Thursday, December 27, 2007

ZOMG WTB l33t Chessbase h4xX0r Skillz!

Translated: "Jeepers! I wish to obtain elite Chessbase hacking skills!"

Whereas my DVD on the French Defense by Ziegler has a spiffy database of annotated games that's easily accessed, the King Powerplay and the Muller Endgame DVDs have the game fragments embedded in the multimedia lessons.

I would like to be able to access the chessbase content itself, directly, for a couple reasons:

1. You can't enter your own variations. You can't hit pause and then say, "Yeah, but what if I play..." and explore your own line of inquiry.

2. I want to play the positions over versus Fritz.

The only way I've found to circumvent this is to pause each lesson (preferably near the end of the discussion, so all variations that were covered are present) and then use "save as..." to save it to a .cbh file of my own creation. It's a bit cumbersome, but it works.

One trick you can then do is open two game windows: one with the multimedia lesson playing, and another with your saved copy. You can right-click on the bottom of your screen in Windows and select "Tile windows vertically" (or horizontally, but I prefer the former) and get something that looks like this:

(I have no idea what happened to Muller's video image in the left window. Depending on what copy of the image file I was using, you could either see the bottom half of his head or nothing at all. Weird.)

The left window is the video lesson, and the right window is my own copy, with personal annotations and with Fritz+5-man tablebases providing assistance. With the above setup, I can pause the lesson at any point, and in my own game window check the variations with Fritz (hooray for tablebases!) and add my own commentary and variations. This is good, because when Muller gets the bit in his teeth he goes through variations at breakneck speed. Some of the endgames towards the end of his first DVD were just crazy. "check check check andnowdoyouseeit ofcourse! decisivezugzwangdecisivezugzwangdecisivezugzwang and the game is over decisivezugzwang decisevezugswang and...fatal...zugzwang"

Also, Muller very frequently points out positions that he feels should be played against Fritz or people at the chess club, in order to master them. You can indicate these moments in your copy of the game, and later load them into Fritz and practice them.

I very strongly recommend using such a two-window approach when viewing DVD lessons.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

How Far to Take Post-Mortem Analysis?

{I'm on the road for Christmas, and decided to post this with some minimal editing. I actually did end up taking some endgame resources with me--Karsten Muller's DVDs as well as Smyslov and Levenfish plus Chess Endgame Training by Bernd Rosen, which I may review in the near future.}

This post was partially prompted by BDK's question on how much time you should spend analyzing a game. The short answer, in my opinion, is: analyze it until you've learned about as much from it as you're going to. If it's "I blundered my queen in the opening and resigned", your work is limited: check what the best or book move would have been, understand the tactic or oversight that was responsible, resolve not to repeat it, and move on.

Then there's cases such as the following.

I'm going to show an extreme case of where analysis of a game may take you. This could have been a "throwaway" ICC blitz game, but there was a lot of information to mine from it. You get spared the scholarly dissection of the opening that I'd normally perform, because I uncharacteristically deviate from my repertoire on move 2. Instead I'll focus on how the game highlights weaknesses in my play, and suggests areas worthy of study.

Relentless Bastard-Grandpatzer, ICC 2007

1. e4 e5 2. f4 Nc6

This is quite uncharacteristic. My repertoire move is 2... Bc5. It turns out to be a happy experiment.

3. Nf3 d6 4. Bc4 Nf6 5. d3

I actually like the feel of this position. I intend to go back to playing 2...Bc5, but I feel that 2...Nc6 could be a good repertoire move. I imagine White players wouldn't be as prepared for it, although I have no idea what advice repertoire books for the King's Gambit give against 2...Nc6. This is an example of a place where you, a chess engine and a chess database could arrive at your own opening repertoire.


The logic being, "If he's willing to surrender the bishop pair, go for it." This is a common theme in these 1.e4 e5 openings. Apparently here ...Na5 is a novelty, suggesting it's not actually appropriate here. 5... Bg4 appears to be the main move. The pin strengthens e5, and it's a developing move. Challenging with h2-h3 would weaken White's kingside, yet I see Topalov has played it: Topalov,V-Morgenstern,H, Frankfurt 1997.

5... Be7 also appears to be common in this position, e.g. Larsen,B -Najdorf,M, Buenos Aires 1979.

6. Bb3 Nxb3 7.axb3 and here I ignore the threat to e5 by playing 7...Be7, which Fritz surprisingly agrees with. After 8. fxe5:

8... Ng4

Fritz prefers 8...dxe5. Both lead to positions where Black has the bishop pair, a two tempi lead in development (the customary rule of thumb is that three tempi is worth a pawn), and saddled White with darksquare weaknesses, whereas White has an extra pawn and a mobile pawn center.

Fritz surprisingly finds 8...dxe5 9. Nxe5 O-O to be about equal, suggesting a sound sacrifice.

9. exd6 Qxd6 and I don't think White had to be afraid of castling here, although the future development of the queenside pieces looks awkward. However, my opponent played 10. h3??

White already had serious darksquare weaknesses. Isn't this the sort of thing King's Gambit practitioners try to avoid? 10. Qg3+! 11. Kd2 Qxg2+ 12. Qe2 Qxh1 13. hxg4?! Bxg4 14. Nc3?

This is the first of many critical moments where Black, bit by bit, lets slip his overwhelming advantage by not finding the best move. I would be hard pressed to find a more extreme example of my thematic obtain-overwhelming-advantage-and-pee-it-all-away style of play Remember this position and compare Black's crushing advantage here to the game result.

14. Qxf3?!

The logic here was that, if I'm going to win the knight, I may as well offer to trade queens to simplify to a won endgame. 14... Bxf3! is actually clearly superior, e.g. 15. Qe3 Qg2+! 16. Ne2 (16. Ke1 Bh4+ 17. Qf2 Qxf2#) 16... Bg5 {and it's Good Night, Irene.

15. Qxf3 Bxf3 16. Nd5 Bg5+ (the bishop move looked good, but it seems that it would have been better to batten down the hatches and not allow ...Nxc7, e.g. 16...Bd8 or 16...Bd6) 17. Kc3

17...Bxc1 I felt I could let him have his knight fork, because it helps me simplify to a won endgame. 18. Nxc7+?! (18.
Rxc1) 18... Kd7 19. Nxa8

This is an instructive moment. My idea of allowing ...Nxc7 was correct, but it required a zweichenzug finesse to make it clearly good:

19...Bxb2+ ?

19... Rc8+ !? This or the immediate ...Be3 saves the bishop while the knight remains trapped. A typical "he takes, I take..." exchange series calculation oversight. Play might continue 20. Kb4 Rxc2.

20. Kxb2 Rxa8 Black is still a bishop and a pawn up 21. Rg1 Rg8

21... Bh5!? surprisingly works, because 22. Rxg7 Bg6 traps the rook.

22. c4

I seriously considered Fritz's 22...g5! in the game but I wanted to try and put some brakes on White's pawn advance first.

