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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Review

Centre-Stage and Behind the Scenes: The Personal Memoir of a Soviet Chess Legend by Yuri Averbakh

      I’m not much for buying chess books these days; in fact I recently gave away about 50 or 60 of them, keeping only about a dozen in my library. However on a recent book store visit I came across one I couldn’t resist despite its nearly $50 price tag! I guess compared to my recent purchase of a book on General George Armstrong Custer at $35, this book was a better bargain and one that I actually enjoyed more than the Custer book. Possibly it was because a lot of the information about Custer was already known to me, but most of the material in Averbakh’s was new.
      It’s the autobiography of a player (Averbakh) who was a GM, former Soviet Champion and an insider of Soviet chess back in the days when chess was a major factor in Soviet diplomacy. Averbakh participated in or was a member of the Soviet delegation for many international tournaments as well as an insider who witnessed or took part in the many machinations of Soviet chess in those days.
      He discusses the infamous'Sports Committee' and writes of his personal views on Soviet players like Botvinnik, Smyslov, Kortchnoi, Petrosian, Tal and Spassky as well as his dealing with players like Euwe and Fischer. I remember reading an interview with him in Chess Life magazine and was surprised at his openness in answering questions posed to him. Averbakh used to be known as the most powerful man in Soviet chess and is currently the oldest living grandmaster.
      If you are interested in chess history from what I think is the Golden Era of chess then buy this book.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tim Krabbe's Open Chess Diary

Check it out!  Good stuff LINK

Time Changes Things

...and, sadly, not always for the better:


The 16 Hour Analysis

      I had met my opponent in this game (who outrates me by about 150 points) in a previous tournament.  In that game he let his guard down in a won ending and allowed me to escape with a lucky draw.  I'm not likely to be so lucky this time.
       In this game I made the mistake of following an opening line where a 2500 rated player defeated his 2350 rated opponent but I failed to check the moves in the game.  As it turned out the lower rated player had missed a critical line that would have left him with much better chances.  I realized my error when my opponent discovered the improvement!          
      In the position Black has just played 17…Rg8; a move I knew was coming and a move I knew left me in dire straits.  I let Houdini analyze the position for 16 hours then went to the end of its analysis and, as I have recommended in a previous post,  began stepping back through the moves .  That’s when I discovered that 29.Qxh5 was a bad move; by playing 29.Bxe1 the evaluation dropped from 1-1/2 Pawns in Black’s favor to 0.00.  Needless to say I was elated…that is until I continued stepping back through the analysis.  That’s when I discovered that starting with 23…b3, Houdini had not selected the best moves for Black.  After about 2-3 hours of interactive analysis with a couple of different engines (hoping that one of them would find something Houdini missed) I came to the conclusion that, barring a miracle, I’m going to lose this game.
      Morals of the story: 1) don’t rely on the fact that just because one side won it means his moves were the best, 2) even with engines, long analysis can be wrong analysis and 3) human interaction is necessary when analyzing with an engine.  I have posted all that advice before so why didn't I follow it?  Because I'm like Mark Twain who said, "Good advice never did me any good, so I always pass it along."  Maybe it will help somebody else.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Draw with an ICCF Senior IM

My veteran opponent’s ICCF rating has plummeted in the last 10 years from a high of about 2450 to around 2275 these days, but I still expected him to be a tough opponent. I decided to play the Open Variation of the Ruy Lopez. This variation has remained popular since the 19th century and virtually every world champion has played it. It appeared in the Alekhine-Euwe, Karpov-Korchnoi, Kasparov-Anand matches and Timman and Yusupov have included it in their repertoire.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Losing in the Opening

      In the following game which was played in a server tournament, I played the Bird Defense in answer to my opponent’s Ruy Lopez.  White gained a small advantage in the opening and nursed it home when it turned out my counterplay with the N on the Q-side wasted too much time and allowed him to improve his position in the center along with picking up my d-Pawn.  This game is the kind of positional stuff you see a lot of in CC these days where seemingly insignificant factors pile up and finally decide the game.
      I don’t think resignation was premature.  I was starting another tournament which included some very strong players, including an ICCF Senior Master, and wanted to devote more time to my remaining games.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Miroslav Filip

