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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ruy Lopez Marshall Attack

      GM Jan Gustafsson is a leading expert on the Marshall Attack (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.c3 d5) especially in the attacking lines where Black plays uncompromisingly for a win. The Marshall Attack has the reputation of being a very reliable drawing weapon in top level chess. This is surprising since the positions in the critical variations are very sharp and Black often has the initiative. White has to be very careful and well prepared, since in many cases seemingly natural moves by White can lead to a quick loss due to a mating attack. Even at high level it sometimes happens that White gets busted right out of the opening so the Marshall Attack is an excellent choice for Black.
       Still, at the highest levels the Marshall Attack has a drawing reputation. GM Gustafsson is a little more aggressive in his play, usually avoiding queen exchanges and playing for a direct attack on the White King. After all, that was Marshall’s original idea.
      In this game, I played the lesser tried 12.d3 instead of the more popular 12.d4 but did not gain any advantage. In fact, I was the one who had to be careful not to fall into a lost position. There were several chances for me to get into complicated positions where the engines were suggesting I had a slight advantage, but, as I have stated in other posts, I have a strong distrust of engine evaluations in materially unbalanced positions and so avoided venturing into those lines.

New Chess Site

Chesshood is a new correspondence and forums site that has only just recently launched.  The site says you can play correspondence chess, share photos and videos and create your own group or join others. I did not see much activity on the forum or in the games section.

The playing section:
From the Admin: Hello all, I would like to tackle an extremely sensitive subject as far as online chess is concerned! What to do with engine users? Well i have come up with a solution that may resolve this issue. Rather than banning them straight away, I have decided that Engine users will be allowed to play ONLY in specific tournaments! and against other Engines. So to put this in place, members wishing to use their software will see apposed next to their username a little icon. Now however anyone caught using an engine and not been honest enough about it (not displaying the icon) will be banned fair enough?

      At present there appears to be only 9 active players with 23 active games but they have been online for playing chess only a couple of days.  Also, there areno tournaments active at the moment and 20 or so players have open challenges and none of them have played any games yet.  Why don’t they play each other?!  From what I was able to gather, only two games have been completed and in both cases one of the players resigned without playing any moves. You start out with 1500 points with a gain/loss of 18 points.  As of today only two players are shown on the rating list, both rated 1500.
      They also have a chat room on the playing site that auto-refreshes every 5 seconds no matter what you set the refresh rate to; this makes it very difficult to read the comments.  This is a known bug that the admin will fix. 
      All in all, the site appears to have potential if enough people decide to participate in the forums and, more importantly, play there.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Virginia Wigren

       Not much is known of Virginia Wigren except that she has the distinction of being the first female editor of the CCLA’s Chess Correspondent, a post she held from 1953 to 1956.  She was from Chicago and had a journalism major from Northwestern University and had been a magazine editor, fashion copyrighter and an advertising manager.  
       Wigren had been a top female postal player at Al Horowitz’ Chess Review before joining the CCLA.  She served as Rating Statistician from 1950 until she took over as editor of the Correspondent.  It was Wigren who apparently began the CCLA’s Women’s Championship, winning the first two events in 1949 and 1950.  She won the latter with a perfect 11-0.  It was probably an exaggeration, but one of her assistants called her, “the most dangerous correspondence player in the United States.”
       Unfortunately she never kept her game scores and seems to have just disappeared from the chess scene.  A Google search of her name and chess turned up zero results. Below is the one game of hers I was able to locate.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sex and Chess

