshevsky was rated 2713 and Fischer 2626.
       In 1960, he took 1st place in the Palo Alto Open and in the 27th California championship he tied for 3rd-4th with Irving Rivise, behind Zoltan Kovacs and Sven Almgren.  In August 1961, he played in the US Open (won by Pal Benko) where he tied for 5th-6th.
       In 1962, he scored a perfect 6-0 to win the Hamilton AFB Open in California. In 1962, he won the Southern California Open, the California Closed championship in San Francisco, the Fresno Open and the Santa Monica Open, took 2nd place in the California Open.  By this time his rating had climbed to 2408.
       In 1962-63, he played in his first of five US championships where he tied for 3rd place with Larry Evans and Samuel Reshevsky with the score 6.5-4.5. In 1963, Addison was in a play-off with Samuel Reshevsky and Larry Evans to determine who would qualify for the 3rd position in the next Interzonal.  The play-off was held in Los Angeles and Reshevsky won.  In 1963, Addison took 2nd in the Herman Steiner Chess Club championship.
       During 1963 and 1964 he taught chess under a grant from the Piatigorsky Foundation to minority students in the Watts area of Los Angeles and to disabled children in the Los Angeles schools.
       By the end of 1963, Addison’s rating was 2462 which qualified him to play in the US chess championship where he only scored 3.5-7.5, tying for 9th place with Edmar Mednis (1937-2002). This was the event where Fischer scored his perect 11-0.
       In 1964 Addison played in the  Masters’ Round Robin of the Herman Steiner Chess Club where he scored 1+10 -0 =1 and picked up the $250 first prize money.  Later in 1964, after winning a couple of minor open events, he played for the US in the Chess Olympiad, held in Tel Aviv, where he scored +7 -1 =1 and won a bronze medal as second reserve. His rating was 2501.
      In December 1965, he played in the 17th US chess championship tying for 4th place. He drew with Fischer in the 1st round and defeated Larry Evans in round 2.
      By1966, his rating was 2535 and he ranked number 7 in the US. He played 1st reserve board, scoring +5 -4 =0 and then in December played in the US championship, finishing in 6th place drawing with Fischer and defeating Benko and Reshevsky.
       In 1967, he played at Maribor, Yugoslavia and tied for 9th-12th place. This event fulfilled the norm for the International Master title.  In October 1967, he tied for 1st with Dr. Anthony Saidy in the Santa Monica International tournament. At the end of 1967, his USCF rating was 2503 and he was ranked 7th in the US.
      In 1968, he played at Reykjavik, hoping for a grandmaster norm, but tied for 8th-9th place and he was invited but did not play in the 19th US Championship.  By this time his rating had peaked at 2501 but began to fall of and by the end of the year it was down to 2456.
      In June 1969, he tied for 1st place with Larry Evans in the 2nd Strawberry Open and won the Northern California Championship with a 5-0 score.  In December 1969 with his USCF rating standing at 2491 and ranked number 7 in the US, he played in the 20th U. Championship and took 2nd place, behind Samuel Reshevsky with a +6 -2 =3.  This qualified him for the 1970 zonal tournament along with Reshevsky and Benko. Benko gave up his slot and allowed  Fischer to play, which he won. Benko became Addison’s second at the Interzonal.
      In Pal Benko: My Life, Games and Compositions, Pal Benko wrote, “I remember being Addison’s second at the Palma de Mallorca Interzonal. His one ambition was to finish ahead of Reshevsky but he failed, ending up half a point behind Reshevsky. We were looking at his adjournment against Portisch and he complained, saying that I was finding all the good moves for his opponent!”
       In 1970, he played at Caracas, Venezuela hoping for a grandmaster norm but only finished in 11th place.  On the plus side, he defeated USSR champion Leonid Stein (1934-1973) and drew with Junior World Champion and Grandmaster Anatoly Karpov.  Later that year he competed in the 8th FIDE Interzonal Tournament in Palma de Mallorca, scoring 9-14 and finishing in 8th-19th place.
      Benko also wrote in his book, “As it turned out, his wife only agreed to marry him if he quit chess. After this, Addison vanished from the chess scene.”  This was wrong!  Addison was already married, and his wife never made that demand on him.  When Addison went to Palma de Mallorca it was with the idea that if he did well, he would continue with chess, but if not, he would not continue his chess career and he later decided he wanted to put down roots and not travel anymore.
      It was in 1970, with a USCF rating 2478, at the age of 37, he quit chess after returning from Palma de Mallorca. He felt he had gone as far as he could go in chess and wanted to devote himself to his family. He became a taxi driver in Daly City, California.  Later, he landed a banking job and took banking courses.  By that time Addison did not even own a chess set except for a small pocket set that he rarely used. He still followed chess to some extent, but played over the games in his head.
      When Addison played in the US Championships, his “trade marks” were his pipe and three piece suits. His record in five US chess championship tournaments was +19 -16 = 20 and his record in two chess Olympiads was +12 -5 =1.  He was also a very strong Go player. On October 29, 2008, Addison passed away of cancer in San Francisco. He was 74 years old.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stalemate!

