A Zen idea is that of that to do nothing is already to be doing something. And this is what I have been doing for so long a lapse of time: thinking about Chess, thinking about Chess programs and how to counter them at CC, winning games and some events, losing games and ending bordering disaster, drawing games too. I have also set up a new opening repertoire that is working well but which still needs several adjustments . The idea is to win as many games as possible avoiding drawish lines and turn losses into draws as much as possible. Of course, easier said than done.
(The red threat is that at CC draws have increased by the ton. So many opening lines that are excellent for OTB Chess, are completely drawish at CC, where the element of error is near to zero -always bearing in mind the “ceteris paribus” clause.)
The first step is to decide -as White- if you are going to play the same first move against any opponent (mine range between 2000 and over 2300 -remember I only play Correspondence Chess), or if you decide your opening according to your opponents’ strength. I exchanged a lot of ideas with other CC colleagues and took a decision.
The second step concerns my play with the Black pieces. I had played too many Sicilian Najdorf, Taimanov, Kan, variations etc. I have played excessively too many QID , Nimzoindian even Benoni and Grünfeld lines. I began to lose and draw excessively (by exhaustion of ideas ?!)
Some people use the “draw with the strong and beat the weak” approach. So they play different openings according to the opponent’s strength. This is a good idea and, correctly applied, works. But I began to wonder if there would be a good repertoire that included safety and active play at the same time. And I found it for Black. So I began to play a Sicilian variation I had never played before and a new line valid against 1.d4 /c4/Nf3. And it worked.
Now the White pieces. At first, I decided I would play 1. e4 against “the weak” and 1. d4/c4 against “the strong” -taking the ELO rating as reference. Why, because at CC only the Sicilian offers possibilities of a fight. All the rest are drawish -again the “ceteris paribus” clause, except if you are ready to take very risky paths and make experiments with your own ELO rating at stake. (By the way, this was one of my friends’ ideas). In my case, it did not work… All right, I managed to draw against ratings higher or much higher than mine, but with 1.e4 I was unable to get anything but draws against ELO ratings lower than mine. Then I realized that it would be better to change the plan: play 1. e4 against the strong -leaving them the task of taking risk to force positions, – and 1. c4 against weaker players leaving them the task of understanding complex strategical positions. And this is working well so far. (By the way, in case of similar ratings or doubts I tend to play 1. c4 or 1. d4).
These days I am facing a curious challenge: I am playing my country (13th edition) CC Cup Final: 13 games against a terrific field: I am the lowest ELO (2199) and it includes players with 2311 , 2289, 2351, 2382 , 2398(IM) , 2349, or 2422 (IM). So I am clearly their lamb to slaughter, and feel myself as a small kitten surrounded by hungry wolves and hyenas ready to kill me so as not to lose a single ELO point in their games with me.
Will this be a correct approach?. Would it be better to play the same openings without looking at your opponents?. One thing is clear: today’s CC is a highly specialised task and we must learn to live with computers and Chess programs. I do not see it as a problem but as a challenge. It makes me think about different things, possibilities, stratagems and ideas. So, all is well that ends well…
(The following problems are for you to solve. I hope they are right. If not, drop me a line. Thank you so much.)
Clausen 1931. Mate in 3 . “Tricky” according to my notes.
Behting 1888. Mate in 3.
