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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Engine Tournament Test

This isn't very scientific but this morning I ran a double round 5 minute tournament and the results were:

I didn't include the free Rybka program because I haven't put it on the new computer. I don't see any need for it. As far as I can see there's really no reason to buy anything when you can get everything you really need free.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Engine Comparison

Engines are very strong at tactical analysis, but weaker in quiet positions where strategy is required.

The endgames of chess programs are often enhanced by the use of endgame tablebases. But to be really effective these tablebases require a tremendous amount of disk space. I advise, if one needs ending analysis, you use Shredder’s online 6-piece tablebase.

The most popular chess engine protocol under use and probably supporting the strongest engine play is UCI (universal chess interface). These UCI protocols are stronger than the old XBoard/WinBoard engines. The top engines on the SSDF rating list are


1 -Deep Rybka 3 x64 2GB Q6600 2,4 GHz 3213
2 -Naum 4.2 MP x64 2GB Q6600 2,4 GHz 3168
3 -Naum 4 x64 2GB Q6600 2,4 GHz 3142
4 -Hiarcs 13.1 2GB Q6600 2,4 GHz 3122
5 -Deep Shredder 12 x64 2GB Q6600 2,4 GHz 3117
6 -Deep Fritz 12 2GB Q6600 2,4 GHz 3110
7 -Deep Rybka 3 256MB Athlon 1200 MHz 3084
8 -Deep Fritz 11 2GB Q6600 2,4 GHz 3073
9 -Zappa Mexico II x64 2GB Q6600 2,4 GHz 3061
10 -Naum 3.1 x64 2GB Q6600 2,4 GHz 3045
11 -Deep Hiarcs 12 2GB Q6600 2,4 GHz 3034
12 -Deep Shredder 11 x64 2GB Q6600 2,4 GHz 3029
13 -Hiarcs 11.2 MP 2GB Q6600 2,4 GHz 3001
14 -Glaurung 2.2 x64 MP 2GB Q6600 2,4 GHz 3000
15 -Naum 4 256MB Athlon 1200 MHz 2992
16 -Shredder 12 256MB A1200 MHz 2980
17 -Deep Junior 10.1 2GB Q6600 2,4 GHz 2975
18 -Fritz 12 256MB A1200 MHz 2939
19 -Rybka 2.3.1 Arena 256MB Athlon 1200 MHz 2920
20 -Fritz 11 256MB Athlon 1200 MHz 2912

These ratings are based on engine vs. engine play. Engines that are designed to be run on multiple processors are denoted by the term "Deep."

Unless you are a titled CC player participating in top level CC tournaments you are not going to purchase 4 CPUs to run your engine.

There are many free engines available that, for the most part will meet all the requirements of the average player. One such engine that does not appear on the SSDF list is Houdini. In an unscientific experimental blitz match I conducted, Houdini easily defeated Fritz 12 and the free Rybka engine.

Chessbase is the world's premier supplier of engines. Their engines come with the Fritz interface which is a database that allows you to perform many advanced database operations. The Fritz interface also had the best printout of all the programs. Purchases from Chessbase also include a 1-year subscription to the site PlayChess.com.

Rybka is more conservative in its evaluations. For example, if Fritz or Shredder think White is better by 1.5 pawns, Rybka often only considers White to be up only 1.0 pawn. Shredder’s attacks are not as speculative as previous versions.

The developers of Junior claim they haven't developed Junior to have the highest rating, but have tried to enable humans to gain new insights and understanding in the game. Junior is a very aggressive engine and its particularly strong at considering compensation in the case of material imbalances. This makes Junior an interesting in exploring sacrificial attacks and sharp positions.

As GM john Nunn points out, "all are extremely strong tactically, while all show deficiencies in quiet positions"

The SSDF tests are mainly commercial engines. For those that are interested in free engines, you should checkout Kirill Kryukov’s site KCEC.

He has run tests on a variety of freeware engines. The top rated engines are: Fruit, Spike, Glaurung, Naum, Bright, Alaric, Scorpio, E.T. Chess, etc. Unfortunately, again, Houdini is not on his list.

In so far as I know, nobody has compared free engines against commercial engines. I can understand this. Producers of commercial engines, naturally, would not like seeing their engines losing to freeware. Freeware authors can’t afford to purchase several hundred dollars worth of software required to run engine vs. engine tournaments.

All chess players these days use engines to some extent. IMO they are of little value in improving your play with the exception of pointing out tactical errors. They do nothing to help you understand how to evaluate a position and it is precisely evaluating positions that distinguishes players of varying strengths. GM’s are better than the rest of us because they know how to correctly evaluate which moves are good and which ones aren’t. Engines are notoriously not very good in playing endings either.

