Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I originally wrote this a month ago near New Year's Eve.
Today I realize I've been living under a rock. Well, not so much realize, but had highlighted once again. My brother-in-law has been recommending for some time that I check out Firefly since I made the declaration that "the new Battlestar Galactica is the FINEST science fiction series ever aired on network television". I especially appreciate the contrast of man-made life form searching for the meaning of life partly through monotheistic litany and partly through tormenting its former creators, who have their own polytheistic mythology and search for meaning following the Judgement Day wrought by their own version of Skynet. I rented the first disc of the Firefly DVD series and then promptly purchased the whole boxed set. Listening to writer/director/songwriter Joss Whedon talk about his various arts simply provokes awe. For example, he described two of his main characters as coming from different genres, western and noir, so he consulted his professor who promptly recommended some examples of noir westerns to study. I didn't even know there were different brands of western. Because I fancy myself a purist of sorts, I had resisted looking into Firefly's mish-mash of dystopian sci-fi western, but I found it incredibly refreshing to the point that I joined the legion of fans who treated the cancellation like the accidental death of a family member: sudden and painful to accept.

At its heart, Malcolm Reynolds is the unconventional hero who doesn't so much triumph over unspeakable fears with bravado and resourcefulness, but has to summon the strength to overcome a universe that has killed his faith and hope as well.

Take my love.
Take my land.
Take me where I cannot stand.
I don't care, I'm still free.
You can't take the sky from me.

Take me out to the black.
Tell 'em I ain't comin' back.
Burn the land, boil the sea.
You can't take the sky from me.

There's no place I can be
since I've found serenity.
But you can't take the sky from me.

While I was catching up on Firefly, Law and Order had Katie Sackhoff (Starbuck on Battlestar) on one week and then two weeks later, it had a judge named Malcolm Reynolds.

A day after finishing Firefly, I had the chance to finally watch Children of Men which my sister had raved about. Amidst the backdrop of Bush bashing, the main character played a similar existential hero, one who by all rights should have lost all motivation, hope, and faith, but who soldiers on despite. However, I failed to appreciate Alfonso Cuaron's brilliance, even in the technically difficult, long single takes of cinema verite similar to Saving Private Ryan. I found a reviewer who eloquently expressed much of my own feeling, which is a little analogous to Wahrheit's reaction to my expressed affection for Starship Troopers. "Some piece of Eurotrash director took a work of serious ideas (agree with them or not) and deliberately twisted and distorted them in order to trash the very concepts that the original work embodied, THEN was allowed to use the original title and draw people to the theater in the belief they were seeing a movie that was actually 'based on' the book."

Besides the criss-crossing linkages with Law and Order, the main converging theme seems to be the existential noir character, the one living in quiet desperation. Even in a time of increased need for escapism, it's people's story of misery and how they deal with it that both entertains me and provokes me to think. In my pathetic way, I try to relate my own "suffering" to the movie. "Oh, woe is me. I can't figure out how to memorize the Najdorf/calculate open positions/maintain positional dynamism of my pieces."

I even had a two-week period where I began to watch all kinds of "Married...with Children" reruns. My friend ragged on my viewing choices for a while, but it was all in good fun because he admitted that he was not wholly unfamiliar with the Bundys. He steered me toward "The Big Bang Theory" which is my new favorite show. It's kinda like Frasier meets Bosom Buddies, only instead of two elitist psychiatrist brothers there are two geeky physicists. The opening of the pilot has the two roommates discussing the mysterious behavior of light in the double-slit experiment while they're going to a sperm bank. Before "Big Bang" he recommended "Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog" which is yet another example of Whedon's brilliance. I think Whedon not only wrote the story and characters, but also the music that the characters sing, sometimes in interlacing melodies.

Seeing Whedon' brilliance, I have the same reaction that I had when I was about 11 and listened to 8-year old Tammy Huang play virtuoso piano. I want to give up writing since I really got nothin' to say. The noir character would have soldiered on through the crushing oppression of it all. At least I'll have a little more time for chess.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Flash Gordon was a very mediocre movie blending bad 70s with bad 80s. This title prompted my memory of the sound of Queen singing in high falsetto chorus "Flash! Fla-ash!"

A while back, I tried to emulate Rolf Wetzell's Chess Master At Any Age. I discussed it in this post. I even wrote a computer program in C# to help me make nice flashcards.

I've spent a couple days back at Chess Tempo. Since I've missed 20 of the last 50 problems (and my rating has plummeted), I decided to try to solidify the learning by making a flashcard of each missed problem.

Here is a pdf file of my efforts to date, generated by my chess flashcard program. Going over some of the older flashcards, I remembered a Python-inspired title that could lead to another Python-themed post. See if you can spot it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Activation Energy

There's a perfectionist self-disciplinarian that has been slowing down my rate of posting even though the ideas are starting to crop up. I have two master games, four endings, and a TPS report to blog about, but I have to psych myself up for the task of writing. Perhaps I'm making too big a deal about topical sentences, unifying themes, witty references, and kernels of utility for the reader. I've never been particularly prolific; this blog is the only writing I do. My recollection of essay tests in high school were that I would write as many words as other students. But I'd be unhappy with half the things I wrote, so that my pithy essays were covered in scratchouts. Thank goodness for today's backspace key.

One of my favorite books in senior English was James Joyce's Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. I hardly remember why, so I guess I'd better go back and read it. The nice thing about getting old is that stuff you enjoyed before can be novel again thanks to the wonders of memory loss. I think that what stood out about Portrait at the time was the free form. It was probably my introduction to stream of consciousness. Before that, my reading tastes were almost entirely Alfred Hitchcock's Three Investigators, a formulaic mystery series.

So in order to produce more quantity, I'm going to try for less quality (or what I thought was quality). Apologies in advance if it takes a while to find the right balance.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Legendary Black Beast Of Aargh

Many openings are named invoking animistic spirits: dragon, hippopotamus, elephant, polar bear, rat, etc. My second tournament game back from my six-month break was against ChargingKing. I decided to try to revive parts of my Sicilian repertoire and went for the Dragon despite knowing that his book knowledge might be as great as mine. Because of my opponent's theme of Python's knights, I decided to channel the Legendary Black Beast of Aaargh who shares many features of a dragon.

Unfortunately, my assessment of our book knowledge was about right. Fortunately, I was able to eke out a victory by swindling him out of a favorable middlegame and putting together an ending that wasn't really winning in all lines, but tricky enough to snooker the win.

So the game started off as a Classical Dragon but with White castling queenside. 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.Be2 O-O 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.O-O-O

Here endeth my book and probably his too. I began by considering Ng4 trying to win the two bishops which is in my style and what my opponent expected from some blitz games we had played. But I decided against that here since my Nf6 is one of my best defenders, while Be2 is often a nonparticipatory piece for White. I knew that one of the lines in the 9.O-O-O Dragon with 7.f3 instead of 7.Be2 was 9...d5, but I didn't know and couldn't figure out if Be2 made it worse or better. Finally, I settled on a seemingly innocuous plan to exchange on d4 and put my bishop on e6.

