Saturday, August 19, 2017

The open games

If you watch the games of our youngest players then you notice a lot of Italian four knights. That is of course because many teachers use this opening in their classes. The opening is very solid and for beginners there are enough possibilities to play an interesting game. It is perfect to make your first steps at chess and develop yourself. Besides it only takes a few minutes to teach and learn the opening so more important aspects of chess like tactics can get more attention.

A couple of individuals at youth-tournaments try to profit from this by using some home-studied traps. It are often very sharp gambits which are very efficient as normal developing moves don't work as defense and exact knowledge of the opening is mandatory. When I found out that my son Hugo lost some crucial games in the tournaments due to that strategy so not because of inferior skills, I realized that I needed to help him.

I am a specialist of the open games so I know very well what enormous amount of theory exists today of the open games. Further I don't think it is ideal to force a child to play like I do see the scientific approach. Therefore Hugo switched from 1.e4 e5 to 1.e4 c6. With white we started to play exchange-variations of the Spanish see my article bjk. So theoretically these openings aren't the most critical ones but this way he does get each time positions which allow him to play a long game of chess.

It is not only the choice for the open games of trainers which I question. I am also often surprised how it is possible that stronger/ more experienced players choose open games while it is evident that they know barely any theory. 3 times in the past Open Gent I encountered a lack of basic theory-knowledge in the play of my opponents. Let us have a look to my first round against nonetheless a player of +1800. If you play the Ponziani then I expect that you are at least aware of the Fraser-defense.
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On my blog I wrote 2 articles about the opening see 14 x sos and computers achieve autonomy but just like my opponent of the previous article, he didn't read it. Maybe my opponent doesn't know this blog but I don't find that a good excuse as the Fraser-defense is basic-knowledge for any Ponziani-player.

Besides I also consider basic-knowledge the classical mainline of the Spanish: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 etc... However my opponent in round 3 managed to mix up the order of the next moves by playing 8.h3 instead of c3. I took advantage of this by using the same idea which I showed earlier in my articles the sequence and familychess part 2.
It is remarkable that this inaccuracy popped up in 300 mastergames while 2 out of 3 just transposed back to the mainlines. The difference of evaluation is small but can be noticed when you look at black's score which is clearly better with Na5.

A much larger difference of evaluation after mixing up the right sequence is my 3rd example. Also here we see my opponent choosing for an open game while not being versed too much by knowledge.
In my database there are 32 mastergames with the same mistake. Online I already got it 19 times on the board. I mean the examples are definitely not isolated cases.

It is especially stunning that these are very elementary positions of the open games which are misplayed by many players. So we are not talking about missing a new strong novelty somewhere deep into theory. I can only deduct that many players like to play intuitively and are not willing to study properly the openings. In open games this will regularly lead to disasters if the opponent is booked up. I believe switching to less demanding openings is absolutely necessary for those "lazy" players.

Brabo

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Matches

Last week there was breaking international chess-news by the announcement of Magnus Carlsen playing the world-cup in September. Not only Magnus likes the format of the tournament contrary to many of his (older) colleagues but his unexpected participation also creates complications. The world-cup is a qualification-tournament for the candidates-tournament but it is not totally clear who will qualify if Magnus finishes at a qualification-spot.

Many players consider the world-cup a pure lottery but Magnus knows very well that the format is fitting him. It will be a matter of not losing at standard chess against the strongest opponents as in the tie-break he has very good chances. The tie-break consists exclusively out of rapid and blitz and he excels in those disciplines as the undisputed number 1. The rating-differences with the other leading players is often more than 100 points see 2700chess. Briefly financially- and publicity-wise his participation is a very well calculated gamble.

Doubtless the world-cup will get much more attention of the media than usual. A world-champion upgrades a tournament immediately. I expect many fans will again want to follow Magnus's games live. On the other hand it is still just a big circus and the participation of Magnus doesn't change that. Matches of only 2 standard games can't be considered as a serious test between players. You need much more games to define who is the better player. However rarely there is money and time available for such longer matches.

