Friday, May 12, 2017


After the Belgian youth-championship I asked my students to analyze a couple of their games so we could discuss them together. Only 1 of them did an effort and that was just a print of an automatically generated engine-analysis. Pretty sad if you know that I work with some of the most talented youngsters in Belgium. 2 of them are reigning Flemish champions and got both 4th place in their respective age-categories of the latest Belgium youth-championship. This mentality explains of course why there is such big gap with the level of top-players in neighboring countries.

Deep analyzing of your own games is crucial to develop yourself maximally as a player. 1 of the first to propagate this was world-champion Mikhail Botvinnik and any trainer will still repeat it even today. However Mikhail Botvinnik continued by stating that we should also publish our analysis. This allows to control the quality of the analysis by the eyes of dozens of players.

This last piece of advice is nowadays doubtful. I agree with John Hartman in his article at us-chess that our current best engines are sufficient to easily detect our mistakes in the homemade analysis. On the other hand engines still don't give answers always. Feedback from other players can still be very useful. A computer only spits moves with an evaluation and can't talk to us.

However any player with some experience in publishing analysis will surely have noticed, how rarely you still get reactions of readers nowadays. The frustration in the article "getting attention on my analysed games" is very clear. I don't expect any reactions for a long time anymore on the many analysis which I publish on this blog. I write because I like to share something otherwise I would've stopped already.

Maybe the best place around to get analysis commented, is the forum of chesspub. The site was in the first place created to promote their paying services at chesspublishing but it also has its own identity. Many members visit the forum daily already for many years (I do in the meanwhile for more than a decade) and post regularly without being obliged to take a subscription. An important element in the success are the French GM Tony Kosten and a bunch of moderators, managing to keep away any trolls. Many forums die quickly due to a lack of monitoring.

I often post analysis myself. On the other hand with 750 posts I am looking quite inactive compared to the undisputed number 1. The counter of Mark Nieuweboer having posted some articles here too before has crossed the milestone of 10.000 ! Of course all of this is not always very serious. I prefer to write only when I feel a connection with the topic. Last an opening was popping up in a discussion which I covered here on this blog see king's gambit with Nf3. Buddo encountered a problem for white which he could not solve see chesspub: John Shaw King's Gambit. I spent a couple of hours analyzing the position at home and found an answer.

Buddho used also his engine to analyze the position but could not discover this. In my article computers achieve autonomy I tell that in the ongoing world-champion final of correspondence-chess we see a drawing rate of almost 100%. However it is serious mistake to deduct that anybody can analyze like in that top-tournament. I even dare to state that making never (detectable) mistakes in analysis is something very few are capable of. Please remember my comments upon the fantastic game Navara-Wojtaszek in the article g4 in the najdorf  or more recently in the game Wojtaszek - Mamedyarov after which black contributed his loss to an error made by his helper in the preparation of the game see chess24, a site quickly gaining popularity.

So I help others but sometimes I learn something too. In January there was a brief thread about a very specific line in the Dutch Defense. I didn't want to spend much time at analyzing the line as I only got it once in a standard game on the board. That game was played more than 20 year ago, see below.

The rating-difference allowed me to escape with this premature draw. I was a warned man so I did follow with the necessary interest the rest of the discussion on chesspub. MNb (Mark Nieuweboer) proposed an interesting anti-dote (5...Bxc3) which I checked at home with my engine.

Only one and a half month later I was happily surprised to meet the line on the board. Almost 20 years it didn't happen and now suddenly it does. When you talk about the devil then you see his tail. The surprise prepared by my opponent, the Belgian FM Frederic Verduyn returned as a boomerang. I wasn't able to win the game which is at least partly due to Frederic's strong defensive skills.

I would like to tell you more successful stories about chesspub but the truth is that the best days are passed. We had 183312 posts in the last 15 years. That is averagely almost 34 posts each day. However lately we see regularly days without any post. The silent periods are becoming longer and longer.

Most posts are today about chess-books, DVDs and repertoires. What do you recommend and what not? Analyzing of positions has become seldom while originally it made the backbone of the forum. I suspect that we can point again to the engines as culprit. Their answers are for most amateurs sufficient. Besides that people are less open and are more fond of privacy. People prefer small closed groups eg. at Facebook. Initially the chesspub-founder Tony did not have the intention to keep the site running for 15 years but now it seems the chesspub-forum is slowly dying. Everything ends but after 10 years it hurts.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Annotations part 2

After one of my last games my opponent polity refused my invitation for a post-mortem. He didn't consider it useful and preferred to drink a beer quietly at the bar. Engines are today much stronger than any player so why wasting time at some lousy analysis. There is definitely some truth in this as with some simple clicks you can generate automatically an analysis which is many times more accurate. Besides in part 1 I advertised a method of annotating completely based upon evaluations of the engines.

