Sunday, December 31, 2006

A second trick

Now I'm over my anger about Bent Larsen's silly move, I see that there is something interesting in it. This was the diagram what the rage was all about.

The instruction was: find the positional plan.
I set it up at a board and analysed the position for two hours without reaching a definite conclusion. When I looked at the solution it said this is a mate in 3. It costed me 20 seconds to solve it.

What does this mean?
Since I solved it in 20 seconds, the pattern must be very familiar. I mean, I have probably exercised between the 20 and 50 knight sacs a day the past 3.5 year, so how could it be otherwise?
But I don't associate a knight sac with a positional plan. So the instruction sets a filter over the candidate moves.
At which moment did this filter work?
Was the move filtered BEFORE it appeared in my brain, or appeared the move and was it dismissed? I can't remember exactly.

I postulate that this tunnelvision is the common state of mankind. Not only filtering your moves at the chessboard, but coloring the whole interpretation of what you see in this world. It's the last day of the year, time to get philosophical:)

To avoid the disadvantages of such filtering at the board, some steering of your associations is necessary. Is this where a thoughtprocess comes in handy?

A second trick.
Since my tactical training I'm a one-trick pony. That's much better than before when I had no trick at all. Now I have realized the importance of piece activity, I'm developing a second trick. Piece activity is 100% in the line of MDLM's approach, so there is nothing to worry about.
I'm solving positional problems now and in the mean time I'm creating an empyrical list:
What characteristics do I need to look at to solve this problem. The list is very pragmatical, what I check anyway (for instance is there a mate in 3:) is not on the list. The more problems I do the more items on the list, but since I start to do things automatically, the list shrinks again. So its size is fairly constant.
The list is already quite helpful in my cc-games and it makes my chesslife easier.
In the meantime I found the common factor in piece activity: targets.
Tactical targets: undefended piece, piece of higher value, king.
Positional targets: weak pawns, better home for your piece.

Happy New Year!!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Brain damage

Sometimes I get the feeling that grandmaster play leads to brain damage. Take for instance the book of Bent Larsen called Good move's guide. I mean, I pay money for a book to get help right? To save me time.
He has a chapter about positional chess with 48 positional problems.
I arrived at problem 13 and spend two hours without finding a clue. I don't want to give up too easy. When I looked up the answer, it said: I hope you haven't spend too much time to assess the remaining endgame since it is a mate in 3.
I looked again at the board and solved it in 20 seconds.

I really can't understand why an author does this. Why does he want me to spill two hours for nothing? If it is a joke, he will never notice the effect. If it is to make me look stupid, yeah, I already know that. That's why I bought a book in the first place. To HELP me because I'm stupid in chess. There is nothing in this for me nor for him so WHY on earth can he behave like this? Youth frustration? Brain damage?

Usually I take the bad things in a book for granted. I never complained about Rapid chess improvement for instance. Even the insults of Jeremy Silman didn't bother me. But now I feel free to tell you about BENT LARSEN Good move's guide.

The book is pretty bad. The writer ends every position with something like: every master would find this an easy win. Which means that he isn't able to explain WHY a position is won.
The book is filled with examples that are not verified. Sometimes they are plain wrong. Or the opponent makes just silly moves. It happens seldom that my computer agrees with him.

So that helps to get rid of my frustration a bit. What a silly man!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Another angle of attack

I have tried to find an algorithm for piece activity, inspired by the simple algorithm for piece mobility. As Mousetrapper already suspected, that is a dead end.

Well, you can't find your way in a maze without entering a dead end every now and then.
So I'm trying another approach.
I work my way thru Bent Larsen "Good moves guide", which has 48 positional problems, with a heavily annotated solution.
I will try to find a correlation to certain characteristics of the position and the plans that are based upon them.
I start with simple standard plans like "trade off a passive piece against an active one", "improve the position of your worst piece", "open the position" and the like. Let's see what is on that road.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

More thoughts

Correspondence play.
From 35 finished turn based games I have won 32, drawed 1 and lost 2.
A real nuisance is that EVERYBODY continues to play thru no matter HOW MUCH material they are behind. What do they think with 3 days per move? Since I started with chess 8 years ago I haven't stalemated a single game. Not even under time pressure. I really hope that matters become better with higher rated players.
My rating rises terribly slow so it is difficult to get higher rated players. At RedHotPawn you can't even chose the rating of your opponents before you have finished 20 games.

