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Saturday, December 31, 2011

IM Mark Diesen

Mark Diesen (born September 16, 1957 in Buffalo, New York, died December 9, 2008 in Conroe, Texas) earned the International Master title in 1976 by winning the World Junior Championship ahead of such noted players as Lubomir Ftacnik and  and Oleg Romanishin. He was also the Louisiana State Champion in 1986, 1987 and 1988.

His father, Carl Diesen, was a strong tournament chess player in the mid-1940s, which resulted in strong family support for Mark's chess career. Diesen was a student of Grandmaster Lubosh Kavalek who, at the time, was one of the top rated GM’s in the world. Diesen was a player with a positional style that made him a difficult opponent to face for even the most experienced IMs and GMs. Among the top players he defeated in his short career were Larry Evans, Borislav Ivkov, John Nunn and Eugenio Torre.

Diesen’s only appearance in the US Championship was in 1980 but he had to withdraw after three rounds. He was well on his way to becoming Grandmaster when, in 1980 he began having drug problems. To his credit he overcame the problem and completed his college education.  He was to return to chess off and on, but never seriously.

A graduate of the University of Tennessee, he had a degree in Chemical Engineering and after abandoning chess he worked as a reservoir engineer for Shell Oil, Pennzoil and Noble Energy.  He was married with three daughters.

Here is his obituary from a Knoxville, TN, newspaper:
Mark Carl Diesen - age 51 of Conroe, Texas native of Buffalo New York, passed away suddenly December 9, 2008 in Conroe, Texas. He was a graduate of the University of Tennessee with a degree in Chemical Engineering. He worked as a reservoir engineer for Shell Oil, Pennzoil and Noble Energy. Mark was a World Junior Chess Champion in 1976, the US Junior Co-Champion, the Louisiana State Champion in 1986, 1987, 1988, Texas State Champion, Southwestern Open Champion, and an active chess coach in Houston, Texas and online. He is survived by his wife, Melinda Diesen of Conroe, Texas; daughters and sons-in-law, Gina and Travis Perkins of Knoxville, Amy and Daniel Smith of Houston, TX, and Sarah Diesen of Conroe, TX; mother, Marjorie Diesen; sister and brother-in-law, Laura and J.C Butler all of Bristow, VA; father-in-law and mother-in-law, Paul and Joyce McGlothin of Knoxville; brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Paul and Meredith Averill-McGlothin of Ossining, NY; several nieces and nephews. Funeral service will be 1:00 P.M. Saturday at The Episcopal Church of the Ascension with Rev. Dr. Howard J. Hess officiating. Interment to follow at Highland Memorial Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the U.S. Chess Trust, PO Box 838, Wallkill, NY 12589, 800-388-5464. Friends may call at their convenience at Rose Mortuary Mann Heritage Chapel. www.rosemortuary.com

Here is one of his games against IM Julio Kaplan:

Play an Online Simul Game Against an IM

IM Atilla Turzo will be playing an online simultaneous at 1000 Bright Minds. The games will be played at 3 days per move. He will be playing Black in all games. Turzo will play his first moves on 11th January 11:00 am Budapest time

If you want to play him you do so by going to HERE then challenge him to a game.  The stipulations are:  3-days per move time limit, the game must be unrated and you play white. You will have to be a member of chessdotcom to play. Membership is free and you can sign up HERE.

This is his attempt to gain students but that’s OK; it is your chance to play an online correspondence game against an IM.  I won't be playing as I already have a full workload of games.  However, if you do decide to play him, Good Luck!  BTW, chessdotcom verifies the identity of anyone claiming a title and I have had private correspondence with Mr. Turzo sufficient to assure myself he is the real Atilla Turzo.

GM Alex Yermolinsky Lecture

Unfortunately his Blog has not been updated since July, 2010, but I suggest you check it out anyway.  His lectures are superb...check out his lecture detailing a game he played against Vinay Bhat.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tarrasch GUI

This is an extremely easy to use GUI that is intended to be simpler than any of the others available. In fact some reviews believed it was too simple to meet their needs, but for anyone desiring a GUI that is simple to use, this one is pretty good. The simplicity of Tarrasch doesn't mean there are no powerful features though. The move list is very nice with variations in bold and in color. When it comes to entering notes it has all the features of the more sophisticated programs. One feature that seems to be missing though is the capability to print out the game.
If you want to do simple analysis then this one is about as easy to use as they get; you can have it running in a minute.  You can download Tarrasch GUI with the free Rybka 2.3.2a engine installed HERE.