23. Ka3 Kc6 24. Ka4 b6 25. Rg3 Be2 26. d4 f6 27. Re3 Bh5 28. e5


Fritz-approved, but maybe too tricksy for Blitz. I didn't like the looks of 28... fxe5 29. dxe5, but it's really OK: e.g. 29... g5 30. e6 g4.

29. e6 Re7

Throughout this sequence I'm ignoring active play (pushing my kingside pawns) in favor of prophylactic play. This is a recurring theme in my games....not pushing pawns early enough. At this point I'm planning to play my Bishop to the a4-e8 diagonal and sac it if necessary for a passed pawn or two. Again, I'm in the mindset that I have the luxury of jettisoning material to make the endgame simpler.

30. d5+ Kc5 31. Rd3 Be8+ 32. Ka3 b5 33. cxb5

33...Kxb5 (Fritz found the far less emo 33... Kd6! The king blockades and Black will gain the b-pawn. The bishop sac is not essential) 34. d6 Rxe6 35. d7 Bxd7 {the planned sac of the bishop} 36. Rxd7 g5 37. Rxh7

This is the start of the rook endgame that I could spend a lot of time on. Black should be good here, but two features strike me as important: White's rook is behind the passers, while Black's defends from the side; Black's king is better poised to dash over to the kingside, but neither king wants to leave their queenside pawn and allow a passed a- or b- pawn.

37...f5 38. Rg7 g4

One factor I need to determine is whether the f- or the g-pawn leads. I know when the attacking king is there, it's typical to lead with the outside pawn and tuck the king in the short-side hole. For the defense, a typical fortress seems to be where the defending king is on f4 with a rook on the 4th rank. I have seen in endgame books that the case of a g- and an h-pawn is the most drawish, and there are fortresses like this to watch out for. I intend to bone up on this material.

39. Rg5 Rf6

Following the rule that rooks belong behind passed pawns. A cursory glance at these types of endgames indicates that there's a lot of exceptions, and in some cases having the attacking rook in front of the pawns can even work.

39... Re5 seems clearly best. The a-pawn will be protected, allowing the Black king to invade, and it also cuts the white king off from the kingside.

40. Kb2 Kb4 41.Kc2

We can see the problem emerging...White threatens to get his king in
front of the pawns. 41...Ka3 42. Kc3 a4?

I thought if I free my king (as well as his) from kingside defense that it made the win easier. It made the win harder or maybe even disappear. 42... Rc6+ (Fritz) appears to lead to the win.

43. bxa4 Kxa4 44. Kd4 Kb4 45. Ke5 Rf8 46. Kf4

Fritz is giving this a +2.38 still for Black, but this is looking like a draw {if you're not accustomed to the idisyncracies of computers, you need to realize that you can't rely on such an evaluation in an endgame. If the computer sees a material advantage, but can't see how to convert it via queening a pawn and/or mate, the line is still unclear.} Part of my homework for this game is studying these types of fortresses.

The game concluded: 46...Kc4 47. Rg7 Kd5 48. Re7 Kd6 49. Re3 Kd5 50. Re7 Rf6 51. Re1 Re6?! (or ?, depending on whether you thought Black still had winning chances) 52. Rd1+ Kc6 53. Kxf5 Re8 1/2-1/2

Compare this result to Black's position to that on move 14. Unfortunately, this game is all too representative of my style of play: obtain advantage, then fail to find the best moves and return material "to simplify to a won endgame".

Now, if you've read this far you may wonder why I said this was "extreme". Maybe an unusual amount of analysis for a blitz game, but not extreme.

What makes this extreme is that the analysis is not done, and there are several levels of "extreme" that I could justify passing through to get closer to the "truth" of this endgame.

I can't help but feel that a grandmaster would look at the position after White's 37th move and know exactly what's going on, and how each side must play. But the position is not one that you're likely to find described in an endgame book. The positions where the game has simplified down to two connected passers are more fundamental.

One less extreme option is to study these g+h-pawn endgames, see how the defender draws, and try to extrapolate to the case in my game.

A more extreme option is to open up Muller and Lamprecht, or Fine, or Dvoretsky, and work through the pertinent sections on R+2P vs. R endgames.

Another is to finally crack open Smyslov and Levenfish's "Rook Endings" and finally read the bastard cover to cover.

All of these options could be justified. Rook endgames are the most common, so even the last option mentioned isn't that extreme.

I think a characteristic of good players is that they don't put off learning something for a rainy day. They analyze their games and try to find the best moves for each side, and if something is unclear they try to figure it out. Here, I think that at least studying a few of the typical drawing fortresses is warranted, and I think I'll take this opportunity to brush up on my rook endgames in general.

I happen to have Muller's rook endgame DVD on order anyway, so I think I'm going to start with looking at the g+h-pawn endgames and then watch the DVD. But I think Smyslov and Levenfish is going to find its way into my luggage for my Christmas vacation.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Daniel King's Powerplay Series: Like Steroids, But Legal

I'm about halfway through the first DVD in Daniel King's Powerplay series. I had viewed the second and third DVDs earlier this year, which deal with how to go about conducting an attack. I had found that the DVDs had a pronounced effect on my play, and that I had absorbed and retained a fair amount of the material.

I had postponed getting the first DVD on mating paterns, because I felt I had enough books on the subject and that I wouldn't gain that much from the DVD. After playing through much of the DVD, I realize...I was half right. Objectively, the material is "old hat". For example, the Greek Gift sacrifice is covered quite well in such works as Vukovic's Art of Attack in Chess, and Znozko-Borovsky's The Art of Chess Combination (both classics). I thought that the material on the Lasker double-bishop sacrifice was a bit skimpy as well. The videos are very enjoyable to watch, although in this first DVD there was some clumsiness early on as King figured out how the technology worked (aside: what does Chessbase have against editing?). Based solely on the content, however, I would think that the DVD was intended for beginners that hadn't studied mating patterns much (although the level of commentary indicates a more advanced target audience).

However, after going down to the chess club I found that once again King's DVD had planted ideas in my mind, and I had many successful attacks in my games. The Greek gift motif popped up in one of them, where I pushed h2-h4 to secure a g5 knight. Again, I found that although I was not consciously trying to be an attacker, or trying to force an attack where it wasn't justified, I was finding attacking motifs and applying them.

I feel that the DVD format, while perhaps delivering only a fraction of the information that a good book would, delivers that information more efficiently and more memorably. I've been highly satisfied with the other DVDs I've viewed (Ziegler's on the French Defense, and Muller's first endgame DVD). However, King's DVDs seem to have reached into my head and reprogrammed my brain. I feel like Neo from the Matrix....someone downloads a library into my skull and suddenly I know kung-fu.

The effect is pronounced enough that I may consider adding future Powerplay DVDs to my collection. Again, objectively the subject material (opening play; pawn structures) is adequately covered by book material I already have... but I'm left wondering if King has magic to work here as well.

I'll try to update this once I've finished the DVD. I also now have Muller's second and third endgame DVDs, and will likely review them at some point.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Bit Demoralized

I've had another post almost ready to go for a couple weeks now, and haven't gotten around to wrapping it up and posting it. I've been a bit demoralized, and for what should objectively be a trivial reason: my ICC blitz rating.

