Tuesday, September 20, 2016


The American IM Jeremy_Silman famous for his instructive chessbooks published a few weeks ago at chess.com a nice article about how much fun analyzing a game can be. Some games are filled with subtle maneuvers or insanely wonderful tactics. Others just offer only one special moment. Such moment also occurred in one of my most recent games which I discovered while analyzing the game with my strongest engines. Not only did I never consider the surprising desperado shown by our electronic chessmasters but it took me also some time to fully understand the strength of the idea.

However before I show the critical position, I first need to explain what "Desperado" means. Wikipedia gives several explanations as people seem to use it for different occasions. In this article, a desperado is a piece which can't be saved anymore and decides to sell his live dearly.

Limiting the material losses by grabbing some pieces is probably the most traditional desperado. Less obvious but not necessarily worse is a desperado destroying the pawn-structure of the opponent. A trivial example was already covered in an analyses published in the article lars schandorff. My f4 pawn (technically also a piece) can't be defended properly and is pushed to break the white pawn-structure.

Probably the best hidden desperado is when only a tempo can be won. It doesn't feel natural to spend time playing a desperado which doesn't give anything tangible in the form of material or structure. Such special desperado only can happen when the position fulfills some specific conditions. Without the desperado the opponent can capture by playing an active move. With the desperado the opponent will only be able to capture by misplacing a piece. Besides this misplaced piece can be attacked so another tempo must be spent to defend by the opponent. The recent example from my game played in Open Gent against Ted Barendse, shown below will clarify the theme.

So in the game I missed the desperado which allowed black the active capture with Nxg6 and concur the initiative. The desperado g7 would've allowed me to win an important tempo leading to a much better position than I got in the game.

In my practice I found another 2 examples of this type of desperado. It is probably not a real surprise that both are occurring in the opening-phase. It is just much more likely somebody finds a non-trivial move in the opening as identical positions are popping up more frequently and concrete theoretical knowledge plays a much larger role. The first example is from a line which I discussed already briefly in my article g4 in the najdorf.

Without the desperado white captures with the active Bxf4. With the desperado, black will win time with Ne5 if white plays the although non forcing move Bxf3. A very similar idea can also be found in a popular sideline of the Spanish which already popped up in my article friends.

Without the desperado Koen captured with the active Nxd4 move. With the desperado d3 black can win an important tempo later via Ne5 or Nc5.

All my examples are built around pawns as desperado. Other pieces influence a much larger zone so more likely will play a different type of desperado. Nevertheless I guess a rare desperado for only a tempo probably also exists for bigger pieces. Readers knowing more examples especially with bigger pieces are welcome to react.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Food and drinks part 2

Last week somebody asked me why Belgium is playing with a rather weak team. I am pretty sure our numbers 1, 13, 15, 21 and 46 of the fide ranking will do the uttermost to perform well but very likely we would get a (much) higher ranking if we play with our best players. I try to give some explanations why our team isn't composed of only our highest rated players.

1) Few Belgians are patriotic. I don't demand we should all be chauvinistic nationalists like the French but today we see very little interest in all activities launched by our federation (with the exception of the interclub). That was once more stressed in the last Belgian championship of which I reported in holidays part 2.
2) Chess is losing ground in Belgium. Many (top-) players play very few games and can be considered as inactive. That was already covered in my article inactivity.
3)  The communication of the federation to the members to find players for the olympiad could definitely be improved. I found a message about it on the site of the federation but nothing else. On the fefb-forum I wasn't surprised to read that at least 1 top-player saw this invitation too late. I strongly suspect that most players only look at the site to check their rating and the results of the interclub.
4) Finally we also miss financial support. The players don't get any bonus for wins neither some kind of salary so many top-players aren't interested. Due to the debacle of the secretary a few years ago it is very hard to get an extra budget.

Budget-wise it is of course not only our federation having difficulties. 2 weeks ago I read some troublesome news about the fide becoming possibly bankrupt (see e.g chess.com). At a much smaller scale we see many tournaments cutting their expenses. I already wrote earlier on this blog that many professionals are just trying to survive but it is not only just about the prizes. In the last Open Gent I noticed that the liveboards which I praised 2 years ago on this blog were only partly activated. However the biggest inconvenience was the omission of the fans compared to last year. As we again had hot weather this transformed the playing-hall into an oven.

To mitigate this discomfort the organizers supplied cooled water against democratic prices which many made use of. I bought each round at least 1 bottle but this had nasty repercussions in the form of extra toilet-visits. Especially if you are playing against somebody spending hardly any time then you can get into a very annoying situation. Such thing happened to me in round 2 against Wiebke Barbier, active today at the olympiad. I really needed to go to the toilet but I didn't get a chance as it was my turn to move.