As a serious correspondence player, I use Chessbase Light and paid for the upgraded version simply because I needed to be able to access databases containing more than the 8000 game limit so as to research openings and GM games to see how they played various types of middlegames. When it comes to actually studying chess, about all engines are good for is 1) trying out different moves to see how they compare. 2) playing over games while trying to guess the next move as a means of increasing your pattern recognition skills. 3) Researching games to see how GM’s played certain types of positions. Beyond that engine analysis won’t tell you why certain moves are better than others. The exception is that engine suppliers offer a wide variety of programs designed for helping you study various aspects of the game.

Personally, if I were going to study chess with the goal of improving, I would use a good chess book in conjunction with a freeware engine to play over the games and positions from the book.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How Good Were 1800’s 35 Years Ago?

Winning moves do come about because of the brilliance of the players but because of the soundness of their position. That has nothing to do with this post. It’s something GM Andy Soltis said and I thought I’d throw it in.

I was looking through the database of my games the other day and got to wondering what the difference between ratings of today and days gone by might be. After all at the top of the rating list the ratings keep going up. Thirty five years ago world class players were ~2600 and garden variety GM’s often were mid-2400. I don’t know the answer but here’s an OTB game I played in tournament in 1975. We were both rated in the low 1800’s so you be the judge.

Chess Videos.tv

This is a great website with many master commentary videos. Many of the master level videos are like sitting in on a post mortem as they explain the game.  Here’s a link to a sample video of a game played and commented on by IM Greg Shahade. WATCH!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Modern Chess Analysis by Robin Smith

I first came across a review for this book a couple years ago and found the review interesting, but never actually saw it for sale anywhere. I suspect the reason is because it’s not a book about improving your play using normal methods. It’s a book that focuses on using computers to improve your chess and attempts to assist serious players in improving their analysis.

Robin Smith is a correspondence chess grandmaster title and has twice been USA correspondence champion. He also won a world correspondence chess championship semi-final. SO Smith plays chess in a world where use of engines to assist in researching games and finding plans is a major factor.

I suspect one reason it turned out not to be a hot seller is because Smith starts with what to look for in purchasing a computer for use in playing chess. He discusses things like processor speed, memory, hash tables, etc. and even recommends specific models of computers. The problem is the book was published in 2004 so all that information was probably outdated even before the book was published! All top level CC players have the latest software and hardware, something most of us are unlikely be concerned with. Many of them run linked computers, let them analyze overnight, etc. That’s a lot of work, but that’s what it takes if you’re a titled CC player!

Despite the technical aspect which, unless you’re a computer geek as opposed to a chess geek, his discussion about the strengths of computers versus human players is quite interesting. Of course we all know engines are superior in doing tactical calculations and humans are better at long range planning. Another thing that probably outdated the book fairly quickly was his comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of various chess playing programs. All of that has probably changed in the last 10 years, making it all irrelevant today. Again, if you are technically oriented he discusses how different engines come up with their numerical assessment of a position. He also shows types of positions where computer evaluation is inaccurate.

He covers exceptions to the chess “rules” that engines use in deciding the evaluations of moves. What makes this interesting is his belief that unusual material imbalances are difficult engines to evaluate. This is encouraging because if you played through a couple games I posted on this Blog, you’ll remember there were some positions with material imbalances where I said I wasn’t so sure of the computers optimistic evaluation. Maybe I was right! Smith’s explanation as to when computer-assisted analysis is useful, and when it should be treated with caution, is instructive.

He then examines various methods for using the computer for analysis. Surprisingly he says the best use of the computer is as a sparring partner, where you try to come up with plans and then use the computer to check them. One disadvantage to this I see is that most of us aren’t strong enough to do that! It also validates my long standing claim that to rise to the top of the correspondence chess world you have to be a pretty good player to begin with. There’s more to playing at that level than just buying an engine. To rise to the top, you are going to have to be able to use your engine and your brain to defeat the other guys who are just using an engine to generate their moves.

Strong CC players recommend using more than one engine when analyzing because as Smith points out, there can be substantially differing results based on the program. He advises caution about reading too much into computer evaluations and he’s not the first strong CC player who has said this. Smith claims engine evaluations can’t always be trusted, even in tactical situations so he recommends conducting an engine tournament to test the evaluations. He also examines practical computer use and covers areas where computers may not be particularly useful.

So the short version is that those of us who thought engine evaluations were infallible will have our bubble burst. In short I don’t think this book will be of much use for the average player. It’s value might be in helping some aspiring correspondence players break through the gaggle of engine users lurking above a certain level in serious international play. Of course the real fly in the ointment here is that most of us don’t know when an engine’s output is useless and when it isn’t.

Still, it is an interesting read if you are just curious and that is the reason for this review. You can download a Windjview version of the book free. You will need the free Windjview program which is available HERE.

And then you can download the book itself HERE.

Fritz 12...buy cheap!

