Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

I was going to call this post "Swindler Swindled", but then the executive producer of Soapstone's Studio reminded me that I'm supposed to do movie themes whenever I can. "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" was a 1988 comedy about two swindlers played by Michael Caine and Steve Martin who enter a battle of wits and one-up-manship. There is a point in the con games that you begin to lose track of what's real and what's just part of someone's elaborate con.

In 2007, my opponent and I played a similar opening and had a seesaw battle with a comedy of errors ending in his mistakenly going for a perpetual check when he had a winning line.

During my latest game, I just couldn't figure out if the advantages I saw in the tips of my analysis tree were illusory or not. Fear played a big part: I had the tournament's top standing at stake (pride only, no money). A draw would clinch clear first. I had 17 rating points from rounds 1-5. A draw would pretty much preserve the rating points at 18. Winning would push it to 27; losing would cut it down to 10. My rook on e7 looked sickly next to the knight and I knew that the two rooks together could beat my queen in the right circumstances. My king had his back against the wall. The game had already run past midnight so fatigue was making it difficult to track all the dangers. Knight forks began to haunt some of my lines like the Headless Horseman. This time I forced the draw by repetition.

After I got home, I powered up Fritz who told me that I was the one left holding the bag at the end. I had about a 9-pawn advantage in the final position and two winning plans to choose from. I feel a bit hypocritical for having recently reposted Never Give Up. Never Surrender. where I saved a draw from a losing position. Converting a win should take similar will power. When annotating my game, I had this faintly nauseating feeling in the pit of my stomach as if I had been swindled out of something of significant value. Let that be my lesson for the next time I throw away a half point. My opponent showed good swindling technique by keeping the pieces on and throwing problems at me until the end.

1. Made correct evaluations of the variations after 11...Na6 and chose active development over passive defense early in the game. Made incorrect evaluations of the variations after 31...Qb6 and chose passive defense over active development late in the game.
2. Completely missed the advantages of 14...Qf6 and misevaluated White's queenside advantage after 15.b4 and 16.b4.
3. Made good decisions to open the position, to castle into an advancing h-pawn, and to sacrifice the exchange.
4. Played hope chess on moves 25 (missing Qg4) and 37 (missing the Rh3-g3-g7 mate problem).
5. Missed many continuations in the endgame.
6. Had problems with #1.Queen complexities: 20...Qb6!, 24...Qe8!, 31...Qb6!, 37...Qa1+!, 38/39...Qb1+!, and 42...Qa1+!.
7. Missed a good #9.Backward #7.Bishop move, 27...Be8!.
8. #8.Knight complexities figured into missing 28...Bc2+! and the fatigue of watching the knight on e6.
9. Missed #14.King zwischenzug in 48...f4 49.Nxf4? Kg7!.
10. Not knowing the strength of my #13.Rampaging g-pawn, and #10.Fear/overestimating defense fed into the incorrect decision to give up playing for a win.

Thus completed the weird symmetry of my opponent swindling himself by forcing a draw from a winning position in 2007 and now my doing the same for him. I have another pair of swindles with less symmetry against another expert member of our club.

I was asked how I use Fritz to help me with analysis. I use ChessBase 8 with the Fritz 8 engine plug-in chewing on positions and spitting out optimal lines. But if you have Fritz without ChessBase, you can do something similar by choosing New Game and before any one makes a move, select menu option Engine->Infinite Analysis. Not only will the program allow you to play moves for each side, but there should be a window that shows what Fritz thinks of the position and possible moves. Each line is prefaced by a +/=/- evaluation and a decimal number (e.g. -1.00 is a pawn's worth of advantage for black) to quantitate who has the advantage and how much.

When I did the games bulletins for the big Reno tournaments, Fritz's blunder check helped me crunch the 60-100 games so that I could zero in on the critical moments. This is something that takes a while per game, so you should expect to set the computer on the game and walk away for an hour. With the game(s) highlighted in Fritz's Database view (File->Open->Database), select Tools->Analysis->Blunder Check.

For the most recent game, I wanted to demonstrate at a glance that White didn't have much advantage the whole game, at least according to Fritz. After doing Blunder Check, I selected menu option Window->Panes->Evaluation Profile to view the Evaluation Profile. Colored bars below the line indicate Black held the advantage almost the whole game with only slight advantages for White around moves 15 and 28.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Beauty and the Beast

Chess is the art which expresses the beauty of logic.
-- Mikhail Botvinnik

What is the art of chess? Diminuitive sculptures dance about a well-demarcated field with choreography drawing from geometry, time, logic, and pure improvisation.

In my concept of chess beauty, there should almost always be a perfect move, the most logical one. Somewhere on the board, hidden among inaccuracies, weak moves, and outright blunders, the best move is waiting. We as chess enthusiasts appreciate the art of the masters when we understand the logic that guided them.