It is extremely hard to concentrate when you need a pee but it is not allowed to leave the board when you have to move. Besides I wonder if some players already had an accident but I guess nobody will want to confess such embarrassment. In the end I just made a move, hoped for the best and run to the toilets. The situation is even more complicated when the toilet is about 100 meters away. I don't think it was a coincidence that the seniors were allowed to play in a separate room just next to the toilets.

Except the loss of time we also see that toiletvisits are creating often extra stress (something which I already experienced see distrust). This often escalates into conflicts as was also happening in the ongoing olympiad. Players need to inform the arbiter of their toiletvisits and the arbiter has to register them. This was not accepted by everybody. Very soon a petition was launched successfully as by round 4 we see this rule being abolished already.

A player applying some very draconian measures not or very rarely to use a toilet, is the Belgian expert Alain Talon. He told me at Open Gent that he chose not to eat at all before a game. I don't understand how he can persevere as the evening-games could last till 11 PM. Nevertheless he performed very well and achieved a nice first shared place in his rating-group. This performance could've got even more glance if he didn't suffer a very unfortunate defeat at round 4.

Both players weren't very happy about their level of play but the unfortunate intervention of the arbiter caused of course a lot of irritation. Everybody makes mistakes but the ones of an arbiter are noticed much quicker and often create also larger problems. In the same context fits also an actual funny article of our Belgian teams on the olympiad.

Earlier I wrote on my blog that chess resembles a sadistic examen but I don't want to uphold this for eating, drinking and toiletvisits. Besides I never went through an exam lasting 4 hours without a break. If we want to preserve standardchess then it is necessary to provide the players enough space not only for just the moves.


Monday, September 5, 2016


When is my child mature enough to play standard-chess against adults? It is a question often asked by a trainer or parent wanting his child to improve further. Today there exists already an European and world-championship for the -8 so some already start from a very young age if they want to achieve a place of honor or even a medal.

I decided for my seven year old son that next season is still too early. I think step 3 and/or 1100 elo is a minimum and he hasn't got there yet. Besides last summer-months I let him enjoy the holidays and no chess was played at all. No next season we still stick to youth-lessons (we do however switch to Mechelen) and some youth-tournaments.

Because the youth-chess-criterium of Leuven at 10th of September is very soon and my son would like to participate, I anyway started a couple of days ago with some repetitions.  That was clearly not useless as  he had forgotten already a lot like to invite everybody at the party (develop all your pieces) and king-safety first (castling). To know and adopt these basic concepts, often makes a crucial impact in the games of our youth-players.

Of course there are countless exceptions but you learn them automatically by becoming stronger and getting experienced. An eccentric player is the British expert Mike Surtees having developed his own revolutionary opening-theory (abbreviated ROT) based solely on exceptions. He emphasizes to play pawn-moves instead of developing pieces in the opening and often omits castling. For a more detailed description and defense of his theory I refer to this blogarticle.

It is astonishing how successful he is/was with this unconventional theory even against much stronger opponents. It is definitely not just nonsense as also in the book Chess For Life a nice example by former-ladies-worldchampion Nona Gaprindashvili was published. Besides it was that game which got me acquainted with this concept. I have to specify from theoretical perspective as I do remember having unconsciously already adopted the concept a few times in practice.

The first game I want to show which surely includes elements of ROT, was played in 2004 against the Belgian expert Willem Hajenius. After the game we both smiled at the final position.

A more extreme ROT was my game against former-chairman of KSK Deurne Guy Colpin. In the final position none of my pieces are developed but white is totally busted. Guy was so much impressed that he asked to pose with the final position so he could take a picture. I didn't feel very comfortable with the request but anyway agreed.

My most fascinating piece of ROT is an analysis made in 1998. Black plays 8 moves with the king in the opening but in the final position he is better.

I feel pity to see that the modern engines have refuted the old analysis but it is something we see nowadays regularly happening. Anyway it still is an incredible line.

ROT almost guarantees lively play with lots of twists. I wouldn't recommend it in any opening and neither Mike does but the concept should definitely be considered in some specific lines.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

X-ray attacks

Last year I wrote on my blog that computers achieve autonomy in defining opening-theory but at chess-compositions they remained till recently invisible.  Dr Mohammed Azlan Iqbal is a pioneer whom wrote a program able to autonomously create chess-compositions. The artistic element is considered by many the last bastion of chess in which computers won't equal for a long time humans. So it wasn't a real surprise that his work got a lot of critics and many made firewood of his program. On Chessbase the author tried to defend his brainchild by stating that not the same criteria were used of beauty as is the case in the world of compositions but the damage was already done. Although I think the program is pretty clever and has potential, there is little chance that we get still new releases with improvements.