The plus side is that I get a lot of endgames, I can experiment with my new acquired strategical knowledge and I can check my opening play. Since I rebuilded my repertoire 4 years ago, a lot of book lines are unintentionally replaced with my own fantasy lines.

More thoughts about piece activity.
Or maybe I should call it reshuffling of my thoughts.

A piece must have a good home from where it can work. For a knight which has a short range this is different in comparison to the longe range pieces like the rook, bishop and queen.
It can take a lot of work to eliminate all potential attackers of the home to make it secure. Some times tactics are needed to get a knight to his home.

A piece must have a pathway to the enemy camp. This is not needed for a knight since the beast can hop over any piece. Opening files or diagonals is the tool here.

A pathway to the enemy is double edged. You have to make sure that you can dominate an open line. If not, your opponent might use it against you. Often the only use of an open line is to trade pieces. You have to know which trades are favourable and which not.

The primary constraint of piece activity are the pawns. With pawns you can create secure homes and pathways.

Acquisition vs. prevention.
There are two sides to each topic. You can eiter try to obtain advantages for yourself or to prevent your opponent from getting or keeping them.

Piece activity is the nec plus ultra of strategical play. But what makes a piece active? As Blue Devil put it, is there an unifying idea behind the different types of activity?
I guess it has to do with targets.
If it is concrete, we call it J'adoube's Law of Tactics: Good positional play yields good tactical opportunities.
Most of the time it isn't that concrete. If white is able to maintain a knight at d6, it is favourable in 99% of the middlegame positions. No need to bother beforehand how this advantage is going to materialize.
If the play is not about targets it is about creating a new home in the enemy camp.

Basically I have said the same as in the previous post. I see it as trial and error. I'm still hoping for inspiration. Hence comments are more than welcome!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Brainstorming about piece activity

I expect no clear thread in this post, since I haven't made up my mind yet.

Piece mobility is defined as the number of squares you control. I love the simplicity of this definition since it is just a matter of counting. It says nothing about the quality of those squares though. That's why I think that piece activity is a better word to use for the things I'm talking about.

But what is the activity of a piece?
Just counting the owned squares isn't enough.
A rook at a1 can cover your whole backrank. Still it can be a very inactive piece. So activity has something to do with the enemy camp.
Just counting your squares at the enemy side of the board, seems to be an arbitrary choice.

A bishop can be good, bad or active.
A bishop is considered good when there are no central pawns which obstructs its activity.
A bishop is considered bad when the central pawns stand on its color thus blocking it.
An active bishop can be either good or bad; it is called active just because it performs some active function. Often the difference is if it is in- or outside the pawnchain.

A piece bound to defense is very restricted. Although it may cover a lot of squares, it cannot go there without losing material. A rook that attacks a pawn which is defended by a rook is called active, since it can go everywhere. The defending piece is called passive, since it hasn't that freedom. The moment the attacking rook moves somewhere else, the passive rook is released.
So the difference in mobility is decided by just one tempo. Hence the difference between active and passive can be decided by just one tempo.

A knight outpost is good when the knight is in the neighbourhood of the enemy king. So the activity seems to have to do something with targets in the hostile camp. It are not quite the same targets as we are used to in tactical problems. The king is a target, weak pawns are targets. Enemy pieces are just too volatile to be targets by non tactical means.
So in general: sitting ducks are the targets.

Sometimes, if black has a bishop at f5 and a rook at c8, black can penetrate via c2. Which becomes a new home for a black piece. So active pieces are strong when they work together.

In general: an active piece can have a host of potential new homes along it's open line from where it can be even more active.

Can there be an algorithm which expresses the activity of a piece?