The world-championship-finals are the last remainders of our rich match-history. As they only consist of maximum 12 standard games, often this doesn't suffice to define  a winner so a tie-break is needed. It is a sad but necessary evolution in our today's society. I still need a couple of months to finish the book H.E. Bird written by Hans Renette but it already stroke me that chess in the 19th century was very different compared to how we play nowadays. Matches were most common as in that era the very first tournaments were only starting to appear. In other words chess before 1900 mainly happened by challenging a player for a match or accepting matches. Besides when we talk about a match then it is not just a couple of games. Henry Bird played not less than 4 matches in 1873 against the former British champion John Wisker which corresponds to a total of 58 games. That is even more than the famous aborted match between Karpov - Kasparov played in 1984/85.

I played a couple of matches myself but solely against engines see (gambits and chesskids). A match against a strong local player was something I welcomed 4 years ago here on the blog (see this reaction) but nothing came out of it as usual. The only thing which looks a bit similar are my individual head to head scores. The chess-world is very small so you always bump against the same opponents in the different tournaments. Nevertheless the number of players against whom I played more than 5 standard games is very limited.
Players against I played at least 5 times a long game
Despite a chess-career of more than 20 years this is a very short list. I assume a similar list of Tom Piceu will contain much bigger matches and will also be much longer. His annotations of a game played against Thibaut Maenhout  "game eleventhirty" clearly tells us that he meets some players very regularly. The reason of my short list is simple. I play not so much. Tom is a couple of years younger than me and has 1104 Belgian rated games. I only have 478.

The first player of my list is an old friend: the Belgian expert Pascal Bauwe playing for the West-Flemish chessclub Kortrijk. End of the 90's I met him often when I was still playing for de Roeselaarse Torrewachters but afterwards we lost contact. He is a very solid player and very difficult to beat as he has a couple of decades experience.
Source: https://www.facebook.com/torrewachters/
Our 4 earlier confrontations were draws but I don't find them interesting enough to publish here. The last one dates already from 1999 so in the recent Open Gent I was eager to finally open the score. I am not anymore the player of 20 years ago so I wanted to demonstrate that on the board. It was maybe my best game of the tournament as I didn't make any clear mistakes.

Pascal told me after the game that he was aware of my blog but as many doesn't read the articles carefully. His opening-gamble backfired which he could have knows if he read my article creating a repertoire. It once more proofs my proposition made in the article password.

Such sort of matches spread over many years are of course not the same as played over only a couple of days/ weeks. A player evolves technically as by his openingchoices. Nevertheless some characteristics won't change. If somebody doesn't like to prepare games 20 years ago then likely he won't prepare today either. An attacker will rarely transform to a positional player and vice versa.

Today we have all ratings so those head to head scores have little to no value for the public. However for the related players it often feels differently. It is no coincidence that a derby always gets extra attention. The games between the Belgian international masters Stefan Docx and Geert Van der Stricht create always extra tension. For each game there is a cup at stake which the winner can take home. The cup is provided by the winner of their last encounter. If it is a draw then the cup remains in the hands of the winner of their last encounter. I find this a very funny and creative method to generate an extra dimension to their lifelong match.

Brabo

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Grabbing material

Sacrificing pieces is something very common in our games. Gambits remain very popular at amateur-chess but even in top-games we see little respect for material. A couple of days ago Kramnik played a brilliant game filled with sacrifices against the strong German grandmaster Matthias Bluebaum see e.g. here. Or what to think about the Chinese grandmaster Wei Yi beating a week earlier the Russian top-grandmaster Vladimir Malakhov with an ingenious exchange-sacrifice see e.g. the newsreport at chess.com.

Technically and psychologically the task of the defense is difficult so it often pays to sacrifice material even if it is not fully correct. A theme which is closely related to this is grabbing material. I don't speak just about answering gambits offered by the opponent but rather when you discover that pressure/ initiative can be converted into a material-gain. Will you choose to get the dividends by grabbing the material? Or will you wait and hope for more by playing double or nothing?

An initiative is often temporarily. If you don't succeed to transform it into something tangible like material or structure then you risk staying empty handed. However a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush isn't always so unambiguous in chess. I experienced this a couple of months ago. The game against Frederic Verduyn was already covered in the article chesspub but this time I only look at the phase where I decided to pick up a pawn.
         