      In all my years of chess I’ve never had a game end in stalemate, but it finally happened a couple of days ago.  I do recall a club game of some years ago where I set up a stalemate but my opponent saw it and avoided it.  In an online blitz game as Black I played the Budapest Gambit and won my P back without much trouble and eventually we reached a R and P ending that was rather drawish.  However I eventually misplayed the ending and we arrived at the following position where White has just played 58.a7


      I replied 58…Kb7 to get my K to a8 blocking the P and hoping I could at least hinder White's progress with my R.  Now the correct winning procedure for White is to play 59.Kd7 and the advance of his e-Pawn is assured.  Instead he played 59.Rd7+ to which I replied 59…Ka8 setting up the stalemate. A few moves later we reached the following position:



Correct for White is 62.Kd6 Rh6 63.Rd8+ Kxa7 64.Kd7 and the P queens. Instead he played 62.Kd8?? and now according to the Shredder endgame database the game is a draw because of the stalemate threat. 62…Rh8+ 63.Kc7 Rc8+ 64.Kd6 Rc6+ Reaching this position:



The game is drawn. White can never avoid the R checks;  if he tries by 65.Ke7 then 65…Rxe6+  It took White several moves before he realized the win had vanished so he finally took the R. A lucky escape.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chessplaying Buttheads

      Former US CC Champion Edward Duliba refused to play chess on the internet because he felt you met the most rude and crude of the chess world there.