I've gone on jags before where I play lousy, my rating tanks, then I get serious again and it returns to normal. I've never really obsessed over my rating before. However, in the last two weeks I've had a losing streak the likes I've never seen. My rating plummeted to over 400 points below its highest, and 300 points where it normally resides. Normally I just knuckle down, focus, and my rating returns to normal. I've played a LOT of games now. It's entrenched. What makes it harder to understand is that it's not simply a matter of increased blundering...I'm feeling much stronger resistance from lower rated players.

Assuming that there hasn't been a sudden ratings deflation, I can only assume that this is psychological in origin. So, I think it's time to just quit blitz cold turkey for now and work on other things. I keep putting off the #1 thing on my list of things to do to improve: play slow games against a dumbed-down Fritz, and write out my analysis. Maybe this is the kick in the pants I need.

I received some DVDs for my birthday (the first Daniel King Power Play that I had skipped getting, plus the second and third Karsten Muller endgame DVDs). I hope to go through all of them before leaving for Christmas, so I may be reviewing them soon.

Let's see how long I can stay on the wagon.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Why I Don't Accept Tells on ICC

A long time ago I stopped accepting tells on ICC during games. Part of me feels bad about this, because I know I'm filtering out greetings like:

"Hello! My name is Paulo, and I am 11 years old. I am from Brazil. Where do you live?"

but poor Paulo's words meet a wall of cold silence.

Unfortunately, there are enough idiots on "Teh Intertubes" that I feel it's necessary.

Case in point: in a K+P vs. K endgame, I was about to promote the pawn, but my opponent didn't resign yet. That's totally fine...I have no hatred for people that are prepared to fight all the way to checkmate. I decided to underpromote to a rook just to practice the mating technique.

We reach a position where his king is in the corner, he has one legal move, and it will be followed by mate. He has over 7 minutes on the clock, to my 5.

After no response for a while, I decided I at least had 5 minutes to unload the dishwasher. My opponent let the clock run down to about 1 minute, then moved.

I immediately mated him, and got the following response:

(click for a larger view...if anyone knows how to circumvent this auto-shrinking Blogger does, let me know)

This amused me so much I had to share it, for two reasons:

1. He ran down the clock, and then complained about the game being a waste of time.

2. Why does he think I don't accept tells during games? Here's a hint for him: look in the mirror.

Feel free to respond to this post and share your most "my head a-splode" examples of idiotic behavior by online opponents.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

You've Been Spared

With a heavy heart, the B vs. N endgame post I've spent far too much time on is being swept under the rug. As fascinating as it was, I just wasn't able to turn it into something clear and instructive.

I strongly recommend that, in your analysis of your own games, you spend some time on the endgames. After the game, make a note of what moves you felt (with 20/20 hindsight) were the key winners and losers, and then analyze them later with the help of a computer. Ask lots of "what if..." questions and follow the lines out.

One benefit is that, as you play through the possible variations, you tend to simplify to more basic endgames, and you get practice analyzing and solving them. Another is that you see how a more complicated endgame can transpose to a simpler one. Some beginners may have the attitude that studying a position that is unlikely to arise in their own games isn't worth their time. After you've studied endgames for a bit, you realize that:

a) certain types of endgames do arise fairly often (rook endgames and some basic pawn endgames, for example), and

b) that a big reason for studying basic endgames is being able to spot winning transpositions to won (or at least advantageous) endings. For example, you may realize after swapping minor pieces that your outside passed pawn should win for you. Or, given the choice of leaving your opponent with one of two pawns, you choose to leave him with the rook pawn because you know how to draw that King-plus-Rook-Pawn vs. King ending.

I'm working on a rook endgame at the moment and hope to have that posted soonish.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Seeking Clarity

I've been trying to finish a couple posts on endgames, but each time I try to wrap it up I find interesting twists. I'm going to push to get them done this weekend.

In other news, I've been playing at the local club and I'm fairly pleased with my play. A few things are clear though:

  • I really need to summon the gumption to play long games against Fritz to ingrain my thinking technique. The last game was a complex one, but I lost a winning game against a strong player because on just one move I inadequately answered the question, "what does my opponent's last move do for him?"
  • Don't skimp on "easy tactic" drills. In my last game (g/60 + 5 sec increment, which is still too fast for my liking) we were down to 13 minutes each, and I was trying to keep the thinking time short enough to allow for a possible endgame. My opponent's tactic should have been picked up in a few seconds of scanning the board.
  • Don't skimp on "hard tactic" drills. This is probably the most important. I'm finding that a lot of the times I'm calculating tactics that I end up with fuzzy impressions rather than concrete answers. These are cases where the tree of variations has a number of branches, and I have to calculate multiple responses for both my opponent and I. Later, with Fritz, I'll see that it the answer is clear, when I should have been able to achieve that clarity myself.
The last two are reminiscent of my "Mental Muscle" article, and show I need to do more weightlifting.

In addition to master games and playing Fritz, a few resources strike me as being particularly good material for practicing calculation:

  • CT-ART (natch), the Encyclopaedia of Chess Middlegames, and the Anthology of Chess Middlegames have some problems featuring forcing lines, but a lot of the problems require calculating multiple defensive resources. In particular, Part I ofECM seems to be about the right level for me. I would probably use it more if it were more legible (faded, out-of-print copy).
  • I've seen players using Hall's Endgame Challenge! book, and these endgames seem like excellent training, especially if you can play them against someone else or, failing that, the computer.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Chess Tempo (Tactics Webpage)

I found out about an alternative to the Chess Tactics Server today (hat tip to BDK from his comment on Polly's blog here). I've added it to my sidebar.

Besides a better layout, it has separate ratings for accuracy and speed of solution. One of my beefs with the CTS is that you have to solve the problems within a few seconds, so if you're trying to train yourself not to make hasty moves it can be counter-productive.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Perfect Example of How I Lose

I had two memorable bishop vs. knight endgames recently on ICC (g/2+12).

One appears to be quite instructive, and I still have a lot of analysis to do. I'll post the results soonish.

The other could be a diagnostic that highlights how my brain is broken.

Earlier in the game I, as White, faced this moment:

If the kingside pawn structure remained fluid, I was worried about Black's king penetrating...something like 28. Nf6 Ba6 29. Nd7 Bf1 30. g3 Kh5, although this specific line is thwarted by 31. Nf8!. I therefore decided on 28.g4.

My analysis was: Black's king will have no way to penetrate into my position (I felt the queenside would be sewed shut as well, or that by the time his king got there my knight would eat whatever was abandoned). His "bad" bishop will become active, but the only targets will be the kingside pawns. As long as my king stays there, this is at least a draw.

Later on, I even manage to win a pawn and gain a protected passer, although it's still probably a draw because my king can't penetrate either:

All through this endgame, I have been thinking "the only way White can lose is to let the bishop take his kingside pawns." This is a very good endgame technique, by the way. When trying to figure out how to win or draw, first determine how you can lose. So with that in my mind, and with plenty of time on the clock, I play the waiting move

43. Ke3??

which of course allows 43...Bf1 and I resigned a couple moves later.

