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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Centaur Chess

    Freestyle, Advanced and Centaur Chess are all similar in that humans are allowed to consult engines and make use of any technical or human assistance in selecting their moves. The main difference between these forms of chess and modern correspondence chess is the time limit. 
     In the first such tournament in 2005 Garry Kasparov was favored but it was won by two chess computer geeks from the US. The computer chess ‘specialists’ were able to make use of all available resources including hardware and software.
     Centaurs, as the humans are known, use a program to explore the results of candidate moves. The human players are still fully in control of what moves are made.  Proponents of this form of chess claim it increases the level of play, produces error-free games and spectators can gain insight into the thought processes of strong human players and the inner workings of strong programs. Almost all top level correspondence chess these days is played by Centaurs. If you are not a Centaur, you aren't playing at the top levels. Unfortunately engine users have filtered down into the lower ranks, but that is another issue.  Engine use would not even be an issue if Centaurs would stay in their own realm and would stay off sites where they are not wanted.
     In the competition between Centaurs and pure engines, Centaurs generally have a considerable advantage, especially when playing White. The conclusion is that the advantage of the Centaurs lies mainly in the exploitation of opening advantages. In one large event 21 of the 30 participants were using Stockfish, Houdini and Komodo. These engines, according to the participants, were chosen because Stockfish has a greater depth of calculation and because it is presumably tactically the strongest engine, Houdini is considered the most balanced and positionally a reliably engine, and Komodo because it has the best endgame knowledge. There is also a private engine called Deep Cryptic Cyclone 2.7 or Cryptic Heroes 1.1 which has been used by two participants from Abu Dhabi on pretty powerful hardware. Like Houdini and Stockfish this engine (the real names of the developers are not known) is similar to earlier versions of Rybka and Fruit. Supposedly the engines are run on two Xeon processors with 20 or 16 cores.
     There are several reasons why Centaurs play such strong chess. Centaurs are good at selecting promising middle and endgame strategies which often begins in the opening. By using different engines, superior plans can be discovered. This is especially true if the Centaur knows which engine his opponent is using because they can try to exploit that particular engine’s weaknesses. Also, a lot depends on the hardware available to the Centaur. Of course humans are still prone to errors and make mistakes. In general, a superior hardware is an advantage, particularly when depth of calculation is required in critical positions. In correspondence play on sites like Lechenicher SchachServer and ICCF where engine use is allowed, even at lower levels of play, recognizing critical positions is important. For those who let their engines run a minute or two and then select whatever move it suggests, missing a critical point usually means losing the game because the cursory analysis will be faulty.
     One of the top centaurs, a fellow named Nelson Hernandez, is not a rated player and claims not to have played an OTB game in over 20 years; he has stated that if he had a rating, he does not think it would be over 1100! In Hernandez’ view pre-game preparation is more important than the in-game performance, and this consists of deeply considering strategy like deciding how you are going to make decisions during the game, what repertoire of lines you will prepare, what you intend to do against specific opponents, what behavioral disciplines you intend to follow during the match, what opening books to use during the match. In top-level CC and Centaur play you usually see solid mainline openings being played because most of the top level OTB players play them because they are sound and follow the best principles of development. Thus, a top notch opening book is required in Centaur.  Those crappy books containing games by low rated players that come standard with most programs simply won't do.
     Another requirement is knowing which PV to follow in the multi-PV mode. The ‘PV’ is the Principal Variation and is the line the engine thinks is best. There are positions in which the engine needs help and knowing when that is does require some chess expertise. One top Centaur observed that an engine alone plays random openings, wastes time on forced moves, wants to play for the win, sometimes forcing the position and those traits mean it risks losing, especially when a draw would have been best, so relying entirely on an engine may be risky. At the highest levels of play the draw rate is very high because players make very few errors and rarely take risks. The result is these games are usually boring and rarely would anybody want to play over one. 
     For anyone interested in trying this kind of chess, testing engines or trying out opening experiments I can recommend Lechenicher SchachServer. Engine us is allowed, the interface is nice and it’s free.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Leonard Barden

