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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Game Moderators

I play all my "serious" chess at Queen Alice these days. I used to play with the CCLA which was mostly post card or e-mail chess but discovered I liked server play better because there isn’t any record keeping and the games (usually) move at a faster pace. So recently when somebody posted they wanted to see some kind of moderator because there are some players who are using Fritz to help to analyze the games and commented. “you just don´t know with whom you are playing, a human player or machine... and that is not fair.” No, it’s not. My reply was: Back in the early 1990’s engines were playing at ~2000 which was about my level and when I realized at least half of my postal opponents were using engines, I resigned all the games and gave up chess.

In 2004 I returned to server play. Not much had changed except engines were much stronger and players using them were out of my league. Except for the few times I’ve met a player on the way to the top of the rating list engine users haven’t been a problem.

In this era engine use is a fact of life and there’s really nothing to be done about it. I say let people who want to use engines do so and let them, when they reach the top of the rating list, battle it out amongst themselves like the titled players do in their tournaments.

I know of one site that claims to have a foolproof way of detecting engine use and they are constantly on a witch hunt with every poor loser claiming he was defeated by an engine and even 1200’s have been banned. Putting out a dragnet for engine users will not eliminate them and only cause a lot of problems and controversy.

Another problem is that truly strong players won’t want to play because if they win a lot of games while suffering few losses, people start slinging accusations

I started playing CC in 1959 in “Class C” and, playing about 6-12 games at a time, had managed over the years to work my rating up to ~2000 by the early 1990’s. That’s over 30 years to gain 500 points; of course I was out of chess for about half those 30 years, but still…

At first engines weren’t all that good. I remember one low rated female opponent who, early in the opening, played what  looked suspiciously like a computer move. I don’t remember what computer I had at the time but when it was given the same position, it played the same move. Sure enough, I was able to predict her every move for the rest of the game. I didn’t feel like I was cheating because the computer only played at about 1400 max. So computers weren’t a problem.

Then one day I had about 12 games going with the USCF which had just recently purchased Al Horowitz’ Chess Review. By this time engines were performing at about 2000-2100…same as me. One opponent whom I knew personally and who was never rated over 1500 in his life had a CC rating of ~2000 so when I got the assignment I was immediately suspicious but figured since I hadn’t seen him for a few years maybe he had improved. A mutual friend advised me that this particular opponent had confided to him that he used computers all the time. After about 20 or so moves, a few of which made no sense to me, I checked out our two games with Chessmaster 2100, and guess what?

I checked out my other games and discovered that at least half of my opponents were using Chessmaster. I was ticked because all of those years diligently playing guys like the one rated in the top 10 in US postal chess, an opponent who’d competed in a couple US Championships and assorted OTB Experts and Masters just to get to 2000...and now there I was playing Chessmaster and probably going to lose all those games. I resigned them all in disgust and my USCF CC rating went from over 2000 to 1798 where it remains today. That was it for CC for 10-12 years.

I returned to CC play 7 or 8 years ago and figured I’d lost some skill in the interim so started with the CCLA at 1800. I managed to finish in the top 10 in their open championship one year and got my rating to ~2100 then discovered when I started playing guys over 2200 on a regular basis that half of them were using engines. I really didn’t care by that time and just figured I’d enjoy the games against players who weren’t using and not worry about losing to the rest. Ratings no longer mattered; I was just playing for fun.

I’ve played on several servers and lost a few games to opponents rated over 2400 whom I know were using engines. Of course I’ve lost a few to players rated over 2400 whom I know weren’t using, too. For that matter there was the time my 1400 rated opponent played very well and I traded down into a R&P ending only to realize it was a theoretical draw...which he held. Looking at the game later I was convinced the guy didn't use an engine. He just played a really good game and I blew it because I didn't remember my endgame theory! I’m smart enough to know there are a lot of players out there better than me and even if they aren't sometimes a blind pig finds an acorn.

Anyway, I want to tell these people that unless you’re playing at the very top of these server sites, engine use isn’t a problem. Of course there will always to be an occasional loss to players who are moving up the rating ladder but, really, is it that important? When they get to a certain level they’ll start playing other players’ engines and a dozen rating points will be lost on an anonymous server. What’s the big deal?

Game Moderators? Don’t need ‘em.

Potpourri from Edward Winter

I love this site! I just spent the last half hour poking around in it.
Poor Mrs. Stevenson...
Mrs Agnes Stevenson (née Lawson) died on 20 August 1935, as reported on pages 393-394 of the September 1935 BCM:
‘... [she] was on her way to Warsaw to help England in the ladies’ championship of the world. She had arrived at Posen on Tuesday, the 20th, by aeroplane from Berlin, and after having completed the passport formalities she was returning to the aeroplane. Thinking it was just leaving she ran for it, and unfortunately approached the front instead of the cabin. The propellers, which had just been started, hit her on the head and killed her instantaneously.’

Her widower, Rufus Henry Streatfeild Stevenson, married Vera Menchik on 19 October 1937 (BCM, November 1937, page 551).

Also here’s a link to Bobby Fischer’s chess columns that appeared in Boy’s Life magazine.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Classic Bishop Sacrifice

I’ve had occasion in a few of my games over the years to play this sac (Bxh7+) or have it played against me, but have never actually had it happen because for some reason it was always flawed…until this game.

I suppose it’s probably rare these days because even lower rated players are aware of it’s existence, but that wasn’t always the case. In The Art of Attack in Chess, Vukovic says it was first analyzed by Greco back in the 1600's, but a systematic review didn’t happen until Voellmy analyzed it in 1916.

I’ve seen some lower rated players commenting on it and often they assume the sacrifice is automatic and always correct. As Vukovic points out, it is not. In the game Capablanca-Molina, Buenos Aires, 1911, Capa played the sac, but it was flawed in one line. Colle-O’Hanlon, Nice, 1930, saw the sac played and it won Colle the game and brilliancy prize. In both cases Vukovic claims the sacs were incorrect and Black missed the best defense, I have not checked out these games with an engine to verify this however. Let me add here that The Art of Attack in Chess is a really excellent book, but it of necessity contains much tactics and was written before the advent of computers. Therefore when playing through the examples in the book, I’d strongly recommend doing so with the aid of an engine because there are quite a few errors in analysis.

Here is a position from Vukovic’s book:

Vukovic gives some basic guidelines when trying to determine if the sac is correct; They are 1) White must have a Q, B and N. 2) The N must be able to safely reach g5 and the Q must be within reach of h5, or in some cases, be able to get to he h-file. 3) Black must have 2P’s standing on f7 and g7 4) The position of Black’s Q on d8 and R on f8 points to, but does not absolutely guarantee, the correctness of the sacrifice. Finally, 5) Black’s N should not be able to reach f6 and 6) neither his Q or B should be able to occupy the h7-b1 diagonal.

Additionally, it is important, before embarking on the sac, to make sure that Black’s three primary methods of defense (…Kg8, …Kh6 or …Kg6) do not offer him the opportunity of conducting a successful defense. If any one of the lines offers Black an out, then the sacrifice is unsound. As it turns out according to Vukovic in the diagrammed position the sacrifice is sound in all variations.

