Desperation

 

Inspired by Willy Hendriks’ book Move First, Think Later, I want to write about a subject I have been thinking about for some time.
 
Before I get to that topic, I will say a few words about the book. Hendriks swings between clever insights, self-professed modesty and falling for the Dunning-Kruger effect  🙂 which he even portrays in the book. One of the big highlights for me is his estimate that a tournament of nine rounds with a score of roughly either +1 or -1 on expected score is just as much about chance as anything else. There is no reason to over-interpret, Hendriks explains.
 
Something similar happened in Wijk aan Zee this year. My student GM Sabino Brunello scored 11/13 and qualified for the B-group. It was quite an overscore, though he was one of the pre-tournament favourites. When asked by journalists after the tournament why he had scored so many points, he correctly said that he had no idea and that he had actually played rather badly for a while and only regained the recently lost rating points with this result. Sure, he played well, but chance was also a factor, as well as something called the winner effect, which I will probably write about another time.
 
I have been a chess trainer since the late 1980s, when I was still a relatively weak junior player. Obviously I was a poor trainer for the first 10-15 years, but since then I have learned a lot and now feel that I can consistently help people get better at chess. I still prefer to see myself as an expert on chess literature rather than as a trainer, but I have taken on a few more training jobs in the last few years than I previously did. Also, I now feel confident enough to charge a rate that makes it worth my while to engage intellectually and emotionally with the work of improving someone’s chess. However, there are definitely trainers out there who offer better value for your money than working with me; especially as many chess professionals are struggling to make ends meet and therefore need all the work they can get.

At times I am approached by people who think that my supervision to their improvement is essential. And at times I say yes.
 
But there is one phenomenon which I have faced a few times that I want to write about, as it might be interesting for a lot of people. It is desperation.
 
In general I am difficult to hire, as I am busy and I really do not need any extra responsibilities or stresses. A big turn-off is young players who for some reason are desperate. They feel that they need to improve NOW. And usually it is not their abilities they want to improve; they want to improve their results.
 
The responsibility put on the poor trainer easily becomes too much. After a training session below average (and they have to happen by definition) or a tournament that did not lead to a great leap forward, the disappointment of the student becomes too much.
 
Put on top of this the nerves the student has during play! And the amount of thinking about the result and making too big conclusions about it, rather than solving the problems on the board.
 
Who in their right mind would want such a job?
 
As said before, chess is really difficult and progress comes slowly and often only after hard work. Recently GM Sune Berg Hansen compared improvement in chess to paying the ferryman Charon a silver coin (an Obol for those who care) to be allowed passage over the river Styx. Those who know their mythology will know that those who did not pay were doomed to walk the shores of Styx for a hundred years.
 
Sune clearly intended the gloom of this metaphor, associating with the grim determination necessary to improve in areas that do not come naturally to you.
 
He said nothing about the travel time across the river. As we are talking Ancient Greece, it might not be as fast as you expect. In my life I always found that things never happened when I thought I deserved them, but when I was ready for them. I guess you have a similar experience?
 
Sune’s metaphor dies a bit when you compare becoming a GM to entering the underworld. 🙂
 
For those who are desperate out there, I would like you to consider if your unhappiness with your current chess results is linked to a belief that you will be happier when you achieve your goals? If so, I want you to be ready for disappointment: the bliss quickly wanes. However, if you love chess and are interested in the journey, then don’t despair. Improvement in chess is possible, even if it is laborious and uneven.

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  1. Jonathan
    April 15th, 2013 at 17:02 | #1

    Hi Jacob,

    It reminds me of a recent study carried out by a Dutch pscyhologist and ultra runner. In a nutshell, she discovered that athletes were significantly happier before the Olympics than after. She comes to the conclusion that reaching the summit doesn’t contribute to your overall level of happiness and she claims that there even is some kind of postnatal depression effect.

    Jonathan

  2. Ben
    April 15th, 2013 at 18:31 | #2

    These posts are really the highlights of my Mondays. Thanks for doing these Jacob!

  3. Gerando
    April 15th, 2013 at 20:43 | #3

    That reminds of what Rowson writes in Chess for Zebras: being rather than doing. It’s a kind of buddhist philosophy applied to chess: desire makes us unhappy, so we should stop wanting to achieve something and go with the flow of being.

  4. GM Rob
    April 15th, 2013 at 21:16 | #4

    I believe big lottery winners after the initial euphoria and inevitable spending spree can also suffer the same phenomenon.

    We humans of course need motivation in life but the moral of the story is to make sure your desires are for the correct reason in this instance because you have a great love of the game of chess.

    Coming from a sporting background I have always been a competitive person and I might have questioned in the past my reason for wanting to improve at chess. In fact I will think about it again now just to make sure I wont end up as one of those disappointed souls!
    Keep up the good work Jacob.

  5. April 15th, 2013 at 22:34 | #5

    Dear Jacob,

    Thanks again for an interesting blogpost. This week, I am especially keen on the following:
    “I still prefer to see myself as an expert on chess literature rather than as a trainer,”
    I am a very weak player and do not get the chance to play much due to work. I became interested in training when I was training my son and teammates on the school chess team. I have read lots of books including Erikkson’s concept of deliberate practice. I too see myself as an “expert on chess literature” and I also believe I do know the best available ways to train chess players to improvement. But of course no one trusts me with their “goal” as I don’t have the appropriate qualifications, ie an IM or GM title! 🙂 🙂
    Thanks again for your blogposts. If you have time (but I doubt it and of course your time is probably better spent writing books, these blogs and with your family than responding to a total stranger 🙂 :)), I would love to correspond on this issue of how to become a trainer.

  6. Shurlock Ventriloquist
    April 16th, 2013 at 02:19 | #6

    oh nessie, where art thou?

  7. Jacob Aagaard
    April 16th, 2013 at 08:43 | #7

    @Shurlock Ventriloquist
    Chapter 1 done. Will be divided into 7-8 sections of chapter length properties. Endless amount of new stuff. Very very complicated and mind-bending. I will try to persuade John to put something in the next newsletter, out next week.

  8. Jacob Aagaard
    April 16th, 2013 at 08:44 | #8

    @weng siow
    You can always e-mail me.

  9. Jacob Aagaard
    April 16th, 2013 at 08:44 | #9

    @GM Rob
    Being competitive does not mean you have to be unhappy when you lose or even more importantly, link your identity to winning.