The recent Penrose Chess Institute Puzzle demonstrates clearly the dangers of blindly trusting these evaluations. Engines show a winning score for black while any experienced player easily sees it is just a draw. One and a half year ago I wrote on this blog about computers achieve autonomy but this doesn't mean that we can't play any role anymore. The doom-scenario described in the recent article at "is this the future of chess" is just ballyhoo.

1 example of some fabricated position not looking close to any normal position in standard play doesn't refute the absolute dominance of the engines. Therefore some only consider positions from serious games relevant to judge about the supremacy of the computer. Do such positions exist which we as human can access quicker and more accurate than the current engines? If yes which ones?

In my article fortresses I already covered some positions of which we can prove that the computer-evaluations are inaccurate or even plainly wrong. However humans won't do necessarily better without using any tools. Nonetheless there exist some exceptions where we are stronger than engines. 1 group of endgames, opposite bishops stands out. An experienced player can often very quickly access correctly such position. In below position the engine is not eager to exchange the queens but Robert correctly values the endgame as harmless.

In the final position the engine still gives a small edge for me but I was already for a long time convinced this is a dead draw. Another recent example is shown below. Again the engine calculates the position as better for white as black loses the c7 pawn. White still could continue instead of repeating moves but the draw is not hard to achieve of course.

In both examples I consider it stupid to stick meticulously to my method of annotating. I exceptionally deviated from the evaluation of the engines and replaced them by my personal more accurate judgement.

In a recently played endgame I took it a step further in my annotations. Only a handful pawns are on one side of the board. The computer makes a complete mess when evaluating the played moves. Some moves are considered weak while there is nothing wrong. Others aren't annotated while there are clearly better ones. The original annotations linked to the evaluations of the engine can be found below.

After swapping all this with my personal more accurate evaluations we get a very different image of the endgame. I assume this also much better matches our intuition of such type of endgame.

This endgame shows there is also often a clear difference between understanding and actual play. We are still much more prone to blunders especially when we are running out of time.

Objectivity/ searching the truth still get absolute priority in my analysis. Engine-evaluations are used intensively but it is still good not to ignore your own chess-knowledge.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Young and old

Our sport needs advertising to grow or just even to survive but rarely its biggest asset is used. Chess can be played a whole life. It keeps intriguing and enjoying us. I am addicted to the game for more than 25 years and still every day I discover new things. Chess is an endless source of exciting stories on and off the board. Countless examples are shown on this blog.

An important role in all this are the absence of strict age-categories. Any physical sport must take into account the age of the person but a game of chess can be played between a very young player and a very old experienced player. Chess acts as a bridge builder between generations. It not only is a lot of joy but it is also a very easy topic of discussion.

Besides very young can be considered literally. At the age of 3 years children are already capable to learn the rules and adopt them in a game. My son Hugo wasn't yet 4 years old when he was together with his sister Evelien introduced to chess see cheating. On the picture below we see Hugo playing a game at home just before his fourth birthday.
No, I am definitely not a parent pushing my children to play chess. My daughter quickly dropped the game while Hugo slowly learned more and more about chess. Nothing was mandatory so it took 2 years to finish step 1. I believe there is a big difference with the performance of the 3 years old Misha Osipov in a Russian TV show. A genius or just a kid? I am not the only one asking if this is appropriate.

On the other hand support of the parents is absolutely necessary for very young children. Clubs must warn the parents if this isn't happening. I even dare to state that some minimum conditions should be demanded from the parents when they subscribe their child in a chessclub. Too often I see parents dropping their 7/8 years old child in the class without any further commitments. Sorry but this sounds more like an elite day care. Children can/ should play youth-tournaments once they are at step 2. I don't recommend earlier as often the rules aren't well mastered yet and the child risks otherwise to lose a long demotivating string of games. Hugo was already 6,5 years old when he started to join me to the youth-tournaments (see basic).

Beginning of 2017 Hugo achieved step 3 so time to try his luck in standard games. However here I encountered a problem as there is no club in the neighborhood arranging a standard competition in the daytime. No club had experienced issues with players going normally to bed between 8 and 9 PM. I toyed with the idea to contact my old club de Torrewachters in Roeselare. I know they have a very nice championship on Saturdays at 2 PM. But I didn't like the prospect of each week to drive more than 300km for just 1 game. In the end KMSK offered an emergency solution. Hugo could play a couple of games in 1 of their 10 teams of the interclub. 1 day after his 8th birthday Hugo played his first official game. Coincidence or not but there were 75 years difference with his 83 years old team-mate Walter Huyck.
Both players are clearly enjoying side by side a game of chess. The huge age-difference was no obstacle. Besides Walter remembered a cute anecdote which he shared with my son. Walter played 17 years ago once against me. Playing chess at a very advanced age seems to train the memory as indeed I do have a game in my personal database which I played against Walter.

