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Monday, August 31, 2015

The Backward d-Pawn in the Sicilian

     The above is a common P-formation in the Sicilian and the following game is a good example demonstrating its pros and cons. For the d-Pawn not to be a disadvantage two conditions must be met: 1-it must be protected in the most economical way possible and 2-black's pieces must exert effective control over the squares in front of the Pawn (d5). 
     Black plays ...e5 in order to control the d4 and f4 squares and prevent white from occupying d4. Black also has a solid center, prevents the advance e4-e5 and prepares ...Be7 and ...Be6. Black will also try to play ...d5 giving him an excellent game. 
     If white tries to prevent black from controlling d5 by playing his N to d5 then black will often exchange it forcing white to capture with Pe4xd5. In that case, white's K-side attacking chances are reduced. Finally, the move ...e5 considerably reduces white's K-side attacking chances and so gives black a better chances of carrying out Q-side operations. As a side note, this enhances black's operations on the c-file which are usually more effective than white's against the backward P on the d-file. 
     In this game David Bronstein gives us a good lesson on how to play this type of position as black. 
     By the way, this tournament was historically important for the Najdorf Sicilian because of what happened in the fourteenth round. Three Soviet players (Keres, Geller and Spassky) played three Argentine players (Najdorf, Panno and Pilnik). The Argentine team had prepared a sharp counter attack beginning with 9… g5!? in the 6.Bg5 variation of the Nadjorf. Geller in, his game versus Panno, found the refutation 11.Nxe6. Then Keres played it against Najdorf and then Spassky against Pilnik. The key move in the refutation (13. Bb5) was discovered by Keres and it was played by the other Soviet players all of whom won. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Free Chess Training Programs

     Reader Alastair has alerted me to the site of a Mr. Fred Mellender who offers a couple of free programs, NeuroExperimenter and Linguist Parsing System. To be honest, what they do escapes me, but he also has some interesting free chess programs and YouTube videos.

Chessboard Capture Program - This tool allows you to capture an image of a diagram from your monitor and convert it to FEN for pasting into an engine.

Guess the Move Program – This is a handy program that's worth investigating. It lets you play over games, guessing the move for the winning side. It scores your move and the whole game by using an engine to evaluate the positions you obtain.

Yatt -- Yet Another Tactics Trainer – This is another potentially handy program that presents about 5500 puzzles for solving.

Chess Speak -- A Voice Interface to a Chess Engine - This one is sounds like it could be very useful! ChessSpeak allows you to speak moves to any UCI chess engine and receive the engine's move in audio. This lets you set up a real board and pieces across the room from the computer and play a game against the engine without having to use the mouse, keyboard, or monitor. Some find this a more natural way to play chess and their "board vision" benefits from using actual pieces. You can use the program to practice blindfold chess; it has a graphical interface too. Additionally, ChessSpeak will calculate your rating and ratings for chess engines. Edit: I downloaded this one, but it did not work (under Windows 8.1).  Under the Parameters setting the select engine and time selection windows did not show up.  More information:  I e-mailed Mr. Mellender about the problem and heard back within a couple of hours.  Here is his reply:

I changed the interface to ChessSpeak since I made the YouTube video. If you start the app, go to the "help" tab, and click "User's Guide", you will see the current interface described (here is a link there https://docs.google.com/document/d/1IIazPm57vNei4w51fnxBpUzSRnuL58ncBn3xXhSCEik/edit).

Instead of specifying engine parameters you now specify an "opponent" from the "game setup" tab. This allows you to specify the engine ply and also shows an approximate rating for the engine at that ply. This allows the app. to calculate a rating for you based on your games with the engine at that setting. You can use the "roster" tab to input another engine specification, and to enter human players. You can use that same screen to calculate engine/ply ratings (which will depend on your system's CPU speed).

After following his instructions it now works fine.  However, I soon discovered that there is something about my accent, tone of my voice or inflection that the program does not understand, so sometimes I have to repeat my move a few times.  I also discovered it's also like when speaking to someone who does not understand your language very well...shouting does not help!!

