Monday, March 20, 2017

Teamchampionships

At the end of a working week colleagues sometimes ask what my plans are for the weekend. Often my response is that I will play a game in the interclub. Subsequently I need to explain this a bit as outsiders don't understand how you can play chess in a team. Isn't chess played 1 player against 1 player? That is right. A teamchampionship is nothing more than adding up the points of the games and comparing the total scores between both teams.

Of course you can wonder what exactly is so attractive to teamchampionships. 1552 players are expected each interclubround in Belgium. If you compare this number with any other competition in Belgium then you find out this is gigantic. Nevertheless players need to sacrifice 11 Sundays in a season while other tournaments are struggling to survive despite less play-days.

It is a bit like the chicken and the egg. Without the massive amount of participants the interclub would never attract so many (new) participants and exactly because of this power of attraction the interclub has this huge amount of participants. On the other hand also the unique format plays a role which allows everybody to play against players of approximately the same strength. The 5 divisions ensure some sort of separation between the different playing strengths. So you don't only play 11 interesting games in the interclub but you can also after the games discuss about chess with players of your own level.

However I don't want to elaborate further about this here. No I am more interested in finding out if there can exist some cohesion and team-spirit in a group of players put together often by fate in one team. Is something like that possible for chessplayes whom are often extremely individualistic. Well honestly I think it is not so easy and sometimes simply impossible. Some teams work with a rotating system of players which doesn't allow you to create a real team-spirit. Besides even a very fixed group of players won't give you any guarantees. If I look to our current first team of Deurne and compare this with the one of a decade ago then still 5 players of the 8 are the same. Nonetheless I was very surprised to find out after our recent match in Gent against Jean Jaures that we drove back in 5 cars !

Nevertheless players of a team can also become real friends which I experienced from my years in the French interclubs. Each round efforts were made to build a team-spirit. It already started before the game. Everybody got involved in the composition of the team (the French interclub allows to some extend to move players from position). 10 minutes before the round we got each time a serious pep-talk from the president and also after the game we tried to know each-other better by having dinner together in a restaurant. Draws could only be proposed or accepted via the teamcaptain. I still remember very well how I once was reproached for accepting a draw without consultation in the position below.
De La Riva Aguando,O 2549 - Brabo 2308 : 1/2 - 1/2
The final position is close to equal and I thought a draw with black against a 250 points higher rated grandmaster is a very good result. However at that moment we were behind in the match and my draw only increased the pressure in the remaining ongoing games for our team-members. So my draw sort of sealed our match-defeat. It was a painful but also instructive lesson.

By aging I learned to become a better team-player even if this is not always matching my own ambitions. Today I am willing to take more risks when the match-situation expects this from myself. Last I was contemplating a very risky exchange-sacrifice in the final position of my game against Ian Vandelacluze. Only after finding out that the match-victory was already secure, I allowed the repetition of moves.

Initially my teammates were not fond of my exchange-sacrifice. Only after showing some lines they agreed that it was the only serious try for white to win in the finalposition.

So teamchampionships can definitely make games more fascinating especially if matchpoints are used. However not everybody is willing to cooperate or even capable to think beyond their own game. It is neither fully wrong to put yourself first as in the end it are your own ratingpoints which are at stake. This is also the reason why some players endeavor to exclude teamchampionships from rating calculations.

Brabo

Monday, March 13, 2017

Pawn breakthroughs

Parents often ask me at youth-tournaments where they can find a coach for their child. They like to get a more individual coaching for their ambitious children and most chessclubs can't offer that. The easiest must be googling the internet as skype permits you to bridge any distance. You can find a long list of coaches at chess.com. The Belgian FM Hans Renette is among them.

However paying courses don't guarantee necessarily better quality. A curriculum, certificate,.. won't tell you everything. At chess.com the Amercian IM and coach Jeremy Silman gives us some tips. A grandmaster is an overkill for a beginner. After a few courses you must get an idea if it is interesting or not for yourself. Dare to swap coaches if you are not satisfied (anymore) of the courses. Be realistic about the objectives.