In the comfort of my study, I often ask my pocket Grandmaster Fritz 8.0 what was the proper continuation? As long as positional considerations remain small, Fritz's materialistic evaluations are usually the truth. Fritz is often my guide to the truth and beauty, but he is like having a know-it-all art major explain a masterwork to me. I appreciate it at the level of hearing his words, but not at the level of knowing in my heart each gossamer strand in the tapestry.

Sometimes beauty manifests as symmetry in the piece formations. I missed 26...Rf4xf2! in this recent game that would have made this rook cluster. Sometimes beauty is the quiet strength of a quiet move such as the missed 29...e5!! in my Mona Lisa With Three Warts. Sometimes chess beauty shows up as tidiness in the lines. I really love the how the delicate obliques of the bishops mesh in the Evergreen Game and I well-nigh mourned when I missed my chance to be like Adolf Anderssen.

In my analysis of my analysis, bishop complexities contributing to my mistakes stood out as #7. I got smashed quite artistically in the following game from five years ago. The bishops chased my queen into a spider hole at d8. The way the queen bounces from d8 to e8 to h5 and back to e8 and d8 reminds me of a pool shark declaring "Eight ball in the side pocket" just before he sinks it and takes your money.

My last club game was against the same opponent. It had all the subtlety of a berserker pawn running up the board and cleaving my opponent's army in twain. In time trouble, my opponent heaped blunder upon blunder atop the bonfire at the end. It was an ugly win. Only Cadet Shawn from "Taps" could say, "It's beautiful, man!"

I have to admit that my egotistical self commands a higher priority than my aesthetic self. I prefer the ugly win over the beautiful loss.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Parallelisms, Chunks, and Visualizations

On move 4, I castled. He then proceeded to move two pieces and take two of my pieces. "You can't do that," I protested.

"Why not?" he retorted.

"Because chess is a turn-based game. Each player gets only one move," I explained.

"But you just moved both your king and rook," he said, an annoying passive aggressive tone. "I should get two moves also."

Angrily, I made a move to sweep his entire army from the board with my arm, but the pieces came alive and fenced with each other, not turn by turn, but simultaneously, mano a mano across the span of the board. After a few seconds, the entire front froze again and my vision held it for a moment...
And then I woke up.

In trying to understand more about de Groot, I came across a research paper by Reingold and Charness which referenced de Groot. Reingold and Charness researched chess playing abilities to get at the nature of what is at work. A review of past related papers showed:

1. "Experts" (ELO 2200-2400) have a larger "visual span" as compared with "Intermediates" (ELO 1400-1700) and "Novices" (ELO U1400). Visual span is the ability in speed and area to remember details of a chess position at a glance.

2. Experts (ELO 1950+) have fewer saccadic eye movements in check detection than Intermediates (ELO 950-1400) and Novices (ELO U950), implying greater peripheral vision for detecting checks.

3. Experts spend less time looking directly at pieces and more time looking at empty squares between them than intermediates and novices and when they do look at pieces, they spend more time on "relevant" pieces.

The experimental contributions of this particular paper were to try to suss out if there were time costs for interpreting incremental increases in the complexity of chess positions.

1. Experts didn't seem to be slowed by adding one piece to various check detection tests.

2. Cueing a piece improved the reaction times to correctly identifying check status of that piece for weaker players, but did not help experts. In fact, the cue actually seemed to hurt the experts' reaction times.

The authors suggest that their results indicate that experts have an ability to encode position information in a parallel as opposed to a serial manner. Parallel processing was the force multiplier used by Deep Blue to ultimately defeat reigning world champion Garry Kasparov on May 11, 1997.

A friend of mine pointed me to the "My Brilliant Brain" series about Susan Polgar available on YouTube. The series' central finding seemed to be that extraordinary mental feats of memory utilize "chunking" and that Susan Polgar's ability may reside in the fusiform face area of her brain. An example of chunking would be to use "a Black kingside fianchetto" instead of black king at g8, black bishop on g7, and black pawns on f7, g6, and h7. After one game, Susan said that pattern recognition and intuition guide her through a game, especially at fast time controls. A PET scan indicated that the fusiform face area in Polgar's brain was being utilized as a specialized chess information recognition center.

I think I'm going to try to chunk some of my tactical exercises at Chess Tempo and do them blindfolded to exercise my chess eye.

Here's a Chess Tempo exercise I failed:

Chess Tempo #71555
White is up a pawn. Black's queen is awfully deep in my territory - trap it? cxb4 can happen any time. Black's Bg7 and Re8 look pretty inactive thanks to my pawn shield. Black's knight with the Bc6 help can check on f3 forking White king and rook.
Bc4 hits queen and cuts off its escape along a2-g8 diagonal. Then Qxa3 loses a pawn. Re3 hits queen again. a1-a6 are all covered, a3-e3 attacked by the rook, b2 and b4 - no escape! If Nf3+, I'll have to move to g3. Rxf3 allows Qxf3. I'm going with Bc4.