In this recent game I arrived at the following similar position.

The most significant difference in the two diagrams is Black’s N is on e7 instead of d7. Here Black’s N can’t reach f6 and his Q the h7-b1 diagonal so the question I had to consider was, “Does this offer Black any chances of finding a defense?” As it turned out, it did, but they were not sufficient to save the game.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Anand – Topalov Coverage

Official Site
Personally I’m avoiding this site. For some reason my computer slowed drastically when visiting it.


Friday, April 23, 2010

I Take a Beating!

I beat Kuarwaki rather quickly in our first game but this time he completely outplayed me when I failed to take advantage of his opening liberties.

Anand-Topalov Match

So Vishy Anand is getting ready to defend his world title against Veselin Topalov in Sofia in a 12-game match starting on April 24; that’s Saturday. Twelve games?! Before that there was the marathon encounters between the K’s. Prior to that we had what I thought was the most interesting system of all: zonals, interzonals, candidates tournaments and then the 24-game world championship match. Were some of those events rigged by the Soviets (or Russians as they were known then)? Probably and one of my early heroes, Botvinnik, seems to have been implicated in the skullduggery. No matter. They it was always exciting to follow the cycle from start to finish.

There’s always been intrigue involved so this one is no different. No matter what happens off the board, one thing has never changed. Speculation over who’s going to win?

Topalov is playing in his home country, Bulgaria, and that has to be an advantage. Anand’s arrival was delayed by the volcano in Iceland and he was refused permission to delay the start of the match by more than one day.

In their encounters at normal time controls Topalov has one more win than Anand, but at faster controls Anand has a big lead. That would seem to give Topy a slight advantage, but if the match is tied at 6-6 they are going to play what we used to call “speed chess” to break the tie, so Anand should have the edge there. I’m not going to go into what I think of the tie break system other than to say…well, I won’t comment at all.

Anand is 40 years old and Topalov 35…among top level chess players, 40 is just about reaching the top of the hill, if not actually over it.
Topalov and his team aren’t above trying to mess with people’s heads. Remember Toiletgate in 2006 when they accused Kramnik of using computer assistance during visits to the restroom?

In this match Topalov has declared that if Anand wishes to communicate with him, he should do so through the arbiter. Anand has been very gentlemanly and diplomatic on this issue, as becomes him.

Anand is generally regarded as the better player and has a very pragmatic style, preferring to play a move that looks good rather than spending all his time trying to find the absolute best one. He’s also a pretty deadly tactician.

All in all, I think Anand is better and I hope he wins, but my gut feeling is it’s going to be that weasel, Topalov.

Why don’t people read?

In a recent forum one person asked for a good continuation against the French Defense. I replied that for me personally the move I hated to see the most was the Advance Variation (1.e5 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5). In fact I disliked it so much I switched to the Caro-Kann only to discover the Advance Variation is popular against it also. The result was I switched back to 1.e4 e5.

The result was a plethora of comments advising me that the Advance Variation in the French holds no dangers for Black and that many White players recommend it and many Black players welcome it and that I was mistaken about its terrors for Black.

People read, but did not comprehend what I said. I am well aware of the fact that Chessbase shows in the Advance Variation a percentage result as +40% =37% -23% as opposed to +39% =35% -26% against 3.Nc3 and a +28% =55% -17% against 3.Nd2.

I never said the Advance Variation was bad for Black. I said I did not like playing against it. There are several reasons why and they amount to no more than a personal preference, not a misevaluation of the variation. Anybody who can read and understand the statistics in Chessbase can plainly see there’s nothing wrong with the Advance Variation. I just didn’t like playing against it. That’s all I said. How hard was that to understand?

Pattern Recognition…again

I’m still seeing post on just about every chess forum you can name where novice players, and even some average to above average players, are asking how to best improve one’s playing level. The usual answers are to play certain openings and practice tactics. A few more enlightened posters recommend throwing in some endgame study.

Most of these people miss the point. Even though tactics study is essential most players miss the point of such studies. I’ve seen advice ranging from just look at the position and try various moves until you find one that works to practicing the ridiculous and discredited de la Maza method.

We are swamped with books on openings, the majority of which are too advanced to be of any use to the average player, books (and websites) on tactics, rehashes of middlegame positions, and the list goes on and on. Most of these books aren’t worth reading…Korchnoi said so, not me.

In reviewing the book Secrets of Chess Intuition, Jeremy Silman wrote, “In the foreword, Anand was quoted as saying, ‘Intuition is the first move I think of.’ Beliavsky addressed this quote in the following way: ‘Sure enough, but on what criteria does this move enter our head in the first place? Naturally, this comes from our knowledge of chess and previous experience.’
“Psychologist and grandmaster Helmut Pfleger regards intuition to be something that cannot be substantiated rationally, and is in effect, a feeling.
“Intuition is the immediate awareness of the position, but this is difficult to explain logically. Intuition in a sense depends on knowledge; the more you accumulate, the better your intuition becomes.” World Champion Vladimir Kramnik
“… pattern recognition (i.e., the ability to instantly know where the pieces belong based on a deep knowledge and familiarity with pawn structures and developmental or tactical patterns) is a learned skill…
“Personally, I feel that 99.9% of chess is based on some form of pattern recognition.”

Judith Polgar wrote “One of the biggest misconceptions about chess is it requires a lot of memorization. In reality, while some memorization is required, pattern recognition plays a crucial part in chess mastery.”

Several studies have tried to address the difference between grandmasters and the average player. The differences between GM’s and average players (even master and IM’s) players is that grandmaster play effortlessly and wins most of the time. This is best seen in simultaneous displays even though thinking time is only few seconds per move. This is attributed to the GM pulling information about the positions out of his long-term memory, which is a very fast process, while amateurs have to analyze the position. This process requires storage of a substantial amount of positions in the long-term memory.

This method can be also applied to studying chess tactics. A set of tactics problems is solved over and over again until solving them becomes automatic - the solution is recognized on first sight without the need for analyzing the position. Even doing this the brain has to rely on recognizing the most important features of the position instead of the position of each individual piece on the board. This requires more than just solving the problem. It requires one to become familiar with the motif that makes the tactic work. Themes such as forks, pins, etc.

When seeking advice of strong players about how to improve one often finds their advice is vague and unhelpful. I think this is because they often do not know exactly how they think or arrive at a good move.  Child prodigy Samuel Reshevsky said as much. Once watching world class GM Tony Miles analyze with an IM I noticed several times when the IM suggested a moves, Miles would tell him it was no good. When asked why, all Miles could say was, “It just isn’t.” He wasn’t being flippant or condescending. I think he simply could not say why; he just “knew.”

Strong players, when shown an unfamiliar chess position for only a few seconds, can reproduce it with very few mistakes. However this is only when they are given positions taken from actual games. In fantasy or random positions masters do no better than average players.