I am not a coach but I do give some courses to a small group of elite-players in KMSK. In my lessons we look at the themes of the stepmethod but I adopt my own interpretation. Some of my students are very ambitious so it is real challenge for me to offer them something interesting. At the start I had my doubts to be able to show them something new but it quickly became clear there was not need for such dark thoughts. Practically 100% was new for them. Some of my students have more than 2000 ratingpoints so I hadn't expected that.

One of the themes I discussed during the last months was pawn breakthroughs which pops up in the book of step 5. Spending a couple of hours preparing my lesson I managed to create quite an interesting addition to what the book tells us. I started with a curious pawn endgame which immediately tested the calculating powers of my students. Everybody in the group was familiar with the 3 against 3 pawns exercise but not with the problem shown below.

I had to help them a bit before they found the right unique solution. Anybody understood immediately my advice. In pawn breakthroughs you can't gamble but you must be prepared to calculate accurately variations.

A second exercise introduced my students to a completely different segment of pawn breakthroughs. In the step-book nothing is mentioned about it but piece-sacrifices often precede pawn breakthroughts. This time I wanted to check who follows the current chess events. I consider this something natural for ambitious students but only 1 of them was able to vaguely remember the next position which popped up in a recent high-class game played at the London Chess Classic 2016.

Sometimes I hear the remark that toplevel-chess is very different from amateur-chess. Well to counter this I also showed 2 examples from by own practice against the type of opponents my students can also expect. The first one is a fragment from a game which already was used in my article correspondence chess.

Not easy was the verdict to see the theme in this position. The second example on the other hand was much easier to solve. Another fragment of the same game was shown in foods and drinks part 2.

This convinced my students of the importance to know that piece-sacrifices often precede pawn breakthroughs. I assume this course lasted more than an hour. My students are asked to search for the solutions which takes each time at least a couple of minutes. The rest of the time I easily fill by talking about all kind of other aspects like current chess events, Fenexcelsior, ....

I won't claim this is a perfect lesson. I have just started teaching so I still need to learn myself how to explain something in the most optimal and didactic way. Anyway I haven't heard any complaints yet although I assume the many interruptions this year due to interclub and tournaments are not so pleasant. My free lessons are held Sunday mornings from 10.15 til 12 at the sporthal den Boemel in Mechelen. Everybody is welcome if you are member of the club (or agrees to become one) at the condition of some minimum level of strength.

Brabo

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Bird

The exponential growth of grandmasters has generated an equal increase of all kind of (paying) chess-publications. They can't live from only the prizes of tournaments so they look for alternatives to earn a living. Despite a big illegal market we see there are still sufficient honest players willing to pay for the products. It is after all very attractive to learn a new opening by reading a book or more modern watching a dvd if this will let you score some easy extra points.

Especially the more modern version so the DVD is today very popular. Look at Chessbase newest products and you find a big variety of interesting stuff. It is very suitable for chessplayers as they are naturally pretty lazy so they want to see quick results by a minimum of effort. Besides also the author and the publisher loves the format. There is no need to spend months correcting text as a video can be recorded in just a couple of days. The only disadvantage is maybe that the author needs to travel and stay for a couple of days in the recording-studio.

We do notice of course a difference of quality between a book and DVD. I don't mean with quality especially the analysis but rather the summary, references and the didactic value are very strongly dependent of the format. The analysis is a matter of preparation and experience. Selecting the games, analyzing them and making a synthesis is done in advance. A writer has a bit more flexibility as he can easier add at the last moment a new chapter to his book.

