26 July 2020

Slow Down

Over the past twenty years, I have played at least 100,000 games, most at three minutes with no increment (3 + 0). Adding games at five minutes, or with an increment, and adding bullet, which includes a great many 2 + 1 (more time than three minute when the game exceeds sixty moves), pushes the number over 150,000.

These crude minimums belie the point that I do not know the total number of online blitz games I've played. I have played online blitz regularly since 1998, often dozens of games in a day. I play a few games most days. My personal database currently holds 103,382 games. It excludes most bullet games, although I make an exception for 2 +1. It also has many games at longer time controls, including many hundreds of correspondence games. I have not been able to save every game, and have also lost tens of thousands through database errors.

When I started saving my games in a database, I was using Chessmaster 7000. About 2001, I began learning the free versions of ChessBase and Chess Assistant, both limited to database not exceeding 15,000 games. I recall that CB was more restricted than CA. In 2003, I bought CB 8 and attempted to gather all of my online games into one database.

What has been the impact of this massive amount of online blitz on the quality of my play?

The database contains a near endless supply of instructive positions that arise from sloppy play. Exactly the sort of play that my students see in their games.

It has certainly given me ample practice with pattern recognition, and may have developed my intuitive feel for many types of positions. It has given me immense experience in playing my favored openings, such that it is very difficult for an opponent to surprise me with something that I have not seen before.

Performing elementary checkmates with minimal time on the clock is gratifying, and helps me reinforce the skill in my teaching. But, it is also humbling that I have stalemated my opponent with queen and king against king more than once.

The most important detrimental impact has been that unsound risky play has been rewarded in such a way that it has become second nature. Making the effort to switch to 3 + 2, or even the 5 + 2 that I am currently playing in USCF online blitz rated tournaments has been rough. It is much more difficult to win lost positions on the clock when there is an increment. In my OTB games, I have bouts of impatience where blitz thinking interferes with careful calculation.

Last week, I had White and this position.

White to move

Confidently assuming that I had a strategic advantage, I was blind to tactics. I had plenty of time, but did not use it.

22.Bg2?? Rxd2 and I resigned.

The Morning Membership tournaments are short and fun, and they are at a time that is good for me both in terms of schedule and capabilities. Unlike the stereotypical late-night chess player, I am a morning person. These events last about an hour, are played at 5 + 2 on Chess.com, and draw 30-40 players. They begin at 8:00 am in my west coast time zone, which is late morning on the east coast.

In my first event on July 8, I was the third highest rated player, tied with two others with perfect scores, and won the first place trophy on tiebreaks. The free membership extensions that are awarded after the event are based on a random drawing, not performance. I played three more this week. The blunder presented above was my first loss. I scored 2/4 on Monday, lost my last round game on Wednesday, and on Friday, when I was the top rated player, gave up a draw in the second round.

My online blitz rating is going down. Nonetheless, I have signed up for the next sixteen--every one through the end of August. Learning to pace myself in slower blitz may be good for my game.

In "The Soul of Philidor", I presented a position where I was happy with my choice because it reflected the application of recent study. Strategically, it was a nice game and I was happy with my performance. Postgame analysis, however, quickly revealed to me that I missed several opportunities. Using the engine to check my postgame analysis revealed more missed opportunities. As I learn to slow down, perhaps I will increase my alertness to tactical chances. Intuitive play has its place, but some calculation is necessary for improving my game.

In each of these five positions, I had a better move than the one I played. Although I dominated most of the game and managed to win, I did concede the advantage and was even worse through part of the game.

White to move

I played 10.a3??

A couple of weeks ago, I was examining the tactics in a Grandmaster game that involved the type of position that occurs after the superior 10.b5!

White to move

15.Nd4?? walked into a fork, although that was not fatal and my pawns proved to be compensation for the knight. But 15.Nxe4 or 15.Bb5 were both better choices

White to move

16.Bg3?? turned out okay in the game, although Black now has a clear advantage. After 16.Nxd5 exf4 17.f3, White has a decisive advantage.

White to move

22.b5 Na4 23.Ra3 Nc2 leads to the next position, and I again have an advantage. However, 22.Re3 wins a piece. I also could have played 21.Re3, but 21.Bf3 was good enough to regain the advantage.

White to move

24.Rxa8! was a move that I considered, but without adequate calculation. Black is busted.

I played the seemingly safer 24.Qb3. A few moves later, my opponent returned the sacrificed piece which left me a clear pawn ahead. My bishops also controlled the squares my passed b-pawn needed.
I can play better.