Today's random chess quote at chesshere:

Michael Stean: The most important feature of the chess position is the activity of the pieces. This is absolutely fundamental in all phases of the game (opening, middlegame and especially endgame). The primary constraint on a piece's activity is the Pawn structure.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Piece activity

Takchess suggested the word piece activity in stead of piece mobility. I think that is a good idea since piece mobility is somewhat tainted.
I realize very well that my findings in the previous posts are easy to be underestimated. That is very good, since the enemy is listening too.

Since I now know that piece activity is the ultimate positional goal in chess, I will not be left clueless again. For instance yesterday, I had a very difficult position in a cc-game. With the new acquired insights I could formulate what I wanted. After that it took me another 45 minutes to find a move that did exactly that. Now, two moves later, the sun breaks thru the clouds in my position. Alas, I cannot show it right now, since the game is still going on. But I will show it later to you.

There is one important point yet. To make a plan, you must forget about candidate moves at first.
A plan is based on the future, on an ideal situation, while a candidate move is only the next following move. Trial and error with candidate moves was my usual brain activity in quiet positions, in the hope to get some inspiration on the direction to head for. Often this hope proved to be in vain, ticking away precious seconds on the clock.
You have to define what you want first. Only then you can start to select candidate moves to see how you can transform the ideal into practice.

Now I only have to learn to do things faster. 45 minutes is of course way too long. Experience must do the job, I guess

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Piece mobility

Why do I think positional chess boils down to piece mobility and pawn structure?
(I just found out that space is actually another element of piece mobility. It is denying your opponents pieces mobility.)

Have a look of the list of Silmans imbalancies:
  • Superior minor piece
  • Material
  • Space
  • Pawn structure
  • Control of lines/key squares
  • Lead in development
  • Initiative

Superior minor piece.
What else is this then piece mobility?

If I'm ahead in material, I already know what to do.
No need to record it in a list.

Denying your opponents pieces space is to limit their mobility.

Pawn structure.
Number two on my list. As far as you don't use pawns for enhancing the mobility of your own pieces or to limit the mobility of the enemy pieces, you want to promote them after all pieces are traded.

Control of lines/key squares.
You want control over a square to make it a secure home for your piece.
Controlling a file or diagonal means securing the mobility of a piece.

Lead in development.
Means your pieces have a good home and greater mobility.

Not so unknown to chess players that it needs to be on a list to be remembered.

If I ommit what is already wellknown and what speaks for itself, only piece mobility and pawn structure remain. For the moment I forget about pawn structure.
I used to look at piece mobility as undimming a knight which happens to stand at the rim. But now I look at it in it's broadest sense.
Why do I think this to be so important?
If you look at the list of Silman, it lacks cohesion.
I tend to look at it as items that have nothing to do with each other. But in reality they are close related in a structure. To understand this structure is all important.
When this is understood well, I can break it down into the detailed comprising elements again.
But now with an underlying understanding!
I want to make things simple before diving into the complexity again.

Piece mobility (from now on used in it's broadest sense) falls apart into the following details.
A piece must have a good home from which it can operate. Such home is often called a key square.
The home must be secure. This means that enemy pawns can't chase away your piece, the piece can't be traded there without a good replacement etc..
The home must be positioned so that the enemy camp can be reached from there by the piece you intend to place there. For a knight (outpost) this is different in comparison to a rook.
When the piece is placed at the home, it's pathways to the enemy camp have to be clear. For a bishop that means opening the diagonal, or soften it up first. A clear pathway is neutral, so both sides can potentially make use of it. Once the pathway is clear, the enemy can dispute it. By doubling your efforts (your rooks for instance) you can keep in charge.

The bulk of positional play and strategical planning is concentrated around this metaphor of a piece residing at a secure home with open pathways to the enemy and enemy pieces disputing it. I had a look at 3 strategical units of PCT. I found 95% of the problems to be based on piece mobility in the sense I use it.

Another interesting point is that MDLM found that tactical exercises alone were not enough to make tactics happen on the board. He invented a third step for that, comprising 7 or 8 points.
If you leave out the things that you do already and the things that look useless or at least not essential, only improving your piece mobility remains.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Building My System

Please all give a warm welcome to our newest Knight Grande Merda.
May his rating be reciprocal to the rainforests!