Occasionally it is claimed masters have amazing powers of visualization and can accurately visualize the position many moves ahead. While this may be the case, it is the evaluation of those positions that really matter.  It often surprises lower rated player how far ahead GM’s actually calculate in many positions.

In the view of many psychologists it is that the greatest difference in chess skill between masters and amateurs is pattern recognition. They instantly see positional themes like pawn chains, weak squares, and open lines, as well as tactical possibilities like Knight forks. Patterns of pieces such as weakened King positions and Rook batteries are recognized and evaluated as the player decides what the best move is.  Lack of pattern recognition is why new players are often the victim of quick losses like back rank mates. They fail to notice the danger. In contrast experienced players automatically see the threat and easily avoid it. Calculation is not necessary.

Even GM’s have their opinions on this issue. In Think Like a GM, Alexander Kotov advocated the calculation approach, discussing how to calculate by selecting and analyzing candidate moves. Nimzovitch emphasized positional judgment and pattern recognition in My System.  GM Andrew Soltis claims that chess is 99% calculation. He also points out most calculation among GM’s is to see about two moves ahead. The key, as Soltis points out in the book, is in how the player assesses the position.

Computers out-calculate humans in terms of the sheer number of moves but the human player can often guide play into positions that the engines do not evaluate properly. Look at the cross table in any GM-level correspondence event where computer use is an accepted fact of life. Somebody always loses most of their games. It’s because the stronger players are better able to get into positions computers misjudge.

Accurate pattern recognition is what separates masters from average players, so breaking complex positions into their basic components is much more likely to facilitate learning. Former world champion Max Euwe said "strategy requires thought, tactics requires observation." What Euwe was saying was an important concept for solving tactical chess problems is pattern recognition.

One of the differences between masters and relatively strong amateurs is in the way they perceive a chess position within the first few seconds. Masters are good at recognizing patterns almost instantly.

Most models for the storage of complex pattern in memory are based on what is know as chunking theory. When masters and amateurs were briefly shown a chess position and then asked to reconstruct it instead of placing one piece after another on the board, masters tended to reconstruct the position by placing groups of pieces on the board. This method is common when one has to memorize a number. We tend to group them into ‘chunks.’ The average untrained person is able to recall a number with up to 7 digits. However, when an individual is given a group of familiar numbers, let's say phone numbers of friends or family, he/she can remember about 7 different numbers.

GM Greg Serper wrote “From my teaching experience I know that sometimes chess players even become discouraged by brilliant games because they doubt their own abilities to ever play like this. Yes, chess is a very complicated game, but fortunately it is a very simple game as well. What I mean is, it is very difficult to play like Tal or Kasparov, calculating 10 moves deep combinations. But in the majority of the games we don’t need to calculate that far, so if you are good in 3-4 move tactics, you can be a very strong chess player. Unfortunately, for many players it is very difficult to calculate even for 3-4 moves ahead.”
“I have a good news for them! It is relatively easy to fix this problem. All you need to do is to learn typical tactical patterns and practice a lot. At some point you’ll be so proficient in typical tactical patterns that you’ll see tactical ideas practically in any position!”

Back in the 1960’s US Senior Master Ken Smith recommended playing over hundreds of unannotated games, spending 5-10 minutes per game and trying to guess the next move. One veteran master advised me this would work, so I tried it.

At first the results were pretty discouraging because I was only scoring about 15-20 percent. My rating at that time was about 1700. After about 3 months and several hundred games the result was approaching 70 percent. My next tournament was a major one in Chicago and I scored 4 straight wins against players rated 1800-2100 and in the last round lost to Chicago legend, 2400+ rated Morris Giles and went home with a trophy and a few dollars.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Interesting Site


This site is available in both Italian and English and offers both tactical and endgame positions for study. From the site: 3400 positions (each file 100) which were primarily taken from actual played games. Each of the tactical combinations was either played or could have been played as a different variation. The tactical problems are graded by level of difficulty.

What I like is you do not need to solve these online or download a db so they can be used with a chess playing program. The problems open in a pdf book which you can then save, read on line or, best of all print. For example the section containing “very hard” problems opens up a 19 page pdf book with problems and solutions. If you want to open them all and print out a book, there’s even a pdf cover page! A very nice site.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Queen Alice Miniature

One disadvantage of playing a lot of games at one time on any server is that you don’t have enough time to adequately check your analysis. It must just be my opinion, but I’d rather play 6 or 8 games well even if it means that I may have to wait a couple days for my opponent to move rather than have dozens of games going on all at the same time.

I’ve never learned to play chess of the computer screen like it was a video game so when the position starts getting complicated and I need to ponder a move, I have to actually set it up on a real board and start shifting plastic so that’s another reason I can’t play a whole lot of games all at once.

In this game my opponent played the Vienna Gambit which is very similar to the K-Gambit. I never accept the K-Gambit because I am not familiar with those types of positions and my experience has been that gambit players are far less knowledgeable of positions resulting from declining their gambit than those that arrive from its acceptance.

Kuarwaki is a pretty strong player so I was surprised to see such an obvious oversight; no doubt from playing too many games without adequate time for analysis.

I’m waaaaaay down the rating list on Queen Alice but am currently in 6th place among U.S. players on the rating list. I’ve played on a couple of sites against players rated over 2400 and have found that they are very hard to defeat regardless of the site you are playing on. For example at Chessworld where I was rated about 2360, I never could break 2400 and the players there at that level seem to be about the same strength as Queen Alice. One thing about Chessworld, several of their top players aren’t anonymous and have verifiable FIDE of BCF ratings. Woman GM Yelena Dembo plays there occasionally.

I know a lot of players will claim everybody at those ratings is using engines, and while some are, not everybody is. I’ve been around long enough to know that there are a lot of good players out there. And I also know something it seems like a lot of players on Internet sites don’t know. A lot of players are better than me and every time I lose it’s not to an engine.

Of course I’m talking server sites here. When you get into official CC play, like with the ICCF, things get kind of dicey because most of those players are a little more serious about their chess than your typical server player. Especially those of us who are too cheap to actually pay for membership on a site.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Voting Results

The votes for how interesting this blog is are in...all three of them. I was a little disappointed that more people didn't vote, but at least nobody voted that the blog should be deleted! I guess that means I'll keep posting because as I stated in the very first post, one purpose for this blog was to keep me from hanging out at McDonalds with all the other retirees in the mornings. For the most part it's succeeded. In any case, thanks to all three of you who voted.

GM William Lombardy

I was preparing a post on GM William Lombardy, another "forgotten" American player, but found this one by Kevin Spraggett who’s post is much more interesting than anything I could write: GM Bill Lombardy: my chess friend

I well remember Lombary participating in nearly ever major US event in the 1960’s and 1970’s and finishing very well in most open tournaments. In the US Championships his results were always solid, but never spectacular. He always seemed to be in time trouble. I met Lombardy when he was playing in the 1975 US Championship and his outstanding characteristic was his friendliness. He was always willing to take time to chat, sign autographs and pose for pictures with the spectators.