Walters playing-strength has decreased over the latest years but I don't think he really cares. Korchnoi or Strong Jan are/ were big exceptions. Jan playing our first board this season got 70 years old. Extraordinary if you know that last year he was laying for some time in the hospital for a cerebral infarct. In the past some players already died during a game due to cardiac failure see e.g. deaths at the chess olympiad. I know several (older) players whom don't play competitive chess anymore after their doctor warned them.

A lot depends of course of how a player looks at chess. Is winning still very important or can you quicker accept a loss? If I look at my son Hugo then I notice already a positive trend. It has been a while that he cried despite losing the first 3 games in the interclub. Nevertheless he is still motivated which his big smile betrayed when he won his very first game against the 55 years old Greek Nikolaos Zaimis.

It is still too early for Hugo to go to big international tournaments like Gent, Charleroi,...  I think step 4 is a minimum with a rating of approximately 1400. I don't want to run before walking as some other youth-players do. Some -10 players already are at step 5 or 6 while technically they are not mature at all.

A real danger is children advancing too fast and getting exhausted at some point. I also see adults with unrealistic goals. Fun should always be the most important. Only if we respect that then chess can be something unique of which young and old can enjoy at the same time.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dogmas part 2

I use regularly my very light playing schedule as excuse to read non educative chess-books. I find it much more enjoyable to read anecdotes and stories about chess than studying modern opening-lines or solving all kind of exercises. I very much liked reading the books Nadorf x Najdorf and Timman's Titans in the last couple of months. Najdorf's daughter writes some kind of biography about her dad from her very special but at the same time also extremely interesting point of view. Jan Timman pleasantly surprised me with his very witty style of writing in which he managed to share a personal story for each of the 10 former world-champions.
Jan Timman's book has contrary to Najdorf's book a lot of high quality analysis. Jan clearly had fun finding a number of ameliorations upon the already classic My Great Predecessors written by former worldchampion Garry Kasparov. The release of the series has been almost a decade already so Jan obviously was able to use much stronger software and hardware than Garry Kasparov. Beside his own games against the world-champions Jan focus especially at the less or even unknown games. Hereby a lot of attention is given to a bunch of secret training-games which Botvinnik played between 1936 and 1970.

Ragozin, Kan, Averbakh and Furman were Botvinnik's most regular sparring-partners. A game played in Moscow 1953 against Ilya Kan, famous for the Sicilian variation bearing his name, caught my attention. Particularly move 16 in which Botvinnik makes a remarkable choice.

In 1998 Jan added 2 exclamation-marks to the move. Today he still thinks it is the best practical choice in a game but at the same time he also shows how the current engines manage to neutralize the concept.

In my most recent class I was pleased to use this fragment.  After discussing a number of good examples of pawnstructures, I found it important to warn my students for too dogmatic play. Dynamic elements must get priority upon structural aspects. In other words you sometimes need to weaken your structure to get the pieces active.

As my students often wonder if this kind of chess can also occur in their games, I had prepared some examples from my own practice. The at that time 21 years old Dutch Sebastiaan Smits impressed me with his audacious 17th move.

You can replay the complete game in my article the neo-scheveningen.

Another example happened in 2003. The same thematic move occurred on the board in Open Le Touquet. The German Erwin Hein seemed to me much stronger than his rating.

So here it didn't end well but in the game black did achieve sufficient counterplay with the idea.

After these examples my students were convinced of the importance to also look at less common themes we find in grandmastergames. You never know what to expect in a game. Also eventually learning a lot of small new things will help you making another step forwards at chess.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Chess-comfort part 2

School can be pretty boring. Some obligatory courses can be not interesting at all and a teacher just reading out his papers won't make his classes popular. Nevertheless I very rarely was absent during my schoolyears. Only at the university when after 15 minutes waiting for the start of the lesson still nobody popped up, I dared to leave. This doesn't mean that I was always attentive in the class. It happened once in a while that I played some blindfold-chess with another student having 1900 elo. There was no chess-comfort at all but at such moments you don't care.

