Friday, October 18, 2013
Friday, July 05, 2013
Simple Beauty in Chess
Sunday, November 11, 2012
Randomise openings in tournaments and bring back sparkling chess
One of the things that used to happen in playing chess before the age of analytical engines and databases was that chess players tended to make more mistakes, especially in the openings. That led to more scintillating play as the example below amply demonstrates. Even in correspondence chess, you would see the King’s Gambits and the Evans tried out with every expectation of victory.
Today, if you played in this way you would probably get smashed with no chance to fight back. Safety first and quiet positions that disadvantage chess engines, are the prevailing strategies used by players, except in the much lower echelons of correspondence or server-based chess. In cross-board chess, thorough preparation combined with the players’ phenomenal memories and understanding, is used to produce ‘gotcha chess’.
I have previously argued in another venue, for the randomisation of openings in chess tournaments. This would bring back excitement to those of us who like to follow the games of the very best. It would mean that when you sat down to play an opponent in a tourney, the opening which would be played is selected by a random process at that moment, from a long list of sound openings (including most gambits). So you can no longer count on your experience with a particular opening or the memorisation you have undertaken prior to meeting a particular opponent whose opening preferences you know. You and your opponent are on your own! All you have is your talent and general knowledge of all the openings.
Sure, positional players end up playing gambits sometimes, but by the same token, sharp tacticians end up having to play quiet variations. It depends on what is pulled out of the hat.
Imagine this wonderful scenario:
Carlsen sits down to play a game as White against Morosevich; the tourney official selects the opening to be played at random; it is a Vienna Gambit.
Next time these two players meet in this tourney with colours reversed, the draw produces a King’s Indian. And so it goes on for all the players.
Players like the comfort zone of familiar openings but if there were no rating points involved and a sponsor threw enough money at it, I am sure many first class players would take part. Amateurs around the world would love to see such contests.
I discovered the game below in an anthology by Purdy. He used it to show how it was possible to produce great combinative games in correspondence chess that rivalled anything produced across the board. Not something likely to happen today. Notice how Black’s king is penned up and then White has all the time he needs to finish him off. I hope you enjoy it.
The game is from the British Correspondence Chess Championship 1946-47.
R. (Bob) G. Wade Versus Wallis (no other details known at this time)
1. e4 e6
2. d4 d5
3. Nc3 Bb4
4. e5 c5
5. a3 cxd4
6. axb4 dxc3
7. Nf3! Cxb2
8. Bb2 Ne7
9. Bd3 Nbc6
10. Qd2 Ng6
11. b5 Nce7
12. h4 Nf5
13. h5 Ngh4
14. Nxh4 Nxh4
15. Ra4 Nf5
16. Rg4! Bd7 (not g6??)
17. Bf5 exf5
18. Rg7 bb5
19. Rh3 Qe7
20. Qa5! Bc6
21. e6!! f4
22. Re3!!! fxe3
23. exf7+ Kf8
24. Ba3 Qa3
25. Qa3+ Kg7
26. Qe7 exf2+
27. Kf2 Raf8
28. h6+ Kh6
29. Qf6+ Kh5
30. Kf3 Bd7 (...Rhg8!?)
31. Kf4 h6
32. Qg7 d4
33. g4+ Kh4
34. Qg6! Kh3
35. Qd3+ Kg2
36. Qe2+ 1-0 (Mate in 3)
Now that is a sparkling game which would grace any player's collection.
Wednesday, June 06, 2012
An intriguing Sicilian
We have just seen completed the latest World Championship of Chess between Anand and challenger Gelfand. A few Sicilians were played in that match, although you would be forgiven for thinking they were but a pale shadow of Sicilian-slugfests, as we know them from previous World Championship contests.
Saturday, February 11, 2012
A champion is forever - once good, always good
I have been reading assiduously the works of Cecil J Purdy. You have come across some of his ideas in my reference to ‘bunny rules’ in previous postings.
There is no doubt that Purdy is the best writer, teacher, and annotator for chess players who are below Master Class. If you are an average player or no better than a category one player, then you would be very foolish to ignore his writings. Take your nose out of the latest ‘Win with...’ book or computer software upgrade and read Purdy instead.