       I was unaware until today that Dr. Miroslav Filip, Czech grandmaster (born on October 27, 1928 - died on April 27, 2009, aged 80) had passed away back in April.  For those that don’t know, for a 7-year period from 1955 to 1962.  Filip was in top form and twice qualified for the world championship candidates (1956 and 1962).bFilip never was chess professional so his two appearances in the candidate tournament are an impressive achievement.  Link to some of Filip's combinations

Filip playing Tahl at Curaçao, 1962
From the Times May 7, 2009
Miroslav Filip: Czech chess grandmaster 

     Miroslav Filip, the Czech chess grandmaster, devoted his professional career to a wide variety of aspects of the game, as player, author, journalist and arbiter. In every sphere he achieved world-class results, though by modern standards he was something of a late starter, his prospects being hampered by his formative years coinciding with the Nazi occupation of his home country and the various deprivations caused by the Second World War.

      Filip was born in Prague in 1928, and like his co-national grandmaster-to-be Ludek Pachman, he benefited from the occasional presence of the world champion Alexander Alekhine in Prague competitions during the early 1940s. However, it was not until the age of 25 that Filip began to make a serious mark on the postwar wider chess scene, earning the title of international master from Fide, the World Chess Federation, in 1953. His growing prowess had already become clear from his victories in the Czech national championships of 1950 and 1953.
      It was during the seven years from 1955 to 1962 that Filip — at 6ft 9in in height an imposing presence at the chess board — truly became a world force. During this period he twice achieved the arduous feat of qualifying for the Candidates Tournaments for the World Championship, at Amsterdam in 1956 and again at Curaçao, in the Netherlands Antilles, 1962. Thus Filip was automatically propelled into the upper echelons of the world elite. It was at this time that Filip inflicted defeat on no fewer than three world champions, Dr Max Euwe in 1955, Vassily Smyslov, the reigning champion in 1957, and the former world champion Mikhail Tal in 1962.
      Filip also won the international tournament in Prague in 1956, again at Marienbad, now in the western Czech Republic, in 1960 and in Buenos Aires in 1961. In spite of his glittering achievements and wins against the world’s best in individual encounters, Filip failed in his ultimate ambition to challenge for the world title. Indeed, in his second appearance in the Candidates Tournament at Curaçao 1962, despite scoring a fine counter-attacking victory against Tal, he was generally outclassed, both by the established Soviet grandmasters and by the new star, Bobby Fischer, the mercurial young American. Therafter, Filip grew less enthusiastic about tournament play, becoming more concerned with avoiding defeat, at which he was an adept, than in scoring wins. As a result he turned his professional hand ever more to authorship, journalism and arbiting.
       He was selected by the World Chess Federation to be arbiter for six subsequent World Championship contests, including the controversial Karpov v Korchnoi match at Baguio in the Philippines 1978. Here Filip, who had spent his life avoiding contentious issues and who had quietly conformed to the Communist regime in Prague — where many of his fellow grandmasters had either defected or protested — found himself in charge at a difficult time. For the final games of the championship, the match erupted into accusations and counter-accusations concerning the intervention of parapsychology and the presence of a banned group of mystic gurus.
       He conducted the chess column in the Prague daily sports paper Denik Sport with distinction and wrote books on the Candidates Tournament of 1956, the World Championship of 1978 and the Lucerne Chess Olympiad of 1982. His prowess as a player was further confirmed by his results for Czechoslovakia in the chess Olympiads, where he represented his country on a remarkable 12 occasions, three of those on top board, scoring 114 points from 194 games for a 58.76 percentage. In 1970 he won the individual gold medal for his performance in the Kapfenberg European Team Championship.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Are Chess Players Getting Better?