This program sells on the Internet for $50 to $75. If you live in the US, I suggest you check out both Best Buy and Office Max. Both list Fritz 12 for $19.95.  I got mine at Office Max.

Defeating a Stronger Player

In these two videos Chessworld’s webmaster describes how he defeated his first IM. I present these two videos because Kopec played my favorite Torre Attack (even though he lost) and because, as usual, Tryfon Gavriel 's (aka Kingscrusher at Chessworld and on Youtube) makes a good presentation.
Part 1:

Part 2:

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Missed Brilliancy!

In the following position it’s my move and I overlooked a brilliancy!
After 20...Nxe4 As Fritz is wont to say, “It’s a pity Black didn’t play this.” 21.dxe4 Bc4+ 22.Kf3 Ra3+ 23.Kg4 Rc3 White is in trouble.

Analysis Diagram

I missed it and played instead:
20…Nh5 21.Rhe1 Rf8 22.Be3 Ng3+ 23.Kf3 Arriving at the following position. It looks like I’m in serious trouble but I had a discovered check that saved the day:

23…Qxa1 24.Rxa1 Bb3+ 25.Kxg3 Bxc2 with the following position which was eventually drawn:

Blindfold Chess with Dr. Eliot S. Hearst

I have discovered a fascinating site by US Senior Master Dr. Eliot S. Hearst that's woth checking out. Even if you're not into blindfold chess, his site has some great reads! Blindfold Chess

You can listen to part of an interview with Dr. Hearst where he briefly talks about Bobby Fischer and discusses his book on blindfold chess with IM John Watson. Listen
As a youngster who was just discovering the fascinating world of chess, I wrote Hearst a letter asking a question. Although I no longer remember what the question was, I do remember receiving a prompt, courteous reply.

Free Win

I’ve posted before about people who move without thinking but there was another really ridiculous incident yesterday. My opponent was rated mid-1500’s and in an 8 minute plus 5 seconds per move game was giving me a hard time. In fact at one point I think he was winning but butchered the B&P ending to the point it was only a draw. He was moving at a breakneck pace and I have to wonder how high his rating would be if he’d only stop and think for a few seconds! I guess the game also points out the necessity of studying endings a little bit.

So anyway, we reached the position in the diagram with me to move. He’d messed around in an easily won ending and got his K cornered with no way to queen the P and the game is drawn but I played 57…h4 and again, he didn’t even think. Apparently at first glance he thought my h-Pawn was going to queen so he resigned! All he had to do was play 58.Bg1 and it’s a draw:

57...h4 58.Bg1 h3 59.c4 Bf4 60.c5 Bg3 61.c6 Bf4 [Or 61...Kxc6 62.Bh2 Bxh2] 62.Bh2 Bxh2

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Chesshere and Chess Hotel.

If you've been following this Blog you know I don't have a very high opinion of Chesshere because of their exhorbitant membership fees, limitations and a ton of annoying popup adds on their website. However, I also believe giving credit where it's due. Their Real Time chess isn't all that bad. What's nice is you can register and play right from this Blog, thereby avoiding all the nasty popups. Try it out and if it's popular enough I'll keep it on the Blog.

I removed Chess Hotel because the players there were mostly beginners and they had that annoying music and ads whenever you sign onto this Blog.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Waiting for a Mistake

You know the kind of game I’m talking about. You’re playing a much higher rated opponent; you play really well, but they won’t give you a draw; they just keep shifting plastic, waiting. Waiting for you to make a tiny, little mistake, then they pounce. It’s not fancy, but it wins a lot of games. I had two such games against a player rated in the low 1400’s.

In the following position which arose from a QGD Tarrasch Defense things are about equal. White has more space but he had neglected to castle (remember this point). Right now his e-Pawn is attacked and he has to defend it. 16.f4 would be logical and it would leave my N somewhat misplaced.

Without hesitation, White played 16.Qf4 which defends the P and attacks the N. Bad move! After 16…Qa5+ his e-Pawn is subject to a double attack. After 16...Qa5+ 17.b4 Qxe5+ 18.Qxe5 Nxe5 we arrive at the following position where he’s a P down:

Despite being a P down he still has hopes of salvaging the game because winning will require some technique and Black probing to create another weakness. White managed to hang on with grim determination for another 5 moves before making another mistake.

24.f4 Ba4 25.Bc2 Bxc2 26.Nxc2 Ng6 27.Rd8+ Nf8 would have continued to make it difficult for me, but instead he played 24.Bxb7? After 24...Ba4 Attacking the R which defends the N. 25.Ba6 Mate follows 25.Rd2 Rc1+ 25...Bxd1 26.Bxc4 Nxc4 he’d lost a piece and the game.