Q.7.- I have always thought that chess-playing engines do cheat. One may accept it or not, but they not only cheat, I suppose that to be able to play Chess, they have to cheat: when you play against one of them (OTB games) , you cannot use written notes, books, magazines etc. But they do use the opening book they have. This prevents them from forgetting opening lines, changing the order of moves, etc. And the same is valid for the analysis they carry out later in the game. As a human, you may end up mixing lines, playing wrong moves in advance, overlooking some move when having to play. They will never make such mistakes. Engines do not overlook moves once they have decided on a certain line of play. And they do not change moves by mistake. So, if you want to beat them ,you will have to be more cunning than them ,but do not put your hopes in human-like type of mistakes. Then the question is still there: Can they be beaten? How?. Well, I do not have a straightforward answer. I do not think there is such an answer. I suppose you should survive in the opening by achieving a balanced position, play positionally active during the middlegame without entering no-way-out alleys, choose the right balance of forces, assess the matter of the Bishop pair or the B vs. N as accurately as possible and try to keep the middlegame as closed as possible BUT as full of possibilities as possible. Today’s programs can play positional Chess with a high degree of proficiency. A different matter is when the game reaches positions with less and less tactics and more and more strategy. If the engine plays to win, it may give you some fresh targets to shoot at. If not, at least you will have the draw at hand… Playing against them as if they were humans, will not pay off. Forget about passive opening set-ups even if they lead to closed or semi-closed positions. With the initiative, you will be smashed. Forget about open positions or tactical melées with interchange of blows by taking pieces on each turn while it also takes yours: if it goes into such lines, it is because it has seen all the possible intermediate moves. The normal outcome would be ending up with one or several pieces down…So, the best policy for you would be to keep the piece balance as tight as possible . On the other hand, one may think that keeping it simple will be useful. Forget about it too. The main problem is to understand how they are able to “see”” all the drawbacks every move contains. And this is not easy to explain.
Well, you may be wonder why writing about this topic since everybody knows they are (nearly) unbeatable. Perhaps because the whole thing is our last frontier today and perhaps because it can help us understand the way we think too.
Be that as it may, it has not deterred me from keeping on playing Chess. So, do not think about engines, plies and other time consuming , mind-boggling concepts and … play the Eternal Game. The rest may only be an odd mental state.
(Note: This is a personal view susceptible of change as time passes by. Please remember that in Chess the best opinion is your opinion, the best ideas are your ideas and that everything is relative. )
Prideaux. Mate in 3 moves
Reinmann. Mate in 3 moves.
(Note: You may notice sometimes I employ some terms which would be more appropriate for human beings. It is for the sake of clarity. I would like to make it clear that a machine is a machine and a human being is a human being. Bear in mind though that any Chess program has a human team working in the shadow.)
Q.3.- This is evident: they see every tactical trick, they see the strongest points in their openings and the weakest of moves in yours. They are able to exploit the slightest of inaccuracies and make you commit more mistakes. In zeitnot positions, you are ,simply, lost.
They always see any attacking possibility, as well as the way of carrying the attack out without hesitation by using direct attacks, weird regrouping of pieces, intermediate moves, etc.
They also perceive all the drawbacks in any move immediately pinpointing it and taking advantage of it. They never tire, so they are always looking for the strongest attacking move in every position. When calculating, they never change the move order by mistake, forget moves and they continually put you under a stressing pressure .
Q.4/Q.5: When you play against one of this programs, you feel a terrible pressure.(They play on your nervous resistance too). This is because they always manage to turn the position into a tactical battle. Even in closed positions they are always building up pressure by the continual creation of threats. The more they put pressure on your position, the quicker it will be torn apart (with your pieces lacking coordination until the position is impossible to be hold together and breaks down). Their amazing opening book and their skills at assessing positions (the more tactical the better but I think they are no longer afraid of strategical positions either) turn them into formidable opponents. When they clinch something, it is forever, no matter if it is an advantage or material. This is why gambits for the sake of them are disappearing from CC (remember: you cannot speculate against a computer. Your way of seeing things is not “their” way of the same.) Another feature is that they abandon their own opening book when they find something better while analysing. A human chessplayer only leaves the book when his opponent does it first, when s/he has a TN of his/her own , when s/he forgets the moves or when the book line ends.
Threats, threats, threats: they are always creating threats and forcing you to take defensive measures, having to change your best-placed pieces and keep the clumsiest ones.
Another amazing skill is the apparent easiness with which they provoke play with heterogeneous forces. They are very cunning in this field. While you may be contemplating lines with the same balance of forces they are always exploring changes ( Queen vs. 3 pieces or 2 pieces and 2 Pawns, or vs. 2 Rooks, etc.) They seem to possess an extreme ability at assessing these positions and go for them. So the human opponent , only thinking in the same correlation of forces may be abruptly woken up by a sudden change in that correlation of forces. (Boris Spassky has always said Bobby Fischer was the first in showing a computer-like style of playing, and Bobby was very good at this method too (see my post “A Contribution by Bobby Fischer”, published on Feb 1st, 2014 in this same blog). Another feature opposite to humans in many cases is that they do not particularly feel any leaning towards keeping the Bishops/ exchanging BxN, but when they decide to keep the Bishop pair it can be lethal . They have reached a deep insight into what to change / what to keep in the matter of B’s and N’s.