Tyler Cowen says…WAIT! Who is Tyler Cowen?! He was a chess master and is a food writer, world traveler, economist and Professor at George Mason University. As a young player, Professor Cowen played at the well-known Manhattan and Marshall chess clubs in New York City and by the time he was 16-years-old he was rated in the mid-2300’s.Then he gave up chess saying, “I realized I wasn’t going to become a professional. There are no benefits, no retirement. It was not the life I wanted to lead. And I fell in love with Economics.” He has a Blog about many things other than chess that I found interesting called Marginal Revolution.  In one interesting post he asks the question, “Are chess players getting better over time?”
A computer-based method of analyzing chess abilities was conducted by Matej Guid and Ivan Bratko from the Department of Computer and Information Science of University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, in 2006. The basis for their evaluation was the difference between the position values resulting from the moves played by the human chess player and the moves chosen as best by the Crafty chess engine. They also compared the average number of errors in the player's game. Opening moves were excluded in an attempt to negate the progress in chess opening theory. According to their analysis the leader was José Capablanca, followed closely by Vladimir Kramnik.  The "Classical" World Chess Championship matches were analyzed and the results for the fourteen Classical World Champions with fewest average errors:

1-José Raúl Capablanca 2-Vladimir Kramnik 3-Anatoly Karpov 4-Garry Kasparov 5-Boris Spassky 6-Tigran Petrosian 7-Emanuel Lasker 8-Bobby Fischer 9-Alexander Alekhine 10-Vasily Smyslov 11-Mikhail Tal 12-Mikhail Botvinnik 13-Max Euwe 14-Wilhelm Steinitz

The problem with their study was Crafty was not strong enough to evaluate the world champions' play and one of the modifications restricted the search depth to only 12 half moves. A more modern look was done using Rybka and can be found at ChessAnalysis.
What I found most interesting was a list of the 75 most accurate games.  Here is the top 10:
For more information on comparing top chess players throughout history see the Wikipedia Article.

I'd like to think that I know a little more about chess now than I did back in the old days, but since returning to CC play in 2004 after about a 12 year absence, my rating has remained about the same as it was when I gave up CC so it would seem that in general the play of "average" players has much improved over the years. But then on the other hand when I let an engine examine my old postal games it seems that they were no better or worse than the games I play today...so I don't know.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

World Champion…Who Cares?

       I have to admit that I haven’t closely followed the world championships since the days of Kasparov.  There was the time they had those stupid knockout “championships” and now it’s no longer determined by classical games, but rather blitz. 
      In the recent Kazan matches Alexander Grischuk (a late replacement for Magnus Carlsen) adopted a strategy that was disgusting. He believed he couldn’t beat the better players in classical chess so used what GM Ian Rogers called “poker strategy.”  Grischuk threw in his hand if the cards didn’t favor him…meaning he agreed to short draws with White if he felt he didn’t have a clear advantage. He didn’t even try to win in the classical or blitz games. He counted on winning with tiebreakers. He freely admitted he couldn't beat his opponents from an equal position so, as Rogers put it, he "avoided dragons rather than slaying them."  So this is what world championship chess has been reduced to.  Rapid games and tiebreaks.
      Supposedly the idea of finishing all games in one session was to eliminate adjournments and the use of engines.  That’s nonsense.  What’s the difference between having a gaggle of GM seconds analyze an adjourned position or using an engine?  None. In fact I would sooner rely on the analysis of two or three GM’s than any engine.  In amateur chess, engine use for analyzing adjournments is no problem at all.  Let’s face it.  Average players can’t remember 10 moves of their favorite opening let alone a whole lot of lines generated by Fritz.  No.  It’s about money.  Organizers want chess speeded up so they can get sponsors and everybody can make some money.
       Just picking a tournament at random, the Atlantic Open held this month in Washington, DC has an entry fee of $120 and most of the prize money goes to players rated under master.  First is $2000 and class prizes are between $400 and $1500.  Even a player rated under 1300 can win $1200. 
       It used to be everybody played the same schedule and at the same time limit.  There weren’t any accelerated parings.  In those days with my lowly mid-1600 rating there were many times I was paired against a master in the first round.  OK, so it was an automatic defeat, but there was the thrill of playing a master and if I was having a good day, making him work for his point.  I remember the pride after one defeat when my opponent, rated 2202, asked my rating and when I told him 1660, he said, “Really?  I thought you were about 2000.”  Prizes?  We class players were playing for a cheap trophy or a book. 
       GM Nicholas Rossolimo once complained that he couldn’t get a book of his best games published because he wasn’t scoring points.  When he pointed out how many games he had played with Q-sacs and how many brilliancy prizes he had won, he was told, “Who cares? You didn’t score a lot of points.”  Rossolimo was a far cry from guys like Gata Kamsky and Yasser Seirawan before him.  Kamsky has announced that if he isn’t world champion by the time he’s 40, he’s retiring.  Apparently chess is not enjoyable for these guys; it's about the money...nothing but the money. OK, so maybe no big international events, but why not a weekend Swiss just for fun?  Apparently because there is no money in it especially if you probably have to split the prize fund with a bunch of other GM’s.  At least Kamsky is on record as stating that in the Kazan matches he decided to play for a win in every game whether it was rapid or classical because the spectators were watching and he can’t play like Grischuck or Kramnik.  For that we can be thankful even if it cost him a shot at the world title.