Botching a Winning Attack

This post was going to be about Rook Lifts but White, sadly, misplayed his attack and so the title became ‘Botching a Winning Attack.’ Rook handling is always a difficult task especially for beginners. CJS Purdy pointed out that one of the goals in the opening should be to connect R’s. Most players beyond the beginner level know that. Also, most of us know the rules about open files, but in many cases find difficulty in answering the question, which R? You know, decide which R goes on the open file, then move the other one onto it because we always choose the wrong one. We also know the importance of R’s on the 7th (or 2nd) rank. Ludek Pachman wrote that R handling requires a great understanding of the strategy suited to a particular position; there’s that word, strategy, that seems so despised by average players these days.

Another part of R handling is the R-lift where R’s are actively placed in front of the P’s to attack the opponent’s K. Sometimes the R can even be placed in front of its own P’s even when there is no thought of attacking the K. The reason for this is that P-advances are generally necessary to open files and long ago Steinitz showed that every P-advance reduces its prospects in the ending. In the closed positional type of game players often try to keep P’s on their original squares as long as possible. So, if the R’s are to operate they must do so in front of their own P’s. This is a good idea to keep in the back of your mind when the normal methods of using them on open files is ineffective or not available.

I was looking for some examples of R’s in front of its own P’s and came across this game and when I saw White lost, was going to move on to another one, but the game has redeeming qualities. Just check out Farago’s 35th and 42nd move. It also illustrates the point that even after you have established an overwhelming position games do not win themselves. After about 25 moves Eperjesi had a really great position but a series of weak moves let the game slip away. We all know from experience how easily that happens.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Brief Guide to Engine Analysis

I have taken several of the posts on this Blog that concerned engine analysis and combined them into an 18-page pdf booklet.  This booklet describes how to get the best analysis out of an engine.  The advice it contains is not mine, but comes from such strong players as Jonathan Rowson, Stephen Ham and Robin Smith.  Download HERE.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Truth in Advertising

Ever see the ads on television for the latest medicines?  They make wild claims about how great the stuff is and how it will cure whatever ails you. Of course just to cover themselves they are required to mention the side effects even if they are trivialized.  You know, little things like hair loss, erectile dysfunction, rectal bleeding, heart attack, stroke, birth defects or worst case scenario…death. Then there is the fine print (which isn’t on the screen long enough to read…not that it matters because it’s also too small to read anyway) in which they deny every good thing they said.  We usually trust our doctors, but many doctors are paid to peddle this dangerous stuff and the result is, it’s very hard to get the truth.

Anyway, at least advertisers are required to state side effects even if they do downplay them.  Too bad publishers of chess books aren’t required to do the same thing.  Here’s a small random sampling of book “reviews” for some of the latest chess books:
Reading this book, aimed at juniors, will make you “one of the best chess players in your school…” because it “teaches the four basic tricks” by helping you “weed out silly moves…”   Really?  That’s all it takes to weed out silly moves?!  Four basic tricks.  I have to buy that one!

Then there is the guide that “makes winning at chess easy.”  Add that one to my cart, too.
“Your results…will improve dramatically…” Great! Most of my improved results came painfully slow.
Then there’s the book that promises the ”winning formula for a quick and easy way to play chess today.” Quick and easy!  Into the shopping cart.
Of one book it was said you can, “increase your skill and understanding of chess with the tactics that have produced unparalleled Russian grandmasters.”  Yeah! I want to be a GM, so this one is a must have.
“To achieve success in chess, a little talent is required.”  Well, “a little talent” describes me pretty good so this is another must have.
And finally I definitely need this one that offers “easy-to-follow advice on developing nifty tricks that will confound your opponent and help you win the game.”
All this makes me admire GM Alex Yermolinsky even more when he wrote, ”The Soviet School was strong in numbers.  There were many talented kids in our chess club, but only a handful of us made it to become grandmasters…I haven’t developed a new revolutionary theory or system, neither have I any dreadful secrets of the Soviet School of Chess to reveal…there are plenty of examples of bad teaching…another hot selling approach is to wide masses of rank and file chessplayers who are are being told that there are certain ‘secret’ openings that will allow them to handle the resulting positions with ease…there is no ‘chess made easy’ advice that would immediately improve your chess.  Widely disseminated promises to introduce ‘new methods’, to reveal ‘secrets of the Soviet School of Chess’, etc. are no more than smart advertising moves.”
Publishers ought to be required to put that in their reviews even if it is in fine print. At the very least they ought to have a disclaimer that informs us the people who wrote the blurbs are "not actual users" or "Results not typical. Your results may vary."

