An unexamined life is not worth living.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Book review: Opening Preparation by Mark Dvoretsky and Artur Yusupov

This book was written before computer databases became mainstream, but it has remained surprisingly relevant until now. It is based on the lectures done in Dvoretsky’s school in the early nineties, and covers different aspects of opening preparation:

  1. General principles of the opening – how to develop pieces, secure the king, etc, but described from the Grandmaster’s point of view for a somewhat advanced audience
  2. How to choose an opening repertoire – this is something every player has to do, and there is little written about it
  3. How to prepare for a specific tournament game. There is a balance between trying to memorize too much, and not knowing anything about your opponent, so Yusupov reveals his secrets
  4. How to study ideas behind a couple of specific opening setups – with less focus on memorization

As you can see, the tools you use – Fritz, Chessbase, etc. may have appeared, improved and changed dramatically since early nineties, but a chess player’s memorization capabilities, understanding of basic principles, tastes for certain structures  - they still follow the same laws and have the same limitations, so this book is still to be highly recommended for chess players rated 1700-2300.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

How to Use Chess Assistant on Vista or Windows 7 – Run as Administrator

After getting a Vista computer I installed my very old Chess Assistant 6 (birthday gift from year 2001). I was unable to run it, and assumed that it was just – too old. But then installing Chess Assistant Light, I was running into the same problem. Vista would just say – “cawin.exe has stopped working”, without giving any useful information.  Poking around I now got it to work – you have to run it as administrator:


The program then works fine on either Windows Vista or Windows 7. If you have tried Convekta’s products on Windows 8 – I would be interested to know if you have experienced any issues with them.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

10 steps to a Better Chess Opening Repertoire

  1. Write it down, and then print it out. Begin by recording what you know already, and build on that.
  2. Don’t be afraid that some parts of it are incomplete - realize that building an opening repertoire is a long term goal
  3. As Mark Dvoretsky explained in Opening Preparation – openings you play should:
    1. Fit your style (open vs. closed positions)
    2. Fit your memory’s abilities. Relatively speaking, some openings require understanding of plans (e.g. Closed Sicilian), while others, such as King’s Indian defence require remembering a lot of theory as well
  4. Don’t easily give up on lines that did not work out in a game, instead try to understand what particular mistake caused a defeat. That being said, if you keep having bad results in an opening – it’s worth reviewing whether it matches your style (see above).
  5. It’s may sound obvious, but review it against books like MCO or NCO, computer databases, etc.
  6. Pay attention to move orders and understand their implications. In “Slav Defence” Matthew Sadler talks about how this is often underestimated.
  7. Understand how your openings are connected to typical middlegames and endgames. Shereshevsky’s Mastering the Endgame is a great reference on the Opening->Endgame connection.
  8. Understand the opening’s history, and how ideas developed over time - see Kasparov’s “Revolution in the 70s”.
  9. Before an important tournament - review the variations you will mainly rely on in this event (assuming your repertoire allows some variety in the first place). If you know in advance your opponent in next round – spend an hour to prepare for that specific game. Both will save you time over the board.
  10. Review all games that you played in past, online and in over the board tournaments. Did you remember your own repertoire? Did the games reveal gaps in your coverage of theory?

Good luck! I am still working on step 1 for my own repertoire …

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Online tactics: double piece sacrifice


White to move. DDT3000-KMehmedov, 3 minutes per game

I already sacrificed a piece for two pawns, and now need to keep the attack going. I came up with a second sacrifice, and the engine confirms that this is the best move:

17. Bh6! I noticed that I get to win the knight on d7, and just could not resist playing this.


The game continued:

17. … Bf6 (17... Kxh6 18. Qg6#) 18.Nxd7 Kxh6 19. Nxf6 (19. g4 !! +-) 19... gxf6 20. Qxb7
Qd6 21. Qf7 Re4 22. Rac1 Rae8 23. Rxe4 Rxe4 24. g3 Re7 25. Qf8+ Kg6 26. Qg8+
Rg7 27. Qe8+ Kh7 28. Qh5+ {Black resigns} 1-0

Opening repertoire – Write it Down!