Support for Chess Clubs - Free software for chess clubs. This program includes tournament and ratings managers.

      Mr. Mellender offers YouTube videos detailing how to use the programs, PLUS he also has two informative videos on how to use SCID to learn chess openings and to study games.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Don't forget the Sinquefield Cup!

Round 3 can be watched on Youtube
Games on Grand Chess Tour.
Schedule on Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.

1. Topalov 2.5
2. Giri 2
3. Aronian 2
4. Carlsen 2
5. Vachier-Lagrave 1.5
6. So 1.5
7. Grischuk 1
8. Nakamura 1
9. Anand 0.5
10. Caruana 0 0

Bobby Fischer Faked His Death! To Play 100 Million Dollar Match Against Carlsen Later This Year!

   Clickbait is a term describing web content that is aimed at generating revenue, especially at the expense of quality or accuracy, relying on sensational headlines to attract readers and entice them to click on a link and share the story on social media sites. 
     It provides just enough information to make the reader curious, but not enough to satisfy their curiosity without clicking on the link. There's a psychological reason why it works. The headline makes people think, but leaves the answer unresolved. Psychologists recognize that humans face “disequilibrium” when they cannot fit new information into their existing thought or behavior. This is what forces people to want to learn and discover new things. Also, when people are in a state of suspense they want resolution. 
     Especially popular are are those fake news articles that affirm what a person already believes. You see them posted on social media sites all the time about politics, religion, gun control, or anything else that people tend to be passionate about. People like to feel that what they believe is right and these stories confirm their belief. Even if what a person believes is not factual or goes against generally accepted behavior or morals, if they can find some kind of confirmation, it makes their beliefs OK and helps convince them that they are correct. Headlines containing numbers are popular also: 15 Sure Fire Ways to Pick Up Girls, etc. Shock value is important, too. People like to be shocked. Getting a person's hackles up is another good way to get people to bite on clickbait. Anger stirs up a strong emotion. And, here's an interesting statistic: clickbait is 20 times more likely to be clicked on than any other means. 
     I recently discovered a site where you can construct fake news stories to share on Facebook called, appropriately enough, ShareonFB.
      Yongzhi Huang, one of the developers of Fast Company, built a web tool that lets you create convincing fake news stories with which to troll your friends. Simply pick a news logo (Yahoo, Breaking News, etc.), write your fake headline, then put a link to the website of your choosing at the end. 
    A twist on clickbaiting works for chess book authors. Look at some of the best selling chess books on Amazon:

Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess. Leading chess writer Tibor Károlyi has written this imaginary sixth volume. In gently humorous – but chessically serious – style, the author imagines Kasparov is annotating over 70 of his own lost games, and blaming all these defeats on the bad influence of each of the previous world champions, providing in-depth analysis to show how he was misled by them. Edmar Mednis once wrote a book How To Beat Bobby Fischer with 61 Fischer losses explained. No doubt there is a lot of good material in this book, but the title is designed to arouse our curiosity. 
How To Beat the Sicilian Defense. Gawain Jones confronts the challenge of meeting the Sicilian head on. He has constructed a comprehensive Anti-Sicilian repertoire for White, which is based on lines he has successfully employed at the grandmaster level. Again, this book probably is a good one, but lines a GM used to beat other GMs probably won't do class players much good because of a lack of understanding of chess in general PLUS, I've rarely had opponent's follow the book for more than a very few moves and when they deviate, I was on my own. Even if they follow the book for 25 moves, at the end of the analysis guess what happens? Both players end up playing at their level whatever that happens to be. 
What It Takes To Become A Chess Master. Andrew Soltis explains what the masters know and the rest of us don't. Learn these secrets and become a master...easy. 
A Cunning Chess Opening for Black. Sergey Kasparov explains how to take your opponent out of his comfort zone and lure him onto the slippery paths of the Philidor Swamp! 
Chess Openings the Easy Way. Nick DiFirmian reveals how the opening moves set its pace and tone and can even determine who wins or loses. Again, victory is determined in the opening...for GMs maybe, but non-masters have to muddle through a middlegame and ending where mistakes are thick as hair on a dog's back.
Dismantling the Sicilian: A Complete Repertoire. Dismantling the Sicilian has never been easier. Heaven help anybody who dares play the Sicilian against us after reading this one! 
The Caro-Kann: Dazzle your Opponents. John Emms tells us how to stun our opponents with new and exciting ideas! Reading this book promises to leave us confident and fully-armed and will make our opponents run for cover! Who wouldn't want to dazzle opponents have have them quaking at the board when they sit down to play us? 
Sharpen Your Chess Tactics in 7 Days. This book is written for those of us who don't have time to devote to long hours of study and is full of easy-to-follow advice on developing nifty tricks that will confound our opponents and help us win the game. Wow!! Only a week and you can play like Tahl! 