  10. Jacob Aagaard
    April 16th, 2013 at 08:45 | #10

    @Ben
    Thank you.

  11. Jacob Aagaard
    April 16th, 2013 at 08:46 | #11

    @Jonathan
    If there is no joy in the work going there, I think the project is doomed and flawed anyway :-).

  12. Phille
    April 16th, 2013 at 09:13 | #12

    I’ve recently started the project of analysing my last 20 losses. Something I have mostly neglected, but everybody agrees, is very important for improvement. But I’m not sure about the joy factor … 😉

    At least I mostly lose to titled players nowadays. So, no desperation. Too old for desperately wanting to improve anyhow.

    Looking forward to the King’s Gambit Book …

  13. Jacob Aagaard
    April 16th, 2013 at 10:08 | #13

    @Phille
    If you do not enjoy analysing you are not doing it right :-). At least, I love analysing. Probably my favourite thing about chess overall.

  14. Ray
    April 16th, 2013 at 10:59 | #14

    @Jacob Aagaard
    Will your views / tips on analysing by any chance be part of “Thinking inside the box”?

  15. Go!
    April 16th, 2013 at 11:10 | #15

    Despair is uncontrolled by the desire to achieve something, be better at chess or get money to keep the floor. Despair is measured, of course, the long term.

    I know young people who want to improve in chess and have a desire to get uncontrolled and if they have it, is the very short term.
     
    Therefore, there is not despair has never existed. It’s like women with hysteria. Perhaps we should look the other way.

  16. Andre
    April 16th, 2013 at 12:58 | #16

    @Ray:
    GM Kaidanov recommends to concentrate on the key positions, and to analyze backwards from the end to the opening. This reduces the influence of automatisms, which makes it easier to find out the truth about a specific position.

  17. Jacob Aagaard
    April 16th, 2013 at 13:59 | #17

    @Ray
    Yes, but also on the blog.

  18. Jacob Aagaard
    April 16th, 2013 at 14:05 | #18

    @Andre
    I do this often when I look at other people’s games. But at my own it feels wrong. But certainly this is a possible strategy.

  19. Jacob Aagaard
    April 16th, 2013 at 14:06 | #19

    @Go!
    Yes, despair is rarely a long term emotion :-).

  20. Go!
    April 16th, 2013 at 14:33 | #20

    @Jacob Aagaard

    despair does not exist as such

  21. Ray
    April 16th, 2013 at 16:49 | #21
  22. Ray
    April 16th, 2013 at 16:49 | #22

    @Andre
    Thanks for your advice!

  23. Ray
    April 16th, 2013 at 16:51 | #23

    @Andre
    One question that occurs to me in this respect: how do you know what are the key positions without analysing first? Seems like a chicken-and-egg problem?

  24. Jacob Aagaard
    April 16th, 2013 at 17:11 | #24

    @Ray
    If you have no feeling for this, probably you are really a weak player. Basically everyone has a good feeling of when they would gain more from investing more time. Advice such as: max 20 minutes on a move is rigid and will only help very few. The last time I saw it offered, was by a self-confessed time scramble addict, which has not been cured. Sorry, I would rather take health advice from Doctors (who famously live shorter and less healthy than the rest of us…).

  25. Andre
    April 16th, 2013 at 17:14 | #25

    @Ray:
    By quickly playing over the game and identifying the key positions. In case of a game you’ve played yourself you should already know where to look. Positions in which you were unsure, exchanges were possible, sacs in the air or turning points in which you feel you’ve lost the initiative for example. A position in which you can trade down into an endgame is a critical position for example. I guess it depends. If you analyze in Hübneresque depth you can probably argue that everything is a critical position. Otherwise you just give it your best shot and check it with the computer when you’re finished.

  26. Jacob Aagaard
    April 16th, 2013 at 19:49 | #26

    @Go!
    Then you are into meta-philosophy, where nothing exists.

    Despair is our word for the easily recognisable feeling our brain sends to our body. We all understand what it is with the exception of people who are damaged in some sense.

    Sorry, educated linguist with passion for language theory and poor spelling…

  27. Jacob Aagaard
    April 16th, 2013 at 19:51 | #27

    @Andre
    Some people think of it like this, but I would say that this is what we traditionally call turning points. Critical moments are recognisable during the game, otherwise the definition is sort of pointless. You do not have to say it is a critical moment for this to matter, you just have to react as if it is. Language and improvement theory does not have to be shared for praxis to be the same.

    Will hopefully write about critical moments in a few weeks time.

  28. Ray
    April 17th, 2013 at 07:33 | #28

    @Jacob Aagaard
    Thanks for the compliment :-), and a good definition of ‘critical position’ – a position is critical if a strong player says it is :-). I guess I’m indeed a really weak player despite my FIDE rating of 2200+ :-). I was making this remark because a ‘problem’ I’m having is that I tend to calculate too much, also in positions which you might designate as not being critical and/or tactical. I’m currently working through the Yusupov series (third orange book), and I tend to score ‘excellent’ on all the tactics and endings chapters, whereas on the positional play and strategy chapters I tend to barely score ‘good’.

  29. Remco G
    April 17th, 2013 at 10:06 | #29

    @Ray: I’m 2000-ish and I also score excellents on the tactical and endgame chapters, and hopeless on the positional / strategy chapters. I think I have the same issue you have — just calculating way too much even when that’s not what’s called for. Good to seee you got to 2200+ anyway 🙂

    Somehow it’s just harder to solve problems where the answer is like “1.Be4 +=”. I look for something more decisive and try to calculate tactics that just aren’t there.

    Obviously trying to put a rating label on these books is very tricky — but going through them all must be beneficial 🙂

  30. Ray
    April 17th, 2013 at 11:03 | #30

    @Remco G
    Absolutely, I’m seeing a benefit already, having gone through almost three books. Still, I think the question of ‘critical position’ is not so trivial as might seem – at least I (like you) could use some more guidance on what’s called for in which positions, and how to recognize this :-).

  31. Jacob Aagaard
    April 17th, 2013 at 11:45 | #31

    @Ray
    For the idea of critical moment to be relevant, it really has to be adjusted to your rating. Something that is critical for me, might be trivial for Carlsen.

    With my definition of four types of decisions, you will see what critical moments would be.