This is akin to repeating the mantra, "look both ways before you cross the street" as you stare straight ahead, step off the curb and get schmucked by a bus.

There's games where you can't understand where you went wrong (a rarity to me), games where the correct moves were difficult to find, and games where your errors were obvious if you had just considered your opponent's response.

And then there's my games, where you clearly see the threat and then simply walk into it.

I am at a loss for how to explain this, or correct it. I think I simply own a defective brain.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Memorable Moves

I don't have the world's greatest memory. I don't routinely come across a middlegame plan and recall a specific classic game. So, when I'm playing a game and have one of these flashes of recollection, it suggests that a certain move or plan had an impact on me.

Here's an idea that I've encountered several times in my own games. It's not particularly flashy, but it has extra impact when you've been the victim of it:

Paulsen-Morphy, New York 1857
White to play

White wanted to play d4, but played 12.c3 to prepare it. It was necessary to play 12.d3 first, then c2-c3 and d3-d4. The problem with taking the "fast route" to playing the pawn to d4 was shown by Morphy's response:


which puts a terrible cramp on White's position:

It's not a flashy move, winning material or threatening mate, but it's quite powerful. I have fallen victim to this move myself, and I've also been able to recall this game and avoid this scenario.

After a bit of tardiness on my part, I'm trying to get back on track with my study of master games. I hope to post more extraordinary (to me) moves as I encounter them.

What moves from classic games have had a special impact on you? Feel free to respond with your own. If you post it on your blog, I'll add a link in this post.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Using ChessBase's "Repertoire Database" Feature, Part 2

Link to Part 1

Here, I'm going to describe how I created a repertoire database and how I maintain it. It's based on the following premises:

1. The database should be relevant to your own games, not necessarily grandmaster praxis. If your opponents are more likely to play the Steinitz or Cozio variations of the Spanish rather than the main-line Closed Spanish, then your repertoire database should reflect this.

2. Studying the opening should be largely driven by the analysis of your own games.

3. A main reason for maintaining a repertoire is to record what you have chosen to play in a given circumstance, and to record what you've encountered in the past.

The method I'm advocating is to start a "lean" database similar to that described in my previous post, and then to add to this skeletal database as you play games. I've constructed a "lean" database of some key Spanish opening variations, plus a couple Philidor positions (for reasons I'll explain later). Again, click on any graphic to see the larger version.

These are positions I would encounter as White. I've also decided to include a couple main lines: the Worrall for White and the Closed Spanish, Chigorin Defense as Black. If you've read my series on preparing an opening, you'll see that I advocate determining a "main line" that you would play against your opponent's "best" moves, and then build from there. As you determine these main lines, you can record them in your repertore.

The naming system is similar to that in Lopez's articles. The general opening description is in the "White player" field, and the moves are entered into the "Black player" field. If you run out of room there, you can continue into the "Tournament" field. The more descriptive the entry in the White Player field, the more you can truncate. For example, if I'm familiar with the main-line of the Worrall I could perhaps just have "Spanish: Worrall mainline to 10.Re1" and save the Black and Tournament fields for more detailed continuations. Also, if some responses are forced or very common I could consider skipping over them (e.g. for Bird's defense I could just put 5.0-0 in the Black field). What's important is that you can look at the game header and know exactly what position it deals with.

If you are familiar with the Medals feature of ChessBase, you can use them to deliver additional information at a glance. I have the following reminder saved as a text entry in my personal repertoire:

For this database, I am going to interpret the medals as follows:

In White repertoire: Defense (light grey)
In Black repertoire: Tactical Blunder (black)
Novelty: Novelty (blue)
Surprise weapon (rare or tricky line): Tactics (deep red)
Require Research: User (cyan) (easy to mark in a game list with + key)
Gambit: Sacrifice (bright red)

So, for example, in a mish-mash of French Defense lines I can tag which ones I may encounter as White by tagging the key opening move with the "Defense" medal. If I've decided I need to think about a certain line, I can just highlight the game in the database window and hit "+" on the numerical keypad, and it automatically assigns the "User" medal to the entire game. I can use these medals to also mark which lines are my own "home cooking" as opposed to standard book lines.

(Aside: deciding on the main lines you want to play can involve some reflection and study. I have recently taken to creating a database that I call "Laboratory" and save ponder-worthy lines to it, and then later determine what my main line will be. When I've worked it out, I transfer the result to my repertoire database).

In these lines, the critical opening positions so far are marked at a position I would reach, with my opponent to play. This means that if I do a repertoire search, I will get games returned that show where I've stayed "in book". You can also mark positions that your opponent would reach and where you are to play. A repertoire search then could return games where your opponent was "in book" and where you may have deviated. When considering whether to have a line for a certain critical position in the database, ask yourself if you would be interested in a search result for that position. This may not be clear until you've actually done a few practice searches, so don't sweat it for now.

So, what's wrong with the repertoire database lineup shown above? Well, let's do a test search using an issue of The Week in Chess. The results:

1. Philidor (3.d4): 12 games
2. Spanish: Steinitz (4.d4): 2 games
3. Spanish: 92 games

As I mentioned in my previous post, the order that the games appear in the database is of critical importance. Here, the only subvariation of the Spanish that appeared above the "catch-all" Spanish position (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5) was the Steinitz. All non-Steinitz games got caught in that filter.

I sort my repertoire database manually, approximately by the ECO code, but tweak the sort orders to avoid search problems. For example, I manually moved the games around to the following order, and fixed them in this position by selecting "Tools-->Fix Sort Order". It re-saves the database with the new game order. It now looks like:

Which now returns a more useful search result:

12 Philidors
2 Steinitz
1 Berlin
3 Worralls
1 Chigorin
77 Spanish

The last entry shows all the Spanish variations that didn't match one of our specific variations. Further additions to the repertoire database will tweeze them apart.

However, you still have to be careful about transpositions, and there isn't much you can do about that. For example, after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nc6, I play by transposing to the Spanish Steinitz with 3.Bb5. Yet any games that I played in this line would be filed under the Philidor if I used the repertoire database shown here. In some cases you can bump the less-likely move order further down the list, but that can get messy, especially when dealing with big ECO differences such as here. Alternatively, you can make a new Philidor entry for the moves up to 3...Nc6, and annotate it so as to point out the transposition there. This is one area where programs like Bookup and Chess Position Trainer have an advantage...they catch all transpositions for you.

I do not recommend that you attempt to enter your entire repertoire into the's not worth your time. Put in a few of the lines you commonly see, and try a few "generate repertoire" scans on your databases to make sure you're doing it right. Then, as you play games and analyze them, you can add the results. Here's a couple of examples on how you may go about adding to the repertoire database shown above. This will also highlight how I think one should approach studying the opening.