Friday, August 12, 2011

New pdf Book

I have a new pdf book (58 pages) of Grandmaster games ranging from 1950 to 2002.  These games have excellent annotations by masters and GM’s and their notes are very instructive.  As a supplement I have also included my tips for improvement and move selection that are based on the teaching of former World Correspondence Champion C.J.S. Purdy. Download 

Good Engine Analysis is an Art

...but for most of it’s more like a kindergartner’s crayon drawing.

I use Fritz 12 with the Houdini 1.5a x64 bit version.  If you have a single core processor you will have to use the 1.5a w32 bit version.   So far I have not found any engine that consistently defeats Houdini and the Fritz 12 engine does not even come close.
Opening books really do not matter because for correspondence play or analysis I use a database. There are many good commercial and free DB’s available, but I have always used my own which consists of about 3.5 million games.  The main thing is to make sure you keep it updated.  For this you can use a site like The Week inChess to download new games every week.

I also use the DB that contains all the games ever played at the now defunct InternationalEmail Chess Group because it contains openings used by some of the world’s top CC players and their games are good models to follow. I don’t search for my own opening innovations like most top level CC players because I’m not one…I wisely rely on their research!  Openings will need to be solid mainline openings and not dubious gambits.  Successful CC usually means winning in the ending and to do that you are best advised to play positional chess.

You should set the hash on the maximum Ram you can and give the engine plenty of time to select a move.  Then, as I have pointed out in previous posts, check the analysis!

Houdini can use the Gaviota End Game Table Base which can be found at Gaviotachessengine but I never use it.  I prefer to check potential endings at the Shredder Endgame Database. The EGTB access is very slow and if you do choose to use it download time can run 30 to 80 hours and at least 50 GB of hard disk space. Should you choose to download them you can interrupt at any time and when you start again, the program knows at what point you stopped and it continues from there.
The latest issue of Chess Life had an interesting interview with CCGM Stephen Ham. Ham stated in the interview that his chess tends to be technical with an emphasis on long range planning and his wins are usually the result of the accumulation of small advantages resolved in the ending.  When analyzing with an engine he investigates positions that interest him and not the engine.  He added that (strong) players know which lines are worth looking at and which are not.  He also added that he relies on his own evaluation of the position and not the engine’s which he claims are often unreliable.  I have heard other very strong players make the same claim. 
One interesting statement he made was that in closed positions with hypermodern strategies (e.g. King’s Indian) engines often play weakly and their evaluations usually favor White which are unreliable and incorrect.  Perhaps this explains why in top level CC you often see a lot of Queen’s Gambit’s and Nimzo-Indians.  He also advised that when playing CC one ought not be influenced by the engine...often his moves were not even in the top ten engine choices.  This is in line with what I heard another CCIM say: The initial search for moves should first be broad, not deep.  Only when one has selected moves that look promising should deep analysis begin. 
For most of us, we enter a game into our engine, let it analyze at 10 seconds per move and call the result “analysis.” But, whether one is playing CC on a site where engine use is allowed or simply analyzing games with the idea of improving, serious analysis is time consuming and requires considerable skill.  That’s unfortunate because most of us are looking for an easy way to improve and improve fast. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Troyis – Knight Tour

Use a Knight to paint all the white squares on the board as quickly as possible. The faster you are, the more points and better world ranking you will get. As you complete each Knight tour a new board with more squares pops up so it keeps getting harder and harder. You are limited to 30 free minutes a day.  Quite amusing…and frustrating. LINK

Training in chess: A scientific approach

A 24 page research paper by Fernand Gobet & Peter J. Jansen that deals with how players who have already reached about 1800 and would like to reach a higher level of expertise, say, 2400 Elo can do so. Open to debate, but interesting. I guess it’s like anything else, when you get desperate, you’ll try anything!!

