Sunday, December 30, 2007

Alekhine's Gun Finally Backfires

The third time was the charm. In my last two games featuring a tripling of the heavy pieces, the gun has worked for me although there were anxious moments that my opponent could have taken advantage of. In this game, I was on the barrel end, but luckily, this time, the finger in the barrel trick worked.

You'll notice that Elmer Fudd is dressed as a bunny and it's Bugs who's getting the brunt of the blast. I could only find this picture on the web in which the roles were reversed after Fudd had a mental breakdown, perhaps after playing too much chess.

Traditionally, Alekhine's gun has the queen behind the two rooks (shotgun shells). I have taken liberties with the definition of Alekhine's gun in that the queen hasn't always been behind the two rooks, which is also the case in this game where the queen is in the middle. I found a way to take advantage of the fact that the queen makes poor ammunition.

My opponent played well, avoiding mistakes for well into the game. But at the critical moment, when the game was building to exf4, he made a succession of mistakes that played right into my advantage.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

TPS Report #11

Following my 2,834th problem on Chess Tempo, raised my Standard rating up to 2166 (83.54% correct, #8 on the rankings), including the last 45 in a row correct. Blitz remains at 2500 (67.25%).

Did a few more problems on GM-RAM and learned a lot about #50, a RP v. R ending that doesn’t fall into the mold of Philidor or Lucena. Annotated my two losses from the December swiss.

Played some 5’5” blitz on, winning 10 and losing 1 against 1639 average opposition, propelling my rating from 1691 to 1795.

Didn’t crack Nunn’s Understanding Chess Move By Move. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I may have a one-lane highway already.

I’ve been neglecting openings preparation. It’s hard to look at the same positions over and over and maintain my memorization of them, knowing that there’s only a small percentage chance that the opening will present itself. However, the neglect leads to a confidence hit at the start of the game that sometimes is difficult to recover from.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Philidor Gone Awry

I was working on a rook endgame position, specifically GM-RAM #50, and discovered that I really didn't know very much about rook endgames. Here is the position.

Black to move and draw.

This position is not technically a Philidor rook draw, but it is perhaps a cousin. Black should have his rook at a6, preventing the king and pawn from getting to the sixth rank. The solution to Black obtaining a draw is 1...Re1! Black allows White to kick his king around to f7, where it will cooperate with the rook to blockade e6. 2.e6 [ 2.Ke6 Kf8 3.Rh8+ Kg7 4.Ra8 Re2 ( 4...Rb1 5.Ke7 Rb7+! 6.Kd6 Rb6+!) 5.Kd6 Kf7! 6.Ra7+ Ke8 7.Ke6 Kf8=] 2...Rd1+= A regular Philidor position. Black will unceasingly harass White's King unless it gets too close in which case it will go back to e1 to harass White's pawn.

The interesting stuff came when I made Black miss the first move. What if Black tries to use the long side defense with 1...Ra1??

White to move and win.

Black has pinned his hopes on checking the White King laterally with a sufficient three-square distance from the pawn so that the White King will get caught out of position if it tries to approach the rook. However, White has a forcing variation that wins clearly.
White checks twice (like Santa) and moves into a queening position. 2.Rh8+! Kf7 3.e6+! Kf6 (3...Kg7 4.e7! Ra6+ 5.Kc5+-) 4.Rf8+ Kg7 5.e7+-.

If Black checks at g6, White gets the King and Pawn both on the 6th rank, threatening checkmate. 1...Rg6+??

White to move and win.

Creating mating threats against your own king is hardly ever advisable. 2.e6 Kf8 3.Kd7 Kg8 4.Rh1 Rg2 5.Rd1 Re2 6.e7 Kf7 7.Rf1+ Kg7 8.e8Q+-

1...Rd1+?? opened my eyes to my ignorance.

White to move and win.

I know that White should play 2.Ke6! so that the king hides behind its pawn and threatens checkmate. 2...Kf8 But how many of you know the next move after this?

White to move and win.

White plays two rook moves in a row, with the first designed to get the Black King to commit. 3.Rf7+!! Black must now choose between Kg8 and Ke8.


White to move and win.

4.Ra7! Kd8 5.Ra8+! Kc7 6.Ke7 Rd7+ 7.Ke8 Rd1 8.e6 Rh1 9.Ra7+ Kd6 10.e7 Rh8+ 11.Kf7 Rh7+ 12.Kf6 Rh8 13.Kg7 Rb8 14.Kf7 Rh8 15.e8Q+-

3...Kg8 Here's another move that might be hard to find.

White to move and win.

4.Rd7!! ( 4.Rc7?! doesn't lose the win, but it's a looping detour that must return through Rd7. 4...Kf8 5.Rf7+ ( 5.Rc8+ Kg7 6.Rc7+ Kf8 7.Rf7+)) 4...Re1 bringing us to one last diagram.

White to move and win.