Lombardy's Homepage
BTW: As you will no doubt notice Spraggett’s Blog is, well, I don't know how to describe it...interesting?!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Chess in China

China is an emerging chess powerhouse today, but did you know in 1958 through the mid-1960’s their best players met the Soviets? Not very successfully, but it was a beginning. OlimpBase Article

Can Anybody Become a Master?

According to Kevin Spraggett the answer is yes and in an article named Reflections he tells you how to do it. Unconventional, but maybe he’s right. One thing for sure, authors and coaches won’t like his theory because they won’t make any money!

He writes, Many players 'choke' at a certain level and have difficulties getting to the next because they have too much information in their heads! They get confused...remember that in chess what is important is the APPLICATION of information, not the ABSORPTION of information.

For beginners he advises, The first step…means keeping things very simple: learning not to leave your king exposed, being aware of your opponent's immediate threats…But no books! Or at least, no 'formal' chess books…no strategy books, no opening books, nothing 'formal'. Chess information has to be kept to a minimum…

What I found most interesting was his definition of today’s GM and how they think differently that the “classical” players. Spraggett wrote, I've read virtually all of the main 'classics' of chess strategy and tactics, of theories of how to play chess (Steinitz, Lasker, Nimzovich) and the value of positional chess, and I have to agree with gm Mikhail Suba (Romania) when he says that all of those great players and teachers forgot one important thing: CHESS IS A DYNAMIC GAME!

A sound, but passive position is a good starting point to find reasons for your losing the game! You will never catch Kasparov in a sound but passive position...he would much prefer an inferior position with some little counterplay!

Interesting stuff. It may help explain why after reading book after book on improving, most of us never do. Or if we do improve, it's not much. Read the article.

Monday, April 12, 2010


If the student doesn't know how to think correctly he will never be able to play very good chess. Even if he studies much theory, reads many chess books, etc. - WGM Yelena Dembo

In his book The Inner Game of Chess GM Andrew Soltis wrote: "A popular view among amateurs is that grandmasters ... routinely see 10 moves ahead. There are, of course, examples of this by GMs, but they are relatively rare. Much more common is the kind of calculation that calls for seeing not more than two moves into the future".

Not all masters agree on how one should advance but one of the best ways is playing over lots and lots of games. Not games by weak players and I’d avoid today’s modern GM’s. The reason is that they’ve developed a style (for various reasons) where they are often willing to make positional concessions for practical chances because of modern day fast time controls. Thus their games can be confusing and difficult to understand. I’d recommend games of classical masters. Even better are tournament books. Books of “My Best Games” are just that…best games. Better are games where you see GM’s whipping up on IM’s or IM’s pummeling Masters. You see all the warts that don’t make it into game collections and realize not all games by very strong players are masterpieces worthy of print.

Opening theory is fascinating to lower rated players and Fine’s old Ideas Behind the Chess Openings book is still one of the best to get acquainted with the general ideas. However this is not the way to increase playing strength and will actually hinder your advancement if it’s the main thrust of your study program. FM Pelts and GM Lev Alburt in Comprehensive Chess Course (Vol II): "We beg students who are addicted to opening manuals to remember that most players who spend their time studying theory never reach A-level."

Each opening has (or should have) a basic middlegame strategy behind it and all variations will be designed to carry out that strategy. If a move does not fit into the correct strategy, it’s probably not good. This brings us to the point that in order to really improve you must increase your positional understanding, tactical awareness and endgame knowledge. You have to supplement that by playing games AND playing over hundreds of master games. All this is designed to increase chess knowledge in general. That way when a opponent plays something you are not familiar with you will have some idea of the basic strategy and can judge how his move fits in (or not) and have some idea of where to start looking to plan your own strategy. Chess is not three different parts, opening, middle and end. They are all related so your opening should flow into a middlegame with a clearly defined strategy.

Wisdom from GM Nigel Davies: “Players who understand how to play Isolated Queen's Pawns, Gruenfeld/Catalan positions, Hedgehogs or King's Indian Structures never go through the much reported agonies of club players who attempt to memorize things.The last couple of days I've actually found some time to study some chess, printing out 35 selected games in a particular opening and playing through them with a board and pieces. The next step is to look at some details...
This is why it's good to be a generalist, whereby you have more patterns to draw on in any new situations and then draw multiple comparisons. People are often surprised by my ignorance of variations ... but the same is true of many GMs, IMs and just good club players. But if you have a good knowledge of various middlegame positions you will know what to go for and should be able to position your pieces well in the opening.

On the other hand the mnemonic approach to chess openings will leave a player disorientated as soon as something he hasn't studied comes along. And this ALWAYS happens, either when your opponent varies from your line through ignorance or because he cooperates to the VERY END.”

Studying openings in depth is overrated by lower rated players. Opening knowledge will not be of any benefit if your middle and endgame play is weak. Knowledge of opening theory may only mean the difference between an equal position and a slight advantage or disadvantage unless you are a master.

Most players don’t know why they lost a particular game. They blame a blunder, missing a move by their opponent or any of a hundred excuses. Usually there is a whole list of reasons: attitude, bad strategy, missed tactics, but often it’s failure to understand the basics. Most books are about openings. The reason is because most players are not interested in anything else. They are not interested in how to plan or how masters calculate, or endgame theory. Despite their claims most players are simply in a hurry to win a quick game and move on to another. Just look on any Internet site and it’s not unusual to see players with a hundred or more games going at the same time. How can one play that many games at one time and devote sufficient time to each individual game to play it well? They are the same players who buy opening books that promise them they will win more games if they play a particular opening. They will study tactics until they can do the exercises fast and accurately then complain because they still miss them in their own games.

Most players think that they already know chess basics, so why spend the time learning them again? But Jeremy Silman has discovered most players fail miserably and lack the understanding of basic fundamentals. They have problems with a lack of understanding concerning the purpose of the opening, no knowledge of planning and the thinking processes, no understanding of elementary endings. Nor do they understand how the opening, middle game and ending are related.

Here’s the list of books I learned the most from (most are long out of print):
Modern Chess Strategy-Ludek Pachman Taught me how to handle each piece and situations they operate best in.
100 Selected Games-Botvinnik
Reshevsky's Best Games-Reshevsky
These two books taught me how to apply what I learned in Pachman’s book. I learned much about all phases of the game including the openings I played. These are the first chess books I had.
Tarrasch's Best Games-Reinfeld. These are games of the "classic" style and it was one of the much maligned Fred Reinfeld's best books.
Modern Endgame in Theory and Practice-Griffith. Learned endgame basics from this well-written book.
Search for Chess Perfection-Purdy. A potpourri of easy to understand advice and instruction explained in a clear, concise manner, well annotated games and a bio.
The Road To Chess Mastery-Yermolinsky. Wish I’d had this book 50 years ago. No phony promises but he tells you how to study. This book should be a classic but it’s not likely it ever will because Yermo doesn’t make any promises or offer any quick, easy solutions. What he advocates is work.