At this moment I work my way thru "How to reassess your chess" of Jeremy Silman.
The book has a very strange tone. Silman is insulting his readers regularly. Or at least he ridiculizes them. His terminology "Silman Thinking Technique" makes a somewhat silly impression too. Because mental aberration is not uncommon under good (and bad) chessplayers I take that for granted.
There are a lot of good things in the book.

I have read a lot about positional play lately. From Silman, Seirawan, Capablanca, Nimzovitch and Karpov. They tend to give an abundance of idea's and rules. A lot of it is superfluous for players with 5 years or more experience. I mean, if I'm in check, I don't need a checklist to remind me that I have to do something about it. Or that I have to look for tactics.
If I neglect all rendundant information, strategical play boils down to three elements:

Piece mobility.
In the broadest sense this comprises creating outposts, opening lines, good vs bad vs active bishop etc..
The basic idea behind this is twofold:
Create a safe home for a piece from where it can work.
Create pathways to the enemy camp by opening lines.

Gaining space has as goal to clog up the enemy pieces. J'adoube pointed out that space is only beneficial as long as there are pieces on the board which are denied space.

Pawn structure.
Basic idea: if you trade off all pieces, is the remaining pawn endgame winning?
Besides promotion pawns can be used for piece mobility- or space-purposes, which is often in conflict with the basic idea of a good pawn endgame.
Further can weak pawns become a target of their own.

I'm going to rebuild all this within the next weeks to "Temposchluckers Silly Man Thinking Technique System"

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The role of understanding

What is the role of understanding in chess?
In the pre-strategical era of my chess development, life was easy. Just do as much tactical problems as possible et voila. After about 80K+ problems from different difficulty, I have reached the end of that road.

Where am I standing on the path to mastery?
If I had to make a guess it would be something like this:

Tactical skills: 70%
Positional skills: 20%
Strategical planning: 10%
Endgames: 10%
Openings: 30%

So there is a lot of room for improvement.

Once I have analized about 100 sacrifices on f7. Ca. 40% worked via an identical system. Ever since I found out, it's much easier to know when a sac on f7 is going to work and when not.
Understanding is a way to bundle a lot of seemingly different patterns into one system.
Such systems give the memory grip on a vast amount of data.

In the past I have ignored these explicit systems of understanding in the hope that exposing my brain to a vast amount of patterns would generate implicit systems all by itself. It doesn't seem to work this way.

I hoped that even if I had no system of explicit understanding- aqcuired in the study room - I could find it by intelligent calculation OTB. This hope proved to be in vain. A clueless mesmerized state tends to be the result of such positions where a system is desperately needed.

Take for instance rook endgames (chapter 3 of HTRYC treats this, so I work my way thru this again). If I try to memorize the positions without a system of understanding behind it, I forget it very easy. So I have to rework the data until I find a suitable system. I'm pretty confident that I will manage to do so, but life would be easier when the authors of endgame books had done that work for me. After all, that's why I pay money for a chess book.

I guess it doesn't work the same with everybody. I noticed that people approach problems in different ways. If I try to find an answer of a problem in a complex environment, I work step by step. Verifying every step. I exclude coincidence and gambling in the process. After processing all steps, I rebuild the data to an (for me) understandable system. In the end I will have an overview of the whole complex area, and whith that overview I can answer any question related to that area fast, without error and reproducable. And I can explain it to everybody.
This method is certainly not the best fit for complex problems, since it takes an enormous amount of time. Once the system is build, it is unsurpassed though. But often life is too short.

An other approach is what I will call "intuitive". Maybe there is a better word. I can't explain that to you since my step by step approach bans intuition as being too uncertain. An intuitive person is prepared to take the element of uncertainty for granted. An intuitive approach has for me a whiff of magic. If I ask Margriet the answer of a mathematical problem, she often gives me the answer right away. But when I ask how she comes to it, she has no idea and cannot reproduce it.
Such an approach to complex problems is often a better fit in daily life. Since it is seldom necessary that an answer is 100% correct as long as it is good enough to deal with the situation.

In chess the same is true. Even Deep Fritz doesn't come up with 100% correct moves, but the moves are good enough to beat the world champion (which indicates that the word "intuition" isn't right, since Fritz has no intuition). In general I believe that the best chess players are the ones who use the pragmatic intuitive method of problem solving and not the systembuilders.