      Studies have shown the internet can lead to “disinhibition” which is just a lack of interpersonal feedback that you get in face-to-face communication. This can, as one article stated, lead to “enhanced self-disclosure” and “personal attacks.” Now, I’m no psychologist, but I think “enhanced personal disclosure” means “lying” and  “personal attacks” is self-explanatory..
      The article listed some possible causes of disinhibition which is defined as a reduction in accountability which results in decreased self-regulation. I think these disinhibited individuals are probably the same people who write obscenities on the walls of public toilets. Another factor is reduced social clues due to limited nonverbal cues to communicate meaning. I might add there is also the language barrier. During my working career I worked with the British and discovered their sense of humor on occasion differed considerably from mine! There is also a lowered sense of “being there” that results in a lower sense of accountability.
      The internet has also, to some extent, contributed to the dysfunction of family life. Kids (and parents) who are always on instant messaging, Facebook and cell phones has resulted in diminished participation in family interaction which can result in each family member being wrapped up in their own little techno-world. That can’t be good.
      My guess is that it’s the enhanced personal disclosure that leads some players to using engines to generate their moves. It’s clearly the disinhibition that leads to anti-social behavior like abusive language. As Chessbase columnist Steve Lopez observed, “…heaven forbid that you say "Good game" as a pleasantry after you win -- your opponent will think you're mocking him, call you every filthy (although hilariously misspelled) epithet he can think of, and then instantly be off to the nearest message board to accuse you of being a computer cheat and/or to make wild allegations about your legal status, family heritage, or sexual preference -- all just because he lost a chess game to you.” As a result Lopez chose to remain mute and the result of that was he was still called names. It’s no wonder that, thankfully, many sites have a mute button so you can disable chat.
      As Lopez observed, for many people everything is about them and nobody else matters. We see professional athletes acting like children, chest bumping and dancing after scoring and it has filtered all the way down to 6-year old kids imitating this stupid behavior. At our house we watch American Idol occasionally and I can’t believe the ego of some of the participants. They’re new to the business and already want to act like divas.
      The attitude often is, “I can do anything I want, but you have to abide by the rules. If you don’t like it, **** you!” Too many people hate the thought that somebody may know more about a subject than they do. Jeremy Silman told the story about how he was watching and commenting on an internet GM game and got trashed by a bunch of players who thought they understood the game better than he did because their engines said so. He withdrew from the conversation.
      Many people fail to realize that while we may all be equal, that does NOT mean we all have the same abilities. One thing I did not like about the US military was just because a person was higher ranked than me did not make them “superior” to me and I could never figure out why officers were married to “ladies” while enlisted men had “wives.” The problem is lack of respect for other people. This is the reason you almost never see titled players on forums. They don’t like getting flamed by deindividualized, disinhibited people wanting to enhance their personal disclosure.  As Lopez has so astutely pointed out, the threat of physical violence is what keeps a lot of people in line during their daily life. Remove that threat and all restraints are off      Fortunately many online sites give you options when you run into people with too much ego and too little brain…it’s the aforementioned disable chat and the “ignore this player” options. Granted that after playing one of these individuals I’ll probably never meet them again, but still, putting them on my ignore list gives me a feeling of satisfaction.

Friday, April 15, 2011

IQP Win

      I won an interesting Blitz game recently where I had an IQP. At first I thought it was a real mop up, but after looking over the game with Houdini I discovered Black missed several defensive chances. Houdini gives me a big plus in its evaluation, but…I’m not as good as Houdini and the positions look pretty messy, so for me they are unclear. BTW, note that although the game started out as a QP, it turned into a Caro-Kann, Panov-Botvinnik Attack which is a line I really like with White.
      I have to admit that I was a little miffed at my opponent. He didn’t break any rules, but did display bad etiquette by offering me a draw after my 23.Nxb5+ and when I refused he made me wait 2-3 minutes before playing the forced 23…Qc7. Such behavior is perfectly legal, but why be such snot by deliberately trying to annoy people?

      Speaking of Internet dirt bags…the other day Player X blundered a piece on move 5 and I won easily…especially after he made a couple of really bad moves later. He challenged me to another game and, I made a stupid mistake in the opening and dropped a P for zero compensation. It wasn’t serious though because in a couple of moves he blundered away a piece, missed a mate, and I scored another win.
      So, he challenged me to a third game. After several moves he stated accusing me of using an engine and when I remained silent he began using a lot of profanity and observed that the quality of my play had fallen off so I must have shut off my engine, blah, blah, blah. What was funny though was that in this third game he didn’t blunder any pieces away in the opening, or at any time during the game for that matter, and ended up mopping up the floor with me. Then he challenged me to a fourth game and, again, his play was impeccable, so he scored another win. It got me to wondering how in two games in a row you hang pieces left and right and then suddenly start playing like an engine?! By that time I’d had enough of this maggot and immediately after the game blocked him.
      Anyway, here’s the game…

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Shredder Opening Database

      In addition to their excellent endgame db, Shredder also has an online opening db where you can put in any opening moves and get statistics from human Grandmaster games for those moves and openings.