I played Bc4. Chess Tempo responded Qxa3. I played Re3 thinking, "I have you now.". Chess Tempo played Nf3+. Kg3 looks best. Failed.

Through #6.overconfidence in #1.queen complexities, I #4.cut off analysis prematurely and #3.overlooked a defensive resource of a #9.backward #8.knight move.

Kg3 fails to Nxd2 Rxa3 Ne4+ forking king and queen and material becomes even. I didn't even consider Qxf3 Bxf3 Rxa3 to know that White ends up a piece ahead.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Never Give Up. Never Surrender.

I originally published this as a PDF file at the Reno Chess Club website about 4 years ago in the days before my blog. It seemed apropos to republish it now since my last two games seemed to provoke discussions about the proper time to resign. By using the title, I don't mean never resign. Perhaps my definition of a clearly won or lost positions may differ from those of other chess players, but at least, I'd like to see the winning line all the way to an overwhelming material advantage or even mate. Today it occurs to me that if I had one of them Omega 13 contraptions, I could take back my chess blunders and nobody but me would know.

This 2003 game taught me a very valuable lesson that can be summed up in a slogan in the Star Trek spoof, Galaxy Quest. The slogan is, "Never give up. Never surrender." While there are times to resign in chess, this game showed me that you should wait until it's completely obvious that you're lost before resigning. This game also taught me that I have within me a very stubborn defender that refuses to lose. Every chess player should have a game like this to test his resolve and teach him what he's made of. Six years and 255 games later, it is still my longest game.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dark Energy

According to Wikipedia, "dark energy is a hypothetical form of energy that permeates all of space and tends to increase the rate of expansion of the universe." Albert Einstein, frustrated that his original equations of general relativity did not allow for a static universe, added a fudge factor termed the cosmological constant. When Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is not static, Einstein abandoned the cosmological constant, calling it the "biggest blunder" of his life. However, research on Type Ia supernovae revealed that the further away the supernova is from us, not only is the red shift and speed greater, but it is greater in a nonlinear fashion, implying an accelerating expansion as opposed to constant expansion predicted by inertia overcoming gravity or deceleration predicted by everything pulling gravitationally on everything else. The cosmological constant idea has gained new life in theoretical astrophysics as the quantification of this acceleration. What causes the universe to accelerate its expansion? The proposed cause is dark energy.

Last Thursday, in a contest of Blogger vs. Blogger, I had the black pieces against the Dark Tactician. The opening was the King's Indian Defense Four Pawns Attack which quickly transformed into Gunderam's Six Pawns Attack. I struggled with the opening because I mixed up my systems and tried to use Na6 recommended in Joe Gallagher's Beating the Anti-King's Indians after I had already played c5. Even though I was ahead in development since my opponent pushed the c through h pawns inclusive, my pieces had almost no activity and were bumping into each other. In My System, Aron Nimzowitsch wrote of both the passed pawn and the isolated queen pawn having "the lust to expand" meaning they have a tendency to advance. The Dark Tactician used Dark Energy to send six pawns expanding toward me. The h-file became half-open on move 12 and I got the usual paranoid feeling when I defend the Dragon and Bobby Fischer's "sac, sac, mate" begins to echo in my ears. Luckily, the expansion decelerated in a gravity well of undeveloped mass and he allowed me to poke a hole in his Big Bang. A queen-rook battery down the open e-file landed a heavy piece on his second rank and then his whole pawn front imploded in the Big Crunch while I retained three pawns in a battle of rook and knight versus rook and knight. My opponent almost conjured up a mating net or a brutal fork, but I sidestepped these plans and achieved simplification to a winning plan.

I did not consider my opponent at all insolent for refusing to resign. It's an admirable trait in a chess player as I myself have been on the other side struggling for the swindle. As long as someone's not deliberately trying to waste my time by letting his clock run, I welcome the chance to test my technique. In fact, when someone resigns in a position just two pawns down, I feel their resignation is premature as in my game just two weeks prior. I don't think my technique deserves that much respect...yet.

After the game, my opponent pointed out the 26...Rxf2 tactic. I was disappointed that I missed such a thing. Tactics first, then positional considerations.

1. My Four Pawns defense sucks. Gotta book up.
2. Tactics like 26...Rxf2! tell me that rooks aren't always so simple.
3. Knight complexities like 40...Nd1+ continue to be a problem.
4. I have to add to my checklist of things to try not to miss #13.pawns running amuck (moves 31 and 41) and #14.king zwischenzugs (move 41).
5. I was heartened by my calculation and move choice at moments like 24...Bxc3, 32...Re3, 38...a6, and 53...Nc3.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

de Groot Exercise

As part of some recent analysis of my analysis, I decided to do the last two exercises at Chess Tempo using a de Groot exercise. Most of what I just learned comes from NM Dan Heisman's Novice Nook #29. In the late 1930s, Dr. Adriaan de Groot published research on the thinking processes used by players of all grades from world champions down to class players on a small series of positions. Mr. Heisman has an excellent discussion of both Dr. de Groot's conclusions and his own from administering the de Groot exercise to hundreds of his students. One set of Dr. de Groot's conclusions was quite interesting:

Strong players have four phases of thought process:
1.Orientation to Possibilities.
2.Phase of Exploration.
3.Phase of Investigation.
4.Striving for Proof.