Enjoyable books:
The Art of Bisguier Vol 1&2-Bisguier. Great games by a colorful player.
Super Nezh-Damsky. Nezhmetdinov’s games are just fun to play through if you like attacking chess, or if you don’t they are still great fun to play over. If you like Tahl, you'll like Nezh.
My Best Games-Tartakower. Another colorful player with fascinating games.
500 Master Games-Tartakower. Classic games arranged by opening.

Never read any "beginner" books, opening books or books on tactics. The latter two came much later. I just started off studying best game collections and strategy and a little of endings, especially K&P and R&P. My approach back then was totally opposite to that of so many players today, but it must have had some merit because my initial rating was 1667 and it never went any lower.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Scotts Lawn Service

This isn’t a chess post. It has nothing to do with chess. I just vented my spleen at the above company over the phone but I still feel the need to tell somebody.

Scotts Lawn Service is a national company that advertises “It's not always easy to keep your lawn beautiful. That's why there's Scotts Lawn Service. We bring the expertise your lawn needs to be its best. And we make sure your lawn gets exactly the treatments it needs, exactly when it needs them. All season long.”

Because we have a woods and large field behind our house weeds are always a problem. In addition there’s something that looks like moss and ferns growing in the front yard. So when I got an advertisement in the mail for a FREE evaluation, a representative called me and set up an appointment to evaluate the problem, discuss treatment and pricing. The appointment was for two weeks ago. They did not show; nor did they call.

So backing out of my driveway this morning I saw a small sign in my front yard saying that it had been sprayed. There was also an envelope attached to my front door saying services performed were “mowing, watering and inspection.” Of course that was not a correct description of what was done. On the evaluation section it said “yard has some weeds.” That’s an evaluation?! I already knew I that…it was one of the reasons I called them in the first place. They had also applied some kind of spray to the entire yard.

The service person apparently had done this about 11:00 am. Both my wife and I were in the house at the time, but the person never bothered to knock on the door and let us know they were there.

Of course there was also a bill for $31.97! I immediately called them to complain and advise them I am not paying them for this unauthorized service and that in the future I do not want them on my property. What a way to run a business! If you live in the U.S. do not even think of using this company for lawn care!

Follow up: Couple of days later I got a bill in the mail (in addition to the one on the door) for 6 treatments throughout the year at $42 each (I was told on the phone there would be 4 at $32) plus $62 for grub treatment. The presence of grubs was not verified. I told the guy on the phone I might have grubs. So they wanted over $300 for a season's worth of "service" and that was in addition to the $32 they already billed me. At the risk of repeating myself, DO NOT USE THESE GUYS!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Playchess 7 min. Game

In this 7-minute game on Playchess I abandoned my favorite Torre Attack in favor of the Queen’s Gambit. My opponent played the Slav Defense and I opted for the Exchange Variation. The QGD Slav Defense, Exchange Variation is a safe continuation for White that often leads to a draw. BUT…Black has to play accurately because if he is not careful he can land in trouble because his game can be a little cramped and passive.

If Black wants to win at all costs then he probably should avoid the Exchange Variation with 2. …e6 first and play …c6 later, arriving at the Semi-Slav. In this game Black didn’t make any serious opening errors but never really had any serious play either.

Chess Blogs on Blogger

This morning I was browsing various Blogs that appear on Blogger...there are 50 pages of them! Many have been abandoned but many are actice. Of course I couldn't check them all out, but here are a few up-to-date Blogs that I did stop to look over so I thought I'd post them.

chess improvement After five years of constant and peripatetic email writing, I have finally landed. I plan to write about current and world affairs, economic and environmental sustainability, chess study and improvement, quantitative investing and trading, workplace issues, relationships, and spiritual transformation.
chessexpress A blog mainly devoted to chess.
The Chess Museum A blog about the chess activities of "Gilbert & Lange Chess," Thinkers' Press, inc. (imagination) and the commercial products I handle as well as recommendations and experienced opinions. Bob Long has been writing about these since 1985 and publishing them on the web from 1997-early 2009. I have started, once again
Lousy at Chess
Jewish Chess History A Blog about Chess in Palestine and Israel, from its inception to contemporary times
Chess in Education The Chess Academy Bringing Chess Into Education
My Chess Life

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Painful Memory

In the summer of 1962 I was a about to enter my senior year in high school and had only played in one otb tournament in my life, the 1961 Ohio Junior Championship, where I had finished +1 –2 =2 and had a provisional rating of 1667. I remember taking a bus to Cincinnati, Ohio and rooming at the YMCA where the Cincinnati Open was being held.

In the first round I met the venerable Rea B. Hayes. The fact that Hayes was an Expert was a big deal in those days. The USCF only had about 6000 members so there were only about 50-60 Masters in the whole country and you almost never actually saw one. (I remember one event where everybody was all atwitter because we heard a 2202 rated master was an advance entry!)

Anyway. back to my story. It was in the days before accelerated parings and class events, so I met Hayes in the first round. We played a Sicilian, Dragon Variation. I don’t know why I played the Dragon. I knew almost nothing about it and when Hayes played the Levenfish Variation I knew enough to know it was supposed to be a dangerous attacking line. That was enough to make me really nervous about facing it and I was totally on my own resources. Things got messy fast and about halfway through the game I realized there was a whole gaggle of spectators watching as some unknown kid was giving Hayes a hard time on board one. What soon happened was that I got scared because my opponent was an Expert, started seeing ghosts, made some inferior moves and finally resigned a little early but the game was lost anyway.

Immediately after the game another player, an Expert from Chicago (you had to travel a long way in those days to play in a tournament), started showing me ways I could have played better and maybe scored a big upset. Unfortunately, I wasn’t up to the challenge of taking advantage of the opportunities my higher rated opponent afforded me. But isn’t that always the way it is?

I haven’t forgotten the game where my 2500 rated IM opponent actually dropped a N to a two mover at move 10. He didn’t resign and it got to the point both of us were so nervous (me because I realized I was beating an IM and him because he realized he was losing to a rating challenged nobody) that our hands were shaking like a leaf when we moved. I eventually blundered the piece back and lost. You can’t see that game though. Both of us were so disgusted with our play we both threw our scoresheets in the trash on the way out.

Chess Videos Sample

Recommend you check out Chess Videos for games with comments by the players. Here’s a good example of a game between FM Ingvar Thor Johannesson vs GM Stelios Halkias. Their comments are always interesting just to see how good players think. BTW IM Greg Shahade is a frequent poster.

My Favorite Player

I always liked Reshevsky’s style. It always seemed to me his moves were simple yet strong. I always liked his straightforward, practical play. He was an excellent tactician, but you rarely saw a lot of flashy combinations in his play. This win against Kramer shows how easy he made things look.