5.Kf6! Two more times in this line, White's King makes a triangulation maneuver. Rf1+ 6.Ke7! Ra1 7.Rd2 Rd3 and Rd4 are also okay. 7...Ra7+ 8.Kf6! Rf7+ 9.Ke6! Triangle #2 Rf1 10.Ra2! Kg7 11.Ra7+! Kf8 12.Ra8+! Kg7 13.Kd6 Rd1+ (13...Kg6 14.e6 Rd1+ 15.Ke7 Rh1 16.Ra2 Rh7+ 17.Kd8 Rh8+ 18.Kd7) 14.Ke7! Triangle #3 Rb1 15.e6 Rb7+ 16.Kd6 Rb6+ 17.Kd7 Rb7+ 18.Kc6 Re7 (18...Rb1 19.e7+-) 19.Kd6! Rb7 20.e7 Rb6+ White can chase the Black rook now and when the checks run out, e8Q wins.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

TPS Report #10

Wow, ten reports already. It’s been all Chess Tempo lately. Made a couple more milestones. After my 2,670th problem, raised my Standard rating to 2101 (82.85% correct, #9 on the active rankings). Blitz remains at 2500 (67.25% correct). Got 40 in a row once and 48 of 50 again. I think instead of Nunn’s 110 Greatest or Dvoretsky, I’ll try cracking Nunn’s Understanding Chess Move By Move. My thinking is lacking in depth lately, so maybe Nunn will remind me that there are plans and then there are correct plans.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Squirrely Dream

I had a dream (not really) last night that a man in a purple top hat showed me to a room with about a hundred tables. It was full of oversized squirrels - not human-sized, but about toy poodle sized, very much like the trained nutcracking crew in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who threw Veruca Salt down the nut hopper. The squirrels were all paired up at the tables and they were playing chess. When I looked more closely, the squirrels all had a faraway look in their eyes as if they were blind. And the pieces were not pieces, but they were various-sized acorns. So they were playing blind, announcing the moves to each other, creating a general murmur. When one of them made a capture, they would say the move in a voice loud enough to rise above the murmur so that the nearby tables could hear. "Knight takes pawn on e5!" Everyone would shout in unison, "Ole!". And the squirrel who made the capture would eat the acorn that they took off the board.

Perpetual Class D/Class E player Norm Wyatt has been enjoying some remarkable success in the latest tournament at the chess club. I've lost count of how many times I've seen Norm snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But in this tournament, he's 3.0/3 against a 1640, a 1551, and a 1648, giving him a performance rating of a whopping 2013(!) and a ratings boost of +192 points (!!), from 1295 to 1487. The win expectancy calculates that he should have only managed 0.423 points so far, less than one draw. The regular rating adjustment was +106 points, but the bonus calculation went wild at +86. Even if he loses his final round 4 game, he should stay above 1400. I think this is the first time Norm has been in Class C since 1995 when he was provisionally rated.

I hope everyone agrees that chess is ludicrously difficult enough to humble maybe all but the most egomaniacal grandmasters. When it comes to chess, we're all a bunch of blind squirrels. When one of us finds an acorn, we all should rejoice. Ole, Norm!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Old Familiar Pain

She gave a kiss to me as I got out
And I watched her drive away
Just for one moment I was back at school
And felt that old familiar pain
As I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain.

I’m going to indulge in some holiday morosity, so if you only want happy thoughts, I suggest you move on to someone who won his game last night. I was surprised to learn of the passing of Dan Fogelberg this week at the age of 56 from prostate cancer. The lyrics above are the end of his ”Same Old Lang Syne”, a bittersweet holiday reunion and remembrance of love’s loss.

My game last night brought back that old familiar pain that I’ve got no game. I played Nathaniel Garingo, the player I predicted would be the next master of our club. However, Nathaniel has been taking a beating from Kevin Gafni, the player I predicted would be the next expert of our club.

I could bring up a lot of excuses, such as how before the round I as TD had to deal with my own version of Toiletgate, or how I had been at work for 35 of the previous 56 hours and been on call for the other 21. But my underdeveloped defense mechanisms prevent excuses from being much help. Stark reality is my comfort food. This loss hurts because it reminds me of the dark period of my slump before the Western States Open. Where is my mojo? I haven't been tactically strong lately so I had taken refuge in the thought that I’m strong positionally, but the other experts in the club have been out-Petrosianing me. My opening repertoire is admittedly very narrow, but it apparently also has the advantages of being inaccurate and weak. Opening knowledge, tactics, and positional sense. Kingside, queenside, and center. I was defeated on all fronts. Sigh. I’ve got some wound licking and soul searching to do before the Expert Championship.

We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to time
Reliving in our eloquence
Another auld lang syne...

This toast is for you, Dan.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

TPS Report #9

I reached the #1 most active solver by midnight of both December 18th and 19th, mostly by flying through problems in Blitz mode. After finishing my 2,521st problem on Chess Tempo, pulled my Standard rating up to 2080 (82.24% correct, 12th highest active Standard rating) and my Blitz rating up to 2500 (67.25% correct). In Standard mode, my best streak is now 39 consecutive correct with 48 of the last 50 correct (96%!).