Without reading more on de Groot, I'm a little fuzzy on the difference between steps 2 and 3, but 1 and 4 seem clear.

The proper de Groot exercise utilizes positions that are rich in possibilities, not tactical move and win positions like at Chess Tempo. Nevertheless, I am trying not to miss things that are there, so I'm curious what things are slipping through my dragnet. My de Groot exercises involve two successes, so in that sense, perhaps I will not learn much, but perhaps eventually I'll meet more failures and then be able to produce refinements.

Chess Tempo #41477

Material is even. My black queen is attacked by white's last move g4. Wild checks go nowhere. I have a threat of Bd4 pinning White's queen to his king. The Nc3 is a little insecure from a removal of the guard on d2 either from Rxd2 or from a queen trade offer and takeback. My Nb4 is loose.

-Qa5 to hold my knight in the middle of the melee?
-Bxg4 fxg4 Qxg4 doesn't look so good, but the threat of Bd4 increases the possibilities of crazy moves working. My evaluation says that I'm simply losing material.
-Nc2 threatens White's queen and if gxh5 Nxe3 forks rooks, but Bxe3 Bxc3 is just equal.

So back to main line Qa5 Qf4 Rd4 or better yet Qa5 Qf4 Qc5+ to hit c3 twice.
But what about simply Qa5 Kh1 then Nc2 Qg5 (Qf4 Bxc3 Ah, the Qa5 was also hitting c3.)

After Qa5 Kh1 Nc2 Qg5 what about Bxc3? Qxa5 Bxa5 Bxa5 Rxd1 Rxd1+=

What about Qxg5 Bxg5 Bxc3 but doesn't Rc1 get one minor back? Bd2! holds the extra minor. Then Bxe7 Bxc1 Bxd8 Be3 Bf6.

After Qa5 Kh1 Nc2 Qg5 Qxg5 Bxg5 Bxc3 Rxd8+ Rxd8 Rc1 Bd2 Bxe7 Bxc1 Bxd8 is still a minor up.

My line was correct. The problem had a rating of 2103 when I did it. I could have been #6)overconfident, not seeing my own hanging knight at b4. I also could have #3)overlooked the defensive resource Kh1. I almost #4)pruned too early after Bxc3 and before Bd2!

Chess Tempo #50698

Material is even. White has doubled b pawns, Black has two bishops.
White is fully developed, Black is behind on QB and QR development and has vulnerable dark squares around his king.
Crazy checks: Nf6+ seem to dead end, but there is a discovery from Re1 if I get the bishop out first.
Forcing moves: Bc5 hits queen, Rxh4 distracts queen. Preparing Nf6+

Line: Bc5 (One fantasy is Qd8? Rxh4 Qxh4 Nf6+ Qxf6 Rxe8+ Kg7 Bf8+ Kg8 Bh6#) gxh5 Bxe7 Rxe7. White comes out with the Q vs R+B advantage of +1 nominal material. Black's kingside pawns are messy.

Other line Rxh4 Qxh4 Bg5 {intending Nf6+ and Rxe8} Qxg5 Nxg5 Rxe1+ Kh2 seems worse -1 disadvantage of Q vs 2R.

Bc5 was right! Rxh4 suckered a lot of the commentators. This problem had a 2125 rating when I did it. I probably still #4)pruned too early because I didn't think about what to do about my pinned Ne4 to my loose Re1 at the end of the Bc5 variation. I have to go back to my mini-study to figure out why I missed some #7)bishop complexities, like the key move here. I almost missed #3)defensive resource and #1)queen complexities on the Qxg5 ending to the Rxh4 line.

I'll try to Google some more resources on de Groot to try to understand the difference between Phase 2 Exploring and Phase 3 Investigating.

Friday, November 27, 2009

TPS Report #17

I made it to #4 on the list of Chess Tempo endgame theory rankings. I recommend training with Chess Tempo to players trying to improve their knowledge of endgames. Although there are several endgames such as QvR, RBvR, and NNvP that are fairly impractical, I enjoy their challenges and collecting their weird secrets, that someday I hope to present in a coherent manner. However, there are many RPvR and a few QPvQ which are quite practical.

I went through and fixed a lot of my blog entries with games that used to be on Chess Publisher and converted them to ChessFlash.

No openings work. No master games. No middlegame tactics. No checklist training.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Skill, Luck, or Pity?