Samuel Reshevsky – George Kramer
US Championship 1954-55
Nimzo-Indian Defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 b6
I don't really care for this line because the B seems to always get blocked. I prefer the sharp 4....c5. Solid is 4....O-O.
5.Nge2 Bb7
5...Ba6 6.Ng3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d5 offer Black the best play.
6.a3 Bxc3+
Not the best because it relinquishes the 2B's. Black has had the most success with the simple retreat 6....Be7.
7.Nxc3 0–0
A satisfactory alternative is 7...d5 8.cxd5 exd5
This is best. 8.d5 c6 ( 8...Qe7 9.Be2 d6 10.0–0 c6 11.dxe6 Qxe6 Euwe-Capablanca, Amsterdam 1931 also lead to a quick draw.) 9.e4 exd5 10.exd5 Qe7+ 11.Be2 cxd5 12.cxd5 Qe5 with a quick draw in Gligoric-Trifunovic, Zagreb 1953.
8...Bxg2 is too risky because after 9.Rg1 Bb7 10.e4 White has a strong attack. A good line is 8...c5 9.d5 b5 10.0–0 bxc4 11.Bxc4 exd5 12.Nxd5 as played in Botvinnik-Bronstein in the 13th game of their World Championship match in 1951
If 8...d5 9.0–0 Nbd7 10.b4 Larry Evans recommends 10...e5 but it would seem that after 11.Nxd5 Bxd5 12.cxd5 exd4 13.e4 White has the upper hand. Better for Black was10...dxc4 11.Bxc4 c5 as in Bareev-Timman, Hoogovens 1995.
9.e4 e5


White is free to operate on either side of the board and it's difficult to suggest an active plan for Black. Against Reshevsky it's reasonable to assume that Kramer is strategically lost at this point.
10...Nbd7 11.0–0 Re8
Played with the idea of getting the N to g3, but it will accomplish very little when it arrives there. Black is feeling the loss of his dark squared B and is going to find counterplay difficult. 11...Ne8 followed by ...g6, ...Ng7 and ...f5 is recommended by Evans but 12.b4 g6 13.Bh6 Ng7 doesn't look so good to me.

11...a5 trying to hold White at bay on the Q-side looks like a better try. 12.Be3 Nc5 13.Bc2 h6 looks more reasonable.
12.Be3 Nf8 13.b4 Ng6 14.g3
This little move makes sure the N will never gets to f4 and reminds Black of the possibility of White's playing f4 at some point. 14.c5 straightway was also playable. 14...Qe7 15.Rc1 with a comfortable game.
This is an ugly little move that just opens up the Q-side for White. 14...Bc8 trying to get is out of play B into the game on the K-side was better.
15.dxc6 Bxc6 then doubling R's on the c-file is also playable.

15...cxd5 16.cxd5 Rc8 17.Rfc1 Re7 18.a4 Rec7 trying to eliminate some of the pressure by trading R's on the c-file offers some hope but after 19.Nb5 Rxc1+ 20.Rxc1 Rxc1+ 21.Bxc1 a6 22.Na3 Qc8 23.Qc2 Qxc2 24.Bxc2 Ne7 25.Nc4 White is better.
16.Rfc1 h6 17.f3
White is dawdling. Correct is 17.dxc6 at once. 17...Bxc6 18.f3 Nf8 19.Qf2 Ne6 20.a4
This was his last chance to play 17...cxd5 18.cxd5 Re7
18.dxc6 Bxc6 19.a4
Black will be helpless against the opening of lines on the Q-side.
19...Rb8 20.a5 Nf8 21.axb6 axb6 22.Nd5
White now has a very nice position. Reshevsky's technique is instructive.
22...Bxd5 23.cxd5 Rec8 24.Bb5 Rxc1+ 25.Rxc1 Qd8 26.Rc6
23.Ra6 N6d7 24.Qf2 Bb7

White can't play 25.Bxb6? because it would throw away the win. After 25...Nxb6 26.Rxb6 Bxd5 27.Rxb8 Qxb8 28.cxd5 Qxb4 the game is only a draw.
25...Bc6 26.Bf1 Ne6 27.Rd1 b5
This loses a P, but it's the best he has. 27...Bxd5 28.cxd5 Nd4 29.Bxd4 exd4 30.Qxd4 isn't any better.
Even stronger appears 28.c5 dxc5 29.bxc5 Qc8 30.Nb4
28...Bxd5 29.cxd5 Nd4 30.Bxd4 exd4 31.Qxd4 Ne5 32.Kg2 Re7 33.f4
Driving back Black's only well placed piece.
33...Ng6 34.Rc1 Qd7 35.h3 h5 36.Rcc6 h4 37.Rxd6 Qe8 38.e5 hxg3 39.Bd3 f6
Neither better nor worse than 39...Nf8 40.Kxg3 Reb7 41.Rdb6 Qc8 42.Rxb7 Rxb7 43.d6
40.e6 Nh4+ 41.Kxg3 Qh5
And with this move, reaching the time control Black resigned. There really isn't much point in playing on after 42.Rdb6 Rbe8 43.Rxb5

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Video Honoring Smyslov

I recommend the following video on Chess Videos by Dennis Monokroussos honoring the recently deceased Vasily Smyslov. You will have to register, but it’s free and the site is a good one. View

From the Archives

The following game was played in the finals of the Golden Knights US Open Championship. My opponent later became well known for donating prizes in memory of his wife in both CC and OTB chess for brilliancies, swindles, best endings, etc. He was also a renowned physicist known for founding a senior-care facility and Alzheimer's support group in his community.
enior-care facility and Alzheimer's support group in his community.


I ran across an old Blog post of several years ago where someone asked the question about the predominant use of pseudonyms in chess blogs and why bloggers often don’t give any clue to their identity. Good question!

One reply said anonymity was most likely directly related to ego. Some chess players love to pontificate online about how great a player they are or their recent conquests and remain anonymous so those claims can go unchecked. At the same time the poster asked the question “Does it matter who I am? Does that change the value of the advice? Does it make the advice less useful?” Or. I might add does it make the blog any less interesting? Another poster commented most people are not honest with themselves and the public concerning their results and their self-training methods and as a result are not willing to identify themselves.

So I got to thinking about why I don’t reveal my real name on this Blog. The truth is nobody who reads this Blog is probably going to remember me from my OTB or postal days of 30 years ago and any ratings I had back then are so obsolete as to be meaningless. Thus those old ratings are irrelevant. Even my official US/ICCF, Queen Alice and Chessworld ratings are meaningless in these days of chess engines…even less meaningless than they were back in the day when there were no computers; nobody took postal ratings seriously even then. I remember one OTB tournament that advertised free entry to Grandmasters and when a Correspondence GM tried to enter for free, he was refused. CC GM titles weren’t “real.”

I’m not selling anything, so any advice I may give here works because I followed it at one time or another myself. It’s not stuff I thought up on my own anyway. Most advice I give has been culled from guys like CJS Purdy, Ken Smith and others who are far more qualified to give it than I am. But, like I said, I know it works. I haven’t actually studied chess for 20 years and most of the stuff I post here isn’t instructional anyway. It’s just stuff I find interesting.

The names I post under are the names I use on the Internet so anybody can look up my games and results if they were really that interested. They could also check my games with Fritz if they are interested in checking for engine use and quality, but so far, I haven’t come across anybody that interested!