I think the two versions of solving, Standard and Blitz, train two Components of Chess Capability (CCC) in Rolf Wetzell’s Chess Master At Any Age. Blitz revs up my Mental Clock Rate, while Standard forces me to accurately stress my Ability to Project Positions (APROP). If you haven’t tried Wetzell’s method, I would highly recommend it. Some of the recommendations seem quaint, like making hundreds of custom flashcards. I actually made about 75 flashcards using a program I wrote in C#.NET, but I haven’t used it lately.

I routinely run my time over five minutes on Standard just to get a problem right. I think this is important to improve my tolerance for frustration. It’s been all too easy to let my inner sloth take over, give up on a problem/study/position analysis, and go straight to the solution. Instead, I feel like I’m working my tenacity muscles. I guess Wetzell would equate this to On-line Toughness.

So there you have it. Chess Tempo trains you on three levels to improve your Mental Clock Rate, your Ability To Project Positions, and your On-line Toughness. Three-for-one training to kick your game into gear the Wetzell way.

Now if I could just find a few more extra hours to study my openings, master games, and endings, and play some slow chess, I could call my training program comprehensive.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Mark Twain has a classic short story entitled “Luck” in which a simpleton becomes a celebrated captain of the Crimean War.

Of all the games there are to divert ourselves, two-person board games seem to be the ones that have extinguished all factors of luck. There are no dice to roll or randomly distributed cards to be dealt. The information about what pieces are where is all there for the chess player to evaluate. Except for a clock and the occasional intrusion of TDs and spectators, it’s a pure contest of skill, mano a mano. Yet, there are limitations of these human minds and bodies that allow oversights. It is the uneven distribution of these oversights among chess players and their opponents that revives the concept of luck. Savielly Tartakower once said, “The player who plays best in a tournament never wins first. He finishes second behind the guy with the most luck.”

I suppose on balance, I have been more lucky than unlucky, but here are two lightly annotated games that illustrate my extremes of fortune.

In the final round of the 1994 Mid-America Class Championships, I was at 3.0/4 in the Class A section after two draws and two wins. I arrived about 10 minutes late to the round and went to my board upon which White had made the move 1.e4. The clock had ticked off 10 minutes of my time. But my opponent wasn’t present. So I made my move, punched the clock, hung my sweatshirt on my chair, and retreated to a vantage point so that I could get a drink of water and watch my board. About five minutes ticked off White’s clock before he returned and realized the game had started and so we shook hands and both sat down and played the game. I ended up defending an ugly broken pawn structure from the Black side of a Morra Gambit. I think the Najdorf also tends to get doubled f-pawns and an open g-file. Around move 30, we were both in time trouble, leading to bad moves. Ironically, had we both sat down on time, we would each have had a better cushion of time near the end.

As you see, first I outplayed him then blundered. Then he missed a crushing mating combination. I was barely holding my position together with shoelaces and chewing gum, when he blundered horribly. In my waning seconds, I found the killer move, 34.Rxh3+. Rather than playing on, my opponent sat there and dejectedly let his clock run out. Another Tartakower saying goes, “The winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake.” I tied for 3rd through 6th and won $150, which was at the time my biggest chess payday.

The next game features the player I consider my nemesis, Terry Alsasua. We have met twelve times in which I won two out of the first three, only to lose seven out of the next nine with two draws mixed in. He’s gotten the better of me in two Expert Championships and one Club Championship. Terry’s the Moby Dick to my Captain Ahab, the Peyton to my Eli, the Kirk to my Khan. This was game 6 of our series, the first of the Expert Championship games in 2006.

Here I outplayed him, earned two pawns to the good including an advanced, protected passer, owned most of the center and open lines, and had his king on the run, but then blundered horribly from a win to a draw. But the shock was so great that I resigned in a drawn position. This is one of the worst blunders you can make, second only to resigning in a won position. I know this link is probably old news, but I can't resist my own lead in by saying everyone has bad days.

Caissa giveth and she also taketh away.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My Chess Career

Lately I’ve been seeing chess autobiographies, namely chessboozer and Tim Krabbe (or in the zip archive), so I’ll take my turn at it.

My dad taught me the moves when I was about ten years old. Then he proceeded to win game after game until the tears in my eyes obscured my view of the board. A few years later, I joined the chess club in sixth grade and played first board for my team at state. I think my success at the scholastic level was attributable to the fact that I was very cautious. I also played in the individual Oregon State Championship and finished tied for second among sixth graders. In seventh grade, I lost badly at regionals in one of the few games I remember from that era. I played black in 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 g6? 3.Qxe5+ followed by 4.Qxh8 and quickly went down to defeat. Also in seventh grade, I discovered computers and that scholastic chess players really didn’t have a chance against them, so I gave up the game for a while. In ninth grade, there was a chess club, but we really only had one tournament in which I lost to the eventual winner.

There was a long hiatus until junior year in college when my buddy and I decided to have a one-move-a-day game. I went to a bookstore and discovered they have books to help you improve your chess. My first book was MCO-12 edited by Walter Korn. From then on, I was hooked on chess and chess books. I studied the books and soon my friends no longer were within my league. Still, I remember a 1500-rated tournament chess player coming over to play me. He was bored between moves while I analyzed simple counting procedures (I take him, he takes me, I take him, he takes me). Simple exchanges of two pieces on each side took forever for me to count. I think this didn’t improve until a couple years later when I began to play blitz.