Another Archival Game

In the waning days of my military “career” I was stationed at the US Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  One evening I returned from the mess hall to find a young man waiting for me who said he had heard I played chess. We retreated to an empty office and sat down to play what was to be the first of many games until I was discharged a few months later.  Unfortunately, I have never been able to contact my opponent, but I believe he eventually became a dentist in New York.

The game was actually pretty well-played and has some instructional value.

Sidebar:  I mentioned the Kashdan-Reshevsky match in the notes and there is a really nice Blog called Kindred’s Kaleidoscope that has some of the games from the match as well as other great stuff.  Pay it a visit.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Opening Books by Harry Schnapp

A variety of Mr. Schnapp's excellent opening books in ctg format can be found HERE.

The website Le Fou numerique also has a lot of interesting information and reviews of chess programs. Some of the material may be out of date (for example, the tips and tricks section dates back to 2004!) but there is some good stuff on Fritz 12 and13, ChessBase 10 and 11, Rybka Aquarium, etc, that may be helpful.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tartajubow’s Super Opening Book

I am making the opening book I use for my correspondence games available. This book is in Chessbase format contains 404,080 positions compiled from 15,620 correspondence and engine games (up to 30 moves deep) in which at least one player was rated over 2400.  With this opening book you can be sure that you are playing the best moves in any given variation because they have been analyzed by strong CC players who were most likely checking the variations with engines.

Download it HERE

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Chess King with Houdini 2

A good review of the new Chess King with the  Houdini 2 engine is available at Chesscafe. 

Houdini 2 comes in the Standard Version and the Pro Version. The main difference between the two is that the Pro Version comes with support for up to thirty-two cores, while the former is a single core version.

Some features are it can play at reduced strength, it has a GigaKing Database and Corr 2011 contain over five million chess games. These databases contain games from the sixteenth century up to November of this year. GigaKing contains almost all available master games, as well as games from many lesser tournaments, junior events, etc. Corr 2011 is a database of correspondence games.

Those features are OK, but there are other programs and some really weak engines that will allow you to play games at reduced engine strength, so for the price, I don’t see this as much of a plus.  As for the databases, the main problem with almost all of them is that they contain games played by some really low rated players.  The fact is you can use internet resources and make your own database for free.  I don’t see this as much of a plus.

It has is a statistics database of positions that shows you how often a move has been played and the success rate of each move. Most programs have this feature and the free SCID offers the same thing. I don’t see this as much of a plus.

It also has chess puzzles and photos of more than 1,600 players. Again, all this stuff is available free on the internet somewhere. I don’t see this as much of a plus.

It’s rating is estimated to be 25 points higher than the last free version. I don’t see this as much of a plus.  Houdini site

Short version: Save your money.

Final Theory of Chess

From the site:  The Final Theory of Chess Project is an online, open encyclopedia of chess openings that anyone can edit. Chess enthusiasts armed only with computer chess software and a passion for chess are writing the chess world’s equivalent of Wikipedia.

The author is attempting to discover what “perfect play” is and has made abundant use of computer analysis.  He says, “The Final Theory of Chess is a practical opening guide for correspondence players, an aggressive repertoire for over-the-board players, and a solid foundation for future chess theory to build upon.”

You can download a 400 page pdf book of all his engine analysis covering various openings. Note: Not all openings are covered, for example, the Sicilian.  To see what is covered in the book you may want to check out the contents before downloading it; go HERE.

Personally, I don’t think it’s a good idea to rely too heavily on engine analysis to select opening moves; I would prefer to rely on what GM’s think are the best moves because they understand long range planning and ideas that are beyond an engine’s capability to understand.  That’s not to say there isn’t a time when engines are helpful in discovering a novelty, but I don’t think you can rely totally on engines to play the best lines.  Anyway, I thought I’d give the link as it may be helpful to some.

Friday, December 16, 2011

How Do You Pronounce…

Efim Bogoljubov, Anatoly Ufimtsev, Vasja Pirc, Roman Dzindzichashvili, Gideon Barcza and many other names?  Find out on Youtube HERE.

R vs B and N

I recently played over an interesting ending from Donaldson-Bisguier that relates to a  couple of previous posts I made concerning minor piece against Rook endings.

