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.


Eric Shoemaker said...

No real comment here. I hate comedies. Most of us in the Humanities feel 'tragedies' are the superior art form, either in plays or movies. I guess that's why I prefer Shakespeare's tragedies and histories rather than his comedies or romances

oddodddodo said...

What was the time situation in the game against Weikel?

The first winning line is the one I would have played. You've got to recognize pawn on g3, queen on the h-file as a damn near mating pattern for Black, and unless your flag is hanging you should go for it.

Anonymous said...

@Eric: True enough, most of the great quotes I know are from Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. But isn't laughter important to keep our hearts light?

@qxpch: Except for the late hour ~12:30am, time probably wasn't a factor. I had probably 15 minutes to his 10 (orignally 2.5 hours to a side). But at the sloth speed I was calculating, time was disappearing in big chunks from my clock.

Yeah about the g3 plan. I think I forgot that queens are supposed to move quickly and utilizing checks to get there is part of the queen's power. I also seemed to mismanage when to passively protect and when to attack with abandon (I'm thinking of the Qg6 plan to keep the knight away from e6).

Anonymous said...

The short line of f4 is very interesting brief and strong, but the longer line of promoting the pawn is very quiet and makes an interesting study. Your rook is passive and this was probably haunting you the most, but he is doing an important job holding key defensive squares and helping to make some of the white pieces innactive. Here is a possible pespective lens to see out of: it's a queen and two pawns vs. a rook and pawn at move 48 for black thanks to the tactics involved. So the real astonishing thing is move 57 g2! We know that queens and knights can coordinate best and the heavies do a good job, but pawn and queen coordinating perfectly against two rooks, knight outpost and wimpy king? Fritz can still impress me. It's one of those lines that intuition could help with, but is very deep to see the outcome of it under the circumstances.

Unknown said...

Hi Ernie, I agree that laughter is important, but these days, in our society, we laugh at anything stupid or goofy.

Comedy is definitely in need of some 'class.'

The Romances have stepped up though, instead of the garbage seen in soap operas, moves like "When Harry Met Sally" and so forth have improved this art form.

Tragedies and Histories are just more powerful and they strike a cord with the people, because things are not always so great in life.