Q.6.- Of course an absolutely strong GM could beat a program any time or at least one time. The problem is how many times in a row and after how many previous (human) defeats in a row too, etc. I think nobody would try to do it in short-time scheduled games like blitz. Perhaps a good test would be a 40-move-in-two-and-a-half-hour game + a classical adjournment with home analysis using a computer to analyse (so as to level the chances. After all, the program has a program to analyse too! But the matter of openings should have to be somewhat rebalanced. Or perhaps not, to leave the human being to their own devices ). Moreover, considering that players use programs in CC and victories keep taking place, I tend to think that a hole , leading to some sort of mistakes , does exist…Where is it if any?
(So as not to tire the reader, I will leave the matter of the possible weaknesses of programs and the answer to the 7th question for the next post.)
Mate in 3 moves. P.H. Williams 1904
F.G. Wieck 1859. Mate in 3.
Happy New Year 2016 to all my readers!.
“Nor even top professionals play serious games against today’s Chess programs: they are too strong”. I have read this statement a lot of times. Well, once established the main idea, I was on a train some days ago, a bit lost in my own thoughts and yes, daydreaming, when I began to think about it. Because one thing is to say something, accept it without hesitation because it was said by someone “important” and a different think is to put the idea before us an try to explain it clearly. So, in my opinion, the main questions could be:
1.Why are today´s programs so strong /much stronger than top chessplayers?.
2.-In which ways “they” play different to us? Conversely: in which way do we play different to “them”?
3.-What do “they” see we do not see?
4.-In what way do “they” see/assess the elements of a game that we are unable to match them?
5.-In what way do “they” apply the elements of Chess that we fail to match their prowess?
6.- Can we really make any attempt at beating them?
7.- And the Big One: Do “they” cheat??
I have devoted a lot of time to think about all this. I suppose the main fields to investigate are the openings and the middlegames (and apply the above-mentioned questions to them. Why?.- Because if you survive to reach an endgame ,the game will be lost/won/or drawn, and everything will depend on accurate calculation of variations (if it is drawn or won. If it is lost for you, there will be no problem: you will be scientifically killed and dissected by the monster…)
Possible answers that may change as time passes by…:
Q.1/ Q.2 – They play much stronger due to a variety of factors: they never forget the openings and play them without mistakes. They are extremely strong at tactical calculation. They never speculate or feel fear. They have no interest in their opponents’ ideas, emotions, body language, noise, etc. They are not pressed by rating points, timetables, previous results, statistics, final standings, money they can earn or lose, they are never tired or bored, they are never hungry or sleepy, they never have “a bad day” and have no prejudices, there are no ugly moves/positions for them. They are only there TO PLAY CHESS AND ONLY CHESS. During the past few years,apart from refining the tactical side of the program as far as calculation of movements is concerned, programmers have learnt to include strategical ideas in their way of choosing a move, making them even more deadly: for instance the always complex matters of B vs. N , the change B for N, the different value of B’s and N’s according to the position -and more if the position is tactical, etc.
(To be continued)
Mate in 3 moves. Bruski 1906
Mate in 3 moves. G. Ernst.
Happy New Year 2016 to all my readers. 2015 has been very bad for me but let me tell you I wish all your dreams come true this next year. Thank you very much for being there.
In todays CC tournaments many people think there are too many drawn games. In some OTB events it happens the same. A matter of openings?. What I am going to say may be seen as too speculative.
Breyer wrote that after 1. e4 White´s game was in his last throes. He was a hypermodernist and favoured hypermodernist ideas. The problem is that today it seems the prophecy is about to be fulfilled. Winning with 1. e4 seems more and more difficult (in CC games). I have been a 1. e4 player for nearly 30 years. But today I have felt myself struggling for an advantage in many lines in the Ruy Lopez, the French and even the Sicilian. So in my last tournaments I have shifted to closed openings. At the same time, against 1.d4 you can safely play the Grünfeld, for instance, and achieve some very decent positions.