Last Thursday I played against my friend and coach Nate Garingo. The night started off rocky. Jerry was late and the TD duties once again sucked me in. I can't seem to avoid working for the club. I asked myself, "Why didn't someone else make the pairing cards by now?" "Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in." I'm trying to avoid responsibilities because they detract from the fun of the game. So the pairings were almost an hour late. My passive aggressiveness kept me from suggesting that I could pair the round in 2 minutes on my computer. Jerry wouldn't approve of the computer and USCF pairings anyway. It's his tournament, not mine.

So my mindset was that even though the round was starting an hour late, I would still get home at a decent hour because my defeat would be quick. When Nate and I sat down, he asked if this was our sixth game. I thought it was our fifth. He recounted each of our games by their openings. I didn't remember the first one, but eventually his description of an errant knight maneuver in the English jogged my memory. A couple dragons, a bayonet King's Indian, and a Scandinavian. Yeah that's five. Nate won them all. This would be the sixth.

The game itself also started off rocky. It was my second French game ever. Book was quickly thrown out. First I made mistakes, then he made some. And then a surprising thing happened...

Here are three crucial positions from the game:

White to play. White has wedged his Queen into a tight spot. Is he genuinely in trouble? What's the best move for White?

White to play. Can White get some compensation for his pawn?

Black to play. How should Black deal with the threat of Nc7+?

The answers are in the analysis of the game:

I was proud that I found 11.Ne5, 17.Nxd5, and worked out almost all the lines of how to rescue my knight. I'm disappointed that I didn't see moves like the first 13.Bb5+ and the analysis Kb8 Rxg5 idea. Most importantly, I broke through a psychological: that I could no longer beat the strong tactical players in the club.

Capablanca said, "A good player is always lucky." "Luck" in chess seems to happen when your opponent's blind spots coincide with with your good plans. I was lucky I didn't blunder 9.Qh8?, didn't miss Ne5! with alternatives h4/g3/Be2, didn't choose 19.Bxc6, and didn't "blunder" 22.f3. I was lucky Nxd5 worked out with the knight getting away. I was lucky Nate missed 13...Bd7, 14...Rh8, 17...Rb8, and overlooked 20.Rxb5.

I half-jokingly accused Nate of throwing the game in order to prop up a friend's fragile chess ego. My case would include points like: he chose to give up his book advantage, he allowed the trade of queens which dampened his dynamic strength, he miscalculated the critical phase, and he shuffled his pieces around almost aimlessly (Nb8-d7-f6xh5-f6-d7, Bc8-d7-c6-b5-c6). Funny enough, the last game we played was 364 days prior in the 2008 edition of the Holiday Swiss. He knew that my enthusiasm for chess had tanked around then. Nate assured me that he wouldn't lose a game on purpose, but my ISTJ personality keeps the nagging doubts close.

Nate and I have discussed chess and pity before. I think Larry Evans tells a story about the most beautiful chess move in history involving someone resigning before his opponent's flag fell. This move doesn't strike me so beautiful as dumb. Chess is not a place for mercy and pity. If you play with pity for your opponent and somehow play weaker because of it, you not only hurt your game, but you also rob your opponent of part of the spoils of victory because you have only allowed him to triumph over your sympathetic chess avatar. "Oh, I was trying to go easy on him" is a rather lame excuse unless you're trying encourage a child, and even then, it's questionable. A French Proverb says "You cannot play chess if you are kind-hearted."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Broadening Vision

My friend showed me this problem about a week ago. He said that he couldn't get it. I similarly failed. Here's your chance to show you're better than two experts. White to play:

Highlight this box for a light hint [Nd8 is in most lines somewhere.]

Highlight this box for a heavy hint [The first four moves are all checks.]

Highlight this box for the solution [1.Qd6+ Kc8 2.Qd8+ Kb7 3.Qxb6+!! Kxb6 (3...axb6 4.Nd8+ Kc7 5.Nxf7) 4.a5+ Kc6 (4...Ka6 5.Nc5#) (4...Kb7 5.Nd8+) 5.Nd8+ Kd7 6.Nxf7 +-]




I think the reason why I missed this problem is that both the width and depth of my thinking were insufficient. I thought I solved it with 1.Qd6+ Ka8 2.Qe8+ Kb7 3.Nc5+, but I overlooked the defensive resource 3...Kc6. I couldn't even see Qxb6+ because it looks too daring. I noticed the knight could fork after 1.Qd6+ Kb7, but once the queen went to d8, I stopped thinking about it. The mating pattern also seemed novel. Many features that I noticed on my tactical evaluation are here:

#1.Queen complexities
#3.Defensive resource (3...Kc6)
#4.Horizon/Premature cutoff (3.Qxb6+ can't work)
#8.Knight complexities (Nd8 fork)
#9.Backward move (3.Qd8xb6 and Nd8 forking things behind it) AND
#10.Complex new pattern (Nc5 mate)

Here's one I'm proud didn't get away. Chess Tempo #61744 is one of the higher rated problems I've gotten lately.