It does't mean that engines are useless for composers. As well for verification as for the creation of the problems/ compositions they often play an important role. Sometimes even in such magnitude that people are questioning the added value of the composer to the work of the computers. Compositions with 6-7 pieces can all be found in the lomonosov 7 men tablebases so some don't consider them anymore as unique.

Engines also show us regularly some amazing ideas. How often we think that we played a good game but at home we are still surprised by incredible turns which the computer can calculate in a nano-second. Maybe the loyal reader still remembers my article interferences with a fantastic piece-sacrifice from my practice. This time I want to show some amazing ideas based on x-ray attacks which I met (relatively) recently. Just for information I give you a description of an x-ray attack. An x-ray attack is a tactic in which 2 pieces of the opponent are positioned on 1 line. If you attack 1 piece, and this piece moves, then on that same line there is still the second piece. In some way you can look through the first piece to the second piece. Therefore we call it an x-ray attack.

In the step-method students are often training x-ray attacks but that doesn't mean that experienced players won't miss one, at contrary. Also with this theme there are many levels of complexity. Lets have a look at the example below. It is a variation of a game played in the 2015 club-championship of Deurne which didn't pop up during the game but was important for the evaluation of the position.

A second example which I should not omit is the fantastic 12. Qg3 played at the rapid-tie-brake of the quarter-finales of the Fide World Cup at Baku, Azerbaijan. The Chinese prodigy Wei Yi used only a few seconds for this move but I am convinced that he knew about this possibility in advance thanks to the great book  Move First Think Later. A short review of this book I gave on my blog see I knew it.

It is hard to find a more beautiful example with the x-ray attack but a few months ago the Russian top-grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi hit the jackpot. There exist many games in which a bishop is sacrificed at h7 but then the pawn is already at h4. Here it even works by playing h4 later.

Not only did Ian tell later on twitter that this was for him one of the most beautiful and unique ideas he ever played but also that it wasn't something he discovered himself.

Engines are by many players cursed because they destroy chess. On the other hand we must admit that they also allow us to discover a lot of beauty even if the engines aren't programmed for that purpose. Surely when dealing with x-ray attacks, an engine doesn't suffer from certain visual barriers. Do you still know unique examples of your own practice or of professionals then I invite you to share them below in a reaction.


Friday, July 29, 2016

Old wine in new skins part 2

Last season I didn't participate at the clubchampionship of Deurne just like 2 years ago. The interest of the stronger players has been fading away for some time as mentioned in my article inactivity and there hasn't been a cure yet found for it. The alternative was for me again TSM Open but that competition ended already around new-year. After the last round of the Belgian interclubs in April I didn't manage to play any standard games anymore. To get back into shape for the Open Gent I decided just like 2 years ago to play the cup in Deurne.

From 2 earlier participations I had learned that the scientific approach puts myself in a very vulnerable position. The higher rated player gets a time-handicap defined by the rules and the combination with a surprise in the opening by my opponent created a very dangerous mix. Not seldom only a few minutes remained on my clock after the opening for playing the rest of the game. I couldn't win the cup this way.

This year I chose to disregard the scientific approach and play in a very practical way. This also corresponds better to my goal of getting back into shape. Each match in the cup means that one player proceeds and one player is eliminated. So if you want to play a maximum of games then you first need to win the matches. Therefore I chose practically after winning the first game to force the draw in the second game even in completely won positions. My openingchoices also deviated from my standard repertoire. When Robert Schuermans in the quarterfinale played a6 in the Spanish instead of his favorite Schliemann-gambit, I countered surprisingly with the exchange variation. Not only I avoided his preparation but I also managed to exchange the queens which to some extent disarmed him.

In my semi-finale against Marcel Van Herck and the finale against  Thierry Penson I decided to return to openings which I played more than a decade ago regularly. They are not part anymore of my standard repertoire as there exists at least 1 anti-dote but they seemed to me a good choice for the cup. The strategy worked. Both opponents were not prepared for this surprise and spent a lot of time in the opening which caused them to make errors quickly in the middlegame. Without showing something great, I won comfortable the cup.