Even if you later graduate to higher levels of play because you are talented or you want to study the current crop of openings guides so as to successfully play ‘gotcha chess’, you will have benefitted from Purdy. You will be able to orient yourself quickly and well to different positions. Purdy knew well the teachings of the greatest thinkers and writers on the game: theorists like Steinitz/Lasker, Tarrasch, Nimzovich; players like Morphy, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, up to the era of Fischer. He absorbed what was best but did not innocently just swallow everything. Practical play throws up its own kind of wisdom, and Purdy was canny enough to realise that chess is in the end, a practical activity: You want to know what will help you to play better and win; leave the dogmatic rhetoric for the theoreticians in their ivory towers.
In many of his books, his annotations are sprinkled with nuggets of wisdom about how you should evaluate a position. What you should do. Why the player under scrutiny did what he or she did and what you can learn from the moves played. And as you look at the position he is commenting upon, you have the practical example before you to remember; not just a tactical motif to help with future pattern-recognition but an idea to treasure for many different positions in future encounters. Even in correspondence chess, the ideas of Purdy are invaluable to help you in a practical, no-nonsense way. It is with good reason that Fischer himself thought highly of Purdy as a teacher of chess.
I am currently reading volume one of ‘C. J. S. Purdy’s Fine Art of Chess Annotation and other thoughts’ published by Thinkers’ Press, Davenport USA and edited by Dr Ralph J. Tykodi. I obtained my copy via mail order from Neville Ledger in Tasmania firstname.lastname@example.org . He may not have any copies left of this book or the other Purdy classics. You may have to seek them out in the specialist second hand trade or find a library which has copies. His annotations and essays are perfect for the average club player. He leaves just enough unsaid in an annotation to allow you to work things out and feel satisfied with your efforts.
Anyway, I was going through his notes to famous championship games, such as those of Bovinnink against Smyslov. It occurred to me to ask the perennial question: How good are the players of one era compared to the best of another era?
The answer from the evidence of history is that the best players from one era are in fact as strong as those of any other era. Perhaps one era has more of them than another but their strength is uniform. I base this claim not on ELO historical ratings or similar formulae applied to player results.
I believe that on the basis of players of different generations, playing against each other in the transition points of different eras, the strength of the best players can be assessed. Steinitz playing strongly, well past his best period against new players; Capablanca and Lasker did the same well into the subsequent era (the twenties and thirties) and against the hypermoderns and booked up theorists; Alekhine was devastating against players who would later come to dominate chess; Botvinnik was in the forefront of players well past his best period, which was in the thirties and forties, and he was a very, very hard man to beat, even by a rampant Fischer later in the 1960s; Smyslov, as we know, played off in candidates matches at the age of 61. And do I even need to mention Korchnoi?
If players from a more modern period were indeed so superior to those from the past, they would be giving them a hiding, almost all the time. This is not what history shows us.
So on those occasions when players of different eras actually met, played in tournaments or even matches (the transition points of eras) the results of those players past their best period, facing those about to reach or having reached their best period, are generally good to excellent. The new masters looking for a quick kill against the old and worn out, are often surprised and bested by the old warriors.
Therefore I conclude: once good, good for all time.
This is boon to those of us who like players and games from different eras. We can have fun and still learn much that is worthwhile.
Now, here is a game of mine recently completed on Lechenicher SchachServer http://www.chess-server.net/ which used to be the old IECG.
This ‘chess club’ is comparable to the ICCF and players are of a very high standard. I usually struggle against them but more recently (thanks to inspiration by Fischer – see previous post – and Purdy) I have been doing better. In the following game I make a mistake using a variation in the Open Sicilian (3.Bc4) popularised by the strong Australian player Bill Jordan in the 1980s. I lose a Pawn due to some speculative nonsense but then play inventively and aggressively in the ending which forces my opponent to play conservatively. He makes an error and the result is a draw. I should mention that the time control was quite fast, hence the errors in analysis by both players.
Eraclides, George (1649) Australia versus Kerecsenyi, Zoltan (1567) Hungary
ZI-2011–0–01085 Lechenicher SchachServer, 10.09.2011
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bc4 e6 4.0–0 Be7 5.d4 (more in the spirit of this variation is 5.d3 with a patient build up) cxd4 6.Nxd4 a6 7.a4 Nf6 8.Nc3 0–0 9.Be3 Nc6 10.Kh1 Bd7 11.Qe2 Rc8 12.Rad1 Qc7 13.Bb3 Nxd4 14.Bxd4 e5 15.Be3 Be6 16.Bxe6 fxe6 17.g4 (speculative and unsound; correct was 17.f3 with Qf2 and even a Rook on d3 in time) Qc6 18.f3 d5 (as Purdy and countless teachers from the past have pointed out, a central thrust is the complete answer to an unsound flank attack; I now lose a Pawn but get a strong Knight which dominates my opponent’s Bishop; I use this ‘domination’ to help me secure a draw) 19.exd5 exd5 20.g5 d4 21.gxf6 Bxf6 22.Ne4 dxe3 23.Qxe3 Qxa4 24.Qb6 (this aggressive move can lead to a loss by Black in certain variations after Qxb7 if White is allowed the time to place a Rook on the g-file and take on f6 at the right moment; Zoltan quite rightly now, plays most carefully after winning the Pawn) Qxc2 25.Qxb7 Qc6 26.Qb3+ Qc4 27.Qxc4+ Rxc4 28.Ra1 Bd8 29.Kg2 a5 30.Rfd1 Rb4 31.Rd2 Bb6 32.Nc3 Rd4 33.Rxd4 exd4 34.Nd5 Bd8 35.Rd1 Bf6? (any winning chances lay with 35...Re8 with a long endgame; my analysis showed White can still draw) 36.Nxf6+ ½–½ (Draw agreed)
I will not be playing this variation again, any time soon. Only Fischer lines when I can.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Best of the best: Bobby Fischer
Again profuse apologies for the lateness of a post:
re-establishing ourselves in Kinglake has been combined with a substantial writing project all of which kept me ridiculously busy.
On the chess front, I have renewed my acquaintance with an old inspiration, one whose games I had unjustifiably neglected for nigh on thirty years – Bobby Fischer. Remember him?
Since I lost all my chess books along with all other belongings, in the Black Saturday fires of 2009, I have been judiciously on the lookout for chess books in second-hand book stores, mail-order, and on the internet. I stumbled across the complete games of Fischer in a 1995 book: ‘Bobby Fischer: Complete Games of the American World Chess Champion by Lou Hays’.
It coincided with a time when I was getting hammered in chess straight out of the opening and in the early middle-game. I was looking for something to inspire me as I seemed to be getting older but no wiser. I knew I had to change my openings. If I was doing so badly, I reasoned that it must be because the openings I was playing were wrong for me; I had no special feel for them, therefore was incapable of reacting properly when my opponents (all booked up and with microchips embedded in their brains) took me into unfamiliar variations. And then along came the Fischer collection by Hays.
It was a delayed epiphany of about 40 years. You see, it was because of Fischer I took up chess again as an adult, back in 1972, when he took on the chess system and won. I liked his games. So why did I not emulate his openings as many others had done? Had I wasted 40 years? Probably. A late epiphany is better than none.
So I have renewed my acquaintance with the games of Fischer. I like his style. I naturally gravitate to his mix of clear strategy, classical play, and accurate, forceful tactics. All I lack is any semblance of his talent – but then so do all my opponents at the level I play. So I have decided to unleash the ‘inner Fischer’ that’s been there for 40 years. I have started to study his games and the openings he played. I have adopted the Sicilian and King’s Indian as Black and e4 as White.
Already, my results have improved. I play with more confidence because the openings and defences suit my style. Maybe there will be some glory-days still left for the old dog (me). We shall see.
Reviewing Fischer’s career and games was like leaving behind the polluted environment of the city and going up into the mountains, where the air is crystal clear and you can see for miles around you. You can actually breathe the air instead of choking. This is what life (chess) is supposed to be like.
Fischer’s approach is classical and direct. A keen student of Steinitz, he easily absorbed the principles of classical chess. Combined with his innate talents, these principles became the foundation of an aggressive style of chess that has had no equal. Even the players of today, the great ones, do not have his level of direct aggression, soundly based and meticulously planned. And they have the benefits of modern computer assistance and hordes of seconds to help them.
The impression is given that every move is a step in the strategy; each move is a threat of some kind; the cumulative effect is of a series of hammer-blows aimed at the enemy, and when he weakens, the surgical knife comes out to finish him off.
Fischer is the greatest representative of what I call the ‘American style’ of playing chess: direct, clear, aggressive. No elaborate complexity of strategy; no bending of the knee to chess aristocracy; egalitarianism is applied – all enemies are to be treated equally. The detritus of European complexity seems to have never made it across the Atlantic to infect the American side of the ocean: Morphy, Pillsbury, Marshall, Capablanca, and Fischer. Reshevsky was prone to the European disease but then his early influences were steeped in European chess.
Fischer had patriarchal attitudes. He identified closely with Steinitz who was an outsider and a patriarch in his own way. For Fischer as for Steinitz, it was ‘my way or the highway’. You do as I say because I know what is right: this move, this variation, this opening or defence, this way of conducting chess tournaments. Fischer seems to have taken a dislike to Lasker because he deposed the Patriarch he so admired; and Alekhine’s complexity seemed to displease Fischer’s aesthetics as much as the fact he deposed the clear style of Capablanca. Even so, there are similarities to Lasker (tactical nuance, fighting spirit) and Alekhine (aggression, combinative attacks) in Fischer’s play. As Newton was wont to say, when his genius was being announced to the world, he was fortunate to be able to stand on the shoulders of giants who came before him. Same for Fischer.
In a way, Fischer is the patriarch of modern chess as Steinitz was of the classical period and Botvinnik, of the so-called, Soviet School of Chess. Of course, chess players are individuals and give their own individual twist to the influences on their development. The really talented break new ground and influence future generations. Fischer’s approach, and gift to the rest of us, is of relentless aggression, soundness, never giving up the fight even when a draw is ‘logical’; classical play with White and hypermodern openings with Black in order to have winning chances.
His style seems to have become a major influence on all the top players, as Kasparov himself has indicated in his ‘Great Predecessors’ series. Despite the difficulties he had with officials, Fischer was well liked by many of his rivals as well as respected for the principled stand he would take over conditions and player-payments. Tal, Spassky, and Gligoric among many other top players, seem to have been on friendly terms with the often cranky Fischer. The world owes an enormous debt to Spassky for the sporting qualities he displayed and the forbearance he showed towards Fischer’s behaviour, which allowed the world championship matches to proceed. Perhaps deep down, Mr Spassky also had a less than positive view of the Soviet system.
Recent analysis using computer assistance has revealed that Fischer did not always play perfectly correctly. Top level commentators, some of them world champions themselves, have shown that this or that move, if played by his opponents, would have undone Fischer’s aggressive play. Does this belittle the great man’s reputation? Hardly. It is as nonsensical to apply modern computer tools, group-think, and ‘post-Fischer’ knowledge, to devalue his legacy, as it is for an ordinary scientist today to scorn the greatness of a Newton or Einstein because they did not have the modern technical marvels and knowledge of the present day. As for Fischer’s appalling political and social attitudes, they go to a critique of Fischer the man not Fischer the player. We know of many great cultural figures, whose attitudes and values are despicable, even by the standards of their day, yet we still respect the contribution they have made to our civilisation.
Fischer’s play still stands up as sound, aesthetically pleasing, and an example for all players to aspire to, irrespective of class.
As for my play – please do not ever use it as an example of anything except the struggle of a keen chess player with a modest skill set, occasionally producing an interesting game (as long as you do not look too closely), as the disclaimer of Pawn’s Progress proclaims.
This next game is from the ongoing second match of mine against Tayhk from Singapore played on http://www.itsyourturn.com/ as previously posted. The game was completed in January 2012.
I was Black and managed to win after a few positional mistakes by my opponent. The tactical play involved dancing on a knife-edge for both of us in an open position but in the end I prevailed. I played this game under a ‘Fischer influence’ which meant that I tried to play soundly but aggressively after an unfamiliar opening tried by Tayhk; the tactics were well calculated and forceful, blending well with classical principles. Anyway, I tried. I hope you enjoy the game, especially the final part.
Tayhk versus The Palooka (George Eraclides)
1. b3 e5 2. Bb2 Nc6 3. Nf3 d6 (3...e4 is quite acceptable but I wanted a tight formation against this clever, improvising player) 4. e4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Be7 6. Bc4 (the play of my opponent does not seem to suit the essence of the Nimzo-Larsen; the Bishop will be misplaced here and I now noticed a tactical opportunity. Remember the great chess teacher Purdy’s advice: look first for forcing tactics for both sides before playing strategically, because if you don’t, you may be overlooking a brilliant strike for yourself or by your opponent; I referred to them as ‘Bunny Rules’ in earlier posts) Bg4 7. h3 (of course if he had played Be2 there would be no need for this weakening) Bxf3 8. Qxf3 (in hindsight 8. gxf3 Nd4 may have been better with 9. Nb5 or a4 to dislodge the Black Knight; given he has not yet castled, he can sneak in Queen-side castling and try to attack down the g-file) Nd4 9. Qd3 c6 (Black hits the Bc4 which is poorly placed, threatening to capture His Holiness) 10. a4 a6 11. b4 (necessary to save the Bishop) O-O 12. Nd1 (on d1the Knight becomes an impediment to his positional structure but he must try and dislodge Black’s well-posted Knight; Black takes the opportunity to try some clever space-grabbing moves on the Queen-side which keep the pressure on White. All this because of the poor move 6. Bc4) b5 13. Ba2 (he wants to save the Bishop because it attacks f7 or he does not want to admit to himself 6. Bc4 was a poor idea; I would have played 13. Bb3) c5 14. Bxd4 cxd4 (capturing towards the centre works best here, as it does most of the time) 15. c3 d5! 16. exd5 Nxd5 17. O-O Nf4 18. Qe4 Ng6 (I was quite pleased with my position. Now White gives me an opportunity to win a tempo, a dubious Pawn, and further improve my position; note: any pawn exchanges on the Queen-side initiated by White will favour Black because of White’s poor development and separated Rooks) 19. g3 Qd7 20. Kh2 bxa4 21. f4!? (high stakes play by White to cash-in on the Ba2 spearing f7; a better try was 21. Nb2) exf4 22. gxf4 Bf6! (a clever threat which White imagines he has dealt with by his next move) 23. Qf3 Rad8 24. Rf2 Rfe8 (alarm bells should be ringing) 25. Nb2? (desperation or a blunder) Nxf4! 26. Rg1 (his choices are to attack, and in the complications force a swindle, or be ground down in the long run) Be5 27. Rg3 (he is working in very tight spaces to meet numerous threats and now gives up the exchange) Ne6! (this may have come as a surprise; it blocks the attack on f7 by the Bishop on a2 and gives Black all the time needed to attack; the theme of an assault on f7 lingers in the air, never to be fulfilled) 28. Kg1 Bxg3 29. Qxg3 dxc3 (tidying up loose ends) 30. dxc3 a3! 31. Nc4 (forced and now the diagonal of the Bishop is blocked) Qd3 32. Rf3 (Black can win the Queen-less ending easily but now clever tactics by Black decide matters once and for all) Qc2! 33. Rf2 Rd1+! 34. Kh2 Qc1 35. Qf3 Ng5 36. Qc6 Rde1! 37. Nd6 R1e2! 38. Qg2 (38. Qxd8 Rxd8 39. Nxd8 Qe3 was quite unpalatable to White) Qd2! 39. Kg3? (‘Resigns’ was the alternative) Qxd6+ 0-1
So this was my ‘Fischer inspired’ effort to emulate the approach of the great man. It gave me the point and a slight lead in our second match of 24 games.
Hope you enjoyed the effort and maybe learned something useful.