Minor Piece for Rook - Part 1
In the below position (White to move) Bisguier stated that he felt he could win the game with either color.  I take that to mean he felt that, as the stronger player, he could win it from either side.   Regardless of generalities these endings are very difficult and we are speaking of averages so many other factors are likely to influence the results.
To sum up: 
In the opening:
2 minor pieces = R + 2Ps 
2B’s = R + 2-1/2 P’s 
In the ending (with Ps, but no additional pieces):
2 minor pieces = R + 1/2 P
2B’s = R + 1-1/2 P’s
The R has the least value in the opening and Purdy observed that the biggest jump happens “with the last exchange of pieces just before the ending.”  He said that if you add a piece to each side, the minor pieces increase in value.
In Basic Chess Endings, Fine wrote, “Three pieces versus a Rook (with equal P’s) is normally a draw, but in favor of the pieces because they have more play.”  Purdy observes that this is true but 2N’s and a B aren’t as good as a N and 2B’s because a B+N or 2N’s, without other pieces, are generally not a good team.

If all this sounds complicated and difficult to remember, it is.  This is why I think Bisguier said that against a weaker player, he could win with either color.
In the starting position, which is complicated even more because of the extra material, the engine evaluation was about 1-1/2 P advantage to White, Black is about to win another P leaving a highly unbalanced material situation that is very difficult to play.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Edo Historical Chess Ratings

This is a site I just came across. It is a project by Canadian mathematician Dr. Rod Edwards, who provides career records and year-by-year rating statistics for 19th century amateurs and professionals. VISIT

Also, the Chessmetrics website is devoted to statistics about historical ratings

Engine Blitz Tournament

In view of the results of a recent post where Fritz 12 did quite well on a few positional tests I decided to run a 5 minute tournament using some of my favorite engines just to how well Fritz would do and the results were disappointing. 

I thought perhaps is might be due to the fact that at a fast time limit Fritz might be making tactical errors. Here’s what a quick review of Fritz’ games revealed:

Vs. Houdini (32bit) – Fritz won a R+B+P ending.  Well-played by Fritz
Vs. Spike – they castled on opposite wings. Fritz had a better position but didn’t follow up its K-side attack in the strongest way and threw away the advantage.  Spike gained a significant advantage but then misplayed its Q-side attack and the game was drawn in a blocked position. Neither engine played particularly well, both missing some strong moves.
Vs Critter – in a R and N ending where both side had 3P’s, Critter had 3P’s vs. 2P’s on the K-side and Fritz had a passed P on a7, the game looked to be drawn because Fritz’ R was stuck on a6 in front of its P.  Critter began a series of checks that should have lead to a draw when Fritz, in an effort to escape the checks, walked into a mate and had to sacrifice it’s N leaving Critter with a won ending. A serious tactical error by Fritz lost this game.
Vs. Fire xTreme Fritz’ K-side onslaught out of the opening didn’t lead anywhere and Fire xTreme had about a 1/2 P advantage and traded down to a R and P ending which Fritz lost.
Vs. Firebird in a fairly level position Fritz made a bad exchange of its B for a N, drifted into an inferior position and lost a R+N vs. R+B ending when Firebird got its R on the 7th rank.
Vs. Stockfish in an equal position Fritz voluntarily weakened it P structure the plopped a N on e5 only to find that after …f3 it had to play N/e5xNc6 and give Stockfish the open b-file and the game was all but over.
Vs. Ivanhoe – after an opening error it got an inferior position and walked into a pin that ultimately lost a piece.  Another tactical error.
All-in-all Fritz’ play was not very impressive.  Against Critter and Ivanhoe it made serious tactical errors and in the other games it lost, it always seemed to drift into inferior positions from which it couldn’t recover.

However, to be fair Fritz did do quite well on the brief strategic quiz when given enough time to think. On the SSDF rating list Fritz 12 stands in 21st place behind the deep versions of Rybka, Shredder, the deep version of Fritz, Junior and, what shall we call them?  The ‘shallow’ Naum, Hiarcs, Zappa and Glaurung.  It has an overwhelming score of 26.5 – 13.5 against Spike. On the CCRL 40/40 rating list Houdini (64bit) is in first place with Rybka, Critter and Stockfish so the placing of the latter two in my little experiment isn’t surprising. 

I’ve been impressed with Fire xTreme the few times I’ve used it in the past and think it may be time to investigate its possibilities a little closer.  I think its development has ended and it may no longer be available for download…at least I couldn’t find it listed anywhere.

