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.