In our first game he had a similar fate befall him. In the following position which arose from a French Tarrasch Variation,

I had played a rather risky, and somewhat inferior 11.Ng5. Now safe for Black is 12…O-O. Instead he played 12…h6 without hesitation, apparently with the idea of driving the N back to the bad h3 square. 13.Nxf7! This is the only move. There's a juicy fork looming on c6 but after 13...Kxf7 14.Ne5+ Kf8 15.Nxc6 Qc7 16.Nxa7 Qxa7 we have the following position
For all the fancy footwork, I don't think White can be said to have a better position. The material situation is White has a R and 2P’s for a B&N which is a minimal material advantage but in return Black has active play for his pieces even if his QB can be considered “bad.” It’s going to be difficult to attack his d-Pawn. You can see what I mean in the following position which we arrived at a few moves later:

I really couldn’t think of anything to do against his actively placed pieces so played a neutral move: 30.Kf2 and now he probably should have considered 30…Ne6 31.Be5 and I don’t see much for either side. Instead he grabbed a P without thinking. 30...Bxh2 and after 31.g3 Ne6 32.Kg2 Bxg3 33.Kxg3 Nxd4 34.cxd4 arriving at the following position:

And now he only has a P for the exchange and his “bad” B was a factor. Black eventually lost.

For the most part I’d have to give Black kudos for his play; it was those pesky little mistakes made in haste that cost him both games. My advice: Think before you start grabbing stuff and try to follow the advice of Znosko-Borovsky in his little book,How Not to Play Chess. Old Znosko-Borovsky said, “Try to avoid mistakes.”  Seriously though, his little book wasn’t all that bad. In fact I’ve been toying with the idea of giving some of his analysis.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lucky Oversight

After a couple of games today on Chessdotcom that were no more than bunny bashing, a player rated mid-1700 accepted my challenge. I figured it was best to play it safe and resort to my old standby, the Torre Attack but when he played 1…Nf6, I got another idea. Why not play the K-Indian 4-Pawns Attack? I know it’s not very popular but I’ve had some pretty good luck with it. If Black mishandles the opening he can get rolled up by the big P-center. On the other hand, if he plays correctly the P-center crumbles and White is in trouble.

Well, forget all that. The guy played the Q-Indian and I don’t too much about it. I figured that was OK though. What could go wrong? In a closed position I missed the fact that after 15.c5 b4 he was winning the exchange. What happened after that was we got a materially unbalanced position. I analyzed the game with the Houdini chess engine and to be truthful, I don’t know that its evaluations are always quite right. Engines tend to place a high value on material. That’s OK if you are the one with the extra material and can see your way through the complications and manage to hang on without blundering. Easier said than done for a human! Fortunately for me, it was my opponent who made a fatal blunder right at the end. I know the engine said I had the advantage, but I don’t play as well as Houdini, so I wasn’t so sure.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How to Find Tactical Shots

I discovered a good site describing how to find tactics in your games.  The site itself isn’t much; it could have been a whole lot better if the author had continued to expand it,  but he does give a good list of motifs as “signposts” to look for in your games. Spot these “signposts” and you know there’s probably something in the position. Discovering Tactical Shots in Your Games
He gives links to examples of each motif HERE.
Looking for motifs is a lot better than just "trying out" random moves to see if they work. It also keeps you from wasting a lot of time going on a wild goose chase if there are no tactics in the position.

Comments on Studying

Everybody has a study plan aimed at improving their chess. Unfortunately, most don’t work. I suspect there are three reasons for this. 1) Haphazard approach 2) Motivation to continue is lacking and 3) Studying the wrong material.

Most players don’t have the benefit of a chess coach so possibly that is another disadvantage, but I don’t think they are really required. In my day few had coaches and many players still managed to reach ratings all the way up to master, so it can be done on your own.

Unfortunately there are a myriad of so called coaches and authors out there who take the easy approach and advise certain openings, usually inferior and studying nothing but tactics, tactics and more tactics. Obviously this approach only offers minimal improvement. I see players going from 1200 to 1400 and MAYBE 1600 with this approach. More often than not, they spend years getting to 1600, and most never even get that high. It makes me think something is wrong with their approach. I believe anybody to at least a 1600 rating fairly quickly. It should NOT take years of brain-busting study to get a player to be an ‘average’ player or ‘above average.’ To reach that level, you only have to know a little more than your opponents. Now, reaching master is a lot more difficult, but that goal comes much later.

Your improvement plan should include an incremental building up of layers of knowledge and practice. In the long run it is better to take the time to understand the reason behind opening moves, basic strategy, tactical motifs (what it is that makes a tactic work), and basic endgames. Finally, pattern recognition skills have to be honed.

Here’s what you need:
Opening books: Choose one standard, mainline opening for White and a Black defense against 1.d4 and 1.e4. Get either a general opening book, or specialized books covering those openings. Make sure you get books that have complete games as examples, not just columns of moves. The book should explain the general strategy involved.