Maximum chess-comfort I experienced in the highest divisions of the French interclub. I remember a match where we played in a luxurious meeting-room of a 5 stars hotel. During the match we got free drinks and even small snacks. Big sound-proof doors and an attentive arbiter maintained complete silence in the playing-room. Such conditions we can only dream about in Belgium. On the other hand as mentioned in a reaction of my last article, conditions can become pretty bad sometimes.

Last this was also the case in the interclubmatch against Jean Jaures. Jean Jaures plays this season in the same club-house as KGSRL so must be satisfied with their rooms in surplus. As consequence 2 teams were propped in one very tiny room. I estimate 20 players were squeezed in just 15m2. The match was just started and our first board Jan Rooze told me that he has to disturb me every time when he wants to leave the playing-room. Besides 6 out of 8 people are +50 so automatically you have much more toiletvisits than averagely (age has a serious impact for the prostate). The only patch I found was to push my table with my belly from the moment my opponent Ashote Draftian had left our table for a walk. Nobody complained even when later the frame of a painting located behind my opponents back almost dropped from the wall when somebody accidentally hit it.

Myself I can easily sit whole afternoon on my chair when there is little space to maneuver. For some time already I always bring my own food and drinks to the matches. However I wasn't protected against the noise. Everybody was very surprised that the door of the playing-room could not be closed despite some very recent thorough renovations. This created a lot of noise from below and the corridor. I still forget to take my earplugs with me. I lost a lot of time in the opening as I couldn't concentrate properly. Playing chess while pushing the fingers in the ears is not comfortable at all. I was lucky to avoid defeat being low of time by liquidating to an endgame .

Also Marcel Van Herck complained after the game about the miserable playing-conditions. He was neither able to leave his seat so didn't know the intermediate score and had to guess if a draw could be accepted or not. It is painful to find out after the game that the match was lost with the smallest difference. This could be the small detail deciding who next year will be playing first division. However there is in our team little interest to promote to first division as can be read in the report of our most recent match against Temse. The chess-comfort in first division is often even worse. I remember once a match where there was only 1 toilet for children available for all teams, no or insufficient heating while we were middle of the winter ....

Personally I find this outrageous especially if you know that many players are paid. It shows a complete lack of respect for the players to only prioritize winning.  Besides also Jean Jaures shows the same symptoms. They were not ashamed to add a grandmaster on the first board. Our strong Jan was the victim.

Sorry but instead of a grandmaster Jean Jaures could have invested in a decent place to play chess. After the game I announced clearly that I don't want to play interclub anymore if those conditions become the new standard for all matches.

I realize many clubs have very little means but especially when professionals are playing some minimum chess-comfort should be demanded. In Germany something already exists see schachblev turnierordnung with strict rules about temperature (20-23 degrees Celsius), space 75m2 for 1 match, minimum 2,6m altitude for the ceiling,... Without any regulations you can't expect any chess-comfort. Once a home-team dared to invite their opponents in a prostitution-house. Of course the visiting-team refused to play and filed a complaint.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017


The materials of the chess-player.

The tools of a player are at least a pen, pencil or ballpoint. But the chair on which he sits is as important - just like the table, the board, the pieces and the clock of course. For a more serious competition clock, board and pieces are well defined and you can't negotiate about alternatives. The chair and the table is more free of choice but seems at least as important for the concentration, chess-experience and later memory of the game.

Let us start with the clock: my preference was always the Gardé clocks (indeed with an accent aigu, which only later became clear to me - how can a German clock be called Gardé?). Classic - and surprisingly of a very good quality for an East-German product. The white plastic Russian clocks rather had an uncomfortable touching feeling and above all looked very cheap. Then you still had those very small analogue clocks (brand?) and that was it in our club. No, Gardé was clearly the best. Good clocks also to play blitz. Soon some rings were added around the buttons to avoid blitz-players knocking the clocks with their fists. However a good player can press quite hard with one finger too. Incidents, when a button of the opponents clock literally flew in the air due to the power of pressing it, are today an individual validated part of the world-history.

Eventually the digital clocks arrived - initially there was a wide variety, but when DGT popped up (and got the support of Fide) it was finished with the "thousand flowers". Later still some other brands came (I remember KOSK used a very special type - and maybe still is) but the DGT is today still the reference. That is not really a problem as DGT is a solid clock but some habituation was necessary as how to understand when a flag was down. But for blitzplayers this evolution was great. Finally you know 100% sure that you can play 5 minutes against 3, and not that the flag is down 10 seconds too early. Also people struggling always with the clock are very pleased. I once managed to lose track of the time at my 38th move in a game played in the interclub. I made my choice - looked at the clock if I would already move and ... only 3 seconds remaining! I immediately executed the move. 3 seconds ... for 2 more moves. My opponent should've moved fast but instead he wanted to make me nervous and went for a walk. That gave me sufficient time to calculate the lines and find an answer to the 2 most plausible answers. I managed to make move 40 and win the game. Without the digital clock I would have lost the game.