On a game-by-game basis, you can load your game into ChessBase for analysis. As part of your analysis, you can find out where the game left the main lines, and where it left all previous knowledge, by right-clicking on the board and selecting "Editorial Annotation(RR)":

In this case, I had a Philidor with 3...Bg4, which currently is not in my repertoire database. In the course of my analysis, I tried to determine a main line and where I could have played better.

I'm using a custom opening book that I made from grandmaster games as ChessBase's default opening book, plus the ChessBase megabase as the reference database. The Editorial Annotations tend to show where you deviated from the best book lines, and from the entire megabase (marking the first new move with an "N" for novelty). This is no substitute for an independent should determine for yourself what you'd like to play. But it's a quick and dirty way of seeing where you went off the beaten path.

Here, my moves seemed reasonable. My 7th move was passable, and one GM played 7.c3 here. However, the reference database shows 7.Qb3! to be the most common move here, and Fritz shows that it's winning.

How you choose to save these results to your database is up to you, but here is how I would approach it:

1. The move 3...Bg4 deserves its own entry. With some experience in these lines, I can tell you it's a common move at my level so it's good to be able to play consistently here. 4.dxe5 will usually prompt Black to play 4...Bxf3, because of the threat of 4...dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8 6.Nxe5. After 4...Bxf3 5.Qxf3 dxe5, Black has given up the bishop pair. So I would enter this game into the repertoire database:

I've included my moves up to 6.Bc4, because it constitutes my chosen "main line" response. For this minor variation I don't feel compelled to analyze out to the end of the opening...this position is already comfortable for White. However, I missed a critical response to my opponent's subsequent play. Depending on its importance, I could choose not to record it (tactical oversight), incorporate it as a game footnote, or give it its own entry. I think that since it was missed by a Grandmaster, and because Black's erroneous move feels natural, it deserves its own entry.

One option is to go back to the actual game, and right-click on the board and select "Add to Repertoire". If you select "Merge with Philidor Defense: 3...Bg4" it will appear as a variation in that entry. I think it's more important than that, so I create a new entry for the line up to 6.Bc4. I then go back to the actual game, and select "add to repertoire" to add my own inferior game to the repertoire. The result:

I like to include the games where I didn't play the best move in my repertoire databases, for a few reasons. One is that it helps to cement the variation in your mind. Another is that you may find that you repeatedly make the same mistake, indicating you need to think about the line a bit more. Finally, if you perform a "find position in " function, it will determine if you've had the position before even if it's not part of the repertoire main lines.

If you're tardy (like I've been) or just starting out, you can also generate a repertoire of a batch of your games, and look to see where the filter is getting badly clogged. This either indicates a gap in your repertoire database that can be filled using your own games, or indicates a possible problem with the sort order that needs to be tweaked. I go through, analyze the games, and add new entries to my repertoire as needed. When working on a batch, I flag each completed game with the User medal to indicate that I've already taken care of it.

This is taken from an actual repertoire search of my backlog of ICC games:

I see that I played 3 Pozianis. I can click on each game individually, or load all three. The latter produces a window like this:

I preview the games here, then open individual game windows for them if they need to be annotated/added to repertoire/saved separately. Don't try to annotate in this 3-game view... the save/replace buttons are greyed out and you'll lose all your work.

When I'm done reviewing, analyzing, and saving the results wherever they belong (personal game collection, repertoire database, tactics, blunders, endgames, whatever) I click on the game in the game list and hit "+" on the number keypad to flag the game with the cyan user medal, so I know that I've taken care of it. If I resume reviewing my games at a later date I can tell at a glance if I've taken care of a game or not.

Currently GrandpatzerBase is at 390 entries and growing. Many of these openings have multiple variations, indicating I've experienced them more than once or found them ponder-worthy. One advantage of such a database is that it indicates if you keep making the same mistake. Each time you enter your faulty play into the database, and you see your previous foibles, it reinforces that you need to understand the position better.

If you've never saved and analyzed your games before (even blitz), you have no idea how much knowledge gained from experience you're letting slip through your fingers...and not just opening theory, but tactics, strategy and endgames too. I haven't been as zealous with the last three (my tactics, blunders and endgame databases are much smaller), but one advantage of starting a repertoire database is that it encourages you to sit down and start looking at your games. Once you've checked out the opening, keep on going through the tactical errors with Fritz, ponder the positional factors, analyze the endgame.

To summarize: the purpose of the GrandpatzerBase-style repertoire is not to book up on theory. Its purposes are:

  • To keep track of what main lines you've decided to play as your repertoire
  • To record the opening lines you've experienced in the past, and your thoughts and analysis on them.
  • To focus your opening study on the lines you encounter in your own games
  • To allow you to search databases for games that pertain to your repertoire
  • To encourage you to analyze your own games routinely and thoroughly

There's a time investment to get your repertoire database set up and to figure out how to use the software, but once it's up and running it's easy to maintain if you're diligent about analyzing your games.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Using ChessBase's "Repertoire Database" Feature, Part 1

The Repertoire features of ChessBase are potentially very useful, yet frustratingly difficult to implement. I'm going to explain what you can do with such a database, and how you may wish to construct one. Some of this has been determined "by guess and by golly", but I think I've gotten most of the kinks worked out.

In this part, I'm going to briefly explain what a repertoire database is and how it can be used. I will also construct a "low-resolution, low-maintenance" sample database to show one approach to using this feature.

In a future post, I'll show the format that I use that is based on articles by Lopez and Mig Greengard describing a "GarryBase" approach similar to what Kasparov used. This is more work, and more maintenance, but eventually yields a more useful database. Basically, I'll be forcing ChessBase to fill the same role as an "tree of variations" opening database such as Bookup or Chess Position Trainer.

Before jumping in, you may want to read Lopez's articles here and here and here. The structure of our repertoire database will be similar, but how we use it will be different.

I got the size of some of these screenshots wrong, but you can enlarge them by clicking on them if needed.

The first step is to create a repertoire database. Create an empty database, then right click on it from the main chessbase window:

and select it as your repertoire database:

For the "lean" database, we're only storing key positions of interest. These could be the classic "tabiyas" for the openings you play. However, at the lower levels you're less likely to see, say, the classic Najdorf poisoned pawn tabiya or the Spanish Chigorin, Rubinstein System tabiya than some earlier deviation, such as the Accelerated Dragon or the Spanish Exchange.

As a test database, I took the starting positions from each chapter of Nunn's Beating the Sicilian 3. In this case, all I had to do was create a new board, enter the moves up to the key position that starts the chapter, and then right click on the board and choose "Add to Repertoire":

What this does is automatically save the line to your designated Repertoire Database. It also automatically selects a move as defining a "Critical Opening Position", and also automatically gives a title in the White and Black player fields:

In this case, it happened to choose the final move of each line as the critical opening position, which is what I wanted. However, you can't trust the program to do this. If you were looking at a game with variations, and select "add to repertoire", the first move before the first branch will be marked automatically as the critical opening position. In long unbranched lines, it may choose an earlier move as the critical move, for reasons unfathomable to me. If you use the "add to repertoire" feature in this manner, I recommend checking each new entry to the repertoire database, and if necessary delete the old critical position and add a new one. You can do this by right clicking on the move in question:

Alternatively, you can enter, the position in a new game board, mark the critical opening position manually, and then save it directly to the repertoire database like you would to any other database. This way you know exactly what's appearing in the repertoire DB.