       The New In Chess 2012/7 (the Olympiad issue) has a disgusting article by Nigel Short wherein he claims the Olympiads are in essence all about sex.
       As National Master Jim Schroeder so succinctly put it: “Nigel Short is a walking dung-heap. He exceeded his reputation as being vulgar and crude by “dropping his trousers,” and writing a long article about sexual activity among chess players, including the “f” word, which appeared in NEW IN CHESS #7, 2012. But Short didn’t publish that putrid crap; the editor, Jan Timman did. Long known to be “sleazy,” Timman degenerates into being depraved.”  Amen, Mr. Schroeder.  See an article at Streathambrixtonchess.
      Reminds of an article of a couple of years ago published by Chess Life where Tim Taylor was attempting to earn his IM title in Hungary and detailed his attempts to have sex with just about every woman he met.  It appeared Taylor thought every woman he met was a slut.
      Concerning that article Jeremy Silman wrote, “Let’s get real. Tim wrote an accurate depiction of life in international chess – emotional ups and downs, poverty (how the desperate need for money affects one’s over the board performance), sexuality, and (of course) chess games/analysis/battle, etc. If a magazine wishes to pretend that these things don’t exist in the chess world (especially if it’s a children’s magazine), then that’s fine – don’t publish the article. Say it’s inappropriate for the magazine in question, pay the writer for his efforts, and that’s that. Just don’t shoot the messenger when he writes of real experiences, real adventures, and real emotions.”
       Taylor defended his article saying, “I wrote a light hearted, romantic, human interest and chess interest article.” Romantic? Since when is thinking just about every woman you meet is a whore and hitting on her romantic?  Light-hearted?  It might be funny to Taylor, but not to the woman, her husband, boy friend, brother, father, or whomever.  What an idiot!
      I never played professional chess so don’t know about all that stuff but I can’t imagine editors publishing such explicit and degrading material.  I don’t care about professional players’ sex lives and don’t believe, given the number of kids who read these chess magazines, that they need to be reading about such matters.  I know kids are exposed to far worse material in their everyday life, but really, does sex also have to appear in chess magazines, too?  

Critter is My (Free) Engine of Choice!

Back in September I reported that Critter may be the best engine around for endgame analysis.  I recently ran the position given in the post on January 29 titled Two Knights Ending through a gamut of engines.  The first time around each engine was given ONE minute to select a move.  To be fair I then ran the same position giving the engines THREE minutes. All engines selected the only winning move (1.Nc6) with the following evaluations.
ENGINE                               ONE min.    THREE min.
Critter 1.6a 64 bit                mate in 29     mate in 28
Stockfish 2.3.1 JA 64           97.39              mate in 26
Fritz 12 (1 CPU)                    12.50               10.98
Fire xTreme                          10.26              13.75
Ivanhoe B47 cBx64a           8.93                12.17
Strelka 5.5 (1 CPU)              2.67                 25.87
Komodo64.3                         2.33                2.32
Rybka 2.3.2a mp                  0.87                0.87
Houdini 1.5                           0.56                15.72
Rybka 3 (1 CPU)                   0.49                1.23
Naum 4.2                              0.33                0.30
Spike 1.4                                0.24                0.00

Dual core laptop, 512 hash. Critter website

       From what I have been able to glean, in tactical situations Stockfish would be the engine of choice, but if you are playing on sites like ICCF or LSS where engines are allowed, you are rarely going to get into tactical positions. Openings, positional play and endings are going to be the order of the day. 
       It should be pointed out that the commercial version of Houdini (v. 3) will easily defeat any of these free engines though.  Houdini 3 costs about 40 Euros ($53) but I do not use it because it supports up to 6 cores and 4 GB of hash.  My laptop does not have that much computing power, so I don’t feel the expense is worth it.
       Speaking of openings, Sedat Canbaz has produced Perfect 2011 Opening Book that is compatible with various GUIs.  This opening book is based on Super GM games (average 2650 Elo) and is tuned and optimized for the strongest lines for the playing styles of the top 20 chess engines in engine vs. engine play. Note however that the book’s depth is only up to 8 moves. When it comes to engine vs. engine play (such as you are likely to run into on ICCF or LSS), opening books play a vital role and are the key for getting a high Elo performance and as the author points out, it is wrong to view openings based only on engine evaluations. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Test Position

The following position is from Bronstein vs. Euwe, Zurich 1956 where Black has just played 14…Bg4and Bronstein replied 15.Qxc5 which Najdorf gives a “!” stating, “At this moment in the game Bronstein thought for an hour and a quarter before deciding to take the Pawn.  What was it he saw during this time?”  Najdorf then analyzes the moves 15.e5 Bxf3 16.exf6 Nxd4 17.Bxh7+ Kh8 18.fxg7+ Kxg7 19.Bd2 and the at this point he considers several Black replies. Najdorf concludes that if White plays 1.e5 a draw is likely so Bronstein, whom he calls a formidable fighter, decided on another equally complicated line of play.  After a wild fight, the game was drawn.