Stockfish overlooked a nice tactical shot in this game.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Finally Put to Bed

It appears the final chapter has been written on the USCF, Susan Polgar, Paul Truong and Gregory Alexander imbroglio that plagued the USCF a few years back.

     In August, 2008, Susan Polgar accused the USCF and some of its associates of conspiring to destroy her career and, possibly, the Texas Tech chess institute that bears her name.
     She filed a lawsuit in Lubbock district court against the United States Chess Federation, Inc., and 14 other associates and entities. She claimed certain federation members used the Internet and media to defame and slander her because they were jealous of her success. "Despite all her successes, there are others who strive for nothing more than to ruin Polgar's career and business relationships and to see her fail," the suit read…Because she is a woman and of foreign descent the USCF has long harbored ill will and jealously toward Polgar and more recently, the SPICE program."
     Several federation board members and the federation's lawyer were named in the suit, in which Polgar sought $25 million in damages. Sam Sloan, an ex-federation board member who lost his seat in the same election in which Polgar and her husband, Paul Troung, won seats on the board accused the couple of posting thousand of obscene Internet messages in his name, leading to his election loss. He filed a $20 million lawsuit against them and the federation in New York in October. Polgar's suit came on the heels of the federation's attempt to subpoena her and her husband.
     Back in January 2010, USCF agreed to a settlement with Polgar and Truong stemming from lawsuits filed by both parties. Polgar’s lawsuit alleged libel, slander, defamation and other claims. USCF’s lawsuit alleged email hacking and wire fraud. The USCF also filed a lawsuit against Susan Polgar and Paul Truong to remove them as Executive Board members and end their relationship with the USCF for not acting in the best interests of the USCF.
     Under the settlement agreement, all named parties except Gregory Alexander and Sam Sloan agreed to dismiss all claims and counter-claims in the actions. The Illinois lawsuit ended with a judgment confirming that Susan Polgar and Paul Truong were no longer Executive Board members. The USCF’s civil case against Alexander for email hacking and wire fraud continued and Alexander faced similar federal criminal charges in California.
     As part of the settlement, Polgar and Truong agreed to never contest the USCF Executive Board’s action in revoking their USCF memberships; acknowledge that they are no longer members of the USCF or members of the USCF Executive Board; agreed to never seek, run for, or accept a leadership position in the USCF; and never contest the Delegate’s actions that ratified the decisions of the USCF Executive Board at the August 2009 Annual Delegates Meeting.  Under the same settlement the USCF allowed Polgar and Truong to be playing, non-members of the USCF and would be listed as “Playing Non-Member Status.”
     The indictment against Alexander charged him with thirty-four separate counts of intentionally accessing a computer without authorization and one count of aggravated identity theft. The indictment alleged that Alexander violated the law by illegally accessing the e-mail account of Randall Hough as well as illegal possession and use of a means of identification of another, specifically the username and password belonging to Randall Hough, in relation to committing a fraud in connection with computers.
     From Fall 2007 to Spring 2008, Gregory Alexander accessed the personal email account of Randall Hough, a Director on the United States Chess Federation Board and obtained privileged attorney-client material. The privileged attorney-client material at issue was comprised of confidential e-mail communications from Karl Kronenberger, external counsel for the United States Chess Federation (USCF), to the members of the United States Chess Federation Board of Directors Legal Subcommittee of which Alexander was not a member.