A year after I bought that first chess book, in January 1991, I played my first tournament chess in the Chicagoland Chess & Games club. I lost my very first game to a 1500 player but went on to win the next three games against 1100, 1488, and 1617 and I took the third place trophy for that small tournament. My first rating was 1641. After dipping down into 1549, my rating steadily climbed until by April 1993, it was 1832. (Not coincidentally, I almost failed out of school that year). My motto then was “2000 by the year 2000”.

My most fun tournament was the 1991 Evanston Fall Open, when I was rated at my nadir of 1549. In a 5-round swiss, I beat a 1711, beat a 1900, drew a 1954, beat a 2235, and lost to a 2147. Afterwards, I learned that the 2235 was really just a TD-assigned rating for an unknown, unrated, foreign player. He eventually was rated about 2000, but even with that correction, my performance rating was still 2100.

One of my best tournaments was the 1993 Illinois Open after I had just broken into Class A with a rating of 1832. I beat 2152-rated Erik Karklins, and then I beat 2227-rated Kevin Bachler. In round 3, I made it to a drawn queen ending against 2403-rated Andrew Karklins (Erik's son), but blew my draw right after time control. My first three rounds’ games are contained in the ChessBase 2003 Big Database. I finished by losing to a 2137 and then beating a 2045 for my highest performance rating in a swiss of 2273.

One of my luckiest tournaments was the 1994 Mid-America Class Championships. Against my fellow Class A’s, I went D-W-D-W-W for a performance rating of 2154. The final round is a story unto itself which I plan to tell soon. My score of 4.0/5 was good enough for 3rd-6th place in the 60-player section and won $150 which was my biggest chess payday until 2004.

In the 1998 Gresham Open, I started with a pre-tournament rating of 1986. I beat a 1326 and then a 2316, which remains my biggest scalp to date. I should have withdrawn right then because I proceeded to lose the last three games (castle long) to a 2230, a 1584, and a 1599. But it would have been hard to withdraw with 2.0/2. Transiently, my rating was over 2000, so I count that as having reached my goal of “2000 by the year 2000”. More career and family changes and suddenly, I had been a Class A player for a dozen years, 1993-2004.

In the spring of 2004, I played in the Far West Open. In round 3, I won my Two Towers game against a fellow club member, but I went on to castle long again in the final three rounds. The tournament organizer asked me to put together the games bulletin which I duly did, putting far too much work into it, but also learning a few things in the process. I’d like to say that the bulletin work allowed master level chess to seep into my subconscious and affect my game in ways that I didn’t understand. From June 24, 2004 until February 13, 2005, I went on a 40-game no-loss streak, winning 29 and drawing 11 against competition with a rating range of 750 to 2204 with an average rating of 1696.

In the fall of 2004, I tied with one other player for first atop the 77-player Class A section of the Western States Open. I had five wins and one draw, beating both #1 and #2 on the rating chart with black. I took the 1st place trophy on tiebreaks and won $1,087.50.

That was the pinnacle of my chess career. The USCF assigned a floor that prevents my rating from going below 2000. I have mixed feelings about the floor. It is true that I deserved the floor based upon the USCF rules as written back in 2004. Since that time, they have changed it so that winning $2,000 is now the trigger for a rating floor that protects other players from you sandbagging into too much chess money. The floor takes away quite a bit of rating risk. But without the danger and the hunger, perhaps some edge has left my game. Is reward without risk really a reward?

The past three years have been about trying to find my footing among experts. You may envy my rating starts with a ‘2’, but I am here to say it’s no picnic. People at this level are really hard to beat. It’s gotten so that I have been in some bad slumps lately. In “Searching For Bobby Fischer”, Josh Waitzkin’s mother and father argued about Josh being caught in a vicious cycle of a slump that caused fear that in turn caused more losses. I have been AFRAID that I’ve already reached my peak and all I’ve got to look forward to is the slow decline of age. I have been afraid that those young kids and up-and-comers with their low ratings will humiliate me. For Class players, playing an Expert might have an “intimidation power”, but in the end, being beaten by an Expert is no big deal. From where I’m standing, the Class player’s rating has “upset power”. Josh Waitzkin’s character said, “If I win, they’ll say ‘Well of course he won. He’s the top ranked player.’ But if I lose…”

I both envy and admire the lower rated players. I envy them because they must really have an unabashed love of the game that goes beyond the ego of high ratings. I also envy the chances they have of upsetting higher rated players like I used to in my Class C days. I admire them when they demonstrate the fortitude to soldier on through the continual beatings in the hope that they’re actually learning something and getting better. I hope it doesn’t sound condescending, but I want to say to them, “Sail on, dreamers. We all need a little unfounded hope sometimes to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.”