While looking at the position with an engine I was curious to see what move various engine running on my dual core laptop suggested after 3 minutes and came up with the following; I have truncated the main line to 4 moves.

Engines agreeing with Bronstein and Najdorf and selecting 1.Qxc5

Critter 1.6a 64–bit
1.e5 0.21
1.d5 -0.26
1...Nxe4 2.Bxe4 Rxe4 3.Ne5 Be6 4.Be3 Qb6 -0.10

Naum 4.2
1.e5 -0.15
1.d5 -0.28
1...Nxe4 2.Bxe4 Rxe4 3.Ne5 Be6 4.Be3 f6 0.00

Rybka 2.3.2a mp
1.e5 -0.15
1.d5 -0.26
1...Nxe4 2.Bxe4 Rxe4 3.Ne5 Be6 4.Be3 f6 -0.06

Stockfish 2.3.1 JA 64bit
1.e5 -0.32
1.d5 -0.52
1...Nxe4 2.Bxe4 Rxe4 3.Ne5 Be6 4.Be3 f6 0.00

Spike 1.4
1.e5 -0.33
1...Nxe4 2.Bxe4 Rxe4 3.Ne5 Be6 4.Be3 Qb6 0.00

Strelka 5.5 (Single core)
1.e5 -0.64
1...Nxe4 2.Bxe4 Rxe4 3.Ne5 Be6 4.Be3 Qe7 0.05

Fritz 12 (Single core)
1.e5 -0.01
1...Nxe4 2.Bxe4 Rxe4 3.Ne5 Be6 4.Be3 f6 0.00

Engines NOT agreeing with Bronstein and Najdorf and selecting 1.e5

1.Qxc5 0.02
1.d5 -0.14
1...Nd7 2.Bxh7+ Kf8 3.e6 Bxe6 4.Be4 Qd6 0.40

Houdini 1.5 x64
1.Qxc5 -0.13
1.d5 -0.26
1...Bxf3 2.exf6 Nxd4 3.Bxh7+ Kh8 4.fxg7+ Kxg7 0.00

      The problem with many engine rating lists is that they are based on blitz games, so I prefer the CCLR rating list where the games are played at 40 moves in 40 minutes. On CCLR’s current list we find that among the engines listed in my experiment (all running on 4 CPU) Critter is rated #2 behind Houdini 3, Stockfish is #4, Komodo is #6, Strelka #7, Naum #8 and Spike is #13.
       Of course no engine seems to be a match against Houdini 3 Pro x64.  In a 10-game match running on  6 CPU played at 20 minutes plus 20 seconds at ATOMIC Testing, Critter 1.6a x64 got smashed 7.5 – 2.5.
       I don’t know what, if any conclusions can be deduced from this brief (and unscientific) experiment, but for me, given that Critter 1.6a 64–bit selected Bronstein’s move and is ranked second on CCLR’s rating list, I think I should make it my engine of choice for long analysis.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Bishops of Opposite Color Ending

From time to time I enjoy going over my old games with an engine just to see how I did back in the old days.  More often than not it’s disappointing because games I thought were well-played had some serious errors.  The following ending, which arose from a Ruy Lopez Marshall Attack, was disappointing because I thought I should have won despite the ending with Bs of opposite color.  As it turned out my judgment was correct…Black should win from the starting position. Generally though the ending was pretty well-played by both sides.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Amusing post on BoingBoing

      “The only reason the computer was banned from the competition in the first place was the UNFAIR, RACIST and ILLOGICAL prejudice against non-human players. If the computer is better than a human, let it compete. And that goes for the Olympics and cycling too, drug cheats would be over if the Tour de France got with the 20th century and allowed the riders to have motorcycles. Who wants to do all that peddling up and down mountains?
      Chess is obviously over as a competition sport. It’s kind of boring anyway. At a certain point the only way to advance is to learn a bazillion openings by heart. Tedious!
      So let’s replace them with an international chess cheating championship in which cheating is allowed but you get disqualified if you are caught. So the competition would become finding the most ingenious ways to hide your computer backup.”