Identity crisis

I'm in the middle of a change of style. I used to be a one trick pony. I am used to a highly aggressive gambit-style. In daily life I'm not a risk taker. Since I have discovered the strategical style of Capablanca, I'm in love with it. I try to ape his style. With very little succes, to be honest.

I suck terrible at strategical play. Right now I'm sitting between two chairs, so my results OTB are terrible too. I hope I can fix it a little before the Corus tournament. That's why I beefed up my efforts at correspondence play. I really need much more experience in my new style of play.

I'm very happy that my weakness manifests itself so evident. Only if you see how bad you actually play, you can use this feedback for improvement.

To illustrate how confused I am, I even played 1.d4 today for the first time in my life. How long will it last before I play the French or the Caro-Kann?

Thanks to Ed we are working thru How to reassess your chess from Silman.
PCT is going slow, but steady.
Montse has done a good analysis of my latest game, which shows there is a lot room for improvement. I start to enjoy chess even more than I already did, with these new developments. But boy, do I suck!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A typical disgusting game flow

Here you see a typical gameflow. I played the grand prix attack (closed sicilian?) with white.
I was on the upperhand during almost 4 hours, but I just couldn't finish him off. In time trouble I made an error giving the game away.

I'm not bothered by the blunder, but why couldn't I finish him off earlier in such great position? That happens very often. Are they such great defenders at my level or do I just suck?
You can find the game here.
In disgust I hadn't have the energy to analyze it yet.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

What was I thinking?

Yesterday at Nezha's blog I claimed that thinking happens in the study room and not during a game.

Blue Devil asked me a question about it.
Tempo, you always say you don't think, but you end up in time trouble...hmmm. What are you doing in your tournaments, flirting with your wife?

I will try to explain. First you have to know that I'm not very impressed by my own capabilities to think. Or the capabilities to think of mankind, for that matter. 20 years of self observation in a Gurdieff based school deprived me from most illusions in that area.

I have looked for two hours for a clue in the position of yesterday. Without reaching a conclusion I finally made a move because, well, I had to. What have I done in these two hours?
Basically my thoughts went around in circles. in a desperate attempt to find a begin. A clue. The fact that I lean heavily on my short term memory during this process makes that I repeat myself often without notice. As GM Donner put it in "The King":
During their game, chess players are 'incommunicado'; they are imprisoned. What is going on in their heads is narcissistic self-gratification with a minimum of objective reality, a worldess sniffing and grabbing in a bottomless pit.

Today I finally found a clue. As usual it is amazingly simple.
There is a problem on the board: the pawn at c5 is in trouble.
Basically there are 3 kinds of moves to react to this:
A. Exchange the problem (by cxb6)
B. Protect the pawn (by Be3 or b4)
C. Ignore the problem for now and perform a counter attack (with g4 or Bf4)
I still have to analyse the remaing positions after these 5 candidate moves, but at least I have a start.

The suggestion to flirt with your own wife sounds somewhat kinky to me, but I take it as an example to do something pointless besides chess. The answer is, no, I need nothing besides chess to be occupied in a pointless way to spill my time during a game.

I cannot even uphold the claim that thinking happens in the study room. Rather it should be: if thinking is bound to happen, it will probably be in the study room.

What will be the next step?
I will develop a systematic thoughtprocess to guide me in the positions where I'm clueless. I always frowned upon a thoughtprocess, but I clearly need one to come any further now.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


A week ago I encountered this position in a cc game (already finished).
It left me staring at the board mesmerized and clueless.
I lack the skill to find a reasoning that clears the situation.
It shows definitely a weak point of me. There is a lot of work to do in the positional area.

White to move.

I'm going to study this position for a while to find out why I have so much trouble with such positions.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Just a thought

I have to apologize for the following metaphor since most readers of this blog reside in a place where soccer isn't popular. And for the fact that I know very little about soccer myself. Well, I had played it for about a year in my youth when my coach proposed to change to a martial art, given my style of playing. My ball treatment was non existent, but no one could pass me. Without stumbling for the rest of the week, that was. And so I started with jiu jitsu, judo and boxing (I never do things half).