Highlight the following for a light hint. [What is White's chief advantage?]

Highlight the following for a heavy hint. [Invite more people to the party.]

Highlight the following for the solution. [1.Nd2! Ke7 {unpins} 2.Rc6 Qxc6 4.Qxc6]




I started off moving around the queen and rook in my head, but I couldn't get much traction after 1.Rc6 Qb3 stops the idea of 2.Qe6+ Be7 3.Rc8+ and 1.Rc6 Qb3 2.Re6+ Kf7 3.Qd7+ Kg8 isn't much of an advantage. Suddenly it occurred to me that White's queen and rook are already putting heavy weight on Black's pressure point, the pinned bishop on d8. The pieces might be as good as they're going to get for the time being. Black's pieces were also about as good as they could get, almost in zugzwang. Because of the recognition that White's queen and rook don't get much out of moving, I turned my attention to White's knight which is not participating. Nxe5 and Ng5 didn't look good, so I began to think about the backward and quiet-looking Nd2. One thing I did gain from the early Rc6 lines was that the Black Queen could harass my king a little bit. Nd2 is useful for preventing both Qb1+ and Qc3. It also threatens Nc4 removing the queen as guard of Bd8 and blocking the attempt of the move Qb3 to protect e6 from the White Queen.

The problem has the following difficulties from my list:
#1.Queen complexities
#8.Knight complexities
#9.Backward move
#11.Zugzwang (not exactly, but close enough)

I'm still not consciously saying to myself, "Look for backward moves and zugzwang and weird defensive moves" but I'd like to think subconsciously my board vision is improving a little.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chess Is Hard

"Chess is hard." - Jerry Weikel, NTD and organizer/director of Reno's two large annual chess tournaments
"Chess is ludicrously difficult." - Stephen Fry
"Chess is mental torture." - Garry Kasparov
"Chess is so deep, I simply feel lost." - Vladimir Kramnik
"Chess is horribly, heinously, and hellaciously hard." - me, on maximum verbosity
"@#%*!" - Anonymous

Hearing Jerry say "Chess is hard" for the umpteenth time like a mantra got me thinking about chess and hardness. This thought led me to the traditional Mohs scale of mineral hardness:

Level 10DiamondSuper Grandmaster/World Champion
Level 9CorundumInternational Grandmaster
Level 8TopazInternational Master
Level 7QuartzMaster
Level 6FeldsparExpert
Level 5ApatiteClass A
Level 4FluoriteClass B
Level 3CalciteClass C
Level 2GypsumClass D
Level 1TalcClass E

FYI, soapstone is Mohs hardness 2, alabaster 3, marble 6, granite 8, cubic zirconium 8.

I imagine mineralogist Friedrich Mohs in 1812 rubbing two rocks together and recording the result in a notepad. This reminds me of a "scientist" who published a research proposal on Cragslist to find the genetically strongest M&Ms in his own Highlander tournament to the death and then breed them into a super-race of champion M&Ms. "There can be only one."

"Oh, Andy loved geology. I guess it appealed to his meticulous nature. An ice age here, million years of mountain building there. Geology is the study of pressure and time. That's all it takes really, pressure, and time. That, and a big god-damned poster." - Red from Shawshank Redemption

RED: The man likes to play chess; let's get him some rocks.
HEYWOOD: Guys! I got one. I got one. Look!
FLOYD: Heywood, that isn't soapstone, and it ain't alabaster either!
HEYWOOD: What are you a fuckin' geologist?
SNOOZE: No he's right. It ain't.
HEYWOOD: Well what the hell is it then!
RED: It's a horse apple.
HEYWOOD: Bullshit!
RED: No, horse shit, petrified.
HEYWOOD: Oh Jesus! Damn!
RED: Despite a few hitches, the boys came through in fine style. And by the weekend he was due back, we had enough rocks saved up to keep him busy 'til Rapture.

I ain't no geologist and I wouldn't know a petrified horse turd from granite. I ain't no writer either. I just flesh out these ideas I get using Google and Wikipedia. My writing ability is simply a multimedia content aggregator which simulates originality only through eclectic plagiarism. Alfred Lanning asked, "When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote of a soul?"

A geologic age ago, my passion for chess was like a mass of hot lava which, like my heart, was about the size of my fist. Exposed to the atmosphere, the outer layer solidified into a shell of rock. Over time, the shell thickened until the only heat left was at the center, encased in cold inert laziness and anxiety. The shell is of a dull soapstone, lacking in any brilliance whatsoever.

