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Tuesday, June 21, 2011


       In 2004 I returned to chess after a 12-year hiatus during which time I had never even looked at a chessboard.  After rejoining the CCLA and playing using post cards for about 4 years I began to experiment with server sites.  One if the first was IECG.  Games there were played by e-mail  and I selected it because I was allowed to enter tournament based on my CCLA rating.  This was important because I had no desire to start at 1200 or 1400 and slog through a hundred games consisting of bunny bashing before starting to get decent competition.
       As mentioned previously I was unaware that they had no rules against computer use at IECG so ended up going +0 -4 =2 in my first tournament there. IEC G closed up shop last year because of the difficulty in arranging e-mail games.  I understand this because I’m also a member if the International E-mail Chess Club which does not offer server play, only e-mail, and it takes forever for sections to fill up.
       The following game was one of the two I drew in that first IECG event and was played without engines on my part.  I can’t be sure what engine my opponent was using (Fritz 6?), but probably because many players using engines will only let them examine a position for a minute or two then go with the engine’s first choice, I managed to draw a couple of games. 
      What makes the game interesting was that even with today’s very strong engines it highlights the fact that there are some pitfalls in relying totally on their evaluations and suggested moves. I sacrificed a N on f7 at move 18.  Was it totally sound?  An analysis at only 10 seconds a move by Fritz 12 and Houdini gave inconclusive results.  We’ve all heard the saying, “Think long, think wrong.”  That would seem to be the case with engines also because looking at the long variations produced by Fritz 12 and Houdini it was clear that the deeper into the analysis you go, the more errors you find and this, of course, affects the engine’s final evaluation of the given variation.  Fritz seemed to make more mistakes of this type than Houdini did though.
      This also demonstrates why, as I’ve pointed out in previous posts, you cannot always totally rely on numerical evaluations and it is absolutely essential that you scroll through the variations to make sure the engines did not miss anything.  I noticed that in many cases the engines did not change evaluations right up until the actual “mistake” was played on the board at which time they would immediately indicate the move was a poor choice. Something to do with the way they store moves I suppose.  In those cases stepping back a move would allow the engines to rethink things and come up with a stronger move. While I did not subject this game to a lengthy analysis in an attempt to discover the absolute truth, my general impression was that Black missed some stronger moves along the way and probably could have won.  It’s these types of situations that make today’s engine assisted chess just as difficult to play as chess without engines.  Different engines, different move suggestions and evaluations.  Long variations and missed stronger moves.  Sorting through everything takes as much time and patience as playing without an engine.  What it often comes down to is a player’s chess skill and his ability to evaluate the position.
       Speaking of evaluating positions, this is the real skill that separates the men from the boys in chess.  Even if I could calculate as accurately as a GM and we arrived at the same position, it’s the correct evaluation of the position that matters.  If you don’t understand the position you will not know what to do…you might even unknowingly play for a lost position!  This point is often missed by low rated players (the ability to evaluate who stands better and why) and explains why they are usually reluctant to study strategy and endgames but it’s those features that are aids in making correct evaluations as to who stands better and why.  Failure to take salient strategic features into account means you’re just shifting plastic and waiting for a blunder. 

On to the game…

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