25 July 2020

The Soul of Philidor

On the Origin of Good Moves Reading Log*

"[Pawns} are the very Life of this Game: They alone form the Attack and the Defense...". Many a contemporary chess enthusiast must have been amazed to read this solemn statement by Philidor, bestowing such honours on the modest pawns, of which Philidors's famous predecessors, Greco and the Italian chess school, thought so little.
Dražen Marović, Understanding Pawn Play in Chess (2000)
The first paragraph of Understanding Pawn Play in Chess is typical of the credit offered to Philidor for his innovative ideas presented through a handful of composed games that he published in Analyse du jeu des échecs (1849). Willy Hendriks challenges conventional understanding in On the Origin of Good Moves (2020). Consider these two positions from quizzes in Hendriks's book (25, 57).

Black to move

Black to move

Both exercises offer the same choice: dxc4 or bxc4. There are three questions. How would you play each position? How would Greco play? How would Philidor? The answers may surprise you.

In a USCF online rated blitz tournament yesterday, I had this position.

White to move

I played the move that Greco would have selected. Ironically, this choice helped me play somewhat in the manner advocated by Philidor, but only after I spurned his general principle for pawn captures. I even sacrificed a knight to get my pawns rolling.

The short version of what On the Origin of Good Moves has argued through the first four chapters is this: Greco is somewhat underrated by chess writers and may be worth more attention. Philidor, on the other hand, gets a free pass concerning egregious errors in his analysis. His reputation for making an original contribution to chess theory might be somewhat greater than deserved.

The first two quiz questions at the beginning of the first chapter on Philidor offer positions from his games. ChessBase Meg 2020 and many books endorse Philidor's evaluation of the position. Willy Hendriks and Komodo 15 disagree.

*See "On the Origin: Reading Journal".

18 July 2020

Bishop and Knight Checkmate: Some History

Two sixteenth century manuscripts that may have been copied from an unpublished work by Pedro Damiano present the most difficult portion of the checkmate with bishop and knight. Peter J. Monté transcribed the solution in his exceptional book, The Classical Era of Modern Chess (2014), which I reviewed at "Monumental Scholarship". Monté states that his copy of the German Manuscript contains some red ink that makes portions illegible, and that the location of the bishop is uncertain, but certainly on a White square. He states, "[t]his basic mate is also presented in White's Damiano and Carrera" (122). The MS likely was produced in the third quarter of the sixteenth century.

According to tablebases, the initial position is mate in 20. The solution is not perfect, but it is instructive and mostly quite accurate. In the main line (there are variations given), nine moves are less than perfect. The fifth error lengthened the distance to checkmate by ten moves, and was followed by a Black error that shortened the distance to checkmate by nine moves. Only one other sub-optimal move affected the distance to checkmate by more than two moves.

White to move
7k/8/5K2/8/2B2N2/8/8/8 w - - 0 1

1.Ng6+ Kh7 2.Bf7 Kh6 3.Bg8 Kh5 4.Ne5

Black to move


4...Kh6 is given as a variation, which continues 5.Nf7+ (5.Ng4+ better) 5...Kh5 6.Kf5 Kh4 7.Nh6 Kh5 (7...Kg3 is another variation) 8.Ng4 Kh4 9.Bc4 (9.Kf4 is better) 9...Kh5 (9...Kg3 is better) 10.Be2 (10.Bf7+ is better) 10...Kh4 11.Nf6 Kg3 and so on as in the main line. See below at move nine.

5.Kf5 Kh5

5...Kg3 Most stubborn, adding three moves. This is Black's second most significant error.

6.Ng4 Kh4

White to move


When relearning this checkmate a few years ago, I found two ideas especially helpful: 1) the knight moved in the shape of the letter W, and 2) lead with the knight, follow with the king. Applying these two principles leads to perfect play from this position. See "Bishop and Knight Checkmate".

The move offered in the manuscript leads to checkmate on move nineteen with perfect play.

7.Kf4 Kh5 8.Bf7+ Kh4 9.Ne3 Kh3 10.Bd5 Kh4 11.Bf3 Kh3 12.Bg4+ Kh2 13.Kf3 Kg1 14.Kg3 Kh1 15.Kf2 Kh2 16.Nf1+ Kh1 17.Bf3#


7...Kg3 more stubborn by one move.


8.Bf7+ better by one move.

8...Kh4 9.Nf6 Kg3

White to move


The most significant oversight adds ten moves to mate. It appears that Black's run further from the edge was also overlooked.

10.Ne4+ better.


10...Kf2 leads to mate in twenty.

11.Kf4 Kh3 12.Ne4 Kg2

12...Kh4 better by two moves.