Monday, December 17, 2007

TPS Report #8

After finishing my 1,839th problem on Chess Tempo, pulled my Standard rating up to 2049 (81.27% correct, 13th highest active Standard rating), at one point getting 31 in a row correct. #12 and #11 are only 30 and 44 points away, but to break into top ten, I have to get 135 more points. I’ve struggled to stay near the mid-2000s, as you can see in the big crater on my uphill slope of progress.

Annotated two of my three club games since the Western States.

Did only one Perfect Your Chess exercise, #8 and totally missed the point. On the other hand, I mostly nailed an exercise in a book at the bookstore that I forget the title of.

Haven't looked at any master games lately. Perhaps will shift to trying to understand masters who currently play openings I'm interested in.

Haven't looked at GM-RAM or Chess Endings, but at least I did some analyses of other endgames.

Haven't kept up with Dvoretsky.

Two Dogs Can't Overcome Stupidity

Lest it look like I'm starting to repeat myself, the title is a modification of my earlier post on a two bishops versus rook endgame. This time it's one of my own games where I put a lot of unfounded faith in my two bishops and began playing recklessly. Funny, two other Reno bloggers, charging king and pale rider (now Shoemaker's Hidden Study) blogged of loss of concentration.

George and I have played each other 24 times now with 2 draws and 22 decisive games. I currently have the edge with 12 wins to his 10. But he's got the latest shot, good revenge for my previous win.

I don't want to take away any due credit from George. When the position called for good moves, he made them. But he was the first to point out that I had beaten myself and it wasn't until I went back to look at the turning points that I clearly saw my stupidity.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Crush Your Enemies

The Year: 1982.
The Movie: Conan the Barbarian

In the opening credits: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” – Fredrich Nietzsche

In this game, I got the worse of the early opening through a major inaccuracy. When he had me at a disadvantage, my opponent let me off the hook and spared me an untimely demise. I consolidated my advantage and ultimately made him pay in the end. It's a stretch, but for my notes, I wished to equate this game to the struggle between Conan and Thulsa Doom.

Mongol General: Conan! What is best in life?
Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women.

Pressing your advantage is part of the technique of crushing your enemies. Because I won the isolated pawn, Black retreated whenever there were exchanges offered. In the ending, Black's rook could never really get active while my king and extra pawn steadily advanced.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Computer Tutorial

Since chessloser mentioned me in his latest post, I decided to do a quick-and-dirty tutorial for how I use my ChessBase 8 and Fritz 8 software.

When I get home after a tournament game, I almost immediately power up ChessBase 8 and enter the entire game into my Tournament database. A long time ago, I created this database by using File->New->Database and naming the database "Tournament".
Since my database already exists, I double click on it to open it and it lists every one of my 369 rated games. With the Tournament database open, I click the checkerboard button near the top of the window to signal the entry of a new game, my 370th game. By clicking and dragging pieces , I put all the moves of the game in and then save it using the Save button . I enter all the game data into the pop-up form and click OK.

Now here comes the fun part. I click the analysis button which is a computer chip with an exclamation point on it in ChessBase 8, six buttons to the right of the aforementioned Save button. I have Fritz 8 as my default best analysis engine. Then I replay through all the moves of the game, pausing at each position long enough to watch Fritz crunch its analysis for about 1 minute or two.
It takes some practice to read the data, but learning Fritz's language is well worth it since it's almost like having an International Master in your back pocket to tell you how your position could best have been played.

The lines are usually ranked from best to worst based upon what the engine has determined in the time allotted. Here, the #1 line shows a -+ winning advantage for Black, quantified as -1.59 pawns (negative means Black is ahead, positive means White is ahead) which is arrived at if Black starts by playing 4...Nxe5. If somehow, Black decides to play line #2, 4...Bc5, then White has a slight advantage += of 0.48 pawns. Numbers with magnitude between -0.5 to +0.5 mean that the position is close to equal. Numbers with magnitude greater than +2.0 or -2.0 mean that one side has a winning advantage. Large swings of 1.5 pawns from one move to the next are serious mistakes and swings of greater than 3 pawns are essentially blunders. Fritz shows alternatives that may or may not match what was played in the game. The #1 variation often makes it into my notes while I'm annotating.

I usually manually go to the branch point and drag the alternative move in. The program will ask if I'm trying to enter a New Variation, enter a New Main Line, Overwrite the current line, or Insert . I choose New Variation. If you right click on a line of the computer evaluations and choose Copy to notation, ChessBase will insert the variation into the game notation. In the Game notation window, you can right click and add text to help add English notes to the chess notation and make it more meaningful to you and any potential readers. After I mark up the game with my annotations, I use the Replace Game button so that I don't get two copies of the game in my Tournaments database.

I have found that this has made me a little lazy in analysis, but the exercise provides a gold standard of a strong player (Fritz) against which you can compare your game thought processes against. If you are organized enough, Fritz can help you figure out what's going wrong in your openings. Fritz does have weaknesses, though. "Positional compensation" is a difficult concept to make a computer understand. The Halloween Gambit in the example above isn't outright losing, but it is probably unsound.

