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When computers fail to play good chess

November 20th, 2015 20 comments

The Top Chess Engine Championship is ongoing. The final is not surprisingly Stockfish against Komodo. As I write, round 58 is under way. Komodo is leading with four wins against one.

It can be viewed here: http://tcec.chessdom.com/live.php

In an earlier round (22), something that is hard to explain happened. Stockfish had a winning position and misplayed it! Gone is the illusion that “you have to be a computer to win this”, or at least it has been augmented a bit.

On top of this there was something to feed conspiracy theories. Here is what a source close to the match said:

“After 53.b6 the online broadcast stopped. The reason it stopped was a technical glitch. There are
two computers running the TCEC event: a 24-core machine runs the engines, and the tournament program cutechess-cli, a webserver. The game playing machine had a problem uploading the pgn file to the webserver (that’s my assessment of what happened). The live broadcast went offline in a position which seemed like an easy win for SF (sf was showing +7 and komodo was also showing a high score). Then the game was drawn; offline…and out of view.”

Indeed Stockfish did mess up a winning position, which led to some Stockfish fans to conclude that there was foul play involved. I enjoy the sound of “computer cheating in computer tournament” or “human cheats in computer tournament” or whatever the Daily Mail will be able to make out of it, looking for another scandal in chess to write about. (Recently an English player changed to Wales – for the second time in his life – and somehow this was seen as a major scandal in chess, while no one had actually noticed, or had cared once they did notice… Best of luck to Nigel of course, but that it should be a scandal is hard to understand.)

To me the most interesting to me is the question, “Why did Stockfish mess up?”, not “Did the Knights Templar hide the descendent of Christ?” or whatever…

Here is the position.

TCEC Season 8 – Superfinal http://tcec.chessdom.com (22), 11.11.2015

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Ba6 5.Nbd2 c5 6.e4 cxd4 7.e5 Ng4 8.h3 Nh6 9.Bg2 Nc6 10.0–0 Be7 11.Qa4 Bb7 12.Nxd4 Nxd4 13.Bxb7 Rb8 14.Be4 Qc7 15.Qd1 Nhf5 16.Re1 Qxe5 17.Nb3 Rd8 18.Bf4 Qf6 19.Qd3 Bc5 20.Rad1 Nxb3 21.axb3 Nd4 22.Kg2 Nc6 23.h4 a5 24.Qe2 Qe7 25.Qh5 g6 26.Qf3 Nd4 27.Qc3 Qf6 28.Bd5 Bb4 29.Qd3 0–0 30.Be5 Qf5 31.Qxd4 Bxe1 32.Rxe1 d6 33.Bf6 e5 34.Qxb6 Qxf6 35.Qxa5 Kh8 36.b4 g5 37.Rh1 gxh4 38.Rxh4 Qg6 39.Qa3 f5 40.Qf3 Qg7 41.b5 Rb8 42.b4 Rf6 43.Rh5 Qg6 44.Qe2 f4 45.Be4 Qg7 46.Qf3 Rh6 47.Rxh6 Qxh6 48.Qe2 fxg3 49.fxg3 Qg5 50.c5 Rg8 51.Qe1 dxc5 52.bxc5 Rd8 53.b6 Rd2+ 54.Kg1 Qd8 55.Qe3 Rb2 56.Bf3 Rb1+ 57.Kg2 Rb2+ 58.Kh3 Qf6 59.b7 Qe6+ 60.g4 h5 61.c6 hxg4+ 62.Bxg4 Qd6 63.Bf5 Qf6

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“Study-like”

November 17th, 2015 2 comments

I played a couple of games of chess last weekend in the first rounds of the 4ncl in Birmingham. This is newsworthy because, before this, my most recent competitive game was the final round of last season’s 4ncl, six months ago. My inactivity is due, in part, to being busy with work, including nearing a finish to a Playing 1.e4 book.

Through bad luck of the draw, my opponent on Saturday was IM Sam Collins of Ireland. I say bad luck, because when I make a 600-mile round trip from Glasgow to Birmingham, I would rather play someone I haven’t played before, not an old friend. I will just show the end of the game, though analysing the earlier parts of the rook ending could fill a book.

John Shaw – Sam Collins

4ncl 14.11.2015

50.Ra8
A small crowd had gathered as this was one of the last games to finish. I later learned one of the spectators thought I had put my rook en prise to the black pawn. Which way are the pawns going?