In hindsight it was probably more clever to not go for the pawn and just maintain the positional-advantage. However there are no guarantees here because if you don't understand how the advantage should be nurtured then it can quickly go downhill.

Another example of this theme popped up in my most recent interclub-game against David Roos. Also that game was already published here see scholar's-mate. I zoom at move 18 when I decided to grab an exchange.
 
In the end it probably didn't matter much. Fact is that after winning the exchange that the win is not easy if white doesn't blunder. Waiting with picking up the material looks more efficient and is also practically much stronger.

In my most recent rated game I managed to overcome my materialistic demons. I ignored one material gain after the other (including even a piece) and scored my most convincing win ever against Robert Schuermans. I am pretty happy about that as I had to win with black to become club-champion of Deurne.
 
At the end of the game I was up so much material that I could afford to sacrifice an exchange to force resignation. Beside Robert had no time left anymore while I still had a half hour. In the game we see all the advantages of waiting to grab material and adding systematically pressure.

The opponent loses a lot of time to find solutions for the ever growing problems. Often we see that there is much more material to collect. Practically this strategy is very efficient but in practice it is not so frequently used in comparison to gambits. Psychologically there exists today wrongly a large difference of perception between sacrificing material and not grabbing material for the same less visible advantages.

Brabo

Friday, July 7, 2017

Pawn structures

Each of my students has its own repertoire. In my lessons I don't try to persuade them to learn other openings. I only made 1 exception when we discussed the theme "material and time". Using a very interesting and unknown idea in the mainline of the Evans-gambit I tried to stimulate my students to get less attached to material and focus more at keeping the initiative.

So normally I don't teach about openings. There are enough good opening-books in which you can study something quickly which is sufficient for playing a nice game as clubplayer. Besides specializing into an opening is very time-consuming and it makes no sense without using the best engines (see studying openings part 2).

Nevertheless it is good not to restrict yourself solely to looking at games within your own repertoire. Not seldom an idea of another opening can be used in your own openings. Many openings have similar pawn-structures so same ideas can pop up. The American grandmaster Grigory Serper wrote recently 2 inspiring articles how to study master chess games and more lessons from master games. Another big step forwards is Chess structures A grandmaster guide written by the Chilean grandmaster Mauricio Flores Rios and published in 2015.
In 22 chapters the author described the most important pawn-structures and the standard-plans connected to them. Maurio tells us in the introduction that he missed this book when growing up as player to grandmaster. So he found it about time to change this. It is no bragging as I read at chessexpress.blogspot that also other players were for many years searching for such type of book.

I expect that the book is most interesting for players between 2000 - 2300 elo. In that segment you should build up a more serious repertoire so the knowledge of the different pawn-structures becomes valuable. But also for higher rated players there is still something to learn. I agree with the review at New in Chess from the strong British grandmaster Matthew Sadler that the chapter about the Hedghog from white's perspective is very informative. I already scored some good results from having learned the attacking-scheme with Qc1 see below online blitzgame.

So we can detect in our openings many connections. Strong players will often be able to adopt ideas in an opening which they saw from another opening. However it is not always that simple. A couple of years ago I met with white a Caro Cann. Black only 1700 elo knew the standard pawn-sacrifice of this pawn-structure and got a good game.

Only recently I discovered while analyzing one of my games that I could have played the same type of pawn-sacrifice but in a completely different opening: the Ilyin-Geneveky variation. The move I played wasn't bad but for sure b5 was more critical. The resulting position is very sharp especially for white.

I never thought about this concept in the game. In the meanwhile I did apply the same theme already successfully a couple of times in similar positions of the Ilyin-Geneveky variation online.

It is often necessary to learn long strings of moves to survive an opening. However not less important are knowing the big schemes of the most common pawn-structures. Many players have no clue what they need to play after the opening. " Chess Structures" won't offer always an answer of course but it is today the best medicine to improve the chances by spending little time.

Brabo

Monday, June 26, 2017

How much time do you spend at chess?