For searching purposes, you want only one critical opening position in each repertoire database entry. If another position earlier in the line interests you, make a new entry for it. However, this opens up a huge can of worms, which I'll tackle in the next post. As foreshadowing, I'll briefly explain why.

Basically, if you have multiple positions in a singe opening line that are of interest, it is critical to make sure the database is ordered so that the longer lines appear above the shorter lines). With this low-resolution database, each line is unique and we're sure that if we search a database for our "repertoire" positions that one game won't match more than one database entry. However, imagine if we also saved the line 1.e4 c5 as the first database entry, and marked c5 as the critical opening position. In that case, every single game beginning 1.e4 c5 would be caught in this "filter" and no lines would be found for a Najdorf, Dragon or other Sicilian line. However, if this same 1.e4 c5 position were at the end of the repertoire database, it would catch all other "oddball" Sicilians that fell through the cracks, which could be useful.

The "automatic" titles that ChessBase gives a repertoire database entry may or may not be useful. I use a naming system similar to that described in Lopez's article. I'll elaborate more on this in the next post. Ideally, you want the game title to describe exactly what position you're talking about. For example, at some later point you may come across a game that you'd like to add to your repertoire database. After choosing "Add to Repertoire", you will be given the option to create a new entry or to merge it with an existing entry:

If the game description in your repertoire book isn't detailed enough, you may not know whether a new entry is required or not.

OK, I have a database of 19 Sicilian positions that define the start of my fictional Sicilian repertoire. What can I do with it?

Well, one thing you can do is select a database of your games, and go to "File-->New-->Generate Repertoire":

I took a database containing a few months of ICC blitz games and searched it using this feature for positions in this mini-repertoire. I got two hits:

This shows that I don't use many of the book's recommendations, and that not many of my opponents play a proper Sicilian as well. A better test database for my own games would be to take the main, early positions from, say, Greet's "Play the Ruy Lopez" and see how many times I encountered a Steinitz, Classical, Norwegian, Cozio or some other early-Spanish branch.

Another good use of such a repertoire database is to search a database of master games and see who played your lines. For example, with the same Sicilian mini-reference database I searched a random issue of The Week in Chess (~2100 games) using the "Generate Repertoire" feature and it found examples of 15 of the 19 lines contained in my reference database:

A snapshot of the search result for the TWIC database

This would allow you to keep up-to-date on recent developments in your favorite opening variations.

You can also look at a position and search your reference database to see if it's found anywhere in there. For example, let's say I'm not sure if this position is covered:

If it occurs in any repertoire entry (all positions, not just the blue "critical opening" positions!) it will find each instance. This is very useful if you're looking over one of your games and asking, "Is this position in my repertoire somewhere?", especially when dealing with tricky transpositions.

You can start fiddling with repertoire database functions by constructing such a "lean" database that gives the bare backbone of your own repertoire, and see if you find it useful. If you're like me, and find this whole process oddly appealing, you'll find yourself adding more and more positions to it as you encounter them. Your database will start accumulating random game snippets from all over, and resemble some reference book with post-it notes sticking out of everywhere. Finally it will degenerate into a disorganized heap of haphazardly-arranged lines and redundant positions, and will return no useful data when generating a repertoire.

Unless you take precautions.

Which I will explain in the next post, where I demonstrate the other reference-database extreme: the GrandpatzerBase.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Odds and Ends

I'm still on a semi-holiday while my parents are visiting, and I'm still getting caught up on my backlog of ICC games to analyze.

I tweaked some of the older posts. Most notably, I mentioned Marin's and Johnsen's books in the post on suggested openings as black for improving players. Seriously, if you play 1.e4 e5 as black, or if you've been wanting to but haven't taken the plunge yet, you should check these out before considering buying any others...especially Marin's two books.

Are any readers interested in a tutorial on how to use ChessBase's "repertoire" feature? It's a bit labor-intensive to use properly, and I imagine not that many readers have CB, but if you're hard-core it's pretty nifty.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I Tried to Avoid Chess, and Failed

"Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in"-- Michael Corleone

So, I thought I'd take a break from chess and enjoy time with the family. Unfortunately, chess lurks everywhere:

A giant board in a mall courtyard.

I tried to ignore the fact that the pieces weren't set up right, but was only partially successful. I corrected the positions of the black king and queen but refrained from repositioning all of them so that the pieces are on the right side of the board.

Since my move, I had been missing my notepadpad of thoughts and analysis that was to provide fodder forl some future blog posts, but finally I found it today. I'll try to have something more substantial up after I'm done traveling.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hall of Shame, Episode 2

In my defense, I was on a late-night blurry-visioned blitz binge when I missed this mate. Still, there is no reason for me to miss this as long as I still test positive for brain stem activity.

Make sure you're familiar with this mating pops up quite often, and you see it in a lot of tactics books.

1. Bxh7+ Kh8 2. Bg6+ Bh6 3. Qxh6+ Kg8 4. Qh7#

This was an example of chess blindness. During my few seconds of analysis I thought that the king would escape via f7, missing that my queen prevents that.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What a Coincidence!

This is bizarre. A few hours after final editing and posting of my previous article dealing with a piece sacrifice, I encounter something very, very similar when analyzing one of my blitz games:

This is not the actual game continuation, but a "what if my opponent had played x instead?" scenario. After the bishop sacrifice with1...fxe3 2.fxe3 White will gain the f7 pawn and the f-file. In this case it's not as crushing as in the Nimzo game, but Fritz still gives a nice edge to White.

If you've never studied classic games, you may not appreciate how relevent they can be to your own games.

Would You Sacrifice Here?

The following game, Samisch-Nimzowitsch, Copenhagen 1923, contains an example of a piece sacrifice that is actually quite understandable. Look at the following, and ask yourself if you would have sacrificed the knight given the same position, or if you would have fallen into the trap of "point-counting" and tried to save it.

White had just played 20.e2-e4, with a discovered attack on the knight.

20... fxe4!

You don't need Fritz to tell you that this is good. All you have to do is visualize what the position will look like after 21. Qxh5 Rxf2:

Black has seized control of the f-file (note that White can't play a rook to f1 because of the bishop on b5) and will probably double up on it. White's pieces are all tangled up defensively on the back ranks. Black's bishops are like sharks with frickin' laser beams, pewpewpew, whereas White's just seem to be in the way. All this, and two pawns, for the sacrificed knight. Then, consider that White's extra piece is the undeveloped knight on b1 that's stuck protecting the d2 bishop.