Simon and Garfunkel sang "And the rock feels no pain. And an island never cries." Lately, I had experienced some unwelcome emotionality with regard to chess. I think my sportsmanship until this year had been impeccable, not showing too much animus toward myself or my opponent when the result was subpar. If I lost, I patiently accepted it as just another of Caissa's gifts of wisdom for her humble follower. I was a happy and dispassionate chess enthusiast. But recently, I internalized failures at the board as outward signs of weakness and lost sight of my happy place. The losses became a bitter medicine that I couldn't stand any more. I think it stemmed from forgetting that this game is fun and instead focusing on both the self-imposed mandate to improve and the frustration that comes upon seeing the paltry returns on investment of effort. I must return to my rational center. What would Spock say? "Frustration is illogical." What would Data say? "I am an android. I do not get emotional about chess."

During my recent forays into Scrabble, I found that sportsmanship as a lowest grade Scrabble player is surprisingly difficult. Scrabble has a much larger luck factor in that the tiles you draw from the bag can make or break your game. In Word Freak, Stephen Fatsis wrote of the tendency for Scrabble players to curse the tiles when they're losing, but true Scrabble champions play through adversity. I rapidly became one of the cursers.

Susan Boyle sang from Les Miserables, "I dreamed a dream in time gone by." I believed I could get to where the chess masters are if I only had enough time. But over the years the belief turned to lost faith, especially this past year when work hardly interfered with my chess study time. Instead of seeing the milestones recede in my rearview mirror, I was stuck in neutral, realizing that I had neither the skill nor the passion to see it through. "But the tigers come at night with their voices soft as thunder. As they tear your hope apart. And they turn your dream to shame."

In round 3 of this year's Western States Open, I had to substitute on the demo boards for a few hours. As I stood in the eye of the silent and invisible hurricane of variations calculated by the surrounding masters, I capitulated to the idea that they are just too far ahead for me to catch them in my lifetime. So I'm not destined for greatness. Well, boo-fucking-hoo. Have I become an ingrate who cries that his cup is only half full? Perhaps, I should count my blessings. Sheryl Crow sang, "It's not having what you want. It's wanting what you've got."

My lava lacks gravity and its main geologic manifestation: pressure. My lava doesn't flow or grow; it is stagnant. The vain hope that the residual nidus of lava can still cool into a geode or a thunder egg will soon evaporate. It's just soapstone through and through. Still, there is a chance for a certain kind of order and beauty. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If life gives you shit, polish it into a thing of beauty. I've got soapstone and for now I'll keep on sculpting.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Having been frozen in the near-absolute zero of entropic Ennui and then shattered by Heartbreak, my chess avatar now lay in scattered shards of glittering pyrite atop the velvety black asphalt. I had neither energy nor will to gather the pieces, so I left them there and walked away. In the first fifty paces, I felt nothing, not a trace of regret. I walked twenty-five more and wondered if I'd ever feel normal again. On my hundredth step, I suddenly turned to look back. To my utter disbelief, the angled, crystalline fragments had melted into pools of mercury and were coalescing into larger and larger pools, guided by a sinister unseen force. I turned and began to run...

Monday, November 16, 2009

TPS Report #16

During the summer, I stopped by a yard sale and to my delight found Office Space on VHS for fifty cents. So I promptly bought it and went home to watch it twice. My general fuzzy feeling that the movie was genius has now been sharpened into specific scenes that I have memorized for mental replay at any time.

Corporate accounts payable, Nina speaking. Just a moment.

It's just that we're putting cover sheets on all TPS reports. Did you get the memo?

The thing is, Bob, it's not that I'm lazy. It's that I just don't care.

I told those fudge packers I liked Michael Bolton's music.

Now we had a chance to meet this young man, and boy, that's just a straight shooter with upper management written all over him.

BOB: Looks like you've been missing a lot of work lately.
PETER: I wouldn't say I've been *missing* it, Bob.

I can't believe what a bunch of nerds we are. We're looking up "money laundering" in a dictionary.

I do want to express myself, okay. And I don't need 37 pieces of flair to do it.

As the beginning of the end of my break from chess, I took up with Chess Tempo again in late August. One of the features I really like is the separate Endgame drill. They're not quite endgame studies, but a lot of the tests are some of my favorite endings: rook and bishop versus rook or queen versus rook. It allows me to test myself and fill in the holes of my understanding on these endings. One disadvantage is that if you don't pay the subscription fee, the endgames tests are limited to 2/day. If somehow this blog creates a mad rush to subscribe to Chess Tempo, perhaps someone can say "Soapstone sent me" and the proprietor there will give an honorary Gold membership to this cheapskate blogger who so far has resisted the urge to pay for tactical training.

On Chess Tempo, regular middlegame tactics have no daily limitation even if you're a nonpaying registrant. I used to have an accuracy of the untimed Standard tactics of nearly 84%, but that's dropped to 81% lately, aided by inexplicable streaks of failure after failure. My tactics rating has climbed back over 2100, but a lot of the time, I have to concentrate more than 30 minutes on each problem.