In today’s CC games -as White- you will have to achieve very decent positions if you want to win your games. And to do that the first thing in today’s CC is to have a good opening repertoire and have confidence in the openings you are going to use. Some players use the same opening one time after another. I prefer shifting from time to time to refresh my ideas and stop playing as by inertia. To change my openings implies facing new positions, and this is refreshing for my mind. But it takes two to play a Chess game. The second important thing is to end the opening if not with an advantage at least with a position rich in possibilities. A “position” in Chess is something “static”. Its dynamism depends on the number of possibilities at hand. To have an advantage is good, but remember that Chess implies “I move-s/he moves”, and so on. How many apparently advantageous positions ended up by petering out to a draw?. On the contrary: levelled positions can be deceiving and both players must play carefully so as not to slip and fall in a disadvantageous one. So to “have an advantage” is a static assessment: now you have to be able to impose it. To have a position more or less levelled but full of plans and possibilities may be as good. Remember that in Chess absolutely everything is relative, and is connected to many factors which are not always apparent. With the present state of theory and the analytical possibilities offered by engines, CC is a highly specialized game, and the openings -sometimes from the very first move- is the first battleground where the game starts to be lost or won.
Bear in mind too that transpositions may play a very important role in your opening decisions. In general , 1.e4-players and Queen Gambit-ones has little concern (or not…) But beware if you play the English because if you try to avoid some lines you may fall in positions you do not know well. (If you do not like 1. c4 , e5 you may try to start with 1. Nf3, but then after 1… d5/ 2.c4 you must be ready for 2…, d4/ and perhaps this is not the type of English you had in your mind when opted for 1. Nf3…). (In the case of 1. e4, today’s theory shows too many instances of drawish lines even in well-know robust positions for White -remember the Berlin against the Ruy Lopez and all the mess around it these days… But -and this is only an example- you play 1. e4 and after 1…, e5 / 2.Nf3 your opponent plays 2…, Nf6/ Now 3. d4/Nxe5 is a normal Petrov. So normal that a Karpov , able to extract water from a stone, would be required. After testing this and that you decide to make your opponent bit the dust: 3. Nc3. All right!. But now you must try to prove that the ensuing lines are less drawish -and boring!- than the Petrov’s ones…) . In the fifties (past century) a player like Petrosian used to say that he played normal (be that what it may) moves in the openings so as to leave all the fight for the middlegame. Today it would be useless if not suicidal, and more in CC. Today the battle starts with the very first move, and a filigree fencing technique starts too, with both players trying to reach their aims with every weapon at hand. and bear in mind that ,again, transpositions are very strong weapons.
(For those interested in this important matter, here is a book by a leading Chess writer: Andrew Soltis: “Transpo Tricks in Chess”) .
Now time to train:
Wieck, 1859. Mate in three moves.
And for those who prefer something different, here a study which will require a few more moves to be solved (I will give the solution though):
White to move wins:
1. g7 Bd8 2. g4 Kh6 3. c6 Bc6 4. Be7 Be7 5. g8N Kg6 6. Ne7 Kf6 7. Nc6 winning
What chessplayer do you want to imitate?. Do you follow Fischer, Botvinnik, Alekhine, Tal, Korchnoi, Lasker, Capablanca,Nimzowitsch, Steinitz,…?. Then, you are studying these players’ games , play their openings, and so on. BUT one of he striking facts -which is more conspicuous in CC – is that many of the opening variations these gentlemen played are now outdated. In CC you try to play the Sozin against some Sicilian lines like Fischer did only to see that, as White, you have ended up on the receiving end…
During my Chess career I have found many people who admired Lasker (to mention one of them). But, in Lasker’s days, the Sicilian was nearly unexplored. Or the King’s Indian, the Grünfeld, etc. So you are nearly reduced to very 0ld Ruy López variations and the French. So, what to do?.
Well, you may keep on studying all those GMs from the past to learn strategy,planning , endgame technique and combinations, But you should forget about playing their opening variations unless you find a forgotten move in one of the old lines they played. And you should not forget that OTB Chess has nothing to do with CC. (Several years ago I tried to play Korchnoi’s lines in my CC games ending up in sheer disaster. So never more!. In OTB Chess there is the factor of time (the clock!) and the fallibility of the human being. In today’s CC time is irrelevant and nobody is going to miscalculate because our Chess programs will immediately detect the slightest of errors.