     The result was a loss of over $50,000 to the USCF. Alexander has admitted in court proceedings that IP addresses used to access Hough’s personal email account belonged to him, Alexander . The use of an IP address masking tool depicted Alexander’s efforts to avoid detection. Messages collected suggest that on at least one occasion, Alexander accessed Hough’s account at the behest of Susan Polgar, who was at the time, a Director on the Federation Board.
     Beginning in June 2005, approximately 2500 messages, many with inflammatory content, were posted to internet newsgroups and attributed to Sam Sloan, a then sitting and now former Director on the United States Chess Federation Board. The postings were concentrated in chess related newsgroups and focused on principals and institutions associated with the USCF.
     In September 2007, Brian Mottershead, a USCF web systems administrator, began an investigation into the source of the postings. Mottershead noticed that several of the Newsgroup postings were copies of posts originally made on an internal USCF web forum. Posts to the USCF web forum were only accessible to USCF members. Mottershead theorized that the source of the postings was a member of the USCF. By matching the publicly available IP addresses in the headers of the Newsgroup postings to the IP addresses attributable to USCF members logging into the USCF web forum, a single suspect was identified: Paul Truong, a USCF Board Member and the husband of Susan Polgar.
     The investigation showed the value of a seat on the USCF Board of Directors carries prestige within the chess community and associated opportunities to monetize that prestige. For example, Directors may garner opportunities to earn speaking fees or host tournaments. At the time the postings began, Sloan was a sitting member of the USCF Board and up for election. Sloan lost his bid for reelection while Truong and Polgar became first-time Directors.
     As a result of the allegations the USCF retained an attorney in October 2007 and subsequently formed a subcommittee consisting of the members of the USCF Board with the exceptions of Truong and Polgar. Truong and Polgar were excluded from the subcommittee since Truong was the subject of the allegations and Polgar was married to Truong.
     In late 2007 and early 2008, Polgar communicated via email to the other members of the USCF Board several times and repeatedly referenced contents of the privileged material to which she, Polgar, referenced privileged material. Polgar made references to confidential legal strategy, confidential negotiations, and/or quoted verbatim from privileged material or private communications between other Board members.
     The USCF initiated an investigation to identify the source and later alerted the United States Secret Service and were able to identify several instances of intrusions into the Hough account. As a result Alexander was revealed as the culprit.
     Upon being questioned about her source for the privileged material, Polgar originally claimed to have obtained the privileged materials from the Internet and, later, an anonymous source who would be willing to testify. USCF investigated Polgar’s claim that the privileged material was available on the Internet and was not able to verify Polgar’s assertion. Additionally, Polgar failed to produce the anonymous source. On June 23, 2008, however, Polgar sent an email to the members of the Subcommittee that referenced the content of an email exchanged just hours earlier between the Subcommittee members Hough, Bill Goichberg, and Jim Berry.
     The USCF filed a John Doe lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court. An investigation conducted by the U.S. Secret Service revealed that Alexander was a known business associate of Polgar’s. Alexander served as the webmaster for several websites owned by Polgar and it was suspected that Alexander was a source for Polgar of the privileged material. In the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on December 13, 2011 in the case of UNITED STATES v. GREGORY ALEXANDER the defendant pled guilty on Count 1 of Information and was referred to Probation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Is Houdini a Positional Genius?