This got me to wondering...can I get more readers for my Blog by posting sensational fake stories?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Behting Study...Engines Can't Solve It

     I recently ran across an old article in Chessbase from 2012 that discussed a study called the Behting Study (Part 1 and Part 2) that was first published in 1906. Back in 1983 when journalist Frederic Friedel co-founded the first German computer chess magazine, Computerschach & Spiele, he presented a study about which he wrote the following: "Why will computers beat world champion Anatoly Karpov before they will be able to solve the following study." And then he presented the famous "Behting Study". Engines still can't solve this study and evaluate it as hopelessly lost for white! I let Stockfish 6 run for about 30 minutes and it was evaluated the position at a little over a 4-Pawn advantage for black, a clear win. After a big debate John Nunn, with the help of a 7-man tablebase, finally proved the study was sound. Amazing!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

More On Chess Engine Evaluations

      Tuesday's post, how engines evaluate a position and make blunders, showed you can't ALWAYS religiously trust an engine's evaluation. As demonstrated, even at depth, an engine's first choice may not be the best move, so this is a reminder on some things that have to be taken into consideration when looking at the evaluation score.
      First, a lot depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If you are looking for best lines against human opponent's then your goal may be to pose as many difficulties as possible and so you may want to choose a move that an engine would not consider best.

Equal (=): 0 to 0.26
Small advantage for White (+/=): 0.27 - 0.70
Large advantage for White (+/-): 0.71 – 1.49
Decisive advantage for White (+-): over 1.5

      One major problem with an engine's evaluation is that even in some drawn positions they might be showing an advantage for one side. If there are 6 pieces or less, then you want to refer to endgame databases.
      When it comes to tactical evaluations engines don't miss much, but when long term planning and positional evaluations are the major consideration you may find engines will be evaluating one side better for a long time then all of a sudden, later in the game, the evaluation makes a drastic change! Believe me, I have seen this happen many times when playing on Lechenicher SchachServer.
      This factor is especially important when evaluating openings and positions where there are several moves with nearly equal evaluations. It's very important to understand the ideas and plans for both sides which is, for most if us, beyond our abilities. In these cases I have found the best thing to do is use my Fritz 12 GUI and run some Shootouts. Shootouts allow you to use one or more engines to play out the game at specified ply depths.

Consider the following position:
Black to move

      This position is from the 1909 Lasker vs. Janowsky World Championship Match. I let Stockfish 6 evaluate the position for 15 minutes, reaching a depth of 34 ply, and its evaluation score for 12...Ne7 was a tiny bit in black's favor…-0.11. Next I used Komodo 8 and in 15 minutes it reached the same conclusion except it had a very tiny preference for 12...Re8 and its evaluation was -0.08. Neither engine was correct. 