In soccer there is a strategy where you try to work at the half of the opponent for as much time as possible. I even belief that this system is a dutch invention originating from 1974 or so.
The idea is that statistically the chance is higher to shoot in your opponents goal than in your goal when you play at his half.
This kind of play is characterized by a ball possession during a great amount of time, and playing from left to right around the hostile goal.

This kind of play I like to compare with position play in chess. You play just around from left to right until the opponent makes a mistake. When you lack a good forward player, you will never make a goal.
Cutting thru the enemy lines to make a goal I compare with tactical play in chess.

Positional play alone can never bring you the victory. You must be able to finish it by tactical means. Speed is all important.

In the comparison there are teams that don't play positionally at all, but just wait for a good opportuny to (counter-) attack by tactical means, based on great individual technique.

Just a thought.

New Knight

Please all give a warm welcome to our newest Knight Errant Reborn Chessplayer.
May his rating grow like a German belly at a bierfest!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


There are a lot of (semi-)irregular openings around. They can easy lead to a quick defeat.
As J'adoube found out lately with the Benoni and the Benko gambit.
Since there are quite a few obscure lines adopted in my own repertoire I know it all too well myself.
Yesterday I encountered for the first time in my life the Grob (1.g4). It took me about 4 hours to find out what this opening is about. And although I don't know all ins and outs, at least I have an idea where the danger comes from. Boy, was I glad it is a correspondence game and not during Corus! In the end it is all pretty logical where white is after.
This story expresses clearly the problem at our level with opening study. If I'm catched off book, it takes me an enormous amount of time to analyse a position. If that happens OTB, you probably find yourself at the short end of the stick. Being worse or even worse. Or having a big plus in time trouble.
So if you learn openings by heart and play the main lines, the dirty work is done by grandmasters in the past. That's all very well, but there has to come a solution when you must leave the book lines. If that is at move 10, you have probably an acceptable position already, with most pieces developed. But if that happens at move one, as happened to me with the Grob, you have to a have something better than the knowledge "jeepers, he plays an opening that is not played at grandmasterlevel!".

So you have to develop the skill to analyse an opening position yourself. Preferably in less than 20 minutes. Correspondence play is a great opportunity for this.

Yesterday I played an obscure gambit myself, the Icelandic gambit.
The white player had clearly no idea where I was after, nor had he the skills to analyse a new opening position (although it was a correspondense game). He struggled for 10 moves only.
You can find the game here.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The fine art of pruning

If you look at the web, you see mainly two schools of chess, who consider themselves opposite to each other. I'm talking about the tactical or strategical approach to chess.

The tactical afficionados belief in the geniality of mankind and see a tactical move as one of the highest creative outings of the human mind. These guys have a romantic image of mankind.

The strategical afficionados think that chess is actually too difficult for mankind. They realize that no one can oversee the full impact and length of all variations of a complex combinational move. Hence they feel it as an act of gambling to make such moves.
Since they hate risk, they prefer to keep the game as simple and surveyable as possible. They tend to accumulate little advantages and try to condense them to a win.

Capablanca is an exponent of the strategical school. Basically he always moves forward, denying the opponent as much space as possible. If an enemy piece hinders him, he trades it off. But he never goes back. When he sees a favourable ending, he trades the queens and he goes for it.

The technique of Capablanca gives the strategical inclined the idea that it is possible to steer the game in a direction that they want it. For Karpov it was more satisfying to win a game by having steered well than by gambling with tactical moves.
The chess tree has a sheer unlimited amount of branches. Every move cuts off possibilities, prunes one or more branches. Capablanca thought that wise pruning on both sides would always lead to a draw in the end. In the past century that idea isn't proven. On the contrary, when you look nowadays, you often see the chopping of savages.
The super GM of today is pragmatic and takes the best of both worlds.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Carried away

I'm a bit carried away by playing correspondence chess lately. It's really an ideal method to improve on openings, plan development and endgames! I'm playing 15 games at the same time right now. I have to build up some rating first. That makes it easier to get stiffer competition.