50…Rc2
A sneaky try to block the a-file using a check on c6 first.
The simple approach allows White to draw by a tempo. For example: 50…Kb3 51.h6 Kb2 52.h7 a1Q 53.Rxa1 Kxa1 54.Kg7 b5 55.g5 b4 56.g6 b3 57.h8Q Rxh8 58.Kxh8 b2 59.g7 b1Q Not a check. 60.g8Q=

51.Rxa2
This felt like an only move, and is the most practical choice, but allowing the black pawn to queen would also draw, as my tandem get close enough to prevent Black making progress.

51.g5 Rc6+ 52.Kh7 Ra6 53.Rxa6 bxa6 54.g6 a1Q 55.g7= (55.h6=) 55…Qb1+ 56.Kh6! Qc1+ 57.Kh7 Qc2+ 58.Kh6 Qd2+ 59.Kh7 Qd3+ 60.Kh6 Qe3+ 61.Kh7 Qe4+ 62.Kh6 Qf4+ 63.Kh7 Qf5+ 64.Kh6 Qf6+ 65.Kh7 A set-up to remember: Black cannot win. 65…Qf7 66.h6 (Even 66.Kh6 works. 66…Qg8 67.Kg6 Kc5 68.h6=) 66…Kc5 67.Kh8 Qf6 68.Kh7=

Or similarly: 51.h6=

51…Rxa2 52.h6 Kc5

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Nigel Short Lecture

October 9th, 2015 15 comments

Short-lecture

We had four days of very interesting lectures from former challenger Nigel Short on attacking chess. It was simply exceptional. One participant described it as the most enjoyable 15 hours in his chess career. In one game Nigel showed us how he self-forked his pieces. It seems he was a bad influence on himself:

Alon Greenfeld – Nigel Short
Isle of Man 07.10.2015

“I won by forking my own pieces today? Even if nobody else benefited from my talks, I certainly have!” Nigel Short sent this message after his splendid lectures in Edinburgh Chess Club last week.

1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 d4 3.b4 Bg4 4.g3 f6 5.Bg2 e5 6.0–0 Nd7 7.Qb3 a5 8.e3 dxe3 9.fxe3 axb4 10.d4 Be6 11.Bb2 Nh6 12.dxe5 fxe5 13.Nbd2 Nf7
The opening had not gone very well for White, but after this Greenfeld finds a way back into the game.

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Negi, Wei Yi and the Poisoned Pawn

September 22nd, 2015 1 comment

Rising Chinese star (and future World Champion?) Wei Yi is now in the last 8 of the World Cup after beating his compatriot Ding Liren.

In the last 32, Wei Yi had faced Alexander Areshchenko. The Ukrainian GM has a fixed repertoire: Grünfeld against 1.d4 and Najdorf against 1.e4. So where would the 2734-rated youngster seek his chances with White? Answer: By following a Negi suggestion against the Najdorf from his GM Repertoire 1.e4 vs. The Sicilian

Wei Yi (2734) – Alexander Areshchenko (2661)
FIDE World Cup 18.09.2015

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 8.Qd2 Qxb2
The Poisoned Pawn is Areshchenko’s usual choice.

9.Rb1 Qa3 10.e5 h6 11.Bh4 dxe5 12.fxe5 g5 13.exf6 gxh4 14.Be2 Qa5 15.0–0 Nd7 16.Rbd1
“Rare but potent” was Negi’s description. Later adding: “I find it staggering that this move has only been played in four games.”
Negi also covered the usual 16.Kh1.

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Petrosian on the Younger Generation by Danny McGowan

April 22nd, 2015 14 comments

While working on Python Strategy by Tigran Petrosian (excerpt here), I especially enjoyed reading his opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of other players. The ‘younger generation’ players alluded to in the title, namely Jan Timman, Zoltan Ribli and Ulf Andersson, were all born in 1951 and all went on to have hugely successful chess careers – and indeed all still play to a high level to this day. Petrosian made his comments in 1973 as the players were rising through the ranks. Timman was an International Master at the time, while Andersson and Ribli had been awarded the Grandmaster title in 1972 and 1973 respectively. It is interesting to compare Petrosian’s contemporary assessment of the trio with those we may hold now. So without further ado, I will hand you over to Petrosian:

I would particularly like to discuss the play of Timman, Ribli and Andersson. The Swede Andersson, the Dutchman Timman and the Hungarian Ribli are among the leading young players who will undoubtedly put pressure on the older generation in the next few years. And whenever I come together with them, there is something I would like to know. When we give up our place in the chess sun to the young talents, will it be because our play has changed for the worse on account of our age? Or will those who begin to surpass us be chessplayers who have risen to a new, higher level of mastery?