Middlegame books: One on strategy and one on tactics. Note: your book on tactics should NOT be one of the popular puzzle books! It should be a book that categorizes tactics by motif. Your goal is to learn to recognize the motif that suggest a tactic may be present in a position. If your book only tells you “mate in three” you usually just start trying out moves hoping to stumble onto the solution. On the other hand if you see a position where the classic B sacrifice is likely to work, you have a starting point of what to look for.

Ending books: A good general work and concentrate in the beginning on K&P and R&P endings. Even if you rarely reach endings in your games, learning the relationship between the pieces and P’s, the importance of ranks, files and diagonals, etc. will improve your overall understanding.

Pattern recognition: Get a book of your favorite player’s games and start playing them over. Don’t worry too much about spending lots of time analyzing the games. Play over enough of them for enjoyment and you’ll find yourself beginning to recognize recurring patterns in your own games. They may be rather vague at first but with time, you’ll get better at recognizing themes and patterns.

My advice is to choose one of the older masters. The reason is, as I explained in previous posts, their thinking was often more limited and dogmatic than today’s players. The advantage to that is that it makes understanding the basics easier.

There you go! I would say you should be able to go from 1200 to 1600 in a year using this advice.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

ELO History

As I navigate various forums, I’m always amazed at how many players are ignorant of the ELO rating system.  I don’t mean the math involved…I don’t understand that very good either. I’m talking about what the ELO system actually measures and its limitations. That’s what I want to pontificate on here so I’ve given links to some informative posts on the subject given in no particular order.
Here’s an excellent quote from the Exeter Chess Club: One of the more frequently asked questions I receive concerning chess is "What is a chess rating, and how do you get one?" This file will attempt to answer that question in a clear and concise manner: A chess rating is a guideline for measuring a player's performance in tournaments, and ranking him/her against other players. While most people will tell you it is a measure of a player's knowledge of chess or chess ability, this is not exactly true, as there are people who perform better or worse under tournament conditions, just as there are people who perform poorly on tests even though they know the material. Many other psychological factors come into play in tournaments, such as competitive spirit, that are reflected in tournament results, and therefore also in a person's rating. So chess ratings measure performance, not ability

An interesting interview with Prof. Elo
Explains the ELO System in simple terms
Chessdotcom article discusses the ELO and Glicko Systems

Jess Sonas’ site, Chessmetrics, is THE site for lots of fascinating discussion of the problems in comparing the ratings of players, past and present. This is the historical site. For more modern discussions, visit his new Chessmetrics site

Chessbase analysis of players past and present. This is a fascinating article where they analyzed games and based their evaluation on the average difference between moves played and best evaluated moves by computer analysis and according to this analysis, the winner was Capablanca. One word of caution using this method though and it’s basically what I poated in the Blog below: This result should be interpreted in the light of the comparatively low complexity of positions in Capablanca's games which is quite in line with the known assessments in the chess literature of his style. Kasparov in his set of books My Great Predecessors speculates that Capablanca occasionally did not even bother to calculate deep tactical variations, preferring instead to play moves that were clear and positionally so strongly justified that calculation of variations was simply not necessary. They also used a blunder-rate measurement are similar. Tigran Petrosian ranked first and Steinitz, who lived in an era of tactical romantic chess, took last place.

An example of manipulating the system by Claude F. Bloodgood III

There was a time when the Fischer Boom caused a great influx of new players who caused ratings deflation so the USCF started adding free points; in some cases you got rating points just for showing up and playing! See point 3

Has some interesting historical information. About ¾ of the way down the page there’s a discussion of the ELO system and some abuses of it over the years, including fiddle and bonus points.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

How do Past Greats Compare to Present Day Greats?

I see it quite often in different forums…are the players of today better than the greats of the past? Or, who is the greatest player who ever lived?

A few years ago I was in Border’s bookstore and was browsing the chess books when it occurred to me that my collection of “Best Games” books had no “modern” players past Tahl and Fischer so I bought Fire on Board by Shirov. Playing over his games made me realize I didn’t understand them to the extent I understood games played by Reshevsky, Botvinnik, etc.

I mean, when Reshevsky played the QGD, Exchange Variation, I knew the scenarios. White would play the Minority Attack, the center break e4 with a resulting isolated QP, the center buildup with f3 and e4 or place his N on e5 and play f4. I also knew Black’s counters to all these methods. After all, in the book I learned how to play middlegames from, Pachman’s Modern Chess Strategy, devoted a whole chapter to this variation. Imagine my surprise when I read Yermolinsky’s Road to Chess Improvement and he was analyzing 11.h3 for White (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.Nf3 O-O 6.e3 Nbd7 7.cxd5 exd5 8.Bd3 c6 9.Qc2 Re8 10.O-O Nf8 11.h3) and was explaining the reason for the move. It was a whole new idea that many GM’s had recently taken up and infused new life into the whole variation.