9...Nxd4 The ill-tempered Killer Rabbit takes out the first of Arthur's knights at the entrance to the Cave of Caerbannog. 10.Bxd4 The knights avenge their comrades with the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. Afterwards, my coach recommended 9...d5 10.exd5 Nxd5 11.Nxc6 bxc6 12.Nxd5 cxd5 13.Qxd5 Qc7, a standard idea in the regular 7.f3 dragon. 10...Be6 11.Kb1.

Here began some major floundering which demonstrates my ignorance of the Way of the Dragon. I came up with the lamo 11...a6. Hardly a pawn storm, more like a drifting fog. Without a weakness in White's king position, I had very little idea how to attack. My coach afterward recommended the plan of Qc7-Rfc8-Qa5. 12.h4 b5 13.f3 A moral victory in that I got my opponent to play this move after all. 13...b4 14.Nd5 Bxd5 15.exd5 a5.

I began to notice that my attack was going to fizzle. My main hope shifted toward confusing my opponent in his kingside attack. 16.g4 Having dispatched the Rabbit, the knights cautiously enter the Cave where they argue over the carved words of Joseph of Arimathea.

16...Nd7? Better was 16...a4 17.h5 b3 18.hxg6 bxa2+ 19.Kxa2 hxg6 +/-. Suddenly, the Legendary Black Beast of Aaargh appears 17.Bxg7 Kxg7 and eats Brother Maynard.

Some confused chasing around ensues.

18.Qd4+?! (Best was direct and effective 18.h5! Rh8 19.hxg6 hxg6 20.Qd4+ f6 21.Qe3!+- with a winning attack.) 18...f6?! 19.f4 Qb6 I sought refuge in the endgame. 20.Qe4

20...Rfe8 (I never considered 20...Nc5!? 21.Qxe7+ Kg8 22.Qe3 Rfe8 23.Qf2 b3! 24.cxb3 a4! 25.bxa4 Rxa4 +=) 21.h5 Nc5 More chasing around.

22.h6+? I told my opponent afterward that you never want to close lines of your attack. Here the Rh1 is now blocked out of the attack. He said he thought he could muster some kind of a checkmate with the pawn on h6. 22...Kf8 23.Qd4 Na5 Finally, I conjured up the transparent threat of Nc3+, so my opponent finally agreed to the trade of queens. 24.Qxb6 Nxb6

25.f5?! I mainly feared a quick Bb5-Bc6 cramping my pieces. Instead, my opponent obliged by making his bishop even worse and isolating his advanced h-pawn, soon to become a tasty snack for the Beast. 25...g5 26.Rhe1 Rec8 27.Rd4?! (last chance for Bb5) 27...Rc5! 28.Bf3= Now White's bishop is simply awful.

My plan was to post my knight on e5 and try to take control of c4 to exchange both rooks and win the good knight versus bad bishop endgame. By no means was my plan as inexorable as I had hoped. 28...Rac8 29.Re2 Nd7 30.Red2 Ne5

31.Bc1?! 31.Be2 stymies Black's plans. 31...Rc4 32.Be2 Rxd4 33.Rxd4 Nf7 White can't protect h6.

34.Rc4? Rxc4 35.Bxc4 Nxh6 36.Be2

I think I'll stop for now and discuss the endgame under a separate post. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Once More Unto The Breach

It's been 171 days since my last tournament game and 52 days since my last post. Suddenly the Reno chess blogosphere has become a ghost town. Chess Boozer and Wahrheit have left town. Man of the West has deleted his blog and has also talked of riding into the sunset. Charging King and DrunknKnite have been rather inactive lately.

I spent mid-October weekend watching others do battle in the 26th Western States Open while keeping a safe distance. I bumped into and compared notes with another expert who pretty much retired from tournament chess because chess gives him a “stomachache”. I have been keeping busy with StarCraft, Facebook’s Word Twist, Sudoku, Scrabble, Fantasy Football, swimming, and piano. Yet, as I watched some games and saw many more in scoresheet form, I was yet again drawn by the sirens’ song from the 64-square island. The courage of stalwart warriors, the delicate plans dreamed and discarded, and the many plot twists before games get distilled into the three results reminded me of the good in chess.

On the plus side, Blue Devil Knight seems to have returned in limited fashion. And Dana Mackenzie highlighted this blog when he wrote of an endgame miracle in the Western States Open. Endgame Obsessions might actually be useful.

The title originates from a soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Henry the V in which the titular character rallies the English army to keep up its siege of the city of Hafleur. With trite sayings, I try to rally my war-weary bones to rejoin the endless siege in conquering chess.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Conflict and Being Conflicted

I wandered around the chess blogosphere this morning and found myself at Liquid Egg Product’s post entitled “The demise of chess blogging”. Blue Devil Knight gave a Brief History of Chess Blogging in a brilliant distillation. He added an afterthought that brought on a brainstorm in my conflicted mind:

“On what generates the most interest: controversy, always controversy. Almost without exception, those posts with the most comments involve someone getting pissed off at someone.”

I had aspired to inspire mucho comments on my blog’s own merits like chessloser does rather than serve as a flaming forum like lizzie’s very active blog does. But perhaps my nature of avoiding conflict leads me to say things that are too bland to be interesting, just as BDK’s comment would predict. Proof of the antithesis that a gutless, risk-free blog is also insubstantial and uninspiring.

It occurs to me that perhaps I have an unhealthy understanding of conflict. Sure, I’ll recite Nietzsche’s “That which does not kill me makes me stronger” but do I really understand it? In certain ways, conflict is essential to life. If there is only one resource, I’d better damn well get it ahead of that other guy. Survival of the fittest, right? I guess it’s inevitable that Creationism evolved into Intelligent Design while Darwinism evolved into Evolution.

There is no good story without conflict. My favorite authors of late, Roger Zelazny, William Gibson, and Philip K. Dick almost always write of a distinct warrior or assassin class of character whose sole job it seems is to rub out problems in old fashioned mob style. Once on the series, Fox Mulder came across a genie who perversely answered his wish for "Peace on Earth" by giving him an uninhabited Earth, implying that war and its lesser shades are unavoidable portions of life.

Today is the seventh anniversary of 9/11, that day when Americans’ peace was shattered an the Global War on Terrorism started. The factions of Team McCain and Team Obama are deep in the middlegame vying for the trophy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Even the USCF is fighting for its own survival as a house divided against itself these days with the lawyer/vultures circling its carcass.

Yet, when I encounter conflict in real life, I cannot help but think there are less wasteful ways of spending time on earth, so I avoid it. If I were to run for political office, my touchy feely platform would be “Peace, participation, and poetry.”