Many of the software clients for the internet chess servers log the games in a PGN file that can be opened by ChessBase. If you are hardcore enough to analyze your internet games, they've already been entered and stored somewhere; you just have to find the file and have the diligence and patience to watch Fritz find the good variations that were missed during the games.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Favorite Movie Lines About Chess

Here are some lines from two of my favorite movies, Searching for Bobby Fischer and The Shawshank Redemption.

Bruce Pandolfini: What is chess do you think? Those who play for fun or not at all, dismiss it as a game. The ones who devote their lives to it, for the most part, insist it’s a science. It’s neither. Bobby Fischer got underneath it like no one before him and found at its center…art.
Bruce Pandolfini: I want back what Bobby Fischer took with him when he disappeared.
Fred Waitzkin: You wanna know how good he is? I’ll tell you how good he is. He is better at this than I have ever been at anything in my life. He is better at this than you’ll ever be at anything. My son has a gift. He has a gift. And once you acknowledge that then maybe we’ll have something to talk about.
Josh Waitzkin: If I win, everybody will say, “Well, of course he won. He’s the top ranked player.” But if I lose…
Josh Waitzkin: Maybe it’s better not to be the best. Then you can lose, and it’s okay.
Vinnie: Your teacher, huh? Well, forget it. Play like you used to, from the gut. Get your pawns rolling on the queenside. Come and get me. See, he didn’t teach you how to win. He taught you how not to lose. That's nothin’ to be proud of. You’re playin’ not to lose, Josh. You’ve got to risk losing. You’ve got to risk everything. You’ve got to go to the edge of defeat! That’s where you want to be, boy. On the edge of defeat!
Josh Waitzkin: You’ve lost. You just don’t know it. Take…the…draw.
Asa Hoffman: Look at that. I got him thinking. I got him thinking. Maybe I can win a pawn.
Jonathan Poe: Trick or treat.

--Searching For Bobby Fischer

Red: (playing checkers) King me.
Andy: Chess, now there’s a game of kings. Civilized, strategic…
Red: …and a total f**kin’ mystery. I hate it.
Andy: Well, maybe you’ll let me teach you someday.
Red: Heh. Sure.
Andy: I’ve been thinking of getting a board together.
Red: Well, hey you’re talking to the right man. I’m the guy who can get things, right?
Andy: We might do business on a board, but I want to carve the pieces myself. One side in alabaster, the opposing side in soapstone. What do you think?
Red: I think it’ll take years.
Andy: Well, years I’ve got. What I don’t have are the rocks. Pickings are pretty slim in the yard. Pebbles mostly.

Red: The man likes to play chess. Let’s get him some rocks.
--The Shawshank Redemption

I've started to mentally compile a list of movies that contain a reference to Mark Antony's speech in Julius Caesar where he says, "Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war!" So far I have:

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - spoken by King Theodred.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - spoken by General Chang
Evil Dead III: The Army Of Darkness - spoken by the Deadite Captain

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

TPS Report #7

After finishing my 1287th problem on Chess Tempo, pushed my Standard rating up to 2002 (accuracy 78.93%) which is #17 on the list of top active Standard ratings, and my Blitz rating up to 2389 (accuracy dipping to 68.53%). Only 182 more points to go to get to the top 10.

Finished annotating all six games of WSO2007.

Not sure what I'm going to do about my opening repertoire for the upcoming swiss. I feel like I'm calculating better, but I still feel unprepared for the phase-by-phase concentration of quiet moves punctuated by tactical explosions.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Minority Report

Back when Tom Cruise’s career wasn’t in freefall, he starred in a weird futuristic crime thriller called Minority Report. Cruise played a detective in an advanced “pre-crime” task force whose secret weapon was a group of three tank-immersed psychic “pre-cogs”. A computer recorded the pre-cogs’ dreams of homicides before they would happen and Cruise would spring into action to prevent the crime. The title’s obscure reference was when one of the pre-cogs didn’t agree with the other two on how the crime went down.

In some ways, watching how a game of chess develops is like trying to solve a crime before it happens. Based upon a lot of information available in the position, players calculate variations that are good, bad, and indifferent to their goals. If there is a “best play” line and both players are good enough to find their moves, the future position is fairly predictable. If your calculation is accurate, there will be action between certain pieces (suspects) on certain squares (scene of the crime), and hopefully after you solve the crime in advance of its happening, the evaluation will be in your favor.

Last Thursday, two endgames at the club boiled down to pawn minorities triumphing, endings that completely took me by surprise. In the first ending, two pawns beat three, but the player with the new queen gave up trying to beat the last knight and two pawns, so he agreed to a draw. In the second endgame, two pawns beat five.