Notice the two main features:

     Both sides have doubled Pawns. White's are on the same wing as black's P-majority and they are even doubled. Doubled Pawns are a weakness when mobility is a factor, but here they are very effective because they are capable of stopping the creation of a passed Pawn. 
     On the K-side things are different. White's P-majority is capable of eventually creating a passed Pawn which would give him an advantage in the ending. Another factor is the value of the minor pieces. White's B is active and in this rather open position, it is superior to the black N.

     As a result, white has a clear positional advantage that in the long run should give him excellent winning chances. This was confirmed in a series of Shootouts using both engines at a depths of 7 to 25 plies. White scored +8 -3 =17 (59 percent), showing the validity of the conclusion.  This information can be a valuable piece of knowledge to possess!
      In the actual game Lasker did go on to win with only a couple of minor mistakes by Janowsky.

e-mail Open Correspondence Tournament

The German e-mail Correspondence Chess Club (DESC) invites everyone to join the 2015 DESC Open. Everyone is invited and all you need is an e-mail address and to be able to communicate in either English or German. FREE entry. The deadline for registration is September 20, 2015 and the tournament will start on October 1, 2015. The group size is five to nine players, four to eight games, winners qualify for the second round. Non-members register on the site by e-mail with Michael Müller-Töpler.

Note well: This is NOT server play; games are sent in pgn format via e-mail and special rules apply for transmitting moves so MAKE SURE YOU READ AND UNDERSTAND ALL RULES BEFORE ENTERING!!! Also, please DO NOT ENTER IF YOU DO NOT PLAN TO FINISH!!!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How engines evaluate a position and make blunders.

Published on Youtube Oct 10, 2014 by GM Mikhailo Oleksienko...

EDIT: After 1. Na4 Rxb2 2. Nxb2 c3 3. Rxb6 c4 4. Rb5 a6 5. Rh5+ I ran Shootouts using Stockfish 6 and Komodo 8 set at 11-19 plies with the result of +0 -1 =9. Stockfish lost the one game at the 11 ply setting. The point of this video is engines still have some shortcomings and can't be blindly trusted.


Reshevsky vs Bisguier's Budapest Gambit

     The 1954-55 Rosenwald tournament was the first of a series of strong year-end invitational tournaments sponsored in part by Lessing J. Rosenwald of Sears Roebuck Co. One goal was to provide young US masters strong competition at home, with the long-term aim of improving US performance in international events. 
     The initial plan was to have the Rosenwald Trophy rotate each year until a player had won it three times. The fourth Rosenwald tournament would double as the US championship and would be Fischer's first entry into a US championship and also his first of his eight US championships. 
     Rounds 1-5 were held at the Manhattan Chess Club 19-23 Dec 1954 and were directed by Hans Kmoch. Rounds 6-10 were held at the Marshall Chess Club 26 Dec 1954 - 2 Jan 1955 and were directed by Al Horowitz. 
     Reuben Fine was originally invited, but declined. Robert Byrne was also invited, but decided against playing because of his graduate studies. James Sherwin, the US speed champion at the time, was selected as Byrne's replacement. 
     Reshevsky dominated US championship tournaments from its inception in 1936 until Fischer took over in 1957, with Reshevsky winning every championship he entered, the exception being in 1951 which was won by Evans. 
     Larry Evans won the Marshall Chess Club championship at age 15, played in his first US championship at age 16, and his first Olympiad at 18. Evans had won a US championship in 1951 ahead of Reshevsky. Evans was a stronger player than most people realize, but his style was plodding and uninteresting. He was also a popular columnist for Chess Life magazine and an author of a few crappy books, including the one, Trophy Chess, from which this game was taken. 
     Arthur Bisguier won the US Championship in 1954 and has enjoyed success for decades in US tournaments. 
     Donald Byrne won the 1953 US Open and played for the US team in three Olympiads, winning one individual silver and one individual bronze medal. He is most famous for losing to Bobby Fischer in the "Game of the Century" in the third Rosenwald tournament. Byrne (June 12, 1930 – April 8, 1976) was not as strong as his older brother Robert and did not play nearly as much, preferring to devote his time to his profession. He was a professor of English at Penn State University from 1961 until his death, having been invited there to teach and to coach the varsity chess team. He died in Philadelphia of complications arising from lupus and was inducted into the US Chess Hall of Fame in 2002. 
     James T Sherwin was NY state champion in 1951 and won the US speed championship several times. He would play in a number of US championships, usually finishing just outside the top spots. 
     George Kramer played in a number of US championships and was a reserve for the US team at the 1950 Olympiad, winning an individual bronze medal. 
     Reshevsky jumped out to a comfortable lead in the first half of the tournament with 4.5-0.5. Evans and Sherwin were tied for second at 3-2. Despite losing to Bisguier in Round 8, Reshevsky was able to hold his lead and win the tournament by scoring 3-2 in the second half, as Evans was only able to gain a half point with 3.5-1.5. Sherwin lost every game in the second half, so faded from contention. Bisguier was able to finish third on the strength of an impressive 4.5-0.5 in the second half. 