     Leonard W. Barden (born 20 August 1929, London) an English master, columnist, author, and promoter was educated at and Balliol College, Oxford with a degree in modern history. He learned to play chess at age 13 while in a school shelter during a German air raid and within a few years became one of the country's leading juniors.
      In 1946, Barden won the British Junior Correspondence Chess Championship, and tied for first place in the London Boys' Championship. The following year he tied for first with Jonathan Penrose in the British Boys' Championship, but lost the playoff. Barden finished fourth at Hastings in 1951–52.
      In 1952, he won the Paignton tournament ahead of GM Yanofsky. In 1954 Barden tied for first with the Belgian GM Albéric O'Kelly de Galway at Bognor Regis, was joint British champion, with Alan Phillips, and won the Southern Counties Championship. He finished fourth at Hastings 1957–58. In the 1958 British Chess Championship, he tied for first with Penrose but lost the playoff match. He also represented England in a number of Olympiads.
     In 1964, Barden gave up competitive chess to devote his time to chess journalism and writing. Early in my career two of Barden’s books, A Guide to Chess Openings and How Good Is Your Chess?, were among my favorites. His London Evening Standard column, begun in 1956, is now the world's longest running daily chess column. Always an excellent author, a sampling of his chess column can be read HERE.
     Barden's most important achievement was his key role in the advance of English chess in the 1970s and 1980s when he noticed that Tony Miles and Michael Stean were both likely contenders for the biennial 1973 world junior (under-20) championship, but that the only way for a country to have two representatives was to host the event. Fortunately, Barden knew the financier Jim Slater who offered to co-sponsor the event. The event was held at Teeside and Miles and Stean won silver and bronze medals, respectively. In 1974 Miles won the title. Slater also agreed to Barden's proposal that he should finance special coaching by IM Robert Wade for the five best teenage prospects. As a result, they all became grandmasters. Barden also organized weekend junior invitation events at which the best prospects played a tournament and had coaching from masters between games.
     Barden was well acquainted with Soviet chess literature and in 1974 made a prediction in his column that an 11-year-old named Gary Weinstein was a likely future world champion. That kid, later known as Garry Kasparov, did, in fact, become world champion in 1985. In 1975 Barden recognized that 9-year old Nigel Short also had world title potential and made arrangements for Short’s progress.
     In 1976 Barden was successful in securing financial backing for chess from Lloyds Bank. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the bank's chairman, Sir Jeremy Morse, was an eminent chess problemist. As a result Lloyds Bank sponsored numerous matches and tournaments.
     As for his own chess, Barden's best single rating performance was at Hastings 1957–58, where he finished fourth behind Keres, Gligorich and Filip, scoring 5 out of 9. Barden also has a “Blunder Theory” which states, “The worst blunders occur on the days when you’re feeling in form and aren’t expecting the chess gremlins to strike.”
     His favorite game is the one where he defeat U.S. Master Weaver Adams at Hastings in 1950-51.  A few words about Barden’s opponent in the featured game, Weaver Adams, are in order. According to Arnold Denker, “Adams wrote a book, White to Play and Win, lived in a white house on White Street, chewed antacid pills that left the inside of his mouth perpetually white, and raised only white chickens that laid white eggs. Predictably, Adams' business was soon no more than a shell." Harry Golombek wrote in 1977 that Adams, whom he described as "author of White to Play and Win and a sodium bicarbonate addict", was on Golombek's "reserves" list for "the ten most interesting personages" from the past 100 years.
     While annotating this game I did not allow a lot of engine analysis time for the position after Adams retreated his B to f8 on move 10, but several engines gave a mixed bag of results during my quick look. Readers may find it interesting to investigate the position after 10…Bf8 more thoroughly.  Perhaps the entire game is worth a more thorough look just as an exercise to improve one's analysis skills, assuming one is interested in improving in that area, of course. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Alexandre Deschapelles