  32. Jacob Aagaard
    April 17th, 2013 at 11:46 | #32

    @Remco G
    If you calculate when it brings no fruit, you approach any position as if it is a critical moment. Then they indeed all are and you end in time trouble. But there is a better way to live :-).

  33. Jacob Aagaard
    April 17th, 2013 at 11:48 | #33

    @Ray
    Not trivial to define, but language is often inadequate, especially if we describe something we all know (weaknesses) and then use some formular based on language to find them. Then we have made things difficult for ourselves. No one would do this in practice, but still Positional Play was criticised for advertising this sort of stupidity (which baffled me). Of course the solution would have been not to define what a weakness is, but that was a cop-out too far :-).

    I will write about Critical Moments in a post in a few weeks time.

  34. Shurlock Ventriloquist
    April 17th, 2013 at 13:08 | #34

    jacob, forgive me for paying attention, but many of your statements about nessie have been been contradictory (such as the statement that pdf files for sample pages are only posted once a book is ready for print and earlier statements that there was only one chapter to go compared to recent statement that first chapter is now complete)

    my only hope now is that my legs dont get broken when i jump off the bandwagon 😉

  35. April 17th, 2013 at 13:23 | #35

    @Ray
    As far as I can tell, everyone does markedly better on the tactics quizzes than the positional & strategy quizzes. I certainly do.

  36. Ray
    April 17th, 2013 at 13:43 | #36

    @Jacob Aagaard
    Looking forward to it!

  37. Jacob Aagaard
    April 17th, 2013 at 20:01 | #37

    @Shurlock Ventriloquist
    Sure, it is contradictionary. What can I do when analysis disprove what I believe? Keep the same opinion? Sorry, I am not in favour of the Iraq war anymore, even though I was stupid enough to think that some good could come of it back in 2002…

  38. Jacob Aagaard
    April 17th, 2013 at 20:02 | #38

    It really is happening. The King’s Gambit is very close to completion. And no, I do not feel evil because we put a sample chapter up for this book early on.

  39. Ray
    April 18th, 2013 at 07:39 | #39

    @Jacob Aagaard
    :-). You mean there were no weapons of mass destruction? My whole world view is falling to peaces :-).

  40. Ray
    April 18th, 2013 at 07:40 | #40

    I mean pieces!

  41. Jacob Aagaard
    April 18th, 2013 at 10:15 | #41

    Clearly a sacrificing player: no respect for pieces!

  42. Ray
    April 18th, 2013 at 11:05 | #42

    @Jacob Aagaard
    Indeed 🙂

  43. Shurlock Ventriloquist
    April 20th, 2013 at 16:20 | #43

    maybe those of us claiming there is no path to advantage or even equality for white in the king’s gambit are correct and that is the problem here?

  44. Shurlock Ventriloquist
    April 20th, 2013 at 16:22 | #44

    fwiw: i don’t play the kg but i do enjoy crushing it as black and the continuing delays only serve to reinforce bias against the opening … the smith morra book was cranked out quickly and that opening was considered by some to be just as dubious as nessie

    🙂

  45. Daniel Peter
    April 20th, 2013 at 19:39 | #45

    Hi Jacob!One more question: posible you heard about the ,,sniper opening,, [1.e4 g6.2.d4 Bg7. followeed by 3…c5, in any case] do you think it is a good opening at club level ? why not,at FM OR IM level? I want to discover a very aggressive opening with black against 1.e4, possible sicilian accelerated dragon,but i am not very convinced. you can help me? Thanks! with respect Daniel Peter

  46. April 20th, 2013 at 22:23 | #46

    For me (I would like to emphasize that I am a patzer) it is rather very hard to believe if there is any (real) advantage in KG for White. If Black does play accurate White should not be able to obtain more than a microscope (very small) advantage. However we should wait for releasing the book and we will see what John Shaw is going to show us. It had to be something special to watch, because such respected player would not dare to publish an opening book that is just busted. At least it is my expectation.

    PS. It is hard to believe to me HOW black is able to crush white (without commiting simple mistakes), too.

  47. Jacob Aagaard
    April 20th, 2013 at 22:38 | #47

    @Shurlock Ventriloquist
    No, no. Clearly the Ruy is better, but it is just a huge amount of stuff. The endlessness of the lines is really the issue. It will be worth the wait and we are so close that I had to convince John that end of May is not possible, because I don’t want him to stress. This means I hope he will finish writing in two weeks time from now. But maybe another mess turns up (= complex line)

  48. Jacob Aagaard
    April 20th, 2013 at 22:38 | #48

    @Daniel Peter
    I am not sure about this book as I have not studied it, but the opening is not duff in itself. Maybe += on IM/GM level.

  49. Ray
    April 21st, 2013 at 16:02 | #49

    @Daniel Peter
    In my opinion the accelerated dragon is not very aggressive – it’s more a positonal opening I think, in which ideas are more important than concrete variations. If you want to play something very aggressive, why not play the Najdorf? Or if that’s too much theory in your opinion, maybe the Pirc is also an option?

  50. Andre
    April 21st, 2013 at 16:10 | #50

    Last time I looked at The Modern with 3.- c5, it seemed to be in reasonable shape after 3. Nf3 but in trouble after 3. Nc3 c5 because of 4. dxc5 Qa5 5. Bd2 followed by Nd5 (if applicable). Depending on where you look this is more or less close to +/-.

    Charly Storey’s book didn’t impress me all that much when I had a brief look at it a couple of years ago, but I don’t remember why.

    Did you consider the Hyperaccelerated Dragon (2.- g6) ? It’s covered in Andrew Greet’s excellent book on the Acc. Dragon. Refutation attempts give you the mess you want, dull play gives at least equality, precise play gives white only a normal opening advantage and the Maroczy Bind … well is the Maroczy Bind.

  51. Stigma
    April 21st, 2013 at 18:11 | #51

    I love this new series of post; very thought-provoking!

    I must admit I was quite impressed by “Move First, Think Later” and am planning to let Hendriks’ ideas infuence my training.

    Could you hint at which parts of the book show evidence of the Dunning-Kruger effect, in your opinion? I would hate to start working down a blind alley…

  52. Jacob Aagaard
    April 22nd, 2013 at 10:52 | #52

    @Stigma
    Yes, this will come.

    Clearly there is nothing bad about the “method” Hendriks recommends (looking at serious chess). His book is mainly a criticism of other books and I am not sure a negative starting point is useful. I do not agree with all of his criticisms, but I did like his book a lot.