1-Reshevsky 7.5 
2-Evans 6.5 
3-Bisguier 6.0 
4-Byrne 5.0 
5-Sherwin 3.0 
6-Kramer 2.0 

    Openings in this tournament were, for the most part, a boring menu of K-Indians and Nimo-Indians with a smattering of QP openings and Retis with a few Sicilians and Frenchs thrown in. 
     One happy exception was the following Budapest Gambit by Bisguier. Happy for Reshevsky and the spectators, but Bisguier was almost unrecognizable. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Modern Defense

     I recently saw a forum discussion where a player was advocating playing the Modern Defense because it's a universal defense that black can play against whatever move white opens with. The writer said the advantage of Modern is you don't need to study and learn many opening lines. While it may be true that you can play it against any white opening move, the idea that you don't need to learn any theory is mistaken. Maybe not as much as in the Najdorf Sicilian, but you have to learn some theory nevertheless. 
     I'm not exactly sure what the Modern Defense is. I think it's what we used to call the Robatsch Defense named after Karl Robatsch (October 14, 1929–September 19, 2000), a leading Austrian player and a noted botanist. What about the Pirc, named after Vasja Pirc (December 19, 1907–June 2, 1980) a leading Yugoslav (Slovenian) player? 
     ECO classifies the Modern Defense as B06 and codes B07 to B09 are assigned to the Pirc. My Modern Chess Openings, 10th edition, groups them together and calls it the Pirc–Robatsch Defense. As I understand it, the main difference between the Modern and the Pirc is that in the Modern, Black delays developing his knight to f6 which gives white the opportunity of playing c2-c3 which is supposed to limit the effectiveness of black's B on g7.
     Transposition possibilities abound with either defense. After 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7, in addition to being a Modern or Pirc, it can morph into a King's Indian, Dragon Sicilian or something else which means black simply can't apply the same strategy in all situations. Also, after 1.e4 g6 white can, besides 2.d4, play 2.Nf3, 2.Nc3, 2.c4 or just about anything reasonable move.
     Another example is the King's Indian Attack. One site says the advantage of playing this is that it can be set up unhindered and it can lead to excellent attacking chances on the K-side. So can a whole bunch of other openings. I've been down this playing systems road. Way, way back it was the Stonewall Attack, then years later it was the KIA. I bought a book on it and the first thing the author said was white's strategy will be dictated by black's setup and there were chapters on how to correctly play against black formations like the K-Indian, Q-Indian, French, Sicilian, etc. Then there was the Torre Attack, another good 'system.' Guess how the book was arranged? There were chapters on how white needs to play against a wide variety of black formations. The KIA and Torre are decent openings, but they still required a lot of study and memorization in order to play them correctly. The same could be said of the Colle. 
     Back to the Modern...what if white plays 1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 and now, instead of 2.Nc3 or 2.Nf3, he plays 3. c4. Isn't the game headed for a K-Indian with all its different options for both sides? Even though 1...g6 is universal, it seems like there is a lot of theory to be studied because black can't just willy-nilly play the same moves against anything white plays. 
     Even if white cooperates and plays, say, 1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Be2 O-O 6. O-O, arriving at this position:

     According to my Rybka2 opening book black has 12 responses, the most popular being 6...c6 followed by 6...Bg4 and 6...c5. All three lead to a different type of position that will require different handling by both sides. Let's say black chooses the most popular 6...c6. The Rybka2 book lists 7 reasonable replies by white and, again, black's strategy will depend on which move white chooses. All this shoots down the idea that by playing the Modern, or any opening 'system,' you can avoid learning variations and a lot of theory. At least if you want to play correctly. 
     The following game by by a couple of class players demonstrates the point. Instead of transposing into the Old Indian Defense, black continues with a mishmash of moves seen in different defensive setups and soon gets into trouble.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Colle's Amazing Move

Edgar Colle
     I recently played over this fairly well known game, it having appeared in several books in the discussion of Pawn majorities. This game has been used as a good example of crippled majorities, which is what Colle's surprising 17th move accomplished and I became intrigued by Colle's play. 
     Most of the analysis I have seen appears in older, pre-engine books and, as frequently happens, the annotations were based on results; every move the winner played was good while every move the loser played was bad. Games aren't usually that lopsided because the players, often the loser like Spielmann here, were pretty strong players. At the same time, the winners rarely saw everything and so didn't always choose the best move. 
     I spent a couple of hours analyzing this game with the help of Komodo 8 and Stockfish 6 and it was not as one sided as all the annotators have suggested. Of course, they didn't have the super-strong engines available nor were they likely to have spent hours analyzing every position in every game they present in their books. 
     Also, GM Alex Yermolinsky has pointed out that, for example, when Alekhine was searching for sponsors for a world championship match with Capa he wrote a book of his best games and annotated them in such a way that it would prove he was a genius. Nimzovich had the same goal when he wrote My System, but he wasn't so successful in accomplishing that goal. It doesn't matter why they did it though; we have timeless classics as a result. 
     Yermolinsky also warns us that many books written since WW2 repeat previous books, listing all the positional elements and presenting carefully selected games that show one guy delivering a severe beating to another guy and sometimes fudging the analysis to make the point. After you have absorbed all the positional and tactical 'theory' from books, Yermolinsky's recommendation for moving to the next level is pick some good books, books with all the games from great tournaments and books by great players and just watch them play.  And, even if you aren't all that interested in improvement, playing over the games can be a source of enjoyment.
     That's the best way to enjoy this game. Just watch Colle play and see how he uses an idea, in this case a crippled P-majority, to hinder Spielmann's counterplay, a N-outpost and a P-advance to weaken his opponent's position until Spielmann finally cracks under the relentless pressure. It's a good practical lesson.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Lesson on Using an Open File by Pachman

     Czech GM Ludek Pachman (May 11, 1924, Bělá pod Bezdězem, today Czech Republic – March 6, 2003, Passau, Germany) is pretty much forgotten these days, but he was not only a prominent player and theoretician, but a prolific author, publishing eighty books in five languages. 
     Pachman considered Modern Chess Strategy, published in 1959, to be his best book and his book Checkmate in Prague recounts his treatment at the hands of the Communist. The latter book is fascinating reading as a personal account of his life and I highly recommend it. 

     Modern Chess Strategy is still worth reading. It was originally published as a trilogy titled Strategie Moderniho Sachu in Czech, but Alan S. Russell did a good job of distilling it into one 300+ page volume in English. 

     Russell omitted a number of games and left off the opening moves of many others, but on the whole retained Pachman's presentation of ideas. 
     In this game Pachman demonstrates how to use an open file to attack an opponent's King. Of course, the engines, as they almost always do, found some loopholes in his analysis. But, that does not matter because we don't play engines. What is important are the ideas and strategies that we can use against human opponents who don't calculate variations by the millions.