As many families today I and my wife work full time. Besides that we have 2 small children, a large to be renovating house built in 1969, lovely garden,... and you get the picture that it is always busy. On top we can't rely upon help of the family or family-in-law due to the large distance. Finally my wife doesn't drive by car so all transport can only done with my help. So I always lack time. Still I manage to the surprise of many (see e.g a reaction of Valery Maes) to keep playing chess.

By the way it is not just a bit playing chess now and then that I talk about. If I count up all the activities linked to chess then I get a very big number of hours. Some explanation is probably necessary as likely nobody would otherwise believe. Below I split the activities in 8 categories: playing standard chess, my blog, surfing online, playing online, giving chess courses, accompanying my son to tournaments, exercising tactics and reading chess-books. The numbers i used are a.f.a.i.k. conservative. Besides quite some miscellaneous activities are not taken into account. I think about the many mails I write to other chess-players, the handicap-games I play at home against my son see strange material imbalances part 2, postmortems often accompanied with some beverages,...

Playing standard games
Total 410 hours at playing standard games








The time spent at standard games is split into 4 sub-categories.
- The number of hours a game averagely lasts. I estimate 3 hours except in the Belgium interclubs for which I use 3,5 hours (see e.g. annotations part 2 in which I wrote about a game of 109 moves.)
- The number of hours into preparation of a game. In open tournaments there is little time and you often don't find much back of the opponents in the database. For the Belgian interclubs I always prepare against multiple opponents (see e.g the list of strength)
- The number of hours analyzing a game. I only took into account the hours which I spent myself at the computer. However my engines probably analyze 5 times longer. The complex algorithm which I use, is explained in analyzing with a computer. The analysis can be split into 2 hours of research in the databases + initializing the engine to study openings, 1-2 hours checking each move  + initializing the engine for additional analysis of the middle and end-game. Finally 1 hour to synthesize the analysis into an easy readable format. I estimate the time spent for an analysis of my games played in the Belgium interclubs longer as the games are of a higher quality than the others.
- As the games are not played at home, some time is lost due to transport. If more than 2 games are played at the same day then there is often some idle time between the rounds. In open tournaments like Gent and Leuven you often have to wait for 3 hours between the rounds. More time must be spent at the prize-givings. The clubchampionship of Deurne wastes the least non-playing-time as only 1 game per day must be played and the club situates within a half hour drive from my home.

Blog
Total 141 hours spent at my blogs
Writing articles also takes time. So I understand very well why few people are willing to spent time writing articles. Besides you also need to do often some research. I win quite some time as I often copy the analysis of my standardgames into my blog-articles.
At the demand of some non-Dutch native readers I also try my best effort to translate my more common articles to English. With the help of some online dictionaries I need about 1 hour to translate an article. It is not Oxford English but despite the mistakes a number of visitors keep checking this blog.

Online surfing
Total 182,5 hours at chess-articles
With the exception of a couple of holidays per year I spent every day some time to surf at the internet. Hereby I surely look at many chesssites. Chess.com, chessbaseskdeurneschaaksitechesspub are my favorites which I visit often several times each day. There are also a large number of other sites which I visit less frequently. They are a source of inspiration for this blog. I also find it fun to get updated of the latest news or even add a small contribution to a discussion.

Playing online chess
Total 197 hours playing online chess
Nowadays I prefer to play 3 minute games online at Playchess. I don't play anywhere else. As the games are automatically stored I know precisely how many I played in the last year. I almost play exclusively in the evenings.

Giving chess-courses
Total 75 hours at teaching chess
This school-year I started to give courses in KMSK (see an example pawn breakthroughs). I was not able to give many courses as there was a lot of overlap with a number of other activities (interclub, tournaments,...) However I always spent quite some energy into the courses to keep my students interested.

Accompanying my son to tournaments

Total 200 hours at accompanying Hugo to tournaments
I was last year 25 days on the road to tournaments for my son Hugo. I limited the hours/day to 8 but in reality it was often more. At the tournaments I read a book, talked to players and non-players, did some kibitzing and of course made sure Hugo had everything he wanted/ needed. I also want to add the remark that my wife accompanied my son to his interclub-games and the Liga youth-championship of Antwerp. I couldn't join as I had those days my own chess-activities.