Today also happens to be the annual meeting of our chess club in which we exercise our democratic principles and elect members to govern. I have served as secretary, webmaster, and most frequent TD for five years, but this year really took a toll on me. Besides the usual getting in between players as TD for individual games, the conflicts between players about how the club and its tournaments should be run really grated on me. I believe the negatives began to creep into my chess playing. Who needs it? I've been a Peacemaker, where is my inheritance? In this respect, my reaction has become rejection of my own platform: Not finding peace, I shy away from participation and feel like I’m giving up on the poetry that is to be found on the 8x8 board.

Monday, July 14, 2008


Let's start with the title. I was going to call this energy crisis, but then I decided to take it pedantic and introduce some SAT vocabulary. The other day someone even used this word, but I can't remember where. I think the proper pronunciation comes out sounding like "on-we". It sums up my feelings lately about chess. Listlessness, like the River Lethe overflowed its banks and filled up my house, including this small pocket of the universe that encloses my brain. I suppose this will go down as yet another conceit that I'm essentially writing about writer's block.

While watching such revered personae as Blue Devil Knight and Temposchlucker make their untimely exits, I watched only half forlornly, as these forefathers I never knew left without really imprinting upon me the dearthy future I would now face in their absence. I only knew that there were chess muses inside me that strained against my typing fingers for an expression. But it's time for me to face it. There was little here that hadn't seen the sun before. See, I just did it again with my penchant to cite and plagiarize without a personality of my own. I'm like Shang Tsung, the absorber of souls, ultimately without my own voice. And now the internal voices are suddenly hushed as if their owners were silently appraising a new predator in the jungle. Seeing other people's freeway accidents is a kind of visceral vicarious thrill until it's your own crumpled wreck that you're gazing dazedly out of.

It's rather ironic that I have been afflicted so. Apologies to those who I've left hanging with my nonresponsivenes. This goes especially for J.C. Hallman, whose work I panned in my last post, some forty-odd days and nights ago. I guess I came with some preconceived notions about how a book entitled The Chess Artist should go and cried false advertising when my expectations missed the mark. It's true that my feelings about the book were of disappointment. But the author seems to hint that he intended for us to feel the disillusionment that a chess player feels when he realizes that his performance will inevitably betray his lofty dreams. I am reminded of the moment in Ratatouille when Anton Ego reviews the restaurant run by the rat chef and realizes he's been wrong about the world for much of his life. And now I'm living proof of Mr. Hallman's thesis. Well played, sir.

When I was in grad school, my friends got to talking among themselves. There was one guy who I always thought was a blowhard. The question came up whether I would ever get tired of chess. Well, the B.S.er said emphatically that no I would never get tired of chess, as if he had peered into my soul and seen the hole that would ever remain chess dependent. I guess I resented being so predictable, but I continued feeding the monster nevertheless. Then in 1998, for a four and a half year period, I proved him wrong, but at the end of 2002, I fell off the wagon.

I have been strong in my chess enthusiasm for about five years now with a few sine waves along the way, but this feels like a flatline that may last a bit longer. It took the leap toward chess lessons for me to see it more clearly: how much I suck at this game and how faulty my memory seems to get with the passage of years. Opening lines and problem concepts fade so fast on this dull tablet, as if written in distilled water on the cement driveway under a blazing sun. And me and my TD hat always had a tense relationship. I hope my hankering for chess playing returns, but I doubt I'll ever miss chess TDing.

I met ChargingKing yesterday. I had thought about his ideals of the Cobra Kai dojo with respect to chess and found my own cyberphilic paragon. A usual, my homages went haywire and I went for a conglomerate of major screenplay themes. The ruthless efficiency of machines relative to we frail and imperfect humans seems to get lots of traction in cinema. With regard to this particular post, their tirelessness is the antithesis. The arc I'm thinking of begins with HAL9000, continues with Cyberdyne Systems T-850, and on through Data and Six. At least in science FICTION, a machine's logic is impeccable, its memory banks perfect, and its battery life unflagging.

HAL 9000: I'm sorry Frank, I think you missed it. Queen to bishop three, bishop takes queen, knight takes bishop, mate.

Kyle Reese: Listen. And understand. That terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

Data: I am an android, I do not require rest.

Six: All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again. (Another way to say "There is nothing new under the sun.")

Speaking of new, I recently read Neuromancer by William Gibson. Wow, I am in awe of this man's writing ability and clairvoyance. While there's perhaps only one chess sentence in the whole thing, I wholeheartedly recommend it. It was an education in one of the seminal works of cyberpunk, which I recently learned is the combination of high tech and low life. As far as I'm concerned, the Wachowski brothers owe Gibson some royalties for The Matrix. Someone told me that Neuromancer was the birth of the word "cyberspace" in 1984. If the father of the internet is ever up for a popular vote, I nominate Gibson.

When ChargingKing asked of my preparations for the Western States, my enthusiasm buzzed slightly above baseline noise. It's still a possibility I'll get back into the game, but the drought seems to have a momentum that I am unwilling to check. Chess Karma once remarked that chess might be a little narrow to spend an eternity on. Like Phil Connors, I'm going to try a few new things, perhaps even piano lessons. Caissa is going to have to content herself with forgotten concubine for a while. I should be back; I just can't say when.

I'm going to close with two more quotes.

Alfred Lanning: When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote of a soul?

Terminator: Hasta la vista, baby.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Potemkin Village

Since Dana Mackenzie just put up a review, I thought I'd chime in with a short review I wrote a while back and was saving for a slow news day.

A while back, I read J.C. Hallman’s The Chess Artist. Like Catherine Neville’s The Eight, I liked the descriptive elements of the writing such as the Kalmyk fly and the extravagant desolation (another oxymoron for you, Dana) of Kalmykia. I liked the in-depth character sketches of Glenn and Baagi, especially their common satisfaction at having played without fear.

However, as with The Eight, I was hoping for more of a payoff. The main plot device seemed to be a half-hearted detective story about the death of reporter Larisa Yudina who was found beaten to death in a pond in Elista. Perhaps the book was limited by the fact that it was autobiographical and couldn’t rightly blend with fiction invented out of whole cloth. Ultimately the Yudina plot was weakly executed with several pointless walks and no real fact-gathering.

There was a decided lack of plot twists and characters changing course, except for a kind of exhausted repulsion between the two main characters at the end. In a way, the awkward tension between the main character and his compatriot is the same weak feeling that I had toward the book at the end. The Chess Artist was a respectable effort at painting a colorful picture of people and places. But because of its limitations in reality, it felt like I was reading the embellished journal of someone who didn’t really have such a significant life-changing tale to tell. The title sold me on an artist's journey, but like Kalmykia's Potemkin village it was facade without substance.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


sco·to·ma (skuh-toe-muh)
n. pl. sco·to·mas or sco·to·ma·ta (skuh-toe-muh-tuh)
1. An area of diminished vision within the visual field, surrounded by an area of less diminished or of normal vision.
2. See blind spot.

