Wednesday, November 16, 2016


After using the search box above, I was surprised to find that none of my posts seems to have ever mentioned SARGON which seems to have been named after Sargon the Great, first ruler of the Akkadian Empire. Incidentally, the Scorpion King played by Dwayne Johnson supposedly arises from the remnants of the Akkadian tribe. I myself didn't play against SARGON, since our family had an Atari computer, but the Atari version has no eponym, so I decided to go with the winner of the first computer chess tournament. At the end of the 1982 Tron movie, the Master Control Program is defeated and he looks like an old man, implying the MCP was layered on top of a core computer chess program. In 6th grade, I played chess and even went to the state chess contest where I placed around a tie for 2-3. In 7th grade, I discovered computers and pretty much gave up chess until college. During the early years of computing, Atari Computer Chess on mere level 3 would be me so consistently that I rage quit chess. These days I have a Kindle with AI Factory's Chess Free on it. At maximum level 12, it is tactical enough that I have to be careful, but the opening book is not so good and there is definitely a horizon effect, so I can find and exploit its weaknesses. Here is the first time I beat it on maximum Level 12. The game is brief enough that following it on your blindfold board could be a nice exercise.

1. e3 {Van't Kruijs Opening} e5 2. Qh5 Nc6 3. Bc4 d5 4. Bb5 Bd6 5. Bxc6+ bxc6 6. Nc3 Nf6 7. Qd1 O-O 8. Nge2 a5 9. O-O e4 10. d3 {If you have never read The Art of Attack in Chess by Vukovic, I highly recommend the chapter on the Classic Bishop Sacrifice. Vukovic analyzes game after game with the standard piece placements and some variations to make the Greek Bishop sacrifice a success. I have only finished one tournament game that had this combination in it though. But it is the stuff of chess artistry that draws us to the game.} 10...Bxh2+ 11. Kxh2 Ng4+ 12. Kg3 Qg5 13. Na4 Nxe3+ 14. Kh2 Qxg2#

Take that, chess computer!

Monday, November 14, 2016


I grew up in the days after Sean Connery, so Roger Moore was my 007. It's strange to see such an enduring character through so many decades. The movies tend to blend together: add one megalomaniac, some femme fatales, big stunts, unusual vehicle chases, and of course, large explosions and you've got a formula for something. The latest installment named Spectre for a many-tentacled crime organization starred Daniel Craig with familiar faces Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient, Harry Potter series) as M, Monica Belluci (Matrix Reloaded) as widow Sciarra, and Andrew Scott (Sherlock) as C. As a piece of octopus evolution, the diagram above was found on a movie site discussing the logo. Perhaps Spectre was a ghost which evolved into an octopus and then into a septopus.

Piece auras are a parallel processing way to think about chess pieces and the force they exert. I once thought of chess pieces as one-dimensional vectors that existed only while I was looking at them, but eventually, I came to see that the aura of a bishop is a diagonal X, the aura of a rook is an orthogonal cross, the aura of a king is a 3x3 square, and a queen's aura is the combination of bishop and rook, an asterisk? Even though the queen's aura is 8-armed, the knight's aura is the one usually likened to an octopus.

This is Chess Tempo #44631. White has just played a2-a3 to shoo away the black queen. One thing to note is that the Nb3 is supported by the pawn on c2, pinned by a black rook battery against white's queen. Further, the white queen and rook are the only pieces on the back rank where the white king would have no escape at the moment. Black's pawns seem too far away to exert any initiative. The black bishop doesn't seem to have any targets. The black knight on e4 is held by the Rc4 laterally and can attack the white Bg3. Further, the rook on e2 is a juicy prize in that it's undefended and it sits on the square of a royal knight fork. From this analysis, I had Qxb3 and Nxg3 as my candidate moves. Now comes the process of calculating forward into the future. Lines: Qxb3 cxb3 Rxc1 Rxc1 Rxc1+ Re1 Rxe1 mate. Qxb3 cxb3 Rxc1 Ree1 - Black is ahead by a minor piece, so he must do better. Qxb3 Rxe4 {distraction} Rxe4 cxb3 Rxc1 Rxc1 - material is even. Qxb3 Rxe4 Rxc2 - Black gained a pawn, White must move his queen. Or maybe there's a hook-and-ladder trick} Re8+ Rxe8 {white queen still en prise and can't capture c2}. So back to Rxc2, maybe Black has more initiative to pursue the back rank mate? CONCLUSION of Qxb3 lines: White can win a pawn and gain initiative on the back rank.

What about Nxg3? Nxg3 axb4 Nxe2+ Kf1 Nxc1 Rxc1 - Black is ahead by a whole rook. Nxg3 hxg3 Qxb3 - Black is ahead by a minor piece. What about hook-and-ladder in this position? Nxg3 hxg3 Qxb3 Re8+ Rxe8 cxb3 Rxc1 Rxc1 - here I think I miscalculated and thought material was even. The Re8+ move didn't gain any knight, but because it had in the line of Rxe4, I thought white had equalized in material. The pieces on the board don't bear that out as the Bg7 is the only minor left. I forgot to check start material and in my mind, somehow, White gained a knight he didn't gain. So I chose Qxb3 and got this problem wrong. Tools: Knight forks, Hook-and-Ladder tricks. Root cause: Losing track of material.

This is Chess Tempo #97479. White has just advanced b2-b4, creating a problem for his Ra1. 1...e4 creates a double attack against Bf3 and Ra1, but 2.dxe4 creates tactical possibilities for White's queen. If 2...Qxa1 3.Qxd7 and White threatens to take the Bf7 or the Pf5 with check while holding d1. At this point I looked for the knight to run and the f3 knight fork looked really good, so 2...Ne5 was the next move. I hadn't looked too carefully and didn't anticipate 3.Qxf4, but 3...Nxf3+ 4.Qxf3 Qxa1 seemed to provide for a durable material advantage. White can try to get a third pawn for the rook with 5.Qxf5+ Bg6 6.Qd7+ Rg7 7.Qd2 but 7...Rd8 brings him to grief because of the weak position of Nd1. Tools: Knight fork, discovery, skewer, consolidation. Root cause: Didn't get it wrong, but should have checked Qxf4.

This is Chess Tempo #165523. I got this one wrong. I spent a lot of time trying to crack open the Black king castled position. Whenever I analyzed h6, I saw g6 with tempo on my queen and pruned the variation. I didn't think to use a broader vision to look at the arrangement of d7 and g8 for a knight fork pattern using Qxd7 and Nd5-f6+. That's the secret to this problem. 1.h6 g6 2.Qxd7 Qxd7 3.Nf6+ Kh8 4.Nxd7. Tools: Knight fork, distraction, pawn lever. Root cause of miss: Failed to see how powerful Nd5 was and how juicy Nf6+ would be.

Sunday, November 13, 2016


Recently, I was lucky to visit Rome, Italy, where I toured the Vatican Museum on my way to view the Sistine Chapel. The collection included many images of Greek gods and demigods. The figure of Hercules was easily recognizable by a trademark huge club.

A few days ago, while browsing Amazon Prime, I came across the 2014 movie "Hercules" starring Dwayne Johnson (Scorpion King, Journey to the Center of the Earth). Other faces I recognized included Rufus Sewell (Dark City) as Autolycus, Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love) as King Eurystheus, Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) as Ergenia, and Christopher Fairbank (The Fifth Element) as Gryza.

Here's a segment of dialog I found amusing:
Iolaus: (showing armor) Linothorax. Hewn from the skin of the Erymanthean boar. It's indestructible.
Man in crowd: Wait. If it's indestructible, how did Hercules cut it off the boar?
Iolaus: He used an indestructible blade

I had previously blogged about this paradox in Juggernaut, but its presentation in a period fantasy made me look up the origins again. Wikipedia indicates some origin in the etymology of the Chinese word for contradictory (maodun) literally written as "spear-shield". In Western culture, Greek mythology has a neat story about the origins of Canis Minor representing the uncatchable Teumessian fox, and Canis Major representing the Laelaps, the infallible hunting dog.

In the many battles, Hercules does mostly use his club, but he uses all kinds of weapons. At one point, he tries to kill the Nemean Lion with bow and arrow, the epitome of finesse and precision compared with the artless bludgeon. Among analysis tools, sometimes brute force is necessary to understand what's going on. Going deep into a position and exploring at least one branch exhaustively is required to see the truth. This is hard to fight through, when laziness and a desire to trust intuition is no substitute for knowing.

Having seen some revival of Temposchlucker's blog, I asked myself the question "How does one see the invisible?". Or in the language of the humble chess student, "Teacher, teach me to see." I don't know that I have any insights, but I'm thinking of this question as I begin to train my calculating ability again on Chess Tempo. For that, I am reviving Wetzell's flash cards and here I'm trying to use the de Groot verbalization to understand how things fall on this or that side of the veil. Probably Dan Heisman has some didactic methods on this. I don't know how to train students. I am just trying to analyze and understand this chaotic mass of thoughts that course through my brain during a game. Maybe it will be useful to someone else.

Agony and ecstasy, breadth and depth. I was ecstatic to find the key to Chess Tempo #162374, but disappointed to miss the follow-up. The problem was depth and my tendency to prune a variation out of laziness or fear. When computers do their brute force, they line up all the first-ply moves and go through every single one of them, no matter how ridiculous. Depending on the algorithm, they evaluate this or that position at this or that time, generate scores and generally make a list with the best variations at the top of the list. Humans shouldn't try to emulate this, but Charles Hertan seems to be advocating for it in his book Forcing Chess Moves. Strong players are known to have great imagination but this is backed up by calculation and the ability to see quiet and unusual moves in the middle of calculation. In this diagram, I see that there is a big focal point on the knight at e5. When the knight is gone, there may be trouble from the Ba1 toward the Qg7. But then I saw that Black's bishops are zeroing in on another focal point at g2 and the white king's castled position. Nxf1 has the potential to threaten mate next move with Qxg2, but Qxf1 balances material and prevents mate. Around this time, I noticed that Ne2 is a royal fork if the Re1 didn't prevent it. Bxe2 sort of prevents the royal fork, but at the cost of Qxg2#. Aha! Maybe my first move is to distract with Rd1! Rxd1 Ne2+ Kf2 Nxf4 is big money (+4 queen for rook). Another good thing about Rd1 is that in the case of Ne5 moves, Qxa1 captures the bishop cut off from Re1. Buoyed by discovery, I played Rd1 without looking for White's next reply. Qc4 was not on my radar at all. If Rxe1 Qxe6+ Kh8 Nf7+ Kg8 Ne5+ Kh8 seemed like a draw, so I chose Bd5 to prevent it. Chess Tempo failed me. Another detail I missed was that now that the Ne2+ fork is not royal, White can play Rxd1 even though his queen is en prise. Bxc4 Bxc4 and material is close to even. I didn't even consider Qxe6+ Kf8. But even when I saw this, I thought Nd7+ Qxd7 Qxd7 was enough to reject it. One additional feature I hadn't factored in was to recognize how close Black was to a mating pattern. Qxd7 allows Rf1+ Kh2 Rh1#. The clogged bishop diagonals are hard to clear when the pieces are in fact gone. Tools: Brute Force, Distraction, Convergences at e5 and g2. Knight royal fork, Mate pattern with knight and rook. Distraction. Root cause of miss: Not recognizing imminent mate for my opponent. Not analyzing daring Kf8 and Qxd7, not recognizing mate.

It was not hard to try the Rxe3+. Forcing moves first. Checks are what we learn to play as children and it's what I usually do when I start calculating. The king can't take the rook since it's guarded by Qf2. What if Qxe3? There's a nice swallowtail mate with Qf5#. Rxe3+ played and correct. So the king is forced to run to d5. How to pursue? Qg2+ seems the only safe way. Played and correct. Queen can't block, so King has to run: d6, c5, and c4. If Kd6, we're going to need backup. The rook doesn't pull its weight back on e3, so probably Re6+. Played and correct. If Kd7 or Kc7, then Qc6+ followed by Re8 is mate. What about Re6+ Kc5? Qc6+ and my queen seems to block the rook from some prime checking squares. But if Rc6+ Kb5 and how do I keep checking while my rook is attacked (more later)? At this point, I concluded that after Re6+ Kc5 Qc2+ was the right way to go, but Chess Tempo gave me the try again message without failing me. Eventually, I came back to this variation and followed Qd5+. This short-distance check had somehow eluded me earlier. What about the variation after Qg2+ Kc5 or Kc4? Qc2+ forces him back the d-file or else White has the heavy roller with Rb3+ and Qa2 mate. Kd6 Re6+ Kd7 Qc6+ Kd8 Re8#. What about Qc2+ Kd5 Qb3+? Kc4 or Kc5 quickly come to grief with Rc3+ Kd6/Kd7 Qe6+ Kd8 Rc8#. Qb3+ Kd6 lasts a little longer Qe6+ Kc5 Rc3+ Kb5 Qc4+ Kb6 Rb3+ Ka5 Qb5# Long variations that I actually broke up during my answer to Chess Tempo. I felt that the long variations helped stretch my calculation muscles, so I had some desire to try to do the whole variation tree in my head from the start position. Tools: Brute Force, Swallowtail mate pattern. Root cause of difficulty: Had trouble spotting a short check.

This is Chess Tempo #152352. Black has terrible problems including an unsafe king at f7 and a loose bishop at c8. However, White needs to be careful because if simply 1...Qxc8 2.Qd1+ Kg2 Qf3+ secures a draw. White's bishop on b2 provides some chance of targeting g7 with a mating net, but variations don't seem to force that to work. 1...Qg8+ 2.Kg6 Rxh6+ goes nowhere and 2...Qh7+ 3.Kg5 seems safe. So the idea seems to be to win the bishop on c8 while avoiding a draw. 1...Rf8+ 2.Kg6 Qxc8 3.Qd1+ Kg2 and the Rf8 stops any perpetual. Tools: Brute Force, Consolidation

Here's Chess Tempo #92458. My concentration flagged after a few plies and I failed to see that a mate was possible. 1.Qh8+ Kf7 2.Qh7+ and Black must block with either bishop or knight. If 2...Ng7 then 3.Bxg6#. After 2...Bxg7 3.Bxg6+ Kf8 and I didn't know where to go next. So I guessed 1.Bxg6 and got it wrong. I forgot to back up and try 2...Bg7 3.Bxg7 Nxg7 4.Bxg6+ Kf8 5.Qh8#. Black can delay a bit with 3.Bxg7 e5 4.Bh6+ Ke6 5.Qxg6+ Nf6 6.Qxf6#. Root cause for miss: Failing to try the 3.Bxg7 branch. Tools: Brute Force.

Monday, November 7, 2016


I'm a sucker for space drama. Recently, I find myself watching and rewatching "Interstellar" and "Gravity". But the original space drama was probably 1968's "2001: A Space Odyssey" directed by Stanley Kubrick. I had watched it as a highschooler and found it quite confusing with long artsy sequences bereft of dialog. When it arrived in my streaming pile a year ago, I tried to watch it again, but Strauss' "Blue Danube" coupled with the slow cinematics put me to sleep about halfway in. This picture is a key moment where HAL9000 eavesdrops on the astronauts plotting against him by reading their lips. Checkmate.

A couple days ago, I resumed watching 2001 and ran into the chess sequence around 1:06:06 where astronaut Frank Poole is playing the ship's computer HAL9000. It's laughable how bad Frank's position is. His queenside is untouched and his queen is the only active piece.

FRANK: Queen takes pawn.(Qxa6)
HAL: Bishop takes knight's pawn.(Bxg2)
FRANK: What a lovely move. Uh, rook to king one.(Re1)
HAL: I'm sorry, Frank, I think you missed it. Queen to bishop's three (Qf3). Bishop takes queen (Bxf3). Knight takes bishop, mate (Nxf3#).

Right after the chess scene, there is a scene in which Dave Bowman is drawing on a sketch pad while walking past cryochambers. The music sounded darned familiar. I googled my hunch and found that someone else noticed that perhaps James Horner "borrowed" music for the opening 2 minutes of "Aliens" from Alex North of "2001." Perhaps this was not so much plagiarism but homage since cryochambers are present in both scenes.

A while back I had a dalliance with Scrabble. At one point, I was trying to memorize various 7-letter combinations, the rack-emptying "bingo" plays that garner 50 bonus points. Scrabble players like to memorize based upon alphabetically arranged tiles:

    ADEIRST permutes into:

I had a mnemonic of a story: In the ARIDEST desert, ASTRIDE his horse, the cowboy regarded this two-faced boomtown in the midst of DIASTER: a raucous DISRATE downtown and a sleepy STAIDER uptown; he dared not pause long as his TARDIES tended to provoke TIRADES from his boss.

My last rated game was a staid draw. Here is the final position (black to play):

In an earlier position, I tried to analyze the tactics and felt rust (black to play):

25...Nf4 26.Nxf4 exf4+ 27.Bd4 Bxd4+ 28.Kxd4 Ne6+ 29.Kc3. After the combination was over, I was disturbed to find an inaccuracy in my analysis. I had thought that Ne6 was necessary to prevent Nxf4 on the next move, but the knight at e2 is gone and the one on f2 needs one tempo to attack it. "I've just picked up a fault in the AE35 unit. It's going to go 100% failure in 72 hours." I chose this quote for the fault part referring to my visualization skills, not for what happens in real life about 72 hours from now. I'm trying to marshal some resources regarding the stepping stones method recommended by a friend from GM Jonathan Tisdall's "Improve Your Chess Now." I guess it's back to the drawing board to plug a hole in my opening repertoire and perhaps begin doing regular tactics again at Chess Tempo.