In Jonathan Tisdall’s excellent book “Improve Your Chess Now” I came across a very practical recommendation that unfortunately took me so long to arrive at myself (or at least to follow with any consistency). The Wisdom and Advice chapter has a subsection called “Write it down” and I’ll quote it directly here:

If you have an interesting idea, write it down. If you analyse a position, write it down. If you decide on a basic opening repertoire, write it down. Recording your thoughts makes it easier to remember, and give you something to refer to when you eventually forget them. I find a often lose the notebook but it doesn’t hurt to try. And paper is still a more secure format than diskette, so I suppose the up-to-date advice would be: print it out [ and back it up – editor’s note.]

write it down

Many times I found myself over the board unsuccessfully trying to remember the theory, or trying to decide how to uniquely deviate from the same main lines that I never had a chance to study. These are the symptoms of the same root problems that I think affect many amateur players:

  • A player never decides on a repertoire choice against a specific opening (even though it comes up once in every 30 blitz games and is an obvious problem)
  • When a older game reveals a problem in one's knowledge of an opening, or in the opening itself, no action is taken between tournaments to "fix it" (because the steps involved are undefined).
  • Because nothing is ever written down in one place, it is time consuming to review old theory knowledge before a tournament, or before a specific game.

Writing it down (i.e. enter into the computer, using today's language) is not going to solve all these problems, but it is the first step in the right direction. It will reveal what are the biggest gaps in your repertoire, and will be something you can always iterate upon and expand over the years. And yes, back it up!

PS. A while ago I already wrote about the attitude one should have towards opening preparation. And just last week I made a post about software tools to do exactly what Tisdall is talking about – printing out your opening repertoire.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Online tactics: a typical sacrifice I missed


DDT3000-Chanchar, 2009, White to move

White won the exchange in a typical IQP/hanging pawns structure, but Black has broken through on the queenside by just capturing on c3.

I played 21. Nxf7 and later failed to win the game. But another typical sacrifice (which I did not have time to calculate) was much stronger.

21. Bxe6!! was winning. If black takes on e6, he loses the f6 knight and is under attack. If Black takes on h3, White takes on f7 with check, and then recaptures the queen, remaining up an exchange and a pawn. There was not all that much to calculate, but I missed this chance in my 3 0 ICC game.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Video: Attack With Opposite Coloured Bishops

Since youtube does not allow videos longer than 10 minutes, I uploaded my longer video to image

At the time I was quite proud of this game, and now while preparing the video it was interesting to analyse it in a few more details. I recorded this video during the Christmas break, just as the one about seeing the entire board and another one about opposite coloured bishops. If you ever read Mark Dvoretsky's book “Positional Play”, you start to look at opposite coloured bishops as a theme, so maybe that's why I already have two videos on that subject.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cafechess control has been updated!

If you are a chess fan, who is also into programming, and in particular use the Microsoft technologies, you might be glad to learn that the author of Cafechess is continuing development on it. He posted a new version on CodePlex, and the demo application looks a bit different from the 2004 version that I had seen before. This control has been used in ChessPositionTrainer, which is a pretty good tool, especially considering it’s free. I’ve also used some code (pgn parser) from this project for posting some of the games and diagrams. I talked about it in my other post in more details.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Online tactics: Find Sacrifices feature in Chessbase Light

Chessbase Light has an ability to find simple sacrifices in an entire database of games. Since I keep track of all my online blitz games in one database, that’s a very handy feature. In the search dialog box, go to the “Manoeuvres” tab, and make sure that “Sacrifice” box is checked.


Leave crawling through all your games for a while, and out of every 5 positions it finds, 1 is usually a pretty decent tactical shot. Yet another example of extra options computers offer for learning about the game.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that in the same 2+1 bullet game 8 years ago, I played two decent sacrifices. Under the pressure of having to make a move every couple of seconds – a player can intuitively come up with quick shots and just trust himself that they do actually work.


moon-DDT3000, 2001. Black to move

14… Nc5!

The knight goes to e4 or b3, it cannot be taken as then Bc5 would win the queen.


moon-DDT3000, 2001. Black to move

A few moves later in the same game - White’s pieces are quite disorganized.

22… Rxf3! followed by Nxd4 and Bc5 was a good way to wrap up the game.

Complexity vs. simplicity – a story about Lilienthal and Flohr

A director of a chess club in Moscow (who was also sometimes coaching me how to drop pieces less frequently) once told me a story about how chess players with different styles approach the same position. Back in the seventies – there were no computers, so to analyse a position one would have to spend hours looking for possible ideas, plans, and there tactical implications. A friendly grandmaster’s help would always be appreciated.

Salo Flohr and Andre Lilienthal both had interesting biographies, and at some point in the lives they were both Soviet citizens, and lived in Moscow. During that time my coach, who was on friendly terms with both with them, would sometimes ask them both to analyze the same position. A day later each would come back with the same assessment: the position is winning for White. Lilienthal would bring several pieces of paper with written variations proving his conclusion. Flohr would instead say a couple of sentences along the lines of “White wins by transferring the rook to the seventh rank via the c file. If Black attempts to cover all invasion squares, White breaks through on the kingside where his pawns are further advanced”.