I still remember the 80`s (20th century) when we played without programs, with postcards and stamps… Then you could employ Karpov’s or Kasparov´s latest innovation (if you managed to get it in those old printed magazines) and be happy…. I waited well over a decade to use the following line used by Karpov in Baguio: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5, a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5 . 0-0 Nxe4 6.d4 b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. de5 Be6 9. Nbd2 Nc5 10. c3 d4 11. Ng5 !!?. And when I employed it against a Dutch opponent I found myself struggling for a draw which I finally managed to achieve… On those days I had no a computer. I never knew if my opponent was using one (a pre-historic one anyway!). Karpov used to say that in the good old days you could find a TN and employ it a couple of times -or even more- before all your opponents knew it and found countermeasures, while today every TN can be used only once. In the past every chessplayer had to get as many Chess magazines as possible to keep abreast of the latest innovations. Today you may get it at home simply switching on your computer. One of the most important lessons to be learnt today is that in CC it is better not to speculate. Sacrifice a Pawn (or what be even worse: a piece!) for a nebulous attack and your opponent will take it and beat you in a consistent way. Remember: there is no zeitnot in CC, computer programs do not feel nervous or feel anxious. Forget about playing like Tal because he played OTB Chess, not CC.
I do not know why, but when I was a boy and was starting studying Chess seriously, I used to say “I like this or that player. I want to play like him.” and so on. Now over thirty-eight years have elapsed and I find I can only speak of “influences”. Of course ,some of them are much stronger than others and it is very curious to see how one tends to go back to the very first one of them.
I must say that if you are an OTB chessplayer you would learn a lot by engaging in serious CC games. CC will teach you how to be practical without being speculative, how to be a rounded chessplayer instead of a gambler (or a “coffee-house” one) , how to look for the best and strongest move in every position without speculating with the clock. But remember that CC is a very serious matter: people here are out for blood and rating points (not for money). So, if you are not going to take it seriously, it would be better for you (and your ego) not to put your head into the lion’s mouth. It may hurt a lot…
(For those who admire Karpov and like learning endgame technique from complete games I would recommend the following book: Karolyi’s & Aplin’s : “Endgame Virtuoso Anatoly Karpov”)
Now, here is something for you to train:
Mate in 3 moves Dobriski/Shinkman 1883.
Agapov. Mate in 4 moves.
A long time has passed since I last wrote a post. I have been thinking , reading and playing CC. I thank you all the readers who have continued reading the different posts. So this post will be a recollection of readings, ideas, opinions.
I have read that Spassky never understood the way Karpov thought.(Nevertheless, in 2007, Boris told me he would be never afraid of Karpov any more…)
I have read that some critics believe Fischer never faced the strong opposition Soviet players faced in Soviet/world tournaments (we should remember some of the gruelling events held in the now defunct Soviet Union). (I must admit I have thought about this matter some time ago. It is very easy: make a comparison between the events Fischer took part in and the different tournaments players like Spassky, Korchnoi, Geller, Tal, Smyslov ,Keres ,etc. had to play in the same period of time. Could any US Chess Championship be compared to any USSR Chess Championsip of the same period? The answer is in the negative, in my opinion).
Today, every CC player has a computer at home. Some people do not use a chessboard + pieces any longer… They see the position on their screens, analyse, check the moves and send the them. No chessboard required.. Is this good or bad?. I must confess I have done it a lot of times… BUT: I keep buying brand new chess pieces because from time to time I like to make a review of all my games (I am playing over 100 CC games at the moment) using chessboard and pieces to understand the positions. So, my advice to you would be as follows: in many instances,you will receive your moves, analyse them, check them out with a program and sent your move. But it would be better for you to set up the board and chessmen and make an analysis of every game you have in play.
If you are wondering how it is possible for me to have over 100 games in play, my answer would be because I love playing CC. CC is not a money-making activity and it has always been a sort of therapy to me. 2015 has been terrible to me, so I am trying to use CC as a therapy. It compels me to open my e-mail page, my ICCF page, take down the move and find an answer to it.
As for training, let me recommend you to keep on solving 3-movers or 4-movers. (I have read Lasker used this system too.) So here I am going to leave some homework to you.
And thank you very much for being there..
Mate in 3 moves. H.M. Prideaux.