Just for kicks, let's also apply the space-counting technique mentioned in Best Lessons of a Chess Coach. The rules are a bit unclear, but here's how I apply them:

  • For every Black piece, count the number of squares it attacks on the opponent's side. For example, the bishop on b5 attacks 5 squares on White's side of the board.
  • If there's a piece blocking the way, you can't count the squares beyond. So for the bishop on d6 I count g3 and not h2.
  • Occupying a square on the opponent's side doesn't count, but protecting a piece on the other side does. So I count d2, e2, g2, f1, f3 and f4 but not f2 for the rook on f2. I count b4 for the bishop on d6 but not for the b4 pawn itself. We're counting applied force, not occupation.
  • You can count a square more than once if more than one piece attacks it, because that means you're projecting extra force. The square f3 is counted twice for Black because it's attacked by both pawn and rook.

If you don't like these rules, relax. This is just one way of illustrating whether one side has a space advantage. Here, it's pretty clear just looking at the board who has the advantage, but I thought I 'd introduce the concept here.

Black out-attacks White by 20 to 17. However, it's only that close because of the relative queen activity (9 for White vs. 0 for Black), and it's clear that the White queen can't do much all by herself. Should the a8 rook finds an open file and the queen placement change, White will be absolutely smothered.

I want to re-emphasize that this is more of a party trick than meaningful analysis, but it gives you another way of thinking about space advantage. Don't do this over the board, for Pete's sake!

White lost fairly quickly after 22. Qg5 Raf8 23. Kh1 R8f5 24.Qe3 Bd3 25. Rce1 h6 0-1. Fritz finds some inaccuracies on both sides but nothing that would save White.

Counting the point values of the pieces is helpful, but shouldn't be adhered to dogmatically. You should be willing to risk some of the "safer" sacrifices, like minor piece for two pawns, or Rook for minor piece and (usually) a pawn, if you feel there's adequate compensation. I think it's important to get practice exercising such judgements. For example, such sacrifices can be used defensively, as well as offensively, to help defuse an attack.

Nimzo's sacrifice here feels perfectly natural to me, and I would like to think that I'd find it over the board. I know that I've made similar judgement calls in my own games. Sometimes I've been wrong, but at least I'm confident that I'm capable of thinking outside of the point-counting box and considering other factors.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Back On the Wagon

Since the move in July, I've been a bad, bad boy. I played 187 ICC games and barely looked at them. I'm going to atone for my sins and examine all of them before I play another ICC game.

In other news, I finally snagged Mihail Marin's latest Spanish repertoire book. When I've read a decent chunk of it I'll post a review. However, since his previous book was simply the best opening repertoire book I've ever come across, I have high hopes.

I am starting to think that any book with Marin's name on it is gold.

Hall of Shame, Episode 1

I'm still getting settled in to my new locale, but I've started playing chess locally and getting back into the groove.

The following position is from a casual but slow game, which was a grueling, back-and-forth, positional struggle. I am relying on my memory here, since regrettably I did not keep score:

I am playing Black. I decided to dart across enemy fire to bring my king to the defense on the kingside. I had calculated that the pawn endgame after 1... Ke5 2. Re1+ Kf6 3. Rxe7 Kxe7 should at least be a draw. However, there are two major flaws with this sequence. My opponent found the lesser of the two rebuttals (which was enough for me to immediately resign) but missed the best response.

Try to find the two biggest flaws with my intended sequence. Using a chess engine is gauche.

I'll post the answers later.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Finally Got the Monkey Off My Back

I'm looking forward to not writing about the opening for a good long while.

I've been slacking since my move, and not doing much besides throwaway, unanalyzed blitz on ICC. Naughty, naughty. At least most of the chess books are now unpacked.

Back to practicing what I preach. Besides playing over master games and working on tactics, I'm going to try and force myself to play against a dumbed-down Fritz and work on my thinking technique. If any of you have favorite settings for Fritz as a "tough, but not impossible" opponent, feel free to share. I'm going to experiment with simply tweaking the ply depth so I can consistently perform at a certain level.

How to Prepare an Opening, Part Three: Filling In Sidelines

Choosing the main lines that form the core of your opening repertoire is the part that will require the most work. After that, I would stick with analyzing your own games, and only worrying about opening issues that arise there. In many cases it's as simple as one player blundered or played an obviously weak move. In other cases, more work is required.

Until fairly recently, I was following the strategy of "analyze your games, find out where the game left theory, decide what you'd play next, and move on." I have recently come to realize that if your opponent played a "proper" move, it's important to follow the "what you'd play next" for some length afterwards. If the deviation occurs before development is complete, follow the line you'd play in the future until the approximate beginning of the middlegame. If you actually made it into the middlegame, extend the "trunk" out a distance so that you know where you want to take the variation. You need a view of the road ahead to provide context for the move. I find that if I only try to understand and remember the move I should have played, I often have to make the mistake several times before it really sinks in.

I don't consider myself to have a very good memory, but by following this procedure of using a board and determining a main line I'm finding myself able to recall variations and ideas much better than before. Just the other day, I reproduced a main line from the Italian game out to move 12, when previously I would have made an error around move 7. I had made no attempt to memorize that line beyond thinking about Black's moves and reading through Marin's explanatory text. This is the line, plus what I was thinking as I played it:

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 exd4 6. cxd4 Bb4+ 7. Bd2 Bxd2+ (Black's last two moves avoid losing a tempo. See the chapter "On Exchanging" in Nimzowitsch's My System) 8. Nbxd2 d5 (now I break up White's center!) 9. exd5 Nxd5 (and saddle him with an IQP! {isolated queen's pawn}) 10. Qb3 Na5 (forking queen and bishop) 11. Qa4+ Nc6 (threatens queen and offers a draw by repetition). My opponent finally played a move that avoided the repetition. After the game, I mapped out how I would respond against his move and left it at that.

This is a case where minimal opening study was involved. I checked out a minor branch from the trunk of my opening, which only took a few minutes.

Then there's the following case, where I faced a novelty in the Nimzo-Indian. It's not much of a novelty...I'm sure my opponent simply didn't understand what he was playing. However, by trying to answer "what would I play next" I found that I had my work cut out for me.

My opponent's "novelty" was: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 d5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3, an odd blending of the Samisch (4.a3) and Classical (4.Qc2) lines. A point of 4.Qc2 is that the queen can capture on c3 and avoid doubled c-pawns. Therefore, this appears to be a Samisch where white has "wasted" time by playing Qc2.

I am in the very early stages of working out a Nimzo repertoire for black. Since not many of my opponents allow it as White, it hasn't rated as highly on my "things to do" list. I have some repertoire books as guides but I'm still in the process of deciding what my main lines will be.

First, as a starting point, let's look at the Samisch variation. After 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4, White challenges the Black bishop with 4.a3 Bxc3 5.bxc3. Quoting John Watson from Mastering the Chess Openings, Volume 2 (which I will be referring to for analysis):

The Samisch variation is in many ways the most instructive of all Nimzo-Indian lines. It seems odd to force Black into ...Bxc3+, a move he is likely to play anyway, and thus to accept the weak doubled c-pawns while losing time....Indeed, 4.a3 was one of the earliest methods of play versus the Nimzo-Indian and many of the best players of the time...were infatuated with possession of the bishop-pair....The Samisch Variation is the ideal starting point for discussing the Nimzo-Indian because it contains a majority of the fundamental themes that arise from the opening.