I was a big, if not religious, fan of the X-Files. I can’t say I saw every episode, but I sure saw a lot of them. The stories were fresh and it was always fun to see an appearance of Cigarette Smoking Man and imagine that one shadowy cabal tied all the greatest conspiracies together. My favorite episode was “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’”. I usually bust out laughing when I think of the kid saying, “I didn't spend all those years playing Dungeons and Dragons and not learn a little something about courage.” The directing that goes into filming different versions of the same scene based on the perceptions of different characters is tremendously amusing to me.

I work in a profession related to what Dana Scully’s character does, so it occasionally amused me to hear her mispronounce things. In an episode about El Chupacabra, Scully said “aspergillus” with a hard G sound like in bo-Gus, instead of the pronunciation I’m used to like the letter J, as in Gillian Anderson. Maybe it was an inside joke. In one episode entitled “Unrequited”, there was a Vietnam veteran who through some magic could vanish while you were looking directly at him in broad daylight. Scully explained the phenomenon using the phrase transient scotoma.

The last game of the Club Championship Qualifier was a mixed bag. I went into it thinking that I didn’t even really want to advance any more: partly due to fatigue, partly because matches in the finals just don’t appeal to me that much. I had White against Jerry Weikel, who has been state champion before, but due to life’s intrusions has limited his chess tournaments mostly to the club championship and an occasional big tournament. This was our tenth meeting with my score +3 –1 =5 in our previous nine games. This draw made it =6.

Afterward, I felt a peculiar mixture of elation at swindling a draw out of a lost position and disappointment that my tournament had ended with an overall failure of missing the cut and underperforming my rating. Against Class B: one win. Against Class A: one win and two draws. Against Experts: three losses.

Two learning points: I am annoyed to discover that I seem to have a blind spot for backward queen moves. One should always be careful of knights because they can turn the tide of battle with a vengeance.

Since the first step in developing expertise in any field is to apply or invent new vocabulary words that only you can understand, I’m going to start referring to scotomata in lieu of blunders and oversights.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I lost again last Thursday. I wavered about what theme I could use for this post. I was going to whine about how difficult it is to be an expert among masters. I was going to say that I feel like Bruno Kirby next to Robin Williams in “Good Morning Vietnam”. In my heart, I know I’m good at chess. I was going to say that TD stresses and disappointing results have taken their toll and that I was going to take a break from chess after I fail to qualify for the club championship this Thursday. I was going to sink into a morass of self-doubt and bitterness. It seems the chess blogosphere has a flurry of bad weather lately. I tried to go against my natural tendency toward morosity and try for levity, but I got nothin’.

I consider my opponent the strongest player in the club. He apparently has some bad days like the rest of us, but on good days, he can beat regular masters and draw IMs and GMs. After a couple rating performances around 2350, he seemed genuinely surprised that his FIDE rating was so high and that he could just claim a FIDE Master title. There was some argument about what it takes to become an established rated player in FIDE, but the current rulebook says nine games is it. It’s going to cost him $105, but I think most of us untitled players would think earning any certified master’s title – and perhaps flaunting it a little - would be priceless.

Like my other two games against the 2100+ rated club members, I didn’t feel like I was in this game at all. When I blundered, I tried to hang on and fight for some kind of counterplay, but I could find none. I agree with drunknknite when he says you have to fight to refute the erroneous idea of the one-move turning point. But I didn’t feel like I went down fighting so much as I rolled over and piddled on myself in these three games.

Before the game, I had good reconnaissance that he would play a Four Pawns’ Attack against my King’s Indian. I tried to book up with my coach, but one two-hour study session can’t erase years of floundering through my openings. Afterward, my opponent and I discussed the theory of this opening as well as the Budapest Opening that I experiment with sometimes. It was disheartening to see that if I knew my lines up to move twelve or so, he knew them at least to move twenty.

The thing I find most discouraging about the quest for the master title is that there are people like Edwin and Dana who have made it, but in a sense, just barely. Edwin has never been a National Master in the USCF system. Dana has been a National Master, but his rating drifts in the 2100s these days. But they both seem light years ahead of me in their chess calculation ability, and their opening and endgame knowledge.

I guess the silver lining is that I'm finally learning about these openings work and I'm paying for the experience by losing. As for my intermediate-term chess plans go, we'll see what happens this Thursday and let the chips fall where they may.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Killer Heuristic

I gravitate toward pacifism. The day I start spewing ad hominem attacks at people, deserved or not, is the day I ask, "Where is the body-snatching pod that took away the real me?" However, I'm not above criticizing, likely more than I praise, but I try to keep the criticism on the object before me rather than on the person who produced it. Blue Devil Knight used the term "ad rem" which I only learned today is the opposite of "ad hominem." Latin is still fun to use when you want to talk over people's heads. This discussion reminds me of a favorite short story "Love is a Fallacy" by Max Shulman.

The title of this post sounds like a slasher movie or at least a Heuristic ALgorithm that becomes a killer. The fact that a lot of my posts are titled with violent words or warlike themes, however, tells me that conflict is not altogether a bad thing. Conflict sells advertising spots on the news and tickets at the theater. The two main contenders for this year's Academy Award for Best Picture were "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country For Old Men". I have seen neither, but from the trailers, they seem to have a heftier than usual helping of conflict. There is a lot to be discovered in the crucible of conflict as long as you don't lose too much of yourself. What is chess but a conflict between two people abstracted into a game? I tend to focus on the self-preserving first part of Nietzsche's quote (Conan the Barbarian translation) "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger." while the meat of the quote is the self-improvement second part.

A few years back, one of my projects was trying to program my own chess computer engine. I did it out of the challenge of the thing, and the fact that it married my two favorite pastimes. I had these grand schemes of having the program spar with computer programs I have at home and even releasing it from captivity into the wild and wooly world of FICS or ICC. But I didn't get very far because my perfectionist side began nagging at me before I got far enough to implement the things it was suggesting. "Have you considered taking advantage of the MMX? Why don't you optimize your slow algorithm? Bitboards or no bitboards?" I managed to make a program that could play legal, 1 to 2-ply chess, but it was still close to playing giveaway chess. The slow algorithm started to implement beta cutoff, but I never got around to implementing killer heuristic.

At temposchlucker's great blog, he's exploring the mysterious workings of the mind in the context of tactical ability and trying in the formalized manner of a methodical researcher to discover a new method of training the stagnant chess player. Currently he's elucidating and formalizing the step of "scanning" or finding targets, training his mind to use the method, and seeing where the research leads. Andres Hortillosa is supposed to give us some tips on analysis at his Monroi blog. So far it seems big on framework, but skimpy on detail of scanning improvement. While I wait, I think I will begin to construct my own scanning method, of course plagiarizing from the best so that I can stand on the shoulders of the giants.

I couldn’t find any particular chess personality who coined this phrase, but apparently some chess teachers tell their students to "listen to the pieces." Basically ask, "What's out there?" Scanning and target recognition are important because as many of us who Fritz our games know, many combinations lurk beneath the surface, obscured by features of the chess board, hiding in our blind spots. A saying I made up a long time ago is "Somewhere on the chess board, hidden among inaccuracies, weak moves, and outright blunders, the best move is waiting." I think I was single when I made that up.