     Alexandre Deschapelles (March 7, 1780, near Versailles – October 27, 1847, in Paris) was a French player who, between the death of Philidor and de la Bourdonnias, was the strongest player in the world and was considered the unofficial world champion from about 1800-1820. During his lifetime he was also known as Guillaume le Breton.
     Not only an expert chess player, in the upper society of his time he was also known as an expert in the card game Whist. Whist was first played on scientific principles by a party of gentlemen who frequented the Crown Coffee House in Bedford Row, London, around 1728. Edmond Hoyle, likely a member of this group, began to tutor wealthy young gentlemen in the game and published A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist in 1742 which became the standard text and rules for the game for the next hundred years.
     Deschapelles excelled not only at chess but at billiards, Polish draughts, trictrac, and whist. Three months after learning the moves of Polish Draughts, he defeated the French champion of that game.
     After the death of Philidor in 1795 four men, Verdoni, Bernard, Carlier and Leger, who were nowhere near Philidor’s level, publish a popular chess books and were considered the best players in the world. It was Verdoni who replaced Philidor at Parsloe's in London until he died in 1804 while Bernard and Carlier ruled at the Café de la Régence in Paris.
     Around 1798 Deschapelles appeared out of nowhere. Deschapelles claimed, among other outrageous things, to have learned all he needed to know about chess in just four days. According to chess player and historian George Walker, Deschapelles noted: "I acquired chess, in four days! I learned the moves, played with Bernard, who had succeeded Philidor as the sovereign of the board; lost the first day, the second, the third, and beat him even-handed on the fourth; since which time I have never advanced or receded. Chess to me has been, and is, a single idea, which, once acquired, cannot be displaced from its throne, while the intellect remains unimpaired by sickness or age."
     His father, Louis Gatien Le Breton Comte des Chapelles, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA and his mother was from the south of France. Gatien served as an officer in a dragoon regiment and later became, through the influence of his close friend, an officer in the royal household with a number of rooms near the king's chambers in the château of Versailles. Gatien decided that his son should start a military career, and so Deschapelles was sent to the military academy at Brienne.
     In 1791 when terror began to reign in France, Louis Gatien decided to emigrate to Germany with his wife and two daughters. Deschapelles remained behind and soon had to join Napoleon's army. After losing his right hand in battle, he was known as "Manchot" (one-armed). At the same time received a saber cut that opened his skull from his forehead to his chin which left him disfigured. Phrenology enthusiasts of his era suggested "cranial saber-wounds" were responsible for his amazing chess skill. Deschapelles himself was a revolutionary and received his wounds fighting for Napoleon but when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor, he turned against Deschapelles and tore off the Cross of Honor (of which he received one of the first ever issued) he had received from the army.
     After learning chess in 1798, Deschapelles took up residence at and ruled the Café de la Régence. Then in 1806 the army in which Descapelles served entered Berlin and he challenged and defeated at Rook odds the best players in Germany. The year 1812 found Deschapelles employed as a superintendant of the tobacco monopoly, a post granted to him by a Napoleon aide. In 1815, after Waterloo, Deschapelles formed a band of partisans which named him their general, but that escapade was short lived.
     In 1820, Deschapelles took on Bourdonnais as a student and the following year John Cochrane, a young Scottish master, visited France and Cochrane, Deschapelles and Bourdonnais played a triangular tournament. Deschapelles played Bourdonnais and Cochrane giving them each the odds of a pawn and 2. He beat Cochrane 6-1 but lost all 7 of his games to Bourdonnais. Deschapelles then played Cochrane even but requiring himself to win 2/3 of the games as a form of odds. Cochrane won that match. That's the only recorded instance of anyone beating Deschapelles even.
     In 1821, Willian Lewis came to Paris expressly to play Deschapelles. William Lewis (1787–1870) was an English player and author, nowadays best known for the Lewis Countergambit and for being the first player ever to be described as a Grandmaster . Lewis won the 3 game match receiving odds of pawn and move by drawing two and winning one. Deschapelles then challenged Lewis to an extended match of 21 games at odds of pawn and 2 at much greater stakes but Lewis declined.
     In 1822, Deschapelles gave up chess probably because by then Bourdonnais was the better player. He took up whist and won more money at it than he ever had at chess. With his new found wealth, he and his bride rented a villa near Paris with orchards, pheasants, pumpkins and melons. His melons and pumpkins won prizes and were highly valued, leading George Perigal, an English player, to write "M. Deschapelles is the greatest chess player in France; M. Deschapelles is the greatest whist player in France; M. Deschapelles is the greatest billiards player in France; M. Deschapelles is the greatest pumpkin-grower in France; M. Deschapelles is the greatest liar in France."
     In 1836, after being out of chess for 14 years, Deschapelles began playing again and drew a 3 game match (+1 =1 -1) against Saint-Amant giving odds of pawn and 2. He won a 5 game match (+2 =2 -1) against Wilhelm Schulten of Germany in 1842 at odds of pawn and 2. He then played Saint-Amant a 5 game match winning +3 -2.
     For the last year and a half of his life, Deschapelles was confined to bed, suffering from delusions and composing rambling constitutions for various countries. His final wishes were that he should die unannounced and unheralded and be buried in a pauper's grave.
     Deschapelles reportedly once asked an opponent if they would play a game for stakes, to which he stated "My religion forbids me to play for money", Deschapelles replied "Mine forbids me to be absurd!" Here's a nice win at odds against Cochrane.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lomonosov Tablebases

