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Chess, Strategy and Zen Philosophy

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I am unable to teach Chess to other people. Since I am also a humble student of Zen I have found many points of contact between Chess and Zen Philosophy. Other people have done the same.

The true Zen student find it impossible to talk not only about the meanings of Zen, but also about their status on a present moment , their degree of development, etc. Simply the task is so overwhelming that they are at a loss for words. To them Zen can be learnt/understood, but cannot be taught or explained. You may say there are Zen Masters, Zen books and so on. Yes, but the true, genuine, Masters do not teach (or shall I say “lead”?) but indirectly and perhaps if you ask him you will receive no answer or , if any, something like “this is really a no-tuition a no-teaching at all” by the way the difference between “no-something” / “un-in-im- something” is fundamental.)

Going back to Chess, when I heard some people saying they want to learn the game I see I could show him/her the movement of the pieces and that is all.

I like analysing games. Everybody likes… But ,as I have written somewhere else, I prefer games played until Kasparov´s time. I did not know why I felt so averse to much more recent games till I came across a statement in a blog. I realised “why” I have this odd feeling:  rather unconsciously (or subconsciously) I realised  there is nearly no strategy in today´s games (!). I formed myself as a chessplayer with Kotov´s books, playing and replaying Botvinnik’s, Petrosian’s, Spassky’s, Fischer’s, Karpov’s, Keres’s , Nimzowitsch’s, Capablanca’s, Korchnoi’s, Polugaevsky’s, Tal’s, Smyslov’s, etc. games. And they were full of strategy, planning, tactics, and so on. Not now. Today what matters is the point + the money + the ELO points absolutely minimizing the risk. If you can play book lines up till move 30 everything is OK. In the past players study openings to find a novelty as soon as possible. If you could introduce a new move to surprise your opponent and destroy his/her opening preparation on move 10, it was much better than on move 12 (for fear of being him/her the one in doing it first to you!). Not today. Playing your own moves from the 10th move onwards is considered suicidal : the more you play your own moves the more possibilities of making a mistake and lose. So 30 or more book moves, and if the matter can be finished off with 5 moves better than with 6…  

You may say this is not always so, that there are hundreds of players not doing so, etc. But then the same odd question assaults me: why today’s super -GMs lack the charismatic image those from the past had?. Why in the past the names of Fischer, Spassky,Karpov, Capablanca, rang a bell even to non-chessplayers?

AND I AM NOT SPEAKING OF THE DEATH OF CHESS OR A SIMILAR COMMONPLACE. I simply show my opinion on this matter. Chess is a millenary game and I’m sure it will survive as it is. No matter what the elite do. Chess is much more than the first 50 players  in the ELO rating list.

Now have a look at the following position:


This position appeared after White’s 19th move. It’s Black’s turn to move. S. Reshevsky chose 19…, Bxc2  (because 19…Qc8  allows 20.Bxf5, Qxf5  21. Qb3 ). What would you play now? Choose a course of action before looking at the game continuation.

Bobby Fischer, who was commanding the White army (Santa Monica 1966),  played:

(19…, Bxc2)  20. Qd2!!  (rejecting 20.Nxd7 or Rxc2 which would probably give small edges though), -and the game continued:

20…, Qe8/ 21. Qxb4, a5/ 22. Qc3, Bg6/ 23. Nh4, Na4/ 24. Qb3 Nxc5/ 25. Rxc5, c6 26. Rec1, Re6/ 27. f4,f5/ 28. a4, bxa4/ 29. Qxa4, Rb8/ 30. Qa3, Qd8/ 31. Nxg6, hxg6/ 32. Rxc6, Rxc6/ 33. Rxc6, Qh4 /34. Rxg6, Kh7 /35. Rg5, Rb4/ 36. Qf3! ,Kh6/37. g3!, Qxh3 /38. Qxd5 and Black resigned. 

(The next post after my holidays. Enjoy yourselves!)