(106) Fleming,G (1884) - Filipas,M (1610)

Sweet November (4), 29.11.2007

White has the advantage of the outside a-pawn, but Black has the advanced d-pawn.1.Kd4?= The juicy targets lined up on f5, g5, and h5 are too difficult to resist. [ 1.Nb3! Grant told me he had seen this move, but was annoyed that Black can ignore it since Nxc5 loses to d2. However, the move is useful for some tactics on f5. 1...Kd6 ( 1...Ne6 2.g3 f4 3.g4 hxg4 4.hxg4 Nc5 5.Nd2 Kd6 6.Kd4 Kc6 7.Ke5 Kb5 8.Kf5 Kxa5 9.Kxg5 Kb4 10.Kxf4 Kc3 11.Ke3) 2.g3 h4 3.gxh4 gxh4 4.Kc3 Ne6 5.Kxd3 Nf4+ ( 5...Ng5 6.Nd4 Kc5 7.f4 Nxh3 8.Ke3 Kd6 9.Nxf5+) 6.Kc4 Nxh3 7.Nd4 f4 8.Kb5 Ng5 9.Nf5+ Kc7 10.Nxh4 Kb7+/=] 1...Kb5 2.a6 Nxa6 3.Ke5?! [ 3.Kxd3 Kc5=] 3...Kb4 4.Kxf5 Kc3

White to move and draw

5.Ne4+?-+ [ 5.Nf1!= Kc2 6.Kxg5 Nc5] 5...Kc2! 6.Kxg5 White now has a three to two pawn advantage and the knight seems to blockade the pawn. [ 6.Ng3 Nc5 7.Nf1 Kd1! 8.Ne3+ Ke1 9.Nc4 Nb7! 10.Ke4 Nd6+ 11.Kxd3 Nxc4 12.Kxc4 Kf2-+; 6.Nd6 Nc5!] 6...Nc5! 7.Nxc5 [ 7.Nf2 d2 8.Kxh5 Nd3-+] 7...d2 8.Ne4 d1Q 9.Kxh5 Qf1 10.g4 Qxf3 11.Ng5 Draw eventually agreed. 1/2-1/2 I hate knight endings.

(109) Parreira,D (1370) - Hall,A (1585)

Sweet November (4), 29.11.2007

White has three extra pawns and a very well-placed knight helping to make a giant wall against the Black King's incursion. Black has two advanced pawns and a fairly active knight supporting them.1...d2+ 2.Ke2 Bh5+ 3.f3 e3 4.Bb3 seeking to undermine the support of the pawns. However White's plan is shallow. [ 4.Nf5! Although the beautiful blockade is released, this plan would have made the win much safer and clearer. 4...Kc6 5.Nxe3 Na5 6.Kxd2 Kxc5 7.Kc3+-] 4...Bf7 Now Black has a counterthreat. If there is a trade, the White King has to retreat to d1. The knight at d4 prevents Bb3+ followed by d1Q. 5.Bd1?! This belies the threat White made one move ago. [ Following through with the trade isn't so bad. 5.Bxc4 Bxc4+ 6.Kd1 Bd3 White's King and Knight are virtually paralyzed, but the White pawns can start a full court press. 7.g4 Kc7 8.f5 Kd7 9.g5 Bc4 10.a5 Kc7 11.g6+- ] 5...Nb2 6.Nf5?? White loses the game to a fairly straightforward combination of capture, check, promote. 6...Nxd1 7.Kxd1 Bb3+ 8.Ke2 d1Q+ 9.Kxe3 0-1

A surprise plot twist. It's too bad for Mr. Parreira who had defeated a player rated 546 points higher than him the previous week and here he was punishing another player 215 points higher. It's easy for me to criticize with my sharp backward vision and my curiously strong arm on Monday mornings, but I guess the moral is that that suspense and surprise plot twists are good for Hollywood scripts, but not good for chess. It's best to try to know the future as well as you can calculate it (see Dan Heisman's Secrets to Real Chess article).

Rated E For Everyone

Since I feel that there is something to be learned in almost any game of chess played, no matter how weak the participants, I'm not surprised that I learned a few things about rook endings from watching and analyzing Soltani-Harrington from Round 4 of Sweet November at the club last Thursday. The ending contained a lot of errors, and I suspected I would find some lessons and amusement in examining the turning points after I got home; I was not disappointed. This ending is rated E for Everyone.

For beginners, there's an elementary rook mate at the end of the game.
For intermediates, there's some instructive tips on handling rooks against pawns trying to queen on both sides and how to win with a bishop pawn against a first-rank defense.
For advanced players and problem solvers, there's a study-like position after Black's 68th move and some sample starting positions for Queen versus Rook.

For starters, here is the study-like position:

White to play and draw. Does White head for d3 or d1?

Here's the game along with my annotations set at their usual maximum verbosity.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Noisy Draw

My sixth round pairing was against a famous youngster in these parts. Last May, there was a story at the CalChess website touting Nicholas Nip as the nation’s youngest expert.

Normally, I would fear losing to a child because of the humiliation factor. Wang summed up the emotional effluvium quite eloquently. But even if I lost this game in a disgusting manner, I had too many endorphins in the tank from my fifth game victory to let it ruin my tournament.

During the game, Nicholas seemed to be distracted by anyone who walked by our board. His eyes were all over the room and he hardly seemed to be concentrating. I shudder to think how much better he could have calculated my destruction had there been no distractions.