     I have mentioned the Lomonosov TBs a couple of times in previous posts but occurred to me that not everyone may know exacty what they are. The Lomonosov Tablebases are 7-men Endgame Tablebases that were constructed by Vladimir Makhnychev and Victor Zakharov at Lomonosov Moscow State University using their Supercomputer. They allow you to determine the certain result of any position with 7 pieces or less. One great advantage to owning ChessOK Aquarium 2014, Houdini 4 Aquarium, Houdini 4 PRO Aquarium, Chess Assistant 14 Starter Package and Chess Assistant 14 Professional Package is that you receive receive free access to the Tablebases until the end of 2014. And…the tablebases can be accessed directly from the Aquarium interface. If you don’t own these products you can still purchase a one year access to the tablebases from ChessOK until July 1, 2015 for $20.97.HERE

     Tablebases have, in some cases, drastically altered the understanding of endgame theory; some positions have undergone  complete reversal of results.  Tablebases have calculated mates in more than five hundred moves which is beyond a human.
     It's important to remember that tablebases ignore the fifty-move rule though and as a result in 1974 FIDE changed the rules several times to account for such positions, but then in 1992 they rescinded these exceptions and restored the fifty-move rule. In 2013, ICCF changed the rules for correspondence tournaments starting from 2014 - a player is allowed to claim a result based on a six-piece tablebase and the fifty-move rule is suspended and number of moves to mate is of no significance. Of course, all this information requires a lot of memory…the seven-piece tablebases require more memory than our home computer will ever have.

If you are serious about studying endgames or are a serious correspondence player, the Lomonosov Tablebases might be a worthwhile investment.

Instructive Ending

     I recently came across the following ending that is quite interesting. The position is from one of my correspondence games from back in the Fischer Era and it opened with the then popular Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez; the Exchange Variation was popular because Fischer had been using it. The game was played in the finals of Chess Review’s U.S. Open Correspondence Championship and my opponent was, at that time, a strong (2300-plus, or low 2400 rated OTB Master) and was on the top ten list of U.S. correspondence players.
     In the game I erred in taking a defensive attitude and retreated my K to the defense of the Q-side P’s. I should have aggressively pursued creating my own passer on the K-side which would have drawn. I mistakenly believed my defensive stance lead to a draw.
     As it turned out, my opponent sent me a move based on a recording error that lost immediately and as soon as his error was confirmed he was going to resign, but I offered a draw instead.  Not realizing my position was lost, I thought a draw was a legitimate outcome. Besides, he had a lot more to lose than I did to gain. The rating points he lost on the draw alone knocked him out of the top ten and the points dropped had he lost would have been catastrophic; even the draw cost points that it would take years for him to regain. Offering a draw seemed the right thing to do. Besides that, just as we had sent out our first move I met him at an OTB tournament in Chicago and he was a genuinely nice guy.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Tournament Reminder...

