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.