Looking through the book “Could You Be a Positional Genius” by Angus Dunnington, I thought it would be interesting to see how Houdini does on some of the tests because engines are supposed to be much better at tactical play than positional.  I chose some random positions and let Houdini ponder over them for a few minutes then compared results just do see how it would do.

The first position is from Liublinsky-Botvinnik, Moscow Championship, 1943.  Black has weak P’s on the Q-side and White is threatening to trade R’s, so the question is, how did Botvinnik meet both of those threats?
The solution is 1…Rd4! which is what both Botvinnik and Houdini played. (Fritz 1...Rd4 0.88).  The next position was a made up one with White to play.
The solution is 1.Rxc8+ Rxc8 2.g3! placing the B on the h3-c8 diagonal which is what Houdini suggested.  Very good so far! (Fritz 1.Rxc8+ 0.92)
The next position is from Lputina-Minasian, Protvino Zonal, 1993.  For the price of a P, White hit the dark squares and damaged Black’s Q-side.  What did he play?
1.c5! threatens to seriously undermine Black’s influence on the dark squares after Bxa6.  After 1…dxc5 (1…d5 2.Bxa6 bxa6 3.Qe2 Bc8 4.Ng1 and White prepares to evict Black’s only decent piece) 2.Bxa6 bxa6 3.Na4 and Black had to be careful.  If 3…c4? 4.Nc5 h6 5.Qc3 is good for White.  The game went 3…Be6 4.Nxc5 Bd5 with a good game for White. (Fritz 1.c5 0.08)
After 4 minutes Houdini suggested White was about 1/4 P ahead and recommended 1.c5 dxc5 2.Bxa6 bxa6 3.Na4.  Upon actually arriving at the position after 2…bxa6 and thinking another 10 minutes, Houdini was having some difficulty arriving at a definite conclusion as it had been considering moves like 3.Na4, 3.Kb1 and 3.dxc5.  Several times it changed its evaluation and preference and for a while even thought Black was slightly better.  Finally after 15 minutes its opinion was that 3.Na4 was best after all and favored White by about 1/4 P.
I also was curious what it thought about 1.c5 dxc5 2.Bxa6 bxa6 3.Na4 c4? So gave it 2 minutes to ponder that.  It agreed with the analysis that 4.Nc5 h6 5.Qc3 is good for White, and thought White was only about 1/4 P better in that case, too
And finally this position from Bykhovsky-Smirin, Beijing, 1991, Black to play:
In this fairly even position Black’s isolated P on e5 and White’s control of d5 suggests White stands a little better.  However, Smirin was able to exploit White’s somewhat weakened K-side and at the same time deny White use of the e4 square and create an outpost of his own on e5 with 1…e4!  After 6 minutes Houdini finally seems to have faltered in its evaluation
After about 10 minutes it was suggesting 1...Qf7 with an evaluation of -0.16.  Its second choice was 1…b6 evaluated at -0.10 and its third choice was the correct 1...e4 which it evaluated at -0.09.  At least it was correct in thinking the position was slightly in Black’s favor.
Just out of curiosity, I let Fritz and Fire 1.5 Xtreme take a gander at the position and Fire agreed with Houdini that 1…Qf7 was best and favored Black by about 1/4 P while Fritz 12 got it right when its suggestion was 1…e4 which it evaluated at 0.00!
Other engines:  Spike 1…Qf7 (0.06), Ivanhoe 1…Qf7 (-0.17), Critter 1…Qf7 (-0.19) and Komodo 1…Qf7 (-0.20).
I don’t know what one can make of all this but one point seems to be that even though the engines do quite well at selecting positional moves their evaluations, at least in this little experiment, tended to show they did not appreciate the positional nuances to the same extent that the GM’s did.  Houdini missed one of the positions and had some trouble making a decision in one position but all-in-all I think it qualifies as a positional genius.  The only real difference seems to be the degree of optimism shown by the various engines.
The fact that Fritz got the last solution right prompted me to go back and let Fritz 12 look at all the positions.  That’s why Fritz’ score has been attached to all of the puzzles, but without comment.  Guess what?  Fritz 12 is not the highest rated on engine rating lists and it has always come out second best when matched against Houdini in Blitz games but it got all four solutions right. That makes me wonder...exactly how good is Fritz 12 if you allow it to think for several minutes instead of making it play blitz all the time?!
When it comes to analyzing games, it really doesn’t matter much what engine we average players use so I have just wasted a couple of hours proving what we already knew, but it could have been worse…I could have been doing laundry or running the vacuum cleaner or watching television or any of a dozen other things that wouldn’t have been quite so enjoyable.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Difficult Decision

The following game, played in an e-mail tournament, shows the difficulty one faces even when trying to evaluate a position with an engine. The database games showed a big advantage for White in the games played from the position after my 13.Qe2, but a closer examination of the games revealed Black losing when he weakened his position by advancing his Q-side P’s or when he played …e5 which opened up the position and White ended up with a strong K-side attack.

But what if Black doesn’t do either as my opponent did in this game? True, Black can’t undertake any kind of attack if he doesn’t do something, but at the same time his position is very solid and it’s difficult for White to initiate any kind of attack either.

The critical position seems to be at White’s 16th move where he must defend against mate with either 16.f3 or 16.f4. The first move was the most popular, being played 8 times in my database, while 16.f4 was played only once. Honestly, this is what influenced my choice, but as it turned out Black refused to loosen up his position and I couldn’t find any way to get my heavy pieces into the attack because they were blocked by the P on f3. So, it would seem that if White wants to play for a win he needs to play 16.f4 which leads to very dynamic positions that look to offer good chances for both sides. In any case if I played 16.f4 it didn't look like I was going to be able to crush Black with the ease the database statistics suggested.

At move 19 I could have declined the draw with 19.Bf4 but even though the engines say White is slightly better I was concerned that in the long term my hanging P’s would turn out to be a weakness. The most common plan would be to push the d-pawn in order to open things up for the bishops but in this game I felt I needed the addition of a N to help support that advance. But both N’s had been traded so it seemed to me that the hanging P’s might turn out to be a weakness. It just didn’t seem, to my rating challenged eye, that White’s position offered any real winning chances so I decided to be satisfied with a draw against my higher rated opponent. But of course, because I am rating challenged, I could be completely wrong.

Ninth U.S. Championship, 1954

After Frank Marshall retired in 1936, the US Championship had consisted of biennial Championships even through the years of WW2.  The USCF eventually developed a ‘master plan’ for the tournament because the 1948 tournament had shown that the idea of holding qualifying tournaments had resulted in a drastic reduction in the level of play.