    GM Maurice Ashley’s Millionaire Chess Open in Las Vegas October 9-13, 2014 is approaching. The venue is Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Notes:
…the million dollars is the total payout
…first prize is only $100,000
…rooms are $70-$129 per night
…entry fees • $1,000 before July 31, 2014 • $1,500 from August 1 through October 8, 2014 • $2,000 from October 9 through 3:30 p.m. October 10, 2014. Information

Some Great Chess Links

    Marshall’s Chess Swindles...This is a Google digital copy with over 125 of Marshall’s best games with his notes plus his analysis of various openings. Descriptive notation. DN is easy to learn…go HERE for an explanation.
     The Dimock Theme Tournament ...This tournament was held at the Marshall Chess Club in 1924. The tournament was sponsored by Edwin Dimock of New London, Connecticut, who donated prizes for the top four players. The tournament required all participants to begin their games with 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4. It was won by Marshall ahead of Carlos Torre, Anthony Santasiere, Erling Tholfsen, Rudolph Smirka, a local New York Master, Horace Bigelow and Bruno Forsburg another local Master.

Also while you are at it, check out the links to chess at Rutgers!!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A 1300 vs. a Master

     The recently concluded XVI Obert Internacional Sant Martí 2014 Group A was won by GM Karen Grigorian ahead of GM Jorge Cori (Peru), FM Jose Martinez Alcantara (Peru), GM Vladimir Burmakin (Russia) and FM Kevel Oliva Castaneda (Cuba). However this game is between also-rans, Ida Tateo (US) who is rated 1330 and finished in 106th place (out 0f 110) and her Master opponent, Felipe Porras Mateo who scored 5.5 and finished in 32nd place.
      Ms. Tateo, although playing under the US flag, lives in Barcelona where she works as a consultant. This game was Porras Mateo’s first round victory and I chose it because it demonstrates how a master grinds out a victory against a lower rated player. It also demonstrates that 1300’s don’t play like they used to!! Tateo’s 1330 belies her play and one wonders how she failed to win any games in this tournament.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Missing a Nifty Tactic

In the following game I missed the surprising 25.f5 which would have drawn Black’s B away from the defense of his b-Pawn and allowed my b1-Rook to enter the game with decisive results. In fact, I missed the advance f5 a couple of times after that.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Engines and Books

     I was recently looking at the below position (using ChessOK Aquarium 2012) from an online game I played a few years ago and it was my (White’s) turn when I noticed some differences in the evaluations of Stockfish 5 and Houdini 2. The brief explanation of what I saw shows the danger of just zipping through a game and relying strictly on computer generated analysis. We all know you won’t learn anything except where you made a tactical mistake by looking at engine analysis and we also know that when it comes to top level correspondence chess with its heavy engine use, just playing the recommended engine move won’t get you anywhere near the top levels.
     Then I found a must read article by GM Kevin Spraggett on his Blog where he said, “BUT worse still, many reputable authors have produced best-selling products that are deliberately dumbed-down with absolutely useless and often redundant computer-generated analysis of variations. Computer analysis trivializes the basic skills that are needed to become a master level player…I REFUSE on principle to fall for the commercialized or chess-engine processed information put out by those who want me to later buy their products…” You must read the whole article!