  53. Stigma
    April 22nd, 2013 at 14:01 | #53

    @Jacob Aagaard
    The point of Hendriks’ book that really struck a cord with me, is the idea of getting rid of language as much as possible when training (and playing).

    Psychology tells us chess is visual and/or based on very specific memory for piece patterns; trying to follow some sort of protocol will slow down our thinking and may even prevent us from reaching our full potential.

    As evidence for this, I have noticed that some of the most successful training programs for children rely on presenting one position after another (with increasingly complex versions of the same idea) with explanations in language kept to a minimum. This is true for both the Dutch “Steps Method” and much of the proverbial “Russian School of Chess”.

    More anecdotally, I have a friend who “got rid of language” very early in hiss chess development; he struggled with reading, so he ignored most text in chess books and just tried to understand the moves himself. It turned out he developed much faster than me.

    But it would be hard to make this point without criticizing some well-known “systems” of chess improvement, and especially Silman’s. I read “Reassess Your Chess” early on and learned a lot from the well-selected games, but I usually failed to apply the “Silman thinking technique” in my games.

    Watson argued plausibly in his review of “Move First, Think Later” for TWIC that (I’m paraphrasing) thinking protocols, imbalances etc. are useful fictions that help make some sense of chess and organize training material for players below a certain level (2100?), but to reach higher we had better focus on specifics; Concrete positions and moves, typical patterns and moves in the openings we want to play instead of “general” strategy, etc. But again, there’s even an argument for reducing the use of language to a minimum all the way down to beginner level.

    The one “linguistic protocol” I still feel is justified is Kotov’s famous blundercheck: “Before moving, look at the board through the eyes of a patzer… etc.”

  54. Jonathan
    April 23rd, 2013 at 09:55 | #54

    @Stigma
    I have an even beter piece of advice: “Before moving, look at the board through the eyes of a strong GM!”

  55. Jacob Aagaard
    April 23rd, 2013 at 11:36 | #55

    @Stigma
    The problem is rather that the abstract cannot come before the concrete. If you look at Dvoretsky’s books you will find that they are filled with rules and abstracts. But before you are ready for them, they do not really make sense. Hendriks is right in saying that the “rules” (I prefer to look at them as general strategies) point in both directions at once. This is not a problem if you know where you are and where you are going, but before you do, these abstracts have no value for you.

  56. Stigma
    April 23rd, 2013 at 11:56 | #56

    @Jacob Aagaard
    Maybe we’re really talking about two different categories of “rules” then?

    – Those who are meant as substitutes for concrete knowledge and pattern-based intuition (i.e. Heisman, much of Silman, Hertan…); a bad method if we want to get much higher than 2100

    – Those who presuppose that we have lots of knowledge and intuition, and help us organize our thinking whenever our intuition doesn’t immediately suggest a good move (i.e. Dvoretsky)

    I remember Dvoretsky writing somewhere that we (meaning himself and his 2200+ students, I guess) should never spend time making lists of positional features; instead we should rely on our intuitive appraisal of the features of the position.

  57. Stigma
    April 23rd, 2013 at 12:07 | #57

    P.S. Those who promote rules and guidelines for “everything” could defend by arguing that they are meant primarily for use in training; once you get to the board you have ideally trained so well that you’re doing most of it automatically. But I think Hendriks is convincing on this: Concrete moves come first in our thinking. And I don’t think the training should be that different from the competition.

  58. Jacob Aagaard
    April 23rd, 2013 at 13:02 | #58

    @Stigma
    I really like the way people say “intuition” as if it is a get-out-of-jail card. As I see it, those limiting themselves to only one source of input will always be lacking behind.

    Basically we have two approaches, tested in the wild.

    a) the moves, moves, moves – West Europe and the US
    b) a mixed approach – East Europe

    Obviously method A has improved a lot over the last fifteen years. It is obvious to me that the presence of computers has helped a lot.

    They are also a part of the story why we have so many young grandmasters.

    But we also have the oldest World Champion since Botvinnik. Of the players in the recent candidates tournament, only Radjabov used computers in becoming a grandmaster.

    Both logic and the real world observations indicate to me that a mixed approach is best. Sure, at the board we rely a lot on intuition, but if we do not build it in advance, it will not be there. And it is far more intelligent and complex than these simple comparisons.

    Hendriks is clearly right in “good chess in and good chess will come out” business. But an explanation other than variations to why something is good is in my opinion still helpful.

    Either way, what we do at Quality Chess is not at odds with this puritan “moves only” view. We are providing good moves. People can skip the explanations if they like :-).

  59. Stigma
    April 23rd, 2013 at 13:47 | #59

    @Jacob Aagaard
    “Intuition” or “pattern recognition” is just much quicker to write than citing all the research by de Groot, Simon, Gobet, Ericsson, Avni etc. that points to this being the main difference between players on different levels.

    A mixed approach – I can live with that. But the difference isn’t straightforwardly east vs west – many of the authors that are most eager to propose rules, guidelines and thinking tools for every situation are Western (i.e. Heisman, Silman, Hertan and others). And there’s a real danger here of ambitious class players getting the wrong message that if they rely on these magical rules/guidelines, they can skip the tiring “play through lots of master games” and “do lots of exercises” parts.

  60. Tom
    April 23rd, 2013 at 14:56 | #60

    This might be a bit far-fetched but, I think there is an analogy to be made. That is, ‘just the moves, moves, moves’ versus ‘logic, pattern recognition, thinking by analogy’ is similar to using compression algorithms, or not, in computer programming. A close approximation may be vastly ‘cheaper’ than exact knowledge.

    If you store the data for a picture in such a way that you can 100% exactly reproduce the picture, you will need a lot more storage space than if you store the data with a ‘lossy algorithm’. The ‘lossy algorithm’ may reproduce the picture with 99% accuracy, but use lots less storage space, and/or time. For most photographs this is usually a good trade-off. However, for text or financial data you may need 100% accuracy.

    So back in chess, in relatively quiet positions, approximation + less effort may be the best solution (especially for beings with limited nervous system resources). While in ‘hotter’ tactical positions 100% accuracy is more desirable (if not always possible).

  61. Jacob Aagaard
    April 23rd, 2013 at 16:25 | #61

    @Stigma
    Forgive me, but this is just nonsense. When people say intuition, you cannot say that it is a summary of other people who say that they have detected that it exists.