Looking back at games played by Alekhine we read that he believed the K-Indian and the move 1…g6 were for the most part unplayable. I thought of the Sicilian Boleslavsky Variation (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Be2 e5) and how it was considered bad for decades until the Soviet GM proved otherwise. Pachman also devoted several pages to this line in his book. I thought of the Sicilian Pelikan Variation and how my early opening books frowned on it as a not very good line. The Pelikan, you ask? Modern players know it as the Sveshnikov (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5)

Then I thought of hearing Bobby Fischer claiming that the games from the Kramnik-Kaspaov match of 2000, while interesting, were obviously prearranged, fake computer generated games. After listening to him, it was clear that chess knowledge had passed him by in his absence.

As IM John Watson pointed out in his book, Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy, when Capablanca claimed chess was played out and suffering from death by draws, it was because in those days about the only opening that was considered “correct” was the QGD, Orthodox Defense. As Watson also pointed out, players like Lasker, Capablanca, Tarrasch and Rubenstein were unimaginative and limited by today’s standards. They continually dismissed ideas which today’s players consider natural and normal.

To my mind the great players of today are far better than those of yesteryear because their understanding of what is a playable position far exceeds that of the great players of the past.

If, say Capablanca, were transported into today’s chess scene, how long would it take him to absorb today’s opening theory and be able to compete with today’s greats? I don’t think he could. He might be able to learn opening moves, but he wouldn’t have the foggiest idea of how to play middlegames arising from them. I simply don’t think he could relearn chess to the point that he would ever accept the idea that the positions Black gets from the Sveshnikov are playable. As Reti pointed in Modern Ideas in Chess, the aim of modern chess (circa 1935) is not to treat every position according to one general law, but according to the principle inherent in the position. Even in his day this was a concept that the old timers like Capablanca failed to grasp.

As Watson points out, today’s chess is less rule oriented and today’s players derive their perspective and intuition from the detailed analysis of a great number of positions and they think in terms that are far more dynamic and specific to a given position than the classical rules and guidelines of the past.

So, no, I don’t think the greats of the past could hold their own against the greats of today no matter how much time they had to absorb opening theory. After all, there’s more to chess than opening theory that needs to be learned.

For a discussion of these issues and chess theory, past and present, I highly recommend Watson’s Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy. For a good guide on how to study chess and a glimpse into a GM’s workshop and advice on how to truly improve (WARNING: most players won’t like the answer) I also recommend Yermolinsky’s Road to Chess Improvement. I think Yermo's book should be a classic. It probably won't be because he doesn't reveal any secrets that will magically allow one to win more games. He recommends hard work, but he tells you what to work on and gives sound advice on how to do it. If players put as much time and effort into doing things Yermo's way as they do on learning gambit openings and doing endless tactical excercises, they would be a lot further ahead.

Friday, September 17, 2010

King's Gambit Declined

I never accept the Pawn. First of all I never wanted to take the time to study any defenses to the KG and secondly, declining the gambit with 2...Bc5 is pretty easy to play. Developing is mostly common sense and not much can go wrong for Black. Another reason is that most King's Gambit players never bother to study lines where Black declines the gambit, so they don’t know much about those variations themselves. I’ve never bothered with declining it using the Falkbeer Counter Gambit because it looks to me like like one of those defenses where you have to know what you are doing. I’m pretty lazy when it comes to studying openings.

In the following game, when my opponent committed a positional error in advancing 13.f5, I misjudged the position by thinking I was in no danger of being subjected to a K-side attack and would have good chances of using the open g-file to attack the White King. The result was I tried to get too fancy. It would have been better to just sit back and keep improving my position. The result was I unnecessarily gave my opponent chances. Fortunately he did not take advantage of them.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Budapest Gambit

This was going to be a post on the Budapest Gambit. The Budapest is rarely played at top-level, although US GM Arthur Bisguier has been known to play it occasionally. GM Boris Avrukh called the gambit “almost respectable” and doubts there is a refutation. GM Robert Byrne wrote pretty much the same thing when he featured a game with the Budapest in a Chess Life article a while back.

I’ve played it on occasion but found it to be something less than satisfactory. Years ago I had a book on it and tried it out in some correspondence games. It didn't work out too well. I tried it in OTB tournaments and it didn't work out too well. Recently I've been trying it in some real time games on the Internet. I’ve won most of the games but that’s because I’ve played it against weaker opponents and so any opening would have probably yielded the same results.