White to move

     As you can see from the above analysis panels using Stockfish 5 and Houdini 2 the best move is 18.O-O, but the evaluations, especially for the second choice (18.Bd3) are quite different. In the game I actually played 18.e4 to which Black replied 18…Bxe4. Retreating the B to c8 was evaluated 0.00 by SF5 while H2 recommended retreating it to d7 and evaluated the position at -0.09. Black played 18…Bxe4 and the question is, “How should it be evaluated?”
     Interestingly, while analyzing the position after 18.e4, SF5 listed 18…Bxe4 as its third choice and evaluated it at +5.22 which is an easy win. H2 on the other hand also listed 18…Bxe4 as its third choice but evaluated it at only a half Pawn in White’s favor! That’s a major difference. When the move 18…Bxe4 was actually made SF5’s evaluation jumped to 6-plus P’s and H2’s immediately jumped to nearly 4 P’s! In the game I won quickly after 18…Bxe4 19.Qxg4+
     After making the better move 18…Bc8 both engines evaluated the position at nearly equal while 18…Bd7 weighed in at 1/3 of a P advantage to White by SF5 and H2 put it at dead equal. After 18…Bd7 both engines recommended 19.Be5, but it took Stockfish several minutes to find it.
     Clearly, analyzing your games with an engine and expecting that’s all it takes to find the best moves and at the same time improve your chess won’t work. And, as GM Spraggett points out, neither will spending a ton of money on crappy chess books, especially opening books, help.

Chess Portal

     This site by Per-Åke Lindblom of Stockholm, Sweden has been around since 2002 and currently contains nearly 5000 chess links. Lindbolm says he has personally visited all the websites and he has commented on and attempted to categorize each site according to the material it contains.
     Some links are dead and one site link I clicked on called Crazypawn was described as follows: Frederic Fricot finds playing e-mail chess is preferable to OTB-chess due to family reasons. He also presents some of his games on the homepage. Language: French. When I clicked on the link it took me to a site in Orlando, Florida, also named Crazy Pawn, which appears to be a Pawn Shop. Anyway, if you just want to surf, it’s worth a visit. Chess Portal

Recent Queen Alice Visit

    In the past when I wanted to play correspondence chess without engines QA was my site of choice. However, after checking out the site this morning I discovered it’s apparently running on autopilot.
     The site owner, someone named Miguel, has not visited it since May and the forums are totally unmoderated. A couple of players have been openly accusing others of having duplicate accounts and using engines. While this may or may not be true, the accusers offer no proof of engine use. One thing I noticed that at least two of the persons making the accusations had only played two games on the site, so I am not sure how they arrived at their conclusions. One person, probably retarded, even went so far as to say everyone rated over 2300 is using and engine. Does he not realize there are some really strong players around the world and every time one loses a game, it does not mean the opponent was cheating; it may be the loser is just a crappy player.
     In any case, you can still play individual games and tournaments there. Just be aware that if there are any server problems, as there has been in the past, you risk not being able to finish the games. That happened to me a while back when I had two games in the finals cancelled. I decided not to enter another QA tournament.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Dr. Peter Lapiken

Lapiken in 1958
     Lapiken was a master who lived in the Northwest (Washington and Oregon) from 1958 until 1972, and later was the strongest player ever to live in Montana. Lapiken was born in Riga, Latvia, on July 7, 1907, of Russian parents. His father was a Russian Orthodox priest. The family moved from Latvia to far eastern Russia in 1915 and then to China, in 1916, where Lapiken’s father served as a priest to the city’s large Russian population. Lapiken learned to play chess from his Grandfather in Russia around 1913. During the course of his career he played against Mieses, Tartakover, Kostich.