A common question is how much experience must an author have about the subject he discuss. Very recently the strong Dutch grandmaster Erwin L'Ami published a DVD about the Dutch stonewall which surprised me. I play/ study almost 2 decades this opening and I never encountered any games of Erwin with this opening. This was also confirmed by checking chess-db. I found only 1 regular stonewall game played in standard conditions from 2016 which he even lost see Viktor Laznicka - Erwin L'Ami. Of course nothing about this was said in the commercial of the Indian IM Sagar Shah at Chessbase.

Now to avoid any misunderstandings I don't state that the DVD is bad. A +2600 player is perfectly capable to study independently a new opening, find new ideas and ameliorations without playing 1 official game with the opening. Besides the lack of experience can be mitigated by testing online. In my article Tom Piceu leads Bruges through 1st division I already mentioned that Erwin plays an enormous amount of games online. So Erwin definitely has something interesting to say about the Dutch stonewall for any average clubplayer willing to expand his repertoire.

On the other hand I don't want to minimize experience. Feeling wood is the ultimate test for somebodies repertoire. If you can refer to your own practice then this will always improve the story. A nice example is the series books of the strong Indian grandmaster Negi Parimarjan which received very good critics. The Dutch top-grandmaster Anish Giri even stated at Chessbase that Negi is crazy to be so honest.

Later it became clear Negi already decided earlier to stop (temporarily ?) to be an active professional player. After the series he played averagely only 9 games each year. Once he was the youngest grandmaster in the world so maybe another example of somebody started too young playing too much chess. It reminds me also of the Dutch grandmaster Karel Van der Weide writing a kind of chess-testimony see article quitting chess.

Players whom are "too honest" and at the same time active are scarce. It is a pity but perfectly understandable. I remember an old anecdote of the French grandmaster Anatoly Vaisser. After the publication of his book Beating the King'sIndian and Benoni everybody avoided in his games his beloved four pawn-system against the Kings-Indian. The only exceptions were players having read his book and they always chose the same boring anti-dote covered in that same book. Another disadvantage of playing your own recommended openings was mentioned at the Quality Chess blog. After the author lost in a critical line of the book, suddenly the salesfigures of that book started to plump very quickly.

A category of authors little or not impacted by above problems are non-professional players. Their books are not so popular as I already showed in my article theory but as money plays no role, we often see a much bigger affinity with the subject. An absolute model example is the recently published monumental work of the Romantic player Henry Bird written by the Belgian FM Hans Renette.
I strongly consider to buy this book when I finished Timman's TitansHis impressive article at chess.com has fascinated me. Only the fact that Hans worked 8 years at the book, makes it already something very special.

Nevertheless I notice little attention to this project was given in the media. Even in Belgium any advertising was lacking although this is not a big surprise as there is barely any national/ regional site existing which reports about chess. Therefore maybe Hans thought it could be a good idea to play the Bird in the last round of Open Leuven with the tournament-victory at stake. I was the antagonist but I refused to cooperate to the plot he wanted.

No in the end the Belgian FM Arno Bomans won the tournament. This was already covered at schaakfabriek. Maybe a small consolation is that Arne is an affectionado of the inverted Bird or also called the Dutch. At the Belgian championship things didn't work out with the Dutch as the opponents were very well prepared with new ideas but in an open tournament this danger is almost non-existent. His best inverted Bird of the tournament must be the game against his club-mate Jonas.


Brabo

Monday, February 20, 2017

Anonymous

Apple, google, microsoft, coca cola,.... are brands very well known. However we often don't realize that our own name is also a brand. We all get a label even if we don't like it. The internet plays an important role to make or break somebodies reputation. All what has been written about us, is stored for a very long time. Inevitable this info is used whether appropriate or not.

Once I was asked at a solicitation for a non chess related job which chess-opening I prefer the most. This happened many years ago when I hadn't started yet with this blog. The question surprised me as I had nothing mentioned about chess in my CV neither did I bring it up during the interview. A HR-recruiter once told me not to talk about chess as I spend too much time at it which is a clear weakness. A player spending lots of time at chess activities and not (much) interested to do extra time after the working hours is less interesting to hire.