Written by QChess

September 6, 2013 at 6:05 am

To Learn Chess, Study Chess, Not “About” Chess…

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Many Chess handbooks have been written trying to explain how Chess is/should be played. All of us have read a lot of general precepts like “…the best action against a flank attack is to counter it with an action in the center”, and so on. These are the sort of popular advice like “you should eat/drink less of this or that and more of this or that and you will live a hundred years”. Really?. To how many flank attacks have you succumbed because you do not have a damned d-Pawn to play on the center????. “To play against/with an isolated QP you should…” But then you get the damned isolani and try to follow the advice but the position is not the same as in that book and your opponent finishes you off with a mating attack… “If you have an inferior position you must create as many problems as possible to your opponent; see how Petrosian , Tal and Karpov do it…”  (Several beautiful games follow suit).  And then you lose one time after another because you fall in one inferior position after another and there are no those damned threats to conjure up because every time your stupid pieces are scattered threatening nothing or you need a Knight not that fat Bishop and your King is on h8 instead of e8 as in that Petrosian game and so on…  “Forget studying openings, you must study endgames, as Capablanca said and did”… And you buy all the Averbach endgame volumes and spend months studying them (those ideal but irreal positions with pure Knight or Bishop endgames, etc) simply to lose all your games in the first tournament you play because your opponents catch you on the hop in the very opening and you beat a record by being the only player to lose all his games before the 15th move… And then you start to believe Chess is not for you because it is an arcane game only understood by super-humans who can calculate tens of moves in advance, learn millions of opening variations and keep them updated day after day, and so on.  FAR FROM IT. If you are feeling very ill with these symptoms,my simple advice is :

1.- Don’t get nervous or anxious.

2.- Chess is a difficult game, even for professional players.

3.- Buy or get a copy of the following books: Rowson: “Chess for Zebras”  . Rowson : ” The Seven Deadly Chess Sins” and Hendricks “Move First,Think Later”  and read them very carefully .

After that, you can continue studying your favourite authors, your opening books, etc. 

The tale of all this is easy to understand: to learn Chess, study games and positions. Most of us have read tens of books on general principles. It is time to devote ourselves to dissect the games played by the great and to work on positions. Take for instance the following game by Tal:

W.: Rohde (0)

B.: Tal (1)

New York 1990

1. d4, Nf6/ 2. c4, e6/ 3. Nf3, d5/ 4. Nc3, c6/5. e3, Nbd7/ 6. Be2, Be7 (Apparently this Bishop belongs to  d6…I would like to explain something :I don’t know how they -the super GMs- do it, but they always manage to reach positions full of possibilities. Unless they make an opening mistake, they never fall in “dead” positions without active possibilities. Nor even Karpov when playing the ultrasolid Caro-Kann. This is the type of details you have to study, I guess. I suppose it has to do with the famous concept known as “insight”...) / 7. 0-0 , 0-0/ 8. Qc2, b6/ 9. e4, dxe4/ 10. Nxe4, Qc7/ 11. g5, c5/ 12. d5 (Rohde is out for blood against an attacking genius. Tal will have to withstand the attack and find a way to start a counterattack) 12…, exd5/ 13. cxd5, Nxd5/ 14. Bc4, N7f6/ 15. Rfe1, Bg4/ 16. Bxf6 (The American has spotted a sacrificial combination on f7. Well, now Tal would have spent a lot of time assessing it and trying to decide whether there is a way to counter the attack. In these moments you have to consider at least two types of possibilities: 1)The combination takes place but I can find a defence to level the game; 2) I can find not only intermediate moves to deactivate the attack, but also aggressive continuations to make the attack rebound on my opponent. What happened here was:)

16.., Nxf6/ 17. Nf3-g5, Nxe4 18. Nxf7!?, Nf6! (18. … Rxf7/ 19.Qe4)19. Qb3, b5!/ 20. Nh6+ , Kh8/ 21. Nf7+, Rxf7/ 22. Bxf7, Rf8/ 23. h3, c4!/ 24. Qxb5, Rxf7/ 25. hxg4, Nxg4 (and now it is Tal who is posing threats)/ 26. Qh5, Qf4/ 27. Re2, g6/ 28. Qh3, Bc5/ 29. Rf1, Nxf2!! / 30. Re8+ , Kg7/ And White resigned.

Now you should try to solve the following three positions. They have been taken from Karpov’s games (yes, Karpov also played beautiful combinations and I must say they may be even more complicated to spot than those by players with a combinative style!)  :

Karpov -Ungureanu

1.- Karpov-Ungureanu, Skopje (Ol) 1972

Karpov-van der Wiel

2.- Karpov-van der Wiel, Amsterdam, 1980.