One of the best articles I’ve seen on the Budapest is the Wikipedia Article and you might want to check out the article form your own opinion. One thing I did discover is that after 3.dxe5 the Fajarowicz Variation 3...Ne4 has yielded better results but looking over my games with the Budapest, I found not a single one worth posting. This forces me to the conclusion the opening really isn’t worth playing so I’m not posting anything on it and you can move along as there is nothing to see in this post.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Four Knights Game-Belgrade Gambit

How To Play the Beldrade Gambit
Explore the Belgrade on Chess.com

Many years ago the Correspondence Chess League of America held a gambit tournament. They sent each player the opening moves of various gambits and you got to choose which one to play. I chose the Belgrade Gambit in all three games in which I had White. I don’t remember the results but do remember that it was good enough to play occasionally.

Black can enter into complications or, as is often the case in gambit openings, sidestep them. MCO comments that the move 5…Be7 is super solid. I’m reminded that CJS Purdy recommended meeting the Giuoco Piano with the Hungarian Defense (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Be7) for the same reason; there’s not much that can go wrong for Black in the opening.

In this game against an opponent rated in the mid-1500’s I once again met a player I don’t understand. When you post a challenge for a 10 minute game why would you play every single one of your moves with almost no thought? This game went 27 moves and the guy spent all of two minutes on it so it’s no wonder he lost; bad strategy and tactical mistakes were bound to happen.

In any case, I’ve included the first part of the game with some opening ideas so you can check out this gambit.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sad News...

I just found out Danish GM Bent Larsen passed away at age 75 on Thursday, Sept. 9th. For those that don't know, Larsen was one of the truly great players of his era. Chessbase has an article on him HERE and William Winter has one HERE. Sad news, indeed.

Interesting Larsen quotes:
If I were put back in the early 1920s, it would be easy, very easy, to be world champion. There would be many draws, but in enough of the games I would get opponents into positions they didn’t understand. Most people find this arrogant – but now we know so much more. If we take positions they understand, we are not better; but we know more types of position. It is a matter of selecting the right openings. Of course, the 1920s was a period of breakthrough in ideas; it would be much easier still if you went back to the early 1900s. The first real uncertainty is with Alekhine; he didn’t want to play the new openings – he didn’t like them – but he worked hard at them and he developed. Alekhine was not basically creative – he was a practical player, but he learnt from others. Not Capablanca – he had difficulty with the new openings in his later years.’
Larsen was also asked whether he had ‘any advice to aspiring masters’. His reply: ‘I think most of them study too much opening theory, and they should study more games by masters with annotations by masters.’

Playing the Colle

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into the Colle lately, always by players who think they can play the first 6 or 7 moves before they even look to see what their opponent has done. This almost never works because strategy often must be modified depending the specific setup adapted. I always meet the Colle with …g6 and …Bg7. In fact I’ve been doing it since I saw this game played by Euwe against the Stonewall in a tournament in Johannesburg back in 1955 (I didn't see it in 1955, but rather a few years later!)

The Colle has its advantages: The White K quickly reaches safety in its castled position (something often neglected by lower rated players.) White opens up the center early and the possibility of a K-side attack and endgame advantage of 3P’s to 2 on the Q-side make it attractive. Some players claim the Colle is too tame, and indeed, that may be the case against stronger opponents.

Tim Harding wrote, “Once upon a time the Colle was thought to be a patzer-bashing machine.” It can be. White posts his B at d3, castles and plays e4. If Black doesn’t exchange P’s White pushes e5 and drives the N from f6 sand the classic B sac is in the air. As Harding pointed out, even if some of the preconditions of the sac are missing, the sacrifice often works in practice because it’s difficult for Black to find the right defensive moves!

Since the old days White has adapted ideas such as introducing the QB and R’s into the attack and moving the QN over to g3 to allow it to participate in the attack. Harding also warned that White must be prepared to switch to a central or Q-side strategy if appropriate. That’s what I said at the very beginning of this post! Unfortunately it’s not understood by lower rated players or, if they do understand it, they often ignore the advice because it would mean studying something other than the standard strategy aimed at a direct K-siode attack; that defeats the whole attraction to the Colle for many players.

Harding, in his book Colle System, states, “The Colle formation is not very good for White against the K-Indian setup. This is a good reason why White should not go 3.e3 unless Black has played …e6.”
In their book Winning with the Colle, Ken Smith and John Hall recommend meeting …g6 with Bg5, thereby switching to the Torre Attack. I’ve been playing the Torre for years and have found this to be quite satisfactory.

Here is a brief example of what I often run into when facing the Colle.

I’m not saying the Colle is bad. I just don’t think you can mindlessly play it regardless of what Black does. You have to be prepared to shift gears and play a different strategy when the situation calls for it. In that respect, playing the Colle correctly requires just as much study and understanding as any other opening…a point many players miss.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Time for a Break from Chess

Another sac on h7

I gave the criteria for what makes the classic B sacrifice on h7 in the post on Sacrifice on h7.