Against tournament hall etiquette (there were hardly any active boards around us), we analyzed a little of the opening and late middlegame, but his mom reminded him that they had a long drive ahead, so we wrapped it up. Then Nicholas cutely passed me his scoresheet like a chess professional. I haven’t gotten into this habit at the end of the game because it reminds me of excess paperwork and I’m naïve enough to think that none of my respectable opponents would try to game the system, signature or no signature. But it’s probably a FIDE thing that’s been taught to him as part of the good manners of the game, just like the handshake at the end. So I signed his scoresheet and he gestured as if asking for mine. After a few seconds, I handed him my scoresheet and said something like, “…since you’ll be a famous grandmaster someday.” So I’ve got his autograph. Sigh. In the end, youth must be served and we old codgers got to step aside to make way for them.

Someday, when World Champion GM Nicholas Nip comes back to the Western States Open to do a simultaneous exhibition, people will ask, “Why don’t you play in the simul?” I’ll proudly pull out my signed scoresheet and say, “Don’t need to. When he was ten years old and knee high to a grasshopper, I drew him.”

I had the worse middlegame and mostly escaped by the skin of my teeth in the ending, but I didn’t falter into a completely losing situation. The fact that I had held my own to draw against a rapidly improving youngster enhanced my overall tournament accomplishment. I left the Western States Open thinking that despite my early travails, it had added up to a decent tournament. After castling short, I had scored three points from the last four games. Even including the two losses, I had held my own and rediscovered my ability to calculate. Perhaps not in the magical manic way of my youth, but in a lesser way that was adequate to give me confidence for my next tournament.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

TPS Report #6

After finishing my 1078th problem on Chess Tempo, pushed my Standard rating up to 1909 (accuracy 76.7%), and my Blitz rating up to 2377 (accuracy up to 71.5%). I also got up to second on the 12-hour Activity list as you see. drunknknite has also been there eclipsing me for a while until time ticked his results off the list.

I tried Chess Position Trainer again a couple nights ago and discovered more of its strengths. I put in one of my shorter openings and then went into training mode. It was quite cool how it just popped up random positions from the repertoire so that I would have to use more concentration to evoke the correct move, rather than dully following the thread in ChessBase and thinking, “Yeah, yeah. I know it.” I think I will take the time to input much more of my opening repertoire and try to use it.

Started to annotate Game 6 of WSO.

If everyone at the club is okay with my proposed calendar, then major battles are coming with the class championship in January and February, followed by the preliminaries of the club championship, then there’s Far West Open 2008 in late March, and finally the club championship.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

TPS Report #5

Did another 330 problems on Chess Tempo, pulled my Standard rating up to 1850, and my solving accuracy to 74.3%. I also made it to #2 on the most active in the last 12 hours. The good and the bad are starting to grow on me there, such that I’m getting back that stubbornness that caused me to rack up 10,000 problems on CTS. My longest streak was 27 correct problems. I think the problems on Chess Tempo are sometimes more difficult, not because they’re better problems, but because they’re a little nitpicky as to what is the right move. Some positions are completely winning, but they want you to find the line that mates in 4 instead of 5 moves.

I was going through some old scrap piles and found some old scoresheets. It appears I fibbed about never playing in a CCA event. Back in April, 1993, I played in the Chicago Amateur starting strong with WW, then fading down the stretch with LDD.

Annotated 5th of 6 games from WSO2007. It wasn’t a terribly interesting game, so perhaps I should just skip the quiet games.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Quiet Draw

I had gone out to dinner with a friend from out of town and I had overdone it a little with the caloric intake. I prefer to subscribe to Alekhine’s advice that “During a chess competition, a chess master should be a combination of a beast of prey and a monk.”

My opponent was playing up from his Class A rating. I don’t mind people playing up, but I question the wisdom of it. Does he hope that somehow by jumping into deep waters that he’ll learn how to swim with the big fish? Until a chess player demonstrates that he can dominate in his own section, my revolutionary prediction is that he’s going to get slaughtered playing up, and unless you’re a rapidly improving player (e.g. teenager), there’s going to be very little learning in repeated slaughter. I believe that there’s a certain amount of technique (pressing an edge into a winning advantage, converting the middlegame and endgame advantages, winning the won game, and just overall avoiding mistakes) that chess players ought to learn in playing people below or at their level. Without technique, a chess player’s game is always going to be pretty shaky and subject to sudden reversals. Plus, why not play in your own section in the hope that you’ll win some money?

That being said, I had somehow noticed that my opponent had tied for first in the Class A section in Far West Open 2007, so he had done some “dominating” in his own section and that he might be pretty dangerous. Before our game, I asked him if he was also at 1.0/3 and he said no, he was at 0.5. After drawing me in this game, he withdrew, which surprised me a little. I would think that he scored a moral victory in drawing a higher rated player. If you’re going to play up, I think you should be mentally prepared for bad results. But I can’t really fault him for withdrawing, since I spent the first half of the tournament contemplating withdrawal myself. But I had been getting my head handed to me by my own class of players.

This game wasn’t terribly interesting, but I learned a little about my opening repertoire.