      For example, in my favorite Torre Attack after the moves: 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bg5 the two most popular moves for Black are 3…Ne4 against which White scores 53.4% (+62 -50 =63) and 3…e6 which scores 53.3% (+27 -22 =26) for White. The least successful move has been 3…c5 which was played in 19 games and White scored 71% (+9 -1 =9) while 3…g6 has yielded the best results for Black as White only scored 35% (+2 -5 =3). This is worth checking out to see how well your openings score in GM games.
      Ready for a surprise? I have been known to play the Grob Attack (1.g4) on occasion. It shows up as being played 25 times in GM games…and the results? +11 -8 =6.  Who would have have thought that!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Houdini & Fritz Anaylsis of Dubois vs. Steinitz

Playing over some of Shirov’s games recently from his book, Fire on Board, I ran across one position which he analyzed in great detail. He mentioned that he analyzed with Fritz 4, but also commented he had to find most of the variations himself. GM Arthur Bisguier, in The Art of Bisguier, commented in one game that Fritz recommended another move as better but he disagreed with its evaluation. This prompted me to pull CC GM Robin Smith’s Modern Chess Analysis (2004) off the shelf and see if the newer engines could do any better than some of the games Smith analyzed.
The following position is from Dubois – Steinitz, London, 1862. White has just played 8.Bg3.


      Smith wrote that none of the engines he tested did very well in this position no matter how long he let them think. In the diagram Black stands much better. His pieces are well coordinated for attack, the P on f2 is pinned, the R on h8 occupies the soon to be opened h-file, the b on c8 will develop at g5, the c6N can easily join the attack with …Nc4, and finally, the f6N can, after …Ng4 attack both f2 and h7.
      From White’s point of view his pieces are developed to attack f7, not defend his K. The d3P cuts off the B’s possibility of being used for defense, the g3B has no moves and White’s Q-side is undeveloped. All these indicate that there might be something in the position for Black. Steinitz played 8…h5 and conducted a brilliant winning attack.
      So, how did the engines do? After 20 minutes of analysis, Houdini suggested 8…Na5 and after 40 minutes was still suggesting that the position evaluation was = (0.06).
      Fritz 12 had a hard time making up its mind between 8…a6, 8…Na5 and 8…Bg4 (= 0.04 approximately).
      As Smith points out, the reason the engines don’t find 8…h5 is because all the lines go very deep and while there are few variations, there are few checks which will extend their horizon. The result is that engines are unable to ‘see’ that Black ultimately gains a winning attack with 8…h5. When I made the move 8…h5 I got a red warning light indicating that there was a significant drop in the evaluation. Its immediate response was to show the position as being about 1/3 of a P in White’s favor while Fritz was even more optimistic, thinking White’s advantage was 2/3’s of a P. In the game Dubois declined the P-sac and played Fritz’ move of 9.h4 (0.62) while Houdini recommended 9.b4 (0.16), and 9.h4 (0.13) was its second choice.
      This is the weakness of chess engines. Even today, they do not evaluate some positions very well. This is true even in a tactical situation like we see here because the merits of Black’s P-sac don’t show up for many moves which lie beyond the engine’s horizon and it explains why CC GM’s usually end up beating players who rely solely on engine moves.
      In the following position where I was White in a postal game played in 2004 I sacrificed a N with 21.Nxf7 without much thought because I was certain that the result would be a winning attack for me. After the game when analyzing it with Fritz 5, it said I was 1-2/3 of a P ahead after 21. Nge4 and its evaluation dropped to only one P after 21.Nxf7.



Today Fritz 12 thinks both moves rate about a one P advantage for White, but Houdini suggests that after 21.Nge4 I’m only a half P ahead while after its first choice, 21.Nxf7, I’m 1-2/3 P ahead.