Alvarez-Karpov   (Position from the Black side)

3.- Alvarez-Karpov, Skopje (Ol) 1972


1)  1. Be3! , Bxe4/ 2. Bxe4, Qxe5/ 3. Qxh7, Kf8/ 4. Bxa8, Ke7/ 5. Qe4, Qc7/ 6. Qb7 Black resigned.

2)  1. Rxe6!, Qxa6/ 2. Rxf7!, Kxf7/ 3. e8Q, Rbxe8/ 4. g6, Kg8/ 5. Rxe8, Bf8/ 6. Qe6 , Black resigned.

3) 1…, Rxg3!/ 2. hxg3, Neg4/ 3. Rde1, Rxe1/ 4. Rxe1, Nf2/ 5. Kh2, N6g4/ 6. Kg1, Ne4 / White resigned.


Written by QChess

January 31, 2013 at 7:55 am

Programs, CC and Losses. Part 2.

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You must assume that it is possible to do everything well and even so,  get a bad result”.  “Law & Order : Criminal Intent.”


Leafing through old Chess mags I found a very interesting article written by the late ex-Soviet GM E. Gufeld. He made the following reflection:

“The discussion about whether one can win a game  if one’s opponent makes no mistakes is as old as the mountains. Many chessplayers in my generation (including myself) have grown up under the influence of the attractive traditions of the SOviet Chess School, and have learnt a great truth: the resolution of the fight comes determined, before any other thing, by a better strategy” (Bold letters  mine.- Questchess).

(This is the linking point of the previous and the present posts in which we are talking about playing CC with the aid of powerful programs and the possibility of continuing playing CC in spite of it)

Gufeld included one of his games (see previous post) in which he finds it difficult to pinpoint a clear mistake on the loser’s part. He also quotes Botvinnik saying:

“There are times when it is possible to find oneself in a lost position without making any mistake”.

So,in my opinion , it implies it would be possible to win against any apparently infallible chess program by trying to beat in in the field of strategy: both sides play their opening moves, choose the best plans according to the position and if there is no tactical melées, in a pure strategical struggle, one of them comes on top.  (You may say this is very nearly impossible to do. O.K. But as chessplayers we are obliged to look for solutions and try to make them happen. This is today’s challenge, isn’t it???).

Curiously enough in the same magazine there was another game in which the annotator (GM Seirawan) was unable to find a clear explanation of what happened except that of “a superior strategy”. In that game a mistake at last occurred and decided the game, but what I am interested is in the previous 29th moves.:

W.: V. Korchnoi (1)

B.: A. Shirov (0)

Buenos Aires, 1993.

1. c4  Nf6  2. Nc3  g6  3. e4  d6  4. d4  Bg7  5. Be2  0-0  6. Nf3  e5  7. 0-0  Nc6  8. d5  Ne7  9. Ne1  Ne8  10. Be3  f5  11. f3  f4  12. Bf2  h5  13. c5  g5  14. a4  Ng6  15. a5  Bh6  16. Nb5  a6  17. Na3  Kh8  18. Nc4  Rg8  19. Ra3  Nf6  20. cd6  cd6  21. Nb6  Rb8  22. Rc3  g4  23. fg4  Ne4  24. Rc8  Rc8  25. Nc8  Qc8  26. Bb6  Ne7  27. gh5  Nf6 (Here Seirawan says that Black has an advantage without White having made a clear mistake:both sides have developed their plans and Black has emerged on top). -After a long reflection Korchnoi played :

28. b3  (and the game continued): … Ned5  29. Bc4  Qc6  30. Rf2! – here Shirov falters with 30…., Rc8?  because he thought that after 30…, Rf8! White would get the advantage…-

31. Bd5  Nd5  32. Rc2 Nc3  33. Qg4! Bf8  34. Nd3  Qe8  35. Nb4  d5  36.  Nd5  Bc5  37. Bc5  Rc5  38. h6  Qf8  39. Rc3  Black resigned.

A conclusion seems clear: if you want to beat the computer try to do it in the field of strategy, trying to reach positions (from the adequate opening) where the program evaluations are absolutely similar. A program can “see” every tactical/combinative nuance, but not strategical shades  when the position offers several equivalent possibilities. In the end it has to propose  move, and nobody can explain why it chooses a),b),c) or d) when the evaluation is similar or the same. If you submit one of these levelled positions to the computer, you can see two effects: 1) It chooses always the same move or 2) It chooses one move at one time, and other of the moves at other time.