      Amusing. At first engine use was only a problem in correspondence, but now players are perfecting the art of cheating OTB. The question often asked is why do people use engines when they are not allowed? Some people simply want to raise their ratings. Exactly why this is so, I can’t answer because on most sites you are anonymous and Internet ratings mean absolutely nothing. In fact these days all correspondence ratings mean absolutely nothing.
      Some titled players have been caught using engines in Internet sites. I suppose it’s because in some of the tournaments there is money at stake and they feel they must because their opponents use engines. In the case of alleged cheating by a certain woman GM on one popular site I think it was because she used the site primarily to advertise her teaching services and books. To that end she played quite a few people and likely did not want to mess around actually playing low rated players so she just faked it.
      OTB cheating in one form or another has a long history. The use of computers to cheat in OTB tournaments in recent years are too numerous to mention and are pretty well known anyway and since some correspondence sites now allow engine use, I like the idea put forth by the poster on BoingBoing that engine use should be allowed in OTB events as long as you don’t get caught.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Study the Classics?

      Thanks to reader Paul Gottlieb, I recently purchased Najdorf’s Zurich 1953 which has for the first time been translated into English and published by Russell Enterprises. You can read my review on the Book Blog. 
      This is a great book, but it got me to thinking why would anyone want to study old chess games? What’s to be learned? For most of us GM games have too many moves we don't understand and today’s players routinely violate positional principles set down by the great players and teachers of yesteryear. Also in one of John Nunn's books he discussed the number of errors found in older master games and how many were unsuitable for generating good tactical puzzles.
      Still, those types of games are still good to go over though because with careful scrutiny you might find improvements in the play. Despite their mistakes and sometimes antiquated ideas there is a certain value in studying the games of the older GMs. The kinds of errors you see being made in their games are usually not the kind that you see in today’s modern GMs, but what you do learn is how to punish them when they are made. If you start out with modern games, they can be hard to follow because you don’t yet know the basics.
      Dvoretsky and Yusupov have written about the value of noting an interesting idea or position and analyzing it yourself. You should keep this analysis organized so that eventually more and more games with a similar themes will be collected and analyzed. GM Alex Baburin's book on the IQP is an example of this. Another huge benefit of playing over GM games is helping to develop pattern recognition.
      GM Greg Serper wrote about a conversation he had with a strong player who told him he was going to delete all the old games from his database because they were practically useless. Serper commented that he was appalled because he came out of the old Soviet School which placed strong emphasis on knowledge of the classics.
      Serper believes you should play through classical games if you want to be a strong player because as he explained, these days when two GMs play and one of them sees a good idea, in most cases his opponent sees the same idea and prevents it. As a result, you cannot learn this idea that was left unplayed unless it is mentioned in the annotations.
      The advantage of playing over old games is precisely that the players were not as sophisticated as modern GMs and therefore when they had an idea very often their opponent had no clue about it. Playing over the old classics allows you to have them explain their thoughts and ideas to you. Many modern players simply don’t do that because they already understand the whole process.
      And…don’t forget, Fischer was familiar with the classics and even got some ideas from old Steinitz games! Botvinnik read Capablanca’s Chess Fundamentals and he ranked it highly. Petrosian said he grew up on The Art of Sacrifice in Chess by Rudolf Spielmann and he was also a big fan of Nimzovich’s My System. One of Kasparov's favorite books was Bronstein's 200 Open Games. If you don't have any books by classical players in your library then you should buy some...NOW!  Najdorf's book is a good starting point.

Interesting R and P Ending

I recently won a lost game when my opponent exceeded the time limit in a won position.  Despite the fact that I had blundered a P earlier apparently I still had drawing chances in the position below.  Houdini rates the position as only slightly in White’s favor, but on my 29th move I made an elementary mistake in allowing my opponent to get a passed P supported by his R behind it.