Ulf Andersson: small and slight, in outward appearance he seems more like a child who has strayed into the hall looking for a simultaneous display than a fully-fledged competitor in the main tournament. I somehow feel sorry for him. He crazily trails from tournament to tournament, and the easy opportunity to lead the life of a modern chess professional (who fortunately is not overburdened with worries about every crust of bread, unlike the professional of the not too distant past) has already left a grave imprint on his manner of play and his tournament psychology. In his games you rarely, very rarely see him aspiring to a full-blooded struggle. “Safety first” is not a motto before which chessplayers in such young years ought to bow. It leads to nothing good. And yet Andersson is capable of simply playing well. He possesses positional understanding, a keen eye for tactics, and vast theoretical knowledge to go with a well-worn tournament repertoire. In a word, all the signs of a top-class player are present. And at the same time – there are all the signs of creative stagnation.

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Chess Structures in Practice (Part Two) by Mauricio Flores Rios

April 16th, 2015 5 comments

I am back for a second and final guest blog post here on the QC blog. You will be able to see a copy of this post, and all my future posts on chess-structures.com, my new blog.

Just like many of you, I spent a fair amount of time last week going following the US Chess Championship played in St Louis. There was plenty of excitement, the live broadcast was very good and more important than anything, the tournament featured what was arguably the strongest combination of twelve players to ever compete in the US Championship. Despite having plenty of nice games to choose from, I think that the game I will show next was the nicest illustration of concepts from Chess Structures put into practice.

Alexander Onischuk (2655) – Daniel Naroditsky (2633)

US Chess Championship 2015

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Nf3 Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Bd6 6.Bg2 c6
The move order 6…0-0 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.Qc2 and only now 8…c6 seems to be more precise, making it harder for White to take control of the center.

7.Nc3 O-O 8.Bg5! Nbd7
8…dxc4 would be met by 9.Nd2 followed by 10.Nxc4.

9.e4 dxe4 10.Nxe4 Bb4+ 11.Nc3!
In case of 11.Bd2? Bxd2 12.Nexd2 e5! and Black equalizes.
We have reached the Caro-Kann Formation (Chapter 3), where White has more space and a better control of the center. The assessment of this position depends almost exclusively on whether Black can find a way to break in the center to release his spatial disadvantage. Otherwise, White will enjoy a lasting positional edge.

11…h6
Getting rid of the pin, aiming to create some counterplay with …Ne4.

It seems Black did not have better options, for example 11…c5 12. 0-0 cxd4 13. Qxd4 where White has superior coordination. Also 11…Qa5 12.Bd2 e5 is met by 13.a3! Bxc3 14.Bxc3 Qa6 15 0-0! with a big advantage.

12.Bf4 Ne4 13.Qc2 Nxc3 14.bxc3 Ba5 15.O-O

This is a good moment to evaluate the position. The structure has changed slightly since White now has doubled c-pawns (which also means he has a semi-open b-file). Black has been unable to release his position with either …c6-c5 or …e6-e5 and having his bishop trapped on c8 only adds to his misery. White has a very comfortable advantage.

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What to rely on

April 15th, 2015 7 comments

In the recent 4NCL I had the honour of playing first board for Wood Green with Black in two games. As I am entirely out of shape and blunder in more or less every rare game I play, my goal was to make draws, eliminate their best players and hope that the team would win on the other boards. This all went to plan and I gladly donated 1-2 rating points to the well-being of the team. Besides, I hope I will be allowed three white games in the final weekend!

My game on the Saturday was quite interesting at one moment, just after I blundered (always happens!) and I had to decide how best to deal with the defence. I think my considerations at the board were quite interesting and worth a minor discussion.

James Cobb – Jacob Aagaard

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 d5 4.e3 e6 5.b3 Bd6 6.Bb2 Nbd7 7.d4 0–0 8.Be2 Re8 9.0–0 Qe7 10.Qc2 dxc4 11.Bxc4
11.bxc4 e5 12.Nh4 Nf8 13.Nf5 Bxf5 14.Qxf5 exd4 15.exd4 Ne6 looks OK for Black. During the game I was slightly less sure, but I was going to play this way and that is what counts.