13.Kg4 Kg1

13...Kh2 14.Bf1 Kg1 15.Bh3 Kh2 16.Ng5 Kg1 17.Kg3 Kh1 18.Bg2+ Kg1 19.Nf3#

14.Kg3 Kh1 15.Bf1

15.Ng5 leads to checkmate one move faster.

15...Kg1 16.Bh3 Kh1 17.Nd2 Kg1 18.Nf3+ Kh1 19.Bg2# 1-0

14 July 2020

Improve the Defense

A passing reference to Three Hundred Chess Games in On the Origin of Good Moves sent me back into Siegbert Tarrasch's terrific collection of his games. Although Tarrasch's suggested improvement for his opponent in one game seems reasonable, I was not convinced that Black was already lost at that early point in the game. An hour with the game in question led me to an improvement, and then some time with Komodo revealed an even better idea.

I'm happy that I found the critical position without engine assistance, but even after that point, Black could have given White a tougher task proving the advantage.

Tarrasch,Siegbert -- Mendelsohn,Jozsef [C51]
Breslau, 1879

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Bc5 6.0–0 d6 7.d4 exd4 8.cxd4 Bb6 9.d5 Na5 10.Bb2 Ne7 11.Bd3 0–0 12.Nc3 Ng6 13.Ne2 c5 14.Kh1 Rb8 15.Ne1 Bc7 16.f4

Black to move


Tarrasch recommends 16...f6. Komodo would have played the text move.

17.f5 Ne5 18.f6 gxf6

I took a look at 18...g6, but could not find a defense to White's obvious attack. 19.Qd2 Kh8 20.Qh6 Rg8 21.Bxe5 dxe5 22.Nf3 +-.


Black to move


19...f5!? 20.exf5 f6

There was still time for Tarrasch's antidote. Here 21.Qh6 offers White no prospects of victory, but 21.Nf4 maintains an advantage.

Komodo's line, however, shows that Black still had an abundance of resources.

19...c4! 20.Qh6 cxd3 21.Rxf6 dxe2 22.Nf3 Re8 (22...Qxf6 23.Qxf6 Nac4 24.Bxe5 dxe5 and White can force a draw) 23.Ng5

Black to move
Analysis Diagram
23...Qxf6! 24.Qxf6 Bd8 25.Qh6 Nac4 and Black is slightly better.

20.Ng3 Rg8 21.Nh5+ Kh8 22.Nxf6 Rg6 23.Qf4 c4

23...Rxf6 24.Qxf6 Qxf6 25.Rxf6 Kg7

White to move
Analysis Diagram
White is better, but the win is not elementary.

24.Be2 b4 25.Qh4

Black to move


25...Rxf6 is more stubborn.


Only now does White have a clear and decisive advantage.

26...Bg4 27.Bxg4 Nxg4 28.Bg5 h6 29.Bxh6 Nxf6 30.Bxg7+ Kxg7 31.Qg5+ Kf8 32.Rxf6 b3 33.axb3 cxb3 34.Nd3 b2 35.Raf1 Qe7 36.Qg6 b1Q 37.Rxf7+ Ke8 38.Rf8+ Kd7 39.Qf5+ 1–0

11 July 2020

On the Origin: Reading Journal

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.
Francis Bacon, "Of Studies" (1625)
Willy Hendriks, On the Origin of Good Moves (2020) arrived yesterday. I spent an hour last night and a bit more than an hour this morning leafing through the whole book, reading a few pages here and there. Then I reread the chapter on Greco. I had read the Kindle sample in June after Brian Karen asked me about this book in reference to my post on the Chess Book Collectors's Facebook page concerning Peter J. Monté, The Classical Era of Modern Chess (2014). Do look at "Monumental Scholarship: Notes Toward a Book Review" for my initial assessment of Monté's text. Hendriks' book looked interesting, so I preordered the paperback. It shipped Tuesday on the date listed by Amazon as the publication date.

Although I use almost every one of my nearly 400 chess books principally as reference works and rarely read one all the way through, On the Origin of Good Moves may join the small rank of exceptions. In order to encourage myself to keep at it, this post begins a reading journal on my progress.

Hendriks has an ambitious agenda to challenge the common notion that William Steinitz initiated the modern notions of positional play. This myth, he argues, is the work of Emanuel Lasker. He states that he wanted to write a whodunnit, but self-deprecates his writing abilities and so identifies the culprit immediately (10). Even so, Hendriks's take concerning the development of chess history is about the details more than the plot.