The practical value of a surprise from the old box can and should not be underestimated. However I still was slightly puzzled when last month the Ukrainian topgrandmaster Vassily Ivanchuk won with a really dubious opening against the Cuban topgrandmaster Leinier Dominguez Perez in the 51st Capablanca memorial.

A +2700 player knows an enormous amount of theory so I assume Leinier has seen this line before. Unfortunately for him this wasn't enough to keep the opening-advantage. For the umpteenth time the well calculated gamble of Chucky was successful. I am sure the opening is dubious as it was part of my standard repertoire till 2004, although with a different move-order. I still won my last game with the variation but afterwards I got convinced that I better play different lines.

I got acquainted with the opening by a book of 1986 Spanish gambits by Leonid Shamkovich and Eric Schiller. The analysis were not of a high quality but till today (mainly in online blitz) I still get a lot of pleasure with it. The opening gets called different names by people. One of the first players playing it on a high level was the Russian grandmaster Mark Taimanov in 1955 so sometimes it is named after him. In the book which I read, it is called the wing-variation which is also an option given on 365Chess.com. Some prefer it to call the Norwegian variation as several strong players from Norway played it like the strong Norwegian grandmaster Simen Agdesteinthe Norwegian IM Svein Johannessen and the Norwegian IM Arne Zwaig.

Today I didn't introduce yet old (dubious) openings in my standard-chess. I am convinced of the practical value even against very strong players. Winning is important but that is not the only thing which counts for me in chess.


Addendum 29 July 2016
I realized after posting this article, that the opening discussed in this article also helped me to win a game against Nicola Capone a couple of years ago in Leuven. The analysis of that game was published in the article http://chess-brabo.blogspot.be/2014/01/the-sequence.html. If you read the analysis then you can even find the link.

Monday, July 25, 2016


The Flemish youth-chess-criterium is a beautiful initiative to engage (Flemish) children in our game. However I notice despite the lovely numbers of participants that only a very small minority fully uses the opportunities. In the first half of this year there were 6 play-days but I only count 5 players having participated each time. It is no coincidence that these 5 players (among which my son) are leading the overall standings.

I expect that a lack of guides is here the main reason of the absences. Parents can't/ don't want to sacrifice 8 hours waiting for their children each play-day. That excludes the extra hours of transport often needed to get from home to the tournament and back. It is no surprise that many parents quickly stop their support and most clubs don't have volunteers to replace them.

Of course it is a bit easier for me to pass the time enjoyable. Through the years I got to know a lot of people in this little world of chess so I can always find somebody to chat with. Recently we were talking a couple of times about which mastergames (modelgames) could be useful to show to our kids. I heard the names of Capablanca, Tarkatower but I had strong doubts about this. As long the players are not capable to play without hanging any pieces, we better practice tactics.

Once they master the basics sufficiently, the next step can be made by looking at modelgames. Today there exists a lot of material about it already. Last I read Chess Structures A Grandmaster Guide written by the Chilean grandmaster Maurico Flores Rios. I was impressed by the collection of contemporary top-games to explain different types of pawnstructures but personally I doubt that I have learned a lot. I did learn something from the hedgehog chaper like Matthew Sadler. Online I tested in the meanwhile already with some success the concept with Qc1. However many structures don't pop up in my repertoire. Besides I get the feeling that structures not part of the authors repertoire aren't so well covered. For sure the stonewall is better discussed at my blog than in his book see Dutch steps in the English opening or manuals.

Another negative comment which I have, is the complexity of the chosen top-games. The author really tries to keep the attention to the themes but can't avoid sometimes to delve into some tactical complications. Therefore I prefer the selection-method given by the English FM Terry Chapman in Chess For Life. He will still choose modelgames played by (top-) grandmasters but contrary to the book "Chess Structures" the opponents will be rated a couple of hundred points lower. This allows to demonstrate some themes in a much pure format.

Finally we also must categorize the different themes as many will be too difficult for most youth-players or even the average clubplayer. Ambitious players around 2000 probably will get the most out of that book. Players rated lower look better to a very different type of themes. For them there are books like How to Reasses Your ChessWeapons of Chess,.... This means we need different modelgames too. Former worldchampion Max Euwe has shown us long ago already the right direction with his book master against amateur. The masters show convincingly how typical mistakes of amateurs can be punished.

In my own practice I played a lot of games against (much) lower rated opponents. Sometimes my opponent told me afterwards that he didn't understand where he made an error. No clear tactical mistake was made but somehow he wasn't able to avoid losing material on the long term and eventually also the game. A good example is below game which I played in the first round of Open Leuven 2014.