11…h6 12.Ne4 Nxe4 13.Qxe4 e5 14.dxe5 Nxe5 15.Nxe5 Bxe5 16.Qxe5 Qxe5 17.Bxe5 Rxe5 18.Rfd1 Kf8 19.Rd8+ Re8 20.Rad1 a5 21.a4 Rb8 22.R8d4 b5 23.axb5 cxb5 24.Bd5 Rd8 25.Kf1 Ke7

This is my blunder. I really had no clue that this was coming. As usual when this happens, I smiled. Life has lots of surprises for us; not all will be positive.

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Chess Structures in Practice (Part One) by Mauricio Flores Rios

April 8th, 2015 28 comments

It’s been a while since I finished writing Chess Structures, but I like the topic so much that I keep coming back to it – I know how much it improved my understanding of chess. I follow games on Chessbomb pretty much daily and I really enjoy it when I see a nice ‘structure-concept’ being applied. Often these games reproduce ideas shown in the book almost identically, while sometimes there are small (yet very important!) differences. So I thought, why not start a blog in which I will, once in a while, post a game which builds upon the ideas I shared with the readers of my book. Since the hardest point of starting a blog is finding any readers at all, John offered his help, suggesting I post a couple of guest blogs here. The permanent location of my blog will be chess-structures.com, though it will take me about 4-5 days to set it up properly, since I am a complete beginner as far as websites go.

Now let’s get started with some chess. As you may have realized, almost every game in my book was decisive (that is, not a draw) since drawn games (especially agreed draws) are like an unfinished story, and people just don’t like to read stories without an ending… Anyway, the only exception to this rule was Onischuk – Dominguez from the World Cup of 2013. This game was a Carlsbad structure (Chapter 5) which I thought was very instructive, as it shows how Black might completely neutralize White’s queenside plans. A few days ago, as I was following the Women’s World Championship in Sochi, I found a great example which pretty much takes off where Dominguez left off, and brings home the full point. The contenders: young star Guo Qi from China was White against World finalist Natalia Pogonina. Let’s see the game:

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 Be7 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 c6 7.Qc2 Nbd7 8.e3 Nh5 9.Bxe7 Qxe7 10.Be2 Nhf6  

11.Nd2?!
White deviates from theory, possibly to prevent …Ne4. This is a little imprecise since quickly playing b2-b4-b5 should be the priority.
Normal was 11.0–0 to follow up with Rab1, b2-b4-b5, and if 11…Ne4 12.Nxe4 dxe4 13.Nd2 Nf6 14.Rab1!? we have transposed to Chapter 20, the French Type II (with colours reversed) where White’s prospects are good, since the break b4-b5 is easy to carry out, and Black lacks material (and moves) to create serious kingside threats.

11…Nb6 12.0–0 0–0 13.Bd3
If 13.Rab1 then 13…Bg4! 14.Bd3 Bh5 is similar to the game.

13…Bg4 14.Rab1 Bh5!
Black is aiming to trade light-squared bishops, which is a good idea.

15.b4 a6
A standard reply, to trade off a-pawns, getting rid of a potential weakness.

If 15…Bg6 then 16.Bxg6 hxg6 17.b5!? would typically create problems for Black, since both the a7- and c6-pawns can become weaknesses, however White’s play has been imprecise, and after 17…Rfc8 18.bxc6 Rxc6! Black has good counterplay (but not 18…bxc6? when White is a little better).

16.Na4
After 16.a4 Bg6 17.Bxg6 hxg6 the standard 18.b5?! is met strongly by 18…cxb5 19.axb5 a5! with an edge. Black has a passed pawn, making White’s entire enterprise a failure.

16…Nxa4 17.Qxa4 Bg6 18.Bxg6 hxg6 19.Qc2
My favourite moment in the game; Pogonina is doing well, but now how should she stop a4 and b4-b5?

19…Ne8! 20.a4 Nd6


Black is slightly better.
The position is almost identical to the game Onischuk – Dominguez (annotated in Chapter 5). White’s queenside play is no longer dangerous. The big difference between this game and the one in the book is that here Black has a half-open h-file, creating better prospects for kingside play.

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