A month back a friend asked me whether I had a checklist to thoroughly analyze positions. The question is 'How does one see what one cannot see?' I stated that I didn't have a rigorous method. The reasons are myriad, but it still boils down to me stubbornly refusing to take my medicine and do things right. Up to now, I had just looked at positions and chaotically moved wherever my eyes and thoughts took me. The chaotic method had served me well to this point, but I think it has begun to fail me because my mental clock and attached calculator are no longer as nimble.

So after a particularly miserable streak of getting problems wrong on Chess Tempo, I got so frustrated I decided to do a root cause analysis. Why am I failing to get these problems right? I compiled my last 30 misses and tried to verbalize where my thinking went wrong. Then I went back through and tried to categorize the errors or difficult features. I generated this spreadsheet. The main categories in order of highest to lowest frequency were:

Queen complexities
Missed key
Defensive resource
Horizon/premature cutoff
Creeping move
Bishop complexities
Knight complexities
Backward move
Fear/Overestimating defense
Complex new pattern

I gained some ideas about what should go on my checklist. Here is my first approximation:

Checks on his king; follow all crazy sacs to quiescence
Checks on my king; follow all crazy sacs to quiescence
Moves that threaten material
Pieces that have limited mobility to withstand direct attack or assist in defense of the king (e.g. trapping the queen)
Loose pieces to fork
Pinned pieces to pressurize
Pieces on ranks, files, or diagonals - pins and skewers
Pieces on intersecting diagonals and files - forks
Knight forks - pieces on the same color square (from Andres Hortillosa)
Forcing a piece to a vulnerable square
Removing or overloading a defender
*Try to look at least 2 full-width ply to find implausible key moves such as defensive resources and bluffs, creeping and backward moves, wild knight jumps, rampaging pawns/promotion, zugzwang.

I think that I was always looking for the things on the list, just not thoroughly and methodically. The last item is the recent addition from my error analysis. Temposchlucker talked a lot about checklists, but after using some keywords, I couldn't find a tactical checklist that he published for the public benefit.

A week ago, I wandered over to chessloser to see that he blogged twice in October. Then I followed one of his links to Chessgasm who seemed to be interested in proper analytical methods. He reviewed Forcing Chess Moves by Charles Hertan and mentioned it again later as a comparison to Aagard's Excelling at Chess Calculation. I've mentioned Hertan's book before without actually knowing the content of his book, but now I think I've got to go buy it.

Computers play chess by brute force. They look at a position and generate all legal moves and then make those moves in its 'mind' and then generate all subsequent legal moves. This is what's called full width search. Besides the move generator, there is an evaluation function which checks statically who's winning and by how much.

Looking back at my spreadsheet, I surmised that the reason queen complexities were such a problem for me is that they have so many moves, making width quickly unmanageable. It suddenly occurred to me that many of my other weaknesses were problems of insufficient width: missed key, overlooked defensive resource, creeping and backward moves. Premature cutoff/Horizon effect is mostly the perpendicular axis of depth, but often times I'm pruning a variation because I don't see that the next move disturbs the quiescence rather violently, which makes it partially a width problem. The question once again is how does one see moves that one cannot see? Hertan's solution seems to be USE COMPUTER EYES. It's probably impractical for me to emulate the computer, but perhaps it would benefit me to at least calculate the first two ply completely in some settings to try to achieve better width in my searches and see past my blind spots.

So I've got some directions to go in my training. I'm still not conscientiously using my checklist, but like my many unopened chess books, it's there for me to pick up.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Holey Repertoire!

There was a period a year and a half back when I tried to learn intensively from a coach. I'd say my main weaknesses were tactics and a suitably tactical opening repertoire. So he showed me many different lines from tactical openings, and I nodded my head and said things like, "Neat!" and "Whoa!" But a few weeks later when he showed me the same openings, my neurons could only muster a fuzzy and faint recognition. I've almost always picked things up quickly and vividly, but the lack of retention really frustrated me about chess in particular and made me distrust my own brain in general. Grasping these slippery lines was like fishing with my hands for black eels on a moonless night. Part of it is laziness toward the role of drilling. But part of it I internalize as a hopeless decline of aging. But that's my mental enemy talking again.

Back in April, I was trying to qualify for the Club Championship and played Drunknknite. It was a quick loss mostly from an opening inaccuracy. Afterward I remarked that I had hardly faced the Gligoric in my years of playing the King's Indian and Drunknknite said, "So I found the hole in your repertoire." A week later he asked if I had seen Gelfand-Polgar. At least my opening mistake had been made by a grandmaster once.

For last Thursday's game, I eschewed the well-trodden paths of the open Sicilian for the trappiness of the Morra Gambit. But the choice backfired as I was out of book at move 6. My opponent found good moves and I soon found myself two pawns down with no compensation. Luckily, I managed to get some play and exchanged into a theoretically drawn endgame.

So repairing my leaky opening repertoire is climbing my To Do List again.