The internet had of course exposed me as you can google my name and discover I played many tournaments. On the other hand I doubt this piece of information was critical in the selection process. Besides I do expect there are also employers interested in the qualities of a strong chess-player (FM, IM, GM) to use in their company. Naturally it depends a lot of the type of branch but it is not a coincidence that a lot of big brands offer sponsor-contracts to top-sportsmen.

It is evident that a chess-title has most value in the chess world. Strong chess players are a magnet for other players (read paying customers) so many chess-organisations offer a free membership to those strong players. At chess.com you can get free diamond-membership at this link if you have a fide-title. At ICC you only get a free account if you have the IM title and I guess the same rule is also applicable at Playchess. An additional condition for the free account is of course that you relinquish your anonymity. You can't attract players as titled player if your identity can't be verified.

Personally I always get an extra kick when I beat a titled player. Last couple of years I played against grandmasters Gennadi Sosonko, Max Illingworth, Imre Balog, Dmitry Kokarev, Mohmamed Haddouche, John Shaw, Lev Gutman, Viktor Gavrikov.... at playchess. There is a creepy anecdote attached to the last person as 2 months after we played a couple of games, the grandmaster passed away (see chessbase). 1 of the 2 games I managed to win but I needed a lot of luck see below game.

The nice thing about Playchess is that all my games are automatically stored in a database which I can consult with a few simple clicks while studying openings. However it is not the only advantage of the database. Sometimes it is also useful to prepare a game. Some online players you meet in real life. In 2014 I played a short match against Littlefinger. The last game I lost in the Rauzer.

If you consult the profile of Littlefinger at Playchess then you discover the name Frederic Decoster which I remembered when I had to play against him in Open Leuven. To prepare for the game I repeated some of the lines in the Rauzer to win some precious time at the clock. Unfortunately I wasn't able to fully capitalize due to a lack of time in the morning.

Playing online with an open profile makes yourself more vulnerable at standard play. Therefore many top-players have beside an official account also secret accounts. There exists a funny anecdote of Kasparov and Svidler playing blitz online to prepare for their mutual blitz-match but initially both not aware that they chose each other as sparring partner see chessclub.

In my article password I asked for more publications of games to promote chess. On the other hand I do think it is better to choose for anonymity while playing online. The games are (almost) exclusively blitz or bullet so have very little or no value. Besides the number of games can quickly grow to enormous figures which would give future opponents an in-depth view of your repertoire. Today my personal database almost counts 60.000 online games so covering almost any independent line of my repertoire which has some importance.

Brabo

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Experience part 2

Somebody having followed lately a bit the super-tournaments, knows that currently the American top-grandmaster Wesley So is hot. He is today undefeated for 56 games against serious opposition. He won during the last half year Sinquefield CupLondon Chess Classicachieved gold with America at the olympiad and now also won Tata Steel Chess Tournament one point ahead of the reigning worldchampion Magnus Carlsen. At 2822 he is virtually the second highest rated person on earth (see 2700chess). Magnus has the first place since July 2011 but this can soon change.

His success didn't arrive just out of the blue. Wesley talks in an interview at Chessbase that he hasn't used the internet for a year except to check some important mails. He neither has a cell-phone to avoid any distraction. I joked at schaaksite that strong players don't waste their time at discussions but Wesley is very serious. He is a model-example of hyper-professionalism.

Despite this extreme dedication to chess we still detect gaps in his knowledge of openings. Wesley won a marvelous game in the 5th round against the Indian top-grandmaster Pentala Harikrisha but Chessbase later noticed that everything till move 14 was already played earlier in the high-class game Vladimir Kramnik - Ian Nepomniachti played at Dortmund in 2015. It is very weird that Wesley used 64 minutes to get to the position at move 14.

Earlier I wrote on this blog an article about camouflage but spending 64 minutes to hide your knowledge of an opening is definitely nonsense. Besides Wesley afterwards also admitted that he didn't remember Kramniks game. The anecdote once more confirms what I wrote in an article of 2014 that it is incredibly hard to create and maintain a repertoire up to date.

This problem is of course less critical for an amateur. Openings have a rather modest influence upon the final result of a game (see e.g. to study chess-openings). On the other hand I am still ambitious and I want always to insert something scientific in my games. Therefore I don't want to close my eyes for the opening-problems which I encounter.

Only recently I realized the full magnitude of my problems. In my article studying openings part 2 I explain how I study since a couple of years much more thoroughly the openings. If we have a look at the figures then things will become more clear.

Only checking my games of Open Leuven I noticed that I was out of book in 4 of the 7 games in a position which still pops up in more than 100 master-games of the mega-database. That is the opposite of what my persisting reputation as dangerous theoretician stands for. After my most recent interclub-round my opponent Joris Verhelst defended his non-standard opening-choice by stating that he heard of my enormous opening-knowledge. Well let us have a look at what I played at move 17 in my game of the 5th round in Open Leuven against Tom Barbe.
Out of book in a position which still pops up in more than 100 master-games.


Tom played a fantastic tournament (see final standings) and also in our game he showed that he was playing well by optimally taking advantage of my limited knowledge of the opening. Initially I was not happy about the draw as this heavily decreased my chances of winning the tournament. Later I realized that I couldn't really have hoped for more in the final position.

Despite playing a very limited repertoire I haven't met this line anymore in the last 10 years in a standard game. It is recurrent problem which I link to a lack of experience. The Belgium IM Stefan Docx already advised me to play (much) more if I want to grow as a chess-player. I also realize that playing averagely 23 games each year (see previous article) is way not enough.

In the end it is a matter of setting priorities. Chess is very important for me but I don't want to sacrifice everything for it so I deliberately made the decision to reduce my chess-activities 10 years ago. Contrary to many contemporaries whom stopped playing chess, I learned to accept my limited knowledge of openings. Besides as HK5000 once told me, from each game played you still learn something. On the other hand theory is evolving so quickly that I get the feeling that my pace only gets me further behind. For the time being I don't see a visible improvement with my renewed method of studying openings. Maybe the (nearby) future will improve things especially if my son Hugo will start to enjoy playing serious tournaments.

Brabo

Friday, January 27, 2017

Self Forks

Children grow up fast. Last month I bought already the 3rd bike for both my children. Funny I never bought a new bike for myself. Today I use the city-bike of my late mother and before I biked 20 years on the dismissed one of my dad. Despite lacking luxury I always liked to bike a lot. From the moment it becomes warmer, I bike every day to my work which is there and back nevertheless more than an hour/ 22 km biking.

20 years younger I even used such city-bike to do quite some distances. I remember that I more than once biked from Roeselare to Bruges and back which is nonetheless 70km. In Bruges I visited the chessclub still located in the center (Beenhouwerstraat ?). It was the first time that I met a still very young Steven Geirnaert following lessons given by Walter Kardinaal. Next I also almost always visited the problemist Sylvain Kellner at that time still living in the center of Bruges. I composed some problems myself (see e.g chesscompositions) and he always had something interesting to share.

I wrote for many years every month to Sylvain via the ladder match in the column for problemists published at the clubmagazine of Bruges. Unfortunately I lost contact with him. First he moved out of Bruges to the nearby village Assebroek but we stopped corresponding after the board of the club of Bruges decided to forbid non-club members to take a subscription at their club-magazine. In the meanwhile I already was playing for Deurne so some people found it inappropriate that a competitor for their first team could read their club-magazine. Briefly this was a kind of password avant la lettre (see this blogarticle).

I don't know if Sylvain is still alive as I guess he must be otherwise already above 90 years old (somebody knows something more?) but I remember the most his impressive collections of peculiar problems. He called it  his rariteitenkabinet (collection of curiosities). I suspect some of the problems published on this blog like Excelsior can be found in his collection too.

Today I play almost exclusively standard chess but I never lost my interest for curiosities. Last I encountered a very strange theme self-forks in one of my games. My opponent Frederic Decoster (playing coincidentally for Bruges) produced a fantastic idea in our game played at Leuven attracting a number of kibitzers around our board.

It is pity that this well played game was destroyed at the end by both players running out of time otherwise this self-fork would have got more attention.

After the game I looked for similar examples from standard practice. I learned there exists different types of self-forks. Frederics is one in which you provoke the fork but it also possible that you put the pieces yourself in a fork. Some readers will for sure recognize the high-level game below played a few years ago.

Less known but definitely as cute is the game played at pokerstars isle of man international chesstournament 2015. Here there was no preparation/ opening-knowledge at all involved.

A wonderful collection of all kind of self-forks from standard games can be found on the site I fork myself, or let the the fork happen.

All examples in this article are about a pawn giving a useless fork. Now I wonder if this is also possible with other pieces. Likely except knights we have to call it rather double attacks instead of forks.

Brabo

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Hyper Modern French

Last year my son collected a number of prizes. Especially money he likes as he was able to buy 2 boxes of lego, a trendy step, 2 footballs,... Briefly although he earned the money by playing chess, nothing is invested to improve his chess capabilities. Therefore he was quite disappointed to find out that he got a voucher to spend at chessconsult when he won the Antwerp championship for the category of -8. Fortunately I knew how to cheer him up as I exchanged the voucher with my cash and used the voucher myself to buy 2 new books: Nadorf x Najdorf and Timman's Titans both published in 2016.

In the meanwhile I finished Najdorfs book. We all know the opening but the person Najdorf is after this death (1997) already largely forgotten. This book tries to bring him out of the oblivion and I think they managed this quite well. The books reads very smoothly and also the selected games are well analyzed. Especially the countless anecdotes make this book a real joy. One is about why Najdorf didn't play his own opening anymore in his later years. There is nothing wrong with the opening but he didn't like to fight against the much better opening-knowledge of many youngsters while his strength mainly positioned around technique and creativity.

Some will state the same about the Modern French. The theory exploded in this opening due to its enormous popularity. I got it 5 times on the board in standard-games about which I wrote in my articles (see e.g. the modern french, the modern french part 2, switching colors part 2, ...). That is really a lot if you take into account that I only play approximately 15 standard games each year. Also today several systems are discovered which allow white to put pressure. An idea which I prepared for a next encounter, was introduced a few months ago accidentally by the strong Dutch grandmaster Benjamin Bok.

Not surprisingly we see more and more players looking for new ideas in the French opening. The 20 years old strong German grandmaster Matthias Bluebaum is for sure a pioneer in this area. More and more he likes to play with the sequence of moves to sidestep the preparation of his opponents. His influence upon the hyper-modern French opening in which Nc6 is delayed or even sometimes cancelled, should not be underestimated. His fresh strategical ideas gave this hyper-modern approach a serious boost. Even some super grandmasters have noticed this and gave it a shot. This year the Indian top-grandmaster Pentala Harikrisha scored a sensational victory in Altibox Norway Chess with this line.

Forewarned is forearmed but I shamefully had to admit in the last Open Leuven that I didn't understand anything about the opening. Besides I was totally surprised that the 47 years old Jan Rogiers had such hyper modern opening in his repertoire. That explains of course why I quickly got into troubles in our game and only an incredible counterattack avoided a big rating-upset.

My analysis causes doubts about the full correctness of this hyper-modern system but I expect we will still see new developments. Besides those rich strategical positions are excellent to play for a win with both colors. A noteworthy statistic is that all my 6 standard-games in this opening had decisive results while always respecting the rating-logic.

Brabo