Monday, May 11, 2009

Spy vs. Spy

One of my favorite features of Mad Magazine was the Spy vs. Spy comic. The twists and turns and the convoluted traps that the spies set for each other were so outlandish. Just like chess, the ideology of Spy vs. Spy was a clash between black and white.

A few months back, a commentator at Drunknknite's blog mentioned that games from the Far West Open had shown up at Mark Crowther's The Week In Chess, issue #754. I became a little concerned because I hadn't even published the paper copy of the 2009 Far West Open games bulletin that was being paid for by subscribers at $7 apiece. To my relief, I found that TWIC contained the games from 2008 which by convention were released to the public about a month before the 2009 tournament. All was copacetic.

Games being produced in an event are a small way to advertise for the tournament if people playing through them happen to notice where they were contested. I was a little tickled that a website about high class chess that I had followed since the early days of the internet was publishing some of my games. I believe that the ChessBase Megabase databases derive most of their new material from reconditioned TWIC data. I don't know this for a fact, but why duplicate the labor of entering games?

A year from now, a few more of my games may appear in ChessBase Megabase 2010. Right now the Megabases contain three of my games from the 1993 Illinois Open when I beat Expert Erik Karklins, smashed NM Kevin Bachler in a Saemisch King's Indian, then lost to Karklins' son SM Andrew Karklins by a hair in a queen ending. If ChessBase takes all six of my games from FWO2008, then I'll become 5.0-4.0 in their files.

Having been a collector of scoresheets for a half dozen years now, I appreciate that the games are being preserved for posterity. In fact, someone emailed me before the Far West Open and asked if I had his games from the previous Western States Open because he had misplaced his records; I was able to supply most of his games. But the games archive is also available for reconnaissance. Myself being included with sterotypical paranoid chessplayers, I experience reluctance relinquishing my opening secrets to a public which can include my next opponent. On the one hand, it would be a long-term advantage to have people rectify my opening holes. But given a choice, I think I would almost always prefer winning a game to learning something from a draw or a loss. If I give up the element of surprise, won't my results be poorer?

For a while, I've been reluctant to collect games from my fellow club members to put on our website, partially out of laziness against producing more work for myself. But I mainly feel as if I do the players a disservice by leaking their opening secrets or their middlegame and endgame tendencies to their opponents. One of my friends is dismissive that this is just crazy talk and nobody but titled payers have the discipline to study stuff like this, but I suspect this same person utilizes the club games database for reconnaissance. My main concern is that the Las Vegas team could be getting the upper hand in our yearly matches because of an advantage in information.

One response is to change up your game. I'm trying to embrace this idea in my own game with mixed results. I had spent a dozen years relying on English, Sicilian, and King's Indian before I dropped the latter two for the Modern/Robatsch/Rat with improved results at first. But my game lacked the tactical flourishes that my strong peers were seeing, so I began to go toward open tactical games, switching out the English for irregular King-pawn systems and abandoning the Modern in favor of the Scandinavian and Budapest. I even flirted with the 1.f4 Polar Bear in one game with unsatisfactory results. More recently, I've been trying to learn more main line stuff, but almost all my games leave book early.

I'm annoyed at Chess Publisher for going defunct and taking most of my blogged games off the information superhighway and into the Hotel California. But on the plus side, I'm sheltered from reconnaissance for a while. I haven't heard any clamor for me to fix those past broken posts, so it will go to the bottom of my to do list for now.

Note: I started this post on May 11, but didn't get around to polishing and publishing until June 7.


frenez said...

for the record, i enjoy seeing the games of regular folk. at least we're all looking at the 'same' game.

though i enjoy following the games of the masters, they really are playing a 'different' game ... we may be looking at the same moves but the reason for the moves and the evaluation of the resultant positions can be radically different.

not showing the games because of the fear that future opponents can zero in on your openings and thus gain some advantage really speaks to the main problem with chess:

CHESS IS A RESEARCH PROJECT. the fact that you may be playing a grandmaster for the 1st 20 moves of a dragon is most annoying.

there are ways to combat this like leaving 'book' early as you say, but the best way is fischer random. from move 1 you're playing your opponent, not the number of hours they've put in with research. understanding chess principles is still necessary, the game itself doesn't change, but it does become a game again.

the reason this hasn't caught on is because most dedicated chess players aren't willing to throw out all their hours of study,
memorization and money they've spent on learning openings.

and, perhaps, more importantly, i believe that chess players feel they can move up a class or reach expert or master if only they study (memorize)more openings (actually, more depth in the openings they play).

while i enjoy this too, let me state this realistic fact: being a slave to studying openings will not make you a master. as i alluded to earlier, they're playing a different game.

frenez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
qxpch said...

I didn't know that ChessPublisher has gone defunct! When I was setting up my blog, I thought about using ChessPublisher to make it possible for readers to play through the games on my blog. But I was too lazy to do it. Now it looks as if I made the right decision!

Are you thinking about any other ways of imbedding an interactive chessboard into your blog? Is there a solution that doesn't depend on an unreliable third party?


Soapstone said...

@frenez: Granted that Fischerandom would put creativity and skill into the beginning of the game, but as you point out, most players do not want to sacrifice the use of knowledge as well as the connection with the classical traditions of chess. I'm a purist myself and even frown on bughouse as a way to really screw up my game. If I had to guess where my chess strength came from, I think that tactical ability got me to 1800, strategic ability got me to 1900, and fighting spirit got me to 2000. Opening theory is relegated to an auxiliary to strategic thinking.

@qxpch: I dabbled a bit with ChessBase's publishing feature. See this game Just right click on the game in a ChessBase list and choose Output->HTML + Javascript replay. You'll need to move all five files to a separate web server location and point a link from your blog to the htm file that has no added letters. For an embedded solution, I'm thinking of next trying Glenn Wilson's Chess Flash, but it's still dependent upon Mr. Wilson not abandoning us.

Polly said...

I have been using chess flash for over a year now. I still prefer using the version where you upload the game. I haven't really like how the copy and paste pgn version looks.

I have gone back and fixed some of the games on my blog that vanished with Chess Publisher. I've only been doing that with games in posts that I have linked back to in a more current article. I don't know how many readers actually click on the link I provide, but I figure even if it's just one it would be nice to have the game I was referring to.

I have almost all my game scores dating back to 1972. The first few years are in English Descriptive. Always fun playing those games back and putting them into Chess Base when I write something about ancient history.

ChargingKing said...

Hey Ernie!

What is the f4 Polar bear?

Soapstone said...

The f4 Polar Bear is a Leningrad Dutch played from the White side. I imagine the practitioner would play the LG Dutch on the black side also. GM Henrik Danielsen has a whole series of free video lectures on YouTube. I think Temposchlucker said he was using it as his main opening. Since I often play systems with P-K4 followed later by P-KB4 (KID, Botvinnik English system), I thought why not reverse the order? I lost to George Fischer on my first and last outing.