     In 1931 Lapiken graduated from the Harbin Institute of Oriental and Commercial Sciences. He worked as a detective for the French police, he being fluent in Russian, Mandarin Chinese and French. In 1935, along with most Europeans, he fled to Shanghai until 1939 when he emigrated to the U.S.
     Lapiken played in the Washington State Championship in 1939 and the Mechanics’ Institute Championship in 1940 and was attending school at U.C. Berkeley when WW2 began. During the war Lapiken served in Army Intelligence working as a translator. After the war he returned to Berkeley and completed his PhD in Slavic languages in 1949. 
     He taught for several years at UCLA then left to take a position teaching Russian and French at the University of Montana. Lapiken did not play serious chess except in the summers when he wasn’t teaching. He played in numerous U.S. Opens in the 1950s and 60s and was best remembered for his performance at the U.S. Open in Long Beach in 1955 where he narrowly missed beating Reshevsky and had to settle for a draw. He also drew with the winner, Nicolas Rossolimo.
     Lapiken was a master at bridge as well as chess and was a concert level classical violinist. He was also known as always being a gentleman and displaying courtesy, professionalism, and sportsmanship. On social occasions he was often the life of the party, reciting from memory poems and other literature. When not participating in tournaments or busy with his teaching duties, he played chess at the local club in the back of Hansen’s Famous Ice Cream in Missoula, Montana.
     In the 1930’s he was twice chess champion of Manchuria.  In his US appearances, in the 1953 California Open he tied for first, winning the brilliancy prize in the process. In 1954 at the 2nd Pan-American Chess Congress he tied for places 8-9, finishing behind Evans, Rossolimo, Steiner, Sherwin and Kashdan. There were 80-plus entrants.
     In 1955 at the California Open, he tied for places 4-8 and at the US Open in Long Beach, he scored 6.5 out of 12, drawing with Reshevsky and Rossolimo. In the 1956 U.S. Open Lapiken again scored 6.5 out of 12 and tied for 33-44th place. He did better in the 1958 U.S. Open, tying for 16-32nd with 7.5 out of 12. In the 1960 U.S. Open he tied for places 23-38, again with 7.5 out of 12. In the 1961 U.S. Open he placed 13th with 8 out of 12. 
     In the Mid-West he had successes in local tournaments that are too numerous to mention. For many years, the Northwest maintained its own rating system which was nearly identical to the ‘official’ USCF ratings and in 1958 Lapiken’s Northwest rating was that of an ‘Expert” at 2015 after he had just won the Inland Empire Open in Spokane, Washington, scoring 5.5 out of 6. In the April, 1960, Northwest rating list he was listed simply as a ‘Master’ while the 1960 USCF rating list showed his rating as 2144.
     After retiring, Lapiken spent the last ten years of his life in San Francisco, often showing up at the Mechanics’ Chess Club. Lapiken was a strong player with excellent theoretical understanding but often suffered from a lack of consistency. He was frequently known to relax too soon when it looked like he was winning and it cost him many points. He died August 14, 1983, in San Francisco.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Thoughts on Study and CC Play and Engines

Whose Games to Study? Alekhine’s, Capablanca’s or those of Carlsen and Aronian?

     In the recent edition of Chess Life magazine, GM Andy Soltis in his column Chess To Enjoy, made the following observation: “Chess combinations have a way of being repeated…This is why studying great tactical battles of the past is so useful.” 
    Then he went on to add, “…games featured in books and magazines that you read are the ones played in the very recent events. Yesterday’s games-not the ones played a hundred years ago-will have the greatest impact…” 
     Soltis pointed out that there is, however, a certain disadvantage to playing over the games of today’s great players. He opined that the games of the great players of yesteryear were grounded in “classical” chess and the problem with games played by today’s top GM’s is that they have less to teach than the classics of old. The reason is, according to Soltis, that a typical game played by one of today’s elite GM’s is they begin with 15 or more moves of engine checked home analysis and what happens in those moves is not understandable by the rest of us. Soltis points out that you will learn more by seeing how mistakes were punished, but when a great player of today wins it’s usually because his opponent’s mistakes were almost imperceptible. That was not usually the case in the old days. There was an interesting discussion on this subject on Chessdotcom HERE.