One idea I suggested which temposchlucker either didn't see or dismissed without comment was the idea of the killer heuristic. It might be improper to put it in the scanning stage, but in the context of tempo's frustrating 1.5 hour-long search, I thought killer heuristic could lead to faster analysis. Many years ago, I wrote out my move selection method. At the top on the list was "Can I checkmate him?" Working my way down the priorities, next came "Can he checkmate me?" and "Can I win decisive material from him?" and its reciprocal. The two recent examples of problems that temposchlucker gave had the common element that high priority checking moves (Qxg7+ and Bxe4+) could be used as guidewires to find the key move of the combination.

Years later, I lumped my steps into "Forcing Moves First". From Googling this phrase, I see now that there is a book I was unaware of by FM Charles Hertan called Forcing Chess Moves. I'm not sure I'm even going to read this book, since the gist seems to be summed up in the reviews. Hertan recommends "use computer eyes and always look at forcing moves first," no matter how silly those moves look to our human bias. Kassa Korley remarked that GM Hikaru Nakamura calculates very similar to a computer. After seeing what he can do, I believe it. Kotov's tree method is similar to the computer's thinking method, adapted for us mere mortals. Arguments for and against Kotov's method seem to boil down to whether it's too hard for humans to apply. Despite anti-computer sentiment (and perhaps envy), I would not be unhappy if I "suddenly got good" and found that I could calculate like Fritz does.

It was only recently I began to equate the efficiencies gained from "Forcing Moves First" to the concept of the "Killer Heuristic". The computer algorithm employing the killer heuristic will keep one or two moves in memory to check first because the move contained the features of a very violent and decisive resolution to the chess position. If the killer move proves strong, all subsequent moves will achieve more efficient beta cutoff (computer jargon for "Stop looking, there's no contest between this move and the other one") leading to a quicker evaluation that doesn't suffer too much in terms of accuracy compared with full-width-depth brute force minimax.

What is a forcing move? In my estimation, the pecking order of moves is:
Moves that checkmate or threaten to checkmate
Moves that check or threaten to check
Moves that win or threaten oodles of material
Moves that win or threaten a little material

Toward the bottom of this list of priority are all the positional attributes that bounce upward like quantum irregularities and are rather difficult to constantly and accurately balance against the material. But evaluate we must because most of the time, at least in my games, the positions seem rather quiet and there isn't a forcing continuation at the head of the line.

For the same reasons as the Killer Heuristic, computer chess algorithms sort the remaining moves they consider by certain characteristics, probably by the material they win and the capturing piece value (e.g. pxQ ahead of QxN ahead of quiet moves). This is done at every node, because the time cost of sorting reaps downstream benefits in the efficiency of the overall algorithm. Prioritization leads to time savings and efficiency.

I'm sure I have only scratched the surface of this one, but likely I'll come back when I draft my scanning list.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Much of my blogging, trying to intertwine movies and chess, has been about art imitating art. I hope the reader finds that the combination is a tasteful blend rather than a Frankenstinian monstrosity. The great thing about our game, I believe more than other games like bridge, checkers, Monopoly and even Milton Bradley’s Checkered Game of Life, is that chess imitates life. It’s been said many different ways, using all kinds of metaphorical variations, but I prefer the simple simile attributed to World Champion Boris Spassky: “Chess is like life.” Chess is one of the special life-imitating arts like music and dance that incorporates motion and time.

Today, I’ll try something a little riskier, prompting a disclaimer. I do not intend to offend veterans or their families who sacrificed so much, the people and nationalities that suffered in World War II, or the players of this game. By recounting a war story with a chess game, I do not intend to trivialize the events of World War II or any other conflict. Through my research, I’ve come to appreciate that Douglas MacArthur was a controversial figure. I come neither to praise nor to condemn nor to bury, but merely to recount. Hopefully with artistic license and attempts to stay away from bad taste, I won’t invoke the wrath of my four-person audience.

This game was the top board during the final round in the Open section. Since the other players in contention had drawn or lost, the winner of this game would win clear first, a cool $2,000. IM Enrico Sevillano had White against GM Melikset Khachiyan. Although Khachiyan has the better title, Sevillano actually has the higher USCF rating, so he’s definitely no slouch. Fpawn has already annotated this game for the USCF website wrap-up on the 2008 Far West Open and even quoted me, but I wanted to embellish a bit more. Sevillano opened with his favored Alapin system against Khachiyan’s Sicilian. On moves 11 and 12, White offered a double pawn sacrifice which Black only partially accepted, but White succeeded in marooning Black’s King in the center. Black then offered three pawns of his own to get his rooks out. Through a series of inaccuracies and one blunder in moves 23-30, White's large advantage dissipated to nothing. Black seized the initiative on move 31 and returned his King to the kingside to participate in the final siege on White’s King.

Sevillano,E (2567) - Khachiyan,M (2556) [B22]
Far West Open Reno, NV (6.1), March 23, 2008

1.e4 c5 2.c3 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.d5 Bxf3 7.Qxf3 Ne5 8.Bb5+! Ned7 9.0-0 g6 10.Bg5 Bg7 11.e5!?
An interesting pawn sacrifice. 11...dxe5 12.d6 e4! [ 12...exd6? 13.Rd1 e4 14.Qf4 d5 15.Bxf6 Qxf6 16.Qc7+- White wins a piece and needs only to tame Black's pawn roller.]

In December 1941, days after their attack at Pearl Harbor, Japan invaded the Philippines and took control despite an American military presence based in Manila headed by General Douglas MacArthur.

13.Qf4 e6? Black's king is now stuck in the center helping the overloaded queen defend the Black Knights against White's Bishops. [ 13...a6!+/=] 14.Bxd7+!? [ Fritz prefers 14.Rd1! Nh5 ( 14...0-0?? 15.Bxd7 e5 16.Qh4 h6 17.Bxf6 Bxf6 18.Qh3 retains a piece advantage.) 15.Qxe4!! Qc8 ( 15...Qxg5? 16.Bxd7+ Kxd7 17.Qxb7+ mate in 6.)] 14...Kxd7 15.Nd2 e5? Black trades material to activate his rooks. 16.Qxe5 Re8 17.Qxc5+- White has all the cards: material, space, king safety, and development.

MacArthur had become a legendary hero during World War I, but his reputation became tarnished when he was forced to flee the Philippines, leaving behind his forces who were ultimately captured by the Imperial Japanese Army. Once he landed in Terowie, Australia, MacArthur vowed, “I shall return.”

17...Qb6 Surprisingly, although Black is behind in so many ways, offering a queen trade becomes a good way to blunt the disadvantage of the vulnerable king on this move and on move 24. White knows it and declines, but he must give ground. 18.Qc4 Re6 19.Bxf6 Bxf6 20.Nxe4 Rc8 21.Qa4+ [ 21.Nxf6+ Considering how the fortunes of the two minor pieces diverge, trading into an all heavy piece ending might have been a better choice for White. 21...Rxf6 22.Qg4+ Re6+-] 21...Rc6 22.Rad1 Bd8
There is a mate in chess called the epaulette mate, so named since the King, flanked by two Rooks in chess diagrams resembles a high-ranking military officer wearing shoulder boards, also known as epaulettes. In the position after 21...Rc6, the alignment of the epaulettes isn’t quite right, invoking an image of an officer with poor posture and shoulders slumped forward.