      As Smith points out, some long forcing lines can be calculated by humans better than engines because the end result is beyond its horizon. However, when calculating these variations, it is always wise to do so with the aid of an engine in order to avoid tactical mishaps!
      I guess my whole point, two points actually, are: First, Never rely solely on an engine’s numerical evaluation and secondly, studying annotated GM games is still one of the best ways to absorb information. Using an engine helps because it allows you to try out different moves and see why they may not be good. The problem comes in trying to use engines to examine our own games as a means of improvement. Engines will tell us when we’ve made a tactical error, but what they won’t tell us is, what is the correct strategy and why. For that you need books. Books on openings, strategy, tactics, endings and GM game collections. Unfortunately, even then most of us will have no idea why a move is good or bad and will unable to appreciate the things that go into successful planning. Read over Smith’s explanation of the Dubois – Steinitz position and it makes sense. Most of us would never figure it out on our own if we got that position though.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Universal Openings and Defenses

      Lately I’ve come across several players who have been adapting the same moves with White and Black, apparently with the idea that by playing the same moves no matter what White (or Black) plays, they can eliminate the need to be familiar with, or study, opening strategy.

      I don’t think that approach really works and it does nothing to increase one’s understanding of the game. If such an opening existed then GM’s would be playing it. Also, when it comes to using the same moves as both White and Black (usually involving a fianchetto) that approach can’t be right either because, as GM Alex Yermolinsky has pointed out, the opening strategy for White and Black simply can’t be the same.

To give some examples:
      In the Pirc, after the moves 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 Black intends to play ...e5 or ...c5 putting pressure on the dark squares in the center. He usually waits until after playing ...Bg7 and ...O-O.
      BUT, sometimes it is desirable to play his P-breaks more quickly because the timing of White’s central push or Black’s advance in the center is critical. Failure of either side to recognize this point will likely result in incurring a disadvantage.
      In the Robatsch Defense after 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 White has a wide choice of moves: 4.f4, 4.Be3, 4.Nf3, 4.Bc4, 4.Nf3 and even 4.f5 which, by the way, after 4…d5 5.e5 has transposed into the 3…g6 line of the Caro-Kann. It should be evident that Black’s correct response is going to depend on which move White plays.
      In the K-Indian Attack where White opens with the moves 1.Nf3, 2.g3, 3.Bg2, 4.0–0, 5.d3 and 6.Nbd2 his correct strategy is going to depend on what type of formation Black selects. Black can set up defenses similar to the QG, K-Indian, Q-Indian, Sicilian, French, etc. and in order to play the opening correctly White is going to have to adapt his strategy accordingly.
      Unfortunately, there is simply no such thing as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ opening or defense and there is simply no shortcut or substitute for the hard work involved in trying to learn how to play good moves whether it’s in the opening, middlegame or ending.
      Once again, my advice when it comes to openings is to play solid, mainline openings that you see GM’s playing. Get a good opening book that explains the ideas behind the opening of your choice and one that contains complete games. Study the ideas behind the moves then play over a lot of games with those lines trying to absorb the ideas. Eventually you’ll find yourself playing ‘book’ lines without even realizing it and, as a bonus, you’ll understand to some extent what it is you’re trying to accomplish.
      This isn’t something I thought up on my own; it’s the advice of Yermolinsky and it’s the way masters and GM’s do it. I forgot who said it, but one GM said that when he wants to incorporate a new line into his repertoire the first thing he does is download about 25 recent GM games off the Internet and play over them to see how his peers handled the resulting positions. That’s so he could get an overview of typical positions that were reached and how they were played by other GM’s. Only then did he begin to do a critical analysis of typical positions that arose. That’s too much like work for most of us though…we’d rather just play the same 6 or 8 moves against anything our opponent throws at us and hope for the best.

Pattern Recognition Training

The following great Blog has some links to really good training exercises on pattern recognition from Chessdotcom that were submitted by GM Greg Serper as well as some videos on PR by FM Ingvar Thor Johannesson  on ChessVideosTV: