An unexamined life is not worth living.
Monday, December 31, 2012
Sunday, December 30, 2012
Year by year’s statistics are given, so it is possible to follow development of Karpov’s strength, style and life. All games are very deeply annotated, with links to other related games by our hero – by opening and middlegame themse, so you get a sense of his perspective. The author has written other books about Karpov, so he is quite familiar with material. The only quirk I found was the absence of Opening Index, but that was a pretty minor drawback.
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
In his famous article titled Biculturalism, a famous software “expert” Joel Spolsky asks a rherorical question - “What are the cultural differences between Unix and Windows programmers?” His answer is simple: “for the most part it comes down to one thing: Unix culture values code which is useful to other programmers, while Windows culture values code which is useful to non-programmers.”
Looking at the chess software called SCID I realized that in comparison with other most popular software such as ChessBase, it clearly comes from a different culture. Where it becomes most noticeable is an ability to customize, extend and automate each program.
Customizing ChessBase or ChessBase Light, or Fritz (and same applies to Chess Assistant and Convekta’s tools) – is mostly done via updating shortcuts and moving window layout with a mouse. Customizing SCID is achieved by updating text files on disk or adding sets of images in a different directory. Staying textual is what Joel says is typical for the Unix culture.
Automation is another component where the two differ – automating SCID can be achieved via writing TCL scripts that use a clearly defined interface (API) that has been a natural part of the software's architecture - http://scid.sourceforge.net/doc/progref.html. Nearly everything that is done by the SCID UI goes through the same interface. You can also run SCID without user interface at all, and just use the core system from the command line, as it was clearly intended to be used by a programmer.
Automating FRITZ is only possible by using whatever automation has been provided in the main user interface (so you can print several games at once – that’s the kind of “automation” it mostly provides). Aquarium (another Windows program) at some point added a scripting interface, as the developers realized that a lot of their users would like to extend a tool. However it clearly seemed like like a “slap on” effort and that the original system was not designed for this. Limitations and bugs seemed to be endless – at least that’s the impression I got based on user feedback online.
In the end of day, it is not surprising that Fritz is the most popular chess software while most chess fans have never heard about SCID unless they are using Linux as they are primary operating system. Marketing has a lot to do with it, and so does the slightly strange looking window layout that SCID uses. It is also important to remember that ChessBase’s founder Frederic Friedel was one of the pioneers of chess software from the mid-eighties, so it is only fair that his products succeed.
I do hope, however, that the community behind SCID will continue to grow as there are so many things it can do that many do not realize. Also, in the time of many new platforms emerging very quickly - having something written for a programmer makes it easy to port software, so is not surprising that Apps like SCID on the go become popular and appear for free even before larger software companies find the resources to port their windows oriented programs to mobile (and some of them never do because it is too complicated). Sometimes biculturalism is a good thing!
PS.- “SCID on the Go” UI - ever wonder why the free “SCID on the go” can read SCID’s native database format, and $5 ChessBase on Android (which is wonderful otherwise) – can’t do that for ChessBase format? Might have something to do with the “UI is the most important thing” approach in the original system).
Saturday, December 22, 2012
Here are a few simple combinations from one of the most creative chess players of our time – Alexander Morozevich. These examples are coming from some of the earlier games of his that could be found in a database.
Anokhin, Vladimir -- Morozevich, Alexander, 1991
1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. g3 O-O 5. Bg2 c5 6. d4 d6 7. O-O Nc6 8. dxc5 dxc5 9. Bf4 Nh5 10. Be3 Qa5 11. Nd2 Rd8 12. Qc1 Nd4 13. Re1 Be6 14. Bxb7 Rab8 15. Bd5 Bxd5 16. Nxd5 Rxb2 17. Nxe7+ Kf8 18. Bxd4 Bxd4 19. Nc6 Qxd2 20. Nxd8 Bf6 21. Nc6 Qd7 22. Na5 Qf5 23. Rb1 Bd4 24. Rf1
Kiselev, Sergey -- Morozevich, Alexander, 1992
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Bd3 O-O 6. Nge2 e5 7. O-O exd4 8. Nxd4 Nc6 9. Nxc6 bxc6 10. Bg5 h6 11. Bh4 Rb8 12. Qe2 g5 13. Bg3 Ng4 14. Rac1 Ne5 15. b3 Ng6 16. c5 Be5 17. cxd6 cxd6 18. Nd1 Bd7 19. Ne3 Qf6 20. Bxe5 Nxe5 21. Rfd1 Rfd8 22. Qd2 Be6 23. Bc4 d5 24. exd5 cxd5 25. Bxd5 Rb5 26. Qd4 Rbxd5 27. Nxd5 Rxd5 28. Qxa7 Nd3 29. Rb1 Qf5 30. Qe3 Re5 31. Qb6 Bd5 32. f3 Re2 33. Qxh6
Morozevich, Alexander -- Ivanov, Sergey, 1992
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 Ne7 7. Qg4 O-O 8. Bd3 cxd4 9. cxd4 Nbc6 10. Qh5 Nf5 11. Nf3 f6 12. O-O Bd7 13. Rb1 b6 14. Re1 fxe5 15. Nxe5 Nxe5 16. Rxe5 Rc8 17. Bd2 Qf6 18. c3 Be8 19. Qe2 Bg6 20. f3 Nh4 21. Re1 Bxd3 22. Qxd3 Rfe8 23. Qe2 Qg6 24. Kh1 Kf7 25. g4 h6 26. f4 Kg8 27. f5 Qf6 28. Rf1 Rc6 29. fxe6 Qd8 30. Qf2 Qe7 31. Qf7+ Kh8
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Saturday, October 6, 2012
10 years ago I was actively involved in writing chess articles for Canadian chess magazine (it was called “En Passant” at the time). As I was going through my old articles I started thinking of what changed in the world of chess publishing in the past 10 years:
- Computer engines have become much stronger, so most analysis absolutely must be checked with them
- six piece endgame table bases have been developed, which does have an impact on a lot of my articles – since I focused on endgames
- Paper books is not the only format in which chess materials are distributed. Many chess materials are published as free and commercial videos and on web sites. Ebooks have really taken off with most chess books published today also being available in digital format.
- The way I am creating this blog post is actually by talking into a microphone and then the computer converts my speech into text, even though it does require a lot of correction
- The magazine for which I wrote is no longer sent out by mail to all members of Canadian chess federation and instead is also available online
10 years ago the amount of information available seemed overwhelming, and this is even more true today. Good information and study materials are still in high demand - quality was important 10 years ago and it is still very important now. Reviewing the analysis and commentary that I created 10 years ago it is easy to spot some mistakes, but we do live in a different world today…
Friday, September 21, 2012
In order to improve my time management - I keep track of time I spend on every move during tournament games. Those get scribbled into score sheets by hand and then I enter them into the database by hand together with the moves themselves.
Do I ever look at them again? Not very often until now – having discovered how handy it is to look at this data in SCID score graph, so after converting values into the graph-friendly format, I can see my remaining time visually – from 100 minutes remaining on the clock to 0. I can see that my time took a drive on move 13 or so in a recent game I played.
Clicking on the dot on the graph – I can recall that I was trying to spend some time out of the opening – trying to find a plan, before playing 14… Qe7. Was it justified? Looking at the graph above – probably not.
Monday, September 17, 2012
SCID (also available as “SCID vs. PC”) has a great feature where based on annotated games (that SCID can also do for you) – you can generate evaluation graphs. They are called Score Graph and are available under tools menu.
Clicking on the place in the graph where the evaluation took a dive on move 14, I can find that White just dropped a piece by leaving the bishop unprotected.
In this case this gives me a better picture of the flow of the game than many verbal annotations that often accompany chess games. SCID does it, and not only for the game that you just played, but for any game stored in your database with engine evaluations!
Sunday, August 26, 2012
The book of Vladimir Kramnik’s games published in Russia in the end of the 1990’s was called the “Break”, and for a while it became my constant source of aesthetic pleasure. I did not understand back then why people talk about Kramnik as a boring or even solid player, and still don’t understand it now – from following most of the tournaments where he plays. This is a player with a very dynamic sense of pawn structure and of how pawns and pieces release their power in unexpected (to the opponent) moments of the game.
Merely looking through a collection of his games in B33 ECO classifications I immediately came across several examples (I had known most of them from before, but a couple were new to me!). These games were played against the top players of the world, with good results. While regretting that Kramnik stopped playing the Sveshnikov, I do understand that one has to switch repertoire from time to time – in part to develop one’s style, but also to avoid computer preparation as lines that Kramnik makes popular – get overanalyzed to death and become difficult to play for a win.
Saturday, August 4, 2012
I had liked Jonathan Rowson writing for quite awhile now so I was curious to see what ideas he has to share in his book Chess For Zebras. One interesting idea that drew my attention was that many chess amateurs pursue a lifetime goal of expanding their chess knowledge. Our hope is that this would eventually directly improve our practical strength. In particular I had written a blog post on this exact subject.
Rowson arrives at a similar conclusion to what I implied in my post - chess knowledge and chess skills are two very different things. So rather than trying to memorize as many openings and positional ideas as possible it is much better to spend the same time practicing those ideas. A software application that provides the student with training positions will do more for their positional skill than an abstract collection of ideas that will be simply presented to them as pure facts.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
I picked up the “The Road to Chess Improvement” once again and was struck by a thought that this book’s title may be interpreted as the reader’s road to improvement. That may lead to disappointment as the book does not present the reader with a structured plan of what to do in order to improve their chess. What it actually is is author’s road to improvement. The author documents all the ups and down that he had as a chess player. Those include experiments with different openings and different strategic ideas, as well as playing styles. For example in the beginning of his chess career he did not played many gambits mostly preferring closed openings. That led to his playing style being somewhat limited. Expanding his opening repertoire later on with the openings that involve sacrifices added to his practical strength. It is up to the readers to judge how this applies to their chess path. As for myself, I feel more motivated to look at my own games, realizing that I had spent very little time actually analysing them.
Monday, July 30, 2012
Who said there are no real attractive fans in chess? Moscow 2012, Tal Memorial, Round 8. A picture is worth a thousand words.
I just came across it as I am watching the recorded broadcast of the round months later (around minute 11). Did he notice?
Friday, July 27, 2012
I usually don’t post links to videos that were not created by myself but this video seemed particularly insightful and revealing of how the current chess world champion, Viswanathan Anand approaches opening preparation, memory and computer’s influence on the game
The video may be relevant and of interest not only to chess players but as a chess player, I especially liked Anand’s comment that a few years ago he would trust the computer saying that White is better in a given position, and later as computers get "stronger", he would trust the computer on the updated, completely opposite opinion on the same position. I believe he also implied that a few years later the computer may come up with yet another “true” evaluation. Where that leaves us as chess players is up to you to decide …
He also made a few other comments about his own preparation to tournaments, in particular that a few days before a tournament he would put the computer aside and just study chess with a board, with no engine to rely on being forced to use his own head just like in a tournament situation.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
After a (very) long break, I played in a major swiss chess tournament – Canadian Chess Open 2012 in Victoria. I scored only 50%, which is not too great given that all of my opponents were rated lower than myself. Nonetheless, I truly enjoyed playing after such a long break. Here is what I re-learned about competitive chess yet again:
- Studying chess at home cannot replace regular tournament practice. Practical chess strength needs constant feeding by playing in tournaments
- Opening preparation in large Swiss Events plays a major role. Everyone does it these days! Catch opponent unaware is more important than finding a hole in their old repertoire (they will play something new to surprise you anyway, so you should not expect them to walk the same path as in previous games). This was often an issue for me, where in 3-4 games my opponents served me with opening surprises, or simply remembered established theory better than I did
- Opening repertoire must allow for variety, both to avoid getting surprised, and also to be more flexible and work around opponent’s weak spots
- Getting enough sleep, food, fresh air before the games is quite essential for maintaining concentration during the games
- The tension of a big slow time controls event cannot be compared to a blitz game online, and not even to an unrated rapid one-day Sunday tournament
- Modern time controls don’t allow you to get flagged due to increments, but you only have a chance to think deep a couple of times during the game – choose those moments wisely. Ideally you don’t have to take those deep thinking sessions right out of the opening
- Many players avoid mainline theory in favour of choosing lines that they are familiar with. Here is what those guys played against me in this tournament:
1.e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d3
As Black: 1. e4 b6
- There are a lot of young chess players in BC who need to be watched out for!
- One can lose a lot of rating points in a tournament, and still enjoy the experience!
- Victoria chess organizers take running events very seriously, and want to create the best environment for competitive chess
Friday, May 25, 2012
1) Fight for control over d5 square
2) Pressure on the 'f' file
3) e5-e4 and Ne5 maneuver with kingiside attack
Even a positional giant like Efim Geller struggles to contain Black's active play and ultimately succumbs in time trouble.
Friday, May 11, 2012
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Saturday, April 7, 2012
This blog post is taken from my old article and is intended as continuation of my articles about endings with each side having a rook and a bishop of opposite color, and the article about rook endings with 2 pawns vs. 1. The idea behind these series is the approach that Nimzowitsch used to call "a radioactive method" - selecting a rather narrow topic, and by learning a lot about it, understand chess much better in general. This time I would like to look at endings with rook + knight Vs. rook + knight. This material balance is also a quite frequent guest in tournaments, and some classical ideas and endgames have become well-known. Nonetheless, there is some lack of discussion of this topic in chess literature. Mikhail Botvinnik was well known for his great technique in this type of endings, and I would strongly recommend to the reader to study two famous endgames Botvinnik-Alekhine 1938, and Botvinnik-Levenfish, 1937. Instead of these, I included several less known examples from his career.
32...Rc8 Let's look at a typical game with this material balance. In this position Black is suffering from a bad pawn structure and passive pieces. 33.Re6 Obviously White does not want to trade off his rook - the best piece to collect Black's pawns. [33.Rxc8 ? 33...Kxc8 gives Black a decent position] 33...Rc7 34.a3 !? a useful waiting move; now White can move the N from d3 and attack Pd4 with the King. 34...Ne7 [34...Re7 Black cannot insist trading rooks, as now it would cost him a pawn! 35.Rxe7+ Nxe7 36.Nf4 Nc6 37.Ne6 g6 38.Kd3] 35.Rd6 Nc6 Again, Black has to come back; White's active rook paralyzes his pieces. 36.Nf4 Rf7 37.Ng6
Threatening Rxc6 37...Rc7 38.h5 Pg7 and Pf5 are cut off from each other and White can threaten to pick them up at any point 38...a5 39.Rd5 Rf7 40.Nh4 f4 41.Rf5
Now! White got the pawn structure he wanted (b4 covered, g7 fixed) and himself offers the exchange of rooks. The knight endgame is a nightmare for Black, so keeping the rook is his only chance for any counter play. 41...Rd7 42.Rxf4 d3 Desperate sacrifice. White won in a few moves. 43.cxd3 Nd4 44.b4 a4 45.Ng6 Rd5 46.Rf7+ Ka6 47.Nf4 Rd6 48.Rxg7 Rc6 49.Nd5 Rc2+ 50.Kd1
The game illustrates typical themes for chess endgames with Rook + Knight:
- Pawn Structure - weak pawns are vulnerable
- Active Rook
- Timely Transition into Knight Endgame
Saturday, March 17, 2012
I have always been wondering why many commercial chess programs don’t let me visualize my rating progress from my own database of games, and was glad to find that free chess database software SCID has this feature. Here are a couple of my charts:
The drops usually correspond to times when I had to re-start my ICC account and gradually grow the rating from scratch.
These graphs not only shows periods of rating rise and fall, but also periods of declined activity, not bad at all for a free program! My CFC rating clearly shows that most of my chess growth happened in 1998-2001. That time range coincides to lot of data points, confirming that to improve – you need to play more!
Sunday, March 4, 2012
The chapter on modern approach to gambit play is also quite instructive. It echoes what books by John Watson and Kasparov talk about, except for it was written half a century before them, and should be given proper credit. No wonder that the young Bobby Fischer had lots to learn from this book by Lipnitsky!
As a quick example, I was particularly impressed by Lipnitsky’s explanation of this famous game, that appeared from a common IQP structure:
Botvinnik – Alekhine, 1938
Black to move. His position is strategically very difficult. He ended up losing the game.
I remembered that Black lost because he had troubles preventing White’s invasion on two open files, and that c6 square being weakened was part of the problem. But Lipnitsky explains this connection very clearly: with the pawn back on b7, Black would have been able to play Nb8-c6 and contain most of White’s initiative. As it is, White threatens to invade both to c7 and to e7, and that is too much for him to handle. From my experience, such strategic insights into details of each position are precious, especially if they shed a new light on a well known game.
Friday, February 24, 2012
In this game Kramnik creates an instructive example where knights end up stronger than bishops because they manage to occupy key squares and invade White's weaknesses, especially on the light squares. White's bishops remain passive throughout the game.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
- The Queen + Bishop Battery when Black played h7-h6
- A well-timed pawn break with d4-d5 that decided the game in this case
Monday, February 20, 2012
A few months ago, I watched probably almost 50 hours of Sergei Shipov analysing live (in Russian) the games of the World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk. Was this the best use of my chess study time? Probably not, but I was so fascinated by the drama of the tournament, and Shipov’s skill and dedication as a commentator, that I could not stop watching. Guest commentators included Valery Yoshan, Ian Nepomniachtchi, and Alexander Khalifman and this allowed to also compare how different strong players approach the game. A chess amateur like myself would not be able to tell the difference in strength between all these players, but if you watch them analyse together for few hours, it becomes obvious who is in a better shape, and who has more experience in a variety of middlegame positions.
To reap at least some benefit from it, I made a series of blog posts, but also here is my general observations and notes on interesting things that commentators have said:
- Grandmasters seem to remember an enormous amount of opening theory, but they can surprise each other in every game – in fact they do!
- Khalifman seems to also know every opening in the world (indeed as a player he had a very wide opening repertoire)
- Khalifman seems a bit more careful at evaluating positions than Shipov. Shipov would say “the endgame is winning”, Khalifman says “good winning chances”.
- As you get older, your decisions to take risks on the board are less influenced by the position and more by how you feel today
- Ivanchuk is really tricky when playing against opponent’s time trouble
- Judit Polgar is great at attacking, but is not as good at defending and being careful
- Grandmasters seem to be understanding positions better than IM’s, formulating their assessment of each position much quicker
- In each position, there are a lot of very interesting moves, and one has to have a really good decision process to identify candidate moves, and pick the best ones
- Grandmasters sometimes make moves that are hard to understand, but there is nearly always some idea behind that move
- Ivanchuk’s moves are particularly hard to guess or explain
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
I am now looking back at some of the games I played 15 years ago, and naturally noticing some obvious defects in my play. What seems common sense to me now – was completely unknown to me back then. I had simply not accumulated enough experience to get a sense of those many types of positions. Looking back on my endgame play, it's completely obvious that I was unaware of the subject of weak dark squares, space advantage, how to utilize a pawn majority, the importance of doubled pawns in the ending, etc. In other words I did not know what I did not know! I can only notice those defects in my understanding of chess now looking back through my games with the extra 15 years of experience. This reminds me of the quote by Rumsfield about unknown unknowns. To make things worse, 15 years ago, computers were not as readily available, so occasionally I would lose a game without even ever understanding what specific mistakes I had made.
It took me many years to accumulate that knowledge, so that those mistakes would become glaringly obvious. And this is exactly what a coach can do - use his decades of experience to point out weaknesses in the chess players understanding of the game. One can study the games of grandmasters and the try to of grasp their understanding of the game, but nothing can replace an experienced player looking at your games and immediately point out things you don't understand. That can literally save you years and decades of experience and help to avoid painful losses. Such a coach must be ruthless and as undiplomatic as it is possible. It may hurt your feelings now, can but that is the most useful thing a chess coach can do for you.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Jiganchine – Degtiarev, 1996
Since I was not sure what I was supposed to do here, in this position I played 18. Ke2 and offered a draw, which was accepted.