Safety and security is also an issue I suppose. In all the years I played postal chess against people who had my home address, including many opponents who were incarcerated, I never had one show up at my door. There was one strange case of a letter from some teenager I never heard of asking me if I was willing to give him chess lessons and asking about fees. I had no idea of how he got my name or address, but wasn’t interested in giving him any lessons. But these days the Internet is different. Some people I’ve witnessed in action on the Internet are scary! Of course most of it is meaningless trash talk, but you never know. After all my first Blog was hacked and you have to be pretty desperate to hack an insignificant Blog like this one.

Anyway, the purpose of this Blog is, as I noted in my first post, to keep me from drinking coffee at McDonald’s in the mornings. It gives me something to do and like all my anonymous chess games on the Internet, nobody cares about my real name.

Also even giving a “real” name doesn’t mean anything. A few years ago one Internet site had had an IM playing and posting. He was discovered to be a fraud and got kicked off the site. Then there was the case of a certain GM who kept popping up on several sites, had his own website, and eventually became the owner of one site. He was a fraud. I know because he asked me to become a moderator on his site and during the course of several pm’s it became clear to me he wasn’t the GM he was claiming to be, so I refused. I’ve been accused of being a highly rated correspondence player…not so. One guy even asked if I was the well-known CC player John C. Knudsen! That was laugh; I’m not.

Monday, April 5, 2010

DB Books

I added a link to DB Books. This site offers downloads of games (in either pgn or Chessbase format) without annotations that are contained in various chess books.  Games by individual players, general games, openings, tactics, strategy and endings.

The idea is you download these games then play over them using an engine. I guess it would be possible to learn something, but without human explanations of the moves it's not likely, so just play over them for enjoyment.

Dr. Alexander Alekhine

One of the first players I learned about as a beginner was Dr. Alexander Alekhine. He was a fascinating character and even today much mystery surrounds him. Here are some interesting links concerning him

His bio from All Experts
The Mystery of Alekhine’s Death By Edward Winter: “Contradictory accounts of Alekhine’s death are rife, and here we present the main evidence and miscellaneous related claims.”
Chessbase article
Chess Poster article

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Chess Review January 1959 issue

I was just browsing an old issue of Chess Review, The Picture Chess Magazine, published by Al Horowitz. This was the best chess magazine available in the U.S. in those days; its quality far surpassing the USCF’s Chess Life. Chess Review offered the best correspondence chess available in those days and many of the days’ lesser masters played in their tournaments.

The EF for those postal events was $3.50 and was good for all three rounds if you qualified. First prize was $250, 2nd was $100 all the way down to $15 for 10th place. There also were 65 prizes of $5 each for finishing 11th to 75th. Qualifying for the finals got you a Golden Knights lapel pin even if you finished out of the money! I had about a half dozen of them tarnishing in a desk drawer for years before I threw them out.

Looking at the leader board for the 1952-3 championship event showed that I. Zalys was in first followed by Reuben Klugman. Both were otb masters and Klugman was the winner of at least one USCC championship. I think he was from New York City.

Further down the list were a lot of names that wouldn’t mean anything to anybody today, but I remember their names from the early 1960’s. I played a couple of them in later years and even came to know a couple personally having met them at otb events later on. I see the name of one new ‘postalite’ as we were called, starting out in Class C who later became a strong Maryland otb master. Starting out in Class B was a player named Bernard Zuckerman who a few years later was to become an IM and play in several international events and US Championships. He was known for his theoretical knowledge of openings.

1959 was the year I played in my first postal tournament with the Correspondence Chess League of America. I remember how excited I was when I got their information package in the mail. Prior to that I'd only played over games in books and a couple of school friends. The CCLA! Man, that was big time! I started out in Class C and lost my first game, a Bird Opening, against a player from Pittsburgh, in 9 moves when I played an early g5 and got mated. If memory serves I finished 4-2 in that event. It was these postal events that inspired me to convince my mother and sister to take me to Dayton, Ohio, two years later to play in the Ohio Junior Championship. I scored +1 -2 =2 and got an ititial rating of 1667. I still remember my first round game. It was a draw against a player rated 1802 which we both thought was solidly played until one of the other players pointed out my opponent had missed a mating attack. You know how one thing leads to another. This was the tournament that enabled me to convince my dad to part with $30 to buy me a chess clock for use in future events.

To continue…
The magazine cost $0.50 an issue and $6.00 a year. The front cover has a picture of Colombian master Miguel Cuellar giving a simul in Washington, D.C. His record was +32 –4 =11.

Holland Beat England in a match by 11-9. For Holland, Euwe beat Penrose, Orbaan beat Fazekas. On the English side, Clarke and Parr defeated Cortlever and Spanjaard.

OTB GM V. Ragozin of Russia (as it was called in those days) won the world CC championship with a score of 11-3 ahead of L. Endzelins and GM Lothar Schmid. Chess Review noted CJS Purdy was the previous champion (in 1953) and did not play in this one. The ICCF conferred GM titles on: Purdy (Australia), Malmgren (Sweden), Napolitano (Italy), Barda (Sweden), Ragozin (Russia), Endzelins (Australia) and Schmid (West Germany).

Three rounds of the US Championship had been completed and Larry Evans stood at 3-1 while Bobby Fischer was 2nd at 2.5-1.5. Other players were: Bisguier, Lombardy, Reshevsky, Sherwin, D. Byrne, Weinstein, R. Byrne, Benko, Kalme and Mednis.

Prior to the US Champ. Pal Benko had won the North Central Open ahead of masters Ivan Theodorovitch (Canada) and Povilas Tautvaisas. Stephan Popel, the defending champion was next.

The Eastern States Campionship was won by William Lombardy ahead of masters Weaver Adams, Lev Blonarovych and Saul Wanatek.

Many-time North Carolina Champion, Oliver Hutaff (who BTW was publisher of the Wilmington, NC newspaper) won the Raleigh 30-30 tournament. Expert David Steele, who was to crush me a few years later when I was stationed at the US Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in another tournament in Raleigh, won the junior prize.

There was a letter to the editor from a doctor in Winter Park, Florida who suggested that we needed an American chess champion. His proposal was to have the winner of the popular TV game show, The $64,000 Question, take up chess, memorize two opening books, Chess Openings and Modern Chess Openings, then “then Russian masters would have to cower.” How naive was that?

The 1959 Glass City Open was being held at the Toledo, Ohio YMCA at the end of January. Entry Fee: $5.00. Trophy and half of the prize fund (which was 60% of the EF) was for first place. If a hundred people played (and that would have been a lot for Toledo) then first prize was $150. I lived in Toledo for a couple years after I got out of the military and knew the YMCA there quite well. How was it for a venue? Let’s just say Bobby Fischer would never had played there.

There was a reprint of an article appearing in Shakhmaty v SSSR written by a journalist/player who had visited New York the year before. He described his meeting with Bobby Fischer. At best Fischer appeared to be a pesky little snot who tried to wheedle the author into getting his games published in the USSR.