    What I am talking about is how it got there. Looking into the world I still see that interpretations of what happened has the best success in producing great intuition.

    I do agree that Lipnitsky, Dvoretsky, Keres, Kotov, Botvinnik and so on are better writers than any Western writer. But if you go with the practice of Western players it has been largely autodidact – and far less successful. The big exceptions are of course Fischer and Larsen, who both were fluent in Russian and read everything they could get their hands on.

    All of it is a theory and practice debate. You need both is my claim. I see no evidence to the opposite, only a few books that shoot down the most lame attempts at the theory bit. I am wondering why these guys never go for Dvoretsky, but always shoot at Heisman, Silman or me :-)?

  62. Ray
    April 23rd, 2013 at 19:24 | #62

    @Jacob Aagaard
    I’m actually a little surprised that there is a debate on this in the first place… It seems kind of obvious to me that you need both theory and practice in chess, as in most other areas? Comparing e.g. with playing an instrument, few people would disagree that the two preferably go hand in hand… Of course there is always the legendary autodidact prodigy musical genius who can’t read sheet music, but I think it is rather the exception than the rule :-).

  63. Jacob Aagaard
    April 23rd, 2013 at 21:20 | #63

    I am sorry to have used the words nonsense. I meant this in a non-offensive, not personal kind of way. I meant the argument, but I did not mean to be in any way disrespectful and I did not feel any disrespect and therefore I am sorry I expressed it in this way. I am Danish and we use words in a direct way, which the rest of the world has not yet been accustomed to.

  64. Stigma
    April 23rd, 2013 at 23:43 | #64

    No offense taken. I know “people” mean all kinds of things when they say intuition, but the way I used it here I take it to be based on chess-specific memory which suggests moves to us in a position automatically, without much conscious effort (what Hendriks calls the “chess module”). I take it you agree that chess players have such specific memory (it is certainly well-supported by psychological research), we just disagree about how it develops.

    Again, I just don’t see your tidy east/west difference. There is a strong tradition in the former Soviet Union for building up this massive store of patterns with mostly a large quantity of positions rather than lots of verbal explanations, especially in books for lower-level players. For example, the popular tactics books by Blokh, the middlegame book by Terekhin that was published in German as “Techniken des Positionsspiels im Schach”, the training book series by Pozharsky and by Lisitsin, and many of the books that have been converted to training courses by Convekta. Possibly the best modern example of what I’m talking about is… Yusupov’s 9-volume series for Quality Chess 🙂

    Not all these books are entirely without text of course, and textual explanations can often motivate and make the learning experience more inspiring and less confusing. But clearly the positions, as Hendriks says, “constitute the actual learning material”.

    Many of the training books by yourself and by Dvoretsky (alone and with Yusupov) are at more of a meta-level; they teach us how to train ourselves, how to consciously calculate when intuition doesn’t take us far enough, and how to approach practical problems at the board rather than just feeding us lots of patterns. Clearly I agree there is a place for both. Dvoretsky acknowledges quite clearly that a lot of assessment and planning is done subconsciously (i.e. pp. 8-9 of the Batsford edition of Positional Play), and his recommended training methods are also very concrete – I’m not sure the differences between him and Hendriks are that great.

    Is this really such a nonsense view?

  65. April 24th, 2013 at 00:15 | #65

    Stigma :
    There is a strong tradition in the former Soviet Union for building up this massive store of patterns with mostly a large quantity of positions rather than lots of verbal explanations, especially in books for lower-level players.

    My favorite of these are the Manual of Chess Combinations (aka Chess School) books, which are basically a complete course on tactics starting from mates in one, with no text.

    As a comparison, when go/weiqi/baduk is taught in the East, there is a large emphasis on memorization, drilling of thousands of tactical problems, and pattern recognition. Western players are often uncomfortable with this and long for more “Silmanesque” instruction, so Western-language go books tend to be much more descriptive.

  66. Ray
    April 24th, 2013 at 06:58 | #66

    @Jacob Aagaard
    Well, I’m Dutch and we’re pretty direct too – so you can exclude us from ‘the rest of the world’ “-).

  67. Jacob Aagaard
    April 24th, 2013 at 07:03 | #67

    @Stigma
    I cannot see how you can say

    a) let’s ignore language and explanations
    b) include the Yusupov books: they are exactly what I am talking about – a concept or idea, expressed in words and then taken into practice.

    I know Mark very well and have discussed this sort of thing with him many times. As you might know, it was his recommendation that Problems of Modern Chess Strategy by Lipnitsky should be translated into English that lead to the foundation of Quality Chess. Mark’s opinion is what mine is based on: that we learn things through interpretation and then use them subconsciously. Or in other words: first it is conscious, then it happens much faster subconsciously. I really do not understand why this is thought to be controversial. This is how you learn to ride a bike, read, play the piano etc. Try to do any of these without conscious verbal explanations to start off and you are in trouble. But in chess these explanations are of no use?

    I think what surprises people often is how radical this move only view is. Away with counterstrokes in the centre, away with two weaknesses, away with worst placed piece, away with don’t move a pawn on the side of the board where you are weaker.

    Obviously non of these strategic ideas are absolute. Because they are in play with other strategic ideas. It is the same in physics. I remember Watson expressing something close to disgust to my idea for a rule: “taking the queen for free is a good idea”. But we do have such a rule in our head and it does trump “a knight on the rim is dim”.

    This is not to say that there are not patterns of piece placements (chunks) or of move sequences (which Hendriks correctly includes). Because you can observe them at work, it does not mean that there is no evaluation of them.

    Personally I like to teach a good sensitivity for piece placement, weaknesses and prophylaxis. Once you are at the board, this sensitivity will take you far. But this does not mean that these common strategies (rules) are not useful. They are shortcuts to explaining complex things we might otherwise not have observed if we were looking just at moves.

  68. Daniel Peter
    April 24th, 2013 at 07:36 | #68

    Hi Jacob! I want to point out a big problem
    now I play a very important tournament and yesterday I lose the game. But not this is important , I mean I play the English opening.!!!!I am a aggressive player!! everyone told me this. I LIKE TO PLAY 1.E4, but here is the problem: the lack of theory of these openings. not all players want to play English opening, or 1.d4 not because they are good, because they are attacking players. Currently do not exist books that present a varied repertoire and also good and full of practical ideas.Almost all book { Gm repertoire} focuses on black issues. 1.d4 and the English opening are very good, but not everyone can understand this complicated opening. I want to feel the joy of playing 1.E4!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    What I want? GM REPERTOIRE 1.E4 !
    With respect Daniel Peter

  69. Gilchrist is a Legend
    April 24th, 2013 at 07:40 | #69

    @Ray
    Having spent months learning Dutch several years ago, I noticed the frequency of sayings as “Dat is uitstekend” or “Dat is heel lekker” where it does not seem overly surprising or good, but if I had to describe the QC opening books which I am reading right now, I would myself say, “Deze zijn echt uitzonderlijk!”.

  70. Jacob Aagaard
    April 24th, 2013 at 09:21 | #70

    @Gilchrist is a Legend
    thx

    @Daniel Peter
    we are working on it

  71. Ray
    April 24th, 2013 at 09:51 | #71

    @Gilchrist is a Legend
    🙂 Whereas in English one would say ‘not bad indeed!’ (note the exclamation mark) :-).

    By the way, I have been looking more closely into the GM Modern Benoni book, and it convinced me to take this opening up in my reportoire :-).

  72. Gilchrist is a Legend
    April 24th, 2013 at 10:03 | #72

    @Ray
    Yes, especially in Britain, “Wat een grote boek!” would be “This book is not bad!”

    That happens to me with most GM Repertoire books; I tend to incorporate those openings into my repertoire. And then the French GM Repertoire and GM Guide upcoming will further surely cause me to incorporate more variations into my repertoire. Die boeken zullen echt opvallend en gezellig zijn, alles(!).

  73. Paul Brøndal
    April 24th, 2013 at 13:38 | #73

    @Ray
    Ray, I like the Benoni book very much too; it is very nice that Petrov gives several alternatives for black in many variations.

    When I start playing chess tournaments again, the Benoni will probably be my main defence/weapon with black. I could imagine that we risk sometimes losing very quickly in this opening, as smal inaccuracies may be punished very severely. On the other hand, the opening seems to be so dynamic that small errors on the white side can completely turn the tables.

  74. Ray
    April 24th, 2013 at 15:56 | #74

    @Paul Brøndal
    Indeed, that was my impression too! Anyhow, after training your calculation skills with Jacob’s books small accuracies will be a thing of the past :-).

  75. Daniel Peter
    April 24th, 2013 at 19:51 | #75

    @Jacob Aagaard
    What is the date on which you launch the first volume? which series of volume are about?
    gm guide -john shaw or your grandmaster repertoire series?

  76. Gilchrist is a Legend
    April 24th, 2013 at 21:34 | #76

    If one reads the book, I belive it might be on the 4. g3 chapter of GM12, that he says that some prefer the Nimzo Indian move order with 2…e6, to avoid the Taimanov Attack. I however do not see anything so bad that would require one to want to avoid it. I like the 9…Qh4+/10…Qe7 that Petrov gives, and the position looks fine to me. And are not the Nimzo Indian and Benoni slightly different in style (solid with aggressive/tactical)?

  77. Jacob Aagaard
    April 25th, 2013 at 07:03 | #77

    @Daniel Peter
    We are quite advanced with John’s 1.e4 books. He will have time to write them quite soon, when he no longer has to spend time on the King’s Gambit (because it will be FINISHED). We have also done a lot of work on the GM Repertoire 1.e4 books, which I will write, but I am finishing Grandmaster Preparation first. Still three volumes on that one to go.

  78. Daniel Peter
    April 25th, 2013 at 08:34 | #78

    @Jacob Aagaard
    This work is very hard! success!
    One question : what mean the title ,, Thinking inside the box,,

  79. Daniel Peter
    April 25th, 2013 at 08:35 | #79

    ?

  80. Jacob Aagaard
    April 25th, 2013 at 13:34 | #80

    @Daniel Peter
    It is a question that takes 400 pages to answer. You need to wait for the book :-).

  81. Ray
    April 25th, 2013 at 18:21 | #81

    @Jacob Aagaard
    Slightly (or actually totally) off-topic: I just received your latest newsletter, which as usual contains an impressive amount of material – thanks QC! One small thing I noticed: Schandorff played 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 against the Slav; pity he chickened out on his own recommendations :-).

  82. The Lurker
    April 25th, 2013 at 18:33 | #82

    @Daniel Peter
    Well, the chess board is an equilateral rectangle….

  83. Daniel Peter
    April 25th, 2013 at 20:39 | #83

    @Jacob Aagaard
    in the gm preparation ,,endgame play,, please tell me you will covered all tips of final
    from pawns final to queens final.in another words the endgame play is my weak point.
    Mom always bugging me to learn finals!

  84. Jacob Aagaard
    April 25th, 2013 at 22:40 | #84

    @Ray
    It is a bad idea to follow your published repertoire. He played everything in it intensively before he published the book, with great success. But you do not want to be hit with a bluff novelty in move 15. No one says that you have to declare that you are following the book when you buy it, so you are in the clear.

  85. Jacob Aagaard
    April 25th, 2013 at 22:42 | #85

    @Daniel Peter
    I would recommend to start with Dvoretsky, Nunn og De Villa. My book is not a level 1 book in that sense, but meant to be a companion to such books.

  86. Stigma
    April 26th, 2013 at 01:49 | #86

    @Jacob Aagaard
    Of course the “moves only” view is radical – it is a new and hot perspective related to cognitive psychology and the study of “expertise” that is just starting to influence chess training. So there are some differences with even the best of the current paradigm, like Dvoretsky or yourself (congratulations on yet another award, by the way!). The heretical thought is that even though we are linguistic creatures and can hardly stop ourselves using language to explain and instruct, maybe language is less essential to the learning process than everybody has thought (for fundamentally non-linguistic activities like chess or riding a bike or playing the piano) and it may be possible to speed up many parts of the training by bypassing language.

    But “moves only” does sound a bit overstated. As I read Hendriks, he advocates being critical of general rules and using statistics to test whether they apply as widely as instructional books claim, not throwing each and every rule out the window. Would he (or Watson for that matter) really give up guidelines like “the principle of two weaknesses” or “improve your worst-placed piece”?

    At least these rules are not linguistic recipes for the the thinking process on every move, the kind Hendriks deplores most. We don’t sit at the board itching to use the “principle of two weaknesses” on every move, instead we (intuitvely?) notice certain features and those trigger the appropriate rule:

    – Looks like I’m better but I’m not making progress (in the likes I calculate) by playing on just one side of the board > Create a second weakness

    – No plan seems obviously best intuitively, but I have this one piece that’s not doing anything > Improve the worst-placed piece

    I also believe that stronger players than me will make the right decision intuitively (based on pattern recognition) in many positions where I have to consciously invoke rules like these. The stronger the player, the more decisions are made rapidly and mostly involving memory – this is exactly what brain scans of chess players’ thinking suggest.

  87. Ray
    April 26th, 2013 at 08:33 | #87

    @Jacob Aagaard
    🙂 Of course I understand this; I’ve switched to 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 myself – mainly because I find the main lines kind of hard to memorize, considering that on my level hardly anyone plays e.g. the Botwinnik Semi-Slav or Slav with 6.Ne5 and 11…g5. It’s just that the sharper lines are so much more fun according to my taste. But you can’t have it all I guess.

  88. Jacob Aagaard
    April 26th, 2013 at 08:43 | #88

    @Stigma
    I think you are exactly on the money, regarding what Hendriks think. This is how I understood him as well.

    Secondly, I had a lot of this stuff at university. I have been in an MRI scanner solving chess puzzles. I know how basic the information you get is. Although it is interesting, I really think you should limit yourself from making great conclusions based on it. Yes, the more you know, the more you remember. But it does not mean that you do not incorporate strategic patterns as well.

    Mark and my concept, which has succeeded in the real world so far, is that a mixed approach, using all strong strategies work. The alternative view has so far not done as well. Computers have not yet produced a world champion.

  89. Jacob Aagaard
    April 26th, 2013 at 10:01 | #89

    @Ray
    He played a lot of the sharp stuff prior to publication and would probably play it internationally, but not against a close friend in the Danish Championship, who has definitely looked at his book.

  90. Andre
    April 26th, 2013 at 11:39 | #90

    @Daniel Peter:

    I suppose the de la Villa book Jacob meant is “100 Endgames you must know”. Very good intro book with focus on clear explanations and practical relevance.

  91. Ray
    April 26th, 2013 at 17:25 | #91

    @Jacob Aagaard
    That makes sense!

  92. Daniel Peter
    April 28th, 2013 at 20:36 | #92

    @Jacob Aagaard
    which is the expected date when you will launch the first volume on gm repertoire .1.e4

  93. Jacob Aagaard
    April 28th, 2013 at 21:11 | #93

    @Daniel Peter
    I expect it will be early 2014. We really are Quality Chess, not deadline chess or quantity chess. Some of our competitors are usually on time – but the books are published a year after they were written. With the KID book, Kotronias is sending files as we speak, and the book will be published in just over a month. It is more chaotic (which is one reason why we love our non-opening books quite a bit), but it is also more valuable for the readers.

    Obviously we try to create some anticipation to increase sales; but it also means I am abused weekly for not delivering. I say: blame it on the editors (with the exception of my own books!).

  94. Gilchrist is a Legend
    April 28th, 2013 at 22:13 | #94

    I imagine that series to be extremely demanding. Only the Spanish even in the GM Repertoire 1. e4 series already you have to cover however many systems exist on the ninth move of the Main Line Spanish: Breyer, Zaitsev, Karpov, Chigorin …Na5, Chigorin …Qc7, Smyslov, Keres, etc., then the Marshall Gambit, Arkhangelsk, Neo-Arkhangelsk, Open Spanish, Modern Steinitz, Berlin Endgame, and then the recently rejuvenated Jaenisch Variation. Then after finishing that, there is the Petroff, Philidor, etc. And then three other volumes…

  95. Ray
    April 29th, 2013 at 07:35 | #95

    @Gilchrist is a Legend
    I agree. If you look at Openings according to Anand (who on earth has studied all volumes of that series?!), 1.e4 seems impossibly theoretical to play by mere mortals… The French with 3.Nc3 is a massive amount of theory as well, with black having a lot of viable options to deviate from the main lines. Khalifman wrote 2 volumes on the French alone – for a white reportoire, mind you! Seems like Kotronias is embarking on a similar project for the KI :-).

  96. Gilchrist is a Legend
    April 29th, 2013 at 07:52 | #96

    @Ray
    To be honest when I was younger I had more time and I studied some of those books, but I never played 3. Nc3 against the French. I dislike playing White against any Winawer position, and the Classical as well. I suppose that is an obvious explanation why I play the French as Black not as White. I used to play 1. e4 to around 2150 level, and it was always manageable even though I played the Spanish Main Line, all Open Sicilians, Main Line Caro-Kann, etc. I used to play 6. Bg5 against the Najdorf though, and that was sometimes arduous.

    I do not play the Poisoned Pawn Winawer, but the unpopular 7…0-0 and the somewhat more popular 6…Qa5, but usually the Classical with 7…Be7 against 4. e5 and 4…Be7 for 4. Bg5. I would seriously not enjoy playing 3. Nc3 as White and having to memorise both 7…Qc7/7…cxd4 and then 7…0-0, and that is only for the Winawer. The Winawer also has a high number of sidelines that are not bad and White needs to know how to play against systems such as 4…b6, 4…Qd7, 4…Ne7, 5…Ba5, 5…Bf8, 6…Qa5, 6…Qc7, 6…Nc6, etc.

    But there is nothing wrong with a long repertoire. Marin has three volumes for English, and Jacob will certainly surpass that with four volumes for 1. e4. Berg has two volumes for his French GM Repertoire, and if you receive Playing the French, you can consider using three books for the French from QC. I would not mind if QC had French books for 3. Nc3, 3. Nd2, 3. e5, and sidelines for each of those topics.

  97. Jacob Aagaard
    April 29th, 2013 at 11:17 | #97

    Obviously it will be a great challenge. But also one I cherish, so I will be fine.

  98. Ray
    April 29th, 2013 at 16:29 | #98

    @Jacob Aagaard
    Indeed nothing wrong with a long reportoire as such. It’s just that I find it a lot easier to enter the variations in my database than to actually remember them at the board – especially if there’s a lot of ‘irrational’ computer moves involved.

  99. Ray
    April 29th, 2013 at 16:30 | #99

    Sorry, this was meant as a reply to Gilchrist!

  100. Gilchrist is a Legend
    April 30th, 2013 at 01:29 | #100

    @Ray
    Concering long variations, I think 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 avoids that generally, or at least comparatively, to for example the Poisoned Pawn Winawer. Ironically it seems that the Rubinstein Variation has several forced and long lines. But I think Nikos said at some time that the French book is to avoid crazy positions. The Winawer Poisoned Pawn is quite irrational, and having lost almost all of my games with the Najdorf 6. Bg5 line with the same name against anyone between 2500 all way down to even 2100, does not make me want to play it..

  101. Gilchrist is a Legend
    April 30th, 2013 at 03:53 | #101

    @Ray
    Also I used to have a friend who last time when I played in the same tournament as he was around 2300 or so, and played 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 for his entire life. Perhaps some think it is docile of a variation, but he wins an unexpectedly high number of games, especially in weekenders, with it. I remember several times years ago playing on the board next to him and when I was having chaotic positions in the Najdorf on move 15, he had commanding positions with the 4…Be7 line against his opponents when they played 1. e4. Perhaps 1. e4 players are too complacent against this line? They seem to prepare excessively for the Poisoned Pawn Winawer or the MacCutcheon compared to this line.

  102. Jacob Aagaard
    April 30th, 2013 at 07:07 | #102

    To be honest, we are not certain we can prove absolute equality after 3.Nc3 Nf6 (though we are close), but we really really want to do so after 3.Nd2 c5, which is by no means easy! I found an interesting novelty that might do the job, but we need to analyse it carefully to be sure we get it right.

  103. Ray
    April 30th, 2013 at 07:34 | #103

    @Jacob Aagaard
    Sounds good, take your time :-).

  104. Gilchrist is a Legend
    April 30th, 2013 at 07:50 | #104

    I have heard multiple times that basically all openings (good openings) must have the onus to prove += and a defence, equality, so it is a struggle for all defences, not just 3. Nc3 Nf6. 3. Nd2 c5 is probably a very simple reply, but I used to play it with 4…exd5. I have been contemplating this book for months and it is probably the key book for me out of the future publishing schedule. The 4. e5 Steinitz I think Black has many options, but 4. Bg5 will probably be critical as well. But anyway I thought Black had fairly good play in 3. Nd2 c5 3. exd5 Qxd5? I usually disliked playing against 3…c5 due to that and 4…exd5, but luckily not many played 3…c5 against me. I do not like White’s position after 4…exd5 5. Nf3 Nf6 or 5. Bb5+ Bd7 6. Qe2+ Be7 7. dxc5 and the ensuing bishop against knight middlegame after White plays 0-0-0, and 4…Qxd5 I found it hard to start or maintain any initiative there. Black also has 6…Qd7 and other moves that I think look interesting. But I think if anyone worries more about 3. Nd2 than 3. Nc3, then their analyses are probably very good. I stopped worrying about these lines when I switched to 1. d4…

  105. Phille
    April 30th, 2013 at 09:35 | #105

    GiaL’s posts remind me of an interesting topic for a future blog post:
    “e4 vs d4” or maybe more realistic “switching to d4”
    I know a surprising number of players in the 2100reds who switched to d4 and it is starting to make a lot of sense to me too. I can basically blitz d4 just as successful as e4, although I have never prepared a d4-repertoire and have been an e4-player all my life. I always had more problems playing against d4 (I rectified it somewhat in recent years, but it used to be a ridiculous difference) and I know a lot of players with a similar problem and none with an e4-phobia.
    And of course last season my black performance was more than a hundred points higher than my white performance …

  106. Jacob Aagaard
    April 30th, 2013 at 11:18 | #106

    @Phille
    Thanks for the tip, I will think about it.

  107. Ray
    April 30th, 2013 at 12:36 | #107

    @Phille
    I changed myself from 1.e4 to 1.d4 abour 10 years ago, and I have never regretted this decision. By the way, I read much more about people switching from 1.e4 to 1.d4 than the other way around. Kramnik made some attempts some years ago but went back to 1.d4…

  108. Jacob Aagaard
    April 30th, 2013 at 14:50 | #108

    @Ray
    I changed from 1.d4 to 1.e4 and never really looked back (except for one-game stands). More people do play 1.d4 right now, but I think a lot of it is fashion.

  109. Gilchrist is a Legend
    April 30th, 2013 at 19:50 | #109

    I changed from 1. e4 to 1. d4 because of two reasons chiefly, I started to play more positionally, and my results as White were very bad. My last tournament before changing to 1. d4 from 1. e4, I played in the Canadian Open, and literally lost all of my games as White, including to a 2100 and 2000. I also had a lost position against Eesha Karavade in about 15 moves. I was probably tiring of playing 1. e4 by then and I had to switch. My results as White improved since then. I would not be surprised if my performance as White back then was 2150 or even lower, which is not good for someone who is around 2250-2350.

  110. Gilchrist is a Legend
    April 30th, 2013 at 21:37 | #110

    @Ray
    I also am not sure if it is absolute truth, but for me 1. e4 seems sharper and more tactical than 1. d4 if one wishes to play for the utmost theoretical opening advantage in the opening. For example, after 1. e4, it is established that the Open Sicilian is necessary to fight for the highest theoretical advantage against the Sicilian, then 3. Nc3 against French, 3. Nc3 against Caro-Kann, the Main Line Spanish against 1…e5, etc. With 1. d4 to me it seems as if one does not need to play such sharp lines to try for a theoretical advantage. Against King’s Indian, one does not have to play the Mar Del Plata main lines, or 4. Qc2 against Nimzo, etc. since there are so many other good lines to play. Previous to my switch to 1. d4, I also had several times, in fact at least ten other times, where I literally had lost positions before move 20 when I played 1. e4. One time I played a GM I was lost on move 17 against his Chigorin Spanish, and most of the other times I was lost in Open Sicilians. Maybe it just did not work for me, or perhaps I prefer to play positionally now, I do not know. Perhaps I cannot hold an initiative like I had been able to; many times when I was about to quit 1. e4, I had serious problems against the Najdorf, Taimanov, and Kan since I played 6. Bg5 and the English Attack against the latter two, and usually would have an attacking set-up, and then lose the initiative and have a wrecked position around move 25.

  111. Gilchrist is a Legend
    April 30th, 2013 at 21:37 | #111

    @Ray
    And also, Gelukkig Koninginnedag!

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