There are positions where “the only very best move” does not exist. This is the field we will have to choose as our battleground.


Written by QChess

July 26, 2012 at 7:28 am

Horizon Effect

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How long do top chessplayers calculate?. Non players believe that the best chesslayers are  able to calculate many many moves in advance. This is but a “cliché”  (in the same way that many people believe that if you, a chessplayer, plays against a less-skilled or ocassional opponent you have to win in a few moves…).

Steinitz declared that the matter depended on the level of his rival. Kasparov said that in positions with forced lines he could calculate around ten even fifteen moves. In other cases -complicated positions- he said that one has to rely upon his/her intuition + the positional understanding and in these case perhaps only from 5 to seven moves can be calculated. Some experts warn of the famous “two move principle” (the name is mine).

Well, the mind of a professional does not work so strictly  (I mean they do not care about these “scholastical” matters…) .They have a position in front of them and , generally speaking, know the plans associated to the opening played. Then,  in an unconscious way, they begin to apply their knowledge of the position, the pattern recognition, their intuition, their ability to perceive immediate tactical nuances , their strategical knowledge and their positional insight. They are able to use a sort of goal-oriented thinking to take advantage of the assets or to determine that the opponent’s threats are more dangerous than his own and consequently he has to define a plan of defence.

The term “horizon effect” appears related to artificial intelligence. In short: when evaluating possible future positions and decide where to stop the calculation, what would happen if the engine stops on move 10 and on move 11th there is a mate in one?. This tries to be avoided introducing what is known as “quiescence search”.

In OTB Chess there are hundreds of  examples where both players reach an opening position where both parties believe the advantage is on their respective sides. The ensuing play and the post-mortem analysis will prove who was right. In other cases  one of the players has a better vision, calculates one step ahead ad is able to beat his opponent who had stopped calculating one or more steps behind his rival.

Chess is  very complicated, with many absolutely different factors intervening (even top GMs and World Champions have been defeated in less than 20 moves, for instance).

Abrahams wrote that “the very best players very rarely make any perceptible tactical error. They lose by choosing a bad strategical line and persisting in it. They lose, in effect, by trying to do too much (or too little).” .- “The Chess Mind”  (Of course all this under normal circumstances I add).

Kotov wrote that you could find that some leading players might overlook a combination, but that you would never find one who calculated variations badly.

W.: E. Geller (1)

B.: Y. Anikaev (o)

Minks 1979

1. e4 c5  2. Nf3 e6  3. d4 cd4  4. Nd4: Nf6  5. Nc3 d6  6. Be2 Be7  7. 0-0 0-0  8. f4 Nc6  9. Be3 a6  10. a4 Bd7  11. Bf3 Na5  12. Qe2  Qc7  13. g4 Rfc8  14. g5 Ne8  15. f5 Nc4  16. Bh5 g6  17. fg6  fg6  18. Qf2! Ne5  19. Nf3!  Ng7  20. Ne5: Rf8  21. Nf7! Nh5:  22. Nd5!! ed5  23. Nh6 Kg7 24. Qf7! Rf7:: 25. Rf7: Kh8  26. Bd4 Bf6  27. Rf6!  and Black resigned.  What a thrashing!

W.: L. Portisch (0)

B.: J. Pinter (1)

Hungarian Chess Championship 1984

1. d4 Nf6  2.c4 e6  3. Nf3 d5  4. Nc3 c5  5. cd5 Nd5:  6. e4 Nc3:  7. bc3 cd4  8. cd4 Nc6  9. Bc4 b5 10. Be2 Bb4  11. Bd2 Qa5  12. Bb4: Qb4:  13. Qd2 Bb7  14. a3 Qd2: 15. Kd2: a6  16. a4 b4  17. a5?! Rd8  18. Ke3 f5!  19. ef5 ef5  20. Bc4 Ke7  21. d5  Kf6!  22. dc6 Rhe8  23. Kf4 Re4  24. Kg3 Bc8!  25. Rac1  Rg4  26. Kh3  f4  27 Ne5? (The losing move. It was necessary 27 Ba5:) 27. … , Kg5  28. Nf7  Kh5  29.Be2 Rd3  30. g3  f3  31. Rc5  Rg5  32. g4  Bg4:  33. Kg3  fe2  and White resigned.


Written by QChess

May 8, 2012 at 7:28 am

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