Fritz estimates that White has a whopping +3.5 advantage. Over the next four moves, White's advantage evaporates. 23.Rd4? +2.5 [ 23.Nd2!] 23...f5! 24.Ng3? +1.5. White's knight becomes rather useless here. [ 24.Nd2!]

The summer of 1944 saw Allied victories in the Marianas, Peleliu, and Morotai Islands, shrinking the Japanese Empire and giving the Allies strategic airbases. The Battle of the Philippine Sea crippled Japanese naval and air forces.

24...Qa6! Again, the queen trade offer is best for Black. 25.Qc2 [ 25.Qxa6 Rxa6+/= leaves the game nearly equal.] 25...Qxa2?! 26.Ra4?!+/- +1.1 [ 26.Ne2 rehabilitates the knight. 26...Rcxd6 27.Nc1 Qa5 28.Ra4 retains some advantage for White.] 26...Rxc3! 27.Qxc3 Qxa4 28.Qg7+ Kxd6 29.Qxb7 Bb6 30.Qf3?!= 0.0 Dead even according to Fritz [ Pawn hunting might actually have been better. 30.Qxh7 f4+/=] 30...Ke7 31.Rd1?! [ 31.b3!?=] 31...Qc2!=/+ The first advantage to Black in the game. Black threatens to overload the White Queen with Bxf2+. 32.Rf1 'A sad necessity.' - fpawn. 32...Kf6 33.b3 h5 34.h4 Qd2 35.Qa8 Qd8 36.Qb7? White's Queen loses active threats for a couple moves, enough time for the Black Queen to pick up h4. [ 36.Qxd8+ Bxd8 37.Rd1=/+ White should hold a draw despite Black's better King and pieces.] 36...Qd4!-+ 37.Qh7 Qxh4

In the fall of 1944, the Allies turned their attention to the Philippines retaking Philippine soil in The Battle of Leyte.

38.Qh8+ Kg5!
Other moves draw or worse.

On October 20, 1944, MacArthur waded ashore on Leyte Beachhead and triumphantly proclaimed, “I have returned.”

39.Qc8 Re5 40.Nh1 White's army is in quite a sad state.

Although, the Japanese Army retreated to the Philippine hills and held out for a year, Manila became secure enough that MacArthur set up headquarters and began planning the invasion of Japan.

40...Qd4 41.Kh2 Qh4+

Operation Downfall became unnecessary following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

42.Kg1 Qd4 43.Kh2 Re4 44.Qc1+ Kf6 45.f4 h4 46.Nf2? Rxf4
White resigned 0-1

On September 2, 1945, General MacArthur received the formal Japanese surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, thus ending World War II.

What surprised me about this game is how large an advantage can be overcome at this high level. I’ve been putting together games bulletins for the Reno tournaments for four years now and I don’t remember too many times that turnarounds occurred among 2400-rated players. The evaluations over the course of the game usually move in a monotonic manner from edge, to advantage, to winning, and to won. It seems at high levels, strong technique prevents comebacks, but this game serves as a good counterexample.

Friday, May 2, 2008

King Kong Hong

Last night’s game was against the player I consider my nemesis. One of our games is recounted in my previous post on Luck, namely bad luck. My current score against my nemesis is 2 wins, 2 draws and 9 losses. Considering my two wins were in the first three games, it has been a bad run of 8 losses and 2 draws over the past 27 months.

Polly recounts titanic struggles against her nemeses, Kong, Jr. and Kong, Sr., two gigantic monkeys on her back. But I’m going to turn around the reference toward the tragic figure in King Kong, the movie. I’ll play King Kong, a strong but dumb animal who doesn’t really stand a chance against the forces of man and woman. The opening is my Scandinavian beauty whose allure is irresistible. My opponent is the ruthlessly efficient air force comprised of Curtis Helldiver biplanes.

Incidentally, the only “King Kong” I’ve seen is the 1976 version starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange. I haven’t even seen Peter Jackson’s 2005 effort, although I heard it suffered from having too many T-Rexes. Black and white classics are just not my cup of tea.

Kong falls in love with a Scandinavian beauty he doesn’t understand, but he desires her anyway (move 3). Smitten, he’s easily captured and transported to New York (move 22). He breaks his bonds, grabs his femme fatale, and desperately runs for freedom in a strange land (move 23). Kong makes his last stand atop the Empire State Building (move 36). His lady having deserted him and surrounded by biplanes mounted with machine guns, he swats at them as best he can, but they just keep coming (move 41).
Finally, Kong falls to earth and dies partly from the trauma, but mostly from the broken heart.

Going into the game, my heart and courage weren’t in it. My coach and another chessplaying friend noted my psychological defect. I’m not sure how to break the bad cycle of morale. Perhaps I need to face it head on and play a six-game match against my nemesis, hoping that I’ll catch him in one of the games and rediscover my confidence.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bayonet and Knights Errant

The title is somewhat of an intentional anachronism. Knights had swords, not rifles, so they would never employ a bayonet. But I’ll explain later.

In my second game of the Championship Qualifier, I got skewered by the Bayonet. I tried my usual improvisation through the late opening against a prepared opponent and got an inferior position. In the critical moment, my opponent found a combination that wasn’t quite winning in all variations, but scary enough to rattle me and I chose badly, giving up my queen and pawn for rook and minor. The rest of the game was losing for me. I tried to hang on, but couldn't see any counterchances, and I resigned before a second queen came after me.

Kramnik apparently won a couple King’s Indian Bayonet games against Kasparov, causing the latter to avoid the opening and then the King’s Indian’s popularity waned at all levels. Teimour Radjabov remains a steadfast champion, essaying it five times against the likes of Kramnik (draw), Gelfand (win), Aronian (loss), and Carlsen (draw) in the 2008 Corus Wijk aan Zee Tournament.

This week, I started some chess lessons with my opponent. He’s not much higher rated than I am, but he knows a lot more theory and he's beaten me 4-0. In our first lesson, we ran through the ideas of the King’s Indian Defense, Mar del Plata Variation, Bayonet Attack. It was quite valuable because he corrected a lot of misconceptions that I had about the Bayonet. The King’s Indian is usually a no-holds-barred opposite side attack similar to the Yugoslav Dragon but with locked pawns. Here are two of my major misconceptions: 1) I thought the Bayonet was an accelerated attack on c5 and d6 and 2) Black’s queen bishop is too valuable to give up for a marauding knight at e6. Black’s queen bishop is a key piece that is not only his good bishop, but also often sacrifices for a pawn on h3, delivering the last blow of the battering ram and destroying White’s fortress.