Agreeing to a draw prematurely was a sin I was suffering from a lot during most of my years as an active chess player, especially in Junior tournaments back in Russia. How to do you assess the above position? I had just missed a winning line a few moves ago, and was disappointed by that. But looking at the position today, White still has several advantages:
- most importantly – White has extra space
- pawn tension on kingside is in his favour
- Black pieces on the kingside are dramatically tied up
Ironically, even today I did not think of it way it until I realized that a computer engine evaluates a position as +- without giving any direct winning ideas. I think White should:
- manoeuvre to improve placement of his pieces
- d5 is a potential weakness in Black’s camp
- prepare for either opening of the ‘h’ file, or opening the queenside with b2-b4 at the right moment
- transfer rooks and other pieces to wherever the play opens up. This transfer of pieces from one side of the board is what will give White and advantage since his pieces are more mobile than Black’s
I moved the pieces around, and arrived at this sample position:
White to move – b2-b4 opens up the game to White’s advantage in what is still a complicated position. If ‘b’ file opens up – White will be quick to double his rooks on it, and Black’s rooks will have a hard time defending ‘b7’.
In short, nothing is really indicating a draw here, White can play for a win without significant risk. Offering a draw can be explained by a combination of factors:
- chess factors – lack of understanding how White can play for a win
- psychological – disappointment after immediate break with h2-h4 failed to win
- outside influence – I was a tired kid, playing a game in the evening on the weekday after school
Thursday, February 9, 2012
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Monday, February 6, 2012
Saturday, January 28, 2012
Just for fun, I decided to compile the record of how I experienced Internet chess, your mileage will of course vary!
1998 – free internet chess club (FICS)allows to play games on the internet any time
1999 – chess databases like on sites TWIC get updated on a regular basis and people can get access to them on a regular basis
2000 – major tournaments are broadcast on ICC with thousands of people following and commenting on games
2000 – chess portals like Kasparov Chess begin to publish regular articles
2001 – online 4 and 5 piece Endgame TableBases such as Nalimov are accessible
2001 – online chess lessons become as popular as the ones in person
2004 – instructional chess videos begin to get published by companies like ChessBase on a large scale
2005 – even non-major tournaments like Canadian Open get broadcast over the internet via DGT
2006 – YouTube allows regular chess amateurs like myself to share their analysis with others
2009 – commentators like Sergei Shipov switch to video format for sharing their analysis
2010 – playing online chess on a mobile device such as IPhone becomes a viable option
2010 – live chess ratings get updated on the nearly daily basis
2011 – websites like whychess.org broadcast major chess events with live engine analysis
2011 – Live, multi hour HD full game broadcasts of events like World Cup are streamed live with up to date commentary
2011 – Fritz 13 is released, allowing users to upload and share chess analysis via their online database
2012 – What is coming ahead??
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
As I was listening to Kramnik discussing the current positions from current Wejk An Zee Tournament on the Russian site chess-news.ru, something caught my attention. Kramnik was only using computer engine to evaluate the position and he was hiding the (dockable?) portion of the UI that shows best move for each side. I tried analysing my game in this mode, and I realized that I think much harder on the position, and I actually know I am not making any gross mistakes in my calculation. Thank you, Mr. former World Champion!
Sunday, January 1, 2012
In November/December - I stopped any studying of chess for about a month, and now resumed it. While that wasted a month of chess learning, this kind of temporary hiatus can have positive effects on your chess improvement and even overall well being (!):
- You free up time for non-chess activities during the break
- A break gives time to reflect on your studying methods
- You can assess the improvements made during the previous study period
- You get to plan on what your next goal in chess is, and what are the steps to achieve it
- You get to reflect on the importance and role of chess (if any) in your life
- You regain appetite for studying chess – when you feel like you are ready for it again
- If you play a lot online, you also regain appetite for playing chess
- Your new efforts will have some new, better focus
- Your brush off bad habits, such as looking at games too quickly, or spending too much time surfing chess news websites
- The openings that you felt were getting too boring, may not appear so when you look at them after a break – that can save you time for changing repertoire!
It is very easy to get into a rut in chess, like in anything in life, so taking a break is likely a good thing for any passion you may have!
Happy Chess Learning in 2012!