The USCF's solution was a three-year cycle of elimination contests that would begin with regional preliminaries as in the past and then the next year there would be a ‘Candidates Tournament’ made up of the regional qualifiers plus seeded players. The trouble was that nothing was organized in 1950 which was supposed to be the candidates year.  As a result, the USCF planned to hold a large invitational with 50 players from across the country in 1951but it was decided that this would be too large so  the eighth championship was cut to 24 due to lack of interest.  Even Herman Steiner, the reigning champion, wasn’t interested in playing! In addition to Steiner, Denker, Fine and Kashdan declined invitations.

 The 24 players who did show up in New York all had to go through an elimination to qualify for the 12-player finals to be held the following month. Included in the preliminaries were players like veteran Alex Kevitz who was trying for the first time since 1936 and Milton Hanauer who had last reached the finals in 1940. Hanauer qualified as did another veteran, Albert Simonson, who hadn’t played in eleven years.  Also qualifying were Larry Evans, Al Horowitz, Herbert Seidman, Sidney Bernstein and Samuel Reshevsky who had not lost once in more than 70 championship games.  Reshevsky was expected win but after being upset by Mengarini, Evans went on to win the championship.

 After that, the plan fell apart when only a few of the regional preliminaries were held in 1952 which was supposed to be the start of a new cycle.  In addition, few sponsors could be found to foot the bill.  As a result the USCF planned a ‘Candidates Tournament’ in September 1953 that was open to anyone with an expert rating (ELO 2000) and $25 for the entry fee.  There were only 23 players in this, a Swiss System tournament with first prize of $250.  The event also offered the six top finishers a spot in the 1954 championship.  The big name in this qualifying event was Arthur Bisguier who was 23 years old and just out of the Army. Bisguier had won the 1950 U.S. Open and his first international tournament, at Southsea, England and finished first in this qualifying event.

But then things were further complicate when the USCF didn't have the money to hold the championship.  Fortunately tournament was salvaged when the Marshall Chess Club offered its facilities to hold the 14 player event. This event was not particularly strong.  On the newly implemented rating list Bisguier, who attended college classes during the day and ended up sleeping at night in one of the Marshall's upstairs apartments was eighth on the list.  Larry Evans, the defending champion, was only tenth and none of the five top rated players (Reshevsky, Robert Byrne, George Kramer, Donald Byrne and Arnold Denker) had accepted invitations. The strongest competitors were Evans and Bisguier and the French émigré Nicolas Rossolimo, Max Pavey and junior star, James T. Sherwin.

Sherwin, 20 years old and only ranked 24th took the early lead after five rounds but Evans and Bisguier fought back to tie Sherwin by the 8th round with 6-2 scores. Then disaster stuck when Evans lost to Marshall Chess Club junior Eliot Hearst. Sherwin drew his game so Bisguier took the lead. The leaders were scheduled to meet each other in the next three rounds so an exciting finished was assured.

Evans vs. Bisguier saw Evans finesse his way out of a lost position and draw. In the next round Evans won from Sherwin thus pretty much ruining the latter’s chances. Bisguier could only draw with Hans Berliner. The next important game was Bisguier vs. Sherwin which turned out to be an exciting affair with ups and downs for both players, and ended with Sherwin losing on time. The result was Bisguier entered the final round with a half point lead ahead of Evans who had White against Herbert Seidman while Bisguier had Black against Ariel Mengarini.  Mengarini  refused Bisguier’s draw offer and tried desperately to win a drawish endgame.  He blundered on the 47th move and lost while the Evans-Seidman game was drawn and the result was Bisguier won the US Championship without a loss and pocketed $254.35.

It’s also interesting to note that this tournament was witnessed by the visiting delegation of Soviet players who were to stomp the U.S. by a 20-12 score in a match a few weeks later.

Here is the Bisguier-Sherwin game that had the spectators buzzing.  The opponents castled on opposite sides and P-stormed the enemy Kings.  Mate threats were everywhere when Sherwin, very short of time, tried to force a draw by repetition, but Bisguier didn’t want a draw; he wanted the championship.  Bisguier hoped his defensive resources could withstand the attack and he went for the win.  In the process he overlooked a stunning R sacrifice by Sherwin that Bisguier said, “shook me to my socks” but his luck held and he managed to win but only after Sherwin, in desperate time pressure, threw away his advantage.