This is what I learned. The idea of b4 is not necessarily to quickly advance c5 and attack d6 so much as to provide space for Qb3, Rb1, and Bb2/a3. White bides his time, keeps his knight at f3, and patiently waits for Black to play his thematic f5. White responds with Ng5 and eventually Ne6 with Bxe6 likely forced and then pressurizes d5 and the crumbling center. If Black uses time to prepare f5 with h6, then White switches back to the flank idea with Nd2, c5, Nc4. In the lines with Ng5-Ne6, Bxe6, Black maintains his chances mostly by maneuvering his knights around the center. For example, right after the Bayonet move 9.b4, Black plays 9…Nh5 eyeing f4. White typically plays 10.Re1 to create a retreat square for the Be2 in case of 10…Nf4. The game often continues: 10…f5 11.Ng5 Nf6 12.f3 Nh5 13.Qb3 Bf6 14.Ne6 Bxe6. Black continues to maneuver his knights all around to help encircle the pawn on e6 and get whatever good posts they can get. The win of a pawn helps compensate for the loss of the key queen’s bishop.

From the start of the game, Black’s king knight typically goes Ng8-Nf6-Nh5-Ng7(after Bf6)-Nxe6 while the queen knight typically goes Nb8-Nc6-Ne7-Nc6-Nd4-Nxe6. I was thinking about the movement of the knights in the game, especially the circular movement of Black’s king knight and I thought of the Knights Errant doing De La Maza’s Circles.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mobile Infantry

I’m a little ashamed to say that one of my favorite movies is ”Starship Troopers”. A hierarchical insect-like alien society starts an intergalactic war with Earth. In order to fight more effectively, humans transform their society into a more fascist and insect-like one where the sacrifice of the individual for the common good becomes paramount. The human army has the traditional division between the foot-oriented Mobile Infantry(M.I.) and the flight-oriented Fleet. M.I. serves the usual cannon fodder role, and the plot surrounds their misfortunes. At one point, Johnny Rico says, “M.I. does the dying. Fleet just does the flying.” I liked the campy movie a lot better than Robert Heinlein’s book. The straight-to-DVD sequel royally sucked. Don’t go there.

In honor of the Mobile Infantry, here are four pawn endings: one simple, two moderately complex, and one highly complex.

Starship Troopers starts off aptly with a football game, an abstraction of war. Johnny Rico and quarterback Dizzy Flores successfully employ a play named “Flip-six-three-hole” and Johnny scores a touchdown. The first ending is a fairly common ending cited in all kinds of endgame books. Specifically, I will refer to GM-RAM #22 which I have flipped horizontally so that the six pawns are on the queenside like the other three problems. The GM-RAM problems are given without annotations and without even mention of which side is to move, sometimes giving double the content in lessons.

We’ll start with White to move. White wins by sacrificing two pawns in order to make a hole for one of the outside pawns, a or c, depending on how Black makes the first capture. 1.b6! axb6 2.c6! cxb6 3.a6 and the white pawn scores a touchdown early enough to mop up the three black pawns. Similarly, 1.b6! cxb6 2.a6! bxa6 3.c6 and the white pawn queens. In analyzing this position, it’s important to know that the method works because of the position of the Black King on h4. This king is out of the square of all of the white pawns on the queenside, especially the c-pawn. If the king were anywhere between f5 and f8 inclusive, or to the left of those squares, the second variation would fail for White after 3. c6 Ke6.

If Black is on move in the diagram, he stops all nonsense by playing b6 himself. This endgame has never been practical for me to know as I’ve never had such an advanced, well-regimented trio of pawns against a similar opponent pawn line. But the kernel of the idea presented itself in two pawn endings I have studied and only now began to link back to this elementary example.

In boot camp, Johnny and Dizzy adapt the “Flip-six-three-hole” stratagem during a capture-the-flag military exercise and win again. Diagram 2 is a position that only arose in a side line of my analysis of a recent game.

The analysis goes like this. Material is equal. White has the advantage of a better king position. Black’s King can move back and forth between e7 and f7 while keeping White’s King back with the help of the pawn control on g6 and d6. This means that opposition doesn’t come into play yet. The White King can capture any Black pawn that comes to the rank a5-h5 and isn’t protected by another pawn. Therefore Black needs to hold his pawns back. When the pawn fronts come into contact, both sides may begin to run out of moves, leading to opposition/zugzwang. When that happens, White would like to have a route into Black’s kingside or queenside. If White can somehow force Black to advance c7-c6, then the route e5-d6-c7 would become available and b7 would become the second weakness to the h7 pawn. The solution is to try to advance a pawn to b6. At one point White will weaken his queenside pawn structure to do this.

1.b4 Ke7 2.a4 Kf7 3.c5 Ke7 4.a5!! (4.b5 slow buildup fails 4...axb5 5.axb5 Kf7 6.b6 cxb6 7.cxb6 Ke7 8.h4 Kd7! and Black can tie in the queening race.) 4...Kf7 (4...c6 gives White his second pathway. ; 4...Kd7 allows 5.Kf6 and White wins the queening race.) 5.h4 White’s opposition guarantees that he can capture h7 or b7. 5.b5!! axb5 (5...Ke7 6.c6! (6.b6 also wins) 6…bxc6 7.bxa6 +-) 6.c6! bxc6 7.a6.

What astounded me about this endgame was that I never knew that starting with mobile pawns and moving them into the formation a5-b4-c5 would be a good plan until I saw it in this particular game. The b5 hole, especially with Black having played a6, looks like a bad weakness to allow, but rules change when your pawns and king are more advanced. The further fact that c7-c6 stops the pawn breakthrough, but allows the king breakthrough is what struck me as beautiful about this endgame.

In the middle of “Starship Troopers”, Johnny in an act of brave improvisation, jumps on the back of a gigantic powerbug, shoots a hole in its carapace and polishes off the bug with some grenades. He gets covered in bug guts, but it’s all taken in stride for the hero. I tried constructing an endgame study with the queenside pawns as they are after 4.a5, taking away the h-pawns, and positioning the kings as they are in the first pawn endgame, but the outcome and the lesson I learned were surprising.
After 1.b5, Black cannot capture as seen above, but he also cannot sit still because White can break through on the next move with c6. Like in the first example, Black precludes the threat by playing it himself with 1...c6!!. Any other move loses. Now, without the pawn breakthrough, it looks as though White is doomed, since Black’s king is more advanced and can move laterally to pick up the a-pawn and c-pawns. But White has surprising drawing resources after 2.b6!! Kg4 3.Kg2 Kf4 4.Kf2 Ke4 5.Kg3! Kd5 6.Kf4! Kxc5 7.Ke5! Kb5 8.Kd6! c5 9.Kc7! c4 10.Kxb7 c3 11.Ka7 c2 12.b7 c1Q 13.b8Q+ Kxa5 14.Qb6+ Ka4 15.Qxa6=. So the caption for the above diagram should be White to move and draw, but 1.b5 is not the only path to a draw. All the moves annotated with exclams above are only moves, but 1.b5 is not one of them. Apparently 1.Kg2 and even 1.Kg1 draw.