Regular columns by Dr. Max Euwe (endings) and Walter Korn (MCO editor on openings), and article on Tahl by Arthur Bisguier also appear. There was also Horowitz’ regular column featuring readers' games and Hans Kmoch’s annotations of games from recent events. BTW I once checked some of Kmoch’s annotations using Fritz and found them to be horrible; absolutely horrible. But in those days there wasn’t any Fritz and Kmoch was an IM, so who was going to question him?

John W. Colloins, Fischer’s early mentor also annotated readers’ postal games. The way Horowitz reported postal results can only be described as “quaint.” They read as follows: Kilmer conks Rothschild, Walters whips Patterson, Mortensen nips Neideman, Stephens stops Greenspan, etc.

John Tums

Janis "John" Tums, born in Jekabpils, Latvia, Dec. 14, 1928, passed away peacefully at his home in Oak Park, Illinois on Sept. 28, 2009. Tums was a Chicago and Illinois Champion, and chess and golf brought him much joy throughout his life. A graduate of Illinois Institute of Technology, he spent his career at Pyle-National in Chicago working as a mechanical engineer. He was a quiet, intelligent, cerebral man with great love for his children, his homeland of Latvia, and his fraternity Lettgallia. He was coauthor of a book of Tahl’s best games published in 1961.

Tums was one of the many Latvians displaced from their homes in World War II. He spent his teenage years in displaced person camps in Europe until his family immigrated to the United States and settled in Chicago in 1950. He married in 1954, and in1962 he settled with his family in Oak Park, IL. Tums was just another journeyman master of his day but his name regularly appeared in the crosstables of all the major tournaments in the Chicago area during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Here’s a game against Hugh Mayer. Mayer was known for his booklets containing analysis on openings…mostly offbeat stuff.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Chessboard

Reflections on Becoming a Master Player was originally posted on Chesstalk back in 2000 by Canadian GM Kevin Spraggat. He had some interesting thoughts on the subject and I recommend reading the whole article.

Especially interesting to me were his thoughts on the board itself; something that is often neglected in most books. Here are some excerpts. Again, read the whole article!

It has always surprised me how little time books spend explaining the importance of the chessboard in itself. It has an importance more than just being the 'table' on which the game takes place...

Knowing the characteristics of the board is extremely important. Books spend too much time on the pieces, not realizing that much is missed by neglecting a closer study of the relationship of the board with each separate piece.

A lot of players have difficulty visualizing a chess board. You can ask them to close their eyes and then quiz them on squares (what colour they are), on diagonals (what squares are attached to them), files, etc. My experience as a trainer is that many players have difficulty doing so.

This is compounded by the popularly held belief that it is unimportant...But it is important because of how the brain works! The thinking process in chess involves the use of our eyes as well as our ''mind's eye''. Our mind's eye sees the board in a different way, as it can not 'visulalize' the board as a whole it must break the board down into components, with each component being geometrically related to the others.

If we haven't consciously understood the geometry of the board sufficiently and all of the implications with respect to each and every piece, then our mind's eye (our way of imagining the board) will not appreciate the whole board, and hence certain tactical oversights may go unnoticed.

For instance, how often do we hear the stories of our chess friends explaining to us why they lost such and such a game...they had it all 'figured out', and then at the last moment (too late to help them) they noticed that the piece they wanted to move to such and such a square just couldn't do it. (it being an illegal move)
In the '80's appeared a new generation of chess stars from the Soviet Union who created quite a splash, not so much because they were such fantastic players, but because of what they did at the chess board: they spent more time looking at the cieling ( or the spectators) than they did at the chessboard.

I remember the first time I played Shirov. It was '90, Paris, and I was paired against this relatively unknown youngster from Latvia. I played my normal game, and was quite astonished when I noticed that he would only look at the board from time to time, and that most of the time he spent staring at the ceiling! I still remember thinking that there was something quite wrong with the fellow! But was I amazed by what this guy ''saw''!! I still am impressed. He was combining the usual 'visual' chess thinking with, what for lack of a better word, 'blindfold' chess thinking, and the results were very impressive. Even to this day he employs this technique.

Other players of his generation who did this also are Ivanchuk, and Gelfand. But it is a mistake to think that these players just 'happened' upon this new technique: it was a technique developed by Soviet trainers looking for a way for the new generation of young players to get an edge on the existing generations.
There are a whole slew of exercises you can use to improve your 'awareness' of the board. Start with an empty board. Put a knight on the board, say on a1. Did you know already that to get to b2 takes as much time for the knight as it takes for it to reach the 8th rank?? (Four moves) It is certainly not intuitive, but that is because it has to do with the unique characteristics of the board and the knight. Then try exercises with combinations of pieces, such as Q and R or Q and B.

Spraggat also listed on his site (not updated) a list of “thirty-odd books that no self respecting GM would ever be found dead NOT having in his library...(please note that this only includes books published before '85, and does not include 'good stuff' published since...)” Just out of curiosity I checked to see how many I had, or rather have had because I donated most of my chess books years ago. The total was 22 and they are maked in red.

Complete Chess Strategy, by Pachman (3 vol)
The Middle Game in Chess, by Euwe (2 vol) (Static Features, Dynamic Features)
500 Master Games of Chess, by Tartakover
Lasker's Manual, by Em.Lasker
Common Sense in Chess, by Em.Lasker
Chess from Morphy to Botvinnik, by Konig
Pachman's Decisive Games, by Pachman
Tarrasch's Best Games, by Reinfeld
Life and games of Mikhail Tal, by Tal
Fischer's 60 Memorable Games
Rubinstein's Chess Masterpieces, by Kmoch
Pawn Power in Chess, by Kmoch
Paul Keres' Best Games, by P.Keres (no, not the 'Nunn' edition)
Botvinnik's 100 Selected Games, by Botvinnikn himself (Mr. Soviet Chess )
Zurich '53, by Bronstein (one of the ten best of all time)
Nottingham '36, by Alekhine
Practical Chess Endings, by Keres (the 'must' first book of endings)
Tal vs Botvinnik Match of '60, by Tal himself (one of the top ten)
Ideas Behind the Openings, by Fine
Art of Positional Chess, by Reshevsky (truly great book)
The Application of Chess Theory, by Geller (or how to beat the world champions)
The Art of Attack in Chess, by Vukovich (or how to 'screw' your opponent)
A Guide to the Chess Endings, by Euwe
How Not to Play Chess, by Borovsky (a great book)
Chess Improviser, by Bronstein (one of the greatest books of all time)
Hypermodern Chess, by Reinfeld (again, he didn't play any of these games...)
From Steinitz to Fischer , by Euve
World Chess Championship '37, by Alekhine (necessary reading)
Art of the Middle Game, by Keres and Kotov (super book)
Dynamic Chess, by Coles (great book by complete unknown)
My Best Games of Chess , by Tartakover (one of the best of all time)
Meet the Masters, by Euwe
GM Preparation, by Polugaevsky (one of the top ten)
125 Selected Games, by Smyslov
My Best Games of Chess, by Alekhine (3 vol)
The Chess Terrorist, by Shamkovich (great reading)