I have been using repertoire books by Dearing (Play the Nimzo-Indian, my favorite), Emms (Easy Guide to the Nimzo-Indian), and to a lesser extent Alburt et al (Chess Openings for Black, Explained) for guidance. I have also used the general guide Mastering the Nimzo-Indian (with the Read and Play Method) by Kosten, which is more concerned with pawn structures and typical middlegame plans than specific lines.

My tentative main line against the Samisch was that of Dearing and Emms. I will just give it without a move-by move explanation...the point here is that my repertoire did not feature an immediate ...d5: 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. a3 Bxc3+ 5. bxc3 c5 6. e3 O-O 7. Bd3 Nc6 8. Ne2 b6 9. e4 Ne8 10. O-O Ba6 11. f4 f5.

However, my opponent played the Classical move order with 4.Qc2. In that case, my main line is tentatively that of Dearing. Here also, I'll just give the main line without commentary, and point out that here an immediate ...d5 is played: 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 d5 5. cxd5 Qxd5 6. Nf3 Qf5 7. Qxf5 exf5 8.
a3 Be7 9. Bf4 c6 10. e3 Be6 11. Bd3 Nbd7 .

Now, back to the Samisch. In my game, it was as if my opponent had played the Samisch 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 d5 6.Qc2. However, none of my repertoires play 5...d5 against the Samisch! After the game, I tried to determine how one should play against this supposed inaccuracy by White. Referring to Watson and Kosten, I looked into Samisch lines that featured the ...d5 move lacking in my repertoire.

First, here is an example taken from Watson of inaccurate play on White's part by Botvinnik (!). In Botvinnik-Kotov, Groningen 1946, after 4. a3 Bxc3+ 5. bxc3 d5 6. cxd5 exd5 7. Bg5?!

7... c5! Watson says, "The problem is that after the natural
8. e3, 8...Qa5 forces some awkward defence like 9. Qc2 Ne4 10. Bf4 cxd4 11. exd4

Now, let's try the same thing against my opponent's move order. After 4.Qc2 d5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3, Black is a tempo up if they can show that 4.Qc2 was a waste of time. So, let's make use of that free time by doing something useful, such as castling. However, after 6... O-O 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Bg5, we reach a position nearly identical to the previous one:

However, this may actually be respectable. We have transposed into a known position, according to my Chessbase. For example, if we continue as in Botvinnik-Kotov with 8...c5 9. e3, the queen already protects c3, and 9...Qa5 doesn't have the same punch as in Botvinnik-Kotov. For example, in Petrosian-Korchnoi, Moscow 1971, Black instead played 9... Nbd7.

What this shows is that, if both sides play stereotypically against the "waste of time" move Qc2, we find that it's not necessarily a waste of time at all! The refutation of this move order (if any) must lie elsewhere.

At this point, spending hours trying to prepare a line against a "goofy" novelty wouldn't be productive. However, in the course of trying to figure out what was going on in this position, I learned quite a bit... I've only included some of this work here. What becomes obvious is that the general ideas that you find in Watson and Kosten (or Kmoch, for that matter) are of more use than repertoire books such as Dearing and Emms. For example, in these Samisch-like lines featuring ...d5 (which Watson calls the "Botvinnik approach"), we often arise at a pawn structure that Kosten calls the "light-squared blockade", as shown in the following "skeleton" position:

If Black can keep White's pawns on dark squares and exchange the light-squared bishops, White will lose the bishop pair and be stuck with a bad bishop. White is going to try and push e4.

Studying main lines not only ensures that you're playing sensible moves against your opponent's sensible also gives you experience in playing the typical structures and plans that arise in the opening. When your opponent plays something odd, you're going to have to rely on tactical awareness (yes, tactics are important!) plus your experience with and understanding of the position. In this particular case, I'm still not sure what the "proper" response to my opponent would have been, but I'm sure that the more I study and play these positions the better I'll be able to handle them.

In particular, the game made me question what I want to play against the Samisch. I'm attracted to this "light-squared blockade" pawn structure. If I like the move ...d5 against other variations, why not here? The short answer is: none of my repertoire books cover it! Therefore, I am going to say "heck with the books" and try to figure out my own ...d5 lines against the Samisch. If I had an established repertoire, I would not tear it all down and start again just because of one odd game. However, since I'm just starting out I can take the approach of "play the move you like the best" and build the repertoire around that. Remember, books are only there to guide you.

To summarize, when you analyze your games afterwards:

  • If your opponent played a reasonable (book) response that you're unfamiliar with, work out what you would play in the future as a "main line" and then get on with life.

  • If your opponent played an odd novelty, try to refute it. If a chess engine doesn't find an obvious tactical or gross positional problem with it, try to use your understanding of the opening and general principles to find a good response. In the process of finding the answer, you may learn quite a bit.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Not Dead Yet

Just a brief update. Still unpacking and getting settled in to the new digs. Don't even have a place to set up my chessboard yet. I'll also be out of town next weekend.

If I get my books unpacked I'll try to post something substantive before the trip.

Friday, July 20, 2007

An Aside on Opening Preparation

Just thought I would clarify my stance on opening preparation, prior to the next installment of my series.

I think it's important to analyze your games--even online blitz. Part of that analysis should include how the opening was treated. Of course, you'll also be looking for errors in tactics, endgames, and strategy as well, but I don't think the opening should just be ignored, regardless of your chess strength.

If you do not want to maintain an openings repertoire, and just fly by the seat of your pants, then you could keep your opening study down to spotting gross errors. However, if you've ever bought an opening book with the intent of playing certain lines routinely, I strongly feel you need to understand the suggested moves, and have followed the main line through the opening so that you understand what each side is aiming for. If you're plopping money down on opening books, but just "looking up the answer" to what you should have played, or just trying to memorize lines, you're wasting time and money. You owe it to yourself to try and understand the lines you want to play, and I believe that studying openings in this limited but focused way can improve your chess as a whole.

For example, perhaps you learn that Black plays ...d5 at some point to prevent e4. If you understand that, and your opponent omits the "book move" of ...d5, that serves as an alert: Perhaps it would be good for you to push e4 in response. Or perhaps Black normally avoids exchanging a bishop for a knight, and your opponent doesn't. That suggests that winning the bishop pair may be a good idea.

The main lines of your opening are models of good opening play. Understanding them helps you to find good opening moves for yourself, and directs you towards reasonable middlegame strategies.

When you're not analyzing your own games, go ahead. Study tactics. Study endgames. Play through master games. Practice martial arts so you can strike the button on the clock with the reflexes of a cobra. Whatever you think helps your game more, or whatever tickles your fancy. Knock yourself out.

However, when it comes to analyzing your own games, I think you need to consider the game in its entirety, including the opening. Don't just focus on the knight you dropped in the midgame, but also the tactic you missed that would have regained it; the endgame you could have drawn a piece down; and the opening error that led to the difficult position you blundered in.