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Friday, August 22, 2014

Who (or What) Do You Trust?

     I have always been a big fan of playing over games and most of the chess books I have owned have been of the ‘My Best Games’ type and tournament books. These days it’s a lot better because we have engines that we can use to try out different lines on our own and of course engines will be quick to point out what’s wrong with our moves. At first I had a lot of difficulty playing over games on the computer screen and it made chess feel like a video game, but eventually I grew to like it. No more setting up pieces and fumbling around resetting everything at the end of a long note! They are also helpful in finding faulty analysis in annotations, especially in older books.
     Before we get too harsh on those old time annotators we have to remember they didn’t have engines to check for tactical errors and sometimes one wonders just how much time they actually spent on preparing their annotations. There is also the fudge factor…sometimes they annotated based on results; the winner got all the kudos even though he may not have played perfectly, but sometimes that’s the impression you are left with. Need I mention some of Alekhine’s fake games and his notes could leave you with the impression that he saw everything from move 12 right through to the mate at move 46. Errors in annotations usually don’t detract from the games though. But, sometimes when it comes to evaluating a position on its strategic merits GM’s give a completely different opinion than an engine. When there aren’t any tactics in a position and it has to be judged strictly on who stands better positionally, I always trust the GM rather than the engine.
     So, recently I was going over a game Pachman – Donner with Stockfish and Houdini and came across a couple of lines where Pachman’s analysis was in complete disagreement with the two engines. Not being sure who was correct, I subjected the positions to Shootouts using Houdini 2 and the results confirmed the correctness of the engine evaluations.
     In the following position White played 12.h3 to which Donner replied 12…Nh5 and Pachman gave it a “?” stating that even though 12…d5 was better White was left with a superior position. His criticism of 12…Nh5 was the move withdraws a piece from the center in favor of an “unjustified flank attack.” He also wrote that 12…Nh5, instead of preventing 13.f4, enhanced its value. Pachman was using the game for its instructional value in demonstrating center control so he may have overemphasized some points and ignored others.

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