Next are pieces and board - as long the board is foldable white-brown/black plastic/carton, it is fine for me to use loaded pieces. Every player knows that the knight is a problem-piece when cheap wood is used as material as it is almost impossible with a lathe to produce one piece. As it is often built by gluing 2 wooden pieces together, sooner or later they come loose. My very first set from my grandfather has that problem. This disadvantage you don't have with plastic pieces. Still the knight is a weak piece especially when the ears stand out. A second risk-element are the rooks. A crenel can break off from the piece when it is dropped off the table.

Pieces used for competition are normally loaded. Non loaded pieces are for amateurs. Special design sets can be bought in some art-shops and don't take the loading into account. Once I was given as present a set of metal pieces on wooden stands. It was not possible to play with them - the knights were completely out of balance! Yes the board was nice but such a shame were the pieces...

Sometimes we can be lucky to play on a wooden framed board, often including very nice wooden pieces. I haven't encountered such competition-conditions often (Veurne played with such set in IC but that is probably the only club in West-Flanders). If you don't often use such set then you notice this more quickly- attention which you don't spend to the game itself- you realize which pieces you have in your hands. The effect disappears after some time but the feeling of such board is important - even for amateurs.

So we already covered the board, pieces and clock. What else? Table and chair. An organizer often doesn't have much choice which ones to pick but he can vary how to set them up. How many boards on a row of tables. And that is often a difficult choice. A regular mistake is to put the boards too close to each other or the tables are just to small. Too small means no place for the paper to record the game, the pen, a drink... on the table. Too far positioned boards from each other are good to concentrate but you lose the feeling of playing together and get a chance to peek at the position next to you. It is a fine line...

The rows of tables can also be put too close to each other, especially at tournaments. If you are unlucky to be locked up, then it can be quite difficult to leave the playing-room, in a row of almost back-to-back chairs. You definitely will hit the sweaters and jackets which are laying on the backside of the chairs.

The table should have the right height. You don't want to be hanging at the bar or sitting uncomfortable on a too low chair so you need to stand up to move the pieces on the back row (especially not when being low of time). Fischer once gave the table-maker almost a heart-attack (I believe it was at the WC in 1972) when he wanted to cut off a side of the specially framed table. Some sewing was done. The most beautiful picture in this aspect must be the one of Burn against Owen (see e.g. Edward Winter's chess explorations 54). It looks impossible that both are sitting comfortable, Burn straight up in a higher chair - 20 cm it seems. And still both heads are at the same height.

You really don't want a table which is too low, so it is difficult to get the knees below (I am rather tall), or you can't cross the legs comfortably. Finally there is also the horror of a wobbling table. Nothing worse than that, especially when the effect pops up after every change of posture from you or the opponent. Then a subtle play starts of when (or when not) putting pressure. Not always carton is available and then it is a matter of finding a silent agreement.

Finally we have the chairs. In Gent I once saw somebody leaning on the 2 back-legs of a white garden-chair and immediately crashed through - don't do that. If the tables are not very strong then the chairs are often even worse. Often the classic chairs are the best to use for playing chess. Famous are the test-sessions in a WC-matches before the first game: the room is inspected, the light, the sound, the board, the table, pieces and the chair. Comfort should not dominate as this is not good for the concentration. A chair should support but not let the player fall a sleep.

The last comfort-aspect is the lightening. The worst conditions which I experienced where in open Leuven (sorry people). Not enough daylight, insufficient light intensity - some table had even their own desk-lamp (personal or supplied by the organization?). It was almost impossible to make pictures. The analyzing-room with a bar at the street-side had much better playing-conditions but probably was just too small for all the participants.

The lights are very important for players - Fischer (again he) could complain a lot about it, but his comments also improved the conditions for all other players. Too bright sunlight is to be avoided (here the advice of Ruy Lopex is still valid: turn your back to the sun), but a place close to the window is always preferred to one in the middle of the room. Daylight can't be beaten and sometimes TL-light can be quite annoying, especially if the ballast doesn't work fine and the TL is blinking. Halogeen-lights are fine but the yellow light can quickly give the impression that there is not enough clearness.

So - a player can handle a lot of bad conditions, but top performances can only happen in optimal conditions. And I didn't talk yet about sound (the ever pub-problems) the heating, the drought, the repetitions of other clubs next, above or under the playing-room...