In a recent game against a player rated in the mid-1600’s I arrived at this position as White. The first thing you notice is that Black is down the exchange. This was the result of having been caught in an opening trap. The game started out with 1.d4 d5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bg5 but after 3…e6 4.e4 Be7 5.e5 Nfd7 6.Bxe7 Qxe7 7.f4 it’s now a French Defense. Now instead of 7...O-O Black played 7…c5? and after 8.Nb5 0–0 (Better was 8...Kd8 9.Nf3 f6 10.dxc5 fxe5 11.fxe5)  9.Nc7 Nb6 10.Nxa8 Nxa8 11.Nf3 Nc6 12.c3 Nb6 13.Bd3 cxd4 arriving at the following position where Black has lost the exchange and White must consider the sacrifice on h7. Is it sound?

If you look at the general criteria required for the sac to be successful as described in the post on the classic B sac, they are there so it looks as if the sacrifice is correct. Taking a look at the analysis you’ll see that it was not a forced mate and though Black had to thread his way through some tricky variations, his position was not without its resources.

What if material had been equal? Would that have affected the evaluation? Let’s replace Black’s R and White’s N in reasonable positions and look at the position:

Conclusion: Do not assume this sacrifice is an automatic win for White. Oh, by the way, that’s exactly what my opponent did in the game…he resigned when he saw 14.Bxh7+

Friday, September 10, 2010

Exciting News!

Bob Long of Thinkers' Press just commented on my review of CJS Purdy's The Search for Chess Perfection. I'm not much into purchasing chess books these days, but this is one I am looking forward to. While you are at it, check out Bob's Blog.

Hello... Bob Long, of Thinkers' Press, inc. I am publishing Purdy's book with a slightly different name, "My Search for Chess Perfection." It will be available in 2010 October from Thinkers' Press, inc.--1524 LeClaire St., Davenport, IA 52803 at $39.95 + $4 for shipping in the USA. It will contain a missing chapter from the original and a HUGE index of everything worthwhile in the book. Why it is still listed as being available from Amazon.com, when it is not, is just more proof of why I don't trust Amazon.com. I don't know the exact page count but I am guesstimating 410+ pages, 7x10 in size, still. Indexing the book proved to me just how incredible Purdy's book really is. It is even better if read from the beginning, to the end. And soon there will be a Purdy's Chess Chronicles publication. Thanks for your time and space.

Botched Ending

It’s pretty obvious in the position that I’m winning. I have an extra piece and ‘obviously’ Black can’t avoid the loss of his g-Pawn. So how did I almost lose?

When I first did an analysis with Fritz 12 it was handing out “??” like candy, but a more in depth analysis using Houdini gave a completely different evaluation. This gives credence to what I’ve said in the past about engine use in top level play. There is more to it than just letting the engine choose your move. I decided to look at the game using Houdini’s evaluations because as the originator says on his website, “The name Houdini was chosen because of the engine's positional style, its tenacity in difficult positions and its ability to defend stubbornly and escape with a draw – sometimes by the narrowest of margins. At the same time Houdini will deny its opponents the same escape routes when it has the better position.” Also in the few unscientific tests I’ve done, Houdini beats Fritz quite regularly.

I don’t pretend to be strong enough to be able to offer a definitive answer to this ending, so mostly present Houdini’s lines with only brief comments. But I still think the ending was quite instructive; certainly much more complicated than it looks.

My failure to win seems to be accounted for by the fact that I was looking for a way to capture the g-Pawn and thus allowed Black too much leeway. At some point I should have played my N to f5 with the idea of using the K to hold up his P and using the N to attack the Q-side P’s. I considered this (placing the N on f5) but never did. Why? I don’t know; it was such a logical square for the N.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Another Opponent Who Didn’t Stop to Think

 For many years my standard defense to 1.e4 was the Ruy Lopez, either the Breyer Defense or the Old Steinitz Defense. On the Internet I’ve been experimenting with the Schliemann Variation (3…f5) and the Bird Defense (3…Nd4). The former has a dubious reputation and sometimes White has difficulty in keeping control of things, so the line can pay off if you are aggressive enough. Even so, I’ve not found it to be entirely satisfactory. The Bird Defense really hasn’t confused anybody and the positions I’ve gotten have, for the most part, been rather passive.

In this game my opponent had a decent rating so I decided to play something more ‘normal.’ Obviously he knew the book because he blitzed out the first 18 moves very quickly. The game was played at 8 minutes/5 second increment. When I looked at the times after 18 moves he was slightly over 8 minutes to my 6 minutes. The problem was he continued to play at the same pace and at the end when he resigned he should have played on because my advantage wasn’t that great...not to mention his 3 minute time lead. Apparently his first glance at the position after my last move looked to him like he was going to lose quickly but considering his K was closer to the action than mine and opposite color B’s were present he shouldn’t have been so hasty in resigning. Once again, one needs to think occasionally. All-in-all not a bad game. Not flashy though.