Engine Analysis and Post Mortems

     I have heard some lower rated players don’t bother doing a post-mortem on the grounds that they aren’t good enough; they would rather let an engine blunder check the game to see where they went wrong. As a result they miss an opportunity to improve because chess is about ideas and talking things out with other players can’t help but broaden your horizons.
     All the engine is going to do is show you tactical mistakes and if there aren’t any tactics, an engine will show you positional moves that were mysteriously arrived at by its algorithm without explaining anything.
     Even for the best players, engine lines can be difficult to evaluate. If things were as easy as letting the engine select your move I’d be playing in the world CC championship. Unfortunately, even at lower levels of CC play, things aren’t that easy. On LSS my record is only +44 -35 =99 and that’s mostly against players in the 1900-2100 range.
     With engines you can analyze for days without coming up with the “final” answer as to what the best move really is. Also, there is the question as to which engine is best. Larry Kaufman (Komodo developer) believes Komodo is best for long-term analysis because it is more positionally programmed. Houdini is better when it comes to blitz and tactics. Stockfish? I don’t know. Critter also figures somewhere in the mix, too. The recently released Stockfish 5 definitely appears to be better than Houdini and Komodo, ranking ahead of them at a time limit of 40 moves in 40 minutes.
     Top level CC play sees most of the games being drawn, but a lot of that is because at that level, nobody wants to take any risks. Heavily analyzed openings are the norm…Najdorf Sicilian, Ruy Lopez, Semi-Slav, Catalan or the Nimzo-Indian. The King's Indian is rarely played because engines don’t evaluate the resulting positions well. I’ve had opponents play some rare gambits and lesser known openings against me on LSS and the results haven’t always been what you’d expect but then I don’t let the engines spend hours analyzing and I try to incorporate my own evaluations into the position, too. Not being a top level CC player means that sometimes things don’t work out well even against supposedly inferior openings. Also, in positions where there is no clear path to take, you need to figure things out yourself so there’s still, at least for those of us lower down on the food chain, some room for continuing to play modern day CC.
     Back in October 2012, ICCF announced a new CC World Champion; Ron Langeveld from the Netherlands. To achieve that status it helps to be a strong OTB player because it takes a very good understanding of how to get an edge, especially when the engines aren’t showing any particular difference between several moves. Also at the upper levels your opening repertoire has to be super-solid and you have to be able to ferret out good opening innovations. And don’t forget endings!
     Langeveld said in an interview that chess knowledge can be bad in CC in some cases because even the strongest CC players make too many mistakes without engines as a tool. One of the main problems strong players have is that because of their chess knowledge, they move too quickly.
     So, how much time does it take to make a move? Pertti Lehikoinen, who won the 20th CC World Championship which lasted three and a half years, said that in the beginning he spent eleven hours a day on his games and for several months he had to increase it to seventeen hours a day. In the end, he spent more than 14,700 hours on the final; that’s an average of twelve hours per day and that didn’t include the time he spent thinking about his games while doing other stuff! Lehikoinen also admitted to fainting because of fatigue at times. My last game to finish on LSS was a long one…9 months! The average was 3-4 months and I rarely spent more than half an hour on a move and never once did I faint from fatigue.

A snappy U.S. Marine-style salute to Mr. Lehikoinen for his dedication!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Defeating a CC Int’l Master

     As mentioned previously, I have engaged in almost no chess activity recently except the following game against an ICCF IM. My opponent opened with, at least as it’s known in the U.S., the Dunst Opening because it was played and analyzed by the New York Master, Theodore Dunst.
     The opening itself isn’t really a bad opening and it lends itself to a host of transpositions. e.g. the Scandinavian Defense, Scotch 4-N’s, Three Knights, Nimzovich Defense, Owen’s Defense, the Dutch, From’s Gambit, Blough Defense and the Latvian Gambit. My opponent often plays these little explored openings.
     In this game I had a slight advantage as a result of having more space, but White’s real problem seems to be tied to the fact that for the entire game his light squared B was out of play, ending up on a2 where it remained until the end of the game. If this is indeed the source of his problems, then it seems to me that it throws the whole line he chose into doubt. This game was the last in the tournament to finish and allowed me to gain first place on tiebreaks.