He also begins by noting the recapitulation theory of chess development offered by Max Euwe, Garry Kasparov, and others. I summarized this view in my 2013 workbook for students in my summer chess camp, "Dragon Chess Camp 2013: Learning from the First Chess Masters":
No one is born a chess master. Euwe suggests that an individual player's growth from beginner to master follows the pattern of chess history. First players learn to play like Greco. Then, as Philidor, they discover the importance of pawns and begin to think positionally. Individual growth moves through attacking play in the style of Adolph Anderssen and Paul Morphy to learning to accumulate small advantages in the manner of Wilhelm Steinitz. (26)
I went on from there, but this excerpt serves to illustrate that I have found Euwe's concept compelling at least pedagogically. Hendriks correctly links the recapitulation theory to Ernst Haeckel: "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" (9, 411). The structure of On the Origin of Good Moves--a title clearly derived from Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859)--follows the pattern evident in Euwe, The Development of Chess Style (1968), but in a manner that interrogates with skepticism the central claims that have been advanced by many chess writers along the way.

Journal: "Footnotes to Greco"
The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.
Alfred North Whitehead (1979)
Hendriks notes that Greco has not received the same honor given to Plato that all of chess theory is a series of footnotes to his original work, although a few months ago I wrote, partly in jest, in a chess forum, "Greco is the originator; all others are imitators." I have taken the work of Greco seriously for some time, found Euwe's annotations of two Greco games useful and inspiring, have played at least three games online that almost wholly follow one of Greco's masterpieces (see "Near Perfect"), and have been convinced since at least 2013 that the best parts of Greco remain unknown to most chess players.

As I had read Hendriks' chapters on Greco several weeks ago, it should not be surprising that I scored 100% on the two quizzes from Greco's games this morning. I missed the second one, however, in June because I chose Greco's move and Hendriks was looking for the improvement. When I took that quiz in June, the game from which exercise 2 was extracted had been part of my lesson with my chess students the previous week. However, I was using a version of the game that was not in any databases, but can be found in Francis Beale's 1656 text. Chessgames.com has it now because I submitted it after researching the game score in Monté. In June, I finished a project of entering all 94 of Beale's selections from Greco into a database.

Black to move

This position appears in five games in ChessBase Mega 2020. Four are Greco's games. 10...Kd7 appears in two Greco games in the database, 10...Kd8 appears in one, and as Hendriks notes, 10...Kf8 appears in one of Greco's games in the database (19-20). The position after 10...Kf8 is Hendriks second exercise. In this one, and one in the second set, Greco's move is not the best move.

The version of the game given by Hendriks ended with checkmate in 14 moves. The version of the game in Beale, however, continues with much more stubborn defense. Monté's research reveals that the better game appears in several of the London manuscripts created in 1623 by Greco. The better version also appears in William Lewis, Gioachino Greco on the Game of Chess (1819).

All this is to say that Hendriks' historical questions differ from mine. While I can spend many hours tracking down minutiae through original sources, or secondary works that are grounded is such sources, Hendriks builds his assessment of Greco on readily available databases. What do Greco's games offer the aspiring chess player? More than he usually gets credit for, Hendriks argues.

Despite approaching work on Greco from a somewhat different perspective regarding the nature of historical research, I am encouraged by the assessment in On the Origin of Good Moves: "Greco's legacy is really impressive" (23). I agree.

There are two chapters and two quizzes on Greco in Hendriks's book. This position is number 8--the second exercise for chapter 2: "The Nimzowitsch of the 17th Century" (27-38).

Black to move

This position is from Greco's longest game, and one of the few that Hendriks thinks might represent actual play. His annotations on this game are brief but highlight the critical point: Philidor's reputation for discovering the importance of the pawns is but a footnote to Greco.

08 July 2020

Failure to Learn

This morning I played in a USCF rated online chess event that I had learned about via email a couple of weeks ago. I finished tied for first, winning the top prize (a virtual trophy) on tiebreaks. The event cost a mere $5 and the entry fees went back to the players in the form of one-year membership extensions. These membership extensions are based on random drawing of numbers after the event concludes.

See information about these thrice-weekly tournaments at Events4Chess.com.

In the second round, my failure of imagination unnecessarily extended the length of the game, and even led to an equal position as my opponent and I exchanged blunders. Ironically, the critical move that I could have played at least four times in the course of the game had come up in a Greco game that I used with my chess students in last week's lesson.

The position from Greco.

White to move

Two positions from my game.

White to move

White to move

07 July 2020

A Pickle

White appears to be in trouble, but there are a few spite checks. Maybe more. I found this on the tactics training on ChessBase's Playchess server.

White to move