Fischer’s Incredible Win Streak

       I was looking through some old issues of Chess Review magazine the other day and came across a couple of articles on Bobby Fischer’s incredible 20 game winning streak starting on December 2, 1970 with a win over the Argentine player, Jorge Rubinetti in the Palma Interzonal.  After defeating Rubinetti, Fischer mowed down Wolfgang Uhlmann, Mark Taimanov, Duncan Suttles, Henrique Mecking, Svetozar Gligoric, Oscar Panno, then scored 6 straight match wins over Taimanov and another 6 straight over Bent Larsen and, finally a win over Tigran Petrosian before he lost the 2nd game of their match.  He went on to defeat Petrosian, who had a reputation as being one of the toughest players in the world to defeat, by the lopsided score of 6-1/2 - 2-1/2.
      In the Interzonal Fischer posted a score of 18-1/2 – 4-1/2 finishing 3-1/2 points ahead of Robert Heubner, Bent Larsen and Yefim Geller.  It was hardly fair that Fischer’s phenomenal score overshadowed the 21-year old Heubner’s success in the tournament .  Heubner started the tournament a “mere” IM and finished ahead of, Uhlmann, Taimanov (5th - 6th), Portisch and Smyslov (7th- 8th), Gligoric and Polugayevsky (9th -10th), Mecking and Panno (11th -12th) followed by, Hort, Ivkov, Minic, Suttles, Reshevsky, Addison, Matulovic, Naranja, Uitumen, Filip, Rubinetti and Jiminez.  Quite a feat!  Here is the game that started it all.  
Fischer’s opponent, Jorge Rubinetti (born 31 March 1945) won the Argentine Championship four times (1971, 1982, 1988, and 1991) and played eight times for Argentina in Chess Olympiads (1968, 1970, 1972, 1974, 1980, 1982, 1988, and 1992). In the 1970’s he was one of Argentina’s top players.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Improve Your Chess-Eat Like a Grandmaster

      An interesting article by Roberto H. Baglione, RD. Departament of Nutrition, National Sport High Performance Center (CeNARD), Buenos Aires, Argentina on the nutritional practices of Grandmasters can be found HERE.

      Investigations carried out by the German Grandmaster Helmut Pfleger, MD, et al. have demonstrated that the elite chess players have comparable physiological parameters in competition as those who practice sports such as shooting, car racing and golf; consequently, chess could be classified as the same category of sport as those according to these criteria. As a result, it will be necessary not to limit preparation to hours of study on the board, but to extend it to a more complete program involving physical training and an adequate nutritional plan for the demands, among others.
      Regardless of what you are doing many investigations have shown that mental concentration can be affected when doing intellectual activities in the morning without having had breakfast previously. The most preferred solid food by Grandmasters included chocolate (80.5 %), fruits (14.6 %) and cereal bars (9.8 %). Regarding types of fluid, main preferences were water (72.1 %), coffee (42.6 %), tea (29.5 %) and fruit juice (23.6 %).

Friday, August 5, 2011

Roman's Chess Blog

From time to time while surfing the Internet for chess blogs I come across one that is really interesting and that I think has particular merit.  One such is by an individual who is apparently a Canadian Master that is called Chessblogger.