Practicing tactics

Chess.com tells me that I spent last year about 36 hours at practicing tactics on their server. If I want to make more than 5 per day as preparation of a tournament then I sometimes visit another server to make there some additional exercises. So in reality I used a bit more time than only the 36 hours taken into account for the calculation.

Reading chess-books

Total 55 hours at reading chess-books
Just before sleeping, I read every evening about 10 minutes a chess-book. I am now busy reading Hans Renette's book about Bird. It is a perfect way to finalize the often hectic day quietly. The hours of reading at the tournaments while accompanying Hugo are not double counted in the above table.


Summary
Total 1296 hours spent at chess in the last year
So we more or less count 4 hours per day which I spent somehow at chess in the last year. After more than 20 years of chess my love for the game hasn't disappeared yet.

Some readers will probably wonder how I manage to free all those hours. We only have 24 hours a day. Well some tasks like cleaning, painting, renovating and even recently once also gardening are all subcontracted to paid people. It also sometimes happens that I don't watch television in the evening. With 6-7 hours sleep I have enough. This means that often I am still busy with some chess-activity till after midnight.

Brabo

Friday, June 16, 2017

Scholar's mate

There exist no shortcuts to play better chess. I can give advise to my students how to make (much) quicker progress but without spending a lot of time at chess, you won't see much improvement. However most players are very lazy and don't like to work hard so very few reach master-hood.

At short term it is of course possible to make some small gains. Many like to play lines of which they hope their opponents will fall into a trap. Books like 1000 Miniature Chess TrapsChess Openings Traps and Zaps101 Chess Opening Traps ... are therefore quite popular among average amateurs. The most known and probably easiest trap is likely scholar's mate which is very effective against absolute beginners. I always advise my son against playing for such easy points at youth-tournaments but he sometimes ignores this when I don't look at his games.

In the long run playing for such traps won't teach you anything. You don't develop your chess-knowledge. Besides the success-rate depends very much of the surprise-element and the strength of the opponent. As a consequence you won't see many experienced players willing to try the scholar's mate. The American top-grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura is for a reason considered an outsider as he is the only +2600 player having tried this scholar's mate with rather disappointing results.

It is obviously strange to play for scholar's mate when you know in advance for sure that the opponent won't be fooled. On the other hand I do empathize with the at that time 18 years old Hikara. Fooling around as teenager is something very natural and makes part of growing up. You often only realize years later how arrogant and impudent such choices were.

Besides technically playing for scholar's mate isn't so bad after all. Many gambits are much more dubious. My analyses don't find any advantage for black so it is playable. It is not stupid to use it once as a surprise-weapon to avoid somebodies superior opening-knowledge. The Belgian expert Marc Ghysels proofed this a couple of years ago by making a sensational draw against the German IM Hans-Hubert Sonntag. In the game a variation of the scholar's mate was played with the queen immediately at f3 instead of h5. This has the advantage that black does not get an extra tempo with g6. On the other hand black gets the extra interesting alternative to develop the bishop of the black squares differently. Both lines look playable to me.

Recently this line also occurred in my game of the Belgian interclub when playing the expert David Roos from Zottegem. He told me after the game that he doesn't spend time anymore at studying theory to find some small advantage for white. He chose the scholar's mate because he was pretty sure that I never studied it deeply before.
David at the Flemish championship of 2015
There was a lot of unbelief when I demonstrated in the post-mortem which lines of the scholar's mate I had analysed during my preparation of the game. People often question my work-ethic of preparing a game for several players. However this time nobody could deny that I was right to prepare also against David's teammates. Earlier I wrote in this article about Marc and he is accidentally a teammate of David, playing on top a board higher. In my article openingchoices I wrote for a reason that players of the same club often play the same openings. The intended surprise-element failed and I quickly got the better position.

Although scholar's mate looks objectively ok, it is not an opening easy to play for white. Bringing the queen early into play is a violation of a basic-rule for which a certain price must be paid. If players really want to avoid main-lines then better alternatives exist. I wrote about this in the comments upon my article playing the person. Especially with white it is rather easy to choose something solid like 1.a3. I once lost a game childishly against this move see universal systems.

Brabo

Friday, May 12, 2017

Chesspub

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.

Brabo