Thursday, October 13, 2016

Comebacks part 2

Bad advertising is also advertising but I have my doubts when it is about chess. If you don't hear anything else about chess then as a parent you would not allow your children to play chess. Chess is of course much more than these incidents. In the previous olympiad we had more tension and drama than in any top-sport see e.g. tiebrake-system decides the olympiad. However nothing about this was mentioned in the media. Even in US nothing was reported while their team won gold. Well almost nothing as the New York Times had a very sad article about it. Instead of congratulations we were able to read how the journalist ridiculed the magnificent performance of the team by insinuating that US bought gold by importing foreign top-players.

It is a missed opportunity to show to the American public that chess can still be exciting and beautiful today. It really isn't very hard for a big newspaper to have a good and easy to understand annotation of a few of their best games. There exists definitely enough stuff to write a good story. Besides there wasn't any lack of drama either. I already mentioned the nerve-racking conclusion of the tie-brake but not less entertaining was the comeback in the game of the strong American grandmaster Samuel Shankland against the strong Indian grandmaster Sethuraman. 11 moves (from 23 till 34) white is completely busted. Some engines even show winning-evaluations for black of 18 points at some point of time but finally white still wins.

A loss instead of the win would've given 16 tie-brake-points less for US if the other results are kept identical. In other words this luck helped US to grab the gold as they only had 9 tie-brake-points more than Ukraine at the end.

At Samuel explained that he has saved such bad positions before in his career but never against the caliber of Sethuraman. At some moment you just stop calculating and play a move which doesn't lose on the spot.

In a previous article the sadistic exam I wrote that competitive chess can be emotionally very though. A well played game can be destroyed by just one stupid move without any chance to recover. However at least as dramatic is not winning a won position because you can't finish off your opponent. Emanuel Lasker told us that the most difficult is to win a won game. Nevertheless it is incomprehensible what happened in my game against Vermaat. 27 moves (from 22 till 49) I have a completely won position but for some reason I can't find the k.o.

After the game the Indian IM Kumar Praveen rushed to me to explain where I missed a win. Not 1 but thousand wins I missed, was my snappy reply. I can't find any standard game in my almost 800 of my personal database where something similar happened to me. How is this possible?

Even so I had practiced tactics the last months a lot. On I achieved a tactic-rating of +2600. Next I had won  the cup in Deurne which was played just before the open tournament of Gent and at Playchess I won even a couple of blitz-games against grandmasters during the last months. I was confident that I had sufficiently trained myself to perform well in tense situations. On the other hand the best training for standard-chess is still playing standard-chess. If you don't play for more than 3 months any serious games then you get unavoidably a bit rusty. Maybe the best explanation is given on the American chess-blog of Dana Mackenzie: "If there is anything, which even grandmasters, are not able to do very well then it are mating-combinations. That sounds to me a bit too simple so I will devote my next lesson to mating-combinations together with my students.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The chess microbe

After 3 years of lessons in Deurne my 7 year old son switched to Mechelen. It was a tough decision for me but at the same time necessary not to lose his interest in chess. The courses in Deurne were not anymore challenging and the club-management did not succeed to find a solution. The youth work can only survive by the selflessness of volunteers which isn't something you can force. On the other hand I do notice that we lack any flow of our children to adult-chess in Deurne. 10 years ago they started with giving lessons to the youth because they wanted to cope with the ageing club-members (see history). Today the problem is even bigger. An evaluation of youth-chess imposes itself.

In KMSK Hugo gets today step 2+ within a small group with their own teacher. The courses last almost 2 hours (twice as in Deurne) and consist of 1 hour working with a manual and the rest of the time playing chess. In the meantime I help the youth-chess just like I did before in Deurne. If you anyway have to wait then you better do something useful. I assume KMSK must have been delighted with my proposal as they immediately promoted me to teacher for the most advanced players so step 5 and higher.

That was a bit of a shock as I don't have any experience with teaching at that level. Besides I am an autodidact so I can't rely upon examples from previous teachers. Anyway what is meant with step 5 and higher? I noticed the strength of my students was very diverse from 1400 till even 2100 elo. A small questionnaire confirmed the heterogeneous picture of the students.  It is clear that it will be a big challenge to keep everybody satisfied in my courses.

The management of the club gives me carte blance which I will use to experiment a bit with some different methods of teaching. I have received the manuals of step 5 and 6 in the meantime which I will definitely use. I will also have a look to games played by the students. Additionally this blog can be a source for subjects to be used as teaching material. Nobody of them seems to follow this blog so I don't have to fear it will be just a repetition. Nevertheless last Sunday I didn't want to take any risks by selecting just an article. A Belgian IM has told me once that my article interferences is very interesting so I thought it is very unlikely that they would know the theme already.

Indeed nobody knew in advance what are interferences about. To explain the different types in a joyful way I let them solve in group a problem of each type. This made the course interactive and I assume this way they also grasped the themes better and quicker. Another advantage of this approach is that I get quicker feedback. Some of my students asked why some positions are very unorthodox.

It is a very natural and legitimate question. Some positions will indeed never occur in standard practice. Technically this subject won't learn them much. However I think the role of a teacher goes beyond just getting the students to play stronger chess. At least as important is to let them discover the love for the game. Winning points will give you a kick but on the long term only the chess microbe can survive if it is fed by inspiration and astonishment.