       This blog contains some excellent instruction and annotated games that make it well worth a visit!  “Roman” analyzes 38 GM games, 75 of his own, offers books reviews, databases, endgame instruction, advice on opening preparation, opening analysis, great players games analyzed, strategy, tactics, videos and software reviews.  In short, this site has something for everyone.  Another site by the author has well annotated games worth playing over.  Be sure and pay both of these sites a visit!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Some Thoughts on Correspondence Chess

  If you have a plenty free time and enjoy analysis you will enjoy correspondence chess. And if you want to play at the master level, in addition to being a strong player, you’ll need a strong engine and a knowledge of the finer points of how to analyze with one. Just like in OTB chess, nobody reaches correspondence master without a good understanding of the game because to reach master, you have to be able to shoulder your way past all the other engine users. Please, if you are going to use an engine, then be fair and play on a site that allows them! If your playing strength is good enough and you are patient enough you can get a master title. It would help if you were like the Norwegian Frank Hovde who in the 1980s chose to live alone so he could do proper analysis without interference or outside distractions but that’s not an option for most of us.
       Most OTB players and even some CC players don’t understand how chess, especially correspondence chess, can survive in an era where engines are in such heavy use. For now the fact is that CC at the top level is a demonstration of the limitations of chess engines.
       But if you want to play CC, you should be aware of the conditions you will face. As a CC player you will have a lot of time for analysis and when you throw a strong engine into the mix, CC as it is played today even at lower levels, is at a really high level. Of course I’m talking about international play on sites where there are no rules against engine use. On server sites that forbid their play none of this applies...at least below the master level.
       It is extremely hard to beat anybody and their engine. To do so you will have to know when your engine is giving you misleading evaluations and that is very difficult unless you are of at least IM strength. The best most of us can hope for is that we are more patient than our opponents and are willing to let our engines run longer than they do plus by patiently double checking the engine analysis for missed opportunities, we get lucky once in awhile and find a flaw...it can happen.
       Programs don’t play perfect chess so a lot of work is still required. Once player who is both an OTB and CC master once pointed out that before you start going deep into the analysis of a position, you must make sure you look at a broad selection of moves because sometimes you will find variations that an engine may have discarded in its trimming process. This was the way he discovered many good ideas. Of course being a 2300+ OTB master gave him the edge over most people when it came to rooting out those ideas!
       It’s true that a deep understanding of chess and strong OTB strength is required to be successful when engines are in use and therefore, climbing to the top levels will remain beyond the reach of most players. But isn’t the same thing true of OTB chess? Nevertheless, we all keep trying.
       If you play CC at the lower levels, don’t worry about engine use...have fun. If you are going to be playing at a level where you do run into engine users you will need to make a decision of what to do about it. I elected to confine my play to sites that allow engine use and educate myself in the fine art of engine analysis. The result has been that my engine based analytical skills have improved leading to better results. Also as a result, maybe my chess has gotten better, too. The main goal remains the same as when playing at the lower levels...have fun. Hopefully as a bonus there will also be some improvement.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I Don't Believe This!

      Some guy posted a question on how many opening lines one should know and how deeply they should be memorized. The best answer was, if you’re not a master, none. Study strategic/tactical themes that are the result of common middlegame positions from your opening of choice. That way when an opponent plays something you haven’t seen, at least you will know whether or not his move fits in with the requirements of the position. If it doesn’t you know he made a less than optimal move and by being familiar with basic middlegame themes and patterns that result from your opening, you will be able to plan correctly.

      He thought that was crappy advice. His idea is to memorize 30 lines 8-10 moves deep. Reminds me of the guy who once wrote a letter to the editor claiming that if one could memorize Modern Chess Openings, he could become a GM and challenge the Russians.
      Anyhow…the guy went on about how he rarely loses, so either he’s really good in which case he does not need to be asking such a question in a forum haunted by amateurs or he’s playing really weak opponents. The other possibility is he knows nothing about chess and isn’t interested in learning.
      Case in point: Once upon a time my 1400-rated opponent took about 5 minutes for his first 20-some moves while I used about an hour and a half. Finally he sank into deep thought and after several minutes played and outright blunder and resigned a couple of moves later. In the post mortem I had to listen to him yammer on and on about what a bad move I had played. When I asked why it was so bad, his only answer was that it wasn’t the move Fischer played in a game he had memorized. It didn’t matter because once “out of the book” he didn’t understand the position.