The game is a model-example of a strong knight against a bad bishop. Black is already very early helpless but even in the post-mortem it took me quite some time to convince him of how bad his position was. I am not even sure if I succeeded.

A very different theme popped up in the 7th round of the club-championship in Deurne 2015. Here white even won a pawn in the opening and kept if for quite some time but didn't realize how huge the compensation was for black.

Players experienced with example Queens gambit accepted won't be surprised of what happened to white in the game. However in the post-mortem white couldn't accept that taking the pawn on c5 was too risky. I am not a grandmaster so my views aren't taken for granted.

In open tournaments many of such modelgames are players. Surely in the first rounds often interesting lessons can be learned due to the big differences of ratings between the players. Seldom these games get commented on the internet so don't hesitate after the game as weaker player to ask some valuable feedback about your play.


Addendum 29 July 2016
In my analysis of the game against Maarten Wouters I criticize that somebody of 1800 points should know that an endgame of bad bishop against strong knight must be avoided. Well it is a coincidence but at http://www.schaaksite.nl/2016/07/27/toernooi-in-vaujany/ very recently the strong French grandmaster Christian Bauer didn't stand a chance in a similar endgame. Maybe I was a bit too harsh as Christian has about 2600 elo.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

14 x SOS part 2

My 17th interclub-season with Deurne has finished already a few months ago. I don't doubt that there are players in Belgium with (much) longer club-traditions but I assume very few can show a higher dedication. From 187 interclubgames I only missed 4. Once I preferred to play the French interclub instead as there was nothing anymore at stake for Deurne which wasn't the case for my French club (Luc EDN). In 2009 I skipped 2 rounds not to miss anything around the birth of my son Hugo. Finally this year I gave for the first time priority to a communion in my family. Normally I never submit to family-parties and my family also takes this into account but a communion is not something which can shift. Besides the chances to promote for Deurne were reduced to almost 0. Wachtebeke had made a gap which they surely would maintain with their mercenaries.

So in all those years I never cancelled for any illness although I do remember that I was feeling unwell a few times. By the way also this season I played a round with a vascular infection which created red bumps everywhere on my skin. Except for a ridiculous look and some people fearing unjust to get some contagious disease, I felt in good shape. In brief I am not losing yet my motivation.

Therefore it is not really a surprise that also in the last round I was eagerly playing for a win. Well theoretically there still existed a possibility to become champion but probably winning the lottery would've been easier. As my opponent was almost 200 points lower rated, a win didn't look so difficult at first sight. However ratings don't tell us everything. Gert-Jan Timmerman is maybe only rated 2135 at the day of the game but it would be very naïef to believe he can't play better. His opening-choice for the weird Relfsson gambit already shows that he hasn't lost any of his wizardry to get the opponent quickly out of his comfortzone.

Last year Gert-Jan achieved a modest succes by using an article of the Spanish Bird in SOS 12, see my blogarticle. This year he even did better thanks to an article of the Ukrainian grandmaster Adrian Mikhalchishin (today playing for Slovenia) published in SOS 11. In fairness I have immediately to add that Gert-Jans play played a much larger role in the result than the opening as more than gaining some time was not achieved contrary to last year.

No, I still didn't study the SOS books but one of the disadvantages of the Relfsson gambit is that black can still choose to transpose to more common lines of the Spanish. After 10 minutes reflection that is also the practical choice I made. Gert-Jans reaction was not a surprise as in my preparation I bumped upon an old correspondence-game of 1981 which he played against his big nemesis Joop van Oosterom.

In my article using databases part 2 I already mentioned that I also study as part of a preparation my opponents correspondence games if he has any. This allowed me to quickly catch up time. I assume this also explains why Gert-Jan once again deviates a bit later from the mainline. Risky as not only slightly inferior but most likely also not part anymore of the preparation. Anyway it worked. I still had encountered the position before in online blitz but never studied it properly. Eventually an interesting battle appeared on the board in which I was never able to prove my higher rating.

After the game a smiling Gert-Jan told me that this was his best game of the season. Some nasty problems needed to be solved without Gert-Jan using any difficult tactics. A computer often doesn't see any difference in evaluation between several choices but in practice we do notice that some positions are much easier to play than others. When in one line you can play quiet moves to keep the balance, in another line you need to apply some deep typical computer-tactics. As a human you better avoid of course the latter.

As reported in my last article, ratings of amateurs are often more suffering due to aging than professionals. However as the calculation powers maybe declined, above game clearly demonstrates that Gert-Jan hasn't lost any or only very little of his chess-knowledge. For sure this game isn't a strong advertising for the SOS-books.