In this category we can probably consider the queen-sacrifice as the highest form of pleasure. The British and highly original attacking player Simon Williams wrote recently in an article on that such sacrifice is pure magic. Of course there exist many different degrees of beauty between queen-sacrifices. However in practice we will most likely see the real pearls played by stronger players. Unfortunately I am not one of them. There is always something lacking. I explain by one of my most dramatic games I have played in the last years. At least 4 fantastic queen-sacrifices were hidden in my 8th round of Open Gent against Marcel Vermaat.

The first appears at move 24 but my opponent doesn't allow it. On the other hand I have to admit that despite the queen-sacrifice being correct, there are other wins available which are more easy. It is even likely that I would have not played it if I had the opportunity.

A second queen-sacrifice is hidden at move 30. This time I would have definitely played it but again my opponent doesn't allow it.

At move 32 I get my first real chance to play a queen-sacrifice. Unfortunately I play a different winning move. Normally I should not miss this but as my time got low such things can happen.

The final queen-sacrifice is for sure the most sophisticated. The sacrifice is an introduction to a beautiful combination. Personally I think such combination is too difficult to find by myself alone.

I don't think there are many games in which you can find 4 totally different queen-sacrifices. It was a big disappointment for me not to win the game (more about this in another article) but (much) later I can still enjoy the beauty hidden under the surface of the game. My chess microbe is still very alive.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Risks part 2

20 years I already play exclusively 1.e4 with white. With black I have been answering 1.e4 at least as long by only 1...e5. If you combine this with my elaborated current opening-studies (see studying openings part 2) and I am FM then it is expected that no more big surprises can happen after 1.e4 e5 for me. Still my young opponent Mardoek Thienpondt managed to play me out of book in the 7th round of Open Gent after exactly 3 moves with an old forgotten gambit. Old can be this time be replaced by prehistoric. In the article old wine in new skins we went back to 1962 and 1918. In the article old wine in new skins part 2 we were briefly in 1955. This time we return to 1856. Yes we are talking here about a gambit played a few times by Paul Morphy. I selected his most spectacular one from the 4 games in the mega-database with this gambit.

In my private database of online games I notice that I met this line a number of times in blitz/ bullet but I never put any effort in studying this opening. I considered the opening as harmless and fun is for me the most important reason to play blitz online (see the (non)-sense of blitz). 

My teammate the Belgian FM Daniel Sadkowski at the other hand did know something about the opening as he could explain me the critical line of this opening. Daniel already plays chess for 40 years. Besides he still has been playing in the era when computers didn't play any role so at that time those gambits were much easier to play. Nevertheless I was slightly puzzled that somebody often varying (e.g Daniel answered 1.e4 already with c5, e6, g6, c6, Nf6 and e5) knows more about some overlapping repertoire than I do with my scientific approach. It again proves what I already stated before in my article a Dutch gambit. My repertoire is like cheese with holes and my method of study isn't optimized for practical chess.

The first official worldchampion Willem Steinitz told us that a sacrifice is best refuted by accepting it. Normally if we follow the power-play method this would mean that I have to accept the gambit but in the meanwhile I also know this is a good receipt for a disaster if you don't have any foreknowledge. Today opening-knowledge and preparation are playing a much bigger role. Besides it is not very scientific to try to refute a gambit at the board and fall into a trap after a couple of moves. No practically often refusing the gambit is more clever if possible when you meet it for the first time. I also chose cowardly running away from the complications.

After having played this game I have studied the opening seriously so I will be better armed for the future and hopefully will get a quicker advantage with black. This time we just played chess in which the competitive part with its load of mistakes dominated.

I expect few will regret the deviation of the critical lines by this "coward" way of play if this creates again original play in which both parties are playing independently.  However a deviation of the critical lines doesn't guarantee always a good fight. A recent example of this can be found in a game played a couple of months ago in the Masters Final at BilbaoThe Russian top-grandmaster Sergey Karjakin will get a shot for the world-title in November but his game against the American top-grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura won't be very comforting for his fans.

What a big difference we see in the reaction of Korchnoi upon being hit by a novelty prepared by the team of the then reigning worldchampion Anatoly Karpov in the bizarre worldchampionship of 1978. He wasn't afraid of the complications and achieved one of his greatest victories.

In My Great Predecessors Part 5 Kasparov considers 13. Qa4 a cowardly move to force the draw. However I think it is an exaggeration to state Karjakin is a coward and not a worthy challenger for our current worldchampion Carlsen. The foreknowledge of Nakamura was surely much bigger than what Anatoy knew when introducing the idea. Besides Karjakin experienced not long ago what can happen when you are not up to date of the theory, coincidence or not exactly against the same opponent see harakiri.

In part 1 I promoted taking risks to make chess more attractive. In this article I wanted to demonstrate we should put the opening into a separate chapter of risk-management. Modern practice proves we need to be extra careful in the opening. Maximizing your score unfortunately means we sometimes need to lock the game.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016


The American IM Jeremy_Silman famous for his instructive chessbooks published a few weeks ago at 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 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.