At the end of “Starship Troopers”, Johnny finds himself deep in enemy territory. The bugs have shown their hand in that a large brain bug, like the king of the insect society, shows up to interrogate the humans by sucking up their brains. Johnny appeals to the brain bug’s sense of self-preservation by negotiating a temporary cessation in hostilities using a hand-held nuclear bomb. The brain bug retreats. The last example is even more complicated, but it builds on the sacrificial ideas. GM-RAM #23 is an ending between Artur Yusupov – Sergey Ionov, Podolsk 1977. This may have been some sort of training game as I can’t locate it in my Big Database 2003. I’m not even sure how I found the names Yusupov and Ionov.

Despite the pawns being equal in number, White has three resources in the structure of the queenside pawns. First, the a-pawn has two reserve tempi. Second, White's pawns are more advanced, meaning they can queen faster. Third and most extraordinary, by sacrificing in rapid succession the c, a, and b pawns, the d-pawn can queen. Black himself cannot touch the queenside pawns because c6 allows White to capture twice and queen a pawn two moves later. But first, White maneuvers Black’s King to the corner and then blows up the queenside at the right moment. 1.Kf4! Ke7 (1...g6 2.h6! g5+ 3.Kf3!! ( 3.Ke3 also wins. 3...Kg6 4.a4 Kxh6 5.c5!! dxc5 6.a5! bxa5 7.b6! cxb6 8.d6!; 3.Kg4? Kg6 4.a4! Kxh6! 5.c5! bxc5 6.a5! c4! 7.a6! bxa6! 8.bxa6! c3! 9.a7! c2! 10.a8Q! c1Q!=) 3...Kg6 4.a4! Kxh6 5.c5!! ( 5.a5? bxa5 6.c5 b6!-+) 5...dxc5 6.a5! bxa5 7.b6! cxb6 8.d6!] 2.Kg5 Kf7 3.Kf5 Kf8 4.Kg6 Kg8 5.a3!! White has to time his pawn advances carefully so that Black's King is on g8 at the appropriate time. 5...Kf8 6.a4! Kg8 7.c5!! Now! (7.a5? bxa5 8.c5 b6!-+) 7...dxc5 8.a5! bxa5 9.b6! cxb6 10.d6! Kf8 11.d7! Ke7 12.Kxg7 a4. It looks as if Black might queen with check, at least tying the race, but looks can be deceiving. (12...b5 13.h6 Kxd7 14.h7 Kc6 15.h8Q b4 16.Qc8+ Kb6 17.Kf6+-; 12...Kxd7 13.h6 Kc7 14.h7 Kb8 15.h8Q+ Ka7 16.Kf7 mate in 14) 13.h6 a3 14.h7 a2 15.d8Q+! Kxd8 16.h8Q+ Kd7 17.Qa8 +-. I know it’s extremely hard to follow variations 35 ply deep from a diagram. To a large degree GM-RAM is about self-help. I was tempted to put up diagrams to help spoonfeed the lazy, but then I would be coddling. I guess that makes me a #32.Blog Luddite.

Civics Teacher/Lieutenant Jean Rasczak: “Figuring things out for yourself is practically the only freedom anyone really has nowadays. Use that freedom.”

Career Sergeant Zim: “Anytime you think I'm being too rough, anytime you think I'm being too tough, anytime you miss-your-mommy, QUIT! You sign your 1248, you get your gear, and you take a stroll down washout lane. Do you get me?”

Monday, April 28, 2008


After 17 years of tournament play, it’s still surprising how complex pawn endgames are. The movements of pawns and kings seem so elementary, yet they combine in such complex ways as to simulate emergence.

I think I first learned of emergence while watching Nova Science Now hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson. Basically simple things like birds and fish organize themselves into complex systems like flocks and schools with the emergence of phenomena that are more than the sum of the parts.

I suppose the entirety of chess is an example of emergence, including how chess players teach themselves and blog to try to pass on their wisdom to other chess players. In Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “Quarantine”, chess is described as a problem with only six simple operators, but whose solution is so complex and compelling as to represent an infectious hazard to all rational thought.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Blogotype Revisited

Now that I’m about six months into it, I wanted to look back and see what kind of blogotype I am. When I first started I believe my self-categorization was #5 workaday and #24 actuary with #9 outsider tendencies. In the opening days, I’m pretty sure I pulled a #4 newbie by heartily recommending Dan Heisman. I’ve worked hard to try to let my personal thoughts permeate my writings, so methinks I’m no longer an outsider. Someone recently accused me of vanity and I would normally take umbrage at such a suggestion, but I try to maintain open-mindedness and hear what people say. Perhaps I should just get it over with and admit elements of narcissism with tendencies toward #2 scholar, and #16 pedant.

To go along with pedantry, some days I feel like #26 neglected baby. Comments hardly ever break 2 for one post and I sometimes envy the attention that others get. Casually, I think about returning to obscurity as have several of my fellow clubmember bloggers, but I’ll hang on for another twelve months at least. I think that partly this is my own fault in that I don’t religiously reply to all commentators. Why should my audience give me feedback if I don’t return the favor? However, someday, when a hater with a flamethrower finds me and calls me a narcissistic twit who publishes useless actuarial drivel that no one bothers to read, I won’t have the counterargument that my large and wide readership invalidate his assertion.

It occurs to me now that the threat to quit is the main weapon my #21 passive aggressive side has to protest being negatively labeled as a narcissistic whiney baby.

I suppose that chess blogging has its elements of fad and passing fancy. It seems that every other week, another of the First Ones, announces his retirement from the blogosphere. The bloggers of my club seem to be flagging, too.

Oh well. I mainly remind myself that the perception of writing for the public pushes me to try to be more creative and disciplined in my content and that in most ways, the blog is for my own benefit, pushing my writing and my chess to new horizons, and preserving the mementos of my journey.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Channeling Capablanca

After some rigmarole regarding pairings throughout the week, there was another unexpected absence on Thursday and several matchups had to be changed. I only briefly looked up an anti-London/Barry system in preparation for Black against one opponent, only to have SwissSys give me White this week.

I played my usual uninspired Botvinnik system against which my opponent seemed to have a coherent setup, wasting no time playing f5. I missed a couple chances to keep my opening edge and allowed my e-pawn to get isolated which led to a worse late middlegame. Between moves 19 and 29, we liquidated three minors, two rooks, and a queen for each side and I suddenly had an advantageous pawn endgame.

I felt quite pleased with myself, like I had channeled Capablanca’s spirit to manufacture an endgame win out of nothing but a better king position. But of course the postmortem dashed all that. The precision required to play great chess just wasn’t there, notably 36.b5?. Instead of being worthy of The Chess Machine or the Iceman I aspire to be, I was just a lucky bastard whose opponent failed to find the swindle. One Capablanca quote goes, “A good player is always lucky.”