That was matching their playing styles – Lilienthal was the one who defeated Capablanca with a queen sacrifices, and Botvinnik used to say that all Soviet masters should study Flohr`s games to improve their positional understanding. Variations are crucial for proving your point, but summarizing a position`s essence with a clear verbal assessment is also extremely valuable.

image image

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Opening preparation – how to make a tree

I am not a big fan of opening preparation, it’s never been very easy for me. I enjoy studying the endgame a lot more. At the same time, I must admit that without proper opening knowledge – every game can potentially turn into a lot of suffering. In some openings you may get away with just knowing general ideas, but generally you can’t get away without knowing some precise variations.
Around the year 1998, I lost a speed chess game to a master. I lost it in an embarrassing manner, by getting my rook trapped on move 10 in the opening. I forgot the move order in exchange variation of Slav defence, and there was no return. After the game, the opponent looked at me with understanding, and gave me a very valuable advice (ok, one of the many he gave me). He said – “For every opening you play – you must have a tree. Does not matter how you do it, on paper, on computer, you must have it recorded somewhere”. Indeed, if you don’t bother to record it once, how likely are you ever going to REMEMBER thing?
Computers make it really easy to do this – you can create a database of games that looks like this (you can create it in Chessbase Light 6, and then load in Chessbase light 2007 for viewing – both are free).
In the body of the game, you enter the variations, and then if you do File-Print-Print Repertoire, you can get a nice printout like the screenshot below. It looks just like your own NCO! Store it under your pillow and that way you won’t forget your moves after 23…Rc4 in the Panov attack…
I recently wrote another post on opening preparation that has more to do with the psychological aspects of studying the opening.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

How computers changed chess


Ershov-Jiganchine, 1996, White to move

What does this position have to do with the subject? Please bear with me for a minute. Today I was going through my REALLY old chess games, the ones that I never entered into a computer (because I did not have one at the time), curious to see the quality of my games when I was 13-14 years old. I had the “first rank” in Russian classification which is supposed to equal 1900 ELO. Next is KMS, which corresponds to being an expert. I must say the types of mistakes I was making are the kind of slips I expect a 1900 player to make. This position is a good example of the kinds of things that my opponents and myself would miss. In the game White played 37. Rd8? and the game was quickly drawn. A simple 37. Rb7! instead leads to a huge advantage. Doubling rooks on the 7th rank in 4-rook endgames is deadly! If you go through a game with the engine running in the background, the monster would scream at you 37. Rb7 +-. (e.g. 37. Rb7 Kh8 38. Rdd7 Rg8 39. a5 +-) Without a computer - to find an obvious move like this in post-mortem, without knowing that this is a typical idea, you’d have to either show the whole game to a chess coach, or spend hours yourself analysing every move. As a result – I missed the chance to learn from a very instructive exchange of mistakes. Today – I can spot a mistake like this fairly easily (any exchange of pieces is potentially a critical moment in a game), but at the time – I never did look back to move 37 of that game.

Another thing that struck me – theory in our games ended at around move 5, and we`d be playing on our own (kind of a good thing). I had few opening books at the time, and if my opponent played a move that was not mentioned anywhere, even after the game I had no clue whether “the novelty” was good or bad.

To summarize - computers have changed the rules of the game (and how you study it) in roughly the following ways, making it both easier and harder to study chess

  1. You no longer need a coach to spot your mistakes – the engine can tell you of all the critical points in your game – just look at the evaluation graph
  2. The tools make it much easier to analyse your own games, as you can get to any position within seconds, correct analysis on the fly and so on. Before – setting up the board and looking at the rook endgame involved 10 minutes of shuffling pieces around just to get there …
  3. Every idiotic opening move you or your opponent can possibly play has been played before. It`s all the matter of how much can fit into your memory

Book review - “Endgame Secrets” by Christopher Lutz

If you are looking for previously unpublished analysis and explanation of practical endgame positions from grandmaster play, the book I am going to review is the right fit. You would be able to use it for learning advanced endgame concepts, as well as practicing your skills via exercises.

I read Endgame Secrets by Christopher Lutz a long time ago, but picked it up from the library yet again last week. Often endgame books dive into tons of theoretical positions, which are either too simple, or too unlikely to occur in any one of your games. This book is a collection of analysis from practical games (majority played by the author himself), so you’d be asked to evaluate the position, or come up with a plan.

The author gathered material for the book as he realized that he was losing a lot of points in endgames, and decided to improve his own endgame skills. Games are sorted by chess material (e.g. rooks + bishops of opposite colours), that helps to see the patterns as well. If you are rated above 2000 – I recommend studying this book to you, as well as analyzing your own games the way Lutz did.

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